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How to build a hive?

Feminist HCI Design - can a web site emancipate? Article reviewed by Dr Cecile Chevalier (July 2023)

Published onJul 11, 2023
How to build a hive?
old style illustration of the parts of a bee

Bijen - Museon, Netherlands - CC BY.

The Full Stack Feminism in Digital Humanities (FSFDH) research project is building a FSFDH toolkit which will be a web-based collection that can be applied by Digital Humanities (DH) communities and organisations to help create more inclusive and representative digital tools, archives, and projects. A core resource and method that I am applying to this work draws from Shaowen Bardzell’s seminal 2010 Feminist Human Computer Interaction paper. This article aims to provide a synopsis of Bardzell’s work within the context of the FSFDH project. Despite such a strong framework being proposed by Bardzell in 2010 there is still a paucity of understanding regarding its implication within real world practice and established heteronormative digital systems. User design is a practical field that works toward a nexus of praxis in a utopian ideal of an imagined user, but who among us consider ourselves “ideal”? The concept of of an ideal user and its distance from embodied reality of the individual is evidence that as Bardzell (2010) points out that sometimes in evoking a user, the human can get lost.

I think of Laura Forlano’s 2016 paper, Hacking the Feminist Disabled Body here. Forlano’s paper talks of the embodied cyborg experience of being a type 1 diabetic and relying on competing proprietary systems. Forlano (2016) critiques masculinist approaches to hacking and instead seeks a feminist ethics of engagement which is less solution focused and instead pays more attention to the embodied experiences and practices engaging with socio-technical systems taking particular note of invisible labour and structural inequalities. How can we transfer a qualitative embodied interaction experience as evoked by Forlano (2016) into an interface design approach? As my research into the field of intersectional digital humanities deepens, it occurs to me that a feminist HCI approach results in better and more rigorously designed digital solutions and so should be implemented in all digital design processes. However, it must be noted that it is not an approach that situates speed and profit at its core. To return to Bardzell (2010), she outlines qualities of feminist interaction as starting points for feminist HCI design, these are pluralism, participation, advocacy, ecology, embodiment, and self-disclosure.

There exist some examples of web based projects that use Bardzell’s (2010) feminist HCI framework such as Archive of Our Own a fan fiction archive made by the community for the community. Below you can view a talk about this at the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in San Jose, CA, United States, May 7-12, 2016 by Casey Fiesler, Shannon Morrison, Amy S. Bruckman

An Archive of Their Own: A Case Study of Feminist HCI and Values in Design

Bardzell (2010) lists participation, advocacy, ecology, pluralism, embodiment and self disclosure as values of feminist HCI design. I discuss below these values and how I have or will relate them to the FSFDH toolkit. The value in such as approach is to offer alternative methodologies of archival development in the field of Digital Humanities (DH) in order to counteract heteronormative bias in the digital bricks and mortar of the field. This will help to enhance and develop a more diverse and inclusive DH and expand access to, and engagement with digital cultural heritage that incorporates new feminist approaches and praxis. This project responds to recent work (e.g. Bordalejo & Risam, 2020) which highlights and challenges the inherited culture of structural inequalities that impact the creation of data, tools, infrastructure, digital cultural heritage, as well as DH communities

Participation – the design approach needs to be participatory and inclusive with the involvement of all stakeholders, that demonstrates a respect for the expertise of different perspectives no matter the background. The FSFDH project has conducted extensive interviews with community archivists, FemTech practitioners, Digital humanities Scholars, and digital artists. The findings from these interviews have fed into the design of the FSFDH toolkit and this cohort of interviewees will also be called up for the first round of user testing of the FSFDH toolkit prototype.

Advocacy – the ethical dilemma of design arises from its foundation on empirical research, while this is required for a rigorous approach it means that we work within the status quo, as such it places user-based design at the risk of perpetuating harmful practices. Bardzell’s (2010) therefore suggests quality of advocacy to engage with this dilemma and to seek to bring about political emancipation and to force designers to incorporate participatory approaches and to ask themselves what an improved society might be. Once the FSFDH toolkit is finalised (although the hopes are that it will be an ongoing project for the future) we would like it to be used by policy holders to make real world impact on the way in which web based digital systems such as cultural archives and collections are developed.

