The Political Dimension of Design

The most recent issue of Jacobin had an interesting article by Eden Mesina from Indiana University on the Cybersyn project. To put it briefly: in the days of Chile’s democratically elected socialist government in the 1970s, they built a computer system to help them manage the economy. It collected data from all over the country while trying to preserve privacy and autonomy at the local level.

There is, of course, a political dimension to research and design, and this story is a good illustration. We can design tools to enforce existing power structures, or in service of new ones. For public good or for exploitation.

Mesina makes passing reference in this article to some amount of user centered design that went into Cybersyn. Apparently the designer, Stafford Beer, worked with actual workers from factories to build this system. I would have liked to have learned more about that, but I can understand that my interest there isn’t necessarily a common one.