Infrastructural Speculations: Tactics for Designing and Interrogating Lifeworlds [Paper Talk]

This post is based on a talk about a paper published at the 2020 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2020). The full research paper by Richmond Wong, Vera Khovanskaya, Sarah Fox, Nick Merrill, and Phoebe Sengers “Infrastructural Speculations: Tactics for Designing and Interrogating Lifeworlds ” can be found here: [Official ACM Version] [Open Access Pre-Print Version]

In our paper, we ask how speculative design can be used to more explicitly center and raise questions about the broader social, technical, and political worlds in which speculative artifacts exist. To do so, we draw connections between speculative design and infrastructure studies, which offers a set of lenses to help ask questions about ongoing relationships and practices needed to maintain and support systems.  We present a set of design tactics to help speculative design researchers make use of the analytical lenses from infrastructure studies.

The HCI community has taken up practices of speculation, such as critical design, speculative design, and design fiction to interrogate emerging technologies. In these techniques. Researchers design conceptual artifacts and experiences to evoke alternative sociotechnical worlds, to explore the possibility of different social values, norms, behaviors, and material configurations.

These practices often focus on creating a speculative product or artifact. For instance, in prior work by several of the authors, we created fictional products including a workplace smart toilet that tracks menstrual cycles and other health information. This is shown in a fictional product catalog, allowing the view to easily think about questions related directly to use. What might it be like if you had to use or interact with this product?

Image showing an artifact in focus with a blank background, shifting to an artifact not in focus with questions located in the background

While presenting a speculative product, like a fictional smart toilet, foregrounds questions of direct use (left), we might also be interested in questions that concern practices in the artifact’s “background” (right)

However, other types of questions that we might want to ask remain more implicit, particularly those not about immediate use. For example, how does this impact janitorial and custodial labor needed to maintain the smart toilet? What differential experiences might arise from its long-term use? What regulatory frameworks may emerge around new types of data collection? These questions may not be readily apparent just through the presentation of a speculative artifact, as they happen in the artifact’s “background.”

As designers increasingly use modes of speculation to interrogate questions of broad, societal concern—such as climate change, the role of big tech in political radicalization, and widening income inequalities—there is a need to adapt the speculative design toolbox to include approaches that explicitly focus beyond immediate moments of use, to explore the broad and disparate impacts of technologies as well as the maintenance and repair labor required to keep them working. While an inquisitive designer or viewer might come to these questions on their own, we want to provide some scaffolding for designers who wish to explicitly consider these types of questions through their speculative designs.

Projected Lifeworlds

a diagram depicted a projected lifeworld

An artifact and its projected lifeworld

To help us shape our approach, we use the concept of lifeworlds. In philosophy, anthropology, and in some prior HCI literature, lifeworlds are used to refer to the social contexts and experiences that a user has. We build on this, presenting the idea of projected lifeworlds, or the things that must be true, common-sense and taken-for-granted in order for the design to work. In speculative design, the lifeworlds of a potential future or alternative world are projected by a design artifact. However, we find that these projected lifeworlds are often implicit. Attention is often drawn most immediately to the speculative design artifact in the foreground, leaving the lifeworld implicit in the background.

An artifact with a filled in lifeworld

How can we help “fill in” the projected lifeworld?

However, one might be interested in exploring issues that occur in a speculative product’s lifeworld, beyond the artifact and its immediate use. This requires shifting our analytical lens to think about and “fill in” projected lifeworlds more explicitly. We turn to literature from infrastructure studies to help us make this shift in our focus.

Infrastructure Studies

Indeed, HCI’s study of technologies has broadened beyond the immediate user-system relationship. Beyond questions of immediate use, HCI researchers have also begun to examine practices of ongoing maintenance and repair labor, technology policy issues, and political and economic conditions. One set of analytical lenses that scholars have drawn on to ask these questions includes research from science and technology studies on infrastructures.

