The editors of this book, despite some obvious differences, coalesce around a particular set of questions about design. The trajectory by which we arrived at the general positions expressed here varies, but it is not entirely accidental that all have played, and continue to play, roles at the University of Siegen in Germany. The reasons are complex but can be summed up as entailing both epistemological positioning and institutional commitments. All of the contributors to the book share a set of critical convictions about mainstream computing, and these have to do with an interdisciplinary stance (we could equally well gloss it as a “socio-technical” approach). In Germany, as elsewhere, this attitude manifested as explicitly opposing a rather traditional, and increasingly problematic, understanding of computer science, one which was also associated with conventional views of mainstream engineering and design methodologies.
The majority of the editorial team (Volker Wulf, Markus Rohde, Volkmar Pipek, and Gunnar Stevens) started their exploration into making computer sciences more relevant with respect to societal problems in the real world more than 20 years ago. They wanted to better understand the relationship between societal change, specifically on a micro level, and the design of meaningful IT artifacts in support of the actors involved. Or, to frame their interest in the concepts we promote in this book: they were interested in design-oriented investigations into the often complex interaction between social practices and IT artifacts implemented in their support.
Somewhat ambitiously, the aim was, and is, to establish a new research paradigm, but, and all the editors would agree on this, the road has been long (and winding). The interests and commitments of the core Siegen group have developed in a varied institutional context, which includes the University of Bonn; Fraunhofer FIT; the University of Oulu (Finland); Roskilde University (Denmark); the Hochschule Bonn-Rhein-Sieg; and—last but not least—the International Institute for Socio-Informatics (IISI) in Bonn. Kjeld Schmidt and Dave Randall, as more recently arrived fellow travelers, can trace similar institutional histories. Regardless, over time, we have been developing a set of theoretical, conceptual, and empirical commitments that we, somewhat in jest, like to call the Siegen School.
The concept of “practice” and, arguably, just as importantly, the idea of practice-based computing, has become core to these endeavors. We are grateful to colleagues and friends around the world for their intellectual (and other) support. In Siegen we owe much to Erhard Schüttpelz. Drawing on the strong local tradition in media studies, he worked out (p.vi) an ambitious program of grounding media research in ethnographical investigations of social practices. Erhard’s turn to practices created additional grounding for an extremely fruitful interdisciplinary cooperation. Others have been equally influential. Mark Ackerman, Kari Kuutti, Gerhard Fischer, Peter Brödner, Batya Friedman, Ina Wagner, Liam Bannon, Susanne Bødker, Geoffrey Bowker, Wayne Lutters, Carla Simone, Antonella de Angeli, Irina Shklovski, Peter Tolmie, Myriam Lewkowicz, Gillian Hayes, Charlotte Lee, Peter Mambrey, Matthias Jarke, Austin Henderson, and Thomas Herrmann have generously supported our work. A design-oriented understanding of the concept of social practice, and the reflections upon it that we consider fundamental, is the result.
The evolving research paradigm described in this book is grounded in some twenty-five design interventions that we call design case studies. They took place in a variety of different fields of application and document our engagement with practitioners, typically over a period of years. Various collaborators have been influential in this process. They include, as well as contributors to the book, others such as Helge Kahler, Markus Won, Tim Reichling, Martin Stein, Thomas Ludwig, Nico Castelli, Rainer Wieching, Marén Schorch, Christian Reuter, Timo Jacobi, and Walter Schäfer.
We are also indebted to colleagues for administrative support. The administrative load is heavy, since long-term projects usually require external funding, and readers will know what administrative complexities follow on from that. Special thanks, then, to Marietta Krenzer-Gräb, Karin Ofterdinger, Monika Wagner, Rachel Schneider, Paulina Kühn, Roman Burbach, Christina Böhmer, and Julia Krämer, who have all, with astonishing grace and equanimity, dealt with our persistent failings.
Practice-based design research is an intellectual and emotional challenge. It is highly collaborative and requires a high, and sustained, degree of engagement. Somewhat guiltily, the editors can attest to the toll that these challenges can take on both colleagues and families. We, therefore, would like to express our deepest gratitude to our partners, children, families, and friends for having stood by us over all that time. This book is yours!
Finally, we would like to thank Dan Taber, our lector at Oxford University Press. He enthusiastically embraced the concept of this book and kindly accepted delays in our collaborative writing and editing process. While a first outline of this book was created in the stimulating environment of a Zimbabwean train, it took some 5 years to elaborate on this manuscript.
Siegen, Liverpool, and Copenhagen