Law and Order: DRU

(Reading time: 2m, 20s)

On Friday, I wrote how technology can reveal rifts within organizations and that a collaborative culture is a critical ingredient for design research to flourish. I wrote about secret agents clad in body armor knocking down murderous gatekeepers’ office doors.

I spent the weekend thinking about how dramatizing those relationships makes for a more vivid story — or at least one that’s more fun to write — but it’s also unfair to the people who play those roles in real life. Add just a few drops of context and history and you’d begin to sympathize with the villain and root against the hero. Simplicity, artificial tension, and contrast can make ideas more memorable. I suppose the same applies to any sort of framework or heuristic.

Even so, I don’t think I can apologize for oversimplifying. I’ll probably just drag out another cartoonish cast of characters again in a few days to try to drive home some other idea.

But I can share an example of similar ideas cast in a different light.

Perambulate with me over to an article by Jenn Taylor called The Power to Humanize Technology, which list member Carissa Kowalski Dougherty shared with me on LinkedIn last week.

Taylor’s article is all about how decisions get made around technology — who has a voice and what the power dynamics are when it comes to infrastructure decisions. I’ve written a few times about how an organization’s constituents rarely get to weigh in on these kinds of decisions, even though they’re often important users of the technology. Taylor describes the problem this way:

In no circumstance that I know of does the client or beneficiary of the organization get to choose the technology used to capture their data. Yet these are the people closest to a problem …

My somewhat backdoor solution is to introduce user testing into the process so that decision-makers can see firsthand and in practical terms how a particular solution may help or harm users’ efforts to support the organization. Testing can give users a voice when straight-up asking their opinion may be inappropriate, ineffective, or just a nonstarter. Taylor points how there are lots of other viewpoints to consider; I may overcompensate by focusing as much as possible on the patron or customer’s experience because it’s often the least audible voice in the room.

Back to Taylor:

Essentially, the entire technology solution is a reflection of the actual power dynamics and decision-making within an organization. Business decisions are made and processes are defined by the people who have the power to decide and define. These decisions and definitions are then implemented and enforced through technology.

See, that’s a much more even-handed way to describe how technology can uncover rifts within an organization and how those decisions can reverberate through the culture.

I, on the other hand, can’t write about this stuff without framing it as a battle between good and evil with a gif of Two-Bit thrown in for good measure.

So, I recommend checking out Jenn Taylor’s article — especially if you’re looking for a more a less dramatic look at how power dynamics influence technology decisions.

Then, once you’ve read that, meet me back here at the same time tomorrow for another episode of Law and Order: Design Research Unit.

Thanks for reading,


Kyle Bowen