INFO/STS 4240: Schedule

Introduction: Values, Technology, and Design

What does it mean to build a technology that has a good impact on society? Can "values" even be built into technology? If not, does this mean designers have no responsibilty? If so, what values do technologies already have? How do they impose these values? How can we start designing with values in mind?

Aug 29
Technology, Design, and Social Impact
An introduction to the class. We'll review course mechanics, get a sense of the wide variety of approaches that have been used to design for a good social impact, and consider some of the possible social issues that come up in design.
Aug 30
Sep 2 - Labor Day
Sep 3
Values in design
How have values been thought about as part of design? We'll look at key perspectives from technology and product design.
Additional resources: A classic reading on how to bring values into the design process along the lines suggested by Nissenbaum: Flanagan, M., Howe, D. and Nissenbaum, H. Embodying Values in Technology. In Information Technology and Moral Philosophy. Jeroen van den Hoven and John Weckert (eds.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 322-353.
Sep 5
Speculative Design
We'll adapt Gaver's design workbook technique as a method to explore cultural and social issues in and through the early stages of design.
Additional resources: Note: these papers, like many on the syllabus, are available only if you are logged in on Cornell networks. An easy way to get access from off campus is to use the Cornell Library's Passkey plug-in.
Not feeling confident about sketching? For a great how-to, see Mike Rohde's article on sketching as a design tool.
Another awesome paper describing design work drawing on speculative design is Gaver and Dunne: Projected realities. For more on how we can think about designs as a form of conceptual reflection, see Bill Gaver and John Bowers. 2012. Gaver and Bowers: Annotated Portfolios interactions 19, 4 (July 2012), 40-49.

Sep 6
Sep 10
Responding to readings through speculative design
We'll continue honing our skills at speculative design as a way to explore conceptual issues related to design.
Bleecker: "Part 1: Design Fiction"; pp 3-8 only of Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact, and fiction
Sep 12
The 'impact' of design
What does it mean to say that a technology design has a certain social 'impact'? How can we understand the consequences of design?
Edgerton: Significance (This reading - like all those without a web link - is available in the course reader for purchase as the bookstore).
Sep 13
Sep 17
Case study of values and impact in design: Modernist architecture
We'll look at a detailed example of designers aiming for social impact with their design. In part, they achieved these aims; in others, they were wildly off. We'll use this case to think through the complexities of how to approach social impact through design.
Scott: The High-Modernist City
Using design to persuade

One way in which we might create a positive impact is by using technology to persuade people to think or act differently, by providing new forms of information or by suggesting different ways to see what is happening around them.

Sep 19
Persuasive computing
Designing software and hardware to persuade people to alter their ways of thinking or their behavior, and thereby contribute to solving social problems.
Additional resources: Another useful how-to for persuasive technology: Fogg: Creating persuasive technologies: An eight-step design process
Sep 20
Sep 24
Political information visualization
How can - and should - we use information visualization to make a point?
Additional resources: Here is a great overview on how to address accessibility in data visualizaion, in such a way that you make things more understandable for everybody. Some other useful tactics for designing compellingly persuasive information campaigns include the following: Principle: Make the invisible visible (by Nadine Bloch) (Beautiful Trouble, pp 152-153); Principle: Bring the issue home (by Rae Abileah and Jodie Evans) (Beautiful Trouble, pp 106-107); and "Show, Don't Tell (by Doyle Canning, Patrick Reinsborough and Kevin Buckland)" (Beautiful Trouble, pp 174-175)). What to do with your visualization? How about Tactic: Guerilla Projection (by Samantha Corbin and Mark Read) (Beautiful Trouble, pp 52-53)?
A nice example of political visualization is the Data Viz Challenge, a contest to generate visualizations of where your tax dollars go.
Sep 26
Political games
Using game design to communicate political points of view..
Sep 27
Oct 1
Persuasion or coercion?
Reflecting on the politics and experience of persuasion
Additional resources: In class, I'll also be covering this argument: Brynjarsdottir et al: Sustainably unpersuaded.
Oct 3
Expanding design framing
How do you decide what the problem is you are trying to solve? How can we expand our imaginations about how technologies - or non-technologies - can make change?
Additional resources: What are some other options for making social change? Beautiful Trouble is full of them. How about organizing a strike (by Stephen Lerner) ? Or jury-rig some solutions (by Gui Bueno)?
Oct 4

Code and algorithms form a contemporary infrastructure for our organizations, work, and social life. What kinds of impacts do they have on how we behave, alone and together? How can or should technical infrastructure be designed for better social outcomes?

