Here, sample assignments appear that are drawn from the practicum sections of Participate, as well as additional exercises. Feel free to download and use the full project briefs. If you are an educator, plan a class around participatory design, or use one of these assignments as inspiration for integrating a participatory approach into a single project. If you are a professional, use these assignments as springboards for envisioning more participatory solutions to client work.

This portion of the site divides assignments into four main sections—community, modularity, flexibility, and technology. These sections reflect the organization structure of Participate. Below are quick definitions of each concept.

Community is an alliance formed along shared interests. Today’s digital tools enable us to build communities free from the restrictions of space and time. In the online world, we can become part of social networks by “friending” on Facebook, “digging” on Digg, or “hearting” on Etsy. Community is visualized by the number of approving “hits” to your page, which are available for all to see. As consumers with a public voice, online communities are redefining big business. Rather than resisting this shift in power relations, savvy companies encourage online communities to join in the making of products, building strong bonds with their customers. It is precisely this engagement with activated communities in the building of “co-creation experiences” that opens up fresh possibilities for graphic designers.

Modularity is the use of standardized units or sections for easy construction and flexible arrangement. Modularity can apply to the workflow as well as the outcome. The individual pieces, or modules, can be altered or replaced without affecting the remainder of the system.

Flexibility is the ability of a system to accommodate variations without compromising integrity. Think of flexibility as an approach to culture at large as well as a formal design quality. To be flexible is to be adaptable, responsive to change. Today’s shifting networked culture demands of us a mental flexibility, as change and innovation prompt us to think less in terms of finished products and more in terms of open-ended systems.

Technology Programming is the designer’s new literacy. In the twenty-first century, design authorship means access to the code. Open source tools welcome use without requiring full comprehension of the underlying programming structure. In addition to the code itself, the process behind the code is becoming ever more important for designers. The algorithmic nature of code provides a backbone for many participatory projects. Process moves front and center in this work as clear steps are encoded and shared, inviting participation by designer and user alike. In a newly activated participatory culture, generative designs cannot be underestimated.


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