[ISEA2011] Paper: Kristina Andersen & Danielle Wilde – Circles and Props: making unknown technology


“How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?”          _Meno, from Plato’s dialogue (in Solnit, 2005)

The OWL project is an evolving interrogation of how we might design technologies that do not yet exist, and are not predicated on what we already know. How do we support the emergence of radical future technologies that reflect and respond to personal desires? How can those outside the design process inform and shift the way we think about design, such that our usual processes are not only short circuited, but are rendered irrelevant?

The project began with a series of bodyprops that aimed to support magical thinking around potential (yet to be imagined) body-technology relationships. The props were used in a series of interviews with a relatively broad sample of participants from Europe, Australia, North America and Japan. Participant responses were consistently surprising, sometimes so exceptional that we began to wonder what kinds of props people would make if they were to make their own.

From this work the OWL circle naturally emerged. The circles take the knowledge and understanding accrued over the course of 31 interviews into a slightly different space, perspective or approach. The circle creation process is a structured gathering in which participants are supported to create a personal exploratory device. The device is not designed in any traditional sense, rather it emerges from an open making process that combines art and design ideation techniques with scientific curiosity and retrospective ethnographic evaluation.

The traditional design approach is to imagine a scenario, to define a device, object or experience-based “solution” for the scenario, then to “design” and prototype or otherwise describe this solution. In the OWL project we work backwards by allowing people to consider where desires live in their bodies, then to work instinctively on how those desires could manifest themselves in new unknown devices. Rather than predicating design on scenarios based on what we know, our aim is to discover what we do not yet know so that devices, objects and other experiences might emerge from a physical making process.

The paper outlines the theoretical background for the OWL project and shows the results from both the interview and the circle processes.

  • Kristina Andersen (NL/DK) is a maker and researcher based at STEIM in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She works with electronics to create unusual objects and experiences as a part of her ongoing obsession with naïve electronics and magic. She works with materials and protocols through iterative processes and play, often with children as her main users and collaborators. She holds an MA in wearable computers from the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen DK, an MSc in tangible objects in virtual spaces from University College London UK, and was a honorary research fellow at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, Italy.  She has mentored and taught at DasArts, Piet Zwart Institute and Willem de Kooning Academie and she was an honorary visiting design fellow at the University of York, UK. She has designed and hosted countless workshops in strange locations and is actively engaged in various technology/art conference commitees. She mentors at the Patchingzone and is director of research and communication at STEIM. Examples of work can be found at  makeatinything.blogspot.com
  • Danielle Wilde (AU/FR) thinks, writes, moves and makes to understand how technology might pair with the body to poeticise experience. Her research blurs boundaries between a number of disciplines and questions the divide between art and everyday life. She has a particular interest in participation, and the democratizing value of clumsiness. Her work questions how we design, create and live.  She has an MA in Interaction Design from the Royal College of Art in London, UK, undertook the LEM (Laboratory of Movement Study) at Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris, France, has a background in circus arts, and recently completed a PhD in Body-Technology-Poetics at Monash University (Fine Art) and CSIRO (Materials Sciences and Engineering), in Australia. Her PhD, titled Swing That Thing : moving to move. The poetics of embodied engagement, investigates the poetic valence of different approaches to physically engaging body-worn technologies. The research took place at a number of institutions and organisations, as well as in people’s homes and private spaces. It includes the OWL project, which is being shown at ISEA2011. In 2010 Danielle was the Australian Prime Minister’s Australia Award research scholar at The University of Tokyo Ishikawa Komuro (now Ishikawa Oku) Laboratory. In 2009 she was visiting researcher at The Pervasive Interaction Lab, Open University, UK; The Creative Systems Lab, Sussex University, UK; The Department of Design, Architecture and the Built Environment, Nottingham Trent University, UK; and on several occasions in 2007 and 2009 at STEIM Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music, in Amsterdam, for OWL and other projects.  daniellewilde.com

Full text (PDF) p. 86-92