Category: Interaction Design

Daily Energy Interactions

A main component of my thesis research is the understanding of the existing mechanisms within the individual’s current relationship with energy. With an initial focus on basic interactions with electricity, over the course of a week I self documented three 24 hour periods with cellphone photographs. As my project deals with the direct individual experience of energy, I tried to both document and analyze based on a phenomenological perspective with Don Ihde’s four human-technology relations in mind. In addition to self studies, I also asked friends and family members outside of school to document their interactions with energy, photographing the physical interaction, environment, and furthest trace of electricity. An overwhelming fourteen people participated!

documentation of energy (electricity) interactions

For further curiosity, you can also read my initial brief.

Energy Comics

Thesis humor. Hehehehe….



Initial Research Reflections

Last week commenced the research phase of degree work. Below are my thoughts regarding a small selection of articles, podcasts, and other miscellaneous inspiration.

Carl DiSalvo & Adversarial Design

Natural Fuse by Usman Haque

Though he visited Umeå last year, I was embarrassingly relatively unfamiliar with Carl DiSalvo’s work and research until last week’s UID Wednesday lecture. Following a talk by Jamer Hunt, who again gave his inspiring scalar framework lecture that I repeatedly enjoy, DiSalvo discussed his concept of Adversarial Design, an alternative approach to Design for Democracy within Critical Design. Based on the democratic model of agonistic pluralism, which emphasizes the positive affects of political contestation, Adversarial Design uses design to reveal conditions of power while creating a space for productive conflict. DiSalvo asserts that many Design for Democracy projects are governed by the democratic principle of consensus, avoiding to acknowledge the necessity of discord. I particularly found beneficial his explanation of the difference between ‘designing for politics’ and ‘political design’ – rooted in the distinction between politics and political – the means by which a social order is held together versus a condition of contest within society. From his paper Design, Democracy and Agonistic Pluralism, DiSalvo states, “design for politics strives to provide solutions to given problems within given contexts, political design strives to articulate the elements that are constitutive of social conditions.”

A few key strategy points from his paper:

  • Identify new themes
  • Reveal conditions of power
  • Create a space of conflict
  • Identify new trajectories for action

As the primary aim of my degree project is to critique society’s relationship with energy, not make the consequences of Global Warming more accessible, I found DiSalvo’s lecture especially relevant. I additionally appreciated his presentation of Usman Haque’s Natural Fuse in which he highlighted the

  • importance of a designed system to allow participation,
  • playful and experiential engagement of resistance,
  • overload of meaning in common objects that become a challenge,
  • avoidance on a single ethical stance,
  • and leaving open the resolution of contest.

Furthermore, in the followup discussion with both Hunt and DiSalvo, they discussed a specific tactic within Adversarial Design I aspire to assume – identifying collectives of various scales, and binding them strategically through a series of exclusions. While I haven’t yet formally defined how this will be accomplished in my future speculative scenarios, I believe it will be a useful and important method for both linking daily activities with personal technology and creating a larger relational network. Lastly, I also intend to adapt Hunt’s advice of beginning with an exploded diagram, mapping out my problem and design opportunities, formally placing where I believe I can intervene.

Discovery: Geo-engineering by BBC World Service

Geoengineering by Science in Seconds.

As I last week delved further into a more comprehensive understanding of Global Warming, the resulting climate change, and the three primary strategies against – climate engineering, adaptation, and mitigation – I listened to a podcast on geo-engineering. Discovery: Geo-engineering specifically focused on the release of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere to reflect incoming sunlight. While I have always viewed this particular technique as rather radical, I appreciated the discussion regarding the unintended consequences, and therefore potential slippery slope, as well as the unavoidable termination effect. The former I could have assumed, but find something compelling with the general concept of the slippery slope argument that I feel could be integrated into my potential scenarios. In regards to the latter, after moving past my disturbance over the realization that if employed, once geo-eningeering is discontinued, the earth’s climate soon resumes its prior state; I see an interesting temporal conflict between a solution for now versus the future, overlaid with an enormous commitment to a finite procedure. Additionally, geo-engineering ironically seems to be most successful in its unintentionally role of inspiring people to use less fossil fuels – a radical proposal with serious intentions turned into critical design project. In conclusion, research into geo-engineering only furthers my commitment to focus on mitigation as an idealized outcome of my thesis – for “mitigation deals with the root causes of climate change.”

Freakonomics: Fear Thy Nature

Sleep No More photo by Yaniv Schulman and Robin Roemer

Though more for entertainment than in relation to thesis, I really enjoyed Fear They Nature by Freakonomics. The episode is about the effects of external circumstances on human behavior, particularly focusing on the theater show Sleep No More and the famous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. While intensely focusing on a long term project, such as a thesis, its easy to draw parallels within almost anything, I definitely identified both personally and as a designer to the quote, “On putting people into total new situations, thats how we discover something new about ourselves.” I think the podcast’s discussion on control and context in connection to new situations can be applicable to critical design. Plus its an interesting listen.

View degree brief


After turning in our briefs this past Friday, thesis officially began on Monday, followed by five minute presentations from all UID degree students to the school yesterday (Tuesday). Below is the introduction of my degree project and brief.

