Another day, another research poster: I decided the previous one would make an ok conference poster, but that I could have a little more fun with the inter department poster. This features Nina the Russian Psykokinesis lady using her powers to transform a 3D object. She was a FAKE! but my research participant will be able to do something similar FOR REAL sometime in early summer.

Pencil Icon

What follows are some reflections on research, behaviour change, and domestic energy use. Enjoy!

For my masters degree I researched domestic energy use, and in particular, how feedback of information about your energy use might affect your consumption. I went into this research expecting to design a physical artefact so engaging - it would hit all the buttons - that any user would be seduced by the thing into behaving more sustainable. This was an Ma after all - any lesser outcome was unthinkable. The arrogance and naiveté astounds me now - in fact it did by the end of the research, so I guess the Ma was a worthwhile endeavour, if only for the fact that it resulted in a slightly less arrogant designer in the world.

What actually occurred during the Ma was that I started to think a lot more about people, their motivations and values, how these are formed, and the structures that influence them. By extension, I also learnt a lot about myself. Once immersed in the research I realised that this was what I had come to do, and had always intended to do, although I probably couldn’t of articulated it at the beginning. The Ma gave me space and permission to explore.

These progressive perceptual and conceptual advances on my behalf were not entirely self-initiated; the contextual studies element of the Ma helped great. The lecture (Adrian) was never less than engaging and covered some really interesting topics. This was where I first came across the notion of habitus and theories about class structures and their formation. All this helped inform the direction my research took, and initiated a desire to learn more.

The research I carried out into domestic energy took the form of workshops and interviews. They revealed the complex relations and interactions taking place in domestic environments. Looking back it feels like I entered into this research with the view that we are all rational actors - the economics fallacy. I sort of knew that we aren’t, but by the end of the workshops and interviews, I really understood that rationality played only a small part in our decision making. At first I was exasperated at some of the participants descriptions of their actions, but I started to realise that it was my ideological eco worldview that made it a problem. ‘Letting go’ became easy and inevitable shortly afterwards. I’ll write more about what I mean by this in the future.

The workshops were such good fun, and really made explicit peoples actions and interactions, so much so that they became the main focus and output from my Ma. Instructions were laid down about how to run a workshop and presented in print and online. Some of the outcomes from the workshops were described and presented in a separate little pamphlet. One of them is the reason I am writing this piece.

My research illustrated the potential for making non-obvious links between different aspects of life and how value (we are seeing a lot of this now with Big Data) can transfer from one interaction to another. Specifically, I was interested in the obligation on behalf of energy providers to spend a portion of their profits on measures that can be shown to reduce co2 emissions. At the time this typically manifested in the mass hand out of energy efficient CF light bulbs. More recently, the same thing has happened with energy meters (the original focus of my Ma). I started to think about how behaviour change is incentivised, and how the incentives might not need to be directly connected with energy or eco iconography.

During one of the workshops somebody described how they would probably rather receive a cake rather than some worthy or monetary reward for their energy saving behaviour. An idea was sketched out for a company whose remit was to identify great experiences that could be offered as rewards for behaviours deemed of value (to organisations). It was to work as a kind of lottery - the reward might be disproportionate to the action undertake by the individual - the element of surprise and delight, was to be the main driver. People would be able to opt in or out depending upon their likelihood to be delighted by such things. An example might be in order here:

  • Person reduces her gas use by 5% compared with the same period in the previous year ——> She receives tickets to sold out show of Swan Lake at local theatre.

  • Person reduces overall energy consumption ——> small theatre company shows up during their lunch hour and performs a mini impromptu version of the taming of the shrew at their place of work. Or gets sent flowers. Or receives a tray of elaborate cup-cakes. Or has their car valeted. Or is whisked off in a taxi to seaside having been given the day off - prearranged with boss.

The ideas above are ridiculously unimaginative and middle class. nevertheless, the idea was that filling a room with creative event manager/experience designer types would yield the identification and creation of delightful experience that people would talk about (social media naturally) for weeks. The participant good behaviour would be made explicit for all to see (locally and social media).

Some of the new connections that can be made within IFTTT got me thinking about this again. IFTTT started out enabling actions based on connections between different online platforms - e.g., if I tweet something with the #facebook tag, then the tweet would be included on my Facebook timeline. Now, with the creation of web enabled physical computing devices (the internet of things), connections can be made between physical real world actions and the virtual. Another example - if I am still at work ofter 7pm, my lights will turn on in my home (Philips lighting IFTTT integration and GPS location). Jawbone Up functionality can connect your physical activity to any other action.

