Value Sensitive Design in Mixed Realities

Augmented Reality (AR), and Augmented Intermediate Layers (AIL) [1] provide a digital overlay to the real world. AR currently consists of head-mounted displays (HMD), mobile devices, or cameras implemented in a “see-through” fashion for a singular user to overlay entertainment media, technical knowledge, or data visualization. In its infancy, Augmented Reality is thought to be poised to be the next great personal technological achievement of the 21st century. With the development of mature software ecosystems to support more advanced and unobtrusive hardware, technologists seem to be foaming at the mouth for the right design and “killer app” that will propel AR into the mainstream, similar to how the iPhone popularized mobile computing in the late 2010s.


Augmented Intermediate Layers is a catch-all term for AR systems that require no input from the user and provide a digital overlay that is both physically and consciously transparent to the user. Think of a window in your kitchen, as you look out this window, digital media is provided in stereoscopic/parallax acute vision transposed to your external environment, projection-mapped in detail on the surrounding natural landscape. The media displayed could range from a recorded memory of an interaction with your children, to ETA data of your grocery delivery. This curated digital vision relies on computational photography and user tracking to provide the invisible illusion of a truly unobtrusive augmented reality. Still in the early stages of development, Augmented Intermediate layers are currently a form of speculative design popularized by theorists such as Auger [3] and Dunne & Raby [2]. By positioning the current design stage of AIL’s as speculative, the designers can affect how the future with AIL’s could be. At this stage, AIL’s can be reconsidered with various design methods in mind.


Values-oriented design methods as well as critical design methods, afford an effective point of intervention at this stage of AIL design work. Avoiding the systematic approach of the sister design method of Value Sensitive Design (VSD), This exploration of values-oriented design will utilize the mode of value identification popularized by JafariNaimi (Parvin) et al. “Values as Hypotheses: Design, Inquiry, and the Service of Values” [4]. This method of design critique asks, “How do values adequately inform design practice if they are sometimes appropriate and sometimes problematic?” [4]. This design method avoids the misguided assumption in VSD that, “the commonplace understanding of values in VSD as what a person or group considers important in life is not serving the values and design community because it emphasizes the identification of values rather than their service in design situations” [4]. That is, the identification and execution of value-oriented design, as opposed to VSD, looks at values of both the designer and user as not something to apply to design, but as a hypothesis to serve situational values. Their design method is akin to how the fictional characters in Star Trek: The Next Generation operate. In this case, Starfleet has directives that allow for the context of organizational and contextual values to be in a constant reconfigurable state. Or in Parvin, et al.’s design vernacular, “In everyday practice we may follow established norms and values. But sometimes we are faced with uncertainty about how to act. In these situations ethical theories function as working hypotheses that help us understand and develop the situation” [4]. Changing circumstances when considering identified design values allow for flexibility that better reflects “Service to the situations of human life and living is the value of values” [4]. With these ideals in mind, we can explore the rubrics that apply do the current design phase and process of AIL’s.


Using value-oriented design as a guide, the first step is the process of Value Discovery. As referenced by Parvin et al.’s research, Flanagan et al., “propose a methodology comprising three distinct activities, including a discovery mode in which values relevant to, inspire, or inform a given design project are identified and defined” [5].  In this case, the user’s context during the interaction of an AIL needs to be considered for values to be discovered. The wants and needs of the user can change as well as what they would value in an AIL. Through machine learning and deep data mining of the user, we may be able to predict and postulate the user’s needs and their value proposition. However, if the user values privacy over convenience, data mining their digital identity may not be an option. We could also consider the socioeconomic values and interests of the user or multiple users of the AIL. This could be done with anonymous metadata scraping of users with similar data.


The next point of values-oriented design intervention would be the “act of translation” [5]. Flanagan et al., according to Parvin et al. describe translation as, “the activity of embodying or expressing these values in system design. The translation is further divided into operationalization, defining or articulating values in concrete terms, and implementation, specifying corresponding design features” [5]. In our design case, we would seek the identified values in the discovery phase to articulate and implement design changes based on the users’ value preferences and needs. The practitioners of the design elements in an AIL would execute this. The values associated with the user’s autonomy may also be found in this translation layer. Does the user wish to have control over the AIL, or would they rather have an automated system determine the layer’s content at any given time or context?  Protecting and balancing autonomy may be a discursive exercise as the difficulty in determining the user’s needs for autonomy may change over time. This would be the most difficult step in the application of value-oriented design.


The design of practical artifacts such as Augmented Intermediate Layers allow for the application of a myriad of design philosophies. Value-oriented design methods allow for a flexible and humanistic approach to AIL design. As this technology is meant to be seamless and invisible to the user, the values of the interactor are crucial to the design of interactive and personalized elements of the artifact. Combined with speculative design methodologies, the development and design of Augmented Intermediate Layers may avoid the potential pitfalls of similar consumer products that are engineer focused without the consideration of the ever-changing contextual needs of user values.




[1]  Phelps, Daniel, director. Augmented Intermediate Layers (AIL) Research. YouTube, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, The Georgia Institute of Technology, 24 Nov. 2020,

[2] Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby. 2013. Speculative Everything. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA; London.


[3] Auger, James. “Speculative Design: Crafting the Speculation.” Digital Creativity, vol. 24, no. 1, 2013, pp. 11–35., doi:10.1080/14626268.2013.767276.


[4] JafariNaimi (Parvin), Nassim, et al. “Values as Hypotheses: Design, Inquiry, and the Service of Values.” Design Issues, vol. 31, no. 4, 2015, pp. 91–104., doi:10.1162/desi_a_00354.


[5] Mary Flanagan, Daniel C. Howe, and Helen Nissenbaum, “Embodying Values in Technology: Theory and Practice,” in Information Technology and Moral Philosophy, Jeroen van den Hoven and John Weckert, ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 334–38.


  • Writing Samples

Avoiding the systematic approach of the sister design method of Value Sensitive Design (VSD), This exploration of values-oriented design will utilize the mode of value identification popularized by JafariNaimi (Parvin) et al.