Engaging the social and political in designing technologies

Nitin Sawhney explores the role of human-centered research and design, beyond the traditional boundaries of computer science, in transforming civic action.

Interview by Anu Haapala // Photos by Matti Ahlgren, Aalto University, May 19, 2020.

Excerpt: Professor of Practice Nitin Sawhney joined Aalto University in extraordinary times, as he arrived to Helsinki from New York with his partner in the midst of an emerging global pandemic. As countries began closing their borders and Aalto University shifted to remote work and teaching, Sawhney hardly had time to ponder how this crisis would impact their relocation to the Nordics.

Researchers should collectively seek solutions for the biggest crises for the globe

In the computer science context, while Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) remains his core research area, Sawhney plans to expand his prior work in participatory design with children, multi-modal voice-based interaction, and cooperative Human-AI systems in crisis response.

Sawhney says he hopes to push himself and his students to consider how we can contribute to collectively understanding and designing for seemingly intractable problems. ‘I feel like climate change, besides this pandemic, is one of the biggest crises for the globe and our future, and if we are not finding a way to collectively address this crisis, I don’t know how we are going to be valuable.’

This summer Sawhney plans to already begin teaching online at Aalto, including a special topics course on ‘Human-Centred Research and Design in Crisis.’ He hopes that students will develop a deeper understanding of how to conduct research and design for technological innovations in complex crisis contexts, while examining their ethical implications, including with the current COVID-19 pandemic. ‘The course will offer students opportunities to engage industry and organizational partners in the city and elsewhere, but also help us as a faculty to develop socially engaged curricula that we can expand in future courses.’

Read the full article here: https://www.aalto.fi/en/news/engaging-the-social-and-political-in-designing-technologies