Emily B. Yang


The Future of Discourse: Prototyping at the GSD

Advised by Arianna Mazzeo (SEAS) and Belinda Tato (GSD)

What does the future of civil discourse look like?

Forty-one percent of all Harvard students across the political spectrum have reported feeling uncomfortable expressing their opinions to others at Harvard. Through extensive interviews and collaborative design workshops, I discovered that students who have experienced negative discourse become less interested in sharing their opinions and shut down, keeping their opinions to themselves or to their closest friends who share their exact beliefs. Challenging the moral intuitions and world views of others is hard, and current conditions do not make it any easier.

Many factors that influence political discourse are systemic—political, cultural, social, and technological—and creating human-centered interventions across these systems is no small feat. This project seeks to use design not only to create “things,” but also to create ideas and to speculate about how future discourse could create a new space for discussion and reflection about our own values, beliefs, and behavior.

With the goal of creating conversation about what the future of discourse could look like, I borrowed principles from strategic foresight and speculative design to explore a spectrum of combinations of technology and ideology, so multiple futures can be presented and encountered. To illustrate the differences between the worlds, examples of how people engage in discourse is demonstrated through various scenarios, experiences, and artifacts.

People have different understandings of civil discourse and the implications of it. By worldbuilding and writing “design fiction,” people who do not have a deep understanding of the mechanics of civil discourse are included in the exploration of its implications to better prepare for the future and, ideally, steer the world toward a more “preferable” future.

Emily B. Yang, MDE. The Future of Discourse. Prototyping at the GSD. Independent Design Engineering Project. A black-and-white photo of the trays at the GSD with students conversing at desks.
Emily B. Yang, MDE. Chauhaus bento box from the future, removing uncertainty from our interactions
Emily B. Yang, MDE. Laser lasso belt from the future, the future of social distancing
Emily B. Yang, MDE. FacePillPack, future daily doses of divergent thought
Emily B. Yang, MDE. Daily dose of divergent thought, printed from FacePillPack
Emily B. Yang, MDE. Chatterbox, future digital overlays on human interactions and conversation