If a company that specialised in creating creative rewards was set up, funded by bodies with an obligation to fund behaviour change initiatives, much of the infrastructure is in place to monitor the metrics used to identify progressive behaviours. Maybe we’ll see something like this in the future - non-explicit rewards for behaviour change. I’d certainly like to explore it further from an ethical POV, and research its potential effectiveness: who would be swayed by it? are the changes sustainable? are there rebound effects?

Pencil Icon

The following questions have started to become very prescient over the last week or two. I’ll soon be exploring the potential role additive manufacture (AM) could play in create enduring products. Really great to secure this opportunity. I hope this blog becomes a hotbed of great research in the field of design for emotion and AM.

  • What process does AM* facilitate that can lead to the personalisation of an object?

  • What capabilities inherent in AM can be utilised in order to personalise an object?

  • What attributes of AM uniquely suit it to personalising objects.

  • What attributes of AM potentially exclude it from being suited to creating personalised objects?

  • What kind of data can be used in the AM of an object to personalise it?

  • Of the different ways of collecting information (which I am calling Ambient and Explicit - more on that later), which can be used most effectively in the personalisation of an object?

  • To what extent is uniqueness valued? Has it been shown to strengthen product attachment?

  • Does uniqueness facilitate a secure sense of identity?

  • Any object through circumstance can come to be cherished. What are the differences between a cherished object and a personalised object? (Note: the designer would seem to have little influence here).

  • That idea from future factories of participants explaining to family members that they made the object on display, despite having only had a minimal input to the design of the object.

Pencil Icon

AM thoughts

Technologies develop and mature in time. By this I mean that they do not exist outside of, or divorced from, the period in time in which they were created. Technologies are developed to meet needs either real or imagined, or explicitly to create new ones. Different groups use technologies for different reasons: The business owner might look at a technology and wonder how it could be used to create value that could lead to capital accumulation. Indeed, they may develop technology explicitly to do so. Another group might see a technology’s potential for making the life of the group better. Yet another group might decide to act on behalf of the environment and use a technology to repair or relieve burden on eco-spheres.

Note: What other factors affect the uptake of technologies?

If these assumptions are valid, then Additive Manufacture (AM) will almost certainly be used by different groups in different ways. Being a robot (an example of a fixed capital resource as opposed to variable capital: the waged worker) a 3D printer essentially performs the work of a skilled trades-person. The workers manual dexterity, (honed and acquired over time), manufacturing knowledge, tool handling ability, and machine setting skills are all devalued by the existence of 3D printers. As AM improves, these skills will devalue further. This is a seductive to the capitalist (at least in the short term) since it gives them the ability to create goods, and therefore value, in a reliable way with fixed overheads. Apparently, this shift from variable capital to fixed capital is one of the main ways in which capitalists reduce the cost of production, and therefor remain competitive and able to evade being taken over by rivals. The reduced cost of manufacture may result in cost reductions to the consumer, but it is not guaranteed.

Technology can be used to improve the quality of life (QOL) for individuals: A 3D printed hip and socket might yield immense QOL improvements for an individual. But how is this offset against the fact that the individual had their livelihood eroded by the same robot that made the replacement hip?

Products created using 3D printing posses a recognisable aesthetic of their own. These parts could perhaps be seen as primitive in their un-finished form when compared to products created using mass manufacturing techniques. Injection moulding and CNC machining (a good example is Apple’s aluminium products) allows for the creation of dimensionally accurate parts with high quality surface finishes.

Culturally, these characteristics came to imbued the owner with status due to the difficulty, and therefore cost, of the manufacturing processes. The owner could only afford such items if they were successful and or wealthy.

This latter point introduces us to Sterling’s idea that products are Frozen Social Relationships. By this I believe Sterling to be describing how products the embodiment - the end result - of a set of incredibly complex human relationships. These could be decoded by the skilled investigator: clues about the cultures that produced them, and clues about the value chains that lead to their creation.

