[-empyre-] Hactivating Design

Kevin Hamilton kham at uiuc.edu
Sun Nov 22 07:41:11 EST 2009

Glad to see the HCI discussion come up here, and in the context of  
questions about Design in education. Perhaps I'm just pessimistic, but  
I don't think we have long before today's "New Media" programs are  
squeezed out of fine arts curricula by  HCI and its cousins in  
Industrial Design and Graphic Design. HCI is hard to distinguish for  
many an upper-level administrator from the Digital Media / New Media  
programs born in the last ten years. The confusion is understandable  
from a distance, as HCI borrows increasingly from New Media and  
Computer Arts for methods, media, and even critical language - all to  
the consumerist ends outlined by Nick.

It's easy for students to distinguish between the two, however, given  
the easy product tie-ins of HCI and other design education. Much  
current design education is, as Nick implies, essentially an exercise  
in meta-shopping. (Who's a better shopper than the one who hangs  
around the factory line?) I fully expect that the sort of hires that  
resulted in our current, even mildly-critical digital arts programs  
will not come again, except perhaps for in the most elite and high- 
price-tag programs of the world.

So what are we to do, if we care about exercising a role as educators  
and researchers beyond the provision of politicized recess for  
students who won't need to work for a living after school?

1 - Make hay (or raise Cain?) while the sun shines - this seems to be  
the bang.lab approach, as far as I can tell ( I can't imagine that  
Calit2 will support these projects for long-term? If so, then great!)  
T.A.Z., tactics over strategies, all that temporary stuff is always  
possible, and maybe the only way. (I also think here of Wodizcko,  
trained as an Industrial Designer, but taking Papandek's ideas and  
moving right out of that field in the 60s/70s.)

2 - Prepare for the inevitable change in our institutional waters, by  
acquainting ourselves with the methods of our future partners/bosses/ 
overlords, making ready to live in their world as critical members who  
ask tough, informed questions.

3 - Identify our current work as "preservable," something to be  
protected in the name of knowledge, like the older arts of traditional  
glass and ceramics.

4 - Depart from the arts and sciences altogether, to identify  
ourselves with media studies in the humanities. (Christiane, can you  
speak to this option?) Bank on the whole "practice-based research"  
trend, keeping a wary eye on the Social Sciences as possible,  
occasional, collaborator.

I'm trying a little bit of all these things myself, with increasing  
hope for option #4. In addition to skepticism about the consumerist  
ends of design and arts education, I'm also looking to steer clear of  
the technocratic, ahistorical progress machine of modern science  
(sustainability as economic catalyst).

Any thoughts? Maybe a public listserv isn't the safest place to have  
this conversation?

Kevin Hamilton

On Nov 20, 2009, at 2:38 PM, nicholas knouf wrote:

