Workshop – The Cultures of Machine Participation

Earlier this week I attended a workshop held by the research group for the design of information systems (DESIGN) at the University of Oslo (UiO) on The Cultures of Machine Participation.

The Cultures of Machine Participation workshop

Design Brief – Manuals of Misuse

Below is the design brief that I wrote for the master’s level course in which I am a Teaching Assistant. The course is Interaction Design as a Reflective Practice.

Manuals of Misuse design brief for Interaction Design as a Reflective Practice

Design Brief

Technological forecasts often predict that someday in the future everything will be connected. What is everything? And why is connected so often synonymous with tangible interactions being transferred to mobile applications or voice-based assistants? Additionally, these solutions primarily focus on efficiency and automation, signaling a shift from engagement to a frictionless relationship with technology. Is this shift necessary, or do our physical things have overlooked abilities, hidden meanings or magical uses?

The project Manuals of Misuse investigates these questions by examining our everyday interactions with faceless objects and reimagining how they might be misused to playfully control or meaningfully communicate with other things, people or places.

You will do this by:

  • Reflecting upon the intended interactions of an everyday object of your choice
    What is the essential use of the object and the ideal scenarios of interactions?
  • Communicating how the object is meant to be used, interacted with and part of an ecosystem
    What information is needed to communicate to a novice user, product partner, or manufacturer?
  • Investigating how the object is or could be misused – used for purposes not intended by the designer
    What are the object’s properties and/or affordances that result in these misuses?
  • Generating novel design concepts of playful, meaningful or magical misuse
    What modifications, interactions and technologies are required to make this possible?
  • Creating a stand-alone, multimedia experience that conveys your reimagined misuse
    What is needed to communicate the essence of your concept and prompt further investigation?

Objectives

  • Reflection: Upon our mundane, micro interactions with everyday objects. How to we use things and why do we use, or misuse, them? What can we learn from misuse and how does it inform how open or closed we design for appropriation?
  • Communication: Of design intent, technical specifications and user experience to diverse audiences through various mediums.
  • Playfulness: For engaged action and meaningful interaction.
  • Documentation: For reflection and communication.

CHI 2017 – Attending Two Workshops

Very excited that I’ll be attending two workshops at CHI’17 in Denver! Below are links to the workshop descriptions and my position papers.

Workshop 1 – Making Home: Asserting Agency in the Age of IoT (description)

Design Fiction interaction deign project by Karey Helms

The Family Circuit: A New Narrative of American Domesticity (position paper PDF)

As the world endures and approaches a string of energy crises, The Family Circuit: A New Narrative of American Domesticity, aims to critique and challenge society’s relationship with energy by provoking individuals to examine their current habits of energy consumption, consider the future implications of these actions, and question their willingness to make sacrifices for a cleaner environment. This is accomplished through the development of a fictional near future society in which individuals are required to produce all the electrical energy that they need or desire to consume. Within the daily narrative of a fictional family of five, the events of their domestic lives have been extrapolated to create a liminal world where mundane, yet peculiar diegetic prototypes create tense situations, uncomfortable behaviors, and unforeseen consequences. The project raises questions regarding local to global contextual considerations, behavioral change within the home diegesis, and hyper-localized hacking.

Workshop 2 – Designing the Social Internet of Things (description)

Internet of Things interaction design project by Karey Helms

Phygital Party Mode: A Relationship with Relationships (position paper PDF)

In this position paper, I present an exploratory autobiographical design project, Phygital Party Mode, in which visitors’ interactions with my website remotely control an Internet of Things light within my apartment. I reflect upon my relationship with the project as a ‘thing’ and explore the themes of active versus reactive agency, conditional relationships and designing the behaviors of objects. Finally, I end with discussion questions that address a transfer of agency due the democratization of the Internet of Things, the transformation of relationships with and because of connected ‘things,’ and the empowerment of people over objects.

