DS 123: Proceedings of the International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education (E&PDE 2023)

Year: 2023
Editor: Buck, Lyndon; Grierson, Hilary; Bohemia, Erik
Author: Stevens, John S; Dedushkov, Maxim; Ionescu, Iulia
Series: E&PDE
Institution: Royal College of Art, United Kingdom; HOLIS; University of the Arts London
Section: The potential of interdisciplinary activities to foster responsible innovation
DOI number: 10.35199/EPDE.2023.72
ISBN: 978-1-912254-19-4


As is clear from the urgency of the themes in this conference, we are in a time of rapid change in design priorities, and these must be reflected in design education. A decade ago we would expect to see student collaborations with corporations, exploring new ways to meet customer needs, towards the implicit, and often unquestioned, goal of commercial profit. Now, outside academia urgent new priorities range from social inequalities to the climate emergency, combining with a widespread recognition of design’s tools and methods in broader spheres of application, to create important new roles for design professionals. These shifts are reflected in education, fostering responsible design through collaborations with new kinds of stakeholders, technologies and expert advisers. This paper contributes an example of such a multidisciplinary, design-led, innovation project, with student output and learning outcomes, reflections and subsequent developments. Framed within a course that emphasises personal purpose for change-making in the world, and alongside other units focusing on designing with ethical, environment and social responsibility, this unit tasked MA/MSc students of Innovation Design with applying artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to human rights and humanitarian issues. Small teams developed concepts in an intensive 3 week block. For practical and ethical reasons this was without direct end-user engagement – in contradiction to our usual mantra of ‘know your user’. The project brings expert insights, inspiration and guidance from fields of AI and ML, but also international criminal law & war crimes, collective intelligence, gamification, gender based violence and people trafficking. The process and outcomes are shared as examples of rapid learning outcomes from an intensive activity, light on technical instruction, and without direct user engagement. The outcomes were in the conceptual stage, but their viability is being explored to assess potential beyond the project limits. Some highlight concepts include assistance for law enforcement against sex trafficking, gathering secure evidence against intimate partner violence, protecting protesters’ anonymity, and assisting fair and legally robust asylum applications. In this, as for many of the services and products conceived by students of this programme, the designer is acting for users and stakeholders outside of the consumer-corporate dynamic (whereby a desired service is paid for in a transaction, with money or attention). The beneficiaries may be victims or potential victims of horrific abuses, and cannot ethically or practically be included directly in research or testing by students. Despite this, the project format demonstrates that for early stage concepts there is value in secondary research and empathic methods. Student feedback indicated a strong appreciation for the opportunity to explore such challenges, and for a sense of purpose, reward or validation in their efforts to create futures that are inclusive and just. Several expressed desire to work in related fields after graduation. [NB my related abstract ‘AI/ML and Human rights: Complex technology and Out-of-reach contexts’ was accepted for EPDE2021. I didn't complete the paper for health reasons, and the work remains unpublished. This revision reflects further work and a shift in emphasis according to the conference themes.]

Keywords: humanitarian, crime, human rights, legal


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