This was a precursor exploration of Facilitating a Design Studio and evolved into the studio structure

#concept This was a precursor exploration of [[Facilitating a Design Studio - Overview]] and evolved into the studio structure

Mark Young’s chapter on the invisible infrastructure addresses the often unnoticed aspects of our urban environments. The complex networks of infrastructure that support our cities are usually kept out of sight, and consequently out of mind. This hasn’t always been the case - there was a time when these systems were prominently displayed as symbols of progress. The misconception that infrastructure is inherently stable and permanent can lead us to view breakdowns as anomalies or failures of design. As a result, we may overlook the critical work of technicians, whose tasks are often deemed as responses to infrequent issues, rather than integral parts of the technology’s lifecycle.

Maintenance is broadly defined as any activity that contributes to the continued functioning of a technical system. This includes cleaning, repairing, modifying, or replacing parts. The user’s interaction with the technology over time, their capacity to fix issues and maintain functionality, extends the concept of the technology beyond the device itself. Maintenance is often rendered invisible due to it being carried out in secluded places or during off-peak hours to minimize disruption. Furthermore, this type of work is often performed by individuals who occupy less privileged positions in society, making it less visible in our collective consciousness.

The maintenance of structures such as bridges is divided into two types: preventative and corrective. Preventative maintenance includes tasks like painting, lubricating bearings, and cleaning expansion joints, while corrective maintenance involves repair work on structures as problems arise. Recognizing technology as a process, rather than a static form, leads us to appreciate the extensive labor required for its continued function. The belief in the static nature of technology negates the essential role of maintenance and repair. Thus, the perception of technology as a constant form is itself made possible by the very activities it tends to overlook.

Maintenance often includes managing the users’ perceptions of a technology’s functionality. For example, technicians may need to demonstrate that a seemingly malfunctioning heating system is in fact working correctly. Similarly, maintenance of copy machines involves not only fixing the machine but also educating users on proper usage. The invisible labor associated with maintaining infrastructure has been explored by sociologists and feminist theorists, shedding light on activities that often go unnoticed. Understanding technological systems better requires a similar shift in focus towards maintenance and repair, thus making them “empirically and conceptually familiar.”

In essence, if we aim to fully understand the technologies we rely on, we need to focus less on their occasional breakdowns and more on their regular use and maintenance. This involves shifting historical technology studies from a design and construction perspective to a focus on everyday practices of maintenance, repair, and modification. This will lead to a more holistic understanding of technology, focusing not on failure but rather on maintenance and the technological conception it implies.

More Notes

Here are some additional notes on various topics:

  • Ethnographic Studies of Repair (ESR): ESR focuses on the ethnographic examination of repair practices. It explores how repair activities often remain invisible in society, with everyday breakages and repair work hidden from view. Repair people themselves are often marginalized and overlooked. By understanding repair as a process and considering the interplay of artifacts, networks, and human agency, the visibility and significance of infrastructures and technologies can be better understood.

  • Observing Infrastructures and Technologies: Observing and gaining visibility into infrastructures and technologies can have several benefits. It can lead to the development of alternatives and enhance resilience by providing options. It can foster diversity and specificity of use, enabling alternative ways of using technologies. Additionally, observing and participating in repair practices can promote solidarity, transforming low-income jobs into essential and valued roles. Exploring these observations can inform human-centered design practices.

  • Epson Printers Boobytrap: The article “Epson Boobytrapped Its Printers” highlights an incident where Epson printers were intentionally designed to prevent the use of third-party ink cartridges. This raises questions about the ethics and implications of such practices by technology companies.

  • City as a Learning Space: The city is a unique learning space that cannot be fully understood through traditional media channels. Living and actively participating in the city allows individuals to truly see and experience its dynamics. By observing participation and actively engaging with the city, individuals can contribute to and bring about change.

  • Small Gathering Interfaces: Small Gathering Interfaces explore the concepts of interfaces, smallness, and gatherings. They involve understanding the interactions and linkages within spaces, both human and non-human. By speculating and designing interfaces that reflect these understandings, designers can create meaningful and contextually relevant experiences for gatherings in various settings.

  • Seminar Approach: The seminar approach involves a series of explorations and reflections on smallness, interfacing, materiality, the designer’s role, and gatherings. Through iterative design iterations, students can refine their interfaces and incorporate theoretical frameworks and personal reflections. The seminars culminate in the presentation of the final interface design accompanied by a reflective account of the student’s position and its influence on the design process.

  • Interfaces for Gatherings in the Small: This concept focuses on moving beyond human-centered design to consider the broader narratives and interactions within gathering spaces. By observing and engaging with these spaces, designers can gain insights into their own positionality and the kind of work they want to do. They can draw metaphors from these spaces and evaluate their suitability within a historical context, informing their design practice.

reading list

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Denis, J., & Pontille, D. (2014). Maintenance work and the performativity of urban inscriptions: The case of Paris subway signs. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 32(3), 404–416.

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Strebel, I., Bovet, A., & Sormani, P. (2019). Repair work ethnographies: Revisiting breakdown, relocating materiality. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan.

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