Industry to Academia, London to Stockholm

This week marks a big transition as I leave the complexities of enterprise UX at Zebra Technologies to pursue a PhD in Smart Implicit Interaction at KTH in Stockholm as part of a newly formed research group. My academic statement of intent below perhaps best expresses the culmination of my past experiences leading to my forthcoming journey. And the photo is of course just one of the many fond memories I will take with me.

karey helms, zebra technologies london design team

Statement of Intent

“You think that because you understand ‘one’ that you must therefore understand ‘two’ because one and one make two. But you forget that you must also understand ‘and’.” ~ Sufi teaching story (Meadows, 2008)

Interests

On my first day of architecture school, we were asked to diagram where we come from and where we are now using a only a series of lines and dots on index cards. At the time, I was baffled by the task of reducing a complex, dynamic, and intimate answer into such simplistic, static, and impersonal elements. While this assignment ultimately ignited my interest in the pieces and processes of emergent systems and how the unique relationships between individual components inform and define the greater whole; more importantly, it cultivated analytical and divergent thinking. I learned how to isolate core components from a system, define explicit interactions in a space, situate functions within a context, and map parametric flows across time. Though eventually, my career pivoted from architecture to design as my intent transitioned from delight to meaning, and thus my thinking transformed from analytical to synthetic.

The primary differentiator between my experiences in architecture and design has been the latter’s focus on creative problem solving, or the convergence of disparate elements, activities, and intents to foster meaning. People have become the focus and embodied interaction the goal as I have strived to understand how space becomes place and appearance becomes presence. As an Interaction Designer, I design how people interact with, through, or without technology – an infinite and inclusive definition that ultimately focuses on people and prepositions, as it is the relationships that concern me. But as objects, environments, and worlds become ubiquitously intelligent, networked, and augmented, these relationships become increasingly dynamic, contextual, and intangible. I believe that negotiating these evolving relationships – to ultimately design meaningful new interaction modalities – is an exciting, challenging, and significant opportunity. Thus, I am interested in architecting the synthetic.

Pervasive and with unbounded potential, the “Internet of Things” is the key catalyst and instantiation of this paradigm shift towards implicit interactions. Moreover, as IoT infiltrates the mundane moments of our daily lives, it has the ability to transform our quality of life and achieve efficacious new futures from life-saving wearables to intelligent infrastructures. Though due to its systemic and embedded nature, both participative frameworks and contextual interventions are needed (as interaction is reciprocal), and thus both designs and the environments by which designers and users occupy, must be regarded. This duality necessitates divergent and convergent thinking, with a careful consideration of constraints, contexts, and intents. Therefore, through critical practice, ethnographic research, and situated prototypes, I aspire to explore what could be and what should be the intelligent dialogues of mediated, smart environments.

Capabilities

Over the past decade I have been afforded opportunities professionally, academically, and independently to cultivate the necessary skillset for the pursuit of a PhD in Interaction Design. Following the completion of my BS in Architecture, for over four years I was primarily self-employed as an Interaction Designer and Front-end Developer, working directly with clients from contract to concept to deployment. During this time, I was fortunate to work with a vast array of clients, expanding my formal digital design skills encompassing personas, user flows, information architecture, visual design, and UI development. Though more importantly, the empirical knowledge gained – pertaining to interpersonal and leadership skills, rigorous self-directed scheduling, and end-to-end digital product management and development – has been most invaluable.

My return to academia for my MFA in Interaction Design at Umeå University in 2012 was sparked by a desire to merge my physical and digital backgrounds within a formal user-centered education. My time in Umeå was marked by diverse and immersive collaborations with both peers and industry partners alike, who provided boundless intellectual stimulation while broadening my perspectives. I learned how to think critically and share imaginatively, perhaps best demonstrated in my speculative design thesis. Driven by a passion to critique and challenge society’s relationship with energy, I constructed a near future fictional society in which citizens are required to produce all the energy they desire to consume. Through liminal spaces and diegetic prototypes, I provoked polemical and productive dialogues, which were an engaging end to a wonderful graduate experience.

Following Umeå I moved to London and became a Senior Interaction Designer on the Innovation and Design Team at Zebra Technologies, an enterprise Internet of Things company. Within the constraints of business co-creation and the freedom of internal initiatives, my work investigates a product shift from isolated hardware and software to integrated systems and agents. In particular, I seek to design appropriate solutions at relevant fidelities that can enhance the cognitive and physical abilities of situationally disabled users in data-centric environments. For example, I am the Design Lead in a long-term co-creation project with a global transportation and logistics company seeking to improve organizational and workflow processes through custom 3D imaging technology and edge analytics. Besides traditional UX deliverables, my role includes ethnographic research, empathy mapping, stakeholder communication, service design, and a constant negotiation between implementable and transformational near future visions.

