Communication, Commitment and Community in Social Design

From Beyond Social


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How schould communication, commitment and community play a key role in the Willem de Kooning Academy's Social Practices specialisations of Cultural Diversity, Sustainability, Gamification, and Open Design? That is the central theme of this article.

Author: Yoád David Luxembourg

Definitions

Community: the key phrases in the definition of community are 'sharing common characteristics or interests' and 'perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect'. These conditions mean to designers: a group of users, committed to (use) a certain artefact and perceived as distinct as a result of using that artefact (as a result of their commitment). A basic requirement for forming a community is a shared language between the group members. We speak of language not in socio-geographical terms such as the Dutch or Russian language, but in terms of method, specific vocabularies and paradigm sets with which communities can coordinate and communicate both action and identity. For example: the language of priests in a theological seminary (commitment to a set of values), the language used by surfers and snowboarders (committed to an experience) and the language used by lawyers and notaries in court. These languages are all context-specific forms of communication.

Commitment: we speak of commitment in the sense of engagement, as 'to occupy the attention or efforts of a person or persons'. In design, commitment can be understood in two ways: the commitment of users to the designer's artefact, and the commitment of the designer to the artefact and its community of users. Possibly, when designers become committed beyond a certain level to the success or adoption of their artefact within a community of users, they also become a part of that community. In culture, a shared commitment between a group of people or users seems to be the basic requirement for the formation of a social unit such as a community. People can choose to commit themselves to a set of values, such as in politics and religion; to an experience, such as in sports and hobbies; or to a goal, such as the realisation or facilitation of an artefact, be it a product, system or service. In the case of a service, the commitment in question is a choice that is linked or limited to a period of time. This is because most people enter such a commitment as a result of their profession or employment.

Communication: we speak of communication as 'the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs'. The imparting of 'thoughts, opinions, or information' is the essence of language. In design, an interchange of thoughts, opinions and information is an essential part of developing commitment between users and the designed artefacts, between designers and goals, between users, designers and values, and between the users themselves as a community. Language is therefore the alpha and the omega of design. When designers design, they speak; perhaps not in vocal sounds, but with other physical, material, visual or even virtual elements. Communication with users allows designers to understand not only the users' motivations and interests, and how an intervention or a designed artefact can answer and address their needs, but also to understand the designers' own goals, roles, and values. There is a causal sequence of dependencies between these concepts. Community requires Commitment and Commitment requires Communication – both in terms of dialogue and in terms of technology. Technology that enables communication, whether it is spoken or written, conducted by exchanging letters, e-mails, phone or video.

Social practices

Having framed communication, commitment and community, we now turn our attention to the context of social practices and which roles these concepts play in the practice of social art and design. In design, social practices serve and play much the same role as they do in culture; by participating in a collection of social practices, humans are able to produce, circulate, exchange, and coordinate meaning within a given culture or community. This applies to designers as well. In the practice of social art and design, designers work to facilitate social change by addressing the aspects of communication, commitment and community in their interventions.

In Cultural Diversity, designers explore the commitments that bring communities together. In accessing these communities, designers establish a dialogue with community members with which they can form an understanding of the community, and of its values and interests. In Sustainability, designers commit themselves to specific values and methods of action. In doing so they join a community of people with ecological concerns and act upon these concerns. Communicating with other community members helps designers to engage in joint action and also to understand the values of their commitment.

In Gamification, designers commit themselves to working with specific methods in order to communicate new possibilities to groups of users. In doing so, designers facilitate the adoption of new commitments between users and designed artefacts, experiences or values, and subsequently the coming together of new communities.

In Open Design, designers communicate with community members in order to form new commitments and new design artefacts that answer the community's interests and needs.

The education of social art and design: discussion

Communication, commitment and community play very different roles in the context of social art and design education. This is because communities of students are committed to personal goals and use communication to facilitate their own self-development and training. Students' commitment to projects and assignments is limited in time, usually a period of eleven weeks. In order to reach their communities of interest, that is, the context of their intervention, students have to work very fast to establish channels of communication. Quickly establishing these channels of communication will allow students to join or form their communities of interest, as well as to form or develop an understanding of the commitments that bring this group of people together. Failing to establish these channels of communication may well mean that an intervention will not find a community of users to adopt its designed artefact. Communication is essential for the development of a commitment between a group of people. Students will then end up, perhaps, with the right set of ideas, but not with the right experiences. This was evident during the Beyond Social Night where, of the four projects presented, the three interventions which involved, formed, or worked with communities of interest (people using wheelchairs, pregnant women, and a charity organisation) will most likely come to an end when the person facilitating the project, that is the student, is either no longer committed, or no longer has time to commit to the project's goals.

As soon as the students have constructed the community or the commitment for their intervention, they will have more time to reflect upon what they have learned, and also more time to realise their intervention or designed artefact. The final act in the process of social art and design education should therefore be directed towards finding community members who are willing and able to carry on the commitment which the students leave behind. Only then will their intervention be complete, and subsequently find its place in the collection of social practices which together form our culture.

References

Commitment. (2016). Retrieved February 28 from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/commitment

Communication. (2016). Retrieved February 28 from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/communication

Community. (2016). Retrieved February 28 from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/community

Engaging. (2016). Retrieved February 28 from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/engaging

Thwaites A., Davis L., & Warwick M. (2002). Introducing Cultural and Media Studies; A Semiotic Approach. New York, NY: Palgrave.

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