Objects posses a use value that is in direct proportion to their functional value to an individual. They also posses cultural value in their ability to imbue the owner with certain characteristics resulting from their aesthetic or material properties. Patina is a good example of a cultural source of value. Highly polished items used to indicate status due to the fact that such finishes were typically only possible on high value materials. In addition, achieving a highly polished surface took a considerable amount of time, again imbuing an object with value resulting from the labours of the crafts-person. Patina - the accretion of small surface marks, indicative of wear from prolonged use - further implied status since any family that could keep such high-value items in their possession long enough to accumulate such markings had clearly never seen hard times. Patina was such a powerful signifier of stability and good judgment that it is still valued in many cultures today.

Frozen Social Relationship can be take literally as the object that results from a series of relationships between individuals, companies and users: Materials are mined, artefacts are designed, knowledge is created, research is carried out, objects are made and shipped, demands are met, amongst a myriad of associated activities. AM could profoundly disrupt these relationships. Objects could be made in a distributed (regional) fashion very different to the centralised models currently used. Robust regional AM resources could see useful products being made independently of traditional manufacturers, and taken further, AM could be deployed very locally.

Sites like Thingiverse point to open-hardware and open-source modes of creation that could see the much of a persons material needs (in the form of products) met through IP free designed objects. Free from the monetary need of companies to recoup R&D costs, marketing/brand overheads, locally sourced AM derived products could prove to be significantly less costly for the consumer than mass manufactured products. This radically alters the relationships which led to the creation of artefacts.

One of the benefits of low cost AM derived objets could be a reduced cost of living. But what value is lost and what is or could be gained? What cultural shifts would need to take place to facilitate the valorisation of AM objects over traditionally manufactured objects? Who would benefit from such a shift and who would loose out?

This is just a brain dump of the questions I have around AM at the moment. I’ll be settling on a few of them shortly and digging deeper. it is my intention that a practically element - research through design - will play a big part in this.

Pencil Icon

Idea for research: Saying no and moving on.

Sarah Birkett discovered through her PhD research that:

‘the language that designers use to articulate the scope of responsibility and ethics becomes broader, richer and more abstract with professional maturity’.

This has got me thinking about the effects of ethical maturity on the designer in terms of their continued engagement in the process of design. Not everybody can re-direct their practice towards more responsible outcomes. There must be design practitioners  who find themselves increasingly at odds with the decisions they must make as a result of ongoing ethical maturity. It would be interesting to find out if there has ever been a study to identify practitioners whom managed to extract themselves from roles that they could no longer justify ethically and moved on to use their skills in a more fulfilling or less dissonant way? Would one find similarities amongst such individuals? Did they employ similar tactics? Was it ultimately a positive thing for them to do?

Research in this area could lead to a web based tool-kit that could help an individual work through their ethical dilemmas and offer strategies for creating change or ultimately re-direction of their careers. It would be great to explore this further…

Pencil Icon

More notes from Prototype 2010 Dundee: Liz Sanders

Elizabeth Sanders from make-tools gave a talk about how she uses prototyping as a participatory activity in the design process. She started her talk by laying out the challenges (as she sees them: global, environmental) facing mankind in the future. The point of this seemed to be to highlight the differing nature of these challenges compared with those faced by mankind in the recent past.

These new challenges seem to be the motivation for the development of new design tools. She made this point by listing traditional areas of design and emerging areas of design:

old’ traditional design disciplines:

visual communication design

industrial design

interior space design


interaction design

‘new’ emerging design disciplines

design for experience

design for service

design for innovation

design for transformation

design for sustainability

These changes in the nature of design problems require a shift from the studio to the real world and from being concerned with the needs of the individual to the needs of the collective.

Sanders talked about ‘making sense of the idea’ as a transformation from object to purpose, invention to intention and from application to implication - The latter being attributed to Dunne.

A graphic was introduced that represented the design process as a complex activity that, through the application of a design process, moved from ‘idea’ to an understandable ‘solution’. On to this she mapped co-design activities and explained the traditional use of co-design, i.e., consultation with users at the front end of the design process, followed by a period of evaluation and development of an design outcome.

“Design is an inquiry into the future situation of use.”

In her work sanders uses prototyping as a participatory activity. Saunders introduced her participatory prototyping cycle: make-enact-tell. It is worth mentioning here that these three activities can be performed in any order depending on the context they are used in.

“it is only through collective thinking and acting that we will be able to use design to address the social issues we face today”

“we know what it looks like to use prototypes to help us see the future. But what dose it mean to use prototyping to make sense of the future?”

The latter part of the talk consisted of example of the make-enact-tell method of participatory design. I intend to write this up properly in order to give an indication as to when and how these design methods can be used.