Seminar Readings – Sketch Notes & Written Response

Week 1 Reading

Designing for Interaction: Creating Smart Applications and Clever Devices, Service Design 101, Design Thinking Comes of Age

Designing for Interactions Chapter 1
Design Thinking Comes of Age & Service Design 101

Week 2 Reading

Operating Systems at Mid-Century, Computers and Design

Week 3 Reading

Week 4 Reading

Week 5 Reading

Week 6 Reading — Written Response

In Llach’s piece, he rejects the notion that computers are simply perfect slaves or passive vessels to be used by humans. He instead offers a different perspective on computation which is what he refers to as the infrastructure view. He describes it “as digital technologies for design with social, material, and spatial dimensions — conditions often overlooked by a tendency to imagine software systems as naturalized, immaterial, and placeless entities.” In other words, digital technology and computers are more than their function, but also a sum of the context in which they are used and originated.

Steve Coons, a professor at MIT was the perfect embodiment of this ideal. Trained as an architect, Steve coons understood the nuances of digital technology at the time and wanted to bridge the gap between speculation and technological development. This notion was fueled by his ideas of computation where he mused about a different kind of relationship between humans and computers were mutual collaborators instead of servants.

In his early work, Coons posited the idea general-purpose creative machine that could be used for all kinds of design. However, early on he realized how overly ambitious this was. His work on CAD (which is a profound breakthrough in human-computer interaction) was the product of scaling back his grand vision and focusing on aspects that could be automated or augmented in the design process. CAD enabled an entirely new conception of representing ideas. Design with the help of computers was akin to data processing. Sketching and rendering also could contain more data about a design than what was being shown on the screen.

This isn’t so different than Negroponte’s work described in Steenson’s piece on architectural intelligence. The notion that design could be distilled into data was foundational to Negroponte’s ideas about HCI and Artificial Intelligence. However where Negroponte and Coons Diverge was in their execution. Where coons scaled back on his ideas of a general creative computer Negroponte persisted in his vision of the Architecture Machine (or intelligent environments). While Architecture Machine was never fully realized the concept takes the idea of computers as collaborators a step forward in the sense that they become omnipresent, sentient entities laced into the very fabric of our daily lives. This was echoed in many of Negropontes experiements like SEEK where mice were placed in a contained environemtn that changed based on their behavior.

Week 7 Readings – Written Response

In Steve Coons outline for CAD he talks about a transition from the time consuming processes of punch tapes in milling machines in order to produce 3dimensional rendering, to a cooperative complex where “the intellectual potential of man and machine is greater than the sum of its parts.” The interface operated on a console with a light pen was the bridge between human and computer that would enable this type of cooperative relationship. This model is surprisingly similar to the way we use computers today. Coons described this CAD software being able to work with the designer at whatever fidelity desired. For example, in the beginning of the design process, the designer usually has a vague idea about the precise nature of the output, and thus the computation would be equally crude and vague. As the designer progresses in his thinking, the computation symbiotically improves as well. This was a powerful idea because it implied that computers had the potential to become a tool for exploration as much as it was for execution of ideas.

Coons saw the two different philosophical approaches that could enable this type of computational experience. The first one was to build out a large library of specific functions that might be required by a designer. The user drawing would have the impression that the experience was seamless when in reality the computer was referencing a collection of specific sub routines, and stitching them together like a conductor conducting and orchestra. While practical it did have a huge downside. The design process is unpredictable and if a user required a function that wasn’t present in the library than the illusion would fall apart. The second philosophical approach was to have a few components of the “utmost generality” that could be manipulated by the designer through the graphical form. While coons preferred this approach, it was unrealistic at that moment in time.

Week 9 Readings — Written Response

In the readings this week there was a lot of emphasis on power dynamics and inclusion versus exclusion. In Winner’s piece, he delineates the two varieties of interpretations of how artifacts manifest political qualities. The first common interpretation is where the artifact can create systems of behavior that create different power dynamics. For example, factories lend themselves to hierarchal organization because it allows for efficient organization. The second where particular technologies lend themselves nicely to systems of behavior. For example, Solar power is inherently decentralized and thus, more in tune with democratic principles. This complemented Vertseis analysis of exclusion and inclusion. The idea that the compatibility of different systems has the power to include and exclude is an idea that applies to both broad and specific contexts. Fundamentally, the inability to get the software to work coherently with other software is not so different than getting different classes of society to work together.

