How Methods Make Designers

Avle, Seyram; Lindtner, Silvia; Williams, Kaiton

Through their combination of lifestyle and method, Silicon Valley models for tech production such as design thinking, startup incubators, lean management, etc. are spreading across the globe. These paradigms are positioned by product designers, politicians, investors and corporations alike as replicable routes to individual and national empowerment. They are portrayed as universal templates, portable across national borders and applicable to local needs. We draw from our ethnographic engagements with tech entrepreneurial efforts in Ghana, China, and Jamaica to unpack the stakes involved in their uptake, showing that while local actors produce situated alternatives, their work nevertheless often results in a continued valorization of these seemingly universal methods. We argue that design methods shape not only use practices, but have consequences for the life worlds of professional designers. This includes how they impact personal and national identities, confer legitimacy in transnational innovation circles, and secure access to social and economic resources. Ultimately, we call for an inclusion of these factors in ongoing conversations about design and design methods.