Designer's oath – takes on first IxDA Tre -event in 2018

What is the responsibility of the designer? How to design in an ethically sustainable way? These topics and more were covered in IxDA Tre's first gathering of 2018 in Digia.


Digia hosted this year’s first IxDA event in Tampere on 7th of February in unison with annual IxDA event, Interaction 18, hosted this year in Lyon, France. It turned out our topics were in sync with the opening keynote speaker Alan Cooper in France! You can read what my colleagues thought about the conference itself here (in Finnish).

Case Hämeenlinna: better e-services loved by the citizens

First off, we interviewed Hanne Zenjuga and Timo Myllymäki, two digians who had participated in (and won) Hämeenlinna city e-services design challenge. These two had worked like a well-oiled machine, planning and executing a fully functional prototype within 10 man-days based on a brief from city of Hämeenlinna.

The brief was specific to a degree: all of the services that Hämeenlinna city offers needed to be visible in the webservice. Communal discussion; like taking initiative and commenting on existing initiatives, needed to be part of the webservice. Hämeenlinna had also specified that the webservice needed to be developed in a way that they could re-use parts of the code, and that it should follow their visual guidelines. No additional information on possible end-users was given, neither was there any indication of user research. Based on this, the team benchmarked similar sites available hoping their process had included a user research, and based the design decisions on those findings.

Still the question arose, what’s in it for Hämeenlinna city? Why ask from number of existing partners to do a design for something pretty strictly specified? They get ideas, different viewpoints and maybe even usable code. But do they understand the underlying ideas behind the concept works? Can they use any of it, because the specifications are not based on user research?

The audience also had questions about what’s in it for the designers? At least in this case they got to do some laidback design without having to ask clients feedback or users feelings. It was a chance to fulfil one’s own design ideas to the fullest, within the limits of the brief. Also working as a team with coding and visual design skills combined made the tasks smooth and easy. Winning the competition with citizens votes was also rewarding.

Re-framing design – Responsibility of the designer

Next one to give a speech was Topias Dean from Sitra. He offered a slightly different view to a designer’s life, which was also key point in Allan Coopers keynote at Lyon this year - How to do design in an ethically sustainable way? How to avoid the Oppenheimer moment? Topias started with a picture of the globe and asked what would we do now if we could re-design it? Since we all lack the competence on world design (I assume) the ideas were kind of broad and inconsiderate of the outcomes they entailed. Also because of the question, most of us would change something. Pretty fast we were debating on how much we should reduce the number of people and give rights and equal living conditions to all living creatures. A brief Kumbaya moment!

Does a designer have a say on how world turns out, and if yes, how? This is a perspective that people are usually very set on their view - either one feels every action has an effect or that as an individual one is so small that it doesn’t matter what one does. Topias wanted to make us believe that what we choose to do does have an effect. He introduced his personal checklist for being at least aware of our role in this game.

1. Be an ass and be a pain in the ass

Designers have the novelty of asking the stupid questions and wondering out loud about the set ways of any organisation/ group of people. The novelty needs to be applied always and often. So, observe and ask if you don’t understand. Probably you will stumble upon things that can and should be changed and are only as they are by the power of habits. Being the pain in the ass means that you don’t settle for the easiest solution or answer, but ask again and again to truly figure out what is going on.

2. Take agency

Taking agency could mean that you state what were your findings, bring up user research findings and explain them from the viewpoint of common user. Also, you can take a stand, you can make suggestions, decisions and designs based on ethics.

3. Discuss - address the elephant in the room

Because no service is done alone in a vacuum, designers job is to drag the cat out of the bag or address the elephant in the room by discussing and raising needed issues to the table based on previous points. And being somewhat relentless in this task.  Being stupid (or an ass) comes with the territory, so you are free to use it as much as you feel need to!

Introduction to a workshop method – From megatrends to storytelling

At the end of the event, I led a brief demo workshop using Sitra’s megatrend cards. They come with instructions on how to use them in idea creation and discussion settings. You can also ideate your own way of using them.

I divided the participants into groups of 4-5 and asked them to draw one card each and create a common storyline on how did the world end up to a spot where all these trends had actualised. Method was reverse engineering and timeframe was only 15 minutes. All groups got to tell their stories to others and we found multiple groups telling us how equality had prevailed and robots had taken over the mundane tasks. Some parts of these scenarios where not so happy, but at least the discussion had been fun.

Key takeaways from our event

We wanted to make a conversational event and I think we succeeded. We actually stumbled together upon an idea about a designer's oath. Like doctors take Hippocratic Oath, we could formulate our own. Something along the lines of “I promise to take into consideration also the poor, handicapped and distracted users when designing services. I promise to only make design decisions that uphold sustainability and create a better world”.

Should we formulate that? Do we need an oath, or are we doing it “right” already? What do you think?


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