Reflections on Visualization in Cross-Cultural Design

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It can be very difficult for designers of any visualization to recognize the assumptions embedded in their perspective when they, like me, grew-up and were educated in a society where visual representations are abundant and visual pedagogies have been refined and taught for many years, even prior to computing. I gained skills in technol-ogy, 3D modeling, composition and using semiotics, etc., in Denmark, a Western country with a rich history of visual arts, and, like other designers in similar situations, had few opportunities that provoked me to reflect on how my perspectives were situ-ated in my own setting. Indeed, as I acquired specialist technical and design skills I was unaware that I would start on an ongoing journey in visual communication with peo-ple who have a very different history of visual expression and minimal exposure to digital technologies and design. In this article I reflect on some of the ways that evolv-ing a visual platform for communication through dialogue and Participatory Design (PD) methods helped me recognize some of the assumptions embedded in my per-spective. I describe examples that emerged when I introduced different visual proto-types to rural villages in Namibia. I aim to show how conversations around visualiza-tions can increase a designer’s sensitivity to others’ perspectives, support mutual learn-ing, and trigger the engagement and criticism that are vital for co-design.
Between the end of 2010 and 2013, I undertook eight research visits of 3 to 7 days to three different villages in rural Omaheke, Eastern Namibia, as part of a long-term collaboration on a research and development project. Most design activities took place in one village, Erindiroukambe (6 research visits), where relations were established via a local academic researcher whose family has a home there. Through participatory action research in Erindiroukambe, which developed since the end of 2008, we have engaged with a group of elders and run various design activities, which include amongst other activities four different digital prototypes, running on laptop and tablet computers. We have also evaluated the transferability of our co-design activities by applying some of the design outcomes and methods we used in Erindiroukambe in other villages in the region.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAt the intersections of traditional and indigenous knowledges and technology design
EditorsNicola J. Bidwell, Heike Winschiers-Theophilus
Number of pages22
PublisherInforming Science Press
Publication date12 Aug 2015
ISBN (Print)978-1932886993
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2015


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