4 min read

29. Theory

I slog through an 800-page design reader around the day job and make it out alive. The responses are a reward after the dense original texts.
Library with book Critical Theory and Interaction Design

Back in February, James Reith's LinkedIn comment singing the praises of the design reader Critical Theory and Interaction Design inspired me to finally buy it. (I've known about it since its release in 2018 but in all honesty was put off by the not-unsubstantial price). After chipping away at it since March, I've finally finished it. At 800 pages, it's something of a beast, with a fair few of these pages being made of up dense philosophical readings. Arguably it's not supposed to be read beginning to end, but I am a stubborn completist with these sorts of things.

However, the format does make it possible to push through—for each of the 20 key texts (ranging from Aristotle to contemporary Serbian 'bad boy of philosophy' Slavoj Žižek), there is a response from a design theorist reflecting on the text and then relating it to interaction design. There are several things that I'm interested in bringing to my work for my colleagues, such as:

  • using Judith Butler's feminist notion of gender performance and fluidity (as translated by Ann Light) to playfully challenge existing 'fixed data points' in our work. Given that assumptions of gender, titles, and even addresses have changed in what is fairly recent memory, what might it mean to challenge other assumptions such as always having a fixed date of birth or parentage (perhaps people renouncing the date because of family trauma), nationality, 0r comfort with sharing data?
  • following Bruno Latour's challenge for critique to be grounded in political reality as interpreted by Carl DiSalvo for designers to remember that they can use design to go beyond mere representation to helping form action (as in participatory design) and even controversy
  • using Seyla Benhabib's challenge of the generalised other to the concrete other in all its diversity as translated by Shaowen Bardzell to bring forward real stories of real people and allowing for complexity, rather than creating clean composites

And this is just my first pass. (I should have taken better notes as I went…). Now I need to probably go through it again—now more comfortably dipping in and out since I've been through the entire reader once—to pull more out of the different layers of critique.

I'm also interested in doing through the 40 chapters again as a form of online bookclub. Let me know if this is the type of thing that you'd like to be involved in.

This month in digital government and design

Happy 20th birthday to the Design Council's Double Diamond! I had no idea when I started design school that it had just been launched. It's effectively been in the background of my entire design career.

Speaking of frameworks, Dave Briggs has been figuring out how to prioritise digital work in councils. His model of governance, productivity, security and resilience, platforms, systems, and backbone looks to Wardley Mapping models and deliberately so. It's very much a work in progress—and Briggs admits that it's IT centred so has missed crosscutting areas such as accessibility—but is a useful experiment for departments that don't have the funding for dedicated digital capability but need a strategy.

Meanwhile, Matt Edgar reviews how 10 years of digital public transformation has been going - a mixed report card, with planning, collaboration and accountability not coming out of it well.

At work I've been promoting storyboards through tools such as the UX comic pattern library. So I'm thrilled to see that Airbnb is sharing their storyboards publicly.

Craig Abbott was a speaker at the latest NUX Newcastle meetup and has released his slides on going beyond the accessibility regulations.

Deque has a webinar on UX for trigger and content warnings

Bryony Shannon suggests that social care should move from talking about needs to talking about rights. This is a good challenge across public sector in general - should we talk about users' rights to access, services that don't tax their cognitive resources, understandable language and so on?

IBM did a ruthless content audit and has deleted nearly 80% of their marketing pages off their website.

Are team members pushing back against ideas because they didn't come up with them? NOBL has some tips on how to challenge 'not invented here' syndrome.

My work involves some colleagues reviewing how an overgrown website can be turned into a more coherent mode. Interestingly, two UX folk in my twittersphere have noticed product design and design patterns have meant that fewer designers are experienced with this type of problem. Dean Vipond has noticed the lost art of information architecture and its skills of  top tasks, card sorts and tree testing, and Andy Budd bemoans the lost art of wireframing beyond happy paths.

I'm also investigating how to encourage better use of Powerpoint at my work. Alice Bartlett's generic version of the GDS presentation templates is a great start, though Caroline Jarrett also notes that slides should be 'headlines, not headers' and Anne Collis includes that slides should be shared with slide descriptions in advance for those that need a screen reader.


I was lucky enough to be able to go to Eurovision in Liverpool for the dress rehearsal of semi-final 1. The best part of it for me was seeing the behind-the-scenes magic. Matthew Blakemore goes into some of the details of the event - such as the light up marks on the stage for set positions - on Linkedin.

Much of  the US film and TV industry is now in a writers' strike. The last writer's strike back in the 2000s had a massive effect on films being made at the time.

“If she’d been a man, she’d be a humorist and memoirist. But she was a woman, so she was a mommy blogger.” RIP Heather Armstrong aka Dooce (Washington Post).  

As summer finally (finally!) edges towards us here in the UK, this website lets you translate the weather into Glaswegian: "taps on or taps off?" (It also accepts any UK postcode).

My home of Whitley Bay gets featured in the National Geographic UK Traveller edition. Special shoutout to my favourite cafe, Kith and Kin.

And finally, sometimes the internet really delivers when it comes to creativity, as to this one about "I don't need to know what you look like watching tiktok"