City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

I'll be part of the panel for a session called 'Design for hackability' at this year's Designing Interactive Systems conference in Cambridge, Mass. this August. Organised by the mighty Anne Galloway, it goes a little something like this:

"Design for hackability encourages designers and non-designers to critically and creatively explore interactivity, technology and media – to reclaim authorship and ownership of technologies and of the social and cultural worlds in which we live. Hackability implies more than customisation or adaptation – it calls for redefinition. In a world where technologies are increasingly mobile and invisible, designing for hackability means allowing and encouraging people to make technologies be what they want them to be. It cultivates reciprocity between users and designers and supports transparency and graceful responses to unanticipated uses. Before entering into a broader discussion with the audience, panelists will discuss tensions between people and artefacts, technology and play, the creative use of readily available resources, subverting traditional functions and uses of networks, and the everyday realities of corporate design practice. These discussions will be used to generate a design for hackability manifesto to guide further explorations in designing interactive systems."


  • Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Human Connectedness Group, Media Lab Europe, Dublin [personal Web site]
  • Lalya Gaye, Future Applications Lab, Viktoria Institute, Göteborg, Sweden
  • Elizabeth Goodman, Independent researcher and designer, New York
  • Dan Hill, Technology & Design Manager, BBC Radio & Music Interactive, London [personal Web site]
  • Moderator: Anne Galloway, Carleton University, Ottawa

Here's the statement I sent Anne as to my 'angle' on the panel:

"My work focuses on introducing ideas of adaptation and hackability into the everyday practice of professional design within a large media organisation whilst my personal weblog has initiated many discussions around design and adaptation. Taking Tom Moran's DIS2002 keynote as a starting point, my presentation at AIGA Experience Design London in late-2002 concerned "Designing for Adaptation", and I've since led many discussions around adaptation and hackability, often relating to interaction with music and radio experiences via web-based and personal mobile devices, drawing lessons from architecture and urban history into the realm of social software, product design, and interface design."

For this session, I'll be talking about the creative and cultural possibilities and difficulties of incorporating adaptation and hackability into professional design and media organisations. In line with this, I"ll be drawing from an essentially craft-based perspective of urban design and architecture, agile software methodologies, game design, iterative web design, and vernacular design. Critical perspectives create a back story for the work, but the work itself is driven by the pragmatic everyday concerns of getting quality design work done to tight deadlines and within complex, compromised environments. Putting "creative power directly in the hands of non-designers" is a difficult sell to both designers and brand-owners! I'll share a few ideas as to how it might be done."

These will include:

  • Detailing just what kind of components to build in order to enable adaptation and hackability;
  • How to integrate design disciplines with software engineering to form truly multidisciplinary teams, such that certain principles cross-pollinate; from loosely-coupled architectures through modular and interoperable systems to assessing systems over time;
  • How to open up the practice of what we do such that amateur designers and non-designers can engage with and build around it.

Lord knows if I'll live up to that, but it looks like it's a good panel anyway. The rest of the conference looks great too. So if you're coming along, do drop by and say "hello" – I'll be the one shuffling around nervously and muttering "craft-based perspective" under my breath 😉

DIS2004: Design for Hackability


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