Briefly, infrastructures are sociotechnical. They include technological components, as well as the social institutions and practices that make them durable, such as standards-setting, maintenance, and repair. Infrastructures support particular forms of human actions while complicating others. For example, the electrical grid is built using technologies like power plants, substations, and dams. It relies on social institutions such as power companies and regulatory agencies that shape and maintain it. Yet, people’s access to, and experience of electrical power is variable. Infrastructures might seem hidden from view, seemingly operating in the background. However, we can see and understand these infrastructures, if we shape our analytical lenses to help bring these arrangements and practices to the forefront.

We reflect on the idea that speculative design is already concerned with infrastructural questions. However these concerns tend to remain implicit, as we often focus on depicting the artifact, and leave the lifeworlds of the artifact implicit. Using insights from infrastructure studies and reviewing existing speculative design work, we present a set of design tactics to help design researchers bring lifeworlds into more explicit focus.

Design Tactics for Infrastructural Speculations

8 icons representing the 8 strategies

The paper presents eight design tactics for creating infrastructural speculations

In the paper, we describe eight design tactics for creating infrastructural speculations. These tactics aim to help designers consciously and purposefully place and reflect on the role of infrastructures in their speculative work. Each tactic is grounded in a particular insight from infrastructure studies. Each tactic helps to bring a different aspect of the artifact’s lifeworld into focus. I’ll highlight 3 of these today.

Icons depicting the tactic: Place the same speculative artifact in multiple lifeworlds.

Tactic: Place the same speculative artifact in multiple lifeworlds.

First is “placing the same speculative artifact in multiple lifeworlds.” This builds on the concept of “infrastructural inversion,” an analytical move to foreground the relationships among people, practices, artifacts, and institutions that normally exist in the background of a situation or activity. Similarly, speculative designs can be crafted in ways to emphasize the importance of the background lifeworld as being just as, if not more, important than the speculative artifact itself.

In deploying this tactic, the design researcher takes a single artifact and articulates multiple lifeworlds in which that artifact might make sense. For example, Pierce’s collages of smart products re-deploy existing consumer IoT cameras in ways that suggest alternative lifeworlds, beyond what is depicted in advertising and marketing materials. Pierce uses metaphors of lamps and curtains to speculate lifeworlds where IoT cameras have physical on/off switches, curtain shades, and used like interior lamps for decorative and mood-setting purposes. One can look at these re-deployments to ask what other lifeworlds might make sense for the IoT camera. One might be a lifeworld where IoT cameras are used decoratively and aesthetically like lighting today. Another might be a lifeworld where people adopt, but mistrust their devices. Here, they might use add-ons that subvert surveillance, such as lens covers, on/off switches, and wireless jammers.

This tactic de-centers the speculative artifact as the main unit of analysis, and instead brings our attention to the importance of the lifeworld. By explicitly portraying multiple alternative lifeworlds, design researchers can interrogate how the social meaning of a technology is co-constructed between the artifact and its lifeworld. The diversity of lifeworlds depicted through this tactic also sheds light on the multiplicity of the present reality. Within the world that we inhabit, technologies exist in multiple contexts and may have multiple social meanings.

icon depicting the Tactic: Depict stakeholders beyond users, and relationships beyond use

Tactic: Depict stakeholders beyond users, and relationships beyond use

A second tactic is to “Focus lifeworld descriptions on stakeholders beyond users, and relationships beyond use.” This builds on infrastructures research that focuses on the practices required to support sociotechnical systems, such as maintaining, repairing, managing, selling, regulating, or dismantling systems. This connects with existing HCI design work that looks at other types of relationships between humans and systems beyond that of “use.”

This tactic then, focuses on “uses beyond use.” For example, Stead’s Toaster for Life design fiction presents a speculative networked toaster with sustainable attributes, including the ability to repair, upgrade, customize, recycle, and track component parts. The fiction foregrounds a set of relationships and practices with the toaster that go beyond use. The toaster’s modularity centers repair and maintenance practices as a key mode of interacting with the toaster. The fiction also points to a broader set of stakeholders who interact with the toaster through practices of recycling, fabrication, and tracking of the toaster’s components throughout its lifecycle.

