Graphic Design ART 752, Fictive InterfacesBehind the buttons, input fields, and location pins of digital interfaces is a world of networks. These networks are made up of computational processes driven by ideologies, biases, and agendas that render in their interfaces a skewed representation of reality that perpetuates narratives for like-minded readers. Reliant on emotions and desires, these narratives, calculated through vast amounts of data collecting, are generated by algorithmic recommendations. With this in mind, it would be naive to think of an interface as a neutral presentation of choices. Consider the way in which narratives are exploited through A/B testing and behavioral science in order for the interface to internalize motivation in users. A calibrated sequence of vibrant colors and loading animations drives dopamine-releasing game-play for the nth hour. An autoplay video queues up. An encouraging prompt from a seemingly omniscient narrator notifies Uber drivers as they’re about to log off, “You’re $10 away from making $330 in net earnings. Are you sure you want to go offline?” These narrative feedback, or compulsion, loops are determined by how real-time data can mutate into fiction. While platforms can be deceptive—in the way that Jim Molan, deputy chair of Australia’s Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media, describes TikTok as perhaps being “a data collection service disguised as social media”—the fictive interface is not merely lies and trickery. It also relies on narratives that describe the plausible—ways to navigate a possible future that, based on one’s belief system, seems likely to happen. Throughout this course, we collect and read relevant articles documenting current events, so as to track the narrative and counter-narrative techniques of digital technologies, including memetic warfare, racism, nationalism, conspiracy, and propaganda. Within this arena, we identify and occupy new digital spaces of discourse for thesis work to be granted the agency in proposing its own narrative—one that will engage with multiple perspectives and challenging viewpoints. The course argues that it is not enough to distrust or oppose these technologies. Instead, understanding what goes on beneath the surface of the interface is necessary to make work that does not capitulate to fictive simplifications. The prompts for the thesis projects ask students to develop methods for translating their research into fictive interfaces. The methods consider James Bridle’s proposition, in New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future, that “what is needed is not new technology, but new metaphors: a metalanguage for describing the world that complex systems have wrought.” Building on technology and data storage and construction skills learned in their first year, students develop imaginative visual forms while also focusing on language and writing. Taking as a point of departure what Alexander Galloway writes in The Interface Effect, we think of the interface as “an entirely different mode of signification, reliant more on letter and number, iconographic images rather than realistic representational images.” Galloway, in regards to the use of data in an interface, continues to note that “gauges and dials have superseded lenses and windows. Writing is once again on par with image.” All notes, sketches, and work produced in the class are rigorously documented and made as accessible as possible. We collectively develop publishing tools to address not only how these fictions are rendered, but also how they operate. However deceptive the representation offered by fictive interfaces may be, they also do things in the world. It is not just a question of how a button should look, but what possible social and political processes are enacted when that button is clicked.
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