Each week we publish a weekly newsletter.
From time time I publish a longer article, which someone at some point on Twitter (I’ve sadly forgotten who) referred to as Allsopp’s Fables, which I liked so much I adopted.
But most week’s I typically collect and connect some of the things I’ve been reading that week, and I’ve taken calling that “Allsopp’s Cables”
I’ve been remiss in not typically then publishing these here at Web Directions, but starting today I’m looking to rectify that!
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Weaponised Design and the rendering of intent
Many years ago Jared Spool observed that “Design is the rendering of intent“. In this article, Jared observed
The notion of the academically-trained, experienced designer holding the keys to the design outcome fades with this definition. In fact, when we think about design in these terms, it becomes clear that many of the people rendering their intention don’t know they are designers. This implies the role of the experienced designer shifts from owning the design outcome to educating all the other designers on the team on how to best render their own intentions.
In recent months, and indeed years, as the appreciation of the value of design, and the demand for design skills has grown, and as a consequence as the impact of design on everyday life has increased, leaders in the field, and others, are increasingly critiquing the role and impact of design.
Design’s Lost Generation
Well known designer, Mike Montiero, recently published “Design’s lost generation”
those of us currently drawing paychecks for professional design services — are design’s lost generation. We are the Family Ties era Michael J. Fox of the design lineage. Raised by hippies. Consumed by greed. Ruled by the hand of the market. And nourished by the last drops of sour milk from the withered old teat of capitalism gone rabid. Living where America ends — Silicon Valley.
They’re strong uncompromising words. He continues
We are gatekeepers, and we vote on what makes it through the gate with our labor and our counsel. We are responsible for what makes it through that gate, and out into the world
In a world of fake news, the profound influence of bots and social media on society as a whole, the use of social media to harass, intimidate, distort and worse, leaders like Monteiro challenge the profession to address the impact of design.
Design for Trust
One particularly egregious example of the negative impact of technology companies in recent months was the Equifax data breach, which saw extremely private and personal information about hundreds of millions of people leaked. Equifax’s response, in the guise of helping people ascertain whether their information had been leaked was to trick users into waiving their rights to sue while ostensibly making it easier to check the status of their information.
At the time when Equifax needed their user’s trust the most, they deliberately decided to breach it.
We see this sort of dark pattern and trickery time and again. With a commodity as precious and easily squandered as trust. Someone rendered the intent of Equifax, rather than saying no, and pushing back against it.
Nathan Kinch, who’ll be speaking on this very issue at Design recently wrote extensively on designing for trust, and argues transparency about user’s data is a new competitive advantage.
Throughout our research and experimentation, we’ve come to learn data transparency has the single greatest impact on a brand’s trustworthiness. Trustworthy brands are inherently more meaningful. They outperform the stock market by 206%.
The Tactical Technology Collective, a data activist organisation wrote even more uncompromisingly recently about “weaponised design” and how “The lived experiences of digital platform users is at odds with how these systems are designed”. They detail numerous high profile examples and consider why these incidents take place.
Design is inherently political, but it is not inherently good. With few exceptions, the motivations of a design project are constrained by the encompassing platform or system first, and the experiences and values of its designers second. The result is designers working in a user hostile world, where even seemingly harmless platforms or features are exploited for state or interpersonal surveillance and violence.
Elevating the perception of Design
But of course many many designers are aware of, and care deeply about these challenges. And a key way for design and designers to help shape the strategic decisions of the organisations and clients they work with and for is for design to be more highly valued by others. At Playbook, the design community we referenced last week, Bobby Ghoshal recently outlined strategies for raising the perception of design.