This past Thursday and Friday were IxD2 thesis mid review presentations. Below are my presentation slides and annotations. Text written some odd place in between formal snippets taken from my report and my quite colloquial style of presenting. All background photos are my own unless stated otherwise.
Because every presentation should begin with a different quote!
Presentation outline and overview
“The environmental impacts of global warming can be seen all over the globe through unequivocal patterns such as warmer temperature trends, rising sea levels, increase of extreme weather, and a climb in greenhouse gases.”
– State of the Climate in 2012, Blunden & Arndt
And research shows that this changing composition of the earth’s climate can be attributed to human activities. And yet, while the majority of Americans view climate change as real, human action as the problem, and personal energy conservation as part of the solution (cite), studies how that people have relatively little knowledge and understanding regarding energy consumption and the comparative use of energy in familiar activities (cite).
Which I believe is because to most Americans, the risks and consequences of energy consumption are vague and distant (cite).
A large part of this is because energy, is an ambiguous term encompassing a broad spectrum of processes and interactions. These range from the burning of fossil fuels to caloric consumption, and even include visceral feelings often associated with mood or state of mind.
Furthermore, many of the existing incentives used to motivate individuals to change their energy consumption – for example, switching to use energy efficient light bulbs can reduce energy usage by 70% and result in a financial savings of 20% – but theses figures lack a direct relationship between the individual and the environment – both in their relative vagueness and financial focus.
A conclusion I have drawn is that this lack of energy knowledge and understanding has led people to be very quick to place blame and propose solutions that that require someone or something else to change. Therefore I wonder who will change and how.
Therefore, my project aims to Critique and challenge society’s relationship with energy by provoking individuals to examine their current habits of energy consumption, consider the future implications of these actions, and question their willingness to make sacrifices for a cleaner environment.
By asking What if you were required to produce all the energy you desire to consume?
Therefore, since my goals are to provoke reflection, encourage awareness, and inspire action – rather than searching for an ideal or utopian energy solution, I am taking a Critical Design approach.
Critical Design aspires to provoke the audience to reflect on societal preconceptions through the design of speculative artifacts. It shifts from designing for how the world is now to how the world could be as I believe a way to foster dissension and discussion around existing societal values and activities. Its the opposite of affirmative design – which reinforces the status quo.
To sum up my personal view and approach on Critical Design, I really like this quote by Philip Zimbardo, the American Psychologist famous for the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, “By putting people in totally new situations that’s really how we discover something about ourselves.”
In his experiment, he put a selection of grad students in a prison environment for two weeks, half playing prisoners and half playing guards. The situation got so out of hand to due the ‘actors’ fully embracing their roles and the experiment was shut down after six days. While in no way to I intend to do something this extreme, I really like Zimbardo’s quote because it touches upon the creation of an environment that unobtrusively allows anyone to play and act within, and view themselves and others through a new lens. To me this really touches upon Critical Design, because its creating a stage or a place, where people are comfortable wearing a metaphorical mask that ideally enables and leads to self reflection.
So, this realism so to speak that my project is rooted in leads us to my Scope & Context. A large part of my research has been centered on the United States, which consumes around 19% or the world’s energy – and I have an obvious personal interest in choosing the States as my context being American myself.
Digging deeper into American energy consumption, it can be broken down by use into four major sectors of the economy – industrial, transportation, residential, and commercial.
I am specifically focusing on the residential, or domestic context because within my ‘what if,’ I believe here lies the strongest design opportunity because individuals have the most potential for direct control of their own personal consumption.
The residential sector can be defined as consisting of homes and apartments, with Natural gas and electricity as the most-consumed energy sources. Natural gas is used mainly for space heating, while electricity, which is also used for heating and cooling, lights our homes and runs almost all of our appliances (like refrigerators, kettles, etceteras) and personal devices.
And just to give a brief history of electricity – while the electrical phenomena has been studied since antiquity, it wasn’t until the late 1800s, early 1900s that it began to be introduced into homes. Beginning with the introduction of light bulbs into the homes, this proved a problem for the industry because of uneven load distribution – lights only being used at night. Therefore, the industry began a push for electrical appliances that could replace existing gas alternatives. As electrical stoves were one of the first to be embraced within the domestic sector, used to cook lunch and dinner, this left an electrical gap at breakfast – resulting in the toaster being a key invention and strongly marketed product of the time.
Further marketing campaigns targeted the strong superstitious preconceptions regarding electricity use in the domestic sphere, focusing on positive ‘health benefits.’ But perhaps some of the most interesting marketing campaigns are those concerning the myth of the mechanical servant, which ultimately redefined the housewife and even the architectural layout of the home. Electrical appliances were advocated as time savers – the housewife no longer had to spend time on laundry, and instead (ironically) had time for other domestic responsibilities. (image from Objects of Desire: Design and Society Since 1750)
And even with the gradual embrace of electrical appliances, at the turn of the century, they were still very expensive, resulting in the ownership being more about owning than using. This is commonly known as conspicuous consumption – or the spending of money on and the acquiring of luxury goods and services to publicly display economic power.