For further curiosity, you can also read my full brief.

Panama sunrise

“To most Americans, the risks and consequences of energy consumption are vague and distant”
– BURN: An Energy Journal, Exploring for Oil and Gas in the Arctic

Scientists in the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2013 annual report on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions attribute the changing composition of the earth’s climate to human activities. The burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and other sources are high contributors to these concentrations of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere (EPA, 2013). Research on American public attitudes and opinions towards climate change showed a majority view climate change as real, human action as the problem, and personal energy conservation as part of the solution (Gardner & Stern, 2008). Yet a 2010 study indicates that people have relatively little knowledge and understanding concerning the energy consumption and comparative use of familiar activities (Attari, Dekay, Davidson, & Bruine, 2010). Therefore, as many predict our current rate of global consumption will lead to the exhaustion of fossil fuels by the end of the 21st century, who will contribute and how, to a reduction of fossil fuel use accompanied by participation in sustainable future energy solutions?

My degree project 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 will be accomplished through the development of a fictional context in which individuals are required to produce all electrical energy that they need or desire to consume. Within this constructed situation, I will explore a series of potential scenarios that pair daily activities and their corresponding energy expenditures with the electrical consumption of personal devices or domestic technology. For example, an electric coffee maker must be powered by the energy generated from the arm motion used in brushing teeth. These explorations will include the physical prototyping of speculative energy harvesting solutions and an investigation of the personal, social, and temporal consequences.

What if you were required to produce all energy you desire to consume?

5 slides in 5 minutes

Split Flap

Last week we completed a 2 week individual ‘multi-layering’ graphic design course in conjunction with BeGreen Umeå and their Sustainable Ålidhem project. The brief asked us design multi-layered graphics that visualize the current sustainability status of Ålidhem (a residential neighborhood in Umeå). In addition, we were given a bus stop adjacent to the area as our site, in which the graphics were to be displayed with the goal of encouraging people to reflect and ask – How are we doing?, What can I do?, and Who can I talk to? – in regards to sustainability.

The purpose of the course was to ‘experiment with new and unorthodox ways of information graphics design in a specific context,’ which I used as an opportunity to take advantage of the ‘experiment’ aspect and instead proposed an analog installation that utilizes split-flap (or Solari boards) to facilitate sustainability awareness through an immediate feedback display of abstract information.

Long story short (as with the Sound Bowl post – more information later given when I update my portfolio), I spent the majority last week building a working prototype of a single split-flap, that would hypothetically be arrayed along the back side of the bus stop. The installation would display both practical (ex: the arrival of purple and yellow line buses) and conceptual (ex: board goes berserk when a non-sustainable ‘disturbance’ – a car – passes by) information through the graphical movement of colors. Not sure that makes sense without supporting graphics and animation. Anyhow, I’m pretty pumped about my prototype as I ran into lots of problems during the 4 day design and construction process, yet managed to complete it ‘at the eleventh hour.’

Skip to the last video to see the prototype fully working. As always, please ignore late night jargon.

Split Flap – Process 1 – Manual Gear Test from Karey Helms on Vimeo.

Split Flap – Process 2 – Stepper motor Gear Test from Karey Helms on Vimeo.

Split Flap – Process 3 from Karey Helms on Vimeo.

Split Flap – Process 4 from Karey Helms on Vimeo.

Split Flap – Process 5 – With Mirror from Karey Helms on Vimeo.

Split Flap Construction Resources

Resources I found helpful while construction my own split-flap prototype:

Arduino based Split-Flap game
Unfortunately, I didn’t find his download files very helpful, but his project is an excellent starting point.

Interaction Design student blog on Split-Flaps
I found this guy’s blog EXTREMELY helpful. He has numerous posts with images, examples, and his process.

Wikipedia Schematic
Split-flap construction 101

Sound Design

Earlier this semester, Interaction Design first year masters students worked with the Advanced Product Design first year masters students on a two week sound design project. The basis of the brief was to pick an existing product that has either no or little sound design properties and redesign the product with a focus on sound while also evaluating and redesigning form and light aspects.

Within my group of four (3 IxD’ers and 1 APD), we designed an interactive mixing bowl that aims to create a playful and positive educational baking experience through de-emphasizing the focus of accuracy, and reinterpreting the measurement and relationship of ingredients via real-time sound and light feedback.

More details will be given later this spring once I update, both in content and design, my portfolio, but for now you can view process videos of our working prototype below.

Sound Bowl – Process Video 1 from Karey Helms on Vimeo.

Sound Bowl – Process Video 2 from Karey Helms on Vimeo.

Sound Bowl – Process Video 3 from Karey Helms on Vimeo.

OzCHI 24 Hour Student Design Competition Winners

Very behind on my blogging and forgot to post last fall that team Lagom won the OzCHI 24 hour design competition!

Check out the winner’s list here:

Ozchi 24 Hour Student Design Challenge

usTiime by Lagom from Karey Helms on Vimeo.

This past weekend I did the Ozchi 24 hour student design challenge competition. Above is our submission. Information regarding our process and final solution available on our team blog.

Team Lagom

Celebrating post project submission!