by Alex Taylor

On “How Apple is Giving Design a Bad Name”

November 11, 2015 by Alex

Thanks to Richard Banks for pointing me towards this piece published on Fast Company’s site by Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini (Tog):

How Apple Is Giving Design A Bad Name
For years, Apple followed user-centered design principles. Then something went wrong.

The article is a hard hitting critique of Apple’s current design philosophy. More than this, though, the two long time interaction design gurus set out a clear project for design, one that they see Apple having been instrumental in but now deviating from. Their general argument is, on the face of it, pretty convincing. Yet digging a little deeper it’s one that I have problems with. This post is really an effort to sort things out in my own mind.

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Reading “Counting, accounting, and accountability: Helen Verran’s relational empiricism”

October 16, 2015 by Alex

Just read Martha Kenney’s “Counting, accounting, and accountability: Helen Verran’s relational empiricism“.

The article is currently available through the Social Studies of Science OnlineFirst service. Intentionally or not, it sits nicely with other articles brought together to examine .

Kenney, M. (2015). Counting, accounting, and accountability: Helen Verran’s relational empiricism. Social Studies of Science, 1–23.

Kenney’s article is very much a homage to Helen Verran and her wonderful book Science and an African Logic. She pays special attention to Verran’s efforts at decomposition and frames these through a lens of accountability. Care is given by Kenny to differentiate this kind of accounting from that of “contemporary neo-liberal bureaucracies” that run the risk of strengthening “the academic culture that privileges critique and revelation over other, more subtle and creative, approaches.” (p. 8)

What I particularly like about Kenney’s reading of Science and an African Logic is the emphasis she places on Verran’s ‘generative critique’ and, in these same terms, the way we might come to understand the empirical/ethnographic account.

“Verran […] helps us see ethnographic writing conventions as generative, not of true representations (tracings of real relations) but of promising fictions, echoing Strathern’s definition of ethnography as an ‘effort to create a world parallel to the perceived world’” (p. 10).

For me, this is such a helpful way to think about the accounts we produce as field researchers. It gets us past questions about factual or realist representation. It reminds me of something I heard the singer PJ Harvey say on Radio 4 a while back. Talking about Harold Pinter’s poetry and ‘the poetry’ of Kubrick’s films, she evocatively describes what she sees in them:

As with Pinter and Kubrick, then, I appreciate Kenney reminding us that ethnographic accounts such as Verran’s must be written/read as “an alternative way of figuring and paying attention to differences that may enable different forms of response and participation.” (p. 11)

See, for example, Martin, A., Myers, N., & Viseu, A. (2015). The politics of care in technoscience. Social Studies of Science, 1–17.
I dashed to make a written note of this, but have since found the interview online, here – time = 9:21.

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Back to interaction (a reply to Barry)

October 6, 2015 by Alex

I’m grateful to Barry Brown for his comments on my short Interactions piece, “After Interaction“.

Barry, as always, you’ve forced me to think more carefully about my meanderings. Indeed, my intention was to append a short reply to your comment, but your questions have demanded more and, predictably, words have got the better of me. This post, then, is my long-winded response. Thank you for giving me the chance to expand on my thoughts.

First, let me respond to your criticisms regarding the interminglings of humans and nonhumans.

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“Earthwide projects” at Shifting Borderlands, Aarhus 2015

September 21, 2015 by Alex

I was delighted to participate in last month’s “Shifting Borderlands” workshop at the decennial Aarhus Conference: Critical Alternatives . What an inspiring and memorable event! My sincerest thanks to the organisers, Silvia, Marisa, Lucian, Hrönn and Carl.

The position papers—from a wonderful mix of people—are all online here. My own text was a short but rambling piece on some still underdeveloped ideas. I’ve been trying to think a little more critically about my role as a academician and a Microsoft researcher. Predictably, in combination, the roles raise all sorts of questions and frictions for me. Increasingly, I’ve directed my efforts at thinking about the worlds I’ve helped to enact and asking whether they are kinds of worlds that I would want to live in.

It’s hard to put it better than Donna Haraway:

My piece, “Impact and Counting“, is available here.

Haraway, D. (1988). Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. Feminist studies, 14(3): 579.


Posted in Events, Writing

Published “After Interaction”

September 4, 2015 by Alex

Just had a short piece, After Interaction, published in Interactions magazine.

<snip>… I want to argue that as a concept, interaction hinges on an outmoded notion of technology in use. I’ll argue that technology use is, in fact, already and always has been about a lot more than human-machine interactions (at least in how interaction is regularly imagined in HCI and IxD). I want to suggest that what we have been doing by both investigating and designing technology is participating in and to some extent configuring dense, interconnected relationships of humans and non-humans. That is, we have been assembling and reassembling human-machine hybrids, often in great numbers. And rather than working at a neatly defined interface, we have knitted together and entangled ourselves in these interwoven networks of relations, and go on doing so…</snip>

Read the full piece here.

