Reading Response #7:
to Artful Design • Chapter 7: Social Design
I'm a little wary of the notion of social design, as though the notions of designing objects can be neatly ported over the complex realm of the human. Many aspects of our social existence clearly CAN be designed – the way we interact with objects, the way objects bound our lived experience (again, referencing Bruno Latour's Object Oriented Ontology), and the way social contracts – our law system being a great example – shape our lived social experience. Still, there are certain aspects of human experience I believe should be untouched by the 'design' mentality – intimate relationships, creative process, emotions, interiority – these are arenas that resist design notions like 'simplicity' or 'efficiency' or 'utility' and can be almost swamplike in their murky mystery. Perhaps the idea of a well designed park versus a swamp is actually a nice metaphor for the spaces that we may not WANT to design. The swamp is a disorganized, messy, murky, inhospitable place for humans – yet it is a critical and vibrant ecosystem for those very same reasons. The human-designed park is wonderful for certain things, like walking, or picnics, or gathering with others – yet exists on a very specific wavelength of human utility. Both the 'designed' and the 'undesigned' have their merits.
I do love the concept of designing for human connection as an end-in-itself. It's a lovely antidote to results- or task-based valuation of our daily existence in late capitalist society. It's easy to neglect the simplicity of time with others simply as a goal for its own sake. If technology can service this goal, that feels like an ethically admirable path. Of course, even that has its pitfalls, as we've so clearly seen with social media like Facebook. Facebook states that its goal is to connect people, yet that quickly became sullied and demonstrably not the goal of the platform. Instead, outward-facing 'connection' became surveillance capitalism data-mining, and even the limits of 'connection' became apparent when mediated by a relatively limited platform, at least compared to "IRL" interaction.
Finally, the principle "designing for strangers" is appealing to me – in my own design journey, I've only ever designed tools for myself or people I know or can easily talk to. Designing for strangers is an entirely different challenge, and one that really tests the merits of the user-friendliness of your design. Can someone pick it up and understand immediately? How well does the design communicate itself? One of the best traits of Apple's design is how incredibly intuitive so much of their software is – it's commonly noted how children seem to nearly intuitively understand how to interact with an iPad, despite it being a pretty darn advanced piece of technology.