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Participatory Design, over the last 40 years, has begun to infiltrate mainstream commerce and culture in the US. Increasingly our always-on, instant feedback society of users demands a voice in the products, services and environments in which they engage. Many businesses recognize that without user-generated content, they cannot respond quickly and accurately enough to satisfy user needs.

Participatory graphic designers embrace user-generated content by scaffolding acts of amateur creation. Helen Armstrong explored one technique for engaging users in the design process during a recent exercise with xdMFA students.

Secrets: An Exercise in Participatory Design

Students established rules and then co-created letterforms.

Instructions for the exercise were as follows: 

—Reveal to the group a secret that you have never before told. Then boil your secret down to one word.

—As a group, consider all the words and select one word to represent all the secrets.

—Using the letter templates, pick two of the provided materials to build your selected word in a fresh way.

—Establish a clear rule for how to use the materials in your composition and write the rule down on the template.

—Working as a group, start following the established rule to rapidly fill in your letterforms.


Interested in leading a participatory letterform building exercise yourself? Here’s a list of random words to get you started: wordsinahat_001


WordBuild Contributors
Danny Cappacio
Paulina Zeng
Ringo Jones
Ali Place
Kansu Ozden