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Student Showcase Archive

Dr John Fass


  • John Fass
  • Area

    School of Communication


    Research Fellow (LDoc/IBM)

  • Visiting Tutor

    • Information Experience Design
  • John is a fully funded postdoctoral Creative Engagement Research Fellow working with IBM to explore the possibilities of a design language for artificial intelligence and machine learning.  

  • Biography

  • John has a background in photography, shooting architecture globally for editorial and industry. He worked as an interaction and interface designer for ten years for clients including The Wikipedia Foundation, Universal Music, Exxon, Global eHealth Foundation and and others. John has lived and worked as a designer and art director in London, Berlin, Milan and Brussels and exhibited his work at Moderna Museet Stockholm, Bauhaus Dessau, FACT Liverpool, Transmediale Berlin and Bozar, Brussels.
    John’s work as an interaction designer covers diverse fields such as healthcare, engineering and music, but consistently emphasises narrative legibility and clarity of purpose. A guiding principle is the ethical and moral responsibilities of designers of digital technologies and careful consideration of how they intersect with human behaviour. He is currently a design consultant for two major global and national web application projects. 
    John's research interests include the nature of digital experiences and how they may be externalised in physical forms, urban rights and open technologies, interface ethics, and data activism. He has presented research at conferences internationally including: CHI, NordiCHI, DIS, INCITI Recife, IEEE Vis, and DRS.

    As a teacher, John lectures at the Royal College of Art on the Information Experience Design MA. He holds a BA (Hons) in Photography Film, Video and Animation from West Surrey College of Art and Design and an MRes with Distinction in Information Environments from LCC. He recently completed a PhD in design research at the RCA.    

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  • Practice

  • John’s fellowship work positions practice based design research as a way of developing a set of strategies and tactics intended for the designers of digital products to make the workings of algorithmic intelligence more apparent to users.

    The accumulation of enormous quantitative data sets, via digital social media and other systems, paired with recent developments in neural networks and increases in computing power has delivered unexpectedly rapid improvements in what artificial intelligence technologies have been able to achieve (Holmquist, 2017). This means the influence of algorithmic decision making and artificial intelligence on digital products, from social media to financial management, has increased significantly. As these systems start to pervade everyday life, they present a challenge to human understanding. We risk developing highly influential technologies of such complexity and opacity that they surpass our abilities to shape them into forces for the common good.

    The consequences for culture and society are profound. Firstly, the ethical implication of personal data that is captured and used to train an algorithm, designed by a private corporation for unknown purposes involves an imbalance of power. Secondly, the invisibility and opacity of machine learning technologies means access to the means of production is limited to the few people trained and skilled in creating them. Finally, the conscious or automatic manipulation of flows of information via digital products has been shown to be a danger to democratic processes and information equity.

    Involving designers in the development of practices that will help understand and explain what is going on in the interfaces and interactions of digital products that depend on artificially intelligent systems means this research is explicitly participatory in nature. Participatory design research rooted in studio practices is a way of opening the inquiry to the people it is intended to benefit most directly. Design research has not paid detailed attention to this topic in this way although it has been covered in studies related to the ethics and politics of machine learning (de Bruin and Floridi, 2017, Mittelstadt et al, 2016) and in theoretical approaches to interaction design (van Allen and Marenko, 2016). The research will make a contribution to knowledge in the field of design research with respect to strategies and practices for designers of digital products to consider the wider social, moral and political implications of artificial technologies in their designs.    

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  • External collaborations

  • John is working with IBMix studio in London to develop his fellowship research. Other partners include Venture III and RG/A.

    John has been working with r0g agency for open culture in Berlin for the past four years on their ongoing peace building initiatives in South Sudan and elsewhere. This work has focused on the #defyhatenow project countering online incitement to mass violence.

    John sits on the LCC research committee, and research funding scrutiny committee participating in the evaluation and assessment of research proposals from across the college and contributing to the development of research culture in LCC.

    John has also been working with FHPotsdam Interaction Design, most recently as part of an Erasmus teaching exchange.

    John has been a reviewer for CHI, NordiCHI, Research Through Design, and DRS. 

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  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Fass, J., Stopher, B., Verhoeven, E., Revell, T. (2018) Living With Digital Interfaces, Bloomsbury (Pending)

    Fass, J. (2016) Self Constructed Representations, Design Research in Participatory Situations, Cumulus Hong Kong.

    Fass, J. (2014) Physical Social Networks and Visualisation. Death of the Desktop workshop at IEEEVIS 2014.

    Fass, J. (2014) Control And Freedom: Designing For Autonomy, proceedings, Toronto: CHI 2014

    Fass, J. (2014) Adaptation and Input: Defining A Living Curriculum, proceedings, Toronto: CHI 2014

    Fass, J., Walker, K. (2013) Robotic Displays Based on De-Computation, proceedings, Paris: CHI2013

    Fass, J. (2013) Stuff, Self, and Stories: Designing Digital Social Life, proceedings, Paris: CHI2013

    Fass, J. (2013) Revealing The News: How Online News Changes Without You Noticing, proceedings, Cardiff: Future of Journalism

    Fass, J., Dalton, B. (2013) ‘Essay Work and Wellbeing in Digital Public Space’, in Jeremy Myerson and Emily Gee (eds), Time and Motion: Redefining Working Life, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press

    Fass, J. (2012) Media, Database and Narrative: Navigating Digital Public Space, proceedings, iSay, Leicester University

    Fass, J. (2012) Designing For Slow Technology: Intent And Interaction, proceedings, Newcastle: DIS 2012
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  • Awards and Grants

  • AHRC Doctoral award as part of the Creative Exchange partnership supported my PhD research. 

Selected work


Research interests

John’s research interests revolve around the practice of interaction and interface design, particularly with regard to how people experience digital systems. He has contributed to research in the field of human computer interaction, representing experiences using physical models, carrying out participative and public facing design at FACT, the Royal Institute, and in Berlin and Paris. More recently John’s research has been focused on how design should respond to the types of computational automation observable in artificial intelligence and machine learning with specific reference to subject-object relations and how networked technologies are performed through digital interfaces. 

Current and recent research

(2018) Could a crocodile run a steeplechase? Design research and Artificial Intelligence. This project is part of a postdoctoral Creative Engagement Research fellowship that aims to develop an iconographic, interactive, and symbolic design language for artificial intelligence and machine learning, and make the case for design in this field which is cruelty dominated by computer science and legal frameworks.

(2018) Design Competency Futures. This research is a collaboration between LCC and OCADU Toronto that aims, through the articulation of design competencies, to develop a tool for the development of design curricula, and a way for students to track their own development through a design program. This research has been presented at Cumulus Hong Kong, Kolding and Paris and at DRS Limerick.

(2018) Interface Ethics. This research aims to position interface and interaction designers as practitioners able to account for the disparities in power relations inherent in the designers of digital systems and the people who use them. By emphasising a range of design strategies from peer to peer computing, to creative uses of machine learning technologies the project intends to build a set of ethical design practices.

(2017) Representing Digital Experiences. This research was recently conducted in the context of an AHRC funded Creative Exchange PhD at the RCA. The research concentrated on exploring ways people could express their impression of using digital systems from web browsers to image metadata, and social media using visual and physical models.