Semiotics, Compassion and Value-Centered Design

Joseph A Goguen
Dept. Computer Science & Engineering
University of California, San Diego

  1. Introduction and Motivation
  2. Algebraic Semiotics
  3. Groundlessness and Coemergence
  4. Compassion, Ethics and Values
  5. Value-Centered Design

Click here to see the Abstract


Computing hardware shows integration on ever larger scales:

But this view is too narrow -

Progress on the human side is just as dramatic and important:

There is parallel evolution of organizations, with integration of communication and computation (``convergence'') enabling closer coordination of quasi-independent units.

Design today

A mature design discipline would have to:
  1. develop reliable ways to discover requirements taking account not just cooperative, distributed, dynamic social aspects of use, but also values of user communities;
  2. formulate precise definitions for notions like structure, action, event, representation, and metaphor;
  3. develop an abstract specification notation, with both dynamic and static (display) aspects, building on 2. above;
  4. find and use general measures for designs quality, especially as in 3. above;
  5. find general principles for use of media and their combinations, especially new media;
  6. automatically generate realizations from abstract descriptions (as in 3. above), e.g., for information visualizations; and
  7. integrate all this with software engineering and other disciplines.
Take design in broad sense, including Much literature seeks methods in the style of math or physics.

But rapid evolution of fads, buzzwords, and spectacular failures shows lack of significant progress.

Obstacles include:

  1. precise formulations of real problems; and
  2. realistic metrics for the adequacy of solutions.
But these are not real problems, they arise from misguided reductionism.

Instead, designers should live in the groundless semiotic world of social reality:

Most important management and design problems are not reducible.
Extreme reductionism is harmful, raising expectations that cant be met, leading to disappointment, fueling cycles of hope and fear.

But semi-formal approaches involving social process can work.

We must understand not just what users want, but more fundamentally, why they want, i.e.,

their fundamental underlying motivations.

We also reject extreme relativism, that all human values are equally valid.

But denying absolutism and relativism solves no real problems in design or management.

Instead, we claim groundlessness can spark compassion, ethics, and even better design.

Focus on practical results, not ideological purity.

CSCW, ethnomethodology, and sociology of technology motivate