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Critique of Human-Centered Design OR Decentering Design

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Short talk I gave at Interaction17 pointing out some negative components of human-centricity.

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Critique of Human-Centered Design OR Decentering Design

  1. 1. Critique of HCD OR Decentering Design Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt thomas@srsg.co srsg.co
  2. 2. Design Facilitator Strategist and Researcher Design Critic Author Based in NYC Research Interests: HCD, sustainability, design philosophy, co-operative and participatory design, design ethics and the politics of design Thomas Wendt Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  3. 3. HCD fails to recognize its own paradoxes HCD feigns political neutrality HCD within capitalism is fundamentally unsustainable Premises Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt In a way, this talk used HCD as a platform to talk about sustainability. I maintain an ambivalent relationship to this topic, as I make part of my living by teaching HCD. But I think we need to think more critically about the things we do everyday. Focusing broadly on “centricity” in general. More of a critique of centricity; HCD is just a convenient target.
  4. 4. “Practicing criticism is a matter of making facile gestures difficult.” Michel Foucault https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwi4-LGJ7e7OAhVJ1R4KHcOVDPAQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fredaccion.lamula.pe %2F2016%2F05%2F04%2Fcinco-peliculas-para-acercarnos-al-pensamiento-de-michel-foucault%2Fmanuelangeloprado%2F&bvm=bv. 131669213,d.dmo&psig=AFQjCNE3qL9R4PaBFzANOa50w_DK0aGHgw&ust=1472842773590572 So the point of this talk is not to dismiss HCD but rather to call its flaws into question while still remaining open to accept its benefits. This is not an anti-humanist talk
  5. 5. HCD fails to recognize its own paradoxes Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  6. 6. Abductive reasoning Studies of the artificial Wicked problems Complexity Participation Origins of HCD Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt movement away from the original interest in complexity among the early design theorists
  7. 7. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwi4gM7m8e7OAhVJlR4KHf6vDdwQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Falchetron.com %2FGiancarlo-De-Carlo-767428-W&bvm=bv.131669213,d.dmo&psig=AFQjCNGN-ma0lCfhA0Cw8hU_XVdQtKoDWw&ust=1472844048049211 “Architecture is too important to be left to architects.” Giancarlo De Carlo Where Tim Brown got the “design version” Anarchism, Participatory architecture for real human needs Steelworks story. Vision for a participatory future in design.
  8. 8. But somehow we dumbed it down to… Problem + HCD = Solution Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Our scientific rationalism creeps in and we start looking at HCD as a means of pure problem solving. Russell Ackoff on solving, resolving, dissolving, and absolving.
  9. 9. Problem-Solution Paradox Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt One cannot propose a solution without understanding a problem AND One cannot understand a problem without proposing solutions
  10. 10. Archaeology Paradox Context Field Themes Frame Creation Model Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Frame Futures Transformation Integration Method for dealing with paradoxes. Kees Dorst
  11. 11. Innovation is not inherently good Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  12. 12. “The chief premise common to both technology and science is the notion that there are no desirable limits to the increase of knowledge, of material goods, of environmental control; that quantitative productivity is an end in itself, and that every means should be used to further expansion.” Lewis Mumford https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwjQu76H-bfRAhVh3IMKHf_lDA0QjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fcultura.elpais.com %2Fcultura%2F2016%2F05%2F16%2Fbabelia%2F1463398051_720886.html&bvm=bv.142059868,bs. 1,d.eWE&psig=AFQjCNEpkm3ZcfJhbBiF6zsIR3QvKL4nkA&ust=1484150333852340 Hyper-rationalism leads to uncritical acceptance of innovation. Mumford: classic techno-pessimist concerned with power structures in technical systems
  13. 13. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwjl37fu46bRAhVFOiYKHRMzDRYQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Frebrn.com%2Fre %2Fsuicide-nets-in-chinese-factories-that-make-various-technologica-540946%2F&bvm=bv. 142059868,d.eWE&psig=AFQjCNEVbTtmzQ93rJIOuQ0Z_xht4v6iVw&ust=1483560529919466 Innovation has a cost Foxconn manufacturing (not just Apple but also HP, Nintendo, Sony, and others) Even the net (as an innovaiton) ignores the real problem
  14. 14. Human needs ≠ Market needs Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt The biggest HCD paradox of all. These are usually not compatible and are often at odds.
  15. 15. HCD feigns political neutrality Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  16. 16. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwjwkL6jjanRAhXGOSYKHRagDFwQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fcyberspaceandtime.com %2FYGfwr5AL7T4.video&bvm=bv.142059868,d.eWE&psig=AFQjCNHKJOBhHAPwD3fWOPybuVoPvXiHZA&ust=1483640340689596 “Designers materialize morality.” Peter Paul Verbeek Wrote about this at length in Design for Dasein
  17. 17. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwi5kvmR7KjRAhWJbSYKHUdMD_cQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.reddit.com%2Fr %2FLateStageCapitalism%2Fcomments%2F4gidxe%2Fstone_balls_to_knock_passengers_off_indonesian%2F&bvm=bv.142059868,d.eWE&psig=AFQjCNHIjTbGu46j- RqLHzChMC_7L0h4dA&ust=1483631455078080 These types of design get a lot of attention.
  18. 18. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwjEqsD27KjRAhUI7yYKHaqUBZwQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki %2FLinkNYC&bvm=bv.142059868,d.eWE&psig=AFQjCNEGnqLP0hJPFX0mtSd7stqh6Uyyow&ust=1483631689849652 But these types of designs are equally political. Free wifi = sign in to collect data, auto log in, targeted ads Designers made a political and ethical choice about what is important in an urban landscape. Ads, not community, social ties, culture, common good
