Tangibly understanding intangible complexities: Designing for distributed autonomous organizations

Bettina Nissen, Ella Tallyn and Kate Symons, University of Edinburgh

New digital technologies such as Blockchain and smart contracting are rapidly changing the face of value exchange, and present new opportunities and challenges for designers. Designers and data specialists are at the forefront of exploring new ways of exchanging value, using Blockchain, cryptocurrencies, smart contracting and the direct exchanges between things made possible by the Internet of Things (Tallyn et al. 2018; Pschetz et al. 2019).

For researchers and designers in areas of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Interaction Design to better understand and explore the implications of these emerging and future technologies as Distributed Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) we delivered a workshop at the ACM conference Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) in Edinburgh in 2017 (Nissen et al. 2017). The workshop aimed to use the lens of DAOs to introduce the principle that products and services may soon be owned and managed collectively and not by one person or authority, thus challenging traditional concepts of ownership and power.

The workshop builds on established HCI research exploring the role of technology in financial interactions and designing for the rapidly changing world of technology and value exchange (Kaye et al. 2014; Malmborg et al. 2015; Millen et al. 2015; Vines et al. 2014). Beyond this, the HCI community has started to explore these technologies beyond issues of finance, money and collaborative practice, focusing on the implications of these emerging but rapidly ascending distributed systems in more applied contexts (Elsden et al. 2018a).

By bringing together designers and researchers with different experiences and knowledge of distributed systems, the aim of this workshop was two-fold. First, to further understand, develop and critique these new forms of distributed power and ownership and second, to practically explore how to design interactive products and services that enable, challenge or disrupt existing and emerging models.