Values as Hypotheses

Nassim Parvin

Pluralism offers a reasonable response to the demands made by the quantity and shades of values in human experience. Taking a pluralistic stance toward values, however, brings up an ongoing problem in the relation of values and design: that a given value may be both valuable and not valuable in its participation in design products and practices. This problem is evident in the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) where a scholarship of values and design has developed in the past two decades. We draw on this literature to exemplify the problem as well as what we observe to be a common response to it. This response follows a two-step logic: 1) we need to better understand values 2) so they can be applied to design practice. We argue that this logic fails to capture and inform the work of values in action (e.g., in design practice). In response, we introduce a fundamental repositioning of values as hypotheses, drawing attention to the service of values in ethically problematic situations where the question of action is central: “What is the situation that demands action and what is the action that it demands?” We argue that this understanding of values, draws attention to the “development of values” as they become central in fashioning the problematic situations of action. We demonstrate the key tenets of this position through examples and demonstrate its alignment with design practice drawing on an empirical study of professional designer.