  19. 19. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwjx77vS7O7OAhVJlR4KHUqoAxoQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki %2FBill_de_Blasio&bvm=bv.131669213,d.dmo&psig=AFQjCNG5zE1H909KO14tQTY7MP4UVK_apA&ust=1472842656619228 "One thing I know about my fellow New Yorkers, they like things that are completely free of charge.” Mayor Bill De Blasio Irony is that they’re not free at all. Costing us a sense of dwelling. I’m scared by this neoliberal acceptance of invasive advertising.
  20. 20. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Human “People want free things”
  21. 21. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Human Centricity forecloses on everything outside the center Human becomes sovereign in a system of which we are only a small part. We don’t think about community, social ties, culture, common good, dwelling
  22. 22. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Human Everything Else This is really what HCD espouses. This is a political statement, and probably not one we want to make.
  23. 23. HCD within capitalism is fundamentally unsustainable Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  24. 24. Humans want/need/desire things that result in limiting their own capacity to thrive. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Fry, defuturing
  25. 25. Humans or Consumers? Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Who does HCD address? Humans or Consumers?
  26. 26. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwjniZykyqrOAhUNySYKHULVBokQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Ftechcrunch.com %2F2016%2F06%2F28%2Famazon-expands-its-dash-button-program-to-50-more-brands-says-orders-taking-place-twice-a-minute%2F&bvm=bv.128617741,bs. 1,d.eWE&psig=AFQjCNHk53IK-_iuoOOZQ_6CIJrJffKjkw&ust=1470496941706454 This is what we end up with from companies we tend to associate with HCD. Things designed under the auspices of “human”needs” These types of “modern conveniences” do not serve real needs; they instead serve to ensnare consumers in patterns of “convenient consumption.”
  27. 27. We are so alienated from our food sources in modern industrial capitalism that we rely on packaged garbage to feed us. So we might cook up some Kraft Mac and Cheese for dinner.
  28. 28. The combination of sodium, carbohydrates, and artificial everything makes us dehydrated, so we turn to Gatorade to quench our thirst.
  29. 29. All this sweetened, artificial food packed with preservatives upsets our digestive systems, so we always need an abundance of Cottonelle toilet paper.
  30. 30. We use Clorox wipes to clean the kitchen, because anything less than clinical sterilization is unacceptable.
  31. 31. And since the wipes are conveniently disposable, we throw them away in a Glad trash bag to be shipped off to the landfill.
  32. 32. We put on some Loreal Youth Code after dinner to ward off any signs of natural aging.
  33. 33. Now it’s time to tend to the children, feeding them their own form of packaged garbage in the form of Gerber baby food.
  34. 34. And changing their Huggies diaper And throwing the old one out in the Glad bag (it always ends in trash)
  35. 35. Humans or Consumers? Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Who uses this stuff? Is this empathy? Is it deception?
  36. 36. “Centricity” is anti-ecological Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  37. 37. Ecology = study of the home, dwelling Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Home is different than house; it includes physical, social, and ethical dimensions of dwelling. Dash buttons do not encourage dwelling. Capitalist HCD at scale is not equipped to deal with ecological concerns. It tends to treat the “home” as a source of material to convert into capital.
  38. 38. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwjniZykyqrOAhUNySYKHULVBokQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Ftechcrunch.com %2F2016%2F06%2F28%2Famazon-expands-its-dash-button-program-to-50-more-brands-says-orders-taking-place-twice-a-minute%2F&bvm=bv.128617741,bs. 1,d.eWE&psig=AFQjCNHk53IK-_iuoOOZQ_6CIJrJffKjkw&ust=1470496941706454 A landscape like this is not home
  39. 39. “To separate ecological problems from social problems […] would be to grossly misconstrue the sources of the growing environmental crisis. In effect, the way human beings deal with each other as social beings is crucial to addressing the ecological crisis.” Murray Bookchin https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwiLl9-b-LfRAhUH7YMKHfjSC0cQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.jacobinmag.com %2F2016%2F07%2Fmurray-bookchin-ecology-kurdistan-pkk-rojava-technology-environmentalism-anarchy%2F&bvm=bv.142059868,bs.1,d.eWE&psig=AFQjCNGMm2q- R4TKozVEBBaPZMUqTB-DCw&ust=1484150126292221 Social ecology. HCD tends to see design problems as things needing fixing, rather than complex and systemic issues.
  40. 40. Rethinking Centricity Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Looking beyond HCD
  41. 41. It’s time for HCD to get its shit together Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  42. 42. Designers = Revolutionaries Decentering Design Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt “Serious ecologists must be revolutionaries.” Judi Bari
  43. 43. Designers = Revolutionaries Balance human uniqueness with ecology Decentering Design Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Bookchin
  44. 44. Designers = Revolutionaries Balance human uniqueness with ecology Determine how to bring about action Decentering Design Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Like an addict hitting rock bottom Holloway on the scream
  45. 45. Designers = Revolutionaries Balance human uniqueness with ecology Determine how to bring about action Resistance must create desired futures Decentering Design Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Graeber on anarchism
  46. 46. Read about my next book: bit.ly/persistentfools Thanks!

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