Design Indifference – David Chatting

This afternoon, Design Informatics hosted David Chatting of Open Lab, to provide a talk about Design Indifference – or rather, how we often design with indifference as an intention. He began by bringing us in through the case of Victorian Country Houses, which were often used as test beds for technological innovations of the time. Developments like the first domestic use of the lightbulb, internal telephone network, or the mechanical and later electrical bell ringing system were showcased to visitors in a demonstration of wealth, influence, and learning. However, David highlighted that as much as these innovations were shown off to the public, their design was inherently about controlling the visibility of the labour happening within these homes. All created to enhance the process of convenience without illuminating the the myriad of staff required to keep the homes running.

Sketch of how many components of a service are kept hidden to the average person

Over time, this intention remained consistent with the concept of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ only developing further as services were moved outside of the home. With utilities like gas, water, and electric being managed externally, people no longer needed to worry about where, when, or how these services were being carried out. Often, these actions have become a simple push of a button in order for a desired outcome to appear from nowhere.

There are many reasons why products and services are designed this way, in particular for ease and convenience for the person using them. Yet there can be consequences, intentional or not, to removing people so completely from the process. As David shows, it can lead to indifference – around the labour, energy, time, cost, ethics, procedures, and people required to provide it. This indifference can and often does lead to many issues, such as lack of consumer autonomy or worker exploitation. David has been exploring different ways of responding to these hidden processes, such as finding ways to visualise normally hidden data or revealing nearby invisible technology. These speculative objects have the potential to foster a healthier relationship with the complexity of a product or service and bring more awareness to the quiet labour that surrounds us daily.

David’s point was not that all aspects of any product or service should be disclosed, rather that certain points in the process could be made more transparent. I think that this is where Service Design methods come into the picture – involving people through the conception, research, design, development, and eventual creation of an outcome. By taking these approaches, it can ensure that people are invested and aware of the requirements of delivering those services and products, and have the ability to shape them. We often talk about ensuring that our designs meet people’s needs, but remaining person-centred goes beyond that. It prevents that indifference and allows them to be personally motivated and involved in the creation of something that, ideally, is made to suit them. That can be a powerful thing.

PerthCAB Away Day

I’m joining this KTP with the Perth Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) as my anchor bureau and had the good fortune of having my first week in post line up with their annual away day. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet the full team and gain an overview of how the bureau operates. Since Covid, PerthCAB have maintained a mostly remote service, retaining their drop-in appointments for crisis clients only. This has benefitted their clients by enabling them to support more people with a faster response as well as their staff by allowing them more flexible working patterns. It’s also required them to rethink their organisation structure, with careful consideration to the way they construct their teams, how they maintain work morale and culture, and what systems they put in place to ensure that clients have a consistent and beneficial experience when engaging with them.

The Away Day is one such measure that they’ve put in place to support this. As one of the larger bureaus in Scotland, PerthCAB have a range of teams within their organisation, which we broke out into throughout the day. The twin goals of Away Day were fostering their team culture and creating space to reflect upon strengths, challenges, goals, and opportunities throughout the bureau. I was following the Business and Development team, which allowed for me to explore some of these themes on a broader level. I admired the approach that they took for the event, choosing to incorporate more creative activities instead of taking a more straightforward question and answer structure. For instance, instead of simply asking about everyone to list their goals, they framed it as writing a letter to yourself from the future about what you’d achieved in the last few years. I found that this teased out the necessary insights in a more natural way and allowed for everyone to think more laterally about their work. To me, it felt as if they were able to strike the right balance of space for identifying business needs and strategy as well as opportunities to connect and develop their team dynamics.

As each CAB is an independent organisation, they’ll each have their own unique structure and processes. I’m excited to learn more about how each bureau responds to their local needs and organisational resources – to learn how and why they work in certain ways, the issues they face, and how they overcome those challenges.

Tech for Good Scotland – Oct ’23

This morning I attended the October meet up of Tech for Good Scotland, hosted by Third Sector Lab. It’s an event I regularly enjoy attending – and not just for the pain au chocolat they provide. I’ve always found a really wonderful atmosphere amongst the attendees, one filled with driven, thoughtful, and openminded people.

Today’s event started with Citizen’s Advice Scotland’s (CAS) own Head of Tech and Digital Fraser Ross speaking about the transformative potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the importance of transparency and co-creation when developing ethical AI outcomes. Fraser highlighted a few of AI projects that CAS had undertaken in recent years, including ones that supported routing people to the correct bureau, guiding them through the CAS website, and helping to prioritise need within their Extra Help Unit. All of these initiatives have never been created to replace people, rather to increase their own capacity at work by aiding their tasks.

There is often an understandable fear around this, which CAS has encountered themselves. AI is an incredibly powerful tool, one that can be used to help or harm and is not something that should be implemented without careful consideration. That’s why its affirming to hear that CAS are focused on using it as an assist to a human role as opposed to a substitute. As well, they’ve recognised the need to include their own team members in the co-design process, both to combat the fear of the unknown and to ensure that they’re meeting bureau needs.

Beyond this, Fraser spoke about the concerns around AI ethics and responsible use. They’ve needed to be cautious around bias, data quality, security, privacy, reputation, and transparency of decision making. They’ve ensured that data protection team members have been involved throughout their processes and constantly review their data protection measures to support this. However, he acknowledged that this is still a work in progress and they’re continuing to work towards a governance process and AI policy. Furthermore, Fraser stated that the third and public sectors have a responsibility to lead the way in AI ethics.

I find it affirming to see that CAS have thoughtful and good intentions in the work that they’re undertaking, and that they’re able to acknowledge that they’re still needing to grow and learn throughout their work with AI. Having worked collaboratively to get people onboard with the developments and ensure that their outcome could properly meet the needs of the service, they’ve already began implementing service design processes and mindsets and continued centring people in their endeavours. I hope that continuing this practice through the KTP project will further create space for reflection and development within the organisation and its members.

We then heard Reema Vadoliya from People of Data speak about inclusive data practices and how we can reframe and improve upon our data culture to better support our organisational goals and the people using our services. Reema emphasised that data, like AI, holds a lot of power. It has the potential to provide insight, opportunity, storytelling, and profit. However, it can also produce the opposite effect – increasing bias, misrepresenting needs, creating ‘tick box’ scenarios, and excluding peoples. Collecting people’s data can quickly become an unethical practice, particularly when they are left with a lack of choice or opportunity to change or update their information.

At People of Data, Reema has created a 6 step playbook to support people to improve their data practices:

  1. Audit
  2. Examine
  3. Imagine
  4. Plan
  5. Deliver
  6. Evaluate


With shared traits to a human-centred process, the intention of this process is to get people to reflect upon why they collect data, challenge their policies, and think laterally in order to improve. I found this mindset helps reframe what data is and reminds us to think very holistically about how it can positively or negatively be impacting our organisations and subsequent services.

Overall, I found this Tech for Good event to be another thought-provoking space, allowing everyone to step back out into the big picture of their own projects through the case studies of our two speakers. I hope to continue to find spaces and opportunities to learn from others ways of working and feed that back into my own work.