Exploring values through extreme worlds



Technology and Design

Design phase:



Extended Abstract




In this activity, students reflect on today’s society and its underlying values, more specifically regarding values expressed and evoked through interactive technology, thus opening up a new design space. By designing products, systems, services and interactions in extreme worlds, students reflect on and discuss implicit assumptions regarding values. For example, what could our world look like if we all had dementia or we saw dementia as a blessing? Or what if autism was not seen as a disorder, but simply as another valued way of being in the world?


Most students are unintentionally including many implicit values into their designs. It seems hard to step out of one’s world and question things that seem so natural and generally accepted, such as, for example, considering autism as a disorder. But also the values underlying more everyday situations, for example when interacting with interactive devices like smartphones and tablets, often seem determined by unquestioned boundaries of values related to hedonism, achievement and power.

Designing for extreme worlds is a technique that opens up new perspectives and possibilities by not taking commonly accepted starting points for granted, and questioning the status quo. This can be done by 1) changing paradigms and norms, e.g., designing for extreme worldviews, or 2) by focusing on different people to design for, e.g. designing for extreme characters.

  • Extreme worldviews strongly deviate from prototypical and socially accepted ways of living, and are for now imaginary and speculative, such as a world where everyone has dementia, a world where the average age is 150 years old, or a world where people live in hibernation 9 months per year. This way, conflicting values which we might take for granted can be questioned through designing in this world.
  • Extreme characters are the opposite of prototypical characters from a target group, which often remain emotionally shallow during the design process. Instead, extreme characters have exaggerated emotional attitudes and character traits, such as a drug dealer, the pope or a 3-time Olympic triathlon champion. This way, character traits can be exposed which can be antisocial or in conflict with a person’s status, thus questioning personal values we might take for granted.

On the one hand, this teaching activity can support opening up the design space and the creation of new ideas, and on the other hand it can support the awareness, reflection on and discussion of implicit values in design. Working with extreme worldviews and characters helps to reflect on and discuss implicit assumptions of new design ideas and concepts, by opening up new design spaces that trigger imagination and new views on values. It stimulates reflection on implicit values, questioning of trodden paths, as well as out-of-the-box ideation.


After the teaching activity students will be able to:

  • design for the richness and variety of values, including negative, challenging and extreme aspects, thus opening up the design space within their projects,
  • reflect in and on the underlying values of their designs,
  • question and discuss the implicit values underlying the design brief and their designs.


  • Create a short design brief with the challenge the students will be designing for. Pick a topic for which it is easy to find existing design examples from a “common” context. For example, design a personal digital assistant (PDA)/calendar, a vending machine, or a tea ritual. See the slides provided for examples of design examples and design briefs.
  • Choose one of the two extreme parameters to use: 1) extreme worldviews or 2) extreme characters, and adjust the design brief to make it fit for the extreme parameter. When using extreme characters, it works best when multiple characters are used in the class, where 1 character is assigned to a group of students. When using extreme worldviews, it is possible to choose to use 1 or multiple worldviews in the class. In the latter case, divide the class into groups and assign 1 worldview per group.
  • Collect a few currently existing designs related to the topic and print out 1 design per A4 (an example of various PDA’s/calendars can be found in the slides provided).
  • Create a time schedule for an in-class exercise depending on the amount of available time. For a short version, you can start with a 15 min explanation of the brief and the assignment. Afterwards, give students 1–1,5 hours to create a few 2D or 3D sketches. Plan for 1,5 hours in class to reflect on and discuss the underlying values of the created sketches in comparison to the values of existing designs.
  • Distribute copies of the Schwartz overview of Human Values.
  • Bring or ask the students to bring drawing and tinkering materials and tools to the class, including A3 paper, post-its, pens, pencils, magazines, scissors, glue, 3D scrap material etc.
  • Prepare settings for group work (suggested group size: 3 students).


The teaching activity consists of four steps.

Step 1:

  • Explain the design brief, the time schedule and the underlying rationale for this assignment.

  • Divide students in small teams of three and provide them with an extreme character or worldview for which they will design.

Step 2:

  • Ask the teams to create 3–5 quick design ideas for the provided character or worldview.

  • Let the students select one idea and develop this further, including its appearance and the way of interaction in relation to the underlying values the design should evoke (using the Schwartz overview of Human Values). Finally, let them create a short storyboard/scenario how the design is used. Depending on the materials used, this scenario can either be sketched by the team on an A3 paper, or acted out when the designs are presented and discussed.

Step 3:

  • Let the teams briefly present their designs to each other (1–2 min per team). Meanwhile, all students will write down on a post-it which key value they associate this design with. After all presentations, the post-its with values are collected and attached to the designs.

Step 4:

  • The students develop a value map, by mapping all designs on the floor in correspondence with the Schwartz overview of Human Values, and placing designs with related values close to each other. Thereupon, ask the students to add the print-outs of existing designs (that were printed out on beforehand) to the value map and attach values to these designs too. While creating the value map, the students discuss the differences regarding the position of the designs on the value map, specifically the differences between their designs and the existing designs.

  • After all presentations, the mapping and the plenary discussion on values, a final discussion may take place in order to discuss the implicit values of existing designs, and the benefit of exploring the underlying values of extreme worlds.

  • The value map is documented and made available to all students for them to potentially include and discuss when reporting upon the process.


To assess whether the intended learning outcomes were attained by the teaching activity the following assessment activities can be carried out (in class or after class).


Assess students' learning by asking them to do peer feedback (authentic assessment) with each other and discuss how relevant the design is within the perspective of extreme worlds, as well as how it differs from the prototypical world. Focus on highlighting how the perspective of extreme worlds can help open up the design space, trigger imagination and create reflection on implicit assumptions about values.

Assess students' learning by asking them to write a self-review with a focus on values handled in an activity (formative assessment) around their deliberate awareness of values in the design process, how they are manifested in products and how they impact the life of extreme characters. The review should focus on how extreme worldviews and characters help them reflect on implicit assumptions of design ideas and concepts, gain new views on values and question trodden paths, as well as out-of-the-box ideation.


In the assessment activity ask students to focus on:

  • describing the underlying values of their designs and their impact on everyday life of both extreme and prototypical characters,
  • reflecting on the impact of underlying values in design decisions and evaluations,
  • arguing for how working with extreme worlds and characters help them open up the design space, trigger imagination and create reflection on implicit assumptions about values.


Djajadiningrat, Tom J. P.; Gaver, William W.; and Frens, Joep W. (2000). Interaction relabelling and extreme characters: methods for exploring aesthetic interactions. In Proceedings of the 3rd conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques (DIS '00). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 66–71. http://10.1145/347642.347664

van Dijk, Jelle and Hummels, Caroline (2017). Designing for Embodied Being-in-the-World: Two Cases, Seven Principles and One Framework. In Proceedings of the Eleventh International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction (TEI '17). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 47–56.

Schwartz, Shalom. H. (1992). Universals in the content and structure of values: Theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20 countries. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 25 (p. 1–65). Academic Press. http://10.1016/S0065-2601(08)60281-6

Schwartz, Shalom H. (2017). The Refined Theory of Basic Values. In Roccas, S. and Sagiv, L. (Eds). Values and behavior: Taking a cross-cultural perspective. Cham: Springer. http://10.1007/978-3-319-56352-7



Suggested Assessment Activities: