In this week’s blog we shall discuss a bit more about design as per usual but with a slight twist. Over Lassi.

If you are familiar with South Indian cuisine and beverages you will surely be familiar with this healthy blend of curd (yogurt), water and a few other ingredients depending on your taste preferences. For a Pakistani family lassi holds a special place in the hearts of many as they may include a healthy mug full of this creamy, frothy drink in their breakfast especially on the weekend when they have Halwa Puri. I apologise for tantalising your taste buds at this ungodly hour (probably very far off from breakfast when you read it) but I must make a point – design related – to loop in today’s discussion.

How you may decide you prepare lassi, the reason behind your decision to prepare and consume the beverage will definitely without doubt differ from the reasons I may have associated with this practice. Yes the preparation of lassi is a practice and yes it is different for everyone.

Let’s first understand the term Practice and establish what makes a practice a ‘Social Practice.’ A practice is a routinised behaviour that we may frequently repeat and indulge in. A practice can be as simple as buttoning up your shirt, knotting your tie, brushing your teeth before going to bed as well as eating at the dinner table with the set of cutlery utensils laid out in front of you. In short it is a behaviour often repeated.

Now what makes a practice a social practice? A social practice can be best explained as an everyday activity that is habitually performed in a society. The easiest example is that of cooking a meal for the entire family or preparing a glass of lassi for yourself or your family as discussed earlier.

If and when I am to prepare lassi (sadly it isn’t always a voluntary action…sorry Mum) I make use of tools that I will generally find in the kitchen; fresh ingredients – water, yogurt and a hint of sugar and the tools – a blender, an electric whisk, a jug to store it in and a spoon to taste. Now that I’ve crossed out two main categories of elements off my list I shall proceed to understand and comprehend the competence attached to the task or my competence. In simple terms that means the skills that go into the procedure that I am aware of. How to use an electric whisk and how to determine the consistency are some skills I will consciously or subconsciously perform.

I must then think hard and fast about the meaning that I generally associate with the entire procedure. For the first couple times I may be looking forward to cleaning up my diet and replacing it with healthier options and so my enthusiasm and excitement may then be translated and eventually reflected through my actions. However as time goes on, the more I practice the routinised behaviour the more I begin to look for ways to speed things up.

But,what happens when I no longer look forward to making it for myself? Am I still as enthusiastic as I was a few attempts ago? No. I see it more like an invisible hand holding me back and thus I may be frustrated and exhausted beyond repair when it comes to making the drink this time round. The meaning behind the activity has completely changed this time even though the tools and the competence remains untouched. What makes it slightly unique is how we think about it and what social or cultural meanings we presumably apply to it.

Social practices help designers understand how people think or use a product thus aiding the cultural reproduction and appropriation of a practice. Doing an action over and over again is no doubt going to improve your skills and equip you with a craft you may otherwise have not mastered.

So the next time you prepare Pancakes, a mug of Espresso or Lassi, think of the meaning that is implied behind the scenes and understand the process all the while asking yourselves – am I beginning to think like a designer?

Let me know what activities you can identify as Social Practices!

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