Proposals for the special issue of Technical Communication on “Digital Interface Analysis and Social Justice” are due 15 September 2022.

 

GUEST EDITOR

Jennifer Sano-Franchini, West Virginia University

SPECIAL ISSUE DESCRIPTION

This special issue of Technical Communication centers on the critical analysis of digital interfaces and its implications for social justice in user experience (UX) design. Digital interface analysis is distinct from other approaches to studying UX and digital platforms more generally in that it considers how the design of digital interfaces—which all technology users have direct and immediate access to—affects the way technology users interact with the platform, the organizations that host them, one another, and/or the ideas, objects, and spaces that make up the world around us. Moreover, digital interfaces are important sites for social justice work in technical and professional communication (TPC). This special issue seeks to unpack what digital interfaces have to do with social justice, considering, for instance, how digital interfaces mediate and facilitate the material distribution of wealth and other resources, influence the material flows of political power, validate certain ways of knowing over others, support minoritized communities, and otherwise affect the way we understand and relate with one another and the world around us.

Digital Interface Analysis in TPC

The field of TPC has a long tradition of scholars and practitioners who have studied the ideological and rhetorical function of technological interfaces. As Haas’ (2012) “Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: A Case Study of Decolonial Technical Communication Theory, Methodology, and Pedagogy” explained, “just as the rhetoric we compose can never be objective, neither can the technologies we design” (p. 288). Published analyses of digital interfaces in TPC include but are not limited to: Selfe and Selfe’s (1994) influential “The Politics of the Interface,” which analyzed capitalism, class privilege, and whiteness in computer desktop interfaces; Banks’ (2005) Race, Rhetoric, and Technology, which discussed African American design traditions and spoke to the need to contextualize how we understand “professional” design norms; Moses & Katz’s (2006) “The Invisible Ideology of Email,” on how email’s purposive-rational ideology affects how people work and live more generally; Zdenek’s (2007) “‘Just Roll Your Mouse Over Me,’” which provided a gender-based critique of virtual women for online customer service; Knight, et al.’s (2009) “About Face,” which analyzed the websites of TPC programs; Sidler & Jones’ (2009) “Genetics Interfaces,” which analyzed two civic action groups related to genetics research to demonstrate the need to combine scientific knowledge with cultural and emotional rhetorics for public science writing audiences; Gu’s (2016) “East Meets West,” which used a comparative approach, analyzing Chinese and U.S. interface designs, to show the importance of considering culture and context for understanding the function and rationale of design choices; and Sano-Franchini’s (2018) “Designing Outrage, Programming Discord,” which explicitly described a method that she referred to as “critical interface analysis,” that was then applied to an analysis of Facebook as an electoral campaign technology.

More recently, scholars have taken up interface analyses through critical, feminist, and race-conscious lenses focusing on a wide range of aspects across a variety of platforms. For example, on the Black TPC (Mckoy, et al., 2019) panel, Sackey asked us “to think of user experience design through a race-conscious lens, particularly an Afrocentric lens” as a way of demonstrating how approaches to design “through an apparent race-neutral lens…in fact…privileges whiteness.” In addition, Homer (2020) analyzed the #WeAreMaunaKea hashtag, demonstrating how Native Hawaiian sovereignty claims intervene in oppressive algorithmic procedures; Jones’ (2021) analyzed how Twitter’s “What’s Happening” and Instagram’s Live Stream interfaces mediate political content for users; Green (2021) drew on intersectional queer theories of unruliness to demonstrate how study participants “resisted Grindr’s interface, which encourages users to disclose their HIV status,” thus disrupting the risk rhetorics of the platform; and Richter (2021) analyzed the rhetoric of “rules” documents on Reddit. Taken together, these works demonstrate how the critical analysis of digital interfaces  can provide a wide range of insights for better understanding not only the numerous platforms we interact with in our day to day lives, but also the weighty implications of interface design choices for racialized and other minoritized communities.

