This week I had my 90% (“final”) seminar with
Heather Wiltse from Umeå Institute of Design. I’m very appreciative of her engagement with my work and difficult questions that energized me for my next few months of writing. The tentative title and abstract of my thesis below:
Designing with care: Self-centered research for interaction design otherwise
This dissertation is about the research program designing with care as a pathway towards interaction design otherwise amid a world in crisis. Considering how established ways of doing interaction design will change involves recognizing the role of digital materials in social injustice and systemic inequality. These concerns are inseparable from the material complexity of interactive experiences and their entanglements in care. Through five design experiments, I explore wickedly attending to human everyday care, and an intimate and generous questioning of oneself.
I offer four contributions for interaction designers and design researchers. The main contribution is designing with care. Within this programmatic framework, I contribute extended articulations of wickedness and generosity. The third contribution is the synthesis of four methodological approaches: auto- design, spatial orientations, leaky materials, and open speculations. Each is a generative and analytical pathway towards five careful designs as prototypes of what interaction design otherwise might be like: technologies of human waste, spying on loved ones, leaky breastfeeding bodies, scaling bodily fluids, and a speculative ethics. From these, I discuss disciplinary resistances and personal struggles to reflect upon implicating oneself within more-than-human care, and consider the benefits and limitations of designing with care in moving beyond self-centered research towards more sustainable worlds.
In this presentation, I will give a rather quick introduction of my research, and in particular a synthesis across my various projects and publications. Danah Abdulla refers to design otherwise as another way of thinking about creating change in the world that challenges established ways of doing design. For me, an oversimplification of this is rather than designing change, otherwise is about changing design. It recognizes that design is complicit in many structural systems of oppression and embedded with long-standing values, such as universality and objectivity, that exclude a diversity of human experiences. In my thesis, Interaction design refers to the design of experiences with digital materials, which I consider to be interactive or computational things that most often include data. I recognize an increasing material complexity of digital materials that makes it difficult for interaction designers to make sense of their reach and impact in the world, and how to intervene in this material complexity in a responsible way. I also recognize the role of digital materials in perpetuating social injustice and systemic inequality, through for example, discriminatory algorithms and toxic biases embedded within interactive systems and experiences. And in response, I draw upon more-than-human approaches that problematize familiar binaries and hierarchies, attend to nonhuman agencies, and think about being in the world as relational to consider how interaction design might be otherwise. I ground my inquiry into interaction design otherwise through two propositions: 1) Interaction design should wickedly attend to human everyday care; 2) Interaction design should intimately and generously question what it means to be human. The first situates everyday care as an important context for interaction design, and in which an ill-considered intervention or unintended consequence can be potentially revealing, shameful, or devastating. Wickedly attending recognizes care as wicked within its potential to make and unmake relations by orienting towards some care doings and not towards others. The second acknowledges that historically some humans have been considered more human than others, and others less than. So not questioning what it means to be human, risks ignoring a plurality of lives in everyday care. This questioning is inherently intimate within a socialmaterial engagement with the self, and a generous within the potential for vulnerability amid an opening and sharing of one’s self. These two propositions and the four axioms of everyday, wickedness, intimacy and generosity form the scaffolding of my research program designing with care. The theoretical underpinnings of everyday and wickedness are situated within a feminist ethic of care, And intimacy and generosity are situated in relation to posthumanism. This specification of these four axioms… ...shifts from what Maria Puig de la Bellacasa calls thinking with care as an ontological overlap between care ethics and posthumanism, to my articulation of designing with care as an exploratory space to prototype what interaction design might be like within these conditions. I refer to the five prototypes discussed in this thesis as careful designs. Each explores the axioms of my program differently, through which they each make their own individual contributions. Technologies of human waste investigates the everyday care of bodily excretion through the design of speculative devices that predict when and how badly a person needs to urinate. These technologies position the associated data as intimate in relation to excretion being essential to a person’s somatic health and well-being. Spying on loved ones explores tensions in care at home through the critique of two autobiographical projects designed to monitor family members. It foregrounds a wickedness in care as not always “good”, positive, or fulfilling. Leaky breastfeeding bodies challenges cultural preconceptions of humans as individual and bounded through explorations within my breastfeeding relationship. These are intimate in relation to the everyday nurturing and nourishing of my child, and generous through a material and social sharing of myself. Scaling bodily fluids imagines everyday care as entangled in human and nonhuman collaborations through human bodily fluids. Though the design of four visual and textual narratives, it imagines a generosity in more-than-human worlds across uses and scales. A speculative ethics reflects upon social discomfort and material harm in relation to designing and researching with my own, shared milk through the creation of “performative texts.” The texts wickedly and generously speculate on ethical possibilities of an intimate engagement with the self. Before moving on, it is important to note that although the each axiom is drawn in the same proportions, their presence or absence within and across the careful designs is not even or binary. For example, a deeper dive into the projects shifts and rebalances the diagrams to be like so. This highlights how the research program allows for a variation of new ideas, while also searching for its limits of inclusion. In creating careful designs, my methodology is research-through-design. And I situate my methods within four broader approaches. Auto- design is a group of methods that explicitly engage with the human