Matthew Garvin

UX Research, Design, Strategy

Artisanal Futures


The artisan economy is a sector known for its high degree of job satisfaction, sustainability, and diverse workforce. However, it is also known for its low-income levels. With the advent of digital technologies, there is an opportunity to amplify the positive benefits of this sector and develop it into a circular economy. This project aimed to explore the feasibility of using AI and automation to support the artisan economy in a U.S. city suffering from economic decline.

My role

As a UX researcher, my role was to lead the research efforts for this project, which included designing the study, collecting data, analyzing the results, and presenting findings to stakeholders.


The project lasted for four months, from February to May 2022.

Research statement and goals

The primary goal of the study was to understand how artisans perceive success and their relationship to technology. The research statement was as follows:

To explore the perceptions of artisan entrepreneurs on the role of AI and automation in supporting their businesses, with the aim of identifying key opportunities and challenges for technology to contribute to a more just and sustainable economic future.

Methodological overview

The study followed a participatory design approach, involving 20 artisan entrepreneurs seeking modest growth and economic stability. The research methods included a participatory design workshop, semi-structured interviews, and online surveys. The workshop was designed to encourage collaboration and co-creation between the artisans and researchers, with the goal of generating insights and ideas that could inform the development of AI and automation technologies.

Some of the participants at the Artisanal Futures co-design workshop

Co-design workshop

The workshop took place over two consecutive days at our lab facility. The workshop was sponsored by the Generative Justice Lab with funding from the NSF (National Science Foundation grant IIS-2128756).

This site was selected primarily out of convenience. Unlike many PD studies, our artisan participants do not work in the same location, making it impossible for the researchers to go to each workspace. In addition, our activities involve a number of technologies and equipment to assemble a pop-up Makerspace, allowing participants to explore creative new ways to augment their work practice with digital design, digital fabrication, and sensor technologies. Moreover, several of our artisan participants sought the opportunity to visit the university. Thus, the proposed workshop brings the artisans to our design space. Pedersen & Buur (2000), as quoted in (Muller & Druin, 2012) assert that:

When collaborating with users in our design environment, we can invite a number of users from different [plants] and learn from hearing them exchange work experiences…Being in a foreign environment (and with other users), users will tend to take a more general view of things.

The strength of such an approach offers the opportunity to transform the workshop into an “occasion for enfranchisement”. While Muller & Druin (2012) describe this as a rise in more innovative ideas because they were “less tied to specific practices”, we seek to expand innovation within those practice contexts.

Participant recruitment occurred during previous methods (survey pre-test and contextual inquiry).

These participants are drawn from a variety of backgrounds, but coalesce around a few broad areas: textiles, horticulture, and education. More specifically, our artisan participants include a fashion designer, a sewist, a felt artist, a boutique owner, a visual storyteller, a master gardener, a landscaper, a farmer, 2 directors for an arts education after-school program, and co-founders of a new community gardening project in Detroit. All of these participants are African American.

The author (identifying as a white man) will serve as facilitator. Other members of our lab will be in attendance to assist participants with the design activities. Members of the advisory board from our larger study were invited to attend remotely and pair up with participants to further assist with the mapping activity.

Welcome and Introductions

I divided into several parts, with participants working individually or with a partner. First, participants were welcomed and do brief introductions. Next, the PI from our larger study (Dr. Eglash) introduced the lab’s previous work on artisan-focused human-machine collaboration, and our intent to support Black artisans’ interest in advancing their entrepreneurial ventures with technological adaptations. Participants then were given the opportunity to introduce any terms and concepts that specifically pertain to their particular craft. These terms will be solicited prior to the workshop, printed out as reference materials, and placed at each table.

Mapping Value Chains

The second part will commence following a short break. Artisan participants will be paired with an advisory board or research team member for the Value Mapping activity. This activity adapts Porter’s (2001) generic value chain analysis (Fig. 2). However, because the artisan participants are small-scale rather than running large operations, the 5 primary activities (inbound logistics, operations, outbound logistics, marketing & sales, service) were reduced to three (inputs, process, outputs) (see below).

Porter’s generic value chain (Porter, 2001).

