Reflections: ‘Handlungsspielraum’

To frame the role as process designer, it is relevant to take a look at Makhaeva et al’s (2016) concept of a ‘Handlungsspielraum’. Originating from the field of PD, which is fundamentally concerned with facilitating creative processes, a ‘Handlungsspielraum’ is a conceptual creative space in which participants and designers collaborate and creatively think about the design at hand by exploring unique pathways through balancing given structures and freedoms. On the one hand, structures aim to provide safe spaces in which participants feel comfortable and stimulated. Makheava et al (2016) refer to different kinds of structures to create a ‘Handlungsspielraum’, namely social structures, physical structures, and mental – methodological structures. The first entails the roles and relations of all involved human actors, whereas the second includes the physical spaces in which the design session takes place or the materials available to the participants. Mental structures include the interests, thought patterns or habits of participants and methodological structures include the methods that are applied or the design brief. On the other hand, creative freedom opens possibilities for participants to contribute their ideas. Creative freedom can be created by deliberately deciding to omit or limit different kinds of structures (e.g. by reducing the specificity of the design task at hand), by introducing structures as opportunity spaces (e.g. by diversifying materials) or through attitudes (e.g. positive enforcing explorative behaviours). The interplay and balance between structures and freedom leads to meaningful participation, Makhaeva et al (2016) state.

In: Makhaeva et al (2016, p. 54) 


Makhaeva, J., Frauenberger, C., & Spiel, K. (2016, August). Creating creative spaces for co-designing with autistic children: the concept of a Handlungsspielraum. In Proceedings of the 14th Participatory Design Conference: Full papers-Volume 1 (pp. 51-60). ACM.

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