Design and hair cutting. An Analogy.

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November 23, 2013 by Liat

We are discussing so much the relationship between designers and users. Users is often the wrong word actually especially for what regards social design. Not only did we see that users now become part of the design team, but also, some solutions could be called enabling solutions. If the solution is enabling a person to create its own designs then he/she cannot be called only user anymore.  Some people find it difficult to understand the role of designers in a scenario where everyone is designing. An old professor of mine used to describe design activity as hair cutting. Imagine the situation:

YOU go to the hairdresser and you have in mind something you need. You want your hair cut, but it might be that you only want to put order in your old cut, maybe you want something very different because your girlfriend left you, maybe you only want to change the color or have a stylish cut for a new job you got.

YOU have to communicate your wishes so that the HAIRDRESSER can know what you want. Only few people would say “ just do whatever you want”.

The HAIRDRESSER will then comment on your wishes and will explain regarding to your type of hair and the shape of your face, what he/she thinks is the best cut.

YOU will comment his opinion, asking some questions: how short is it going to be? Can you show me something similar? How much is it going to cost? Is the color you are using natural?

The HAIRDRESSER will answer and when everything is clear will start cutting. At this point the work in the hand of the HAIRDRESSER and you should just relax and wait.

YOU will see your hair cut once it is finished, and be happy or not about it. You might ask for last corrections. If you are not happy you will never go back there again, if you are happy you may build a trust relationship that will make next time easier. Rather YOU are happy or not depend a lot on others people reactions too. They may drastically change the opinion you had before.

If YOU is the user, or a company and the HAIRDRESSER is the designer I think it may well describe a good design process. I find it really useful for explaining students about the complexity of a design route.

It is a beginning of a co-design process. If you think it is a good idea to involve the user in the design you may imagine the HAIRDRESSER has to come up with a tool allowing you to express their wishes in a more involved manner, for example, with a digital tool where they can try and cut their own hair virtually. Creating enabling solutions, may mean to teach about cutting hair or at list hand out some tricks on hairstyling back home. It is the difference between something like this one in  HERE or this series of videos. A nice experience design could be made using audio only, like HERE (put your headphones on).

Hope this analogy can be useful for you too. Just to end with a social hair cutting: what do you think about this project below?? May esthetics be the trigger for improving our lives? for regaining confidence and taking over? Can the Veteran in the video be a symbol of our society and the hairdresser the designer? Just a thought…


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This course is held at NABA: Nuova Accademia di belle arti by Chiara Gambarana and Liat Rogel

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