Thursday, August 18, 2005

Effective collaboration and fun

One of the submissions I reviewed recently for DUX 2005 was a paper about a game designed to facilitate the analysis and synthesis of diverse collections of data (some from ethnographic studies, some from participatory design sessions, some from technological explorations, ...) by diverse, multidisciplinary groups of researchers and designers. The output of the game is intended drive the process of identifying and designing needed, desired, and sustainable technologies.

A game? Why a game?

The authors of "Facilitating Collaboration through Design Games," a paper presented at PDC 2004, provide this partial response:
"The overall aim of the design games is to help facilitate a user-centered design process for cross-disciplinary design groups early in the design process. Framing collaborative design activities in a game format arguably improves idea generation and communication between stakeholders. By shifting focus to the game, power relations and other factors that might hamper idea generation are downplayed."
The impact of those power relations and other factors appears to be minimal during what is described as a typical, well-run session of The Bridge, a collaborative analysis, design, and assessment methodology involving users, engineers, design/usability personnel, and potentially others as designed by Tom Dayton and former colleagues:
"The athmosphere is fun, sometimes goofy, with periodic showers of paper as discarded index cards and sticky notes are torn up and thrown over shoulders." (from chapter 2 of a book on Bridging the Gap from User Requirements to Design)
Writing on emotion and design, Don Norman describes the relationship between affect and behavior:
"Affect...regulates how we solve problems and perform tasks. Negative affect can make it harder to do even easy tasks; positive affect can make it easier to do difficult tasks.

The positive affective system seems to change the cognitive parameters of problem solving to emphasize breadth-first thinking, and the examination of multiple alternatives."
And according to Patricia Ryan Madson, in her new book, "improv wisdom: don't prepare, just show up":
"Having fun loosens the mind. A flexible mind works differently from a rigid mind. The pleasure that accompanies our mirth makes learning easier and creates a climate for social as well as intellectual discovery."
However, there are dangers. According to Don Norman, positive affect "has the side effect of making people more distracted." Plus, people not participating might complain if you are having more fun than they are having, as I once learned when facilitating collaborative ethnographic data analysis and synthesis sessions a few years ago.

So, find a sound-proof room, facilitate the sessions well to address distraction effectively, ...