Digital Labor

Cameron Tonkinwise


Cameron Tonkinwise is the Director of Design Studies at the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University. He also directs the School of Design’s Doctoral research program which aims to bring practice-based design research to task of transitioning our societies toward more sustainable futures. Cameron has a background in philosophy and continues to research what designers can learn from philosophies of making, material culture studies and sociologies of technology. Much of his research focuses on the design of service systems that lower societal materials intensity, primarily by decoupling use and ownership - in other words, systems of shared use.

“Designing More Convenient Solidarity”

The rise of the ‘sharing economy’ appears to indicate

a) mobile digital connectivity lowering the transaction costs for peer-to-peer servicing

b) people increasingly interested in re-embedding economic exchanges in social interactions.

The dominant ‘sharing economy’ platforms are VC-backed businesses designed around a). The design objective is supply-side control and demand-side convenience, with interactions between the two fire-walled. This allows commoditization for higher volume transaction skimming.

This presentation will explore how to design platforms that promoting b), enabling negotiations between service providers and recipients that are crisp but meaningful. Systems and interface designs should aim to make constraints transparent, and allow transactions to mix monetary and non-monetary costs (e.g., agreeing to decreased convenience as a service recipient given the service provider’s constraints).

The presentation will explore design options by critically reviewing the interaction designs of Uber (almost entirely an a) driven platform) and AirBnB (a platform with b) elements), and then demonstrating some speculative design proposals for platform cooperatives.

The examples will show how the interaction design of the experience of a platform is crucial for re-appropriating the ‘sharing economy’ to the project of enhancing societal sustainability.