For more democratic design processes!

The Oracle for Transfeminist Technologies is to me way more than a graphic design or illustration project. As a researcher, the Oracle for Transfeminist Technologies is also part of an on-going methodological investigation, and has a lot to contribute with emerging research practices and different forms of knowledge construction in design research, as it suggests an active political approach for research and practice in this area. It’s an opportunity to further explore engaged and participatory design processes, while creating spaces for debate around emerging and urgent issues. I want to invite you for a quick journey through this process, and explore the Oracle from a different, designerly perspective.

The codesign process can act as a platform for establishing conditions for action and change.

Throughout my trajectory as a designer, I’ve come to understand the discipline of design and its practices as inherently political.

Design has been traditionally committed to prescribing universal solutions for a supposedly better future – but products and services, and nowadays especially technologies – which shape most of our interactions and significantly influences our understanding of reality – are usually designed by and for dominant groups of society, often resulting in solutions which are ignorant to specific social, ecologic and economic contexts and needs of many people. In this way, even if allegedly neutral, it’s clear to see that design is always biased and many times it reproduces and reinforces current systems of domination – namely white supremacist, heteronormative, patriarchal capitalism.

For the past years, it’s been a central concern for me to question the traditional roles of the designer and work towards deconstructing the hierarchical and alienating design processes which produce imperative, excludent design products and solutions. I started then exploring other design practices that allowed me to use my professional knowledge and methods as political activism tools.

Inspired by more recent takes on participatory- and co-design – especially by researchers such as Binder, Halse, Brandt,Olander and Anastassakis –, the focus of my work as a designer shifted from the projection and production of a final product, to the attention to the design process itself, in an effort to make it more democratic and less of an inaccessible black box. In this setting, the role of the designer is not that of someone who prescribes solutions, but of someone who acts as an intermediate agent, promoting scenarios for the collective raising and articulating of relevant issues, and directly involving people who are affected by it in different ways.

When we gather to play with the Oracle, we are creating spaces of discussion and bringing the debate on biased tech and AI to a broader audience, who is usually affected by it, but not part of the design processes concerning these topics. The card game works as a tool to provoke engagement and mediate discussions – as we draw together other possible futures, we explore these issues to better understand them, make them tangible and easier to approach, as well as suggest different ways of collectively building knowledge.

I find it important to point out that we are not aiming for participants to come up with technology concepts that are necessarily realistic or feasible in the present day or near future. The role of these products and concepts is not of a traditional prototype, merely a draft to be refined towards a final product, but of an engaging tool to be appropriated by the participants in new forms of dialogue. The speculative exercise and futuristic narrative brought by the Oracle frees us from the present constraints, provokes our imagination and fosters the collective production of meanings in a rich diversity of outcomes.

By creating spaces for debate and materialising abstract issues, the Oracle is also supporting the building of networks and publics around them. In this way, the codesign process can act as a platform for establishing conditions for action and change. For me, this is also what transfeminist technology means – to radically open design processes for people who are actually affected by their outcomes but have been historically excluded and silenced. As the anthropologist Tim Ingold wrote, design will not change the world, but it’s part of this world in constant change – therefore it can contribute with its tools in a politically engaged way, pointing towards more democratic paths for the discipline and beyond.

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