Trax: better engagement with taxes through increased agency and transparency

Umeå Institute of DesignGreat Britain

Connecting, Disrupting

Concept / Student

Team

Connie Jehu

Overview

Tax is a give and take system that binds our society together as humans by providing infrastructures and services that we all rely on. However, tax touchpoints are often designed for the system rather than the user – the processes and traceability around tax, as well as how it contributes to our shared spaces and society can often feel complex, opaque or invisible to the individual. Could we reimagine our relationship with it? And how might our connected environments offer new ways for us to interact with it?

Trax is a system which works towards helping people of different ages engage with the benefits of taxes through increased agency and transparency. With tax tokens, people are given a direct say into where a portion of budgets are allocated. They can then track the journey of their taxes and see their impact manifest in the everyday.

With this project, the goal was to dive into the complexity of tax and see if this intrinsically human system could be reframed to be more engaging for people as well as more inclusive and caring for non-human life entities. By combining user and life centred methodologies with speculative thinking, Trax fosters a better understanding and traceability of tax systems, and highlights the value of shared contributions. On a wider impact level, this encourages a better sense of belonging within human societies and the ecosystems they rely on.

Project Description

Tax is a give and take system that binds our society together as humans by providing infrastructures and services that we all rely on. Despite this, the processes and traceability around tax, as well as how it contributes to our shared spaces and society can often feel complex, opaque or invisible. Can it really be considered democratic if it is so often hard to engage with?

Studies in participatory budgeting have shown that tax engagement increases when people are given more of a direct say in where taxes are spent. Could we reimagine our interactions and relationship with it? And how might our connected environments offer new ways for us to interact with each other and the larger give and take ecosystems we also rely on?

Trax, is a system which allows people to engage with the value of taxes to the individual, society and the environment. By allocating ‘tax tokens’ people of different ages are given more agency into where a portion of budgets should go to in their local area. People can then trace the journey of their allocated tax tokens and see their indirect impact on the everyday infrastructures and ecosystems around them. By leveraging tracking and AR technologies, the benefits of your taxes can then be made physically visible around you in a fun and engaging way, bringing an awareness of the abstract concept of tax contributions directly into the real everyday world around us.

As a system which is traditionally supposed to serve humans, it made sense initially to approach this project from a user centred perspective. Having carried out ethnographic research, I applied research through design methodologies, to establish different design lenses by generating a series of different speculative probes which helped map the design space. Life-centred thinking also helped reframe this intrinsically human system to take into account the natural ecosystems and non-human entities we are dependent on. However ‘human centred’ the challenge might seem, I believe we should always strive to design within the complex interconnected ecosystems we rely on to survive sustainably.

To make design decisions, I also speculated with users on the potential long term positive and negative impacts it could have on individuals and society. How much of a direct say do we want to give people into where their taxes go and what does transparency really mean in this context? What could be the unintended consequences of this? And how can we include non-human life, if at all? Generating provocations and probes around these questions with users was a key in defining the features of Trax.

Trax challenges us to rethink the way we interact with tax to make it more engaging, inclusive and ultimately more democratic. Through enriching interactions with tax, citizens of different generations can become more aware of the personal benefits of shared contributions and systemic impact in their immediate environment. Over time, this can contribute to an increased sense of community and belonging with their human and non human neighbours.

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