Reading Response #8

to Artful Design, Chapter 8: Manifesto

Frankie S.

2022 November 20

Music 256A / CS476a, Stanford University

Reading Response: Design as a Conscience

For as much work (and how often humbling) this class has been, its chapters like this remind me why I am so glad to have taken this class. The commitment to philosophy and design impact is amazing and I find it critical–but it has me wondering why this it is so low on the list of priorities for a designer in training. Having started out as a product design major, I am quite honestly surprised at how little these ideas are discussed in our curriculum. Design thinking, prototyping, and sketching are all really valuable skills but equally important are the ethical, social, and aesthetic considerations that a design imposes. Look at Instagram. The commitment to advertisers and feed engagement has had a significant impact on the attention and focus of our younger generations–I see it in my siblings everyday. I think this idea of principle 8.11 “Design is the embodied conscience of technology” is a step in the right direction, but I am not sure logistically where this all comes in.

Is it for the designer? While they think ahead in creating and sketching wireframes. What are the social implications of this category being placed over that one. Is it for the engineer? As they design target parameters for machine learning algorithms that optimize engagement and click through rates. Is it for a psychologist? Who consults with a tech company to determine the implications of both design and engineering decisions on individuals and society at large. Who is to say? There are so many moving parts and assuredly no one size fits all cure to these aesthetic and moral challenges.

I know for me as a designer it’s hard to even picture the steps necessary to get something working much less consider its aesthetic statement and implications. How can I take on the responsibility of creating a piece’s consciousness when I can barely code it to see my mouse pointer? I wonder if everyone feels this way? It’s unfortunate that so often this is the order of operations when it comes to creating, and honestly to quote something you (Ge) once said “Make it work, make it right, make it fast.” Maybe I’d revise this to say “Make it meaningful. Make it just. Make it work. Make it right. Make it fast.” I certainly could use this in my own work.

Unfortunately when it comes to who to school in this design, I think that ‘design is the consciousness of technology’ I think it comes down to our collective expectations. We congratulate students for becoming engineers, we pray for students pursuing art practice. We proclaim the gospel of job security and a stable income and push aesthetic value to the wayside. I’m not writing this to say that job security and high pay are not good things to have–they certainly are. But there needs to be a balance. If we valued having a philosopher on a startup team to analyze the ethical implications of the work being done there would be a lot more jobs for philosophers. If we employed the same sense of value of authentic artistic expression as we did on sleek logo design we might encourage more artists to pursue their passions without fear of financial ruin. What’s funny is that it all comes down to what we are willing to endorse. And we very well could change that.