This article concerns how designers sought to create improved social relations among severely disabled residents in a care home in Denmark. Rather than to rely on paid help, the care home management wanted to increase the number of voluntary friendships between the residents of the home and members of the local community. From a design standpoint, the project explored ways to determine the needs of individuals with severe communication difficulties. This presented a very demanding challenge since the key “users” were unable to express themselves. The methods designers typically choose to find out about their target user group involve interviews and discussions. Most design processes assume the user is able and willing to communicate their needs. This condition did not apply here. The paper builds on work done (Herriott 2012) which looks into methods and approaches that get past the problem of the “absent user.” The paper examines how the use of proxies affects the design process and the way in which social design produces not only a “product” but affects the conditions in which it will be used.
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