My research centers around trying to understand and critique the role of connected, responsive, changing things in experience and society in ways that can inform response-able design. It currently has two main threads. The first is concerned with the role and character of digital things and interactions; it stems primarily from my background in human-computer interaction and strong influence of philosophy of technology, especially postphenomenology, as well as some media studies. The second and newer thread concerns the roles and responsibilities of design in the ongoing reconfiguration of the artificial world; my work in this vein is informed primarily by critical technology and design studies.
My work has tended to be analytic and philosophical, as my critical sense-making has typically involved making design theory. I also remain closely connected to interaction design practices and education, and am interested in moving more into exploratory design research as a complement to my other kinds of conceptual work.
Connected things are now all around us: often in our hands, pockets, homes, workplaces, and urban environments. In various ways they mediate actions and interactions, opportunities for presence and engagement in the world. Digital networked things open up opportunities for many kinds of mediations that are not possible with purely physical, non-connected things. Yet even as they are often cleverly designed to ‘disappear into experience’, their actual functions can be quite complex and opaque. One of the most important functions of connected things is actually now to produce data about use and users, when data has become a basic industrial resource. Questions of technological mediation and production and use of data (which is never raw) take on increasing importance and urgency as everyday actions and interactions mediated by digital things become imbricated in the flows, feedback loops, and control mechanisms of cybernetic platform capitalism. These are the kinds of critical analytic questions that I am currently exploring.
As connected, dynamic, responsive things become the norm, this also raises fundamental questions for industrial design. Since these are not like our old stable, predictable, physical things, making them look like they are is not a viable long-term strategy. But what could be an aesthetic appropriate to these things that are more like fluid assemblages? How could they show up in ways that allow them to become useful and meaningful parts of people’s lives while also providing meaningful transparency and control regarding their other roles serving other actors under platform capitalism? These are questions for experimental design research that I will be exploring.
This research is funded through 2021 under the project I am leading called Design Philosophy for Things That Change, funded by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation.
As shown by a large body of work in philosophy of technology, science and technology studies, and related fields, technology design is inevitably loaded with certain values and assumptions, and plays political roles in the world that are not neutral. We also now live in a time when the artificial has become the effective horizon of human existence, being both already thoroughly shaped by human artifice and also amenable to ongoing (re)making and (re)configuration. These processes of caring constructively for the artificial world and its inhabitants can be called design, broadly conceived.
While design in general can be seen as acting to bring about intentional change toward some preferred state, professional practices of industrial design are rather severely implicated in the unsustainable practices of production and consumption under industrial capitalism that have had a disastrous impact on our environment. There is a desperate need for new design response-abilities: taking responsibility for the consequences of design, and cultivating our collective capacity to respond to present ecological crises and unsustainabilities. These are urgent questions especially for everyone connected to formal design practices and educations. They are ones that I have been increasingly grappling with in the past few years as I have been part of a traditional industrial design school.