Oct 8
Politics of algorithms
How do political issues become embodied in the details of how computer programs work? How could they become embodied in new ways?
Additional resources: An oldie but goodie - Introna and Nissenbaum: Shaping the Web: Why the Politics of Search Engines Matter.. This article explores the political consequences of search engine algorithms. It was the first landmark article to argue that search engines shape our political discourse, intentionally or unintentionally. While this article was written before the launch of Google (was there such a time?), its analysis is still relevant to search engines today.
Oct 10
What is infrastructure exactly, what are its effects, and what should we consider when designing it?
Jackson, Edwards, Bowker and Knobel: Understanding infrastructure
Additional resources: Another guide to infrastructure, with some suggestions for design: Star and Bowker: How to infrastructure
Oct 11
Oct 14 - Fall Break
Oct 15 - Fall Break
Oct 17
Algorithmic fairness
How do algorithms 'build in' societal biases, and what can we do about it?
Additional resources: A great article about how algorithms should be managed: Michael Luca, Jon Kleinberg, and Sendhil Mullainathan: Algorithms Need Managers, Too
Oct 18
Oct 22
Data-driven work
How are work infrastructures shaping how we will work in the future? What kinds of voices can workers have in them?
Oct 24
Infrastructural activism
Intervening in work infrastructures to shape new outcomes
Oct 25
Expanding participation in design

Until now, engineers and designers have mostly been in the driver's seat. Here we expand beyond experts in technology - how can individuals and communities be involved in design decisions that affect them? Can we use this to improve the design of technology and its impact?

Oct 29
Participatory design
Developing methods and philosophies for designing technology directly with non-technically-trained participants.
Additional resources: Some concrete examples of participatory design exercises: Brandt: Designing exploratory design games; Kyng: Designing for cooperation: cooperating in design; Foverskov and Binder: Super Dots
Oct 31
Dialogic art practice
Art practices intended to engage communities and develop their abilities to comment on issues that matter to them
Nov 1
Nov 5
Creating civic conversations
How can technologies be used by citizens to have a say in how they are governed? What role can designers play to support such conversations?
Erete and Burrell: Empowered Participation
Additional resources: This op-ed explores how data can be used to bring communities together to help their citizens: David Brooks: "A Really Good Thing Happening in America". If you're interested in the Community Playbook, you can find more details here: Creating a Sociotechnical API.
Designing imagination
Technologies act not only through what you can do with them but also through the ways they shape our imaginations of what technology could be, who it could be for, and what kind of lives it could fit into. In this section we'll look at the social meanings of technology and how to design explicitly to use and reflect on this dimension.
Nov 7
When the impact is the narrative
Sometimes - perhaps much of the time -the primary impact of a technology is not what it does, but how it shapes our imaginations of what is possible or should happen.
Nov 8
Nov 12
Mental health day
Everyone needs a break sometimes. Take one today.
Additional resources: Principle: Pace yourself (by Tracey Mitchell) (Beautiful Trouble, pp 158-159); and note Laurie Penny's argument in Life-hacks of the poor and aimless that being critical of the idea of individual responsibility for wellness embodied in so many apps these days does not mean it's not OK to take care of yourself
Nov 14
Critical design
Critical design as a strategy for reflecting on the social implications of technology and the design process itself.
Dunne & Raby: Chapter 4, Design Noir
Additional resources: Just because it's 'critical' doesn't mean we don't need to be critical about it - see e.g. Questioning the 'critical' in Speculative & Critical Design
Nov 15
Nov 19
Critical and speculative design workshop
Refining design techniques to express and question values and futures in design
Bleecker: "Part 3: Fact and fiction swap properties", pp 25-33 only of Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact, and fiction
Nov 21
Afrofuturism as design fiction
Imagining alternative technological worlds and histories which start from experiences of the African diaspora.
Womack: Evolution of a space cadet (in the course reader)
Additional resources: Black Panther is the most widely known recent example of Afrofuturism; read more about that connection here. Yaszek's Race in science fiction: The case of Afrofuturism is a great overview and history of Afrofuturist science fiction and how it imagines new futures. Jasmine Weber describes a design lab dedicated to Afrofeminism: An Afrofeminist Project Uses Technology to Empower Marginalized Communities. Woodrow Winchester describes how to leverage Afrofuturism in interaction design: Afrofuturism, inclusion, and the design imagination.
Nov 22
Looking forward, looking outward
In this final section of the course, we will look at how ideas we have looked at in the class are playing out in the world.
Nov 26
Final exam review
Nov 27 - Thanksgiving Break
Nov 28 - Thanksgiving Break
Nov 29 - Thanksgiving Break
Dec 3
The Silicon Valley theory of social change
How do IT developers in Silicon Valley frame how they are making a difference? What kind of a difference are they making?
Additional resources: Issues about Silicon Valley's take on how social change happens have been hitting the news a lot. See, for example, Arieff's Solving all the wrong problems. Another take on who tech developers and designers are supposed to be, and the ideas of change embodied in them can be found in Lilly Irani: Hackathons and the Making of Entreprenuerial Citizenship
Dec 5
Technology design beyond Silicon Valley
What alternative framings of technology innovation exist if we stop assuming Silicon Valley is its center?
Dec 6
Dec 10
Course conclusion
We'll review where we've come and plot out paths moving forward.
Additional resources: Here's a set of resources for students who are interested in pushing the agenda of computing and social impact.
Dec 16: We offer two alternative take-home final exam dates in this class. You have your choice of which exam date you prefer. You must select your date preference on CMS by Dec 1. No changes to exam date can be made after that date. The first exam will begin on Dec 16 at 4:30pm, due on Dec 17 at 4:30pm.
Dec 18: The second take-home final exam will begin at 4:30pm, due on Dec 19 at 4:30pm.