As I was reading the Crampton-Smith paper, I could not stop thinking of artifacts that are mostly clinical and utilitarian. Those of you who were in Design Theory might remember an assignment on good vs bad design. Pretty much all of the designs I thought were bad designs were clinical or utilitarian designs. However, I think I can explain why I think they are bad better using the lenses she provided. So focusing on an airport full body scanner, this is what I had said originally:

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(Intimidating, Discomforting, Cold & Unnatural, Dominant & Humiliating, De-humanizing)

So using the lenses…

Usability: There are 2 parties involved in usability here, the person walking into the scanner, and the person looking at the scanned results and initiates the scan. For both parties I will venture to say this is usable, the person walking in stands inside the scanner on the clearly indicated footprints, and has clear instruction of what to do through a depiction of a person with the hands above the head. Additionally, from seeing other travelers before, the use part seems clear.

Utility: In this case, it is also clear the use of this device is to increase security, and provide a higher scrutiny in security measures. This is also contextual, perhaps at a party, this device would be unsuitable, or entering church.

Satisfaction: There are 2 sides to satisfaction. For travelers, as long as your time in the device remains short, you will soon try to forget the experience and move on with your travel. For the TSA, they can be more confident people are not smuggling things in their clothes. Again, nothing surprising.

Communicative qualities: This is where it gets interesting, because the machine itself has powerful communicative qualities.  The size imposes a sense of technological power and it forces people into a submissive role, in a way of clearly denoting the power structure. Additionally, people once in the device, have to hold a position where they indicate they are not a threat. According to Crampton-Smith: “The interactive systems we design have implicit as well as explicit meanings. A may communicate its purpose clearly, so that it’s obvious what it is and what we should do with it. But its qualities, its aesthetic qualities particularly, speak to people in a different way. ” I am curious to see what you guys feel these qualities are, and how they speak to you. It’s sterile characteristics to me indicate every person is “equal”, but equally suspicious and not trustworthy.

Sociability: Crampton-Smith says “when [designs/ systems] dehumanize and de-civilize our relationship with each other, they impoverish the rich social web in which we live and operate, essential for both well-being and efficiency.” An airport scanner indeed dehumanizes individuals as they go into the device, however, what would be the alternative? Perhaps in some instances, sociability becomes a secondary concern over security for example.

According to Crampton-Smith, “The symbolic function is as important as the practical one, perhaps more…”, so perhaps this is a successful design after all? If you look at it from TSA’s perspective, and not as a user. Our reality is filled with examples where utility are emphasized over sociability, however, when making these judgements, context of use is still an important consideration. An opposite example would be the the CAT scan machines for children, which are designed to be a welcoming experience for the kid, instead of scary. Could the same principles apply to an airport? Even thinking about it I want to say no, but why not?


(as a side note, I am still hesitant about posting this. I don’t think it is anything super critical or anything, but knowing its public and it talks about airport scanners… maybe the power structure at play is more ingrained in my head…)