Cross pollinated disciplines

 

The benefits of interdisciplinary perspectives to tackle every day problems have long been advocated in many walks of life. Without the influence of arts and sciences, how could solutions for any situation be sustainable at all? Consider for example, any given smart phone. Whilst packing in a plethora of technical necessities, they couldn’t possibly be usable if they were not so beautiful somehow. Aesthetically pleasing in the way they look, feel and among other things, enable access to capture and edit photos, videos and music. Not because we all consider ourselves serious food photographers or music enthusiasts, but because these things are intertwined in our lives and we are somehow pleasured by the act of sharing our experiences.

Why then, when I think of assistive equipment (hand splints, walking aids, adapted keyboards) do I sigh in disappointment that they are not so sexy? Actually, they are not sexy at all. They serve a functional purpose, often engineered with physiological goals in mind. Mass-produced to keep costs low, understandably.

In his book ‘Design meets disability’, Graham Pullin invites us to construe new perspectives for the design of adaptive aids and equipment that, refreshingly, alert us to the fact that different people might actually have different tastes, shaped by their age, gender, social class, environment as well as many other factors. One example that I often recall is the account of the athlete, model and actress Aimee Mullins, whose collaborations with Alexander McQueen and Dazed & Confused magazine present a lasting, iconic image of Mullins wearing nothing but her carbon fibre running legs and tracksuit bottoms. This and a latter image of her jaw-dropping, hand-crafted wooden legs carve out an image in the mind that is difficult to forget. Not because they present her as an icon for disability, but because (for me) they present her as an icon for people.

Pullin’s design thinking approach invites us to consider designing all sorts of adaptive equipment and aids from new perspectives, for example, creations that are fashion pieces, designed to be exhibited and worn with pride: to be noticed rather than discretely hidden.

This perspective makes me consider how disability is communicated in different contexts; whether there are differences in how this is projected through the social model of disability; and how far this goes in changing a person’s views on how they construe disability.

I recently visited a show at the Copperfield Gallery, London, with works that were collectively framed around the title ‘compassion not gain’. Whilst on first look I thought that this was probably intended to rouse empathy for disability, the arrangement of pieces communicated something far deeper. A gilded wheelchair entitled ‘Apollo’s chariot’ positioned facing a limply hanging parachute (‘Fall, where the birds die’), next to a wooden ballet barre inscribed in Braille with a poem by Frida Kahlo that described overcoming frustration through strength of will, suggested that all bodies are vulnerable at some point. Whilst the artist David Escalona sensitively projecting fragility in human kind, his pieces highlighted that all forms of struggle are ever changing and lie on a continuum. If it is in fact society that enforces disabling barriers rather than individualised impairments, perhaps a golden chariot does accurately represent a wheelchair for a specific individual or perhaps the words of Kahlo’s poetry can accurately depict the emotional and physical struggle of a ballet dancer.

These examples are only a few of many that highlight the value of seeing everyday obstacles through a different lens; a design thinking approach to consider known situations in new ways. More on design thinking to follow.

David Escalona, El Carro de Apolo (Apollo’s Chariot), 2015. Gold plated folded wheelchair.
David Escalona, El Carro de Apolo (Apollo’s Chariot), 2015. Gold plated folded wheelchair.

 

David Escalona Puntos de apoyo (Supporting Points), 2015. Three wooden bars with alloy braille inscription.
David Escalona Puntos de apoyo (Supporting Points), 2015. Three wooden bars with alloy braille inscription.

 

 

A focus on values

silos of lego

 

 

Over recent years, child computer interaction (CCI) research has pushed the agenda for interaction design, embedding the contributions of children throughout the design process. Researchers are teasing out and critiquing the roles that children are proposed to play and the impact this has on their contributions (see for example Alison Druin’s work on the hierarchy of roles, 1999). What is less clear, particularly for children who have neurodiverse profiles, is how their contributions actually impact on design decisions in practice. This leads me to side-step and explore what we are actually expecting from kids in research.

 

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that we as adults cannot begin to assume what children might want from their technologies without asking them, which pretty much just repeats and reinforces the direction of recent qualitative CCI research. What I have struggled to gauge is how we begin to describe children’s meaningful contributions in terms of reflecting what is important to them and what we call this.

 

I’ve noted that some researchers, particularly those working in the fields of co-design (or related) are exploring the notion of values. It is increasingly becoming apparent that defining the term ‘values’ is a tricky task as any variation on its definition consequently impacts on its exploration.  But how can we investigate it if we can’t define it? Surely there’s some synergy to be had!

 

This post isn’t intended to be a review of the literature so I won’t be defining and cross-referencing here (but look out for that soon).  This post is intended to shine a light on adult expectations for what we think children will want to share (overtly or indirectly) then challenge this so that we can once again reflect on all the things that actually reflect meaningful life experiences for children that we miss – because we define in narrow terms.

 

Confused, right?  Well, yes.  It’s a muddy topic that has silos of mind-blowing advancements which are just that; self contained and not quite applicable for real-life cases that challenge predefined scenarios.

 

More on this topic to follow in later posts.

 

.silos of lego

Interaction Design and Children 2016: pre-conference workshop ‘Roles & Values’

IDC 2016

IDC 2016

Today I was fortunate to participate in the IDC 2016 pre-conference workshop which explored Roles and Values of Children in Design.
‘Role Workshop’ organisers: Monica Landoni, Elisa Rubegni, Emma Nicol, Janet C Read

‘Value Workshop’ organisers: Helle Skovbjerg, Tilde Bekker, Wolmet Barendregt

The course organisers carefully orchestrated discussions on how participants of this interdisciplinary group reflected on the multitude of assumptions and positions we take in striving to involve children in positive and meaningful ways.

For me, the main take-home messages focused on:

  • how multi-stakeholders approach this with different design and research goals which ultimately influence the roles we may already pre-conceive for children
  • Fostering a dialogic learning process for all
  • negotiations with different stakeholders; whether this be academia, industry or families around the child, and
  • tools for helping to promote reflexivity.

The organisers introduced a card based tool to support in questioning designer / researcher assumptions about a ‘type of child’ that technologies might be intended for; which allowed again, for reflecting on and questioning a specific persona one may have in mind for specific technologies.  The group also presented the Clothes Line approach for supporting the design process whilst working through, ‘sorting’ and ‘airing’ ideas.

A really interesting day packed full of many fruitful mini discussions!