> Brooke, Ricardo, and everyone,
> Thanks for your interesting points regarding notions of design,
> designing, and designers.  This has also been on my mind recently,
> especially as a result of my position within a traditional
> human-computer interaction program.  Here there is no questioning the
> role of the designer: the designer is to be subservient to the "needs"
> of the "user", where the user is defined as that constructed by
> corporations and the market.  Researchers actively seek out
> relationships with corporate sponsors and corporate research labs.   
> As a
> result, there is no discussion regarding broader societal issues,
> excepting where they intersect with present corporate priorities, as  
> in
> the rhetoric of "sustainability"---and of course there the limits of  
> the
> conversation are already set, again by the market.
> This situation caused me to write a polemical paper for the main
> conference in HCI, ACM SIGCHI, called "HCI for the Real World"
> (http://zeitkunst.org/publications/hci-real-world).  In it, and this  
> is
> the main point of my post, I draw heavily on on the work of Victor
> Papanek, an industrial designer who wrote, for me, a very influential
> book originally published in 1970 entitled _Design for the Real  
> World_.
> He focuses on the role of the designer, not only in the composition of
> the products made, but prior to that, in the very selection of  
> projects
> to work on:
> "...I must agree that the designer bears a responsibility for the way
> the products he designs are received at the market place. But this is
> still a narrow and parochial view. The designer’s responsibility  
> must go
> far beyond these considerations. His social and moral judgment must be
> brought into place long before he begins to design, since he has to  
> make
> a judgment, and a prior judgment at that, as to whether the products  
> he
> is asked to design or redesign merit his attention at all. In other
> words, will his design be on the side of the social good or not" (66).
> This is one of the key, but unasked, questions within HCI.  There is a
> general agreement on the relationship of HCI to corporations, the
> market, and "users", yet there is no questioning of the very  
> assumptions
> that underlie that agreement, and thus what are the important problems
> that students and faculty spend their time on.  Of course there are
> complicated interrelationships here between funding agencies,
> professional societies, methods of reward, the system of publication  
> (in
> HCI, emphasis on yearly conference papers versus less-frequent, but  
> more
> in-depth, journal articles or monographs), and so on.  Yet these are  
> the
> very conditions that should be at the forefront of debate,  
> especially in
> a "discipline" that is relatively young like HCI---but they are not.
> Returning to someone like Papanek, writing a similar polemic for
> industrial design and at the height of an earlier "ecological"  
> movement,
> is key to foreground the continuities between different aspects of
> design, different time periods...and to suggest transdisciplinary
> connections.  Design can be more than ICT for development, more than
> "sustainable consumerism", but only if designers take responsibility  
> for
> their choices of what to research and what to design (and where they  
> can
> have a decent amount of control over that choice, such as in the
> academy), and if they instill in their students a similar ethic.
> Designers in academia would have to push against the notion that they
> have to teach their students "marketable skills".  (And, I would  
> argue,
> that if the designers really wanted to teach skills that would improve
> the "bottom line" of companies they would allow for much more creative
> activity on the part of their student-designers, but that is the topic
> for a longer post on the interrelationship of interrelationship of
> contemporary "cognitive capitalism" and modern technological
> development.)  Undertaking projects such as Brooke's "hactivating
> design" and "undesigning" and Ricardo's "garageScience" opens up  
> spaces
> to address these questions and suggest possible alternatives.
> Nevertheless, I want to additionally point to the ways in which
> Papanek's project is an explicit critique and condemnation of
> contemporary (both then and now) processes of consumerist capitalism.
> Thus this approach is not to encourage design to necessarily create  
> new,
> more "hackable" "products", but rather to question the very system of
> consumption and the manufacture of desire that creates a system of
> "products".  This is the potentially radical implications of following
> in the wake of Papanek: of using design not to create a "more just"
> capitalism, but rather to create the conditions of possibility of real
> alternatives through an engagement and reconfiguration of our material
> world, of understanding how design methodology can construct different
