Conference PaperPDF Available

Design for hackability

Authors:

Abstract

Design for hackability encourages designers and non-designers to critically and creatively explore interactivity, technology and media - to reclaim authorship and ownership of technologies and the social and cultural worlds in which we live. Hackability implies more than customization or adaptation - it calls for redefinition. In a world where technologies are increasingly mobile and invisible, designing for hackability means allowing and encouraging people to make technologies be what they want them to be. It cultivates reciprocity between users and designers and supports transparency and graceful responses to unanticipated uses. Before entering into a broader discussion with the audience, panelists will discuss tensions between people and artifacts, technology and play, the creative use of readily available resources, subverting traditional functions and uses of networks, and the everyday realities of corporate design practice. These discussions will be used to generate a design for hackability manifesto to guide further explorations in designing interactive systems.
Panel: Design for Hackability
Moderator:
Anne Galloway
Carleton University
Dept. of Sociology & Anthropology
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, ON, Canada K1S 5B6
+1 613 520-2600, ext. 2582
anne@plsj.org
Jonah Brucker-Cohen
Trinity College Dublin
Ireland
jonah@coin-operated.com
Lalya Gaye
Viktoria Institute
Sweden
lalya@viktoria.se
Elizabeth Goodman
Consultant
USA
egoodman@confectious.net
Dan Hill
BBC Radio & Music
Interactive, UK
dan@cityofsound.com
PANEL SUMMARY
Design for hackability encourages designers and non-
designers to critically and creatively explore interactivity,
technology and media to reclaim authorship and
ownership of technologies and the social and cultural
worlds in which we live. Hackability implies more than
customization or adaptation it calls for redefinition. In a
world where technologies are increasingly mobile and
invisible, designing for hackability means allowing and
encouraging people to make technologies be what they want
them to be. It cultivates reciprocity between users and
designers and supports transparency and graceful responses
to unanticipated uses. Before entering into a broader
discussion with the audience, panelists will discuss tensions
between people and artifacts, technology and play, the
creative use of readily available resources, subverting
traditional functions and uses of networks, and the everyday
realities of corporate design practice. These discussions will
be used to generate a design for hackability manifesto to
guide further explorations in designing interactive systems.
Categories & Subject Descriptors: H.5.2 [User
Interfaces]: theory and methods, user centered design; J.4
[Social and Behavioral Sciences]: sociology
General Terms: Design, Theory
INTRODUCTION
DIS2002 closed with Tom Moran’s plenary session on
everyday adaptive design, and this panel seeks to build on
his points by re-positioning his design criteria within current
critical research and design practices in wireless computing.
As computational objects become more pervasive or
ubiquitous, design theory and practice must account for its
increasingly intimate involvement in the daily lives of
diverse people. To this end, we are interested in design and
social processes that are ethically, politically, economically
and environmentally responsible. We are particularly
interested in exploring the space in which technology, art,
social and cultural studies come together to put creative
power directly in the hands of non-designers.
This panel brings together an international and multi-
disciplinary group of researchers and designers to explore
what the next generation of design for interactive systems
can be, both conceptually and technologically.
WHAT IS DESIGN FOR HACKABILITY?
Design for hackability is best described as critical and
playful design practice inspired by historical and current
hacker, net art, ‘do-it-yourself’ and ‘re-mix’ cultures and
practices.
Hacker cultures date back to 1920s amateur radio and
1950s model railroad enthusiasts; by the 1960s a hack
referred to a technologically based prank or any clever
technological solution. According to the Hacker Jargon File,
hacking can also be understood as interacting with
computers in playful and exploratory ways, as well as
enjoying the “intellectual challenge of creatively
overcoming or circumventing limitations.” [1] By the
1970s, personal computing enthusiasts were working and
gathering in garages around America, and a 1975 issue of
the Homebrew Computer Club Newsletter sums up hacking
culture at the time: “By sharing our experience and
exchanging tips we advance the state of the art and make
low cost home computing possible for more folks …
Computers are not magic. And it is important for the general
public to begin to understand the limits of these machines
and that humans are responsible for the programming.” [2]
Copyright is held by the author/owner(s).
