Design Activism in Helsinki [...]

Berglund discusses the role of design in urban planning and in policy, and how design thinking and approaches are closely tied to activism efforts in Helsinki. Berglund defines the term "design activism" in this way:

I understand design activism first as “designerly” – that is, its interventions are material, practical, and aesthetic all at once and in a self-conscious way (Markussen 2011). Further, design activism affirms the world as it is, embracing contingency and complexity as fundamental. Put another way, it echoes design thinking in that it builds on the design professional’s expertise in facilitation, where designers do not create objects or services so much as work constructively with multiple stakeholders dealing with multifaceted problems (Kimbell 2011). And thirdly, design activism has a rather specific relationship with the mainstream: even though design as a profession is a product of capitalist institutions, it has long nurtured an idealist streak highly critical of them (Julier 2011).

Berglund discusses how this design activism seems a natural fit for Finland's culture of cooperation:

The Finnish word talkoo/talkoot refers to jointly done, one-off tasks – a gathering for the purposes of mutual help. With the new arrival of design discourse, Finns have found themselves needing to translate the word only to discover a positive feature of their own culture: it must mean something that other languages should lack a word for what is considered an unremarkable feature of Finnish life. However, design activism in Helsinki is substantially an international affair, as an insightful essay (Paterson 2010) on the talkoo-legacy’s role in online activism makes clear. The inspirations for the “scene” are heterogeneous, with echoes of appropriate technology and other utopian movements of decades past (Scott 2007), but also of DIY protest cultures or DIT (do it together) and DIWO (do it with others) cultures known internationally.

Burglund notes concern, though, with the rhetoric that is often used in promoting design thinking, as largely technocratic and uncritical:

The report, partly produced by Demos Helsinki, also claimed that Finland is already the best country in the world and stated that Finland’s “greatest strength is the unbiased, solution-focused approach to problems, which derives from our history and culture. When faced with an impossible situation, we roll up our sleeves and double our efforts.”16 The text, as a whole, argues that the historical success of Finnish design in consumer durables can and will be repeated as its principles – functionality and durability (sustainability) – are applied to designing not just artifacts, but social institutions and business practices...I suggest that as the design activist tone seeps into even more domains, along with the comfortable notion that design in Finland is always for the better, this may be robbing design of potential critical traction and transformative impact.

As activism at the margins shades into design policy and commercial opportunities,a disturbing form of compliance arises. Design appears as an unquestioned cultural good, but the economic and policy drivers that fuel it remain hidden. I have tried to sketch out an emerging and complex picture – and I have wanted to keep my balance as I seek to occupy the insideroutsider position typical of the anthropologist, without passing judgment yet aware that the entanglements of design activism and mainstream policy require urgent unpacking and critical reflection. I fear design’s activist promises are unlikely to be fulfilled and that by invoking “spectres of pending catastrophe if urgent and decisive action is not taken” (Swyngedouw 2011: 372), design will contribute to further depoliticization, and not simply through apathy as Swyngedouw suggests, but through the fun-filled rounds of activity that fuel Helsinki’s new urban vibe.


Open plan offices [classrooms] as hostile design [...]

Open-plan office space can be challenging for some personality types. Substitute 'Open-plan office' with 'classroom' for an interesting perspective.

[Open-plan offices] are associated with high staff turnover. They make people sick, hostile, unmotivated and insecure… [Open-plan office workers] have fewer personal and confidential conversations with colleagues. They’re often subject to loud and uncontrollable noise, which raises heart rates, releases cortisol… and makes people socially distant, quick to anger, aggressive and slow to help others.

Hostile Design — what’s the role of intention? [...]

Rough notes:

Design can become hostile when it is a design gets in the way of my own goals or needs.

This can be intentional on the part of the designer, or unintentional; when the goals of the designer inadvertently block the goals or needs of a user.

discussion about conflict between the security shortcomings of an application (Google Docs) and the security needs expressed by "the institution" and resulting design hostility that prevents an educational goal.

example of when an application does not support accessibility. but not intentionally set up as a hostile design decision.

