Misuse Studies

My authoritative object that I chose for this assignment was an alarm clock. This is because an alarm clock serves one and only purpose – to wake you up. By waking you up, alarm clocks hold authority over your sleep schedule, and when they go off, they send a command to wake up, that you must comply with. Thus, an alarm clock holds an authoritarian political stance.Misuse1

When the user sets up an alarm clock before going to bed, they agree to wake up the next morning at whatever time they decide. Therefore, when it is time to wake up, alarm clocks are designed very purposefully to be annoying and loud, to force the user to wake up just tp shut off the annoying beeping. Alarm clocks express their authoritative stance by not taking no for an answer, intentionally designed for this purpose.

A rudimentary socio-technical map surrounding the alarm clock is shown below:Misuse2

In order for the alarm clock to be more politically democratic, I designed an alarm clock that wasn’t so forceful. This alarm clock, or more accurately a speaker, would have a light sensor, and anytime the sensor detects daylight, it will play the music, and anytime it detects night, it will turn off the music.

This alarm clock wouldn’t force the user to get up at a certain minute, but rather encourage the user to be awake during the day, and asleep during the night (which seems only natural). Thus, it would be much less authoritarian, and the user’s sleep schedule would ultimately feel more natural.

A prototype sketch of this democratic alarm clock is shown below:Misuse3


Misuse Studies


I took a picture of bollards, which are poles that prevent cars from driving onto sidewalks or other pedestrian areas.

I think bollards are authoritarian, because they are put in place to dictate who and what can enter a certain area. Many cities have installed large bollards to prevent terrorism, which adds to the authoritarian nature. The average citizen also has no say in the construction or placement of bollards.


I think bollards were intentionally designed with authoritarian politics. They were created specifically to control who could enter certain areas, and who would be excluded.

I think my sketch reveals the authoritarian nature by making bollards visibly more militaristic. Usually people just walk by them without thinking, so making them more visible makes it clear that they serve a purpose, and prevent cars from entering the area.

The other half of my sketch shows a possible way to make bollards more democratic. They would be raised and lowered by the public, giving people some control over how and when the bollards are used



Street Sign Project Misuse

IMG_1994 (1)

I took a picture of a street sign telling drivers to slow down when school is in progress. I felt that this was a pretty big way to enforce people to slow down when kids are around. This sign forces people to slow down because it seems that people don’t go the speed limit especially when kids are around and so the city/school needs to take action to prevent accidents.

                 Sociotechnical Map

IMG_2002 This is my sociotechnical map that shows who the product is for and who might be the one having to gather the resources to implement that sign.

With the original sign, it can either go 2 ways.  It can be authoritative or it can be social. And so at the beginning I was looking at this sign in an authoritative way. But know in my new design I tried to make it more of a social sign. pulling more on the heart string/emotion rather than by fear of the law catching you. And for my design I put in more of a social factor. By adding sign next to the already existing sign, saying things like “The Neighborhood watch watched you ” and “this is our average speed for the week.” Making people constantly aware of that they are doing.

Misuse Studies: Door and Sign


For the Misuse Studies assignment, I chose to take a picture of a locked door. As indicated on the yellow sign, the politics of the above door are heavily authoritarian; only certain individuals are allowed to access what lies beyond (albeit just a mechanical room).


The very nature of the door is authoritarian; it excludes those that do not have permission to enter, ensures privacy, and acts as a barrier from unwanted intruders. Others may attempt to request access, but it is ultimately the owner’s decision. In the above example, the locked door was placed there to ensure the safety of the public – if someone were to cause trouble in the mechanical room, they could jeopardize their life as well as those in the building.

Door Reimagined.JPG

The above redesign features a glass door and a method of contacting the concerning body. This democratizes the door (although not completely), allowing anyone to see and access the facilities, as well as converse with the people in charge. Most of what was hidden and exclusive is now revealed to the observant eye, allowing more interaction.

