Held as part of ACAS/ACCS2020, in association with the OSIPP-IAFOR Research Centre at Osaka University, this Panel is co-organised by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Japan (KAS).
For most people the terms “design” and “excess” are vaguely understood—so they are more powerful in the hands of people wanting to use them to influence human behavior and individual choice. This is important if we are to defend the democratic right of all citizens to exercise freedom of choice (and to give them choices to make); yet to also recognise that, in a world based on mass communications, any attempt to manage the democratic exercise of free will, on behalf of all citizens, can produce seemingly irrational results leading to social instability.
From this dilemma has emerged a paradox in which freedom of choice is both a perceived human right and an illusion of political authority. This is an issue of design. But, as has often been observed, “theories of design developed in the twentieth century have ignored these issues”. From the mid twentieth century onwards the design profession expanded in line with the mass production of consumer goods. This abundance of stuff stimulated a culture of desire that served to distract people’s attention away from the human condition and the exercise of political will.
From the late twentieth century onwards the advent of digital technologies revolutionised these earlier systems of production, distribution and consumption to create a world of individuals and tribes where the process of distraction has been further heightened through an excess of stuff and data. As observed by the American sociologist, Herbert Simon, “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”. This said, the massive changes taking place to design over the last fifty years have largely gone unnoticed. Design has moved from being “a plan to make an artifact” into a space where “to design is to devise courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones”.
If we are to take seriously the claim that “the modern world lacks harmony” then designers need to understand and reclaim this territory—to believe that design has the power to influence human behaviour for better and for worse. What is at stake here is our belief in the right of all people to human dignity through democracy. In this context we may have to recognise that the wealth of excess accompanying freedom of choice is part of the human condition—but learn to manage it productively through design.
In order to explore the intersections of design with democracy there are two (amongst many) potential themes for debate.
The Attention Economy: is a theory that the annual avalanche of data and information we now experience is like anesthetic that neutralizes our attention and subsequent ability to make informed decisions. The economic theory underpinning this is that our attention is now such a scarce commodity that is being sold to the highest bidder. It is a design problem because as our attention spans decrease and we become more exposed to a lot of conflicting stimuli, designers (of products, apps, even art, etc.) need to capture our attention and so steer us to prioritize and give attention to "the things that matter". Defining "the things that matter and are worth our attention" becomes a democratic question because these definitions in most societies are championed by the dominant groups while the marginalized groups try to forward alternative definitions to varying levels of success (be they among classes, between corporations, between governments).
Responsible Design: The new, and powerful, interactions between data, technology, privacy and security, and design raise serious questions. For example:
Are designers complicit in heightening the process of distraction and data mining and extraction for private gain?
How can we design digital spaces where data owners retain control over who has access to their data? How can we make this process easy, accessible, flexible and mobile? How can we make it more democratic but at the same time responsible and accountable?
How has the internet morphed from its democratic origin of "connecting everyone around the world" to an almost anarchic system dominated by powerful corporations where it seems that it’s every man/woman for him/herself?
Royal College of Art, UK
Bruce Brown was educated at the Royal College of Art in London where he is currently Visiting Professor. Until 2016, Bruce was Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Professor of Design at the University of Brighton. For twenty years previously he was Dean of the university’s Faculty of Arts & Architecture. In 2018 Bruce was appointed by the University Grants Committee of the Hong Kong Specialist Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China to Chair the assessment panels for Visual Arts, Design, Creative Media in the Hong Kong Research Assessment Exercise 2020. Prior to this he was appointed by the UK Funding Councils to Chair Main Panel D in the 2014 UK Research Excellence Framework. Prior to this he chaired Main Panel O in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. Bruce served as a member of the Advisory Board of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and has advised international organisations including the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation and the Qatar National Research Fund. Bruce chaired the Portuguese Government’s Fundação para a Ciência ea Tecnologia Research Grants Panel [Arts] and was one of four people invited by the Portuguese Government to conduct an international review entitled Reforming Arts and Culture Higher Education in Portugal. He has served as Trustee and Governor of organisations such as the Art’s Council for England’s South East Arts Board, the Ditchling Museum and Shenkar College of Design and Engineering, Tel Aviv. Bruce is an Editor of Design Issues Research Journal (MIT), an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art and a Life Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
International Professional University of Technology, Japan
Dr Nagayuki Saito is a professor at the International Professional University of Technology in Tokyo and a special research Fellow at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. He is a former Policy Analyst of OECD, Directorate for Science, and a Technology and Industry lecturer at Ochanomizu University, Aoyama Gakuin University. His field of expertise is social informatics, behavioural economics, information and communication policy, and from the standpoint of evidence-based policy making, he is studying the use of behavioural insight for policy planning. His research theme is young people's Internet use and environment improvement policy. He has also been working on visualization of youth's Internet literacy. In the research project of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, he was engaged to develop the Internet Literacy Assessment for Students (ILAS). Representative research books include Internet Literacy in Japan, OECD Publishing.
Osaka University, Japan
Ryuji Yamazaki (Yamazaki-Skov), PhD is a Specially Appointed Associate Professor at the Symbiotic Intelligent Systems Research Center, Institute for Open and Transdisciplinary Research Initiatives, Osaka University, Japan. He received a MA degree in Philosophy from Chuo University, Tokyo, and a PhD in Knowledge Science from Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST), Ishikawa, in 2004 and 2010. He has worked as a Researcher at JAIST, Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, Kyoto, Japan, as an Invited Researcher, member of the PENSOR project (Philosophical Enquiries into Social Robotics) at Aarhus University, Denmark, and as an Assistant Professor at School of Social Sciences, Waseda University, Japan. His current research interest is in new media studies with a focus on social robotics, phenomenology of embodiment, clinical philosophy and ethics, and robo-philosophy.