Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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PD, or participative design, is a general term for human-centered design approaches. Like other human-centered design methods, participative design stresses the idea that the end users of the product are integral to the design process. Not only must the end users (commonly defined as individuals who make extensive use of the product due to their profession) be consulted during the design process, but ideally, they must also be actively involved in the process.

Contextual design is another human-centered method that is similar to PD, but without the stress on actively involving the end user. Instead, the design team must spend as much time as possible examining all of the possible uses and ways of using the product. Through careful examination, the designers can gain a strong understanding of the product and become better equipped to create a successful product.

Using Strategies Such As PD to Create Successful Forms

One of the main challenges of industrial design for the last 150 years has been to create a product that is capable of initiating an emotional bond with the user. Both PD and contextual design stress the importance of this relationship as the key to successful design. Though neither method suggests that a strong emotional bond can be developed through purely formal means, both suggest that carefully considered aesthetics could speed the development of the bond.

More importantly, however, is that the functions of the object and the construction of the object suit the purposes of users. Ideally, designers who use PD or contextual design strategies develop clarity of design and make strong aesthetic decisions from an in-depth understanding of the functionality of the object. Like the early industrial designers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, human-centered designers believe that the pinnacle of design is in communicating the function of the item through well-considered formal decisions.

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