Legibility as a Design Principle: Surfacing Values in Sensing Technologies

Holly Robbins, Taylor Stone, John Bolte, Jeroen van den Hoven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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This paper introduces the design principle of legibility as means to examine the epistemic and ethical conditions of sensing technologies. Emerging sensing technologies create new possibilities regarding what to measure, as well as how to analyze, interpret, and communicate said measurements. In doing so, they create ethical challenges for designers to navigate, specifically how the interpretation and communication of complex data affect moral values such as (user) autonomy. Contemporary sensing technologies require layers of mediation and exposition to render what they sense as intelligible and constructive to the end user, which is a value-laden design act. Legibility is positioned as both an evaluative lens and a design criterion, making it complimentary to existing frameworks such as value sensitive design. To concretize the notion of legibility, and understand how it could be utilized in both evaluative and anticipatory contexts, the case study of a vest embedded with sensors and an accompanying app for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is analyzed.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages32
JournalScience Technology and Human Values
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • design ethics
  • legibility
  • sensing technologies
  • value sensitive design

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