Misuse Studies


I captured a picture of the crosswalk light and it falls under democratic and authoritarian. I believe it to fall under both categories because it is trying to control when people walk, if the hand is up, you can’t walk and when the walking man is up, you can walk making it authoritarian. On the other side, there’s nothing stopping you from being able to walk when the hand is up, people still cross the street even when it says you can’t, making it democratic. My assumptions is that the walk light was designed for it to be authoritarian, because it’s goal is to control the flow of pedestrians and keep them safe from being hit by cars. The social norm makes it democratic because everyone just crosses when there are no cars, even if the hand is up. It would actually be weird to me if I saw someone waiting to cross at night when there were like no cars out.


Here’s my sociotechnical map, I highlight how you find walk lights mostly near schools or on busy streets. I also wrote down how it is programmed to be in sync with the stop light and also how some walk lights use sound for people who are blind.

For my design sketch I created platforms that are placed on the sidewalk right before you reach the street and if you step on one while the hand is up, then you get lightly zapped. The zap isn’t painful just uncomfortable and it won’t hurt children. This design makes the walk sign more authoritative, people will have a much more difficult time disobeying it. It also calls to attention how easy it was before to just walk across the street even though you’re technically not supposed to.

Parking Gates


These gates are material objects that prevent certain cars from entering specific parking lots by blocking the road until it is triggered to raise the arm by a transmitter given to certain drivers.


Sociotechnical Map


This is my first sketch changing the parking gate from an authoritative technology into a democratic technology. Changing the design of the gates to allow anyone to enter the parking lot and having drivers pay when they leave makes the technology democratic. This is the same design used in most parking garages which allows any driver to park in an allotted spaces if they have the money to pay for a parking space.


The second technology is bringing attention to the people who are allowed to park in this specific lot. All of these people hold esteemed positions at the University. Their salaries are also displayed to raise awareness for what type of people can use this specific parking lot. This brings attention to who is eligible to park at this specific lot and creates awareness for the politics surrounding this parking lot.

My photographed technology is an authoritative technology because it only allows certain cars to pass through the gates to park in the lot. I think the politics expressed in my photograph came about because of the amount of space available for people to park in on campus. As the amount of staff and students grew at CU the amount of space on campus stayed the same. The parking gates were created to restrict who could park in the limited about of space on campus. Access to these parking lots are normally reserved for people who can afford to pay for a parking spot and those who might hold an important role at the university. My design sketch brings attention to the fact that these gates we see everyday are implicitly representing a system that only allows a certain caliber of person to park within that parking lot. By making a sign stating the drivers’ salary and position allows the public to immediately see the politics involved with these parking lots.

Misuse Studies

Prior to 9/20:
Take a picture of a physical thing (preferably, something you encounter in day to day life and preferably something with a digital component) that expresses authority. For instance, a thing that forces you to do something in a certain way that you are not otherwise forced to do. One example is a speed bump. A speed bump is a material thing developed to support speed limits. It seems to emerge from the observations that people will not otherwise follow speed limits unless they risk the consequence of damaging their car. They are proof, in some sense, that speed limit signs don’t really work and they work to enforce speed limits in material form.

To bring to class on 9/20:
1. Bring your picture (in physical or digital form)

In class 9/20
We are going to do an exercise mapping the sociotechnical networks of the things we brought in – reflecting on the different social actors they tie together and the forms of authority that they express. Then we are going to sketch ways we could redesign those things, augment them, or “misuse them” in ways that would make those power structures visible.

To turn in on Thursday, 9/21
1. the picture of your thing
2. a picture and/or description of your sociotechincal map
3. your design sketch
4.  a paragraph or so that answers each of the following questions:
– describe how the politics of your photographed thing authoritarian or democratic?
– how do you think the politics expressed in your photographed thing came about (e.g. were they intentionally designed that way or simply the result of deeply entrenched norms)
– in what way does your design sketch reveal those politics, what aspects does it make visible?