This tactic can be used to explore such questions around the multifaceted relationships and practices related to speculative artifacts. What forms of work might be necessary to maintain and sustain a system across time? Who does this work, and how is it valued?

icon depicting Tactic: Focus on the bureaucratic mundane -- artifacts or organizations representing larger systems of power

Tactic: Focus on the bureaucratic mundane — artifacts or organizations representing larger systems of power

The last design tactic I’ll discuss is to “Create mundane artifacts or organizations whose disturbing effects are due to the systems of power and institutions within which they are embedded.” This comes from an understanding that new technologies are deployed in relation to existing institutions and systems of power.

This tactic contrasts with speculative exercises designing intentionally “evil” technologies. Rather than the “evilness” of a technology coming from malicious intent of its designers, the “evilness” arises from the systems of power in which the technology is embedded or adopted.

For instance, a design fiction from my dissertation work depicts an organization, rather than a product. The organizational fiction depicts UX designers at a company, InnerCube. They attempt to surface and address problematic social values related to a harmful use of their platform. But they are stymied by their company management’s desire to not lose a contract with a particular client. They are later are replaced by Anchorton contractors or “ethics strikebreakers” who do the problematic work instead. The negative outcomes from this scenario do not directly arise from a designer’s evil intent, nor from a problematic technical system. Rather, the negative outcomes stem from the organization’s arrangement of power and the encompassing structures of financial reward.

This tactic calls attention to systems of power and inequality of the past and present. It calls on us as design researchers to grapple with how those systems might persist in the futures we imagine. Notably, this tactic is not about creating grand futuristic dystopias. Instead, it seeks to recognize the current and past dystopias that people face in their everyday lives, surface the systems of power that (re)create those dystopias, and imagine how those might be (re)configured in the future. This tactic examines how infrastructures enable or constrain action in ways that can at first seem subtle, but cause enduring, large-scale effects. This helps a design researcher explore how through forms of institutional power, technologies can constrain or shape action in uneven ways. What are the seemingly mundane practices of people embedded in organizations responsible for creating or maintaining technical systems? What are the effects of those actions, particularly if they lead to harmful outcomes?


Each of the infrastructural speculation design tactics helps foreground a different aspect of a projected lifeworld. Together the tactics we present provide strategies for thinking beyond initial moments of design and use. They open up a broader set of stakeholders, practices, institutions, and related systems for speculative inquiry. The tactics help shift our focus from immediate uses of artifacts to the broader lifeworlds in which they sit. By making different aspects of the lifeworlds more explicit, the tactics help can designers shift how they see a speculative artifact and its relation to the lifeworld. I’ll highlight two of these shifts here.

2 shifts that the design tactics help: working/broken to ongoing practices and relationships; and dystopia/utopia to differences in the everyday mundane

Types of analytical shifts the design tactics can help us make

First, we can shift from thinking about whether a system is working or broken, to looking at ongoing relations and practices surrounding a system. Infrastructures are never universally working or broken on their own. Rather, infrastructures may work for some but not for others. Labor and work are required to make an infrastructure function at a local level. The design tactics draw attention to the relations and practices surrounding technical artifacts: How might a technical artifact work partially for some, but not for others? What practices and relationships might be necessary for a system to function?

Second, the focus on everyday practices means that we can think about the multiple ways people relate to technologies in both beneficial and harmful ways. People encounter technologies in the mundanity of everyday life and new technologies get adopted and appropriated by and into existing institutions and systems of power. This is different that dystopian speculations of the future, which tend to flatten experiences – everyone has a similar harmful experience. Moreover, dystopic speculations have been critiqued by scholars such as Oliviera& Martins, Sondergaard & Hansen, and Tonkinwise, for hiding questions of race, class, and gender; and for pushing societal harms into an imagined future, not recognizing how people in the present already experience injustice and suffering. Rather than erasing differences, infrastructural speculations draw attention to differences and the imaginaries, institutions, and power structures that support and enforce them.

While speculative designs imply a lifeworld surrounding a speculative artifact, infrastructural speculations re-focus design researchers’ explicit attention to the careful crafting and analysis of the lifeworld itself. Drawing on concepts of infrastructures, the design tactics we present offer a variety of strategies for re-focusing attention on the lifeworlds that tend to operate in the “background” of speculative design. This brings into focus practices and relationships beyond use; multiplicity of experiences; and the longstanding power that infrastructural systems have to classify, sort, and affect human experiences. Infrastructural speculations are of pertinent importance as designers increasingly use modes of speculation to interrogate questions of broad societal concern, beyond moments of immediate invention and design, and beyond moments of individuals’ use.