Furthermore, support activities (firm infrastructure, human resource management, technology development, procurement) from Porter (2001) were modified to: business structure, people, tools & technology, interactions & transactions, and cultural & experiential knowledge. Moreover, Porter’s value chain presumes a linear process more typical of extractive economies. For data collection purposes, identifying a logical beginning and end-point is not of particular interest. Rather, the focus of the mapping exercise is to identify the networks of interactivity going on, and discuss the relationships between the people, places, and things that make up the artisan’s current assemblages and entanglements. Orr’s (1990, 2006) technique of sharing ‘war stories’ can help facilitate this process. We will encourage artisans to describe stories that center around past jobs well done and challenges that were overcome. These are the stories that people tell and retell about themselves and their experiences. Storytelling is a crucial component of the ‘telling’ aspect of Participatory Design. The ‘war stories’ framing has proven to be a rich data source yielding clues to the speaker’s priorities, values, and attitudinal perspectives (Brandt et al., 2012). Through the telling and retelling of war stories, people tend to retain only the most important information of concern to them. As such, these stories can convey the speaker’s attitude toward the event (Brandt et al., 2012; Linde, 2001); and are “well suited to transmit the part of social knowledge that concerns history, values and identity” (Linde, 163).

We first had participants map out their process over the course of collecting inputs, making, and their outputs. We asked them to consider the cultural and experiential knowledge that they utilize in their craft. We decided for the purposes of this workshop that the “thinking, feeling, doing” section wasn’t necessarily useful for our goals of finding points of extraction and opportunities to support the artisan with technological solutions that can catalyze and grow a generative economy. We captured this by having participants go over their maps with highlighters. Green represents the satisfying parts of the process that are aspects of the vision for the generative economy that we want to preserve. The yellow areas represent the neutral and low-priority areas according to the artisan. And finally, the pink highlighter represents the extractive areas in which the artisan would specifically like support.

Participants break into small work groups to think through technical requirements

Analysis and synthesis process

The data collected from the workshop, interviews, and surveys were analyzed using thematic analysis. The analysis revealed common themes in the artisan’s perception of success and their relationship to technology. These themes included the importance of community, sustainability, and authenticity, and the need for technology to support rather than replace their craft.

Outputs and deliverables

The outputs of the study included a report summarizing the research findings, a set of design principles for developing AI and automation technologies that support the artisan economy, and a set of design concepts that illustrate how these principles could be applied in practice. The report was presented to stakeholders, including artisans, policymakers, and technology developers.


The study provided valuable insights into how AI and automation could support the artisan economy, and the role that artisans should play in guiding innovation in this area. The design principles and concepts developed through the study have the potential to inform the development of new technologies that support the artisan economy, contributing to a more just and sustainable economic future.

In addition to the deliverables, we presented the results to the NSF, and continue to present updates on this work at conferences around the world and publish chapters in anthologies (see next section below).


Eglash, R., Bennett, A., Robert, L., Robinson, Garvin, M.  Computational Reparations as Generative Justice: Decolonial Transitions to Unalienated Circular Value Flow. Ms under review,  Big Data & Society.

Garvin, M., Eglash, R., Robinson, K., Robert, L., Guzdial, M., Bennett, A. (2022).  Counter-hegemonic AI: the role of artisanal identity in the design of automation for a liberated economy. [In press]

Ron Eglash, Lionel Robert, Audrey Bennett, Kwame Robinson, Matthew Garvin, Deborah Hammond-Sowah (2022) “Navigating the open/closed spectrum: the need for layered access in platforms for generative justice,” 72nd Annual ICA Conference


Overall, the study was successful in achieving its goals and generating valuable insights and ideas. However, one challenge was the limited number of participants, which may limit the generalizability of the findings. Nonetheless, the study highlights the importance of involving artisans in the design of technology that affects their work, and the potential for AI and automation to support a more sustainable and equitable economy.


Brandt, E., Binder, T., & Sanders, E. B. N. (2012). Tools and techniques: Ways to engage telling, making and enacting Routledge international handbook of participatory design (pp. 165-201). Routledge.

Linde, C. (2001). Narrative and social tacit knowledge. Journal of Knowledge Management.

Muller, M. J., & Druin, A. (2012). Participatory design: The third space in human–computer interaction. In The Human–Computer Interaction Handbook (pp. 1125–1153). CRC Press.

Porter, M. E. (2001). The value chain and competitive advantage. Understanding Business Processes, 2, 50–66.

Orr, J. E. (1990). Talking about machines: An ethnography of a modern job. Cornell University.

Orr, J. E. (2006). Ten years of talking about machines. Organization Studies, 27(12), 1805–1820.

Star, S. L., & Ruhleder, K. (1996). Steps toward an ecology of infrastructure: Design and access for large information spaces. Information Systems Research, 7(1), 111–134.

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