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 – Presentation & Slides

Karey Helms presenting a paper on humor in design fiction at NordiCHI 2018

Early this week I presented a paper written with my PhD supervisor Ylva Fernaeus on the use of Humor in Design Fiction to Suspend Disbelief and Belief at NordiCHI 2018 in Oslo. This paper was part of the future scenarios track at NordiCHI, an excellent initiative and venue that explores the design of design fictions. Our paper contributed (1) a way in which humor might be used in design fiction (and design more broadly), (2) a design process that includes fieldwork to inform the design of design fictions, (3) and a human-scale design fiction as a method of communication and dissemination. For the presentation, I originally intended to role-play the paper presentation as a character from the fictional world, as I did when presenting the same project four years ago in Umeå as my master’s thesis, but last minute opted to not because of the opening introductions by moderators. Instead, I opened the presentation by jumping into the fiction with no context, and then gradually introduced more information and built reflections throughout the remaining of the presentation. I think this structure worked very well. The full paper is available here and the presentation below.

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.

UBISS 2018 – Humanistic HCI

Two weeks ago I spent a week in northern Finland at Oulu University for a workshop (UBISS summer school) on Humanistic HCI, lead by Jeffrey and Shaowen Bardzell from Indiana University. The workshop was structure around a curated reading list that included a book on Humanistic HCI, and covered aesthetic experiences, emancipatory approaches, and critical-interpretative methodologies applied towards HCI. In addition to reading seminars, we also carried out small group projects during which we applied humanistic epistemologies to shared research domains. It was an incredible (and exhausting!) experience, both this particular workshop I participated in and the summer school as a whole!

Humanistic HCI workshop group at UBISS 2018 summer school

Advanced Project Course in Interaction Design at KTH

Loved being a part of the Advanced Project Course in Interaction Design with Jarmo, a colleague at KTH! In this new course that took place this past fall (2017), students carried out a small research project in close collaboration with KTH researchers. In addition to assisting with course admin and examination, I also supervised a group of three students working on a pee-ometer – a device that predicts when someone has to pee – for my research on implicit interactions and machine learning as a design material. Looking forward to running the course again this coming fall!

AAAI 2018 – Presentation & Slides

Karey Helms presenting at UX of AI spring symposium

Last week I presented my paper Design Methods to Investigate User Experiences of Artificial Intelligence at the 2018 AAAI Spring Symposium on the User Experiences of Artificial Intelligence. The picture above was taken by a Google Clips camera, which was also one of the presented papers. Below are my slides, which contain supplementary images to my paper on the three design methods I have engaged with relative to the UX of AI. Another blog post will soon follow with reflections on other papers presented.

CHI 2018 – Attending Workshop on HCI Outdoors

This year I’ll be going to CHI 2018 as a student volunteer and to attend the workshop HCI Outdoors: Understanding Human-Computer Interaction in the Outdoors. Very much looking forward to connecting with the HCI outdoors community for a new research project!

HCI and the outdoors

A Walk in the Woods: Gear and Infrastructure in the Outdoors (position paper PDF)

In this position paper, we describe an initial research activity, a short walk in the woods, to position our interest in HCI and the outdoors. We present three preliminary reflections from our hike on relationships with gear and infrastructure that enable meaningful outdoor experiences. These include parallels between packing gear and preparing devices, contrasting notions within bodily comfort and brand allegiance, and safety bubbles enabled by actual or expected infrastructures.

AAAI 2018 – Accepted Spring Symposia Papers

Two papers were accepted to the AAAI 2018 Spring Symposia: Design Methods to Investigate User Experiences of Artificial Intelligence for The UX of AI symposium and The Smart Data Layer for Artificial Intelligence for the Internet of Everything symposium. I’ll be presenting the former at Stanford at the end of March, bellow is the abstract.

Pages from Design Workbook

Design Methods to Investigate User Experiences of Artificial Intelligence

This paper engages with the challenges of designing ‘implicit interaction’, systems (or system features) in which actions are not actively guided or chosen by users but instead come from inference driven system activity. We discuss the difficulty of designing for such systems and outline three Research through Design approaches we have engaged with – first, creating a design workbook for implicit interaction, second, a workshop on designing with data that subverted the usual relationship with data, and lastly, an exploration of how a computer science notion, ‘leaky abstraction’, could be in turn misinterpreted to imagine new system uses and activities. Together these design activities outline some inventive new ways of designing User Experiences of Artificial Intelligence.

PhD’ing – Writers’ Retreat, Project Offsite, Outdoors Research, and Making Preciousness

Today I saw a meme on Instagram which said, “We are now entering the third month of January.” I couldn’t relate more! And looking back over the past few weeks, cannot believe all that has already happened in 2018.

KTH Writers' Retreat

Writer’s Retreat

Following a paper deadline in early January, my department at KTH (Media Technology and Interaction Design) kicked off 2018 with a writers’ retreat. What happens at a writers’ retreat? We book a venue in the Stockholm archipelago for three days and two nights, and write. And sauna and winter swim, but mainly write. The primary purpose of the retreat is to provide time and space away from everyday academic duties, from teaching to admin responsibilities, in order to focus on increasing the quality and quantity of our writing output. During the three days, we follow an agile framework in which junior/senior pairs write in ~45 minute sprints and then provide ~15 minutes of feedback. In addition to intense writing blocks, lunches, dinners, and evening activities provide ample opportunities to better know our colleagues professionally and personally. Though equally as exhausting as the writing, this social time I find incredibly valuable in creating a continued collaborative culture at work.

During this year’s writing camp I started a paper on a Pee-ometer, a recent project by Master’s students that I proposed and supervised in which they prototyped a wearable device that predicts when a user has to pee to investigate Machine Learning as a design material.

Project Offsite

In mid January, the Smart Implicit Interaction project had a two day project offsite. As the project is composed of differing philosophical and methodological backgrounds – i.e. Artificial Intelligence, Social Sciences, and Interaction Design – the first day consisted of a beginners overview into reinforcement and representational learning in neural networks to introduce technical terminology and objectives. During the second day, all of the sub-projects presented their current status and goals for the year. I specifically presented two ongoing design projects, data-driven design methods and the Pee-ometer. In the former, I discussed early design activities and resulting concepts from investigating the implications of screenshots as a data source. In the latter, I discussed three high-level interests guiding future project directions, including Machine Learning as a design material, interactional loops, and critique and ethics. Overall, it was inspiring to share and strategize better collaborations while revisiting overarching project objectives.

Project Offsite

Last week continued January’s streak of out-of-office research activities and into the forest. To kick off an new outdoors project, myself and three senior researchers went on a mid-week day hike 30 minutes outside of Stockholm. Not only was I surprised at a Professor’s ability to make a fire in the snow, but the excursion was both refreshing and constructive. More in the coming months!

Making Preciousness

And last but definitely not least, friend and fellow PhD student Vasiliki successfully defended her thesis Making Preciousness: Interaction Design Through Studio Crafts. Her opponent Ron Wakkary gave a much deserved brilliant presentation of her work before lengthy discussions with him and the committee. Admittedly, it is selfishly bittersweet to see her finishing as she has been a tremendous support and inspiration during the first year of my own PhD.