Today's social media platforms are very quick to adapt to user
behaviour. Facebook, Twitter and other social networks keep finding
new ways to be helpful and accommodate our intuitions.
Increasingly, though, people are beginning to ask what is "under
the hood" of these platforms. Not least in light of last year's
Facebook scandal. As a more critical perspective emerges among the
public, more transparency is being demanded. This debate became the
jumping off point for MFA IxD2 students Mehek Sharma and Zhi Wang
The project, 'Ideal You', was recently awarded an honourable
mention at the Fast Company World Changing Ideas Awards.
Besides promoting transparency, the goal of the project is to
provide the user with more autonomy and input into their own
Facebook experience. By enabling users to have more control over
how their actions are interpreted they gain influence over what
types of content is shown. By giving control to the people, the
dynamics between Facebook, users and advertisers shifts the power
more to the user.
"We wanted to make the invisible workings of Facebook more
visible to the user. For example, they currently have a section
where you can change the ad preferences, but this is buried deep in
the system. 'Ideal You' is an attempt to allow the user to break
out of the "programmed" bubble of preferences that Facebook
creates", says Mehek Sharma, who is graduating from the Interaction
Design Programme this semester.
Tranparency, adjustability and trackability
'Ideal You' gives the user assistance in three different areas;
transparency, adjustability and trackability. It offers
transparency by revealing the reasons why Facebook thinks you are
interested in certain things and how that influences your feed. It
also helps you adjust the content shown to you by letting you gauge
the level of interest you have in certain topics. Finally, the
service helps track how Facebook is performing in adjusting the
feed to the individual goals set by the user.
"For us, promoting transparency in social media is not only a
solution that aims to empower the users, but also build trust from
the user to the service. In the end, this might allay users' fears
as to what Facebook is 'really' up to", says Zhi Wang.
The resbonsibility of design in the digital age
It seems the role of the user-centered designer has been
sidestepped through the rapid development of social networks in the
digital era. In order to once again start prioritizing human
experience, values and integrity, design needs to catch up in
defining and shaping these products, in order to take care of all
of the users and functions of modern digital things in a more
holistic way. Today, that is often not the case.
Researcher Heather Wiltse is responsible for the course
'Interaction Concept' together with IxD programme director
"We wanted to challenge students to work with fluid
assemblages: to assemble responsive things from a variety
of components, to build on top of existing platforms, and to
care for multiple users and types of use. It is connected
to the research project Design Philosophy for Things That Change, which
seeks to develop design philosophy that can support new types of
thoughtful design practices for connected digital things.
"I think 'Ideal You' is an exciting example of developing a
design practice that engages with slightly different materials and
parameters than interaction design traditionally has, and it was
nice to see that this kind of work can also be recognized in such
an awards scheme.", concludes Heather Wiltse.
The course development team for 'Interaction Concept'
included Heather Wiltse, Christoffel Kuenen, Johan Redström, Elisa
Giaccardi, Remy Bourganel and Daniel Peterson.