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From A to B: Hands-on Speculative Design
By Dana Gordon and Netta Ofer

"Critical & Speculative Design" is an introduction course to Speculative Design from both HCI and artistic perspectives, taught by Dana Gordon. It unfolds the history, approach, and process of speculative design [1, 4]: critical design [3, 4, 5], design research, research through design [6], design fiction [2, 7], and interrogative design [8, 9]. These design approaches can assist technology designers to better study and understand how technology influences our society and culture. We examine classic projects [10, 11, 12], theories, and approaches in this field, and provide students with tools to apply such methods on their own projects; This semester we investigate the theme of FOOD, which offers a wide range of related threads.
The course is offered to students of IDC Herzliya's Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) M.A. program, during the spring semester 2020 (meaning, that we are currently halfway through).


Challenges

 

This group of students have diverse professional and academic backgrounds, ranging from social studies such as degrees in psychology and history, to engineering and computer science related positions in the industry, to design practices such as architecture and industrial design. Due to the diversity in knowledge, we were challenged to familiarize all with general practices of design and the creative processes. In addition, we focused on creating a mindset that encourages students with much experience in the industry to question existing systems and assumptions; As the title suggests, our main challenge is to shift perceptions from affirmative to critical design, from "problem solving" to "problem finding" [3].
Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, class takes place online. The original curriculum focused on conversation around hands-on exercises; and now we are exploring remote creative collaboration and discussion.


Debate-inducing Methods

 

In order to apply the critical approach in our classroom and unfold deep discussions we aim to practice a hands-on approach. Once students share their creative production - we have a concrete stimulation that generates discussion.
 

Personally-meaningful Issues

 

We encourage students to focus on issues that they are personally passionate about in their projects. This results in a wide range of interests, opinions and approaches.

Collage as Visual Stimulus

 

Students began the speculative design process by researching a topic of their choice, crossed with the context of Food, our current theme. In groups of 2-3, students created visual collages as a tool for visual and speculative stimulus. We find the technique of collage extremely helpful in our context: it is relatively quick, supports spontaneous creativity, liberates visual thinking, and can fuel speculative, imaginary compositions. Below are a few of the students' collages.

Screen Shot 2020-05-21 at 17.10.54.png

"Food + Privacy" (Vangelder & Fuchs)

Speculation about constant exposure and destructive consumption

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"Rawbots" (Bluman & Primo)

Questioning our capacity of empathy in a technophile society 

Screen Shot 2020-05-21 at 16.59.45.png

"Michelinsects" (Spivack & Zuckerman)

Envisioning entomophagy subculture as fine-dining

Screen Shot 2020-05-21 at 16.58.52.png

"What is my food's food?" (Frug & Gilad)

Bringing transparency to our soil stories

“Video for the People”

 

In the upcoming weeks, students will create a short video scenario to convey the main issues for debate, moving from "concept" to "concrete design". They will design and use a variety of diegetic prototypes to represent ideas and tell stories of speculative worlds. Through this exercise we aim to communicate prospective questions to a wider audience.


Results and Reflection on the Process

 

For their final assignment, students will document and express these explorations in a short paper, as another medium to share critical design through speculative ideas. We will use the CHI extended abstract format, possibly creating an opportunity to share these questions and ethical concerns with the passionate community of HCI.
From our experience so far, we learned that moving from theoretical research to creating concrete design in any form, supports students in diving into a passionate and meaningful conversation.
In addition, public presentations around designed deliverables are valuable to generate discussions, observe and explore multiple positions. Students benefit from sharing this “stage” as they are exposed to the different perspectives of their classmates and experts that joined us for critique, feedback, and debate. Potsdam Interaction Design professor Myriel Milicevic, Paris-based researcher Dr. Jean-Baptiste Labrune, and ZHdK Interaction Design professor and researcher Dr. Joëlle Bitton joined the "collage presentations" session and offered invaluable insights. Following these discussions, students realized that Speculative Design is not only an approach but an active community of practitioners ranging from theory in academia to applied professionals in the industry.


References:

 

Auger, J. (2013). Speculative design: crafting the speculation. Digital Creativity, 24(1), 11-35.


Bleecker, J. (2009) Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction. Near Future Laboratory, 29. 


Dunne, A., & Raby, F. (2009). a/b, A Manifesto.


Dunne, A., & Raby, F. (2013). Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming. MIT Press [preface].


Dunne, A. (1999/2005). Hertzian Tales: Electronic Products, Aesthetic Experience, and Critical Design. MIT Press


Gaver, W., Boucher, A., Pennington, S., and Walker, B. (2004). Cultural Probes and the value of uncertainty. Interactions, 

                    Volume XI.5, pp. 53-56.


Sterling, B. (2009) Design fiction. Interactions. 16(3), 20-24.


​Wodiczko, K. (1999). Critical Vehicles: Writings, Projects and Interviews. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Interrogative Design Workshop by Wodiczko, http://web.mit.edu/idw/


Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg https://www.daisyginsberg.com/


Anab Jain & Jon Ardern / Superflux https://superflux.in/#


Michael Burton & Michiko Nitta http://burtonnitta.co.uk/index.html

Dana Gordon is an Architect, Interaction Designer and professor at IDC Herzliya. Her works expose hidden social angles in design, using speculative and critical approaches.

She earned a Masters at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea and a B.Arch degree at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. Dana was also a researcher at Wodiczko’s Interrogative Design Group at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS).

Her projects were exhibited at various design centers and collections such as Victoria and Albert museum, Droog Design, Harvard GSD and Science Gallery Dublin.


 

Netta Ofer is a researcher with a background in media studies, human-computer interaction (HCI), and interaction design from the Media Innovation Lab (milab) at IDC Herzliya. 

Her papers have been published in top HCI venues (CHI, IDC). She earned her B.A. in Interactive Communications from IDC Herzliya and is looking forward to pursuing her masters in the upcoming year.

Acknowledgements

 

Special thanks to our students, guests, and the milab.

The course website: https://speculativecourse.wixsite.com/blog

The program website: https://www.idc.ac.il/en/schools/rris/graduate/pages/hci-main.aspx

Published as a Case Study for SpeculativeEdu