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Embracing the Unconventional: Why Designing "Evil" Can Lead to Better Solutions

Skriven av

Annika Madejska
Senior Designer

Annika Madejska är Senior Designer på Nitor och gillar att tackla komplexa designutmaningar och att kliva utanför sin bekvämlighetszon. Hon är en förespråkare för etik inom teknik, särskilt AI-drivna tjänster. På fritiden ägnar hon sig åt textilhantverk och att måla akvareller, eller så gräver hon i trädgården.

Tia Sistonen
Senior Designer

Tia Sistonen is a seasoned senior designer with a passion for all things innovative and stylish. With a diverse background in user experience, service, and concept design, Tia brings a unique perspective to the table. Always on the lookout for fresh ideas and cutting-edge concepts, she thrives on learning and exploring new horizons.

Artikel

15 maj 2024 · 4 min lästid

In the world of design, pursuing excellence often involves pushing boundaries and challenging conventional thinking. Recently, a group of brave Nitoreans embarked on an unconventional workshop where we explored the realm of "evil" design – deliberately crafting services and applications to create harmful and disruptive experiences.

Usually, critical and speculative design – or design fiction – is something we only encounter outside the space of product development. Occasionally, it can be found within marketing, for example, as a means to draw attention to an important issue by non-profit organisations. But most often, it appears in art settings, as its purpose is to provoke, initiate discussion, and make us think. And even though we are framing this as ”design,” you do not have to be a designer to find a workshop like this useful. After all, we are all designing and inventing while performing our daily tasks – it's just our tools that differ.

The whole-day exercise was not about promoting malevolence; instead, it was a thought-provoking experiment aimed at deepening our understanding of design impacts and cultivating a culture of innovation and risk management.

Transitioning from problem-solving champions to creators of chaos proved to be unexpectedly challenging. Our ingrained instincts as designers – rooted in empathy and the drive to eliminate user pain points – clashed with the task of envisioning harmful outcomes. Yet, this discomfort was precisely the point. By stepping outside our comfort zones, we uncovered valuable insights about design ethics and the potential consequences of our choices.

Why engage in such a counterintuitive exercise? Here are a few compelling reasons:

1. Unveiling Hidden Risks: Designing with malicious intent allowed us to identify elements and patterns that could inadvertently lead to exclusion, discrimination, or harm. By exploring the worst-case scenarios, we became more aware of potential pitfalls lurking within our usual design processes.

2. Gaining Perspective: When you're deeply immersed in a project, it's easy to become myopic and overlook broader implications. This exercise forced us to zoom out and view our work from a different angle, revealing blind spots and prompting critical reflection.

3. Developing Risk Management Tools: The blurred line between unintentional and intentional bad design underscores the importance of risk management. Through this workshop, we (or I) began formulating drafts of checklists and frameworks to preemptively address harmful outcomes, ensuring our designs remain ethical and inclusive.

4. Embracing Creativity: Sometimes, the most revolutionary ideas emerge from embracing the absurd. By temporarily discarding constraints and conventions, we tapped into a wellspring of creativity that challenged our preconceived notions and expanded our design repertoire.

In pursuing innovation, it's essential to embrace experimentation and cultivate a culture where taking calculated risks is encouraged. By occasionally venturing into uncharted territories, whether to explore "evil" design or other unconventional approaches, we equip ourselves with the tools to anticipate and mitigate potential pitfalls. 

Every experiment, even the seemingly absurd ones, contributes to our growth as designers and enriches our capacity to deliver meaningful, impactful solutions.

- Tia Sistonen, Senior Designer

At the core of this workshop was a profound truth: growth stems from discomfort, and innovation flourishes when we dare to explore the unconventional. As we continue to evolve and refine our craft, we remain committed to learning from every experience—no matter how unexpected or unconventional it may seem. After all, the most transformative insights often emerge from the intersection of creativity and courage.

Want to try it yourself?

  1. Set the stage
    Introduce the workshop participants to critical, speculative, and discursive design and how to create artifacts that engage their audiences in discussion and reflection. Discursive Design, for example, has a helpful resource available. Showcase examples from other projects to make it easier to understand what critical design is about.

  2. Make it easy to get started
    Provide a few concise creative briefs that spark creativity without being overly restrictive. Introduce world-building: envision the world where the proposed terrible product exists. Utilize generative AI tools to develop the world quickly.

  3. Teamwork
    Organize participants into teams. Collaborating in pairs or groups enhances idea generation and facilitates deep discussions on creating unsettling technology. 

  4. Facilitate with great care
    Monitor the teams as a facilitator, ensuring they progress, take necessary breaks, and adhere to time constraints. If needed, guide them to be bolder or create concepts that are close to contemporary settings rather than envisioning full dystopias, enhancing realism and impact.

  5. Do a demo
    Allocate time for teams to present their ideas. Encourage reflection by asking them how engaging with malevolent concepts felt and what insights they gained from the exercise. Discuss how these insights could be used in their work.

  6. Provide Discussion Opportunities
    Offer space for open discussion throughout and following the workshop to address discomfort or debates sparked by the presentations.


Did sustainable design pique your interest? Read more from our article “Sustainable digital development starts with design: “Even small decisions matter in-scale”.

This text has been created in collaboration with generative AI. We have used it to translate, and to make it more focused and condensed. The text has been edited and curated by us and fully reflects our experiences and knowledge.

Skriven av

Annika Madejska
Senior Designer

Annika Madejska är Senior Designer på Nitor och gillar att tackla komplexa designutmaningar och att kliva utanför sin bekvämlighetszon. Hon är en förespråkare för etik inom teknik, särskilt AI-drivna tjänster. På fritiden ägnar hon sig åt textilhantverk och att måla akvareller, eller så gräver hon i trädgården.

Tia Sistonen
Senior Designer

Tia Sistonen is a seasoned senior designer with a passion for all things innovative and stylish. With a diverse background in user experience, service, and concept design, Tia brings a unique perspective to the table. Always on the lookout for fresh ideas and cutting-edge concepts, she thrives on learning and exploring new horizons.