8. About Infrastructures

We discussed practices in the previous unit using the example of how cars were made possible by a change in the infrastructure within cities and across the country. For this unit let us dig more deeply into the infrastructure that we must accommodate with Design.

The word infrastructure literally means “below structure” (infra- means below). It is the underlying foundation and framework in which all Design whether tangible or intangible exist in. Facebook exists in its current form because of the widespread infrastructure of personal mobile devices. These mobile devices then have their own infrastructure of cell towers that provide reception and internet as well as power stations to provide electricity for the phones to be charged. The cell towers and power stations themselves have their own infrastructure that made them possible. For a Designer to create change they often have to first change the infrastructure to open up new possibilities and opportunities to Design for.

Infrastructure can be physical such as the roads in which we drive, digital such as platforms like Facebook, or even be policy. Infrastructure is inherently about power because of the way it constrains and gives way to particular possibilities. Infrastructure either gives or takes away the agency of individuals and communities. As a Designer, one cannot avoid the political implications of our work, the decisions we make about reinforcing or transitioning away from current infrastructure has real life implications for people. Often times, our role as Designers is to push back against existing infrastructure. One example of how this happens is through speculative or critical Design that uses Design as a way to expose infrastructural issues and the need for alternative futures.

In the discussion of infrastructure, Designers cannot neglect the infrastructure in which they work in. Not only do their Designs exist in the context of an infrastructure, but there is also an infrastructure in which they operate within. Sometimes the first type of infrastructural transition we make has to be within our own work environment. This ties back into being a reflective practitioner of Design. For example, are you given the room and time to think critically about the political implications of your creation? If not, why not? Another good question to consider for your work infrastructure is whether you have spaces in which you can engage people of different culture and social class than yourself to understand their perspective.

Infrastructure shapes the practices of a society just as the practices of a society shape it back. By examining the system and feedback loop we can begin to make strategic interventions in order to make transitions towards a more preferable futures.

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