DIS2004, August 14, 2004, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
ACM 1-58113-787-7/04/0008.
Hacker cultures, then and now, generally embody some
combination of the following ethics: ensuring access to
technology and knowledge about it; putting power in the
hands of users; decentralizing control; protecting privacy;
exceeding limitations; creating beauty; and doing no harm
to people. One example of the hacker ethic can be seen in
the work of MIT’s Mitchel Resnick: his programmable
bricks were commercialized as LEGO Mindstorms,
programmed by individuals and user communities; and The
Computer Clubhouse trains inner city youth to “become
designers and creators not just consumers of
computer-based products.” [3] Hacker ethics are also
behind the creation of most encryption methods used to
secure online communications, and hacker cultures have
been instrumental in creating and evolving many open
source technologies as alternatives to proprietary software
and examples of collaborative design.
Similar ethics and practices can also be found in punk rock
‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) cultures. The general premise behind
DIY is that if you do not like the way things are done, then
you should do it yourself. DIY culture involves creating
your own world amid the dominant culture, thereby putting
power back in the hands of individuals. For example, ‘zine
(short for magazine) culture is based on self-publishing and
the cultural production, rather than consumption, of media.
Most recently, DIY ‘zine cultural ethics can be seen in
weblog or online journal communities. While ‘zines often
reassemble content from other sources and in the process
create something new ‘re-mix’ practices are most
commonly associated with DJ cultures. Cutting up, editing
and sampling music has been described as “the evolution of
our ability as humans to process, manipulate, and make
meanings out of an ever-increasing flow of information.”
[4] Like hacker and DIY ethics, remixing involves getting
people the materials they need to manipulate or subvert
technologies and media to their own needs and desires, to
create their own messages and meanings. Further critical
performances and practices can be found in net art cultures
which use technology to create images and stories that
challenge our understandings of technology and the world
around us. For example, the Critical Art Ensemble has
employed tactical media to raise awareness and stimulate
public debate about new technologies, and rhizome.org
supports the “creation, presentation, discussion and
preservation of contemporary art that uses new technologies
in significant ways.”
Design for hackability draws on all these cultural practices
and values. It encourages designers and non-designers to
critically and creatively explore technology and media, to
reclaim authorship and ownership of new and existing
technologies, and of the social and cultural worlds in which
we live. Hackability implies more than simple
customization or adaptation it calls for redefinition.
Design for hackability involves creating spaces for play
where people are never forced to adapt to technology. It
involves recognizing and working with tensions between
people and artifacts. It also subverts the traditional functions
and uses of networks. In a world where technologies are
increasingly mobile and invisible, design for hackability
means allowing and encouraging people to work with
resources at hand and to make technologies be what they
want them to be. It cultivates reciprocity between users and
designers and supports transparency and graceful responses
to unanticipated uses.
Setting the stage with academic analysis, artistic expression,
and corporate realities, we invite people to further explore
with us what it means to design interactive systems that are
creative as well as socially and culturally responsible to
explore what design for hackability might involve and how
it may inspire our design objectives and processes.
PANELIST POSITIONS
Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
My research focus is on subverting existing relationships to
human/networked interfaces by building real-world inputs
to networks, redefining how information is used and
disseminated, and shifting virtual processes into physical
forms through networked devices and experiences. My
process embraces a playful approach to changing people's
notions of how networks are used and function. This is
expressed through hacking and changing their fundamental
properties, questioning their everyday use, and re-
appropriating the language of networks in popular culture.
Some examples of my projects that address this approach
include:
- Wifi-Hog: a tactical media tool for disrupting the claim
of ownership to public wireless networks
- SimpleTEXT: a mobile phone enabled performance
that allows for collaborative use of mobile devices
- UMBRELLA.net: a platform for ‘coincidence of need’
networks that only form when a specific need or
condition is met.
