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The Twelve Steps for Technology-Centered Designers

A friend and I were recently discussing the prevalence of technocentric design and thinking in many of the world's leading technology research and development centers, both in industry and academia.  During the course of the conversation, in which we recounted people, places and projects that seemed to reflect an approach that might be characterized as "technology in search of a problem", it struck me that this obsession with technology for technology's sake seems almost like an addiction in some cases. And when I think of addiction, I think of the 12 steps ... and so I decided to have a go at adapting the 12 steps for technology-centered designers.

The Twelve Steps for Technology-Centered Designers

  1. We admitted we were powerless over our users - that our expectations about the utility and usability of our technology had been unreasonable
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore our ability to design technology that is both useful and usable
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our work over to the care of our user-centered design processes as we understood user-centered design
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of our technology-centered design and development processes
  5. Admitted to our Higher Power, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our tecnhnocentric assumptions
  6. Were entirely ready to have our Higher Power remove all these defects of perspective
  7. Humbly asked our Higher Power to remove our technocentric biases
  8. Made a list of all users our technology had harmed (or not helped), and became willing to make amends to them all
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
  10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were developing technology in search of a problem, promptly admitted it
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with our users as we understood our users, praying only for knowledge of our users' needs for our technology, and the power for us to design technology to meet those needs
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

A few caveats:

  • I recognize that there are cases where "if you build it, they will come", and that some technology innovations are adapted for uses never envisioned by their designers (whether those designers were using a user-centered or technology-centered approach). The question, for me, is the starting point -- is the technology at least intended to solve a real human problem?
  • The foregoing is not intended to insult or ridicule any person, place or project, but simply to encourage reflection ... and perhaps a bit of fun. The second of Don Miguel Ruiz' four agreements, "don't take anything personally", and the 12-step slogan, "take what you like and leave the rest", are applicable here.
  • Although I feel a closer kinship to user-centered design than technology-centered design, I don't consider myself a particularly strong adherent to the former (I suppose I don't consider myself a particularly strong adherent to any philosophy, religion or political party). For that matter, I don't consider myself much of a designer, technologist or even "user" (which seems to have a rather passive connotation), either. [I'm not sure what this makes me, but I'll leave that for another blog post ...]
  • I don't feel a particularly strong affinity to the 12 steps, either, especially not as they were originally articulated. For one thing, I do not believe that there is any kind of Higher Power that has a "will" for me (or anyone else). For another, I have a problem with the monotheistic anthropomorphic paternalism reflected in the original 12 steps. In an earlier post on self-disclosure, I noted that I consider myself a confirmed non-Catholic, and although I'm warming up to spirituality, I'm still pretty cool toward religion (I recently read in Utne about a related observation made by Paul Hawken: "All ideologies lead to 'isms' and all 'isms' lead to schisms"). Although AA, Al-Anon/Alateen and other 12 step programs purport to be "non-denominational", in my own experience, they are steeped in Christianity, and thus not nearly as open and inclusive as they say they want to be ... so I adapted the original 12 steps to remove these biases. FWIW, here's a version of the original 12 steps that I believe is more open and inclusive:

    1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable
    2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
    3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of our Higher Power as we understood our Higher Power
    4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
    5. Admitted to our Higher Power, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
    6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
    7. Humbly asked our Higher Power to remove our shortcomings
    8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
    9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
    10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
    11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power as we understood our Higher Power, praying only for knowledge of our Higher Power's will for us and the power to carry that out
    12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs
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