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Decentering Design or a Critique of Human Centered Design

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45 minute version of a previously uploaded talk for the Information Architecture Summit 2017

Published in: Design
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  • 58 slides and I have been left still hoping for something that might constitute an actual argument instead of being lectured to from the pulpit with post-post-post-structuralist gobbledygook that continuously fails to substantiate its would-be-intellectual claims.
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Decentering Design or a Critique of Human Centered Design

  1. 1. Decentering Design OR A Critique of HCD 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 Empathy is faux ethics 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. 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.
  5. 5. “One of the (many) ways this culture is killing the planet is through a lack of imagination.” Derrick Jensen https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwjvp7G78-7OAhWBJh4KHYZODYIQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fblog.coach.me %2Fderrick-jensen-interview%2F&bvm=bv.131669213,d.dmo&psig=AFQjCNETAFmz2oEOEYwMpWT_FKROYozIIQ&ust=1472844476561644 Call to action for designers. Radically reimagine systems of power and ways of being
  6. 6. HCD fails to recognize its own paradoxes Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  7. 7. Abductive reasoning Studies of the artificial Wicked problems Complexity Collaborative design Origins of HCD Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Movement away from the original interest in complexity among the early design theorists Giancarlo de Carlo. “Architecture is too important to be left to architects
  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. One cannot propose a solution without understanding a problem AND One cannot understand a problem without proposing solutions Problem-Solution Paradox Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  10. 10. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwjjqLuY2sTSAhVFZCYKHXleApcQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fextreme.stanford.edu %2Fprojects%2Fembrace&bvm=bv.148747831,d.amc&psig=AFQjCNFNEI5U0aVRu2BApUC3w6-AP8X3sw&ust=1488986779187933 Low cost incubator = lower infant mortality Hospital in Nepal with empty incubators because babies are born at home Embrace costs 1% of a hospital incubator and can be used anywhere. Great product, but it only begins to uncover the real structural issues of the problem space. Why is health care lacking in these regions? Why is getting to a hospital so difficult? Why are local healers not already dealing with this?
  11. 11. “Nearly all of our present ecological problems originate in deep-seated social problems.”” Murray Bookchin Social ecology. (ecology as the interaction between environmental elements) HCD tends to see design problems as things needing fixing, rather than complex and systemic issues. Mention Kees Dorst’s Frame Innovation model
  12. 12. Innovation is what makes humans special AND Innovation is not inherently good Innovation Paradox Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Bookchin on how humans can innovate rather than simply adapt
  13. 13. “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 Hyper-rationalism leads to uncritical acceptance of innovation. Mumford: classic techno-pessimist concerned with power structures in technical systems
  14. 14. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwi1uYOi38TSAhUB3yYKHf4vBWUQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F %2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D2-5RP-okG8w&bvm=bv.148747831,d.amc&psig=AFQjCNED81HFTmYI6DwqIbEi-240KW58pQ&ust=1488987846844890 Apple’s “Real Problems Answered” campaign
  15. 15. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjbj5yN38TSAhWINSYKHYP8AdQQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F %2Fwww.scoopnest.com%2Fuser%2F9to5mac%2F661266477497122816&bvm=bv. 148747831,d.amc&psig=AFQjCNED81HFTmYI6DwqIbEi-240KW58pQ&ust=1488987846844890
  16. 16. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwi1uYOi38TSAhUB3yYKHf4vBWUQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F %2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D2-5RP-okG8w&bvm=bv.148747831,d.amc&psig=AFQjCNED81HFTmYI6DwqIbEi-240KW58pQ&ust=1488987846844890
  17. 17. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiAwL6O4MTSAhXHJCYKHSicDh8QjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F %2Fwww.theverge.com%2Fcircuitbreaker%2F2016%2F10%2F27%2F13440830%2Fmacbook-pro-iphone-lightning-usb-c-adapter-dongle&bvm=bv. 148747831,d.amc&psig=AFQjCNG6WIcveLGsVqJrmNEBuFamidQV3Q&ust=1488988375977201 Or is this the real problem? Credit Dan Klyn
  18. 18. 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 Or this? Foxconn manufacturing (not just Apple but also HP, Nintendo, Sony, and others) Even the net (as an innovaiton) ignores the real problem
  19. 19. Market needs ≠ Human needs Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt The biggest HCD paradox of all. These are usually not compatible and are often at odds.
  20. 20. HCD feigns political neutrality Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  21. 21. 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
  22. 22. 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.
  23. 23. 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
  24. 24. "One thing I know about my fellow New Yorkers, they like things that are completely free of charge.” Mayor Bill De Blasio 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 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.
  25. 25. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Human
  26. 26. 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. Another paradox: J Paul Neely’s conclusion that design systems have no boundaries
