DensityDesign Lab Final Synthesis Design Studio 2021/2022 - Mediazioni algoritmiche

Mediazioni algoritmiche III

Designing in a data-intensive society

Politecnico di Milano, Master Degree in Communication Design

During the 2017 London Bridge attack, while people were trying to escape from the area, prices of Uber races began to rise, until they doubled their normal price. Many people were outraged: what until then had been an accepted mechanism (more demand, higher prices) suddenly proved unacceptable. The choice of price was not managed by human beings, but by an algorithm, and in a short time it was disabled.

This is just one example of how digital platforms that now pervade our community, by mediating our access to information, generate sometimes unexpected results that challenge social conventions. It also represents just the tip of the iceberg, the most explicit evidence of the radical and widespread impact that information and communication technologies - particularly the Internet and the Web - have on society.

While in the last decade the concerns were mainly user-centered, thinking mainly to the outcome for the individual (e.g. privacy loss), in the last few years we have seen how all these technologies are having consequences on society as a whole. Home sharing services are reshaping the real estate market, and perhaps cities. Social networks have been tweaked to influence and push propaganda in the democratic processes, or misused to organize mobs against minorities. Biometrics data, useful for unlocking the screen of our phones, brings also racial biases. Self-Driving cars, approaching in the near future, will impact on urbanization as well.

These issues do not have clear and unambiguous solutions and generate dense and complex debates that interweave alliances and oppositions, involving many different actors through digital conversations. At a first analysis the situation stalls: complexity, by definition, is impossible to reduce without losing its wealth; at the same time, it remains incomprehensible without its simplification. As communication designers we can - and we should - contribute to the understanding of these phenomena and orienting possible (re)actions. As complex and controversial problems can not be faced by a single actor, we can represent and share the debate that defines and nourishes them so that any stakeholder can find its own position.

The different phases of the course require to identify the most suitable communication languages and tools, both digital and physical, to exploit their specific potential and to synthetize all the competences acquired.

Transversally, the concepts of social complexity, the role of statistics tools and methods in the visualization process, and the idea of visualization as intersemiotic translation - such as narrative and discourse - will be deepened. The "visual discourse" in its various forms of manifestation will be then considered as an argumentative strategy, in which narration and dramatization complement the direct communication of data and information. Rhetorical-argumentative figures, in particular those based on analogy and metaphor, will be applied - consistently with the different design moments of the lab - as both knowledge tools and communicative devices, exploiting the potential for facilitating access to cognition.

Teaching Aims

At the end of the course, students will have gained:

  1. Knowledge in the data visualization, information visualization, information design disciplines, and the role of communication design;
  2. Knowledge and use of the visual variables and application of communication design to visualization of data and information;
  3. Knowledge on tools for data manipulation (Excel, OpenRefine) and for the creation of visual structures (RAWGraphs, Gephi);
  4. Knowledge on data harvesting/scraping (Web Scraper Chrome Extension) and data collection through APIs;
  5. Knowledge on basic concepts from statistics and softwares for their application (R);
  6. Knowledge of the rhetorical-argumentative figures (especially those based on analogy and metaphor).

Faculty

  • Michele Mauri
  • √Āngeles Briones
  • Gabriele Colombo
  • Simone Vantini
  • Salvatore Zingale

Teaching Assistants

  • Andrea Benedetti
  • Tommaso Elli
  • Beatrice Gobbo

The FSDS is a Synthesis lab that takes place at Politecnico di Milano, in the last year of the Master's Degree in Communication Design between September 2020 and February 2021.