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 22
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.
Additional resources: Objectified. This is a great documentary about contemporary product design, with some discussion of social impact. Includes and an interview with noted critical designers Tony Dunne and Fiona Raby.
Aug 24
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.
Aug 29
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.
Aipperspach, Hooker, and Woodruff: The heterogeneous home; pay particular attention to this workbook example
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.

Aug 31
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.
Additional resources: Another nice example of working through ideas with speculative design: Pierce and Paulos: Some variations on a counterfunctional digital camera
Sep 4 - Labor Day
Sep 5
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 7
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 12
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 14
Politics of artifacts
How do artifacts more generally 'persuade'? By what mechanisms do they encourage us to do some things and not others?
Sep 19
Political information visualization
How can - and should - we use information visualization to make a point?
Additional resources: A useful tactic for designing compellingly persuasive information campaigns is "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 21
Political games
Using game design to communicate political points of view..
Sep 26
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.
Sep 28
Expanding our theories of social change
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)?
Re-engineering engineering

So far we've considered social issues mostly at the level of the interface and application, but sometimes social issues arise in the details of the code. Programmers may have difficulty knowing or addressing those issues, since they aren't generally trained in values. How could or should engineering practices be altered in order to embody different values?

Oct 3
Open source
Using open-source methods to expand the range of values embodied in contemporary engineering practice: why and how to.
Goldman and Gabriel: Building a Community (This is a section of How to do open source development - a fabulous resource for anyone looking to start an open source project)
Additional resources: Written for design practicioners: Dykstra-Erickson and Cheri: An Open Source Primer. ; Schlesinger: Working with Open Source: a Practical Guide; Bach and Twidale: Social Participation in Open Source: What It Means for Designers . Beautiful Trouble has useful advice for people who want to organize collectively with an open-source-style ethos: Tactic: Distributed Action (by Phil Aroneanu) (Beautiful Trouble, pp 36-39; Principle: Simple rules can have grand results (by Andrew Boyd) (Beautiful Trouble, pp 176-177); Principle: Make new folks feel welcome (by Jonathan Matthew Smucker) (Beautiful Trouble, pp 150-151); Principle: Enable, don't command ( by Kathryn Blume) (Beautiful Trouble, pp 132-133); Principle: Delegate ( by Josh Bolotsky and Andrew Boyd) (Beautiful Trouble, pp 122-123); Principle: Beware the tyranny of structurelessness (by Josh Bolotsky) (Beautiful Trouble, pp 102-103); Principle: We are all leaders (by Jonathan Matthew Smucker) (Beautiful Trouble, pp 203-204)
Oct 5
Activist Design
Designing technologies to fulfill activist agendas.
Oct 10 - Fall Break
Oct 12
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 12: Piazza post for miniproject 3 due
Oct 15: Piazza response for miniproject 3 due
Design responses
Oct 17
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
Oct 19
Technology design beyond Silicon Valley
What alternative framings of technology innovation exist if we stop assuming Silicon Valley is its center?
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 24
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 26
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
Oct 31
Dialogic art practice
Art practices intended to engage communities and develop their abilities to comment on issues that matter to them
Nov 2
Challenges in participatory design
What happens to participatory design when it is deployed in complex social worlds that sometimes resist its central message.
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 9
Guest lecture: Social impact in the real world
In this class, we'll talk with Jehiel Oliver, the founder of social impact start-up Hello Tractor. His company is developing a cloud-based system to allow small farmers in Nigeria to affordably rent access to tractors. Jehiel will tell us about his experiences in working towards social impact in the tech startup world.
USAID Video: Hello Tractor
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: Find critical and speculative design confusing? An accessible intro to how these kinds of design work with and against conventional design - what he here refers to as 'design resistance' is provided by Pierce: "Section 3.2: Introduction to Design Resistance"; pp. 70-84 only in Working by Not Quite Working: Designing Resistant Interactive Proposals, Prototypes, and Products.. Also, 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 16
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
Final exam review
Nov 23 - Thanksgiving Break
Nov 28
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: 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.
The rebooted Black Panther series from Marvel comics has a strong Afrofuturist element. See Marvel's Black Panther isn't just another black superhero.
Nov 30
Course review and wrap-up
Dec 1: (Optional) Mini-project redo
Dec 8: Our regular 24-hour take-home final exam will begin at 2pm
Dec 10: Our back-up take-home final exam will begin at 4:30pm. If you want to sign up for this date, you must do so on CMS before Dec 1.