These projects are examples of hacking conventional uses
of networks to obtain both tactical and sociable results. My
interpretation of design for hackability is of an open system
that allows for maximum interaction and involvement while
simultaneously attempting to challenge accepted forms of
use of such a system. This represents a catch-22 of
interaction design where the designer gives up control of
their system to people using it by making it easily accessible
and open. A hackable system also deconstructs the
fundamental assumptions of how technology should or
could exist from a user standpoint. Some examples include
reducing a device's functionality to reveals its true strengths,
augmenting a traditional type of interaction to yield
unexpected results, and networking individual actions into
collective ones to open new communication channels
among strangers. These approaches ultimately lead to the
breakdown of technological imperialism, where barriers for
entry are reduced and playful renderings are valued above
functionality.
Jonah Brucker-Cohen works as a Research Fellow in the
Human Connectedness Group at Media Lab Europe in
Dublin, Ireland, and is a Ph.D. candidate in the Networks
and Telecommunications Research Group (NTRG) at
Trinity College Dublin.
Lalya Gaye, Viktoria Insitute, Sweden
My research explores how ubiquitous computing can trigger
new aesthetic practices by enabling people to transform
their everyday life into a raw material for creation and
personal expression.
The projects I work on investigate different aspects of this
theme:
- Sonic City [5]: the urban environment becomes an
interface for real-time electronic music making as you
are walking through a city
- Context Photography [6]: the digital still camera is
modified to capture and translate the invisible context
of a scene visually, as you are taking a picture
- -Tejp [7]: explores various means of creating and
accessing location-based personal annotations in public
space through direct physical interaction, focusing on
expressivity and subtle embedding in physical space
and social contexts.
Besides enabling new types of personal creativity and
expression, each project reflects the notion of hacking
everyday life: people using Ubiquitous Computing to enable
whatever everyday resource is available at hand to
participate in their aesthetic practice. Available at hand not
only means found and repurposed, but also incorporated
into the on-going creative act right away, as these resources
present themselves to the hacker, and on the spot, in their
natural context: a situated bricolage of one's everyday, that
happens and is experienced ‘right here, right now.’
Whether directly manipulated physical artifacts and
environments, exploited interaction possibilities or
subverted everyday activities, the hacking of these resources
complicates their meaning and how we approach them
while still preserving their primary nature and function. The
immediacy of their availability and the potentials and
constraints they present, forces the hacker to improvise on
the spot in order to overcome and exploit their
heterogeneity (sometimes unpredictability) in a way that
compliments her creative act. Designing for this kind of
hackability implies considering aspects of urgency,
contextuality and heterogeneity, but also of subtlety,
personal meaning, and embodiment.
Lalya Gaye works as a researcher at the Future Applications
Lab, Viktoria Institute in Göteborg, Sweden, and is a Ph.D.
candidate in Informatics at the University of Göteborg. Her
background is in Engineering Physics and Electroacoustics
(University of Geneva, Switzerland, and Royal Institute of
Technology, Stockholm, Sweden).
Elizabeth Goodman, Consultant, USA
As a creative response to the status quo, hacking does not
depend on the permission or support of designers. Indeed,
certain kinds of hacking as when early hackers fed punch
cards into mainframes derive their satisfaction from their
very difficulty or rebellion. Hackability is contextual; it is
not inherent in artifacts but rather arises from tensions
between specific artifacts and specific groups of people. To
effectively design for hackability, we must critically engage
with the social pressures that drive people to do-it-
themselves.
I am developing FIASCO, a location-based game, with
Michele Chang of Intel’s People and Practices Research
Group. FIASCO is a game of physical action with virtual
consequences. Using New York City as a game board and
networked telecommunications systems as dice, players
conquer street corners on a virtual map by performing and
documenting game moves (‘stunts’) at the corresponding
physical locations. Other players judge the stunts’ wit and
daring, with winners the kingpins of the virtual streets.
FIASCO is an experiment in producing hackability through
playful competition and limited functionality. Though we
include all functions necessary for play, the game interface
provides no solutions to the difficulties of coordinating and
documenting group activities. We have deliberately avoided
mechanisms for validating game moves or punishing
spoilers. Because community acclaim selects the winners,
FIASCO reflects multiple and mutable notions of elegance
and creativity. FIASCO rewards players who successfully
game the city and the system. For us as designers, FIASCO
is an experiment in loss of control. Though we created the
game, we cannot prevent players from redefining its nature,
mores, or values. Indeed, we hope to learn from them.
