Values in Design
Focusing on socio-technical design with values
as a critical component in the design process.
VALues OFten pLAy out in in- formation technologies as disasters needing man- agement. When Facebook started sharing data about
what people were buying or viewing,
it ended up with digital egg all over its
face. Focusing the initial design pro-
cess on complicated values of privacy
might have helped Facebook avoid
this uproar. To use another example,
the “terms and conditions” that most
users simply “accept” without read-
ing could be made easier to read and
understand if the values inherent in
fair contracting were incorporated
in the design of such agreements
in the first place. But conversations
and analyses of the values found in
technologies are generally engaged
after design and launch, and most
users are faced with a daunting set
of decisions already made on their
behalf (and often not to their benefit)
and impossible choices if they would
like to do things differently. Sensible
responses to this problem have been
developed over the past 10 years,
and a community of researchers has
formed around the role of human
values in technology design.a A new
book on Values in Design from the
MIT Press Infrastructures series illus-
trates the issues.
a Examples of existing work in along this theme
include Batya Friedman’s values-sensitive design, Mary Flanagan and Helen Nissenbaum’s
Values at Play, Phoebe Sengers’ reflective design, T.L. Taylor’s values in design in ludic systems, and Ann Cavoukian’s privacy by design.
research program (see http://www.nyu.
html). This suite of projects is aimed
at redesigning Internet architecture to
handle ever-expanding modes of usage
with fewer problems due to design mistakes about values. An initial meeting
of people from these projects revealed
three values that need immediate attention. One involves the trade-off bet ween security and privacy: for example,
can we design computing “clouds” so
that search queries cannot be traced to
an individual user or IP except in carefully controlled circumstances subject
to appropriate prior review. Not surprisingly, the U.S. National Security Agency
wants to maintain loopholes that allow
it to pursue the important value of national security. Can these values be reconciled through a compromise design?
Another involves hardwire design for
Digital Rights Management (DRM) that
protects digital rights while permitting
flexibility as information policy evolves.
A third concern, “cultural valence,”
means systems designed by one group
(for example, Americans) should not
impose American values about structure, protocol, use, and policy on non-Americans as Internet architectures go
global. The point is not that designers
have the wrong values, but that one of
the key features of values is that different people hold different values, and
often hold to those values very strongly.
Figure 1. Results of a Google search on “Cameroon.”
Infrastructures and Values
Successful infrastructures serve peo-
ple with different values. A good ex-
ample of this is mobile technologies.