I was reminded recently of my mild obsession with a particular way of thinking about design, especially the design of technology.
It started when Alastair Somerville said:
And then Trib said:
To which I said:
Because I was thinking of James C Scott’s Seeing Like a State where he says:
What is high modernism, then? It is best conceived as a strong (one might even say muscle-bound) version of the beliefs in scientific and technical progress that were associated with industrialization in Western Europe and in North America from roughly 1830 until World War I. At its center was a supreme self-confidence about continued linear progress, the development of scientific and technical knowledge, the expansion of production, the rational design of social order, the growing satisfaction of human needs, and, not least, an increasing control over nature (including human nature) commensurate with scientific understanding of natural laws.
High Modernism is not without significant benefits, as Scott notes. Sanitation, public transport, vaccines and high quality public housing are all products of high modernism. But he also notes that there is the tendency in high modernism to lean towards an authoritarian point of view, where a claim is made that the modernist’s scientific point of view is the only authority and other “competing sources of judgement” are inadequate.
There’s a tendency to think we’ve solved that problem in User Experience work because we prototype and test with end users. But we still report on end users’ experiences through our own lenses and interpretations. We, as UX researchers and designers, selectively simplify and transform what we see and hear for our own use and the consumption of our employers. And as Scott notes, the transformative power of this selection is not in the reporting but in the power of the people who end up using the perspective we provide.