In addition to my role at Zebra, I actively engage in personal side projects which I playfully call “self-centered design.” Within these hypercritical explorations, I prototype manifestations of invisible interactions from the mundane moments of my daily life to gain insights into embodied interaction and socio-technical systems. Two ongoing projects are “Phygital Party Mode” and “Burrito.” The former is a phygital representation of online visitors’ interactions with my portfolio via Google Polymer, Firebase, Arduino, and Philips Hue technologies. Burrito is a manifestation of my marriage in the form of a bot that makes judgements on our relationship based on a mutually defined algorithm. Though perhaps a bit bonkers, both prototypes have resulted in instrumental insights that technically and creatively impact my professional development.

Motivation

My motivation to be a doctoral student is a combination of passion for the subject, drive to innovate in an immersive environment, desire to collaborate on a highly capable and motivated research team, and aspiration to contribute to academia via teaching. Throughout my educational background thus far, I have been fortunate to learn, collaborate, and contribute within competitive academic environments that seek and attain meaningful innovation. At both the University of Virginia and Umeå Institute of Design, I experienced firsthand the productive synthesis of cross-disciplinary participation and student-faculty engagement. These relationships were not only instrumental in my own development, but more importantly, contributed to the progress of meaningful experiences, emerging technology, and imaginative new futures. With diligent analysis and thoughtful synthesis, I would love to continue this trajectory at KTH with an inspiring team at a leading institution, and can guarantee that in addition to my credentials, I bring a healthy dose of gumption.

Meadows, Donella H. (2009). Thinking in Systems: a Primer. London, UK: Earthscan.

Interact 2016 – Insights in Self-centred Design

This week I spoke at Interact 2016 – slides and script below – a rather intimidating lineup alongside digital and physical architects whom all I greatly admire. I’m very grateful to Nomensa for the opportunity – not only is every talk an immense learning opportunity in public speaking, but I value even more the work prior – for the rigorous synthesis and curation of empirical insights is a process all designers should engage within as a practice of communication and reflection. Enjoy!

IxDA London – Implicit Interactions

Last night I guest hosted and organized an IxDA London event on Implicit Interactions at IDEO. Below is the event description.

Talk on Implicit Interactions at IxDA London by Karey Helms, photo by Jill Lin

As the Internet of Things infiltrates the mundane moments of our daily lives, ubiquitously embedding intelligence into objects and environments – our relationships with technology become increasingly dynamic, contextual, and intangible. Therefore as interaction designers, how do we design what could and should be the resulting invisible dialogues between people, places, and things?

This month we will shift our attention away from classic, explicit interaction paradigms – those that demand our attention for direct engagement and manipulation – to implicit interactions that seamlessly behave in the background. Join us for product, prototyping, and research perspectives as we hear from Hongbin Zhuang, CEO and Co-founder of Olly robot; Karey Helms, a Senior Interaction Designer at Zebra Technologies; and Alex Taylor from Microsoft Research.

MeetUp – Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning & Bots

Back in June I attended Practical Introduction into Artificial Intelligence by ASI Data Science as part of London Technology Week. The event was very well structured, and more importantly, perfectly distilled complex theories and processes into a digestible format for a novice like myself. I left feeling like an expert, and was able to confidently re-articulate the evening to others, which I think is very much a sign of a well run event and of course, great instructors. Moreover, as I’m navigating the world of artificial intelligence and machine learning in relation to my role and interests as an Interaction Designer, I’m being intentionally thoughtful regarding the Pareto Principle – I don’t actually need to be an expert, but do want a solid 20% foundational knowledge base.

Anyhow, the evening began with a history of artificial intelligence and the corresponding theories of influential scientists on the topic before launching into a hands-on session in which participants built our own handwriting recognition engine. Key takeaways included a clearer understanding of the relationship between artificial intelligence verse machine learning, a new comprehension of artificial neural networks (see slide below), and insights into what is and is not currently possible relative to real world applications.

Practical Introduction into Artificial Intelligence with ASI Data Science & London Technology Week

Fast forward to this past Tuesday, when I attended a MeetUp by Udacity at Google Campus London on Machine Learning and Bots by Lilian Kasem. Very different content and structure but equally insightful. Lilian’s talk was centered around Bots specifically – from the definition of a bot, to a live coding demo of the creation of a bot in Microsoft Bot Framework, and best bot practices – all while weaving in the integration of machine learning if it adds value (I also appreciate her stress on the if). Her resources in the image below:

Machine Learning and Bots by Lilian Kasem

In addition to the obvious relevance of these two events to current interaction design trends, they are helping me formulate next steps for two of my current projects, one personal and one professional.

