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Circulating Users’ Lifestyle Values in Public

Contribution to the PDC 2020 Interactive WorkshopComputing Professionals for Social Responsibility: The Past, Present and Future Values of Participatory Design

Published onMay 23, 2020
Circulating Users’ Lifestyle Values in Public

Circulating Users’ Lifestyle Values in Public

By EunJeong Cheon

Indiana University Bloomington School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering

Contact: [email protected]

HCI and CSCW have long examined the relationships between values and technologies. In particular, research has sought to identify and observe existing values in technologies [3, 5, 8]. In concert with this agenda is a growing interest in ways to make these values more explicit through, for example, design methods (e.g., value cards [4] , probes and scenarios [1, 6], sketching [10], theoretical frameworks (e.g., value sensitive design [5], the value dimensions framework [8], and design practices (e.g., value levers [7]). In these studies, researchers have been able to understand the values of individuals to be incorporated into technologies at a greater depth. However, these explorations into values, while fruitful for uncovering diverse potential values, often focus on those who apparently hold a monopoly on values, humans.

What is lacking in these discussions are the objects intertwined with these values. In fact, objects are a medium that reveals our values. Objects that people use on a daily basis implicitly speak not only about individual habits and patterns, but also the values in people's lives. Consider, if someone is frequently seen carrying around beeswax wraps covered their foods, we can discern that they care about the environment. In this example the beeswax wrap is a medium to represent values and its mobility and public visibility allows its values to be “circulated” to multiple locations. As design researchers, we might then ask how do technologies constitute a medium to represent values more explicitly (or deliberately) and disseminate our lifestyle values?

Our previous study [2] addressed this question with the “porous boundary” concept. The porous boundary conceptualizes how objects coupled with lifestyle values keep or lose their values across the boundaries of places. For example, in their study on minimalists living, they illustrated how the reusable food containers minimalists valued outside home often were rejected by groceries staff. In this case the object brought outside home by minimalists failed to deliver its values to others. Building on this work, we began to ask what extent technologies could represent personal values and be used to share life values more widely, and explore what ways we could actually realize this idea through developing a system, for example, how we can actually develop a prototype that makes values become apparent and explicit over places?

Taking up research through design, we developed a Jarvis, technological artifact coupled with the zero-waste lifestyle where people actively design and adopt life practices that help reducing an amount of wastes in their daily life (e.g., reusing, buying second-hand items). Drawing from concept of porous boundaries, this RtD project asked how lifestyle values can be made mobile and publicly promoted through objects. By creating conversations with others in public, Jarvis attempts to make the values of zero-waste lifestyle apparent and mobile over places. Through our in-the-wild deployment, we identified the role of agency in concretizing values in objects, expanding on the porous boundary concept. We argued that, if values are to be explicitly expressed, we need to consider the agencies involved in interactions and the mobility of such agencies across places. We proposed that value circulation efficiently captures how both values of objects and their movements contribute to disseminating values. This notion also asks us to consider how actively technologies can play a role in speaking for our lifestyle values.

I hope to see more studies on surfacing values explicitly through design. This is especially important if we want our technologies to express the lifestyles we prefer. As Winograd and Flores noted, “in designing tools we are designing ways of being.” (p.xi, [9]) The tools we create go beyond their functionality. They are part of our lives and identities. I believe that our study offers one way to espouse “the right values” through objects.


  1. EunJeong Cheon, Stephen Tsung-Han Sher, Šelma Sabanović, and Norman Makoto Su. 2019. I Beg to Differ: Soft Conflicts in Collaborative Design Using Design Fictions. Proceedings of the 2019 on Designing Interactive Systems Conference - DIS ’19, ACM Press, 201–214.

  2. Eunjeong Cheon and Norman Makoto Su. 2018. “Staged for living”: Negotiating objects and their values over a porous boundary. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 2, CSCW.

  3. Janet Davis and Lisa P Nathan. 2015. Value Sensitive Design: Applications, Adaptations, and Critiques. In Handbook of ethics, values, and technological design: Sources, theory, values and application domains,. 11–40.

  4. Batya Friedman and David Hendry. 2012. The envisioning cards. Proceedings of the 2012 ACM annual conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - CHI ’12, ACM Press, 1145.

  5. Batya Friedman, Peter H. Kahn, Alan Borning, and Alina Huldtgren. 2013. Value Sensitive Design and Information Systems. . Springer, Dordrecht, 55–95.

  6. Lisa Nathan, Batya Friedman, and Dave Hendry. 2009. Information system design as catalyst: human action and environmental sustainability. Interactions 16, 6–11.

  7. Katie Shilton. 2013. Values Levers: Building Ethics into Design. Science, Technology, & Human Values 38, 3: 374–397.

  8. Jaime Snyder, Katie Shilton, and Sara Anderson. 2016. Observing the Materiality of Values in Information Systems Research. 2016 49th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), IEEE, 2017– 2026.

  9. Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores. 1987. Understanding computers and cognition : a new foundation for design. Addison-Wesley Longman Publishing Co., Inc. Retrieved October 12, 2019 from

  10. Jill Palzkill Woelfer, Amy Iverson, David G. Hendry, Batya Friedman, and B. Gill. 2011. Improving the Safety of Homeless Young People with Mobile Phones : Values , Form and Function. Proc. CHI 2011: 1707–1716.

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