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Posted in Publications, Writing

On Counting

July 6, 2015 by Alex

Kat Jungnickel kindly invited me to a two day meeting as part of her continuing series of Transmissions and Entanglements events. Amidst others working through new methods and processes, here’s what I had to say for myself on counting:

What is it to count and to be counted?

One way I have made sense of my work over the last 10 years at Microsoft has been to see it as a way of getting to grips with counting and in some ways coming to terms with being counted.

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Reading Material Participation

May 29, 2015 by Alex

I wanted to write a short note about Noortje Marres’ book .

The book has been incredibly useful for a few of us in thinking through the Tenison Road materials, especially the latter stages of the work where we deployed a range of devices for voting and visualising data. The book has helped us to see the Bullfrogs, physical charts and posters we’ve built as “participation technologies” (to use Noortje’s term) and reflect on how they have opened up a wider range of ways for people to engage in local and civic matters. Combined with Doreen Massey’s ideas on , we’re beginning to see the entanglements of participation and technology as a means of enacting place, and expanding the ways place is, as it were, performed. Place then comes to be something that can be actively figured through a diverse set of participation technologies.

Marres, N. (2012). Material participation: technology, the environment and everyday publics. Palgrave Macmillan.
Doreen Massey. (2005). For space. Sage.

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Reading ‘Nothing comes without its world’: thinking with care

February 18, 2015 by Alex

Reading María Puig de la Bellacasa’s article on feminist notions of care.


Puig de la Bellacasa, M. (2012). “Nothing comes without its world”: thinking with care. The Sociological Review, 60(2), 197–216.

Puig de la Bellacasa writes evocatively on Donna Haraway’s work and draws it into an idea of care. I especially like how she figures care as a way of bringing things into productive relations with one another, not narrowing in on oppositional differences, but seeking a generative relationality.

One thing that’s noteworthy is the absence of Annemarie Mol in this text, with her in science and technology scholarship. I wonder if this has to do with her only just veiled criticisms of some in feminist technoscience through her remarks on ‘new materialism’:

Whatever the case, Puig de la Bellacasa “speculative reading” of Haraway and her thickening of care provides a helpful basis for thinking about what we know and how we know it.

p. 198, Puig la Bellacasa (2012)
See Mol, A. 2008. The Logic of Care: Health and the Problem of Patient Choice. New York: Routledge.
… pp. 380-381, Mol, A. Mind your plate! The ontonorms of Dutch dieting. Social Studies of Science 43, 3 (2013), 379–396.
That is, productively or generatively.

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Presenting “Data in place”

February 13, 2015 by Alex

We’re presenting a paper at CHI this year on Tenison Road.

Alex S. Taylor, Siân Lindley, Tim Regan, David Sweeney, Vasilis Vlachokyriakos, Lillie Grainger, Jessa Lingel (2015), Data-in-Place: Thinking through the Relations Between Data and Community, CHI 2015.

Here’s the abstract:

We present findings from a year-long engagement with a street and its community. The work explores how the production and use of data is bound up with place, both in terms of physical and social geography. We detail three strands of the project. First, we consider how residents have sought to curate existing data about the street in the form of an archive with physical and digital components. Second, we report endeavours to capture data about the street’s environment, especially of vehicle traffic. Third, we draw on the possibilities afforded by technologies for polling opinion. We reflect on how these engagements have: materialised distinctive relations between the community and their data; surfaced flows and contours of data, and spatial, temporal and social boundaries; and enacted a multiplicity of ‘small worlds’. We consider how such a conceptualisation of data-in-place is relevant to the design of technology.

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Posted in Talks, Writing

On “ANT, multiplicity and policy”

February 10, 2015 by Alex

Law, J., & Singleton, V. (2014). ANT, multiplicity and policy. Critical Policy Studies, 1–18.


ANT, multiplicity and policy

I’m in two minds about this article by Law and Singleton (2014) that targets policy making through the example of the foot and mouth outbreak in the UK, circa 2001. It’s a useful and simply put precis of and its developments since the 1980s. It helpfully threads together the concepts of heterogeneity, relationality, multiplicity and — and attributes the concepts to the leading lights in . Aiming to speak to a (presumably uninitiated) policy audience, the authors are clearly trying to make three decades of STS scholarship approachable. I’m also sympathetic with the points made about the relevance of ANT to policy making and policy studies, neatly aligning as they do with leftist, liberal academic sensibilities (I’ll come back to this).

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Science and Technology Studies or Science, technology and society

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