Elizabeth Goodman is an independent researcher and
consultant on public social interactions and pervasive
gaming.
Dan Hill, BBC Radio & Music Interactive, UK
My work focuses on introducing ideas of adaptation and
hackability into the everyday practice of professional design
within a large media organization whilst my personal
weblog, cityofsound.com, has initiated many discussions
around design and adaptation. Taking Tom Moran's
DIS2002 keynote as a starting point, my presentation at
AIGA Experience Design London in late-2002 concerned
"Designing for Adaptation," and I've since led many
discussion around adaptation and hackability, often relating
to interaction with music and radio experiences via web-
based and personal mobile devices, drawing lessons from
architecture and urban history into the realm of social
software, product design, and interface design.
For this session, I'll be talking about the creative and
cultural possibilities and difficulties of incorporating
adaptation and hackability into professional design and
media organizations. In line with this, I’ll be drawing from
an essentially craft-based perspective of urban design and
architecture, agile software methodologies, game design,
iterative web design, and vernacular design. Critical
perspectives create a back story for the work, but the work
itself is driven by the pragmatic everyday concerns of
getting quality design work done to tight deadlines and
within complex, compromised environments. Putting
"creative power directly in the hands of non-designers" is a
difficult sell to both designers and brand-owners! I'll share
a few ideas as to how it might be done.
These will include:
- detailing just what kind of components to build in order
to enable adaptation and hackability;
- how to integrate design disciplines with software
engineering to form truly multidisciplinary teams, such
that certain principles cross-pollinate, from loosely-
couple architectures through modular and interoperable
systems to assessing systems over time;
- how to open up the practice of what we do such that
amateur designers and non-designers can engage with
and build around it.
Dan Hill works as Technology and Design Manager at BBC
Radio and Music Interactive, London, England. His
academic background includes a BSc in Computer Science
and MA in digital cities, cultural industries, and urban
regeneration. He has been working as a professional
designer with the Internet since 1994. He is currently
running the team responsible for designing and building the
BBC's radio and music-based interactive offerings across
web, digital TV, and mobile platforms.
REFERENCES
[1] http://info.astrian.net/jargon/terms/h/hack.html and
http://info.astrian.net/jargon/terms/h/hacker.html
[2] Homebrew Computer Club Newsletter #4, June 1975.
Available at:
http://www.digibarn.com/collections/newsletters/homebrew/h
omebrew.jpg
[3] Resnick, Mitchel, Natalie Rusk and Stina Cooke. The
Computer Clubhouse: Technological Fluency in the Inner
City. In High Technology and Low-Income Communities
edited by D. Schon, B. Sanyal, and W. Mitchell, MIT
Press, 1998. Available online:
http://web.media.mit.edu/~mres/papers/Clubhouse/Clubhous
e.htm
[4] Von Seggern, John. Postdigital Remix Culture and Online
Performance. Available online:
http://ethnomus.ucr.edu/remix_culture/index.htm
[5] Gaye, L., Mazé, R., and Holmquist, L. E. Sonic City: The
Urban Environment as a Musical Interface. In Proc.
NIME'03, McGill University, Montréal, Canada, 2003.
[6] Ljungblad, S., Håkansson, M., and Gaye, L. Context
Photography: Modifying the Digital Camera into a New
Creative Tool. To be published in Extended Abstracts of
CHI'04, Vienna, Austria, 2004.
[7] Jacobs, M. and Gaye, L. Tejp: Ubiquitous Computing as a
Expressive Means of Personalising Public Space. In
Adjunct Proc. of Ubicomp'03, Seattle, USA, 2003.
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... These performer comments suggest a certain tension between hacking and open or unfinished designs, but they also align with the comments of Galloway et al. (2004): "Hackability implies more than simple customization or adaptation-it calls for redefinition. Design for hackability involves creating spaces for play where people are never forced to adapt to technology." ...
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Postdigital Remix Culture and Online Performance Available online
  • Von Seggern
  • John
Von Seggern, John. Postdigital Remix Culture and Online Performance. Available online: http://ethnomus.ucr.edu/remix_culture/index.htm