Caring through Design?: En torno a la silla and the ‘Joint Problem-Making’ of Technical Aids

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Charlotte Bates, Rob Imrie, and Kim Kullman have edited the challenging compilation Care and Design: Bodies, Buildings, Cities (out November 2016 with Wiley-Blackwell).
In their words, the book: “connects the study of design with care, and explores how concepts of care may have relevance for the ways in which urban environments are designed. It explores how practices and spaces of care are sustained specifically in urban settings, thereby throwing light on an important arena of care that current work has rarely discussed in detail.”
Israel Rodríguez-Giralt and I contribute with the Chapter 11 “Caring through Design?: En torno a la silla and the ‘Joint Problem-Making’ of Technical Aids (pp. 198-218).

The idea for a wheelchair armrest/briefcase CC BY NC SA En torno a la silla (2012)

Abstract

In this paper, we engage with the practices of En torno a la silla (ETS), which involve fostering small DIY interventions and collective material explorations, in order to demonstrate how these present a particularly interesting mode of caring through design. They do so, firstly, by responding to the pressing needs and widespread instability that our wheelchair friends face in present-day Spain, and, secondly, through the intermingling of open design and the Independent-Living movement’s practices and method, which, taken together, enable a politicisation and problematisation of the usual roles of people and objects in the design process. In the more conventional creation of commoditized care technologies, such as technical aids, the role of the designer as expert is clearly disconnected from that of the lay or end user. Rather, technical aids are objects embodying the expertise of the designer to address the needs of the user. As we will argue, ETS unfolds a ‘more radical’ approach to the design of these gadgets through what we will term ‘joint problem-making,’ whereby caring is understood as a way of sharing problems between users and designers, bringing together different skills to collaboratively explore potential solutions.

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