Taking [A]part

From Design Thinking, Design Theory

Taking [A]part

The Politics and Aesthetics of Participation in Experience-Centered Design

By John McCarthy and Peter Wright

A critical inquiry into the value and experience of participation in design research.





A critical inquiry into the value and experience of participation in design research.

In Taking [A]part, John McCarthy and Peter Wright consider a series of boundary-pushing research projects in human-computer interaction (HCI) in which the design of digital technology is used to inquire into participative experience. McCarthy and Wright view all of these projects—which range from the public and performative to the private and interpersonal—through the critical lens of participation. Taking participation, in all its variety, as the generative and critical concept allows them to examine the projects as a part of a coherent, responsive movement, allied with other emerging movements in DIY culture and participatory art. Their investigation leads them to rethink such traditional HCI categories as designer and user, maker and developer, researcher and participant, characterizing these relationships instead as mutually responsive and dialogical.

McCarthy and Wright explore four genres of participation—understanding the other, building relationships, belonging in community, and participating in publics—and they examine participatory projects that exemplify each genre. These include the Humanaquarium, a participatory musical performance; the Personhood project, in which a researcher and a couple explored the experience of living with dementia; the Prayer Companion project, which developed a technology to inform the prayer life of cloistered nuns; and the development of social media to support participatory publics in settings that range from reality game show fans to on-line deliberative democracies.


$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262028554 208 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • John McCarthy and Peter Wright are among the most thoughtful and innovative thinkers in contemporary HCI, as this book resoundingly demonstrates. Drawing upon case studies that span from dialogical art projects to innovative technical designs, they force us to confront how HCI as a discipline has conceived of 'participation' and the entire project of design/use relations. The argument that they present will reverberate for a long time.

    Paul Dourish

    Professor of Informatics, University of California, Irvine; coauthor of Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing

  • 'Participation' suffers from being so attractive. The word too effortlessly connotes engagement, equity, and co-production. And that's a problem: there is a fool's paradise in which anyone who does anything is ipso facto participating. Participation can do us more good if there is more to it. Taking [A]part provides this, critically analyzing participation as types of transformative interpersonal relationships.

    John M. Carroll

    Distinguished Professor of Information Sciences and Technology, The Pennsylvania State University; author of The Neighborhood in the Internet