Thesis Defense: James Pierce

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
NSH 3305

Working by Not Quite Working: Designing Resistant Interactive Proposals, Prototypes, and Products
James Pierce

Eric Paulos, Carnegie Mellon University (Chair)
Jodi Forlizzi, Carnegie Mellon University
Chris Harrison, Carnegie Mellon University
Phoebe Sengers, Cornell University



Since the early 2000s, within HCI and adjacent areas of Design an emerging body of unconventional design work has argued and exemplified alternative and oppositional functions of design. Examples of such functions include provocatively speculating about alternative futures (speculation), questioning the status quo (critique), and debating the impacts of technology (agonism). Prominent examples of alternative and oppositional design have originated within HCI. Others have been heavily discussed, adapted, and critiqued within HCI. These alternative and oppositional designs have been presented under various names and banners: critical design, design fiction, adversarial design, reflective design, ludic design, speculative design,… At this moment the list continues to grow while examples of such work proliferate. This work collectively demonstrates the potential for design to engage concerns and goals that pivot around themes of generating radical alternatives and creating productive political, cultural, and social opposition. This thesis argues that there is a body of unconventional design work that becomes cohesive and legible when held together by themes of oppositionality and alternatives, and operating throughout these designs is an overarching technique which I term design resistance.

This thesis distills into two primary contributions. The first contribution this thesis makes is to isolate and elaborate resistance as a design technique at work across a range of alternative and oppositional designs. I articulate how design resistance works by analyzing a series of design exemplars drawn from HCI and adjacent areas of Design. The second contribution of this thesis is to extend and refine the overarching technique of design resistance through two design case studies. These design case studies serve the dual function of offering additional insight into design resistance grounded in my own design practice, while concretely demonstrating new knowledge relevant to specific domains and concerns within HCI, including sustainable energy consumption and critiques of digital consumer technologies.

Together these contributions provide new knowledge for theoretically understanding (1) the rise of alternative and oppositional designs within HCI, the concerns they are working to engage, and the research gaps they are working to fill, and (2) how to practice alternative and oppositional forms of design using techniques of design resistance.

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