A Historical Primer of
Political Artifacts
by Joshua Kaufman
How this happened
The idea
• Talk about the social consequences of design from a
historical perspective
• Don’t include any modern examples
...
How artifacts have
political properties
1. Invention, design or arrangement of artifact becomes
a way of settling an issue...
Many examples of political
design can be found in
architecture and city
planning.
Rober Moses’s low
overpasses
Barron Haussmann’s
thoroughfares
Concrete buildings and
plazas at universities
Other examples of
political design can be
found in industrial
machines.
Cyrus McCorrmick II’s
molding machines
These examples show
how artifacts can be used
to increase the power,
authority or privilege of
some over others.
But we often don’t inquire
whether a device/artifact
has been designed in a
way to produce
consequences prior to any
of it...
We must move beyond
the language of ‘tools’ and
‘uses’ and look at the
meaning of the designs
Design intentions are not
always malicious
The mechanical tomato
harvester
How design choices affect
the relative distribution of
power
1. Yes or no choice
2. Specific features in the design or arra...
Artifacts are ways of
building order
• Devices allow us to order human activity in many
different ways
• Society chooses d...
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A Historical Primer of Political Artifacts

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A short talk from Design Engaged 2005 about the social consequences of design from a historical perspective. Understanding these consequences can help interaction design better understand and consider the social consequences of its actions.

Published in: Design, News & Politics
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  • A Historical Primer of Political Artifacts

    1. 1. A Historical Primer of Political Artifacts by Joshua Kaufman
    2. 2. How this happened
    3. 3. The idea • Talk about the social consequences of design from a historical perspective • Don’t include any modern examples • Use it as a basis for discussion on how current interaction design can better understand and consider the social consequences of its actions
    4. 4. How artifacts have political properties 1. Invention, design or arrangement of artifact becomes a way of settling an issue in the affairs of a community (we live in this space) 2. Some artifacts are inherently political (we deal with these from time to time)
    5. 5. Many examples of political design can be found in architecture and city planning.
    6. 6. Rober Moses’s low overpasses
    7. 7. Barron Haussmann’s thoroughfares
    8. 8. Concrete buildings and plazas at universities
    9. 9. Other examples of political design can be found in industrial machines.
    10. 10. Cyrus McCorrmick II’s molding machines
    11. 11. These examples show how artifacts can be used to increase the power, authority or privilege of some over others.
    12. 12. But we often don’t inquire whether a device/artifact has been designed in a way to produce consequences prior to any of its professed uses.
    13. 13. We must move beyond the language of ‘tools’ and ‘uses’ and look at the meaning of the designs
    14. 14. Design intentions are not always malicious
    15. 15. The mechanical tomato harvester
    16. 16. How design choices affect the relative distribution of power 1. Yes or no choice 2. Specific features in the design or arrangement or an artifact after the decision to go ahead with it has already been made
    17. 17. Artifacts are ways of building order • Devices allow us to order human activity in many different ways • Society chooses designs that influence how people are going to work, communicate, travel, and consume over a long time • Design is legislation • Careful attention needs to be given to seemingly insignificant features for they have the potential to divide and unite people
    18. 18. Thanks

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