Practical Relevance

In addition to these concerns within TPC, broader cross-disciplinary, industry, and public conversations regarding digital racism as facilitated by digital technologies have emerged as UX designers have discussed the role of UX and interface design in upholding racism in popular platforms like Airbnb, NextDoor, and Google, including both its search and Arts and Culture applications. Such conversations have been furthered by the important work of organizations and industry-based initiatives that have advanced antiracist and justice-oriented approaches to UX design like HmntyCntrd, founded by Vivianne Castillo, the State of Black Design, and the Design Justice Network. Attention to these issues have also expanded with the publication of Safiya Noble’s (2018) landmark Algorithms of Oppression and Ruha Benjamin’s (2019) Race After Technology, amongst other works. That being said, digital interface analysis has significant practical relevance, as a method that can quite clearly demonstrate what humanities trained professionals who are attentive to issues of social justice can uniquely contribute to computer engineering and other technology development teams, and offer more granular understandings of how seemingly minute design decisions contribute to inequity and political polarization.

Specific Topics that May Be Covered 

This call invites proposals (no more than 400 words in length) for manuscripts that center critical and social justice-oriented analyses of digital interfaces. Proposals by U.S. and international contributors from academia, industry and government are all welcome and encouraged.

Proposals may focus on the analysis of a wide range of desktop and mobile applications and platforms, such as:

  • EPA, CDC, food assistance, U.S. Supreme Court, voter registration, and other governmental websites;
  • health insurance, ultrasound, and other medical interfaces;
  • Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Twitch, Weibo, and other social media platforms;
  • Gmail, Outlook, and other email or messaging clients;
  • Blackboard, Canvas, and other learning management systems;
  • Google, DuckDuckGo, and other search engines;
  • Chegg, Course Hero, Grammarly and other educational technologies;
  • Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and other internet browsers;
  • Slack, Miro, Discord, and other collaboration platforms
  • Tableau and other data visualization platforms; and
  • Facetime, Google Meet, Zoom, and other video conferencing platforms.


In doing so, contributors may cover a wide range of topics, including but by no means limited to:

  • the political consequences of interface designs, i.e., the effects of interface design on political elections, or the ideological affordances of design choices, including how various design strategies, organizational structures, temporalities, and/or approaches to user representation encourage, resist, or otherwise influence systemic inequities
  • the affective and emotional effects of particular interface design choices for diverse technology users
  • how interface designs attend to accessibility (or not), and the effects for disabled technology users
  • analyses and applications of specific methods and approaches for analyzing the rhetorical, political, and ideological function of digital interfaces, i.e., an application of Brock’s (2016) Critical Technocultural Discourse Analysis as a way of studying the effects of digital interfaces
  • intercultural and inter/trans-national perspectives and approaches to interface analysis and design, i.e., interface design across the globe and across cultures, the effects of interface design with a focus on international audiences
  • the practical application of interface analysis in technical communication and UX design, including how the critique of digital interfaces can be used in the service of more equitable design practices, or practitioner strategies for more equitable, socially just, and humane interface/UX design
  • industry insights about interface analysis, including critiques, limitations, and how industry experts engage in interface analysis in their day-to-day work
  • the possibilities and potentials of practitioner-academic collaborations in interface critique and design
  • how the design of educational technologies affects learners and learning outcomes
  • how interface design supports and/or otherwise affects the communication of risk
  • how digital interfaces reflect organizational values and priorities
  • the limits of digital interface analysis as an approach for socially just UX design


With these broad possibilities for topics, contexts, and purposes in mind, all contributors will be asked to attend to the special issue’s focus on social justice in their manuscript. For example, drawing on Walton, Moore, and Jones’ (2019) 3Ps heuristic, contributors may:

  • reflect upon their positionality and how it affects their analysis
  • consider how different technology users are positioned in relation to the interface and one another,
  • describe how the interface privileges particular users over others, and
  • discuss how user interfaces have implications for power, i.e., how interface designs influence the material distribution of wealth and other resources across communities and subjectivities.
Put differently, all submissions should move beyond usability, functionality, and a-political approaches to UX to consider the ideological, cultural, and political implications of interface design.

