Trusted Inter­actions

Agonistic Design (ESR 6)

New approaches for entanglement

In an era where technologies are impinging more directly on our lives and futures, users and designers need to engage in a more ongoing democratic and participatory way. An agonistic relationship with technology – in how it is designed and how it is used – has been raised as a potentially beneficial way to approach emerging issues, but it has yet to be properly explored or defined as a design approach.

With what we now know about emerging harms in the technologies which appeared to herald a utopian future of cooperation, communication and participation up until little more than a decade ago, perhaps we should start to look at ways to bake affordances into design which allows for an unmaking of these systems – if not completely, then at least to a point where we can see a better direction for them.

Taking the act of repair as an inspiration and a novel way of thinking about how we relate to technology, we can see our problems as a kind of brokenness and, as such, repairable. From this perspective, we are interviewing stakeholders – users and designers – specifically  involved in algorithmic decision systems and exploring these technologies through the lens of breakage, repair and anti-solutionism as a way to surface routes to agonism and design-after-design.

In assessing existing designs for agonistic qualities, a significant repository of examples are surfacing and are forming the basis of a developing conversation and structure around a new design approach which addresses at least some of the problems design finds itself with as we move into a new paradigm of human-computer interaction.

Agonistic design can be seen as a way for designers to reflect on their own practice and as an approach – or attitude – for more ethical design outcomes which acknowledge the users’ right to agency and an acceptance that no design is a solution, rather a broken thing that is open to be repaired and reconfigured as needed.

Inspired by Chantal Mouffe’s “critical consensus” and Steven Jackson’s “broken world thinking”, we are looking at sustainable ways for designers to pass down the tools and affordances for users to unmake, repair and contest problematic systems and for unmakeability and agonism to become a way for society to continually reshape technology for more ethical and inclusive futures. 

While an agonistic design approach built around contesting with automated systems has a strong potential in interaction design, agonism has implications for a broader design methodology beyond industrial design and connections with sustainable design.

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