A Dialogical Understanding of User-Centered Design

The Anomalogue Blog inspired me to think when it said: “this is what brand strategy wants to become: a philosophy of an organization which enables it to function according to a particular intellectual and artistic taste”.
I believe a good brand strategy is user centric in that it engages the user as an involved participant in the brand. Everyone today wants to channel the mojo of Apple, maybe even Apple itself now that Steve’s gone. I think the core of Apple was that it was out to change the world through technology, but unlike IBM, we were invited as participants in that change through using Apple’s technology.  IBM wants to change the world by what it’s experts do to us, but Apple changes the world with our participation.

Yes, as Amonalogue says, the backstory of strategy design can be understood in terms of a philosophically deep pragmatism and I understand that as it is expressed by Wittgenstein and Bakhtin.

From the Wikipedia article on Wittgenstein:

. . . philosophical problems arise when language is forced from its proper home into a metaphysical environment, where all the familiar and necessary landmarks and contextual clues are removed. He describes this metaphysical environment as like being on frictionless ice: where . . . all philosophical problems can be solved without the muddying effects of everyday contexts; but where, precisely because of the lack of friction, language can in fact do no work at all.[154] Wittgenstein argues that philosophers must leave the frictionless ice and return to the “rough ground” of ordinary language in use.

OK, as Ludwick anticipated, most of the world doesn’t get Wittgenstein. I believe one key is to understand the nature of this rough ground. Here’s where I look to Bakhtin.

“We must renounce our monological habits so that we might come to feel at home in the new (dialogic) artistic sphere which Dostoevsky discovered, so that we might orient ourselves in that incomparably more complex artistic model of the world which he created” (Bakhtin, 1984, p.272).

I think Design operates in this artistic sphere of dialogue. This sphere is user centric, but in a way that is dynamic, relational and chiasmic (multiply intertwined).   From John Shotter http://pubpages.unh.edu/~jds/Essex.htm

“All real and integral understanding is actively responsive… And the speaker himself is oriented precisely toward such an actively responsive understanding. He does not expect passive understanding that, so to speak, only duplicates his or her own idea in someone else’s mind. Rather, he expects response, agreement, sympathy, objection, execution, and so forth… “

In this view, successful design does not try to capture the user, but invites the user to become chaismically intertwined with the organization and with other users in what could be called dialogic design. Apple invitation to participate as technology changes the world is one example of dialogic design in strategy. Where are other example of this type of design:

In science I look to Messick’s understanding of assessment validity (judgments of the truthfulness of empirical observations). He looks not only within traditional boundaries of science through construct validity (judgments of consistency with theory, domain and prior empirical observations), he also considers categories outside of traditional science in judgments of the utility of assessment tools, the value implications of those tools and social consequences that are secondary to tools use.

In journalism I look at the move from reporting the facts, to the new role of journalists as community builders; where people do not want to only be told the truth, but want to become active participants in building the world as well. One example is http://www.americasdemocrats.org  There they are using journalist tools for the purpose of creating a politically active community where people’s voice can be expressed as they participate in political action.

Can Apple keep it’s mojo? Not by building pretty things, that’s Tiffany’s brand. Apple’s only brand is changing the world through technology and bring us along to drive the change. Can Apple continue to change the world though us?