Improving interactive technology by scrutinizing mainstream trends and their impact on people and society — for human-centred digital design
Deeply enthusiastic about the potential of digital technology, the core proposition of this approach is a deep understanding of social context and values to inform interaction design, under holistic consideration of technology's impact on individuals and society.
The goal is to develop, promote and utilize approaches, methods and tools that integrate easily neglected aspects like
- user value,
- social use experience and life context,
- conceptual usability, and
- data ownership and privacy,
with traditional user-centred design.
Value of the approach
While sceptical about many shortcomings in current interactive design, Critical Interaction Design is not negative. Quite the opposite: the considerate evaluation of alternatives...
- reveals "given truths" (aka. "best practices", "industry standards") worth reassessing
- triggers ideas for innovative, human-centred developments in interaction design practice
- helps develop novel, unique solutions to yield highest provider, user, and societal, value
- acknowledges "users" as people, with human values and individual life contexts - and that interaction design has influence far beyond users
- pinpoints prevalent oversimplification in technology development and develops holistic alternatives
A wide range of stakeholders benefits from off-mainstream solutions for better interaction design:
- commercial services and products looking for differentiation or better fit-to-market
- public services wanting to benefit citizens independently from corporate surveillance
- third-sector actors aiming to do responsible interaction design in people-centred manner
- employers and professionals searching for inspiration to do things differently
- the general public, developing a deeper, reflected understanding of the implications of technology use
The wide range of topics covered by a critical attitude toward current developments in interaction design are presented on this website and blog. To summarize a few of the core topics:
Designing for people, not "users"
“User-centred design” is often flawed by a limited focus on those primarily interacting with technology. The impact and experience of technology beyond the primacy of “use” needs to be baked into the process.
Value-sensitive design: freedom and privacy
Constructively questioning the technological imperative is of value for individuals, organisations, and society at large – alternatives open up new opportunities without giving up on benefits of mainstream solutions. Among other topics, questions of individual freedom, data ownership, corporate/public surveillance, privacy have to be addressed in digital design today.
As technology takes an ever growing role in all aspects of life, the implications of ignoring its social implications on individuals' lives as well as on societal values can be severe. Most importantly, a critical perspective on implicit value decisions in design processes does not have to be anti-technology.
The value of the Critical Interaction Design approach is in facilitating a reflected assessment of inherent values brought along by mainstream technology trends and centralising tendencies in technology development. Potential issues are identified and design decisions can be made under full consideration of alternatives.
This includes considerations of
- technological independence (conceptually as well as technically),
- privacy – and even human rights,
- value conflicts between organisations and their digital activities, and
- conceptual and artistic freedom to create independently valuable designs.
The most obvious solution is not always the best. When applying a common pattern without reflection of the implicit adoption of its connected values, an apparently simple and affordable design may well be in conflict with a service's core goals and values.
Usability is more than a well-designed interface
Usability and user experience are the result of a relevant value proposition, a design that fits the context of use, and only in last consequence a good user interface.
While “usability” is still commonly considered to be a question of wrapping a concept into an intuitive user interface, a holistic understanding of usability requires to take usability, use(r) experience and accessibility questions into account from the very first proposal stage in a design project.
Considerations about usability and user experience need to be considered already before any initial assumptions are made about a service’s goals and target. Usability is a combination of ease of use, appropriateness in context and, above all, the value people can get from using a service, product or technology.
This approach evaluates all aspects of non-/use, and its experience and value, early-on in a project and develops strategies that ensure to not fall into the trap of just “assuming what is good”. A successful usability project does not aim to test and optimize the outcome at the end, but integrates constant validation of concept, context and touchpoints.