Design & Capital

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Design & Capital

Postby rsalisbury » Wed Mar 27, 2019 6:45 am

A friend sent me a about design (as in making a product that's useful and attractive to users) and capital as power. He is interested in any feedback people familiar with CasP might have.

I will say that as a programmer for data-driven websites, I would agree with him that products are designed to be exclusionary and hierarchical. Much of what I do revolves around building elaborately restricted access to a database.
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Re: Design & Capital

Postby bfix » Thu Mar 28, 2019 4:43 am

Hi Ryan,

Thanks for posting this here. I read the article last night. The author raises some interesting points. Here are my thoughts.

Comments on "Design & Capital"

The main thesis, as I read it, is that there is a tension (or at least, a perceived tension) between the goals of designers and the goals of capital.

The author observes that most designers are in the profession for the creative aspect. They want to create well-made, useful products. They seemingly don't care about making money. And yet "design-led" companies are enormously profitable. How can this be?

This is a very interesting tension that I would like to see more fully developed. Unless we raise the Marxist spectre of "false consciousness", we need to accept that designers legitimately want to make good products.

The author brings up Veblen, and I think it would be great to discuss this more. Veblen distinguished between "workmanship" and "salesmanship". According Veblen, workmanship is a natural drive to be creative and to apply one's skills to something that one values. It has nothing to do with making money. In my mind, designers are driven by workmanship.

But then how do they make money? The underside of all of this is property rights. Without property rights, it is impossible to earn money from good workmanship. Take the Linux operating system. It is far and away the best designed operating system. It continues to improve because a vast army of "design-led" developers are trying to make it better. And yet these developers are not raking in huge profits. Why? Because the Linux kernel is open source. Without the ability to restrict access, Linux developers cannot earn profits.

Now take Apple. Like Linux developers, Apple developers want to make a good product. But unlike with Linux, Apple is ruthless about protecting its property rights. That's how Apple makes money.

Then their is Apple's production model, which is to outsource all production to the lowest bidder. So Apple's developers can sit in California and do "design-led" work for ample pay. Meanwhile the boring job of actually making the computers is done by low-paid workers in other countries.

The author is, I'm sure, aware of all of this. I'm pointing it out because I think these issues are at the core of the tension that the author raises.

The other aspect of this is the tension between "usefulness" and "desirability". Do designers want to make things that are useful? Or do they make things that people desire? These are not the same thing.

For instance, an Apple computer is certainly well-made ... probably better than any other brand of computer. As such, it is "useful". But consider if there was a company that churned out computers that were identical to Apple's, but did not have the eponymous Apple symbol on them. The generic apple computer would be just as "useful", just as well made as the brand-name one. But would it be as desirable? Probably not.

Part of the appeal of Apple computers is that they are a status symbol. We want them because "cool people" use them. So part of the desire for Apple computers has nothing to do with the "usefulness" of the design. It is the social aspect of their use. Veblen called it conspicuous consumption.

Again, I'm sure the author is aware of this. I point it out because it is an interesting tension to explore.

I hope the author finds this constructive feedback useful.
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Re: Design & Capital

Postby rsalisbury » Thu Mar 28, 2019 5:52 am

Good points Blair, thanks.

I also has some thoughts about Apple, as well:

1. More than any other company they build a lot of hype about their products before they are even finished with them.
2. They've developed a cult-like loyalty around them, which probably peaked around 2012 but is still there.
3. They make their products look really attractive and sleek. In the 90s computers were beige boxes but Apple made their iMacs colorful and smooth and futuristic.

Basically at every stage where someone could turn around and not buy their products, Apple aggressively tries to pull people in.

On the other side, I have experience doing app development for their App Store. It is easily the most bureaucratic and authoritarian way to publish software.

For one, it's not even possible to build an iPhone app on a Windows or Linux computer. You have to use their toolset, or a third-party service that uses their toolset.

When building the app, you include an "info.plist" file, which contains information like the version numbers (there is an internal and public one), references to icon files, etc. If you build the app and submit it to iTunesConnect and put something wrong in the info.plist file (e.g. you forgot to increment the version number, which you have to do every time, and it does not do it automatically for you), you have to start over.

They also use something called a "provisioning profile" which is basically a cryptographic certificate that controls which iDevices are allowed to install the app. If I want to add a tester that's not in our provisioning profile, I have to generate a new one and build the app again. Testing has to be done through their testing service, which used to be optional and third-party but was acquired by Apple a few years ago and made mandatory.

Once you've submitted your app, it goes into their black box of approval, and in 3-14 business days they will tell you yes or no on your app getting updated. You have to do this every single time you update your app. If you notice a typo or missing graphic, you have to go through this entire process. I rewrote a bunch of the app so that I could update it remotely because of this.

Another team at my company does the eRecords system for the US Department of Justice and making updates to that system is much faster and more straightforward.
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Re: Design & Capital

Postby bfix » Thu Mar 28, 2019 10:21 am

I'm not a developer, but I've played around with building R packages. I usually work in Linux, and the process is very simple. But with Apple you need to install the bloated Xcode environment to do even the most menial task. I found it very frustrating. But Ryan, your experience sounds much worse!
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Re: Design & Capital

Postby Jonathan Nitzan » Fri Mar 29, 2019 8:00 pm

Interesting, well-written paper. I enjoyed reading it and learned about a subject I wasn't familiar with.

One way to examine the design process from a CasP angle is to correlate (1) changes in design with (2) the limitation/sabotage imposed on/by the changed design.

If there is a positive correlation between the two, it could imply that design-related differential accumulation is driven by power rather than well-being.

To test this latter possibility, you would then have to examine whether design changes that are not protected by limitation/sabotage do not increase differential accumulation.
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Re: Design & Capital

Postby uma » Mon Jun 17, 2019 11:09 am

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