Ecology - Bardzell’s (2010) draws on systems theory (Kripendorff, 2006) and interaction design (Blevis, 2007) for this term and uses it to refer to an awareness of the impact of the design object on the world and objects around it. This can refer to social aspects but also environmental factors and she argues that this should continue into all aspects gender, class etc. Given the FSFDH project situates intersectional feminism as a core methodology, consideration of the impact of the toolkit on the society it inhabits is very much a foundational concept from inception to publication.

Pluralism - a design method that moves design solutions to the margins away from a central normative “universal” approach that seeks to homogenise humankind rather than recognise the variety of differences that lie at the core of people’s methods of use. As such the FSFDH project, when possible, develops open source browser based digital solutions that require less “updates” as opposed to market driven closed systems such as apps. A simpler design that will work across as many platforms as possible which does not require its user to have the most up to date device and software to view.

Embodiment - HCI research such as Dourish (2001) considers the philosophical concept of embodiment and attempts to remember our bodies and selves in the human computer interaction process. Embodied HCI can be a way of remembering the human part of human computer interaction which had perhaps skewed a little too much towards the computer side of things and a normative western ideal of a user. Contemporary turns consider human subjectivities also and Bardzell’s (2010) argues that more attention needs to be paid the the different ways that gender can impact different experiences of embodiment in our interactions with the machine. In situating embodiment within posthuman theories such as those from Haraway (19991) and Hayles (1999) can help us break down binary concepts which can also connect us the feminist HCI value of plurality. Human subjectivities and embodiment are very much considered by the FSFDH toolkit and will continue to be throughout all aspects of the development process.

Self Disclosure - calls awareness to the algorithms and processes at play, self disclosure informs users about the ways their data is being used and can potentially allow them to modify their behavior or even the algorithm accordingly. Self disclosure is about making the invisible visible the way many open source projects do. With reference to the FSFDH toolkit, it will concern making our development processes and engagements clear.

Bearing in mind the core values of feminist HCI as discussed above the FSFDH team developed a site map. Below you can see a draft of our site map for our Toolkit, as you can see it has many different entry points and platforms which makes it’s a challenging project to design a coherent interface design for. However the challenging aspect of its platform pluralism is also its strength as the hope is that it is providing a plurality of entry points to the content. One part I wish to highlight is the objects and stories where will situate the digital artist’s work which is being developed at the moment by our two artists in residence, Roibi O’Rua and Jamila Prowse.

To conclude, consideration of feminist values in HCI design is a challenging process given the non-feminist values of most online systems, nonetheless it is a process that has value and for which there are solutions. Conisderation of teh platforms you use is paramount in order to envoke teh Full Stack method that seeks to incorporate feminist values not just at the front end but from the very get go at inception and back end technologies. The FSFDH project is launching its beta version of its toolkit shortly and at that point moving to the next stage of USER testing it will be essential to continue to embed feminist values in the process. As previously mentioned this is not an approach that situates speed and profit at its core, but it can allow time and space for voices to be heard and thought into development processes.


Bardzell. (2010). “Feminist HCI: taking stock and outlining an agenda for design”. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '10). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1301–1310.

Blevis, E. Sustainable interaction design: Invention & disposal, renewal & reuse. Proc. of CHI’07, ACM Press (2007), 503-512.

Dourish, P (2001) Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction, MIT Press,

Fiesler, C. Morrison, S. and Bruckman, A. S. (2016) “An Archive of Their Own: A Case Study of Feminist HCI and Values in Design”. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '16). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 2574–2585.

Forlano, L. (2016). “Hacking the Feminist Disabled Body.” Journal of Peer Production. Special Issue on “Feminist (Un)Hacking.”

Haraway, Donna J. (1991) “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, New York: Routledge, 149-181.

Hayles, N. Katherine. (1999) “How We Became Posthuman”. 74th ed., University of Chicago Press.

Krippendorff, K. (2006) “The Semantic Turn: A New Foundation
for Design”. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, 2006.

Cecile Chevalier:

maybe a conclusion … or moving forward …. section, going through the work we have done with FSF, what new questions it raised in relation to Fem HCI?

Cecile Chevalier:

is there a hyperlink ? as this will come across abstract … or to say what the toolkit is?

Cecile Chevalier:

maybe and how they help dev fem hci ? or other points that we have raised collectively?

Cecile Chevalier:


Cecile Chevalier:

maybe to link with previous sentence for softer transition…