Embracing Seamfulness and Uncertainty in Designing around Hidden Algorithms

Eslami, Motahhare; Karahalios, Karrie

While algorithms play an influential role in users’ online everyday life, they are usually housed in black-boxes. Users’ lack of awareness of algorithms’ operation (and even existence) and the potential biases these algorithms might introduce to users’ experience call for adding transparency into algorithmic interfaces. We describe a design style which advocates for seamfulness and uncertainty in the design of algorithmic interfaces. This design incorporates seams into an algorithmic system and prompts users to actively engage with the algorithm to gain some overall, but not necessarily certain, understanding of an algorithm. We further discuss the benefits and challenges of the uncertainty that this design brings to users’ experience.