Challenging industry conceptions with provotypes

Laurens Boer, Jared Donovan, Jacob Buur

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Design researchers have an important role to play when engaged with user-driven design projects in industry. Design researchers can craft ethnographic material to facilitate transfers of user-knowledge to industry, and demonstrate how this material can be used in the design of new products and services. However, ethnographic findings can reveal issues that are in tension with conceptions of the project members from industry. Instead of brushing these tensions aside, we propose provotyping (provocative prototyping) as an approach to constructively build on them as a resource for change. Provotypes are ethnographically rooted, technically working, robust artefacts that deliberately challenge stakeholder conceptions by reifying and exposing tensions that surround a field of organisational interest. The daily and local experience of provotypes aims to stir dialectical processes of reflection on how conceptions currently are, and fuel the front end of a development process by speculating how conceptions could be different. In this article we start by making explicit the relation between provotypes, practices of critical design and organisational sense-making. We then illustrate, through a multi-stakeholder project concerning the field of indoor climate, how provotypes facilitate transfers of user knowledge to industry, and how they contribute to the development of new products and services. We end by framing the role of the design researcher and discuss the politics that are inherent to design provocations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCoDesign: International Journal of CoCreation in Design and the Arts
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)73-89
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


  • provotyping
  • participatory innovation
  • critical design
  • organizational sense-making


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