> ontological realities (following the work of someone like John Law in
> _After Method_) with different political implications.
> nick
> Ricardo Dominguez wrote:
>> Hola all and Brooke,
>> I really enjoyed "undesigning" poster Brooke and it would be really  
>> great
>> to slip into classrooms from pre-k to post-grad spaces. (I will  
>> work on
>> that.)
>> I do think that the tactical re-engineering is an important gesture  
>> and
>> one that has been important in my thinking since I first encountered
>> the community research initiatives that ACT UP/SF - Golden Gate  
>> established
>> in late 80's as a response to the viral politics of therapeutic  
>> state at
>> the time.
>> And by creating a "hactivating design" gesture of smashing popular
>> toothpaste with the politics of the question that can become viral  
>> - which
>> at the core of its performative matrix is that anyone can do it.  
>> Now that
>> I have a young son everything becomes amplified in terms of  
>> toxicities at
>> all levels. We are encountering particle capitalism(s) clouds at  
>> every
>> scale of being. Which, is an important theme for the *particle  
>> group* as
>> well (http://pitmm.net).
>> As, part of video mediation on Open Fabrication systems, the  
>> attempted to
>> bring together EDT/*particle group* and the other gestures that
>> criss-crossed each other under the sign of “science of the oppressed”
>> (which I came to understand came from Monique Wittig – really  
>> fantastico)
>> - here is a section of the text that I thought might fall into the  
>> sphere
>> of “hactivating design”:
>> [science of the oppressed and garageScience]
>> We can imagine Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, Chela  
>> Sandoval’s
>> Methodology of the Oppressed, Critical Art Ensemble’s tactical  
>> science,
>> Natalie Jeremijenko public experiments and what the Electronic  
>> Disturbance
>> Theater has framed today as the “science of the oppressed” – each  
>> of these
>> parts of a wide area call for a re-framed relationalilty between
>> spectator, poesis, praxis, experimentation and Sandoval’s  
>> differential
>> consciousness of the “la conciencia de la metiza”.  Each gesture  
>> diagrams
>> alternative social forms of life and art that fall between the  
>> known and
>> unknown, between fiction and the real, between clean science and  
>> dirty
>> science – each a part of a long history of an epistemology of social
>> production which privileges the standpoint of the proletariat, the
>> multitude, the open hacks of the DIY moments, and of autonomous
>> investigators who stage test zones of cognitive styles-as/and out  
>> of –
>> concrete practices as speculation and speculation as concrete  
>> practices –
>> at the speed of dreams.
>> What the artivist adds to this circuit is the ability to stage  
>> potential
>> rehearsals for the now-and-future community laboratories, for the
>> nanoGarages to come, for the current empirical speculations of new
>> ecologies of social formations that can create a space for the  
>> agency of
>> actor-spectators – that can route around the neoliberal walls of  
>> “venture
>> science” as only protocol for “scientific” research and instead  
>> offer a
>> counter-frame/unframe of a science for and by the people. As Boal  
>> stated,
>> “we must move towards a rehearsal-theater and away from a
>> spectacle-theater.” The “science of the oppressed” for EDT is type of
>> “rehearsal-lab” that imagines community laboratories blooming from  
>> the
>> always/already “lowrider” robotics of East L.A., from the Zapatista  
>> “Open
>> Seed” an assemblage Open Wetware lab(s) – each garage a “rehearsal- 
>> lab”
>> for new agency(s) defined by the people/the citizen/the nomad to  
>> “resume
>> their protgonistic function” between/within/without art and science.
>> The whole video is here:
>> http://medialab-prado.es/article/nanogarajes_especulaciones_sobre_fabbing_abierto
>> Also, some other thoughts on these themes by *particle group*'s
>> Nanosférica presentation:
>> http://hemisphericinstitute.org/hemi/en/particle-group-intro
>> nano nano,
>> Ricardo
>>> These are some of the specifics I am dealing with, but I am  
>>> interested in
>>> this general premise: if design is about intention and if we want to
>>> create
>>> change through design then we have to design with a broader set of
>>> objectives in mind. Reverse engineering our everyday products is a  
>>> good
>>> starting point. And when I rebuild with broader objectives as I  
>>> define
>>> them,
>>> financial considerations are part of the equation but not top of  
>>> the list
>>> or
>>> the lead imperative as with mega-corporations that are designing  
>>> popular
>>> toothpastes.
>>> I came across this paper a few weeks back by Scott Burnham called  
>>> "Finding
>>> the Truth in Systems: In Praise of Design Hacking" that is quite  
>>> relevant
>>> to
