Category Archives: PhD’ing

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.

PhD’ing – Taboo, Tinkle, Algorithms, and Home

For an autobiographical project building off Leaky Objects, in which I’m allowing myself to undertake a significantly slow design process, this week I read Geography of Home: Writings on Where We Live by Akiko Busch. The book is a collection of beautiful musings organized by room and touches upon notions of comfort, dichotomies between possessions and spaces, clutter, deeply personal rituals, thresholds, processions, and changing functionalities. So much I love in this book while mapping the geography of our tiny home which defies all traditional expectations and conditions. Last year before moving from London to Stockholm, we read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, an amusing read that we nevertheless abided by and asked everything we own, “Do you bring me joy?” Not only did we end up giving away bags of stuff, but it also prompted many meaningful discussions regarding and aligning views on possessions and a home, in addition to musings around if someday everything will be connected, will all our possessions? And why do we keep them, and do we deserve them if possession implies care, custody, and guardianship? More and more through many of my ongoing projects and initial concepts, I realize I’m interested in overlaps between privacy and care, and perhaps comfort too.

A project I recently started with MSc students is investigating predicting pee habits, which to many is a taboo topic due to the invasive nature of the proposed interaction and an aversion to recognizing private bodily functions. A subsequent discussion with my supervisor on researching taboo topics led to the reading of the paper Accountabilities of Presence: Reframing Location-Based Systems and the website Between the Bars: Human Stories from Prison. In the paper, the authors research paroled sex offenders who are tracked via GPS to explore the intersection between mobility, presence, and privacy; while the website offers a digital platform to share handwritten content from people in prison who do not have access to internet. In both cases, what could be considered extreme or fringe users are researched or designed for, and equally interesting for different reasons, they also serve as interesting case studies that either directly learn from or address the messy realities of society. One of my biggest peeves – designers don’t address the messiness of life nearly enough. So while pee might not be prison, it is definitely an everyday and occasionally very messy, mundane, and universal reality that should not be ignored as I believe there is much to be gained from deviating from designing only delightful experiences.

On a fun, related note, I recently found out that Engelbart conceived what he called the “tinkle toy”, a small waterwheel in a toilet bowl that would spin when pee was run over it, serving as a potty-training aid for boys as the interaction was designed to be an incentive to pee in the toilet. From Markoff’s What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry.

A week or two ago, it was difficult to miss Algorithms as culture: Some tactics for the ethnography of algorithmic systems on Twitter. Found it incredibly informative and a nice compliment to Dourish’s The Stuff of Bits: An Essay on the Materialities of Information, which I started last week for implicit interaction book club. The paper also led me to these slides The algorithm multiple, the algorithm material: Reconstructing Creative Practice – in which I was thrilled to see my former UVa architecture professor and brief employer Jason Johnson of Future Cities Lab mentioned.

Lastly, this morning I found this open source software by Rebecca Fiebrink for real-time, interactive Machine Learning that hopefully I can use with Arduino.

PhD’ing – Wonder, Autonomy, Frameworks, and Infrastructures

Trying something new with the aim of semi-regular updates regarding what I’m reading, working on, and thinking about.

Framing Wonder by Ann Light

Last week had a short chat with Ann Light from the University of Sussex regarding my work and attended her guest lecture Framing Wonder: Beyond Design for Existential Crisis (sketch notes above). Dark yet very inspiring talk and highly recommend her related paper Design for Existential Crisis from CHI17. Both the talk and her paper inspired me to look into care ethics and feminist theory regarding my work.

For a recent paper and my ongoing multi-disciplinary project work, have been thinking a lot about Terry Winograd’s Shifting viewpoints: Artificial intelligence and human–computer interaction, in particular how to work across philosophical and methodological differences.

Based on a colleague recommendation, recently listened to Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy by David Mindell, a very accessible contribution to discourse on the meaning of autonomy. Throughout the book, within each of many case studies, he repeatedly challenges listeners (readers) to ask, ‘Where are the people, which people are they, what are they doing, and when are they doing it?” as he proposes an emphasis on human-computer relationships rather than the idea or potential of replacement. My favorite of his examples regards remote control of Mars rovers from Earth bound operators and the coinciding debate if presence can be felt at such a distance and with significant time delays – is remote presence real presence?

Last week discussed Things That Keep Us Busy: The Elements of Interaction by Lars-Erik Janlert and Erik Stolterman in a research book club with a focus on Implicit Interaction. I found the book an easy read as it was very much like a collection of papers (which most of it draws from). While I appreciated the provision of definitions, frameworks and objective perspective – as in taking the object’s instead of the user’s perspective – overall there was much I disagreed with, in particular the notion that implicit interaction decreases interactivity, and found it difficult to maintain a narrow perspective that doesn’t regard the social or systemic implications. Perhaps also, it seemed to contrast philosophically with Dewey’s Art of Experience which I am reading for a PhD course on the theoretical foundations of UX, and as a design researcher situated in a technical university am over-resisting the application of frameworks upon a field dependent on embracing the subject, chaotic, and messy nature of the world.

Attended a great talk by my friend Lorenzo at IxDA Stockholm’s event Questions and answers in the design process with Nordic Morning. Great nuggets regarding the materialization of cultures to engage people in discourse and materialization of infrastructures to enable designers to transform them. Definitely calls for a revisit of his paper Materializing infrastructures for participatory hacking.

Lastly, in addition to a bunch of course grading, this week I’ll be continuing concepts derived from a recent project workshop on designing with data and starting a new project with three KTH master’s student on prototypes to probe the notion of training when approaching Machine Learning as a design material. A related paper includes UX Design Innovation: Challenges for Working with Machine Learning as a Design Material.