  27. 27. Empathy is Faux Ethics Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt To understand an other’s feelings In pathos
  28. 28. Empathy is necessary… Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  29. 29. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Empathy is necessary… but not sufficient
  30. 30. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Human Empathy is not equipped to deal with ecological concerns
  31. 31. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwjQw9OJhZHSAhVIfiYKHda3AhgQjRwIBw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pinterest.com %2Fdavyhoornaert%2Fux-empathy-map%2F&psig=AFQjCNFpZIwyPu0472Tc6od0IQ88dQD-cw&ust=1487955006435417 Empathy is simply an attempt to reconcile the dissonance of political neutrality. Designers convince themselves that empathy will fix everything, and spend their time on silly frameworks rather than thinking critically and ecologically.
  32. 32. Empathy ≠ Good design Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  33. 33. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Empathy = You’re not a psychopath
  34. 34. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwjK9uvv2KbSAhWFOCYKHaQsCZUQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F %2Fwww.simonandschuster.com.au%2Fbooks%2FPsychopath-Factory%2FTristam-Vivian-Adams%2F9781910924402&psig=AFQjCNH6qy3yocFpUm6XI-JML- MrEj95yw&ust=1487955629112403 “The psyche and its empathetic capacities are put to work just as much as are bodies and cognitive capabilities.” Tristam Adams Capitalism regulates empathy as much as bodies and minds.
  35. 35. “Empathy is a flow, it is current-and wave- based—it is analogue. The subject cannot make a conscious decision for whom they empathise with or where and when empathy becomes involved. Nonetheless, capitalism seeks to digitise empathy; it seeks to segment empathy into on and off, zeros and ones, so that empathy, or a form of empathy, can be utilised.” Tristam Adams Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Empathy becomes another force for capitalism to regulate. Similar in design: empathy has become a function of ethics and productivity. Designers are taught to empathize, but how are we expected to turn it on and off?
  36. 36. Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=0ahUKEwiMyLLX4abSAhXkxYMKHX0tCT0QjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.businessinsider.com %2Fairbnb-takes-down-san-francisco-ads-2015-10&psig=AFQjCNEaKxB6q_eYBNBs1d_LmhEu371raw&ust=1487957923000165 Empathy is great for the individual but can be devastating for ecologies, especially when it leads to further privatization of common resources.
  37. 37. Image stolen from David Holl
  38. 38. Commercial empathy is misguided at best and a vehicle for oppression at worst Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  39. 39. HCD within capitalism is fundamentally unsustainable Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Buying stuff is not a human need. Capitalism trains us to think that it is.
  40. 40. Humans or Consumers? Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Who does HCD address? Humans or Consumers?
  41. 41. 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.”
  42. 42. 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.
  43. 43. The combination of sodium, carbohydrates, and artificial everything makes us dehydrated, so we turn to Gatorade to quench our thirst.
  44. 44. All this sweetened, artificial food packed with preservatives upsets our digestive systems, so we always need an abundance of Cottonelle toilet paper.
  45. 45. We use Clorox wipes to clean the kitchen, because anything less than clinical sterilization is unacceptable.
  46. 46. And since the wipes are conveniently disposable, we throw them away in a Glad trash bag to be shipped off to the landfill.
  47. 47. We put on some Loreal Youth Code after dinner to ward off any signs of natural aging.
  48. 48. Now it’s time to tend to the children, feeding them their own form of packaged garbage in the form of Gerber baby food.
  49. 49. And changing their Huggies diaper And throwing the old one out in the Glad bag (it always ends in trash)
  50. 50. Humans or Consumers? Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Who uses this stuff?
  51. 51. “The origin and refractoriness of unsustainability can be attributed to many causes, but two stand out as critical: the Cartesian, scientific mindset of modern cultures and the hegemony of technological and technocratic solutions to all individual and collective problems.” John Ehrenfeld Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Unsustainability lasts because of centricity: both of scientific hegemony and technocratic power. Capitalism created both of these effects.
  52. 52. “Centricity” is anti-ecological Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt
  53. 53. 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. 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.
  54. 54. 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 not a home-like landscape
  55. 55. Rethink human needs through the lens of radical, prefigurative politics Thomas Wendt Surrounding Signifiers @thomas_wendt Stories of quitting jobs if you’re doing more harm than good. Being good enough as a designer to effect change in restrictive systems. Get radical (focus on root causes) Prefigurative politics Practice solidarity and mutual aid
  56. 56. What Things Do: Philosophical Reflections on Technology, Agency, and Design - Peter Paul Verbeek The Psychopath Factory: How Capitalism Organizes Empathy - Tristam Adams Endgame - Derrick Jensen The Myth of Human Supremacy - Derrick Jensen Toward an Ecological Society - Murray Bookchin Remaking Society - Murray Bookchin Change the World Without Taking Power - John Holloway Direct Action: An Ethnography - David Graeber Tools for Conviviality - Ivan Illich Design for the Real World - Victor Papanek Further Reading
  57. 57. Read about my next book: bit.ly/persistentfools Thanks!

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