8 May 2006

Design as play

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Ulla-Maaria Mutanen
According to modern western thinking, work and play represent two opposing concepts, writes Ulla-Maaria Mutanen in her blog “Hobbyprincess”.

Play is associated with enjoyment, irrationality, spontaneity, experimentation and fun, whereas work is serious, rational, economical, normal and entirely predictable. The juxtaposition of work and play is partly explained by the Protestant work ethic, which holds work to be a virtue and a model of the good life. According to this philosophy, sensible and hard work could not be, and was not allowed to be fun, entertaining or anything that would promote disobedience, enjoyment and smugness, all of which were thought to be ruinous to true Christian belief.

The juxtaposing of work and play may also originate from the view that play is a child’s activity. Especially within the fields of psychology and education, play among children and animals is studied as a phenomenon connected to biological and cultural development.

Removing play from the scope of socially significant work and adult activities has led to its trivialisation. Play has no place in the professional world or the social innovation system.

In the light of current trends, however, it looks like the role of play in work, especially in design and research work, will have to be re-evaluated. One reason for this can be found in the ongoing innovation crisis within established institutions and businesses. Organisations trimmed to maximise their economic performance no longer represent the kind of environment in which the best new ideas and innovations can develop.

Instead, scholars such as Eric von Hippel and Henry Chesbrough have highlighted how the latest applications are being developed in the fringes, among communities of users, hobbyists and amateur developers.

Read full story (to be published as an article in the Finnish Design Yearbook 2006)

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