>>> this discussion (http://scottburnham.com/?p=521).
>>> A brief sample from that paper:
>>>    * Hacking creates new engagements between the product and the  
>>> consumer
>>>    * Hacking mandates relevance and necessity in design
>>>    * Hacking is resourceful
>>>    * Hacking creates abundance from limited resources
>>>    * Hacking finds the truth in systems
>>> And, I leave you with a short essay of mine (this is actually text  
>>> from a
>>> poster you can download here: http://undesigning.org/cmos.html)  
>>> for those
>>> who want to read more.
>>> Best, Brooke
>>> Our Chemically Modified Organisms (CMOs)
>>> Industrial chemistry is a 20th century phenomenon. During World  
>>> War I,
>>> military demand for war gas was a great boon for the burgeoning  
>>> industry.
>>> But, in 1925, with the signing of the Geneva Protocol that banned  
>>> chemical
>>> warfare, industry had to look for other markets. The production of  
>>> nerve
>>> gas
>>> (a phosphorous-containing chemical) gave way to a new line of  
>>> insecticides
>>> and the chlorine used in weapons such as phosgene and mustard gas  
>>> became
>>> feedstock for newly designed solvents, PCBs and, eventually,  
>>> plastics.
>>> The chemical industry really took off after World War II. In the  
>>> United
>>> States, synthetic organic chemical production has grown more than
>>> thirty-fold since 1940. Today industry produces billions of tons of
>>> chemicals per year of approximately 90,000 substances. These man- 
>>> made
>>> chemicals are the foundation of our built environment. They form our
>>> plastics, cosmetics, household cleaners, pharmaceuticals, resins,
>>> pesticides, food packaging, paper, clothing, flame-retardants,
>>> electronics,
>>> solvents, paint, automobile parts, mattresses, lumber, pigments,
>>> refrigeration, detergents, PVC, silicone, dry cleaning,  
>>> disinfectants,
>>> lubricants  the list is truly endless.
>>> Many of these chemicals and the byproducts produced during their  
>>> life
>>> cycle
>>> are stable and persist in the environment. These chemicals also
>>> bio-accumulate, meaning they increase in concentration as they  
>>> move up the
>>> food chain. Chemicals can travel great distances on currents of  
>>> wind and
>>> water, making remote regions like the Arctic just as susceptible to
>>> degradation.
>>> New research demonstrates that some of these pollutants, even at  
>>> very low
>>> doses, can cause serious health problems. Previously it was  
>>> thought that
>>> decreasing the concentration of a substance would mitigate its  
>>> impact.
>>> Dilution is no longer seen as the pollution solution. Timing of  
>>> exposure
>>> is
>>> crucial and sensitivity is particularly high when exposure occurs  
>>> in utero
>>> or early development.
>>> For many years, cancer was the primary health concern. Today,  
>>> laboratory
>>> studies and wildlife observations demonstrate that chemical  
>>> dangers are
>>> extensive. Chemical exposures disrupt endocrine, reproductive,  
>>> immune and
>>> nervous systems as well as contribute to cancer and other diseases.
>>> In its first scientific statement published in 2009, The Endrocrine
>>> Society
>>> -- an international body with 14,000 members founded in 1916 --  
>>> stated:
>>> "Results from animal models, human clinical observations, and
>>> epidemiological studies converge to implicate EDCs [endocrine- 
>>> disrupting
>>> chemicals] as a significant concern to public health."
>>> The United States government does not require manufacturers to  
>>> prove a
>>> chemical is safe before use and companies generally do not  
>>> voluntarily do
>>> so. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has only required
>>> testing
>>> for some 200 of the 90,000 chemicals already in circulation. In  
>>> response,
>>> many groups and concerned citizens are promoting the precautionary
>>> principle, which states that the manufacture of certain products  
>>> should
>>> cease even when there are only hypothetical and untested risks. This
>>> places
>>> the burden of proof on the industry to show that a substance is safe
>>> rather
>>> than on society to demonstrate there is a specific risk.
>>> Some scientists are creating new frameworks, citing the failure of  
>>> the
>>> scientific method alone to sufficiently protect human health and
>>> ecological
>>> effects. Funtowicz and Ravetz, for example, have introduced  
>>> postnormal
>>> science, which is useful when facts are uncertain, the stakes are  
>>> high and
>>> decisions are urgent. These scientists encourage dialogue and
>>> participation
>>> with a full range of stakeholders since scientific objectivity  
>>> cannot
>>> provide all that is needed for decision-making on high, risk issues.
>>> _______________________________________________
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>>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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