Paper Citation:
Richmond Y. Wong, Vera Khovanskaya, Sarah E. Fox, Nick Merrill, and Phoebe Sengers. 2020. Infrastructural Speculations: Tactics for Designing and Interrogating Lifeworlds. In Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’20). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1–15. DOI: 

Where’s the Rest of Design? Or, Bringing Design to the Privacy Table: Broadening “Design” in “Privacy by Design” Through HCI [Paper Talk]

This post is based on a talk given at the 2019 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2019), in Glasgow, UK. The full research paper by Richmond Wong and Deirdre Mulligan that the talk is based on, “Bringing Design to the Privacy Table: Broadening “Design” in “Privacy by Design” Through the Lens of HCI” can be found here: [Official ACM Version] [Open Access Pre-Print Version]

In our paper “Bringing Design to the Privacy Table: Broadening Design in Privacy by Design,” we conduct a curated literature review to make two conceptual argument arguments:

  1. There is a broad range of design practices used in human computer interaction (HCI) research which have been underutilized in Privacy By Design efforts.
  2. Broadening privacy by design’s notion of what “design” can do can help us more fully address privacy, particularly in situations where we don’t yet know what concepts or definitions of privacy are at stake.

But let me start with some background and motivation. I’m both a privacy researcher—studying studying how to develop technologies that respect privacy—and I’m a design researcher, who designs things to learn about the world.

I was excited several years ago to hear about a growing movement called “Privacy By Design,” the idea that privacy protections should be embedded into products and organizational practice during the design of products, rather than trying to address privacy retroactively. Privacy By Design has been put forward in regulatory guidance from the US and other countries, and more recently by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. Yet these regulations don’t provide a lot of guidance about what Privacy By Design means in practice.

In interactions with and field observations of the interdisciplinary Privacy By Design community—including lawyers, regulators, academics, practitioners, and technical folks—I’ve  found that there is a lot of recognition of the complexity of privacy: that it’s an essentially contested concept, there are many conceptualizations of privacy; privacy from companies is different than privacy from governments; there are different privacy harms, and so forth.

PowerPoint Slide Show - [Bringing Privacy to the Table CHI Talk 2.0.pptx] 5_10_2019 10_14_25 AM

Privacy by Design conceptualizes “design” in a relatively narrow way

But the discussion of “design” seems much less complex. I had assumed Privacy By Design would have meant applying HCI’s rich breadth of design approaches toward privacy initiatives – user centered design, participatory design, value sensitive design, speculative design, and so on.

Instead, design seemed to be used narrowly, as either a way to implement the law via compliance engineering, or to solve specific privacy problems. Design was largely framed as a deductive way to solve a problem, using approaches such as encryption techniques or building systems to comply with fair information practices. While these are all important and necessary privacy initiatives, but I kept finding myself asking, “where’s the rest of design?” Not just the deductive problem solving aspects of design, but also its the inductive, exploratory, and forward looking aspects.

PowerPoint Slide Show - [Bringing Privacy to the Table CHI Talk 2.0.pptx] 5_10_2019 10_16_05 AM
There’s an opportunity for Privacy By Design to make greater use of the breadth of design approaches used in HCI

There’s a gap here between the way the Privacy By Design views design and the way the HCI community views design. Since HCI researchers and practitioners are in a position to help support or implement privacy by design initiatives, it’s important to try to help broaden the notion of design in Privacy By Design to more fully bridge this gap.

So our paper aims to fulfill 2 goals:

  1. Design in HCI is more than just solving problems. We as HCI privacy researchers can more broadly engage the breadth of design approaches in HCI writ large. And there are opportunities to build connections among the HCI privacy research community and HCI design research community & research through design community to use design in relation to privacy in multiple ways.
  2. Privacy By Design efforts risk missing out on the full benefits that design can offer if it sticks with a narrower solution and compliance orientation to design. From HCI, we can help build bridges with interdisciplinary Privacy By Design community, and engage them in understanding a broader view of design.  

