First I was intimidated by the idea to go to Bloomington for the PDC 2008, as I imagined there would probably be no sidewalks. Instead, it was very cute. The university campus takes half the city, and so do probably the students. The buildings look a little harrypotterish with they gothic ornaments, and they have their own hotel, which is very nice. (Still each room has incredibly loud ventilation that can be turned off, but I did not manage to tell the reception to do so. My own fault.) And there is a huge shop with Indiana University shirts, sweaters, socks, underwear, plush bears, golf towels, if you need a gift for your beloved ones at home, or a uniform to disappear in the crowd.
There was one day with a number of workshops prior to the conference that you had to apply and register for in advance. To me, this was the most interesting and informing part of the whole conference. I attended a workshop run by Katja Battarbee and Andrea Botero that dealt with the issue of how to design for user co-creation. As for the whole conference, the workshop assembled a wild mixture of people with various backgrounds like computer science, anthropology, psychology and design. There were short presentations (5-10 minutes) and extended discussion about the issue raised by every presenter. This concept proved to be very successful, as it encouraged people to first argue among their table neighbours and then face the presenter with the comments and questions they had. Besides, it created a comfortable atmosphere of equality and constructive criticism.
All in all, I was happily surprised by the PD conference and the community as such. The theme is reasonably focused while bringing together totally different people. Still there is a high awareness and somehow agreement of the problems and challenges of participatory design (even if there was no agreement on how to face them). PD practitioners seem to be very grounded and pragmatic (and pragmatist, often) because of their work practice, their serious problems (health, famine, crime etcetera) and the frequent contact with real people. And although there is a core community of PD practitioners attending the conference every time, they are also open for the newbies.
The format and amount of both long research papers and short exploratory papers was well chosen, with a good average quality. There were quite a couple of well-done and interesting presentations. The political difficulties to establish participatory design in organizations and companies was one of the dominant issues, as well as how to scale participation up for large systems. One recurring field for case studies were e-health applications like electronic patient records in hospitals.
My favourite presentation was Pelle Ehn’s critical consideration of the professional designer’s role in participatory design, drawing on Latour. And I loved Natalie Jeremijenko’s final keynote when she showed her amazing artistic participatory interventions with regard to ecological and environmental concerns.