Values as Hypotheses

Pluralism offers a reasonable response to the demands made by the quantity and shades of values in human experience. Taking a pluralistic stance toward values, however, brings up an ongoing problem in the relation of values and design: that a given value may be both valuable and not valuable in its participation in design products and practices. This problem is evident in the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) where a scholarship of values and design has developed in the past two decades. We draw on this literature to exemplify the problem as well as what we observe to be a common response to it. This response follows a two-step logic: 1) we need to better understand values 2) so they can be applied to design practice. We argue that this logic fails to capture and inform the work of values in action (e.g., in design practice).

In response, I introduce a fundamental repositioning of values as hypotheses, drawing attention to the service of values in ethically problematic situations where the question of action is central: “What is the situation that demands action and what is the action that it demands?”

I argue that this understanding of values, draws attention to the “development of values” as they become central in fashioning the problematic situations of action. We demonstrate the key tenets of this position through examples and demonstrate its alignment with design practice drawing on an empirical study of professional designers.

The idea of values as hypotheses is well-aligned with feminist and pragmatic ethics. This idea is expanded across several other projects projects in my studio–including the critique of moral algorithms in self-driving cars and algorithmic fashion assistants.

Related publications and presentations:

  1. Nassim JafariNaimi, Lisa Nathan, and Ian Hargraves, “Values as Hypotheses: The Service of Values and Design,”Design Issues, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp. 90 – 103. [download]
  2. JafariNaimi, Nassim. “Our bodies in the trolley’s path, or why self-driving cars must* not* be programmed to kill.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 43, no. 2 (2018): 302-323.
  3. Parvin, Nassim. “Look up and smile! Seeing through Alexa’s algorithmic gaze.” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 5, no. 1 (2019): 1-11.
  4. Meta-making: Crafting the Conversation of Values and Design. Ingrid Erickson, Lisa Nathan, Nassim JafariNaimi, Cory Knobel, Matthew Ratto.  Interactions. ACM Press, New York, NY, USA. Volume 19, Issue 3, 2012.
  5. Ian Hargraves and Nassim Jafarinaimi, “Re-establishing the Center in Human-Centered Design: From Opportunity to Significance in Human Life and Living.” Zoontechnica: The Journal of Redirective Design, Volume 1, Issue 2 (2012).