Slightly unrelated to the main points of the readings, I think it’s very interesting to look at design/artifacts as having politics associations with it because I think it sheds some light on some overlooked biases designers have about the morality of design. I often hear Designers liken design to a kind of story-telling. One where the villain is the problem and the hero is the design. Winner I think, at least for me, dismantles this idea and positions design more as an entity that is neither good nor bad, but something that is complex, nuanced, and has a significant impact on society. I think some of the problem is that when Designers are hired to work on projects, they get tunnel vision and only notice the immediate impact of the design and ignore the greater context.

For example, an architect designing a bridge might assume that what he is doing is fundamentally good because it allows people to cross a highway or a river. But if the bridge is built in a way that prevents public transportation from commuting to a city which could be critical for marginalized classes of society to get to work, it impacts is perhaps doing more harm than good.

Week 10 Readings — Written Response

In the Atlantic article “Everything we know about Facebook secret mood manipulation experiment” we observed how researchers conducting a study using the facebook news feed were succesfully able to manipulate thousands of peoples emotions by repeatedly exposing people to positive and negative imagery. Despite the obvious ethical questions this raises it was very suprising to see how the researchers themselves didn’t quite understand the outrage or the ramifications of the study. From the researchers perspective, they were simply doing their job and tyring to glean new insights on how to get people to write more on facebook. The values their research were geared to support mainly, finding ways to increase engagment to drive more ad revenue, were misaligned with the values people using Facebook.

As designers of products and services people use, we are often put in similar positions of power and have to make decisions that have implications on what values and biases get perpetuated. This is a problem because as it was pointed out in value sensitive design, values in design are often an after thought and not really considered until it’s too late. Even if designers do consider the values that are embeded in products and services, it still raises the question of how do designers determine what is right or wrong.

I think in the piece on Reflective Design also illustrates this point and provides a good solution to this problem especially well. The writers point out today that HCI in how it’s practiced today has many underlying assumptions and biases that prevent the field from looking at other potential opportunities. For example, HCI often values optimizing for efficiency which in turn effects our perception of “what is possible and desirable.” The concept of Reflective design encourages a kind of reflection that make these biases apparent and invites participation from users to correct them. I like this approach not because it helps overcome preconceived notions of what is right but also shares the burden of moral decision with the people using the product.

Week 11, From Bias to Inclusive Design

In the machine bias piece in ProPublica, minority groups are often correlated with higher risks of crimes. It effectively creates a feedback loop whereby those that are part of a marginalized community are punished more harshly and therefore make it far more difficult to climb out of their already challenging circumstance. All his stems from the flawed idea that people should be judged differently for the same crimes based on an algorithm. What I find so intriguing about how the justice system uses this rating system is that on a fundamental level, this isn’t so different than Chinas rate a citizen program which is big brother-esk. Perhaps you can predict whether someone will recommit crimes, but I think the use of this data does more to perpetuate the problem than preventing it in the future.

Based on this article in the Atlantic, we can already see the effects of the government collecting enormous troves of data. Some people have dismissed this as nothing to worry about, often saying that they have nothing to hide and therefore nothing to fear. However, this mentality misses the point. What’s scary about the government having all this personal data on its citizens is how it can be used. Will the government follow in China’s footsteps and try to model their citizens and predict how likely they are to commit crimes or voice controversial opinions? It’s quite possible. It makes me wonder how justified some of the paranoia. Perhaps paranoia is the only sane way to feel right now. A lot of the current circumstances can be attributed to the rise of the freemium economy. It makes me wonder whether the interaction designers should begin to think about alternative business models capable of making money that don’t’ rely on data collection.

In Futurama Law and Oracle a super intelligent cyborg oracle can predict future crime before it happens which has interesting consequences.

Week 12 Readings — Speculative & Critcal Design

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