SUBMISSION PROCEDURES

Send your proposal of no more than 400 words to Jennifer Sano-Franchini at jennifer.sano-franchini@mail.wvu.edu by Thursday, 15 September, 11:59 PM, in your time zone.

TIMELINE

  • CFP published – August 5, 2022
  • Proposals due (400 words max) – September 15, 2022
  • Authors notified – September 22, 2022
  • Full manuscript drafts due – January 1, 2023
  • Reviews to authors – March 1, 2023
  • Revised manuscript due – May 1, 2023
  • Final manuscript due – July 15, 2023
  • Special issue published – November 1, 2023


CONTACT INFORMATION

Please direct any questions or comments about this CFP to Jennifer Sano-Franchini (jennifer.sano-franchini@mail.wvu.edu).

REFERENCES

  • Banks, A. J. (2006). Race, rhetoric, and technology: Searching for higher ground. Routledge.
  • Benjamin, R. (2019). Race after technology: Abolitionist tools for the New Jim Code. Polity Books.
  • Brock, A. (2018). Critical technocultural discourse analysis. New Media & Society, 20(3), 1012–1030.
  • Haas, A. M. (2012). Race, rhetoric, and technology: A case study of decolonial technical communication theory, methodology, and pedagogy. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 26(3), 277–310.
  • Green, M. (2021). Resistance as participation: Queer theory’s applications for HIV health technology design. Technical Communication Quarterly, 30(4), 331–344.
  • Gu, B. (2016). East meets west on flat design: Convergence and divergence in Chinese and American user interface design. Technical Communication, 63(3), 231–247.
  • Homer, M. (2020). Sovereignty and Algorithms: Indigenous Land Disputes in Digital Democracy. In Platforms, Protests, and the Challenge of Networked Democracy (pp. 329–343). Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Jones, L. C. (2021, October). Online Advocacy Work: “Palatable” Platforms and Privilege in GUI features on Twitter and Instagram. In The 39th ACM International Conference on Design of Communication (pp. 157–164).
  • Knight, A., Rife, M. C., Alexander, P., Loncharich, L., & DeVoss, D. N. (2009). About face: Mapping our institutional presence. Computers and Composition, 26(3), 190–202.
  • Mckoy, T., Johnson Sackey, D., Wourman, J. L., Harper, K., Shelton, C., Jones, N. N., & Haywood, C. (2020). Black technical and professional communication.
  • Moses, M. G., & Katz, S. B. (2006). The phantom machine: The invisible ideology of email (a cultural critique). In B. Longo, J. B. Scott, and K. V. Wills (Eds.), Critical power tools: Technical communication and cultural studies. (pp. 71–105). Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
  • Noble, S. U. (2018). Algorithms of oppression: How search engines reinforce racism. New York: NYU Press.
  • Richter, J. D. (2021). Writing with reddiquette: Networked agonism and structured deliberation in networked communities. Computers and Composition, 59, 102627.
  • Sano-Franchini, J. (2018). Designing outrage, programming discord: A critical interface analysis of Facebook as a campaign technology. Technical Communication, 65(4), 387–410.
  • Selfe, C. L., & Selfe, R. J. (1994). The politics of the interface: Power and its exercise in electronic contact zones. College Composition and Communication, 45, 480–504.
  • Sidler, M., & Jones, N. (2008). Genetics interfaces: Representing science and enacting public discourse in online spaces. Technical Communication Quarterly, 18, 28–48.
  • Walton, R., Moore, K. R., & Jones, N. N. (2019). Technical communication after the social justice turn: Building coalitions for action. Routledge.
  • Zdenek, S. (2007). “Just roll your mouse over me”: Designing virtual women for customer service on the web. Technical Communication Quarterly, 16(4), 397–430.
 
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