self as an open and mutable concept. This means that auto- design methods transform, or blur, boundaries between oneself, design, and other humans and nonhumans. This for example includes six months of tracking my own urinary routines. Spatial orientations describe how human and nonhuman bodies inhabit space. They draw attention to the social, material, and physical relations of people and things, and the messy realities of these relationships. This includes conceptualizing how care is directed across, around, through, or from spaces by technology. Leaky materials take into account the vitality of digital and non-digital design materials, such as data and human bodily fluids. It puts emphasis on design materials as more-than-human and fluid in how they travel, flow, and disorder bodily boundaries and individual autonomy. This includes material experiments with human and cow’s milk. Open speculations are critical and speculative design methods to materialize alternatives and invite engagement. Open doesn’t point to them as being incomplete, yet rather always unfinished for ongoing meaning-making and collaboration. This includes the revisiting of past research decisions through verbal and textual performances. In regards to the ethics of my research, it is grounded within a desire to avoid harm through an ongoing and situated process of thinking through my everyday judgements and their potential impact. My careful designs and methodological approaches that I just described span six publications in a compilation thesis. Each paper has its own individual contributions, which I won’t present now. But instead how I synthesis across the papers to make four broader contributions for interaction designers and design researchers interested in alternative ways of thinking and working. The first and main contribution is the research program designing with care as a space for prototyping interaction design otherwise. The four axioms and two propositions are both speculative prompts and stabilizing ideals to support intentional exploration. The second contribution is the extended articulations, or definitions, of wickedness and generosity. Both are ethical stances that can be taken as careful approaches in related or parallel research programs.
My definition of wickedness puts characterizations of messy and complex design problems in relation to care as always unevenly distributed or unstable. In doing so, wickedness involves a deliberate and naughty engagement with tensions in care to open for divergent care practices as desired.
My definition of generosity aligns with related understandings of challenging human-centered approaches as risky, yet specifically does so in relation to the social and material consequences of opening and sharing of oneself as a designer and researcher. The third contribution is the synthesis of my four methodological approaches. They each draw upon a collection of related methods that in the context of designing with care are generatively and analytically pathways towards careful designs. The fourth contribution is the five careful designs as examples of designing with care. I organize the discussion of my research into two threads: returning to interaction design otherwise and moving beyond self-centered research. I discuss three possibilities for interaction design otherwise that are grounded within what is considered acceptable design and research by the communities, institution, and groups that I am a part of. And how what one is allowed or expected to do or not do within these, disciplines what interaction design is and how I argue it should change. The first is engaging with mundane yet unrecognized topics. Within my work this includes urinating and breastfeeding, yet also the diverse ways that we monitor and track our loved ones. These are often either absent, ignored, or universalized in interaction design, yet extremely present and particular in the daily lives of many people. In engaging with such topics, I argue that more can be learned about how interaction design already is shaping normative and discriminatory ways of being in the world, and could change to be divergent and inclusive. The second is not separating where things are designed and researched. That is, doing the design work in the context of where the consequences of the design work are present. And in particular in relation to everyday contexts and an intimate questioning of oneself. In doing so, this recognizes that people and places are not isolated socially or materially - they travel and transform, share and spill over, leak and linger. And that artificially avoiding harm risks omitting the particular knowledge most worth gaining about everyday vulnerabilities and risks. The third is alternative narratives of dissemination. While this might still include writing and publishing research papers, how they are composed could better reflect knowledge and the positions from which it is created as situated and dynamic. I argue for exploring different ways of inviting engagement and unmaking rules of production in research dissemination that are bodily, performative, and open-ended. And lastly, I consider the relevancy of designing with care beyond self-centered research towards more sustainable worlds that include a diversity of humans and more-than-humans. A first relevancy I see in self-centered research is that it contribute towards including who or what is often excluded or absent within making mundane yet unrecognized topics recognized. It also recognizes not just the topics themselves, but also the very situated and particular details within a diversity of everydays. Though within my own research, in deeply exploring such details, there have at times been difficulties in articulating what I am advocating for as I become so involved and entangled: that is, is my research design for activism of absent topics, or activism of design through absent topics. A second relevancy is the role that self-centered research can play in an active and ongoing critique of oneself as a designer and researcher. I see keeping open what is presented as otherwise and what subjective standpoint from which it is presented as an ethical obligation in knowledge production. In my thesis, this has included engaging with auto- design methods at different stages - not only as a starting point - to reflect upon how I have changed, what I know now that I didn’t know before, and revisit and question decisions I’ve made relative to their impact on the lives and well-being of others. This at times has been emotionally draining and practically challenging in recognizing oneself as accountable and mutable. A third relevancy is that an acknowledging of the self as socially and materially entangled, opens for collaborations with many selves. This relational perspective rejects self-centered individualsism in favor of self-centered communities grounded upon a multiplicity of interconnections. I view these communities as including other designers and researchers in sharing experiences and crafting rich worlds, yet also taking seriously the agencies of nonhumans and more-than-humans that ontologically collaborate in shaping human selves.