Note — Feb 17, 2019

The City Is My Homescreen

Excellent essay by Dan Hill on mobiles, cities, strategic design, and the ways multiple disciplines of design (from interaction to urban planning, and including speculative) can work together. His main thesis here is that our focus on users results in products which might be great for the individual but bad for cities. I.e. Uber is useful and well designed for one user but the presence of hundreds more cars in city centres is bad for trafic and urban life. How can design be envisioned and practiced to bring the same kind of quality of experience while embedding the products or services more humanely and effectively in the fabric and systems of the city? The Oslo Bysykkel example is especially interesting to read through, and I love his definition of speculative design (highlighted below).

(Bonus points for mixing together Brand’s shearing layers, The Wire’s Bunk Moreland, and James Bridle.)

Unfortunately, although design practice has developed and stretched powerfully in order to help drive these technologies forwards, our core digital design disciplines, such as interaction design or service design, do not train us for these broader challenges. […]

Forcing that agenda will encourage designers using these contemporary and emerging technologies to break out beyond the bezels, to look up from pecking and pawing at those candy-coloured 180x180 icons and to engage with the reality of the context around them, and to see this as a rich, vibrant and endlessly inventive cultural and environmental terrain. […]

Making systems ‘seamful’, rather than seamless, in this way immediately asks more complex questions, provoking a more holistic approach to system design. Loading the homescreen into the city, metaphorically if not literally, requires us to engage with the impact of systems in terms of social fabric, of local cultural context, for example. How might such systems build trust rather than erode it? How might such systems knit together social fabric rather than shred it? These are design briefs to resolve. […]

Speculative design – sometimes design futures or design fiction – uses the processes and artefacts of design practice to address, uncover and articulate unknowns, often from a critical perspective. […]

Seeing design as forms of decision-making across these various aspects is where the real invention is required, the true design agenda. […]

“[T]he survival of the ordinary and the everyday; the survival of citizens over cities; of infrastructures of everyday dignity over big, signature, spectacular projects; of incremental change over instantaneous transformation; of the bazaar over the mall, the shared auto over the expressway” [Quoting Gautam Bahn]

Related: How design for individuals has impacts on the shared is also the frame for Jon Evans’ Privacy is a commons.