for practical use than for rhetorical
argumentation? What about designing
things we think we shouldn’t actually
make? Or making things we believe
shouldn’t be mass-produced or widely
distributed? Or distributing things
people probably won’t want to adopt
and integrate into their lives?
Take issues of privacy and
surveillance. Google Glass might
be the next great thing. Or it might
irreversibly erode privacy we
value. Exaggerated and subversive
surveillance devices are created by
artists to question and critique current
surveillance technologies. Maybe
interaction designers need to be
making more things with clearer aims
of inhibiting use, displacing routine
practice, and foreclosing technological
Designers are in the business
of presenting people with new
possibilities. Far from neutral, these
possibilities inevitably embody
designers’ own values and ideas about
how people should live. Whether
derived from processes that are user-centered, participatory, or otherwise,
designers ultimately exert some
authority and help shape morality
through the things they propose and
make. 15 So why do we not also offer
people designs that clearly embody
things we should not value or ideas
about how we should not live Should we
not be counterbalancing our positive
material arguments with negative
ones, by designing things we perhaps
shouldn’t make, shouldn’t mass-produce, or shouldn’t uncritically use
or adopt? 16
As interaction designers, we
uniquely possess skills, tools, and
perspectives to positively provide
such negative designs. Do we not also
possess a unique responsibility to do
James Pierce is a designer, researcher, and
Ph.D. candidate. He lives in Oakland, California
and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
DOI: 10.1145/2626373 COP YRIGH T HELD BY AUTHOR. PUBLICATION RIGHTS LICENSED TO ACM. $15.00
undesigning, the most suitable, most ideal
“real design case study” might actually be
more of an ideal design than a real one.
See Pierce, J. Undesigning technology:
Considering the negation of design by
design. Proc. of CHI 2012.
12. For example, see the Fast Company
articles filed under their hashtag #unplug.
13. Alternatively, new design offerings
can be understood as stimulating new
demand and creating new needs and
desires. As an example of a combined
perspective, Shove, Ingram, and Watson
propose “a cyclical model of designing and
consuming: one indicating that consumer
practices stimulate design; and that new
products stimulate new practices.”
Ingram, J., Shove, E., and Watson, M.
Products and practices: Selected concepts
from science and technology studies and
from social theories of consumption and
practice. Design Issues 23, 2 (2007), 3–16.
14. Phoebe Sengers has previously urged
us here to “think not about how technology
can give us access to more choices, but about
how we can design technologies that help
us create constraints on our choices.” In
a similar vein, Ellie Harmon and Melissa
Mazmanian highlight t wo common tropes
surrounding smartphone discourse in
popular culture, “one calling for increased
technological integration, the other urging
individuals to dis-integrate the smartphone
from daily life.”
Sengers, P. What I learned on Change
Islands: Reflections on IT and pace of life.
Interactions 18, 2 (2011), 40–48; Harmon,
E. and Mazmanian, M. Stories of the
smartphone in everyday discourse: Conflict,
tension and instability. Proc. of CHI 2013.
ACM, New York, 2013, 1051–1060.
15. For a recent articulation of
this perspective on design, see Peter-Paul Verbeek’s Moralizing Technology:
Understanding and Designing the Morality of
Things. University Of Chicago Press, 2011.
16. Which raises the question, what
about things we can’t sell commercially?
Commercially viable undesign represents a
particularly perplexing paradox. Research
and art are, in certain regards, more viable
routes for extreme forms of undesigning,
although issues of research we can’t publish
and art we can’t exhibit will always persist.
More important, the traditional artistic
and academic outlets of art galleries and
research publications are severely limited
in their ability to materially and practically
engage at the level of retail outlets and
commercial products and services. What
we need are perhaps alternative hybrid
forms of production and distribution for
(un)design. Ideally such outlets would help
“counterproducts” to compete on similar
material ground as their counterparts.