Deliberate Intervention Cover

Deliberate Intervention

Using Policy and Design to Blunt the Harms of New Technology

By Alexandra Schmidt

Published: November 2022
Design moves fast, shaping experiences for individuals on the ground. Policy operates more slowly at the level of society. How can we bring these spheres closer together to help create a world we want to live in?
Many in the design world feel that “something’s not right” with the tech we are building. Deliberate Intervention finds answers at the intersection of policy and design, exploring how to create tools and rules that serve the public interest.

Listen to author Alexandra Schmidt on The Rosenfeld Review Podcast


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Testimonials

Deliberate Intervention is an in-depth, thoroughly cited guide on the intersection of policy and design, employing a narrative style that makes the complex subject matter fun to read and easy to grasp without losing any of its gravitas. An absolute must-read for any citizen designer.

–Lisa Baskett

Healthcare Design Strategist

What will it take to design technology that does less harm? This subtle book offers thoughtful, nuanced, sometimes unexpected answers. It’s a good read for any curious user of technology. And for anyone who shapes or regulates new products, reading it is a step toward doing good by designing well.

—Conor Friedersdorf

Staff Writer, The Atlantic 

This book is what America needs right now. With our democracy in dire straits and tech companies threatening our rights and privacy, the need for us to be proactive about policy is at an all-time high.

—Ginger Reinauer

Senior Product Designer

This book is an important resource for people in civic tech looking to navigate the complex relationship between policy, design, and technology. I wish it had existed earlier in my career!

—Eddie Tejeda

Civic Technologist and Engineering Director

Alex provides a novel lens based on the intersection of design and policy. Her book provides an excellent foothold for creating beloved and successful products that minimize potential harms. It also helps policymakers more thoroughly consider their approach in the design of new regulation. It’s essential reading for those who want to help their organization become more effective while making the world a better place.

—Theo Linnemann

Computer Scientist and Technology Evangelist 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: A View of the Future
Chapter 2: Policy and Design Basics
Chapter 3: A Brief History of Policy and New Technology
Chapter 4: Unconstrained Spaces and the Emergence of Harm
Chapter 5: Internal Interventions
Chapter 6: The Beginning of Outside Regulation
Chapter 7: Design in Policy-Constrained Domains
Chapter 8: Bringing Policy and Design Closer Together
Chapter 9: Using Design to Create Better Policy
Chapter 10: Enterprise Design and the Policy Space

Foreword

Logic would dictate that tech innovations can only add value to our lives; that, when they are widely adopted, it must be because they are good enough to be good forever.

Alexandra Schmidt explains how technology impacts the drivers of change at play in our society, such as public interest, democratic governance, or individual rights. She does it from a designer’s perspective, which is always a tug of war between opposites: me/we, present/future, benefit/harm, etc.

Take one of those opposites: intended benefit versus unintended harm. I used to bring to class a big, sharp, kitchen knife when I wanted to discuss its use and misuse with my industrial design students. I asked them to gather in a circle, shoulder to shoulder, and hold the knife for a few minutes, in turn. In the kitchen, we use the knife as it was designed to be used, but an unexpected new context quickly sends the knife holder on a thinking spiral that reveals the object’s dark side: it can also be misused to harm others.

Deliberate Intervention brings you to a place of reckoning that questions how technology adds value to our volatile society. It is an invitation to reflect on how social context, culture, and variable time horizons transform the world and how those transformations, activated by technology, can drift to dark places. If you believe that, even if we can’t predict the future, at least we can design it, this book may change your mind.

Alexandra’s understanding of design at the deep level of its social implications supports the claim that what we may design today with the best of intentions will likely evolve into something quite different tomorrow. Savor that thought—one of the golden nuggets of this book—if you agree that, although imperfect, the practice of design is still the best chance we have to add value to the lives of many.

This book is a journey at different altitudes that invites you to reflect on what you read from your own personal experience: is design really compatible with policymaking? Is harm the side effect of large-scale structural change? Is it ethical to stick to a laissez-faire approach to the urgent challenges we are facing?

Tick tock, tick tock…

Whether you decide to fly high or wander close to the ground, Deliberate Intervention will help you come up with new questions; that’s what it was designed for.

—Enrique Martínez is a designer and strategic innovation adviser

Illustrations