Dec 6, 2018

I School Team Reimagines “Privacy by Design,” and Wins Best Paper Award

School of Information researchers found that design was largely missing from the “Privacy by Design” agenda, and believed that value-centered design approaches should play a role in early product development. They presented a case study using design workbooks of speculative design fictions as a tool to elicit values and ask social questions in interviews with graduate students training as future technology professionals. They found that their proactive approach will be useful in future Values in Design and Privacy Design work — and their paper, “Eliciting Values Reflection by Engaging Privacy Futures Using Design Workbooks,” was recognized with a CSCW Best Paper award.

The authors of the research include Ph.D. student Richmond Y. Wong, Professor Deirdre Mulligan, MIMS alumna Ellen Van Wyk, assistant professor at the California College of the Arts James Pierce (former I School lecturer), and Professor John Chuang. Richmond Wong presented the paper at the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing in November 2018.

Instead of looking for design solutions to fix existing problems in privacy, they used speculative design fictions to explore the potential privacy issues that may arise in future uses and adoptions of emerging biosensing technologies. Their work adapted a pre-existing design workbook of design fictions inspired by the sensing and tracking technologies imagined in the 2013 science fiction novel The Circle by Dave Eggers.

In this instance, they transformed the workbooks from digital images to into various physical formats, including cards, worksheets, and bound catalogs and presented them to future technology professionals, rather than design researchers. They found that values-centered considerations naturally surfaced after study participants engaged with the designs, largely focused on privacy, as well as trust, fairness, security and due process.

We spoke to Richmond about his work:

Tell us about presenting at the ACM CSCW ‘18 Conference.

Presenting at CSCW was great, it's a very supportive community that encourages and is receptive to interdisciplinary research, like what we do at the I School. The audience asked good questions that helped me think more about the role that design can play in addressing privacy, and how privacy fits in with other social values we might want to promote.

Why is Privacy by Design so important?

If we recognize that technologies can help embed and promote social values that affect people's lives, then we should be thoughtful about these social values during the design and development of technological systems. Privacy by Design argues that privacy should be addressed throughout the design process, not just as an afterthought. It also suggests that engineers and designers have a role to play in addressing privacy, in addition to legal professionals.

Why is it necessary to have ethically trained technology professionals and how does your work fit into this?

I think the goal is to have technology professionals to be able to think about ethics, values, and critical reflection as part of their everyday technical practices, rather than see values and ethics as something separate that only has to be thought about during an ethical or legal review of a product. While most of us are familiar with using design to provide solutions to problems, my work uses design techniques to explore and surface ethical issues about technology. Moreover, while legal professionals, and more recently computer scientists and engineers, have become more active in addressing privacy as a part of their professional practices, my work argues that UX and design professionals also have valuable skill sets and perspectives that can complement the legal and engineering outlook when addressing privacy and other social values.  

How soon can you imagine your findings tangibly affecting the design process for future products?

My current dissertation work is exploring how UX professionals and engineers in the tech industry can make use of these design techniques, so hopefully, within the near future, we might see more design approaches and greater opportunities for UX professionals to help address privacy in the development of products.

Richmond Wong, PhD
Richmond Wong
Brainstormed ideas of how the design workbook might be transformed into physical artifacts.
Brainstormed ideas of how the design workbook might be transformed into physical artifacts. Via R. Wong et al.
 designs presented as a set of cards.
Designs presented as a set of cards. Via R. Wong et al.

Last updated:

December 31, 2018