Okay, an algorithm for creating conceptual train wrecks. Think of something that normal humans do. Add a hyphen and then the word “computing.” Wait for lots of new devices and ideas to appear that require batteries, a USB cable or network jack, a deployed call center in Bangelore and few new entries in Wikipedia. Hire lawyers to write voluminous EULAs that you know no one will read. Package it in clear, sharp-edged plastic boxes that can only be opened with heavy-duty shears while wearing those metal gloves butchers use. Wait for puzzled stares. Repeat.

It doesn’t take a skeptical observer to notice how often this rule of adding -computing onto everything under the sun that a few folks think can create markets or research agendas or fill a few pages of popular press.


There’s a weird conceit in here, that the activities and practices of normal human beings will involve data processing and algorithms of some sort, which is an awfully big assumption. So big, in fact, that it has distilled down to a way of seeing the world as consisting of bits of data that can be processed into information that then will naturally yield some value to people.

Why not start with people and their practices and follow this through, without the assumption that something computational or data process-y is meant to fall out from that. Don’t assume that you’re going to play the role of the high-conceit data processing and algorithms specialist and figure out some magical workflow that’ll turn someone’s life into a golden bliss of computer chips and sensors.

Design for people, practices and interaction rituals before the assumptions about computation, data structures and algorithms get bolted onto normal human interaction rituals.

4 thoughts on “*-computing”

  1. yes! a kind of manifesto for a people-first philosophy. Question is how to approach it. Isn’t the point of much of these technologies to work from the ground up towards extending human capabilities/interaction? These are important points to think about as far as a design philosophy. Technologies built from the exploitation model described above are doomed to dehumanize. But in a paradigm where “computing” first is the de-facto norm — does not the internet/technology puts computers first simply because the message is inextricably linked to the medium?

    my point is not to sound contrarian but rather constructive. I was curious what specific examples existed of sites or technologies designed with a human approach as opposed to the other way around.

    1. Good question Nate. I think starting with stories (not scenarios) and characters (not users) and leading with design, story tellers is a start. Looking at multiple paths for moving between idea and material, allowing for loops and swerves. Probably not allowing markets and engineering to lead the way they often do. And not even designing for markets because there can only be conservative, incremental movements. And that means doing many, many projects in a light-weight, very swift iterative approach with no clear visions of a final-final. So, that means — hone the skills necessary to work with ideas, listen to contervening ideas, get things done in 3, 30, 60 day cycles, enough to make a hundred “things” that can be shuttled around to gentle and rough “readers” who can parse the idea and give feedback and evolve the concept. Quick, fast, non-markets or “engineering possibility” driven design. Phew. Imagine what a small, crackerjack design team could do with a few or four million and four years time, just to spark a little innovation. A kind of bailout plan for stagnating innovation markets or whatever.

Comments are closed.