Skill, Gender, and User Involvement in the Design Process: A Comparative Study of Participatory Design and Ergonomics

In their efforts to solve problems related to the implementation of technology in the workplace, scholars and practitioners with a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds have turned their attention either to research that can be loosely grouped under the heading of participatory design of technology (see for example Schuler & Namioka, 1993), or to research in the area of ergonomics (see for example Wilson & Corlett, 1990). Unfortunately, researchers working on technology implementation problems from within a participatory design framework have not, to date, communicated much with researchers addressing the implementation of technology from an ergonomic perspective. And, with few exceptions, advocates of neither participatory design nor ergonomics have incorporated feminist analyses of technology into their work, despite the fact that extensive earlier work (for example Linn, 1987 and Suchman & Jordan, 1988) has shown that theoretical insights about the implementation and use of technology are gained through a focus on gender as a subject of study.

The objectives of this research were:

  1. to conduct a comparative study of participatory design of technological systems and ergonomic approaches to the design of technology, with special emphasis on how each paradigm addresses skill, gender, design methodology and user participation;
  2. to identify how ergonomic and participatory design practitioners accomplish the goals of the paradigm they are working within, and what factors, if any, constrain them from realizing those goals;
  3. to determine to what extent system designers and engineers incorporate practices that derive from either ergonomics or participatory design into their work processes.