So how might we characterize the breadth of ways that HCI uses design in relation to privacy? In the paper, we conduct a curated review of HCI research to explore and breadth and richness of how design practices are used in relation to privacy. We searched for HCI papers that use both the terms “privacy” and “design,” curating a corpus of 64 papers. Reading through each paper, we openly coded each one by asking a set of questions including: Why is design used; who is design done by; and for whom is design done? Using affinity diagramming on the open codes, we came up with a set of categories, or dimensions, which we used to re-code the corpus. In this post I’m going to focus on the dimensions that emerged when we looked at the “why design?” question, which we call the purposes of design.

PowerPoint Slide Show - [Bringing Privacy to the Table CHI Talk 2.0.pptx] 5_10_2019 10_15_10 AM

We use 4 purposes to discuss the breadth of reasons why design might be used in relation to privacy

 We describe 4 purposes of design. They are:

  • Design to solve a privacy problem;
  • Design to inform or support privacy;
  • Design to explore people and situations; and
  • Design to critique, speculate, and present critical alternatives.

Note that we use these to talk about how design has been used in privacy research specifically, not about all design writ large (that would be quite a different and broader endeavor!). In practice these categories are not mutually exclusive, and are not the only way to look at the space, but looking at them separately helps give some analytical clarity.  Let’s briefly walk through each of these design purposes.

To Solve a Privacy Problem

First, design is seen as a way to solve a privacy problem – which occurred most often in the papers we looked at. And I think this is often how we think about design colloquially, as a set of practices to solve problems. This is often how design is discussed in Privacy By Design discussions as well.

When viewing design in this way, privacy is presented a problem that has already been well-defined at the before the design process, and a solution is designed to address that definition of the problem. A lot of responsibility for protecting privacy here is thus placed in the technical system.

For instance, if a problem of privacy is defined as the harms that result from long term data processing and aggregation, we might design a system that limits data retention. If a problem of privacy is defined as not being identified, we might design a system to be anonymous.

To Inform or Support Privacy

Second, design is seen as a way to inform or support actors who must make privacy-relevant choices, rather than solving a privacy problem outright. This was also common in our set of papers.  Design to inform or support privacy views problems posed by privacy as an information or tools problem. If users receive information in better ways, or have better tools, then they can make more informed choices about how to act in privacy-preserving ways.

A lot of research has been done on how to design usable privacy policies or privacy notices – but it’s still up to the user to read the notice and make a privacy relevant decision. Other types of design work in this vein includes designing privacy icons, controls, dashboards, visualizations, as well as educational materials and activities.

In these approaches, a lot of responsibility for protecting privacy is placed in the choices that people make, informed by a design artifact. The protection of privacy doesn’t arise from the design of the system itself, but rather by how a person chooses to use the system. This orientation towards privacy fits well with US regulations around privacy that make individuals manage and control their own data.

To Explore People and Situations (Related to Privacy)

Third is using design to explore people and situations. Design is used as a mode of inquiry, to better understand what privacy or the experience of privacy means to certain people, in certain situations. Design here is not necessarily about solving an immediate problem.

Techniques like design probes or collaborative design workshops are some approaches here. For example, a project I presented at CSCW 2018 involved presenting booklets with conceptual designs of potentially invasive products to technology practitioners in training. We weren’t looking to gather feedback in order to develop these conceptual ideas into usable products. Instead, the goal was to use these conceptual design ideas as provocations to better understand the participants’ worldviews. How are they conceptualizing privacy when they see these designs? How do their reactions help us understand where they place responsibility for addressing privacy?

Here, privacy is understood as a situated experience, which emerges from practices from particular groups in specific contexts or situations. The goal is less about solving a privacy problem, and more about understanding how privacy gets enacted and experienced.

To Critique, Speculate, or Present Critical Alternatives About Privacy

Fourth is design to critique, speculate, or present critical alternatives. (By critical I don’t mean bad or mean, but instead I mean critical like reflexive reflection or careful analysis).  Design here is not about exploring the world as it is, but focuses on how the world could be. Often this consists of creating create conceptual designs that provoke, to create a space to surface and discuss social values. These help us discuss worlds we might strive to achieve or ones we want to avoid. Privacy in this case is situated in different possible sociotechnical configurations of the world, thinking about privacy’s social, legal, and technical aspects together.

