Prof. Stuart MacDonald OBE
DA, PhD, FRSA, FNSEAD, Hon FRIBA Emeritus Professor
Gray’s School of Art


Nowadays it seems as if human-centeredness is everywhere. The language of 
user-centredness (largely derived from product design) and the
recognition of the need to apply design thinking to public services has
become commonplace. These trends have been accompanied by increased
interest in social innovation and within the public sector the demand to
improve user-experiences, and the accompanying growth in an immature
genre such as service design. Yet rarely, if ever, is the rise and rise of human-centeredness challenged. Recently, the debate has moved. In the context of design in public and social innovation over-inflated claims have attracted criticism with a demand
for hard evidence on what works. Similarly, design thinking as an
empathetic problem solving process has been described as a “failed
experiment”, and human-centeredness itself has been considered as
“harmful” because of its over-emphasis on the individual to the
detriment of the wider population. This paper charts and analyses the elevation of human-centered design and its near relatives – user-centered design and design thinking – from its origins in “Design for Society” to the flood of initiatives using human-centred design methods around the world. It then examines the broader context of countervailing tendencies, amongst which are: the move to design effective engagement strategies; the focus on the “deep craft” needed 
for successful public innovation; wider stakeholder involvement; the need for a breadth of skills and better methods; and new social developments like the civic economy that fuse social innovation and co-design methodologies. Drawing on this expanded context it concludes by indicating the need for a new kind of multi-lingual
conversation whilst offering some resources and pointers.

Ass Prof. Suzie Attiwill 

a question of the subject

This presentation will pose the subject as the critical question in a
discussion regarding human centredness and it will do this through a
practice situated in the discipline of interior design. The idea of
working from the inside out and a definition of the discipline as
human-centred design are frequently encountered in the discourse and practice of interior design. The phenomenological assertion of a self, who perceives and reflects the sensorial world through lived experience, connects with many aspects of a discipline which focuses on the relation between people and their surroundings. The richness of the connection with phenomenology is evident – specifically with
the privileging of a perceiving and reflecting subject at the centre
of the production of meaning.

This presentation introduces interior into the discussion to produce a
pause and question the centeredness of the subject as producer and receiver of meaning and experience, and to consider different relations and encounters from those of ‘to’ which invoke subject and object relations, the knower and the known. Shifting to relations of ‘in’ and emphasising processes of interiorization, spatial-temporal conditions of in-ness such as moods, atmospheres, haecceities and event become foregrounded; subjectivity and objectivity become relational, dynamic, provisional and ecological. And the centred subject becomes a product of interiorization as distinct from the chief interiorizer.

A different trajectory for thinking about the subject is offered by the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Deleuze critiques the concept of interiority as something which exists independently as the site of production, an embodiment
of an essence, or as something inherent; a condition which exists before any connection or relation. This could be taken as a dismissal of the concept of interiority. However, Deleuze also writes of the constitution of interiority as ‘alimentary’ and Guattari writes of the potential of a new way of thinking subjectivity – as ecological and collective.

Key references:

Bains, Paul. “Subjectless Subjectivities.” In A Shock to Thought. Expression After Deleuze and Guattari, edited by Brian Massumi. London, New York: Routledge, 2002.

Bishop, Claire. Installation Art. A Critical History. London: Tate Publishing, 2005.

Brott, Simone. Architecture for a Free Subjectivity. Deleuze and Guattari at the Horizon of the Real. England: Ashgate, 2011.

Deleuze, Gilles. Empiricism and Subjectivity. An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. Translated by Constantin Boundas V. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

Guattari, Félix. The Three Ecologies.
Translated by Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton. London: Continuum, 2008.


Dr Suzie Attiwill is an associate professor in Interior Design and
deputy dean, Learning & Teaching, in the School of Architecture &
Design, RMIT University; and the executive editor, IDEA

Since 1991, she has had an independent practice that involves the design of

exhibitions, curatorial work, writing and working on a range of
interdisciplinary projects in Australia and overseas. Her research
has been published nationally and internationally. Her practice currently engages projects and research with Deleuzian 
pedagogy, trauma, residential care houses, exhibitions and writing.
She holds a PhD (Interior Design, RMIT), MA (Design, RMIT), BA Hons
(Interior Design, RMIT), BA Hons (Art History / Indian Studies, Uni
Melb) and a Certificate in Applied Arts (Textiles).

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