In architecture, the primacy of function over form was one of the core tenets of the Bauhaus School of Design. In Information Systems, function is critical, yet so many systems fail to deliver hoped for benefits. Badly designed, acquired imitatively for their symbolic, magical power, they represent a form of kitsch. To illustrate this, we describe a major national IS initiative in the UK, the Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS). Set up to ensure that only “suitable” adults would ever work with children and vulnerable adults, the Scheme became subject to increasing criticism for its intrusiveness and illiberality, and was suspended at the point of implementation in 2010. Here we expose the kitsch-ness of the Scheme as a meretricious imitation of the sort of diagnostic test used in medicine. We show how its inevitable dysfunctions outweighed its hypothetical benefits, which were largely magical and symbolic in nature. That the VBS attracted such little critical comment from IS scholars is significant, suggesting two biases (pro-business and pro-technology) in IS research which should be put right. We argue that kitsch can be combatted by practising design along principles akin to those of the Bauhaus. Our field can contribute to this, but our infatuation with theory, in itself a form of kitsch science, stands in the way of a closer relationship with practice.


Design kitsch public services Bauhaus information systems magic 


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Copyright information

© IFIP International Federation for Information Processing 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Wastell
    • 1
  • Sue White
    • 2
  1. 1.Nottingham University Business SchoolNottinghamUK
  2. 2.School of Social Policy, Institute of Applied Social StudiesUniversity of BirminghamUK

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