Wearables

KTH 2020 IxD Team Exhibition – Free the Nipple Project

A couple weeks ago, the Interaction Design team at KTH had an internal exhibition of design projects. Due to the pandemic, whereby we primarily work from home, it has been difficult to engage with each other’s design work. Thus, this exhibition was a chance for us to get together (in line with safe distancing) to share our work! I presented a new side project within my PhD that I started while on maternity leave last year, which I call Free the Nipple. Below are some images of my exhibition space and a draft project description. You can find more of the project’s process (and other project work) on my public instagram account.

Karey Helms breastfeeding project exhibition

This project explores bodily boundaries and social becomings within intimate care through the nipple as a threshold and interface during breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a complex and often controversial topic grounded in tensions between desire and disgust, sexuality and sustenance. In navigating these tensions, this project peruses an ongoing journey of intimate care to understand the becomings of multiple, networked bodies and the vital force of breast milk.

Breast milk is an interesting bodily fluid because it is secreted, not excreted, for another human to ingest. This verbal distinction is significant because unlike many bodily fluids, breast milk is not discharged as waste, yet still carries with it connotations of disgust. This disgust has many layers, perhaps most commonly evidenced from those external to an immediate care network, but can also be felt by a woman in regards to her own breast milk or be suggested through a baby’s refusal to breastfeed. Though for many, breastfeeding is more than the secretion of breast milk from a mother to a child. It can also provide comfort and nurturing as signified by the usage of the term “nursing” over breastfeeding, which attempts to locate the complex social relations of care-giving and receiving. Inherent to both perspectives is an intricate web of chemical exchanges and changes that alter and disrupt involved bodies, and in which the vitality of breast milk is materialized. To unpack the sociomateriality of this involvement, I start with my own postpartum breasts as a strange interface between myself as a mother, my breastfeeding baby, and an intimate co-caretaker.

IxDA London – Wearable Interaction Design

Since moving to London this summer, on the recommendation of friends, I’ve made a strong effort to be proactive in the London MeetUp scene as both an on-going learning experience and opportunity to get to know other designers and technologists. My experiences so far can pretty much be summed up by the regret at only not exploring MeetUp sooner! While I’m a member of quite a handful, my favorite so far have easily been Women Who Code London and IxDA London, both of whom are lead by obviously passionate and motivated individuals, which I believe is what makes their events so coveted.

The most recent IxDA MeetUp was on Wearable Interaction Design, and as one fellow friend and attendee summarized – a mini conference within a single evening. Guest speakers included Melissa Coleman, Kevin McCullagh, Becky Stewart and Duncan Fitzsimons – a diverse range of views regarding wearable technology.

Wearable Interaction Design IxDA MeetUp photo by Karey Helms

While all the speakers had interesting and varied perspectives, I really appreciated Duncan’s broad and inclusive definition of wearable technology (as seen above). As the subject is too often discussed implying the modification of conventional jewelry with an LED, screen or accelerometer as the future, I believe zooming out and taking a diverse perspective is what will allow for true innovation relative to user-centered needs.

Points of discussion and other thoughts that sprang to mind or stuck included:

  • Michio Kaku’s Cave Man Principle in relation to media excitement vs longterm commitment
  • Great point by Melissa (if I remember correctly) about wearables not becoming permanently ingrained in our bodies akin to cyborgs, as with the constant release of new technology and versions become obsolete, we will fear our body becoming a technology wasteland
  • Becky proposed a great list of suggested conversations to have between a designer and engineer when prototpying, including: tech specifications of data, who needs to see what and when, one way or two way communication, and power requirements among others