Moving on to today though, this chart displays how we now use electricity (in the States), with a high percentage focusing on space cooking and lighting, though this can widely differ geographically (cite).
And who is using this electricity? An average American household, according to recent US census data, consists of the head of household, a spouse or significant other, and between one and two kids. I label them my protagonists because not only are they my main ‘actors,’ but because I don’t think the ‘antagonists’ can be ignored.
Similar to the external forces faced by domestic consumers during the introduction of electricity that resulted in conspicuous consumption, society social pressures and industry marketing, today’s family faces equivalent pressures that still have a large impact on our energy consumption and conservation
Though, the biggest difference between now and then is a move from conspicuous consumption to conspicuous conservation – an economic term describing the recent phenomenon of people engaging in activities that are environmentally friendly in order to obtain or signal higher social status. Examples include politicians who place small windmills on the roofs of their homes, yet because the wind is not always blowing, its not uncommon for these windmills to require more energy to power them in order to maintain appearances than the actually energy they generate. A common example on the West Coast is the placement of solar panels in the front yard of a house, irregardless if this is the sunny side or not.
But conspicuous conservation is perhaps best exemplified in South Park’s Smug Alert, when Gerald buys a hybrid car… (episode clip shown during presentation)
Diving into and quickly through the previous research phase of my project – based on my foundational research, project scope and context – I began research doing a series of self studies, in which I visually documented all my interactions with energy over the course of 24 hours for a series of 3 days. The experiences themselves were analyzed from a phenomenological perspective – this approach was chosen due to the inherent vagueness and vastness I believe is rooted within the concept of energy.
I also had 14 friends and family members document their interactions with energy, with a focus on electricity, over the course of a day – photographing:
- Object in context
- How object is turned on or activated
- Indication (if available) that object is on, activated, or charging
- How the object is interacted with
- Farthest trace of power source
I got in touch with two families living either full or part-time off-grid. Off-grid being defined as disconnected from and not relying on public utilities like electricity, water, and sewage. I also read blogs of others I wasn’t able to get contact responses from.
I did basic research into the general understanding of the American energy grid.
As well as additional research into smart homes and grids.
These five areas of research lead me to seven resulting design principles:
- (1) Pro-choice: physically explicit options & choices – Lack, or awareness, of tangible choices further distances our relationship with energy.
- (2) Need for Greed: creation of conflict – Use of electricity, or lack of, is often rooted in multiple motivations, making electricity easy to justify.
- (3) Road to Know Where: exposure of source & consequence – No visibility creates a lack of accountability and responsibility as electricity is out of our hands.
- (4) Chain Reactions: interdependent technology – We often rely on contingently related links of technology for a simple objective.
- (5) Status Symbol: formation of a public – Sustainability status through community artifacts can bring the conditions and consequences of an issue in view.
- (6) Off Grid, On Line: disconnect to reconnect – Paradox & reciprocity between shutting off and turning on.
- (7) An I for an I: potential for balance & conflict resolution – Common misconception that you must suffer or sacrifice to make up for past actions or pursue a greater good.
Though since the research presentation I have gotten rid of two. Road to Know Where because I believe the integration of source and consequence reopens the scope of the project and isn’t a necessary for my goals. Additionally, Off Grid, On Line isn’t applicable as I both envision and find it important for my protagonists to be functional members of society.
After establishing my context and design principles, moving into ideation, I returned back to my ‘what if’ – dissected it and and extracted the two primary ingredients: production of energy (specifically electricity), and end use consumption.
Within the domestic context, production can be thought of actions, routines or situations; and consumption as electrical devices, appliances, or objects of use.
Keeping the components separate, I ran one workshop with the goal of finding situations of tension in the home, and distributed a worksheet to understand associated needs & desires of electrical objects.
For the workshop, and my own ideation benefit, I created a house, mapped out spaces and electrical objects.
And also created a family, inviting *quite strategically! five peers at school to role play an average American family.
With a head of household
And why not, a family pet
Video coming soon! More editing before I post it online
As shown in the workshop video, a handful of themes and tense situations emerged. Though definitely successful, the workshop result were fairly different than my expectations, leading to more general theme areas for me to explore as opposed to specific action based situations.
The desk based worksheets I handed out to 12 peers, each containing one of the rooms from the house I mapped out. The goal of the worksheet was to investigated associated needs and desires with electrical objects, as well as potentially generate related energy harvesting ideas. I asked each participant to complete four tasks relative to the given room:
- Draw any missing objects
- Associate electrical objects with a need or desire
- Draw a non electrical alternative
- Draw how would you might harvest energy with your body
And got some interesting ideas!
As I’m still digesting the workshop and worksheets, I have only surfaced dived into ideation of my own, producing what I believe are some very beginning concepts, which may or may not be used but I see as first steps.
Intense ideation, lo-fi prototypes, and user testing/ workshops!
Feedback and reflection to come in a follow up blog post.