Understanding the Impact of Breakdown and Repair on Design Thinking

PI: Dr. Fred Turner


Technological artifacts inevitably break, degrade, and decline. In response, people fix and maintain what they already have: parts are replaced and software is updated. In this study, we propose to examine the work of repair and its impact on design thinking as an important — yet undervalued — source of innovation. We conceptualize repair as the process of sustaining, managing, and repurposing technology in order to cope with attrition and regressive change. In order to investigate such processes, we plan to conduct a detailed ethnographic study of “maker” collectives in the San Francisco Bay Area and Potsdam, Germany known to prioritize practices of reuse, maintenance and repair.

Our fieldwork will closely examine the impact of local repair practices on innovation and expand dominant views of design thinking by incorporating a hobbyist perspective. Our work has ramifications for how we maintain and adapt systems to support design thinking over time (beyond the design and adoption phases) as well as for evolving design processes to take erosion, error and decay into account. Anticipated contributions include scholarly publications, workshops at premier design conferences, and classroom teaching materials.