MFA Interaction Design Degree Project Report
Umeå Institute of Design
Completion of this report marks a point near the end of an intense few months, in which the way I designed has been challenged and shaped by the limitations imposed by a lockdown. Nevertheless, it has been a fun and challenging adventure of sorts, in which I have learnt a lot and reflected on new ways of working with circumstances I could not change. Either way, lockdown or not, I hope that this project can contribute in some way to any future design work that touches on the topic of taxes and maybe even inspire other designers to believe that no topic is too boring, complex or unsexy to be explored.
This project is an exploration of how design can help redefine our interactions and engagement with tax. By using a combination of design methodologies, it explores what tax is to people today, what it could be in future and what social technological and environmental elements might be important to consider in designing future tax systems.
With a particular focus on the UK, I apply user-centred research methods to gain insights into how tax, technology and non human life entities currently fit into people's lives, which I then synthesised into design principles. Alongside these principles, I create a range of speculative probes which serve to illustrate and develop different lenses and frictions through which the topic of tax could be approached and mapped. The final result is a more refined proposal for one way in which we might engage with tax differently in society by making it possible for citizens to allocate taxes to things in their surroundings and then track their impact.
While the conclusion of this project has focused into developing a more refined result, I believe the bulk of its value has been in beginning to map a space, which up until now might have felt too complex and difficult for many designers to tackle. Tax is indeed very complex, and while the scope of this project has only allowed me to dip my toe into it, I would like to argue that it should not be neglected by design. On the contrary, as the complexity of tax inevitably collides with increasing digital complexity of our connected world, it is perhaps more important than ever that the field design takes part in any future dialogue, so that it can advocate for user perspective within the wider picture of systemic impact.
In most democracies around the world, taking out a portion of your income earnings to put it into a shared pot for society is something that is legally demanded of those citizens that can afford it. (Carter, B. 2014). Despite this, our understanding of tax and its traceability - what it does and how it contributes to our common society - can often be opaque and hard to trace unless we are educated on the policies around it closely. (Stantcheva, S. 2020)
Moreover, the experience of filing our tax (declaring and paying your fair share according to the rules in the country you live in), is often frustrating, complicated and dull. Whether your taxes are taken out of your income by your employer, or you have to file them yourself, mustering any excitement for this civic duty is often a challenge, especially if you are self employed or run your own business (Agyemang, E. 2019). And when it comes to making political decisions, statements around tax policy and what we view as fair within our values might influence what political party we support and how we make important decisions in our lives. (Tax Foundation)