The personal project – Burrito, a marriage bot that analyzes messages between my husband and me to determine who is a better spouse – is currently being refactored into a formal bot for Telegram. Lilian’s talk in particular was very helpful as my project focus as transitioned from theoretical to technical as I am now seeking to create a higher fidelity product and implement better, if not best, programming practices.

The professional project, for which I will intentionally be quite vague, investigates the impact of implicit data on enterprise organizational and technical systems, and in particular, the transition from frictionless to exception based workflows. As an Interaction Designer, I firmly believe it is important to not only empathize with humans, but also technology and its corresponding data because the concept of user – who, what, or where – is increasingly being blurred. Therefore, ASI’s introduction into AI was particular helpful in how I understand, design for, and implement data into my professional practice.

Long story short – two great events! In the coming weeks, I am to write a followup post regarding my technical developments in regards to Burrito bot, but also an online course I began this week to formalize my programming skills relative the Internet of Things.

Updated Portfolio in Google Polymer

This past week I finally finished refactoring my interaction design portfolio using Google Polymer in addition to adding new projects (Systems of Systems, Burrito, Phygital Party Mode, and Story of Me). Still much work to be continued, including incorporating page routing, improving performance and load time, and better code practices. I’m new to Polymer, thus much to learn.

Interaction design portfolio of Karey Helms in Google Polymer

The reason I’ve decided to use Polymer is the ease at which I can use Firebase. Essentially, though currently disabled as I continue refactoring, I have a portfolio mode called Phygital Party Mode, whereby by when a portfolio visitor clicks this mode, the colors seen in the above GIF are reflected in a Philips Hue light in my London flat. I also think it is a relevant, modern tool to learn independent of my portfolio.

Innovation through Action

Part of my role within the Innovation & Design Team at Zebra Technologies involves synthesizing emerging technology trends into actionable insights. Much like many innovation teams, this yearly process involves concurrent stages of research, collection, and synthesis into pervasive and strategic themes. But as we internally transition external insights into internal action, I’ve been reflecting on our innovation process.

The top diagram represents an existing process, that from my knowledge is perhaps also representative of many other organizations. External inspiration enters an internal cycle of prescriptive stages – ex: collection, synthesis, ideation, business buy in – then, external publication, collaboration, or outreach.

But perhaps the approach should be inverted – and external publication, collaboration, and outreach come sooner and throughout. For example, involving academic collaboration, professional hackathons, and innovation challenges

Innovation from internal inspiration to external action at Zebra Technologies UX

IxDA London – The Uncanny Valley & Subconscious Biases of Conversational UI

The theme of IxDA London’s June event was Algorithms, Machine Learning, AI and us designers – an evening of great discussions that prompted me to dig up reading material on The Uncanny Valley and Subconscious Biases. Both these topics were strongly present, the former directly and the latter indirectly, in Ed and John’s presentation on designing for IBM Watson. They discussed the ‘Uncanny Valley of Emotion’ as a third line on the curve in addition to ‘still’ and ‘moving’ in the traditional model of the uncanny valley. While I understand their intent in creating a third category – accounting for the invisible systems, agents, and interactions not visible or physically accessible – in retrospect I disagree with the characterization. Emotion, or lack of, can by explicitly betrayed by movement. From my understanding, subtle asynchronous or unnatural movements directly related to emotional responses expected by humans are a key ingredient in the Uncanny Valley. Therefore, I would rename the ’emotion’ curve suggested by the Watson team to ‘implicit,’ thereby retaining emotion as a criteria for both explicit (still and moving) and implicit interactions.

Uncanny valley of emotion at IxDA London, photo by Karey Helms

The second subtopic, subconscious biases, greatly concerns me. A recent article in the New York Times – Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem – sums it up perfectly. As designers, how do we build into our processes accountability for subconscious (and conscious) biases relative to algorithms, machine learning, and conversational interfaces? I don’t have an answer but I would like to find one!

Relevant links and resources:
The Uncanny Valley
Uncanny valley: why we find human-like robots and dolls so creepy
Navigating a social world with robot partners: A quantitative cartography of the Uncanny Valley
The Uncanny Wall
Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem