How can we assess the quality of mediations in design?
- The first step is rather obvious: if designers are explicitly working on a behaviour-influencing technology, they could assess the intended mediations of the technology-in-design, i.e. the mediations that are deliberately designed into the technology. The central question here is: what arguments can be found in favour and against these intended mediations, and the intentions behind them?
- At least equally interesting is the evaluation of the mediations that are implicit in the design. The heuristic tool for mediation analysis that was discussed before can serve as a basis for this. It enables designers to anticipate unintended mediations that the introduction of the technology might bring about. And therefore, it also makes these mediations open for moral discussion: what arguments can be given to support or avoid these mediations?
- A third element in evaluating mediations concerns the forms of mediation involved. As indicated above, mediations can be strong or weak, and explicit or hidden. In specific circumstances, specific forms of mediation might be more desirable than others. For many, seducing car drivers to slow down in specific zones without them explicitly being aware of it will be less problematic than secretly seducing customers to buy much more than they actually intended by means of subliminal stimuli, like emotion-evoking smells and colours.
- Fourth, the eventual outcomes of the technological mediations – the actions and decisions that eventually get shape, as well as the social practices and frameworks of interpretation – can be evaluated. All explicit and implicit mediations have effects, both at the individual and at the social level. These effects might be radically different from the original intentions of the designer. Speed bumps, for instance, will not only mediate the driving behaviour of car drivers, but can also attract skateboarders, whose activities do not necessarily enhance road safety.
ReferencesVerbeek, P.P. (2011). Moralizing Technology: Understanding and Designing the Morality of Things. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Philosophy of Technology and Design: Shaping the Relations Between Humans and Technologies
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