Another tack on this: Coercive design vs. persuasive design

While a persuasive design seeks to influence behavior and attitude change in an open manner, where users have a clear and free choice, coercive design seeks to manipulate the users into taking action or changing attitudes.

Does Turnitin contribute to a hostile environment? [...]

Writing teachers expressed concern about Turnitin; they fear it may help create a hostile learning environment. At the Conference on College Communication and Communication they passed the following resolution:

plagiarism detection services can compromise academic integrity by potentially undermining students' agency as writers, treating all students as always already plagiarists, creating a hostile learning environment, shifting the responsibility of identifying and interpreting source misuse from teachers to technology, and compelling students to agree to licensing agreements that threaten their privacy and rights to their own intellectual property.> [Source]

Mayo Clinic includes Social Media Scholarship Activities in Academic Advancement [...]

The moral and societal duty of an academic healthcare provider is to advance science, improve the care of his/her patients and share knowledge. A very important part of this role requires physicians to participate in public debate, responsibly influence opinion and help our patients navigate the complexities of healthcare. As Clinician Educators our job is not to create knowledge obscura, trapped in ivory towers and only accessible to the enlightened; the knowledge we create and manage needs to impact our communities.

Hostile Design in Medical Education

Hostile Design in Medical Education [...]

Two of us work in medical education and experience design starting with the absolute that students will share Patient health information. Therefore no Google Docs, No twitter in the classroom and often decisions on enterprise technology decisions are made for the hospital not the education "side of the house".

It was discussed that this absolute can be met with empathy in order for emergent dialog to occur rather than responding with another absolute of disdain for restrictions hindering learning. This is really hard to do - it requires a generosity of spirit when the division are so structural and entrenched. People are often in survival mode - "come to work, do my best and go home" mentality.

But here is a signal that this using social media in the classroom is becoming an imperative:

Mayo Clinic includes Social Media Scholarship Activities in Academic Advancement

Reusing Abandoned Mega-stores [...]

In "Ghost Boxes: Reusing Abandoned Big-Box Superstores Across America," the author discusses how some communities deal with the large vacant structures left behind when companies like Walmart, Kmart and grocery chains leave the neighborhood.

In one creative example of turning misfortune into a benefit for the community occurred in McAllen, Texas.

A vacated Walmart has become the biggest single-story public library in the United States... The 123,000-square-foot building in question was redesigned and retrofitted by architects from Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle.


Learning Space Rating System

TurnItIn and Assumptions of Guilt [...]

> What is best for students – to expect and teach academic honesty, or to actually enforce it? Are these methods incompatible? Are we placing less trust in students when we check on them?

[Source] (

Ethical Programs: Hospitality and the Rhetorics of Software [...]

My old colleague from UT Austin, Jim Brown, writes about the idea of "ethical" or "hospitable" programs. This is an annotated full text of the monograph form U of Michigan P:;rgn=div1;view=fulltext;xc=1

Inhospitable might be another useful term in addition to unpleasant, brutal, etc.

Anti-homeless spikes are part of a wider phenomenon of ‘hostile architecture’ [...]

This article from The Guardian builds on the issues raised in the 99pi article on 'Hostile Architecture'. In an era of austerity, in the UK, the detail discussed here became part of a national debate on government spending and social inequalities.

Rowland Atkinson, co-director of the Centre for Urban Research at the University of York, suggests the spikes and related architecture are part of a broader pattern of hostility and indifference towards social difference and poverty produced within cities.

Syllabi as hostile design [...]

The syllabus is often the first object with which students come into contact in an online course. They can be unfriendly & focus on student responsibilities/obligations rather than encouraging excitement and engagement with the course.

Those Darn Kids [...]

Technology has been used to target teenagers and prevent them from congregating. Mosquito devices emit high-pitched tones that are only audible to young people—the human equivalent of a dog whistle.

The legal alarms have previously been used at shopping centers to disperse gangs of youths - as their high pitched frequency generally can't be heard by people aged over 25.

[Source] (

Who decides whether a constraint is hostile or an affordance? [...]

