Adversarial Design

From Design Thinking, Design Theory

Adversarial Design

By Carl DiSalvo

An exploration of the political qualities of technology design, as seen in projects that span art, computer science, and consumer products.





An exploration of the political qualities of technology design, as seen in projects that span art, computer science, and consumer products.

In Adversarial Design, Carl DiSalvo examines the ways that technology design can provoke and engage the political. He describes a practice, which he terms “adversarial design,” that uses the means and forms of design to challenge beliefs, values, and what is taken to be fact. It is not simply applying design to politics—attempting to improve governance for example, by redesigning ballots and polling places; it is implicitly contestational and strives to question conventional approaches to political issues.

DiSalvo explores the political qualities and potentials of design by examining a series of projects that span design and art, engineering and computer science, agitprop and consumer products. He views these projects—which include computational visualizations of networks of power and influence, therapy robots that shape sociability, and everyday objects embedded with microchips that enable users to circumvent surveillance—through the lens of agonism, a political theory that emphasizes contention as foundational to democracy. DiSalvo's illuminating analysis aims to provide design criticism with a new approach for thinking about the relationship between forms of political expression, computation as a medium, and the processes and products of design.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262017381 168 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 25 figures


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262528221 168 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 25 figures


  • There's a new HCI in town, and Carl DiSalvo is one of its most thoughtful proponents. Lively, timely, provocative and inspiring, Adversarial Design sets out a manifesto for engaged design practice that moves beyond usability and sees interactive technology as an active site of civic and political discourse.

    Paul Dourish

    University of California, Irvine; author of Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing

  • In Adversarial Design, Carl DiSalvo discusses a fascinating group of projects that enable agonistic activity within the democratic process. DiSalvo's authoritative account of this work brings valuable new insights to the vital question of how art, design, and technology inform each other in unprecedented ways to achieve political ends.

    Victor Margolin

    Emeritus Professor of Design History, University of Illinois, Chicago

  • This is a great little book about critical design, making design matter again, in practice and public space. In arguing for adversarial design of computational artifacts, Carl DiSalvo goes far beyond the artistic gallery exhibition approach. What is suggested is design that critically opens up controversial and contested issues in society. Such design is openly political, embracing public contestation and dissensus as fundamental aspects of a vibrant democracy.

    Pelle Ehn

    Interaction Design, Malmö University, Sweden

  • Adversarial Design is a sharp and insightful exploration of design's largely untapped potential to be truly political, and is essential reading for any designer striving to move beyond the limitations of current design thinking, discourse and practice.

    Anthony Dunne

    Head of the Design Interactions Programme, Royal College of Art