A number of studies have argued that system users should participate in design. At best, users can design their own system beyond giving information, making policy decisions and controlling the project processes. Yet design is not just active participation in design discussion or construction of IT artifacts. Design is an epistemologically unique activity. It is not clear exactly how users design or how they learn to do so. This study documents a longitudinal learning process in an enterprise system development. The learning began with users total ignorance of design. Users initially took a problem-focused approach, treating problems as fixed and rejecting design that did not solve the given problems. One user then gradually learned the details of the system and started to design; however, this design focused on parts, with the problem remaining fixed. The user finally demonstrated her design capability by constructing creative designs both in parts and on the whole. Drawing on situated learning theory, the notion of the peripheral designer is used to illustrate this type of design practice. The user became a peripheral designer in that she could design in a competent but peripheral manner without becoming a full designer, as well as by learning to maintain distance from her own community of practice and revisiting taken-for-granted constraints. Power relationships posed challenges to this learning. The notion of the peripheral designer clarifies what designing is, beyond participation in design, and delineates a realistic picture of how a user learns to design in the real world.
Yamauchi, Y. Power of peripheral designers: how users learn to design. Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Design Science Research in Information Systems and Technology (DESRIST 09); 2009 May 7-9; Malvern, PA. NY: ACM; 2009; article 13.