"Designing the Not-Quite-Yet: Ideas, Methods Engagement and Choice", a workshop at HCI'06, Sept 2006 at Queen Mary, University of London

Organised by Ann Light, Pat Healey and Gini Simpson, with the support of the artists commissioned by Space as part of its "Tagged" programme: www.spacemedia.org.uk/node/40

Information flows between objects, people and the environment are ubiquitous. The occasions on which this information is captured and propagated are diffuse, fragmentary and cryptic. The ultimate products -flows of goods, consumer profiles, offender behaviour- are rarely made public. This workshop will explore ideas and methods for enabling the objects of this technology –people- to become its agents. Building on four artistic interrogations of the concept of tagging we will explore: methods for uncovering the meaning of tagging for target communities; methods for envisioning technological possibilities based on their own needs and concerns; and the potential of public arts as a vehicle for engaging with design.  

Keywords: digital networks, people's understanding, interdisciplinary, methods, future challenge

1. Introduction
Who designs the future? If the next major design challenge in computing is to incorporate digital networks into the fabric of life [1, 2], how far can that design process engage with the users of these new systems: the public? This workshop will build on an artistic interrogation of contactless identity tagging through four public art commissions from “Tagged” – a SPACE studios project on the experience of tagging technologies inside local communities.  These works will be used to evaluate the potential of a variety of artistic and performance practices to enable public critiques, visions and experiences of design.

1.1 Background

Ambient intelligence, pervasive computing, augmented reality, a network of things, smart buildings and clothes, identity tagging, … the digital future is promised as connectivity 'anytime, anywhere', as seamless flows of information between environments, objects and people [3,4,5,6,7]. More than ever this entails an attempt to inscribe social practices and institutions in technology.

We are seeing rapid growth in experimentation with embedded chips, identity tagging, monitoring and other phenomena in the 'network of things'.  Retail chains are experimenting with tracing technologies to make their sourcing more efficient and to map consumer habits in ever greater detail [9]. Civil liberty and consumer advocacy groups have raised concerns over privacy if individual products can be traced even within a person’s home [9][10]). The Foresight think tank report "RFID-tagged driverless cars on roads by 2056" [8] informs us that:
The UK's transport infrastructure will be radically changed over the next 50 years by RFID tracking tags, embedded sensors and an artificial intelligence network that will reduce congestion and pollution.

The social challenges arise from these developments have been noted, but HCI specialists have not fully engaged with the question of how to design for them. The fragmentary but intimate glimpses of people’s lives created by tagging make it imperative that the user acts as the 'end-designer' [11] rather than submit themselves to being run by the software surrounding them.

This workshop will focus on the question of how the communities who are the objects of these interventions can be provided with better ways to explore, understand and appropriate these technologies for their own ends. This involves uncovering the meanings these technologies have for those communities, providing ways to make the potential ramifications of design decisions intelligible and developing the conceptual tools to support ‘end-designer’ re-appropriations of the technologies.

This confluence of human design, technological and political concerns is being subjected to artistic interrogation through the Tagged artworks. This is an artist programme in production at SPACE which examines the use and abuse of RFID technologies and looks to future usage and subversion within inner city communities in East London. The four artist commissions will be presented at the workshop will be used as lens through which to examine the following issues:

  • What do users need to know? How can this understanding be made available?

e.g. educational agendas, participatory design, methods of involvement, arts and performance practice

  • Digital technologies: empowerment or control?

eg use of RFID, surveillance and monitoring, incidental interactions, community re-appropriations

  • Making your presence felt where it matters –

eg design for political engagement, sharing stories, controlling your representation, network graffiti

The final structure of this workshop will be determined once the constituency of the group has been established and the Tagged commissions have progressed further. We intend to keep to the following precepts:

  • Formal presentations will be limited to five minutes per person and the overall number of participants accepted to make presentations will also be limited so that no more than two hours is devoted to this stage.
  • There will be a consideration of the work of the four artists involved in "Tagged" this will include exploration of motivations and how the pieces involve, engage, or stimulate debate.
  • Discussion of methods for involving the public in design and, in particular, design of 'networks of things' ideally including some hands-on demonstration of engagement techniques.
  • The end of the day will be dedicated to the creation of a poster to describe the workshop for the wider conference. This poster may be in the spirit of the wider workshop and require the involvement of the conference audience.

3. Getting involved
This workshop is intended to open discussion on how to engage more people in design in the context of the increasingly dense information space surrounding the ordinary spaces we occupy. We expect methods drawn from art, science and social science to be relevant and hope to welcome newcomers to the conference. If you are interested and/or experienced in the areas of public engagement, participatory design, ambient intelligence, the social impact of digital networks or any other relevant area, please consider submitting a two page position statement and indicating whether, time permitting, you would like to make a five minute presentation or involve workshop participants in a demonstration of techniques for engaging a wider audience in design. Non-presenting participants will be welcomed as long as they are prepared to participate in other activities.
[1] Weiser, M., (1991) The computer of the twenty-first century. Scientific American, 94-141.
[2] Chung, E., Hong, J.I., Lin,J., Prabaker, M.K., Landay, J.A. and Liu, M.A (2004). Development and Evaluation of Emerging Design Patterns for Ubiquitous Computing. In Proceedings of DIS2004.
[3]. Gellersen, H.W. Schmidt, A, and Beigl, M. (2002) Multisensor context-awareness in mobile devices and smart artefacts. Mobile Networks and Applications, 7(5):341-351.
 [4] Ishii, H.and Ullmer, B. (1997) Tangible bits: Towards seamless interfaces between people, bits and atoms. In Proceedings of Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’97), 234–241. ACM, March 1997.
[5] Mann, S. (1997) Wearable computing: A first step toward personal imaging. IEEE Computer, 30(2), 1997.
[6] Schmidt, A. and Van Laerhoven, K.(2001) How to build smart appliances. IEEE Personal Communications, 2001:66–71
[7] Perry, M., O'Hara, K., Sellen, A. Harper, R. and Brown, B.A.T. (2001) Dealing with mobility: understanding access anytime, anywhere. ACM Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction, 8 (4), p. 1-25.
[8] McCue, A. (2006) RFID-tagged driverless cars on roads by 2056, Silicon.com, (26.1.2006)
[9] El Amin, A. (2005): The Age of Consent for RFID, article on food& drink europe.com (20.6.2005),
 [10] Frost, R. (2006) RFID: Beyond the Barcode, brandchannel.com
 [11] Light, A (2002) Users as Designers - Challenge of the Network Age, UsabilityNews (8.5.2002) http://www.usabilitynews.com/news/article433.asp