For example, in a project I presented at DIS 2017, we created advertisements for fictional sensing products, like a bodily implant for workplace employees. This helped us raise questions beyond basic data collection and use ones. The designs helped us ask questions about how is privacy implicated in the workplace, or through employment law? Can consent really occur with these power dynamics? It also helped us ask normative questions, such as: Who gets to have privacy and who doesn’t? Who or what should be responsible for protecting privacy? Might we look to technical design, to regulations, to market mechanisms, or to individual choice to protect privacy?

Design Is a Political, Values-Laden Choice

So in summary these are the 4 purposes of design that we identified in this paper: using design to solve, to inform and support, to explore, and to critique and speculate. Again, in practice, they’re not discrete categories. Many design approaches, like user centered design, or participatory design, use design for multiple design purposes.

PowerPoint Slide Show - [Bringing Privacy to the Table CHI Talk 2.0.pptx] 5_10_2019 10_27_56 AM

Using design in different ways suggests different starting points for how we might think about privacy

But this variety of purposes for how design relates to privacy is also a reminder that design isn’t a neutral process, but is itself political and values-laden. (Not political in terms of liberal and conservative, but political in the sense that there is power and social implications in the choices we make about how to use design). Each design purpose suggests a different starting place for how we orient ourselves towards conceptualizing and operationalizing privacy. We might think about privacy as:

  • a technical property;
  • as a user-made choice;
  • as situated experiences;
  • as privacy as sociotechnically situated.

Privacy can be many and all of these things at once, but the design methods we choose, and the reasons why we choose to use design helps to suggest or foreclose different orientations toward privacy. These choices also suggest that responsibility for privacy might be placed in different places — such as in a technical system, in a person’s choices, in a platform’s policies, in the law, in the market, and so forth.

PowerPoint Slide Show - [Bringing Privacy to the Table CHI Talk 2.0.pptx] 5_10_2019 10_15_39 AM

Research using design to solve and design to inform and support appeared more often in the papers that we looked at

Now I’ve been discussing these 4 design purposes equally, but they weren’t equal in our corpus. Allowing each paper to be coded for multiple categories, a little over half the papers we looked at used design to solve a privacy problem and a little over half used design to inform or support. Less than a quarter used design to explore; even fewer used design to critique and speculate. We don’t claim that the exact percentages are representative of all the privacy literature, but there’s a qualitative difference here, where most of the work we reviewed uses design to solve privacy problems or support and inform privacy.

We are arguing for a big tent approach in privacy by design: using design in all of these ways helps us address a broader set of conceptions of privacy.

This suggests that there’s an opportunity for us to build bridges between the HCI privacy research community, which has rich domain expertise; and the HCI design research & research through design communities, which have rich design methods expertise, particularly using design in ways to explore, and to critique and speculate.

So that’s Argument 1, that we have the opportunity to build new bridges among HCI communities to more fully make use of each others’ expertise, and a broader range of design methods and purposes.

Argument 2 is that Privacy By Design has largely (with some exceptions) thought about design as a problem solving process.  Privacy By Design research and practice could expand on that thinking of design to make more use of a fuller breadth of uses of design that are reflected in HCI.

Implications for Design Collaboration

So what might some of these collaborations within and across fields look like, if we want to make use of more of design’s breadth? For example if we as privacy researchers, develop a set of usable privacy tools to inform and support most people’s privacy decision making; that might be complemented with design to explore so that we can better understand the often marginalized populations for whom those tools don’t work. For instance Diana Freed et al.’s work shows that social media privacy and security tools can be used against victims of intimate partner violence, violating their privacy and safety. Or, an emerging set of problems we face is thinking about privacy in physically instrumented spaces: how does consent work, what conceptions of privacy and privacy risk are at play? We can complement design to solve and design to support efforts with design to critique and speculate; to craft future scenarios that try to understand what concepts of privacy might be at play, and how privacy can surface differently when technical, social, or legal aspects of the world change.

