Category Archives: Critical Design

KTH 2018 PhD Supervisory Panel

Today was our department’s annual PhD Supervisory Panel at KTH during which PhD students are given the opportunity to get feedback from senior researchers who act as “guest supervisors.” To prepare for my meeting with two Associate Professors I reworked my research abstract and research questions following my 30% seminar in October, during which Johan Redström from Umeå Institute of Design acted as my discussant. My goals in today’s supervisory panel were to get feedback on the new scope of my abstract and research questions relative to being only about 40% through my PhD (and I’m sure will continue to evolve), and identify important areas that I need to work on articulating to more firmly position my research in the context of how I am conceptually “furnishing” my design space. Considering I was presenting to senior researchers from different academic backgrounds than my own and each other, it was especially helpful to see within which aspect I felt misunderstood, i.e. where I need to sharpen my arguments. Below my poster summarizing my research thus far, followed by a few notes/reflections based on feedback received today, and a textual version of my abstract and research questions.

Karey Helms 2018 PhD Interaction Design Research abstract at KTH

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UID Wednesday Lecture 2018 – Crafting Humorous Fictions & Taboo Frictions

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the day at Umeå Institute of Design (where I did my MFA in Interaction Design). In the morning I spent a couple hours with upcoming IxD master thesis students to discuss my experience, and in the afternoon gave a talk titled “Crafting Humorous Fictions & Taboo Frictions” as part of the design school’s Wednesday lecture serious. Was great to be back, even if only for a day! Below is the abstract of my talk.

Karey Helms giving a talk on humor in design at Umeå Institute of Design

Talk abstract

Karey Helms is a PhD Student at KTH Royal Institute of Technology researching smart implicit interactions, those that are unseen or unnoticed yet proactively operate on our behalf. Her research through design approach includes speculative and autobiographical methods in which she designs humorous fictions and taboo frictions with intimate and somatic data to surface the social and societal implications of data-driven systems. These include the designing of fictional devices that predict when and how badly one has to urinate, and the prototyping of a genuine system to spy on her partner.

In this talk, she traces back her playful approach to fiction and friction to her master’s thesis in Interaction Design at UID and how she employed this approach while working in industry delivering actualized services within enterprise IoT prior to beginning her PhD. The aim of this talk is to advocate for humor in design and to craft experiences that disrupt and disturb to not only provoke others to think, but also yourself as a designer.

Design Briefs – Spying on Loved Ones & Tangible Designs for Effort, Exertion, and Exhaustion

For this year’s Advanced Project Course in Interaction Design at KTH, I’m fortunate and excited to have two groups of second-year master’s students working with me on two project briefs – Spying on Loved Ones and Tangible Designs for Effort, Exertion, and Exhaustion during Outdoor Experiences. Excited to see their resulting design work in December!

Spying on Loved Ones

To spy on someone is commonly thought of as a negative or harmful act during which one person secretly observes or collects information on another for malicious purposes. Yet, we also “spy” for many positive reasons. For example, these might include watching a sleeping child through a baby monitor, checking a partner’s calendar to plan a surprise birthday party, or browsing the fridge of an elderly parent to ensure a healthy diet is being consumed. What these examples have in common is that they are acts of care. This projects investigates how we care for others through technology, both with technologies explicitly designed to survey or observe others and through technologies designed for other purposes yet leak implicit information that enables spying. Within this investigation, various forms of spying will be classified and critiqued, the social and cultural implications of these positive intentions with be explored, and speculative prototypes will be designed to either further enable or inhibit spying.

The project will follow the suggested steps: (1) a review and critique of technologies explicitly designed for spying in private and public spaces, (2) investigation into ways in which people spy on others through technologies not designed for spying, possibly through workshops, interviews, or cultural probes, (3) the design of speculative prototypes to either further enable or inhibit spying, resulting in an ecology of physical artifacts. Required skills include strong design sensibilities and an interest in critical design and design fiction.

This project builds upon Leaky Objects: Implicit Information, Unintentional Communication.

