Research Questions & Objective

Social Media Design Power (as I have working-titled my project) has 3 research questions tied to 3 objectives. The objectives are:

  1. To engage critically with design (not only as a tool meant to enact the designers’ intentions, but also an actor itself in the mediation between social media content and users) and the ethics of social media design (starting by looking at social-media related dark patterns), in order to develop a theory of design power.
  2. To find out how design literacy can be used to facilitate media literacy and support user self-determination.
  3. To apply the insights gained in 1.) and 2.) to participatorily design a positive social media platform prototype to evaluate the theory and principles of design power.

The research questions I formulated to guide me in these objectives are:

  • RQ 1 — What is the design power of social media, and how is the language of design in social media understood and used by users and creators?
  • RQ 2 — What role does user design literacy and awareness play in their susceptibility to design power, and how can the agency be shifted more towards users?
  • RQ 3 — How can we design a social medium that allows users to protect themselves from malevolent manipulation, misinformation and individual harm?

For RQ1, I plan to begin by analysing design features: how they influence user’s behaviours and experiences, how they are made visible through their effects, and how they change as design intent (e.g. economic model) changes. I will try to map effects to specific design forms-that-follow-functions, if I can. RQ2 will shift my focus to users, exploring different features of a social medium that engage users to critically interact with its own design – this will be a little more experimental and probably borrow from speculative and critical design tradition. For RQ3, I will reach out to social media designers on the one hand, and experts in digital mental health and deradicalisation on the other, and document a development process of a social medium for well-being and media literacy, through which I will also evaluate my theory of design power.

My planned contributions are:

  1. A theory of design power that can provide a basis for discussions about design agency (and, possibly, regulation of design), and offer insights into the connection between the effects and design language and visual vocabulary of social media.
  2. Design guidelines for social media design that is positive and promotes media literacy.
  3. A prototype of a counterfactual social media – that is, in this case, a social media that seemingly contradicts the current economic structures – as an exemplary.

I’m hoping the outcome will support the importance of formal design in HCI and contribute to a stronger discusssion about formal design by critically engaging the power it holds, both as a tool and as an agent.

As I copy-paste and rephrase this from my proposal, I am scooping out a jar of fancy hazelnut spread with a spoon and drinking – uncharacteristically – water.

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