From a design research perspective, I think there’s growing interest in the design research community to create provocative artifacts to try to surface discussions about privacy, particularly in relation to new and emerging technologies. Critically reflecting on my own design research work, I think it can be tempting to just speak to other designers and resort to conceptions of privacy that say “surveillance is creepy” and not dig deeper into other approaches to privacy. But by collaborating with privacy researchers, we can bring more domain expertise and theoretical depth to these design explorations and speculations, and engage a broader set of privacy stakeholders.

Industry privacy practitioners working on privacy by design initiatives might consider incorporating more UX researchers and designers form their organizations, as privacy allies and as design experts.  Approaches that use design to critique and speculate may also align well with privacy practitioners’ stated desire to find contextual and anticipatory privacy tools to help “think around corners”, as reported by Ken Bamberger and Deirdre Mulligan.

Privacy By Design regulators could incorporate more designers (in addition to engineers and computer scientists) in regulatory discussions about privacy by design, so that this richness of design practice isn’t lost when the words “by design” are written in the law.

Moreover, there’s an opportunity here for us an HCI community to bring HCI’s rich notions of what design can mean to Privacy By Design, so that beyond being a problem solving process, it is also seen as a process that also makes use of the multi-faceted, inductive, and exploratory uses of design that this community engages in.


Paper Citation: Richmond Y. Wong and Deirdre K. Mulligan. 2019. Bringing Design to the Privacy Table: Broadening “Design” in “Privacy by Design” Through the Lens of HCI. In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’19). ACM, New York, NY, USA, Paper 262, 17 pages. DOI:

Eliciting Values Reflections by Engaging Privacy Futures Using Design Workbooks [Talk]

This blog post is a version of a talk I gave at the 2018 ACM Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW) Conference based on a paper written with Deirdre Mulligan, Ellen Van Wyk, John Chuang, and James Pierce, entitled Eliciting Values Reflections by Engaging Privacy Futures Using Design Workbooks, which was honored with a best paper award. Find out more on our project page, our summary blog post, or download the paper: [PDF link] [ACM link]

In the work described in our paper, we created a set of conceptual speculative designs to explore privacy issues around emerging biosensing technologies, technologies that sense human bodies. We then used these designs to help elicit discussions about privacy with students training to be technologists. We argue that this approach can be useful for Values in Design and Privacy by Design research and practice.

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Exploring Implications of Everyday Brain-Computer Interface Adoption through Design Fiction

This blog post is a version of a talk I gave at the 2018 ACM Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) Conference based on a paper written with Nick Merrill and John Chuang, entitled When BCIs have APIs: Design Fictions of Everyday Brain-Computer Interface Adoption. Find out more on our project page, or download the paper: [PDF link] [ACM link]

In recent years, brain computer interfaces, or BCIs, have shifted from far-off science fiction, to medical research, to the realm of consumer-grade devices that can sense brainwaves and EEG signals. Brain computer interfaces have also featured more prominently in corporate and public imaginations, such as Elon Musk’s project that has been said to create a global shared brain, or fears that BCIs will result in thought control.

Most of these narratives and imaginings about BCIs tend to be utopian, or dystopian, imagining radical technological or social change. However, we instead aim to imagine futures that are not radically different from our own. In our project, we use design fiction to ask: how can we graft brain computer interfaces onto the everyday and mundane worlds we already live in? How can we explore how BCI uses, benefits, and labor practices may not be evenly distributed when they get adopted?

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Interrogating Biosensing Privacy Futures with Design Fiction (video)


I presented this talk in November 2017, at the Berkeley I School PhD Research Reception. The talk discusses findings from 2 of our papers:

Richmond Y. Wong, Ellen Van Wyk and James Pierce. (2017). Real-Fictional Entanglements: Using Science Fiction and Design Fiction to Interrogate Sensing Technologies. In Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS ’17).

Richmond Y. Wong, Deirdre K. Mulligan, Ellen Van Wyk, James Pierce and John Chuang. (2017). Eliciting Values Reflections by Engaging Privacy Futures Using Design Workbooks. Proceedings of the ACM Human Computer Interaction (CSCW 2018 Online First). 1, 2, Article 111 (November 2017), 27 pages.

More about this project and some of the designs can be found here: