Design for people

As an expert in human-centred design, I am always interested to follow the latest debates on how people are taken into account in design. My personal focus is what I refer to as “non-user centred design” (the consideration of technology’s impact beyond its users). If interested, please also refer to the posts related to non-use research.

Bookmarked:

Ian Bogost, in this piece on The Atlantic, expands the notion of “precarity” from the economic into the technological sphere – the instability and unpredictability of (technological) objects:

The frequency with which technology works precariously has been obscured by culture’s obsession with technological progress, its religious belief in computation, and its confidence in the mastery of design. In truth, hardly anything works very well anymore.

From self-flushing toilets, through autocorrect and Amazon algorithms, to Facebook’s and Google’s business models, the author expresses the concern over the increasing gap between what humans need and what technology provides:

Technology’s role has begun to shift, from serving human users to pushing them out of the way so that the technologized world can service its own ends. And so, with increasing frequency, technology will exist not to serve human goals, but to facilitate its own expansion.

In the final paragraph, Bogost draws an image that moves the dystopia of robots taking over a technologized world from SciFi movies into the techno-centric culture of today:

It won’t take a computational singularity for humans to cede their lives to the world of machines. They’ve already been doing so, for years, without even noticing.

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Bookmarked:

This article by Fabien Girardin is an invitation to “imagine another version of the Internet respectful of people’s attention and time”:

In the current version of the Internet, digital artifacts connect individuals into feedback loops that drastically compress time and give a sense of simultaneity: the Big Now. With the lure of control, the more data we produce online, the faster the Internet gets back to us to respond to our fascination for real-time information, to influence our behaviors or to grab our attention. Like in other moments of major revolution in information technology, individuals and organizations need to adapt their values, practices and objectives to get their time and attention back.

Interestingly, outside of start-up bubbles and big tech companies, the signs of a change in how people appropriate technology in their lives are getting stronger. While it still appears to be a niche movement, critical engagement with the values of the “Big Now” is gaining traction – my interpretation is that “using technology less” is going to be the next big thing in technology.

(A special gem are the time-space maps by Spiekermann & Wegener; wonderful visualisations!)

via Nicolas Nova

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beyond tellerrand – two mind-blowing conference days in Berlin

I had heard a lot of good things about beyond tellerrand, the semiannual web/design/tech conference in Germany. I was prepared to listen to an impressive line-up of speakers from the fields of both design and web technology. I was looking forward to reunite with old contacts and meet friendly people. What I was not expecting […]

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Bookmarked:

Amen!

Erika Hall presents why purely user-centred design is out-of-date, explains how data-driven design is actually bias-driven design, and debunks the myth of the genius designer working chiefly based on intuition. And offers her own alternative approach:

We need evidence-based design. Because what we are doing first and foremost is designing. It doesn’t matter how much research we do, or what method we use. There is no one right answer. It matters that we have sufficient evidence to support our choices and decisions, however we get that evidence.

From my point of view, the idea of doing “just enough research” proclaimed by Hall is a question of choosing the right methods for the task (often a mix of approaches, and sometimes even just using light versions of them).

And, ultimately, it is not just important what research we do to build up evidence for design, but also how to anchor the knowledge within the design team; ideally the designer-researcher is an integral member of it:

It doesn’t matter how much research you do if the people who have acquired the most knowledge write a report and move on.

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Bookmarked:

Based on my experiences from teaching at Aalto University’s design department last fall, all hope is not lost on the issues this op-ed on the New York Times raises:

If the most fundamental definition of design is to solve problems, why are so many people devoting so much energy to solving problems that don’t really exist? How can we get more people to look beyond their own lived experience?

Author Allison Arieff ponders the importance of what is considered progress in parts of the tech scene, highlighting how well-funded innovation often serves a marginal slice of society and how the “uninteresting” target groups (those with real problems that would need solving) are too easily forgotten. Given their enormous capacity, do designers really change lives for better?

To “hack” is to cut, to gash, to break. It proceeds from the belief that nothing is worth saving, that everything needs fixing. But is that really the case? Are we fixing the right things? Are we breaking the wrong ones? Is it necessary to start from scratch every time?

This text will be required reading in any future courses I am going to teach on design.

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Creating meaning in the abandoned – a perspective on disenchantment with the new

The short film “Follow Me on Dead Media – Analog Authenticities in Alternative Skateboarding Scene” by Joonas Rokka, Pekka Rousi and Vessi Hämäläinen presents their research on an alternative skateboarding scene in Helsinki. It is a so-called videography – academic ethnographic research using video as a method (for an intro on the academic methodology debate, […]

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Ignoring social inequality in design: poor customer experience

As sociologists, we frequently use inequality as a lens to examine various dimensions of social life. A blog post by Jenny L. Davis illustrates how the non-use of technology (in this particular instance, due to lack of access) may not only be a manifestation of the so called “digital divide” – the topic of the […]

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“Disconnectionists” – the institutionalisation of non-use?

Back in November, Nathan Jurgenson, the scholar who earlier coined the term “digital dualism” to describe (and challenge) the belief that online and offline lifes are separate entities, wrote an article on The New Inquiry titled “The disconnectionists”. The essay examines the philosophy of people promoting the benefit of consciously disconnecting from digital networks for […]

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Using while not using: social interaction on auto-pilot

A patent document was published by the US Patent and Trademark Office on November 19, describing a system developed at Google that analyses a user’s accounts on social network sites in order to provide half-automated reactions to relevant activity within these. From the patent description: There is no requirement for the user to set reminders […]

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Facebook non-use: An explorative study on practices and motivations

A paper titled “Limiting, Leaving, and (re)Lapsing: an Exploration of Facebook Non-Use Practices and Experiences” by Eric P.S. Baumer et al., presented in May at CHI 2013 (slides), sheds some light on the practices of Facebook non-use and people’s experiences with them. While the presented numbers on the prevalence of Facebook non-use are knowingly not […]

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Have-nots and want-nots – a taxonomy of voluntary and involuntary non-users

About 10 years ago, technology researchers started to discuss voluntary non-use in contrast to the prevailing assumption that non-use is an involuntary state. In their 2002 book chapter “They came, they surfed, they went back to the beach: Conceptualizing use and non-use of the internet”, Sally Wyatt, Graham Thomas and Tiziana Terranova suggest a “taxonomy […]

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Scarcity of personal time resources as a reason for quitting Facebook?

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project published some interesting non-use related numbers related to Facebook, in a report titled “Coming and Going on Facebook”: 61% of current Facebook users say that at one time or another in the past they have voluntarily taken a break from using Facebook for a period of […]

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