This Hybrid Pedagogy article by Sean and Jesse considers the implications of (anti) laptop classroom policies.

Anyone with a policy about laptop use in class should also consider having a policy about pencil use.

As we consider how hostile design is manifested in digital learning environments, for me the conversation returns to essentialism. Are rigid/specific requirements automatically hostile? For everyone? Always? Who decides?


See also Unpleasant Design Intends to Shape Human Behavior

Hostile Design in Turnitin [...]

As we consider services for our students, we must consider the assumptions upon which those services rest.

I refuse to be accused of plagiarism by an algorithm for having an open scholarship philosophy and re-using my own work.

Holland, T. (2015, September 27). Why I Won’t Use TurnItIn to Check My PhD Thesis. Retrieved August 9, 2016, (Source)

Reusing Abandoned Mega-stores [...]

In "Ghost Boxes: Reusing Abandoned Big-Box Superstores Across America," the author discusses how some communities deal with the large vacant structures left behind when companies like Walmart, Kmart and grocery chains leave the neighborhood.

In one creative example of turning misfortune into a benefit for the community occurred in McAllen, Texas.

A vacated Walmart has become the biggest single-story public library in the United States. The 123,000-square-foot building in question was redesigned and retrofitted by architects from Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle.


Do Artifacts Have Politics? [...]

To extend the bridge example, "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" is a classic article by Langdon Winner that discusses bridges as one of several architectures designed by Robert Moses to deliberately influence the demographics of who had access to what.

Source: Do Artifacts Have Politics?

See also Policy Through Bridge Height

Unpleasant Design Intends to Shape Human Behavior [...]

In a review of the book, Unpleasant Design by Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic, Damn Magazine said:

Unpleasant design is a global fashion with many examples to be found across cities worldwide, manifested in the form of 'silent agents' that take care of behaviour in public space, without the explicit presence of authorities.

Is there a way our

  • classrooms
  • syllabi
  • assignments
  • lectures
  • activities are designed that are attempting to shape the behavior of the students even when our own authority isn't implicitly present?

Specifically I thought of a study by Hogan and Eddy 2014 that examined course structure over 6 semesters of introductory biology and what students were impacted by course structure. Specifically, a traditional "low structure" lecture environment vs. a "highly structured" active classroom. Below is an image of a short summary of how students were impacted by the highly structured course.


Damn Magazine

Book's Website

Getting Under the Hood: How and for Whom Does Increasing Course Structure Work?

Londoner’s are Fighting Back Against ‘Hostile Architecture’ [...]

The architectural historian Iain Borden says the emergence of hostile architecture has its roots in 1990s urban design and public-space management. The emergence, he said, "suggested we are only republic citizens to the degree that we are either working or consuming goods directly.

"So it's OK, for example, to sit around as long as you are in a cafe or in a designated place where certain restful activities such as drinking a frappucino should take place but not activities like busking, protesting or skateboarding. It's what some call the 'mallification' of public space, where everything becomes like a shopping mall."

[Smithsonian Magazine]

The Course Design in the LMS: Hostile to Whom? [...]

When discussing hostile design, one question in our discussion resonated with me: "hostile to whom?"

Certain features of the Learning Management System can be hostile, depending on your approach to education. Canvas, in particular, coaxes you to use modules and teach in a linear fashion (based on how assignments are organized by due-date on the syllabus page). If you would rather organize your course in a way to de-emphasize time, the LMS actively works against you, at least on certain pages.

One article which discusses portions of this concept is an article titled It's not about the tool, it's about the ideology

Accessible Online Spaces [...]

Learning environments can be hostile spaces for students with learning disabilities. This article describes ways to make online spaces more accessible.

As online learning opportunities continue to spread—31 states now offer full-time virtual schooling, serving 275,000 students—educators need to make choices about how best to reach and teach all of their students. As in traditional brick and mortar schools, the choices teachers make in this environment may determine whether students with disabilities can access and progress in the online curriculum. This article shows ways of making online learning more accessible so that everyone has a fair opportunity to learn.


See AlsoHostile Architecture Resources...