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Key learning from the pandemic is to enhance focus on large scale infrastructure;

Chandigarh:The global COVID-19 pandemic has raised new questions about designers’ roles in responding to situations during times of systemic breakdowns and disruptions. There has been an increased visibility of and attention towards large-scale infrastructures, which include hospital systems, international supply chains for personal protective equipment, vaccine research and approval protocols, privacy and security systems of video conferencing services, and many others.
Elaborating on this shift Charithra Sathyanarayanan, a Senior User Experience Designer, Deloitte Consulting . said, “We typically think of infrastructures as static substrate upon which things just run smoothly. Think of railroad tracks or fiber optic cables. They are just there for us to use. But Infrastructure, by an alternate view, has never been static and has always been evolving with the needs of the times it exists in.”
“Susan Leigh Star and Karen Ruhleder, Prominent design Scholars and Practisioners have elaborated on this alternate view. They have highlighted many dimensions of this evolution of infrastructure, the 3 most prominent of those being Physical and Social Structures, Reach and Scope, Crisis and Breakdowns”, Charithara further added.
1. Physical and Social Structures : These impose on the infrastructure and make them comply with the changes in the Physical and social structure that exist with the times. For eg, Household used Fibre optic cables are also bound by Global Network structures and standards with stipulations on manufacturing, use, layout etc., which are very often not even realised or also uninteresting for users to care about. 
2. Reach and Scope:  Infrastructures often span vast distances and consist of layers that have been added over long periods of time. The London Underground is an example of an infrastructure that has developed over centuries.
3. Crises and Breakdowns: Infrastructures and their sufficiency or more pronouncedly their inadequacies are exposed during the times of Crisis or Breakdowns. The onset of the global pandemic exposed the inadequacies of the medical infrastructure, the ability of the research infractructure in developing a vaccine or the under-preparedness of the manufacturing to produce the requisite number of Masks.
What designers can learn from these perspectives on Breakdowns and Infrastructures is discussed further and illustrated through the lens of a case study.
Case Study 1: Breakdowns and Gentrification
Gentrification being the process of uplifting the demographic and economic standards of a historically neglected neighbourhood normally has an implication of progress to some while it means displacement and disempowerment to others. One of the authors of this articles studied this phenomenon in the Midtown Savannah, Georgia alongwith a team of designers, researches and residents with an objective to mitigate the negative effects of Gentrification.
The Midtown district in particular has historically been subjected to disinvestment, which has resulted in increased poverty, limited food availability, failing public transportation systems, and elevated unemployment and crime. To some extent this can be seen as a long-term breakdown in social and economic infrastructure. At the same time, it can also be viewed as a breakdown in policymaking, the original intent of which was to bring prosperity the community. One of things researchers observed is that the residents of the Midtown district often refused to maintain and fix their houses and were depriving themselves of even basic amenities. This was not only because they could not afford it but also because it was a way for them to push back against gentrification. This was a different kind of breakdown; that of trust and communication between the local government and residents of the community. Upon investigating further, the team discovered a local artist who was born and raised in Midtown Savannah, and whose work reflected the belief that art and physical spaces could help in preserving and restoring connections among people. One of her quotes that was memorable to the team was that “Street art is a voice of voiceless people”. Street art can transform and revive abandoned buildings into revitalized public spaces, where people can engage with each other and feel a sense of greater participation with their local community. Here we can view street art as an alternative means of communication that emerges within the cracks infrastructural breakdowns. The team used this insight as inspiration to design a space that is conducive for alternative voices like this to emerge, creating the potential for positive change and civic engagement. One such space, called Community Boards, were a series of planned installations that celebrated the history of the neighbourhood and the often marginalized voices of those that lived in Midtown Savannah. The purpose of these installations was to create awareness and a stronger sense of identity and empowerment within the neighbourhood. While we do not claim that this project solved gentrification in this case, the project shows how infrastructural breakdowns present opportunities for designers to develop unique insights towards common systemic problems and lead to alternative solutions to address them. 
Highlighting the learning and implications for service designers Charithra said, case studies are a wonderful way for serviced designers to appreciate infrastructures in new and different ways. We have focused our analysis based on what breakdowns can reveal about the social and technical systems that make up the infrastructures we all depend on.”
Implications for Service Design
Limits of Human Empathy. First, our cases study showed that design for infrastructures, especially those that are large-scale, comes with implied limits into how much we can understand about the people and their contexts that are a part of said infrastructures. Conventional design uses empathy as a cornerstone of success. However, since, as we have seen, infrastructures are embedded within systems of systems, human empathy can only reveal so much. This calls for a different kind of understanding, one that compliments traditional empathy by also focusing on the understanding of complex non-human systems such as manufacturing protocols, procurement standards, business arrangements, local cultural contexts, and so on.  
Highlighting not Hiding Breakages. While designers want to avoid breakages in the services and products they design for, they should resist the urge to hide and “resolve” them when representing certain systems. We can’t always solve breakages and when breakages do happen, they affect different people in different ways. Designers should strive to find ways to account for breakages in more nuanced and inventive ways. For example, how might we represent breakages on service blueprints that go beyond attempting to smooth things over? 
Breakage as Design Constraint. More broadly, based on the first two implications, we can begin to think about breakages in systems as a kind of design constraint that challenges designers themselves to work differently. Breakage is not something we can always avoid or solve. However, they do allow us to see structures, systems and human values that are either invisible or much more difficult to understand when everything is working properly as intended. Designers should be more proactive in planning for these plausible futures and incorporate systemic breakdown scenarios more directly in their design processes. This will not only serve as a means of “stress testing” a product or service in its current state, but can also encourage designers to imagine alternatives that are more robust and responsive to uncertainty. Finally, designers should be more attuned to infrastructure breakdowns in their day-to-day practice and observations. 

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