CCTP-820 Leading by Design: Principles of Technical and Social Systems
Fall for 2015-2016
*Fulfills Core Method Requirement

This course is for all students who want to participate as thought leaders in the design and implementation of technologies in any kind of social or organizational context, including public policy, application design, education, and business. To become thought leaders, we need to change our position from being merely consumers or users of technologies to participants with an ownership stake in how things are designed and implemented. This course provides the methods for this reorientation by learning the extensible design principles behind our technologies and learning how to understand technologies and media as interfaces to the technical-social systems that make them possible.

We will focus on interdisciplinary methods unified by the key concepts and approaches in systems theory (complexity, networks, modularity), design thinking, computational thinking, media theory, and recent cognitive science approaches to technology, artefacts, and interfaces. Students will learn the multi-layered extensible design principles behind everything from computation, digital media, and the Internet to the architecture of mobile devices, interactive real-time apps, and Cloud computing.

As a CCT Core Methods course, we will focus on building an integrative knowledge base from approaches and key concepts across multiple fields and sciences that draw from systems, complexity, and design thinking. By learning how questions, concepts, and research agendas are formed across several disciplines, students will learn how to develop new conceptual models and tools of analysis that are needed for the complex, multi-domain problems and questions that we investigate in CCT and anything that will emerge in the future.

Our learning objectives involve (1) technical and conceptual knowledge (example: how and why are computers, software, and networks based on modular design principles?), (2) integrative systems thinking for understanding technical-social systems (example: why are the forces that we can’t see [standards, policy, intellectual property, industry alignments, cumulative combinations of prior technologies, etc.] the most powerful for any complex, modular technology that we can see like an iPhone?), and (3) understanding how to apply combinatorial design principles for new innovations (example: what do you need to know to design an app if you aren’t the coder?).

Design principles have consequences. A concrete case is provided by Jonathan Zittrain in The Future of the Internet --and How to Stop It. Zittrain explains how computers, computing devices, and networking have developed from models for open, generative architectures to our current black-boxed “tethered appliances” controlled by a few dominant companies. The designs for tethered devices and apps are driven by creating consumer lock-in to proprietary platforms and user accounts. Our current consumer technology “business ecosystem” positions users as tethered consumers, but the “productized” devices and closed software that support this system of market control are not determined by the properties or underlying design principles for computers, networks, and software as technologies. Without a way to understand how our current business ecosystem came to be the way it is, most people will think that the current state of closed, tethered, consumer black boxes is an “effect” of the technologies themselves. We will learn the methods to expose how these systems work and what it would take to participate in future directions with alternative designs.
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None
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