Tangible Designs for Effort, Exertion, and Exhaustion during Outdoor Experiences

Multi-day outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, cycling, and horseback riding involve full body engagement, during which bodies become sore and often endure physical transformations. Yet despite perceived discomfort and difficulties, outdoors experiences are often considered rewarding and relaxing. Thus, rather than designing to make these activities easier or more comfortable, this project investigates designing tangible artifacts and devices to celebrate or enhance these experiences of effort, exertion, and exhaustion. This project is part of a broader, ongoing outdoors project within the Smart Implicit Interaction project, and has the opportunity to build upon recent interviews with participants who have engaged in long-term outdoors experiences.

The outcome of the project is open-ended, but students are expected to engage in a design process to that result in novel artifacts that are either proposed objects of use (e.g. products) or result in interesting new learnings (e.g. cultural probes). Students should have a design background or be interested in following a design process.

NordiCHI 2018 – Accepted Paper (Future Scenarios)

Very excited to have a NordiCHI 2018 paper accepted in the future scenarios track! Written with Ylva Fernaues, my supervisor at KTH, the paper is about why and how I used humor in my MFA thesis at Umeå Institute of Design four years ago.

Karey Helms, Ylva Fernaeus. 2018. Humor in Design Fiction to Suspend Disbelief and Belief. ACM Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (NordiCHI 2018), Oslo, Norway.

Artifacts from Design Fiction using humor by Karey Helms

Humor in Design Fiction to Suspend Disbelief and Belief

This paper investigates humor as a resource and strategy for design with discourse as an intended outcome. While humor can incite empathy and understanding, it can also lead to alienation and disengagement. Through the detailing of the pre-narrative and narrative processes of an exemplar design fiction we describe why and how elements of humor, in particular puns, parody, and pastiche, were employed. Following the presentation of the fiction and its use in the design of an exhibition and diegetic prototypes, the paper presents responses from participants and audience members to reflect upon how humor was received within the design fiction. Following these reflections, as the near-future scenario was written four years prior to this paper and is now situated within present-day, it then concludes with a post-mortem reflection on the floating nature of humor.

DIS 2017 – Workshop Reflections and Design Fiction

As previously mentioned, I attended, and thoroughly enjoyed, the workshop at DIS17 on People, Personal Data and the Built Environment. Not only was the topic relevant to my project, interests, and background, but I also found the strict structure (and quick introductions) very effective and thus resulting in meaningful discussions at the end of the day.

The below image is a fraction of a future IoT system followed by a corresponding fictional narrative created with Albrecht Kurze.

Internet of Things workshop at DIS17

Unfinished Business
2022 – five years after 2017 – a public space odyssey

It is the year 2022, five years after the government started to implement the dynamic waiting management system in public buildings. To simultaneously reduce waiting times while keeping visitors preoccupied, the system routes visitors on an adaptive, and often the least efficient, way through the building. As this has unsurprisingly resulted in many lost visitors, a place-based location-aware voice-controlled guiding and help-and-get-helped system was introduced, in which visitors can leave voice messages to aid other lost visitors.

Dave was born in 1950 and retired in 2017, the same year his wife died. Every time he enters public buildings, he is asked to confirm the usage and data processing terms of the building, as smart building are being classified as interactive data processing units by the 2019 extended GDPR. These temporary consents are based on minimum viable data and are thus only valid for a single visit as all data collected is automatically deleted or anonymized upon leaving.

Dave pretends to apply for a hunting license but actually just wants to hear his wife’s voice in a message she left in the help-and-get-helped system after the system’s implementation. As the system is gender intelligent, he needs a female to find his wife’s message. Furthermore, the message is not locationally linked nor directly addressable because of dynamic shuffling and the anonymization policy.

Claire was born in 2001 and has been applying for a family planning permit for the past five days. As the system is implicitly regulating family planning, prioritizing lonely widows and widowers for which Claire is not, it sends her on an impossible route. As she is not successful in her quest for a permit by the end of each day, the temporary data consent causes her to restart the whole process the following day, resulting in a never ending journey.

But this one special day Dave and Claire met, two lost visitors, trapped some way in and by the system. They decided to help each other and resolve their unfinished business.