11 May 2018 Tailored to the People

The Incredible Machine – Tada in practice: tailored to the people

Douwe Schmidt
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How can we put the principles of the manifesto into practice? In the fifth episode in a series, Harm van Beek of The Incredible Machine shows how his company expresses the principle of ‘tailored to the people’.

The principle of ‘tailored to the people’ is in the manifesto because we believe that data and algorithms should not have the final say.
The principle played an important role in a project of a Rotterdam-based strategic design lab, The Incredible Machine. On behalf of their clients, owners Harm van Beek and Marcel Schouwenaar are exploring the applicability of certain (new) technologies.

Several years ago, they chose to introduce selection criteria, only accepting projects that were in line with their own principles. They based their criteria on the IOT Design Manifesto, a document for developers and designers that they helped to write, entitled Guidelines for responsible design in a connected world.

Smart charging stations

Back to human-oriented design. The concept played an important role in a project for the smart vehicle charging stations provided by Elaad. “In the future, we will need smart ways to manage electric vehicle charging systems to avoid overloading the power grids,” explains Van Beek. “But smart charging can have undesirable results for citizens if all the decision-making processes are in black boxes, so people do not have any idea why they can or cannot charge their vehicle at that time.”
Just providing transparency, only publishing the algorithm itself, is not particularly useful. A layperson would not be able to derive much information from those complex mathematical models. And so Van Beek and his colleague designed an interface for people who use public charging posts that shows exactly why someone cannot charge their vehicle or has limited access to power at certain times. For example because a doctor located nearby is charging his vehicle and always has priority, or because the wind speeds and solar intensity are lower that day and electricity is simply less available.

Actions in perspective

“An interface like that allows the user to take action in the proper perspective,” Van Beek explains. “Based on clear information, he can decide whether or not to go to the municipal authorities because he may not agree with the choices that the municipality is making.” Elaad primarily sees this case as a way of alerting municipal authorities to these types of issues. In tendering procedures, municipalities should opt for bids that can display this type of transparency.
The design process hardly encountered any obstacles, Van Beek says. “As it turns out, designing with a primary focus on human interests isn’t rocket science. The standard methods and tools for user experience design and interface design could simply be applied here as usual.”

GDPR and Facebook

Since the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the revelations involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytics, tailoring solutions to the people is even more relevant, according to Van Beek. “We are currently working on drawing up ‘design patterns’ that make it possible for people to make informed choices about which data they share with companies. The designs provided by major data companies for this purpose still try too hard to entice users to share everything, in order to feed their business model. Simpler interfaces can also be designed for this purpose that put human interests first.

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