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Designing for Disagreement

July 2017


In July 2017 I took part in the workshop Designing for Disagreement at Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design summer school. The internet has brought the world to our doorsteps & provided us all a powerful filter for what we let into our lives. Interaction designers have a major role to play in how these debates are shaped. Our instructors delivered lectures & facilitated conversation around how to use behavioral design and service prototyping techniques to create new methods of civic interaction. 


What drew me to this workshop


We increasingly live online. 
Online conversations have grown, and the expectations of them have changed. 1.7 billion people are on Facebook and even when we disagree, we don't sign off. We seek out places where we do agree, like closed threads and private groups.

We disagree now more than ever. 
With the advent of personalized digital feeds and the ability to block, unfriend or unfollow whoever we choose, we don't have to listen to anyone we don't want to. 


What if online interactions encouraged users to disagree in more productive ways?


The week


My team and I were tasked with designing new visions of sharing, empathy, and engagement, and we got to choose our topic. After mapping out many possibilities, we honed in on online bullying. 


We spent the majority of our time out in Copenhagen talking to people about their experience with seeing or experiencing online bullying. Our key goal for the class was to craft a hypothesis statement about how we could design for disagreements happening related to our topic and pressure test it with as many people as we could. Each day we brought our findings back and synthesized them together, and after gathering as much information as we could, we had the information we needed to craft more specific hypothesis statements. 

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We decided to pursue the idea of asking bullies to stop and think, and started sketching out and testing ideas for designing to encourage a change in behavior rather than forcing one. By Wednesday, we had a solid draft of our hypothesis statement, made some paper prototypes and moved on to user testing. 


We came up with an idea to detect potentially abusive language and ask teens if they want to post it. They can, but they have to wait 5 minutes. We received a range of responses. Many thought that it would be successful because it would give people a chance to stop and consider their actions. Others thought it would only delay the inevitable, and perhaps even anger online bullies and result in more bullying posts.  


On the last day of the program we all shared our work with the program, and I definitely found some time to enjoy Denmark.


Some of my biggest takeaways


Look for initial biases in how problems are framed (e.g. word choice, tone, body language). 

Keep an open record of assumptions, like an accountability record (I am assuming…). On a related note, beware logical fallacies and jumping up the ladder of inference. 

Think about supporting an idea rather than loving it. 

Vocabulary around a topic varies widely. We used the words bullying, harassment and trolling interchangeably. Some people had not heard of the term trolling and thought we were talking about the 'live under a bridge' kind of trolls. If continuing with this research, we would need to devise a more rational approach to word choice to ensure conflating terms didn't influence data.

Danish people are incredibly nice and in my experience, willing to talk to a stranger for 10 minutes 100% of the time, even if that stranger is asking about a potentially divisive topic.