Tag: Design

The Nature of the Copy

From the dead center of an all-white eye, a lone sapling rose two feet tall. Cyclical ridges and valleys, etched in bioplastic by an unseen watchmaker, encircled the solitary lifeform and separated it from the mottled, decaying plant matter that had been strewn about nearby with intention, detritus by design. Lying adjacent on the table-in-sylvan-drag, a digital tablet and paper pamphlets displayed the word Nucleário.[1] Nucleário and the five other prototypes exhibited at the 2018 Biomimicry Launchpad Showcase in Berkeley, California, were, according to the event’s online marketing, projects from a “new species of entrepreneur” who practices “biomimicry,” the “conscious emulation of life’s genius,” a refrain I would hear repeatedly during my fieldwork on contemporary chimeras of biology and design. “Genius,” a cultural category once reserved for the presence of spiritual inspiration, here refers to the technical creativity of a re-animated nature that designers attempt to imitate in new devices like Nucleário.[2] Under the solar-paneled roof of the David Brower Center, whose eponym served as the first executive director of the Sierra Club, teams from Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Taiwan, and the United States had gathered to compete under the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, which, this year, prompted designers to devise solutions for the mitigation and reversal of climate change. The prize: a cash award of $100,000 given by the Biomimicry Institute, a Montana-based nonprofit organization dedicated to “building a new generation of sustainability innovators” through educational initiatives.[3] (read more...)

Voided Spaces: Architectural indices of ravines in Guatemala City

Deep, canyon-like ravines fracture forty-two percent of Guatemala City. Covered in thick, wet, and dense foliage, these ravines are contentious ecological forms for Guatemala City residents, who have often described ravines as physical borders that disconnect their city; opportunities for landfills that are out of sight, out of mind; informal housing for gangs, violence, and the city’s poorest[1]; as well as precarious locations where damage from earthquakes, floods, and landslides is felt the most. However, in 2006, the city municipality reclassified these ravines as an “ecological belt” (Cinturón Ecológico Metropolitano), identifying them as sites in need of ecological and developmental attention. Architects in particular have taken special interest in these ravines, arguing for sustainably-minded designs that would develop and connect ravines to the broader city landscape. Ravines, they argue, are underutilized and contaminated spaces that work against, rather than with, the built environment. Interested in the classification and production of space, in what follows, I describe the conditions that led architects to recognize ravines as sites of developmental potential in Guatemala City. In order to be designated as spaces for development, I argue that ravines first needed to be redefined volumetrically and epistemically, revealing new parameters for thinking about where the built environment can reside. (read more...)

Writing disability

When writing inequalities, the language we use and our writings betray the power dynamics and the unequal relations that stem from the world we as researchers come from. This post explores how these inequalities play out in the worlds we embed ourselves in as outsider researchers and are apparent in what we write through a reflection on my own research with dDeaf  television producers and actors in Sweden. (read more...)

How to Book an Appointment Online when you have Aphasia

I’m meeting a fellow speech therapist researcher at a weekly drop-in session for people with aphasia when Markus* comes in, brandishing an envelope.  “I went!” he exclaims. Markus has just arrived fresh from a visit to the head office of one of his home utility providers. He has taken matters into his own hands after coming up against a technological obstacle.  Markus regaled to us his story using an effective combination of short spoken utterances, gesture, a written note and an established communication dynamic with my fellow speech therapist.  I want to share with you his story to discuss the issue of technology and aphasia. Markus had received a letter telling him that his boiler (the British term for a home water-heating system) needed to be serviced.  The letter instructed him to call or go online to make an appointment.  Due to his aphasia, however, Markus had found himself unable (read more...)

The Power of Small Things: Trustmarkers and Designing for Mental Health

At my office we put tennis balls on the legs of the chairs to reduce the noise of the scraping chairs against the parquet floors. They are hard to miss, but they fulfill their purpose. For this reason, I never reflected on what kind of feelings these bright fluorescent yellow balls might evoke when visitors see them attached to the bottom of the meeting room’s chair legs. (read more...)

Ethnographic Designs for Buen Vivir: Fieldnotes from Nicaragua

Co-Authored by Alex Nading, Josh Fisher, and Chantelle Falconer What does it mean to find value in urban ecologies? This question sparked our collaborative research in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua, a city of some 120,000 inhabitants just outside Managua. Residents of Ciudad Sandino face persistent poverty, and they are still dealing with the socio-ecological aftermath of the Hurricane Mitch disaster in 1998.  Despite other factors that might be divisive, including a chronic municipal waste crisis, gang violence, and the uncertain legacy of Nicaragua’s 1979 popular revolution, people in Ciudad Sandino remain adamant that fostering collective political and ecological responsibility is key to building a livable urban future.  They are concerned not just with surviving in the city but with living well, or Buen Vivir. (read more...)

Data Science Ethnography with Brittany Fiore-Gartland

In the second episode of the “Down to a Science” podcast, I talk to Brittany Fiore-Gartland about data and its contexts, and what that means for what data science does and could look like. Fiore-Gartland is director of data science ethnography at the eScience Institute and research scientist in the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. This episode is intended to be a scaffold to help students and general audiences think about what data is and how science works. (Listen Now...)

As If I Were Blind…

What is an experience and how can it be conveyed and communicated to others? “A focus on “The Experience” signals a technology has been designed with a consideration for the user’s experiences. It is supposed to indicate  a technology’s role and contribution to everyday life, and the likelihood of its success once implemented. Given its popularity in design contexts, the term “experience” seems unusually rare in anthropology, with a few notable exceptions (e.g., Bruner, 1986; Turner, 1986; Hastrup, 1995, for example). This is so despite the fact that we, as anthropologists, can definitely be said to “experience” a way of living other than the one we are used to when we carry out fieldwork. This experience begins with our first encounter with another culture and its people, and continues into the writing stage, with our concerted attempts to communicate the complicated cultural aspects of the places and peoples we study (read more...)