The designer’s guide to social computing | by Jon Upshaw | Jan, 2024


The beauty and destructive potential of social networking is design itself.

Inside rendering of a complex system. Created by DeepMind.
Photo by Google DeepMind from Pexels

Humans are social beings that are subject to the dynamics of the group. It’s why we gather to watch a spectacle or follow suit when we see people head toward a safer place during an emergency. During the architectural boom of the mid-20th century, engineers designed civic spaces with these social dynamics in mind. I find it interesting how we’re innately tuned in to the collective behaviors of our fellow humans. It’s evolutionary — we’re meant to function in groups and collaborate.

The same applies to technology and how we interact with it. Since the dawn of the personal computer, we have been fine-tuning the world to be more suited for digital connectivity. This where the beauty of social computing saw its beginnings. Now we are in an age of ever-expanding computing potential, and with that comes responsibility from a design standpoint. As designers, we stand at the precipice of potentially bad outcomes; social tech has seen much scrutiny from its users once things go poorly (think Parler and its infamous ban that happened after the 2021 capitol riots.) Therefore, designers share an two important responsibilities: we must design for the ethical consumption of social platforms, and we must make sure that social experiences serve the better intentions of those who use them.

How Can One Design For Ethical Consumption?

Man on computer with devil and angel on his shoulder.
We’re always designing with that devil and angel on our shoulder. Image by Jon Upshaw

In the world of tech, greed is the manifestation of wrong intentions. What are these wrong intentions that are manifested as a result of greed? They are the desire for product-market fit, the delusion of easy VC funding, and the desire for profit. This greed does not make it easier for designers to do what they are hired for: creating human-centered products.

Designing for ethical consumption ensures that wrong intentions do not cause the future social product to fall into ruin. It also means that there is no dissonance between what the user needs and when they get it, saving the user time. When I think of ethical


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