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A complicated year

Laurel Highlands, south-western Pennsylvania

2016 has been a complicated year, and circumstances have meant that I have, rather unprofessionally, neglected this blog, my website, and the Design with Intent newsletter (which now has nearly 400 very patient subscribers).

This is just a brief note to say, mainly, that I’ve moved to the US, to Carnegie Mellon School of Design, and that (not unrelatedly) the Design with Intent book is delayed — it should be published by O’Reilly in the second half of 2017. More information on this soon.

In summer 2016 I moved on from the RCA to Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to become a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the School of Design. This has meant a huge life upheaval for Harriet and me, moving from a boat on the Thames at Richmond to, eventually, what I must learn to call a duplex in Friendship, a pleasant neighbo(u)rhood in Pittsburgh built for the middle managers of Carnegie Steel. At CMU, in my first semester, I have taught Play Lab, a senior design lab discussed at length here and contributed to a range of other graduate and undergraduate programmes. In the Spring, I will be teaching the junior Environments Studio — an exploratory new studio class — and, with Michael Arnold Mages and Stephen Neely, a required class called Persuasion. I will also be running PhD seminars in Research(ing) by Design(ing), continuing some of Cameron Tonkinwise’s work. (I remain a visiting tutor at the RCA, temporarily at least, to continue to supervise the PhDs of Nazlı Terzioğlu, Chang Hee Lee and Dave Pao; Delfina Fantini van Ditmar passed her PhD in the summer.)

Carnegie Mellon was attractive for many reasons. The School of Design has a vision for design education and research, Transition Design, which is more exciting (and reflectively critical) than simply repeating “we’re number 1”. Transition Design is very relevant to my previous research in design for behaviour change, sustainable design, energy use, designing agency, understanding the systems around us, community-led design and many other areas, and in acknowledging “that we are living in ‘transitional times’” it enables design to be seen as a tool for engaging with complexity, with “an understanding of the interconnectedness of social, economic, political and natural systems”. I wanted to work at a university that had a professional approach to employment and career development for younger faculty, and CMU offers this to an impressive extent, along with proper employment contracts and administrative support to faculty. I wanted to work somewhere that values people’s contributions, has an informed and mature approach to research, teaching and service, that is welcoming, friendly and interested, and where the obsession is with doing things well rather than simply bringing in more and more money, and while CMU brings in plenty of money, there is a genuine commitment to excellence along with it. Most of all, I wanted to work somewhere where I would have a chance to develop and follow a vision for a programme of research and teaching, and where I would be supported and trusted to do so, where a career was possible and encouraged and with a much much flatter hierarchy of management, and I think CMU can deliver this. As an Assistant Professor, I have a lot of freedom and autonomy, much more than I would have (at this level) at any of the UK institutions I have ever worked at. It gave me lots of pride to see my Play Lab students’ work on show at Focus, the senior design exhibition, earlier this month. CMU has been welcoming, exciting, enjoyable and an enthusiastic employer so far, and I want to thank everyone who has made Harriet’s and my first few months so good.

The Britain that Harriet and I left, or rather the pre-23-June Britain, feels like the past, another country now, where, indeed, they do things differently (and with much more decorum and less pride in ignorance). It has been a very strange, and sad thing to watch from abroad as the UK determinedly keeps shooting itself in the same foot so comprehensively and with so much nastiness, and I miss, basically, the idea that the future can be better than the past. I like 1950s cars and design and writing and lots of other things, but I don’t want to live there. But of course, it’s been a very weird time to live in America too, and to see what a hugely divided country it is, and yet also not to have to experience that in everyday life: the milieu of a university professor in the US is not one where I see much opinion other than utter disdain for, and horror at, what has happened. The situation in the US, the UK, and in many other countries where danger is on the rise, leads me to articulate a possible new role / challenge for the field of design for behaviour change, which I will outline in a forthcoming blog post introducing my new lab at CMU, the Imaginaries Lab.

Aside from academic papers, a couple of books have been published:

Springer published Living Labs: Design and Assessment of Sustainable Living, a collection edited by David Keyson, Olivia Guerra-Santin (both TU Delft) and myself, with chapters covering research arising from the SusLabNWE project, a European collaboration on which I worked from 2013-15 at the Helen Hamlyn Centre. My chapters and those co-authored with Flora Bowden and others cover Powerchord, Drawing Energy and Design with Intent. The book is typically expensive for this kind of academic volume, but I am sure you can find a PDF somewhere; if not, please email me.

The Pursuit of Legible Policy: Encouraging Agency and Participation in the Complex Systems of the Contemporary Megalopolis was published by Buró Buró in Mexico City, compiling articles written as part of our British Council Newton Fund / CONACyT-funded collaboration between the RCA, Laboratorio para la Ciudad, Superflux, UNAM, and Future Cities Catapult. The book is a free download and includes a chapter by me (‘Designing Agency in the City’) alongside contributions from people such as Gabriella Gómez-Mont, Anab Jain, Gyorgyi Galik, Laura Ferrarello, John Lynch, Sofia Bosch and Carlos Gershenson.

I’ll have lots more news soon, from a range of projects and some new initiatives, so, until then: take care of each other, and let’s try, however we can, to make 2017 actively better.

Design with Intent: The Book

I’m very excited to announce that O’Reilly Media will be publishing my Design with Intent book in Autumn 2016, with an Early Release version available before that. Please do sign up to the new newsletter for updates!

Design is increasingly about people’s behaviour, but this is often considered simplistically. The Design with Intent book aims to give practitioners a more nuanced approach to design and behaviour, working with people, people’s understanding, and the complexities of everyday human experience.

It will build on the toolkit, and my PhD, but also what I’ve learned over the last few years on practical research projects, with people in real contexts, around people’s understanding of, and interaction with, technology and designed systems, including SusLab, Creative Citizens, CarbonCulture at DECC and Creating Sustainable Innovation. The book will also build on examples, good and bad, from all over the world, addressing a wide range of problems and contexts, both social and commercial. It’ll cover design across products, services and environments, physical and digital (and, increasingly, in combination), and I’ll be asking for readers’ suggestions and examples for particular ideas and themes.

I’m hoping that the book will offer a more nuanced approach to designing around people’s behaviour, based on designing and researching with people rather than ‘for’ them, learning from people’s understanding of the world, and embracing the complexities of everyday human experience. As I said last year, I’m increasingly uncomfortable with how I see “design for behaviour change”, and the “behaviour change agenda”, being applied in practice, with simplistic, deterministic and individualist approaches which often seem to be about treating humans as defective components, that need to be constrained or tricked, denying variety, complexity, culture and social context. I started blogging ten years ago specifically to explore and critique the use of design to control and exert power, and that hasn’t gone away.

Writing the book is going to be a big job alongside my work at the RCA, and my plan is to blog the process to keep myself on track—partly also to get suggestions and input along the way. So please do keep an eye on the site, and sign up to the newsletter for updates. Thanks to everyone who gave me the confidence to take the plunge with this!

What does energy look like? Drawing Energy book now available

Drawing Energy book

Some news from the SusLab project:

Last year, Flora Bowden blogged about our investigation of people’s perceptions of ‘energy’—how do people visualise, or think about, what is for the most part an abstract, invisible concept?

A book detailing our research, Drawing Energy, is now available to download or order:

Bowden, F., Lockton, D., Gheerawo, R. and Brass, C. (2015). Drawing Energy: Exploring perceptions of the invisible. London: Royal College of Art. ISBN 978-1-910642-10-8. Editor: Rama Gheerawo (PDF)

Drawing Energy describes a drawing-based research project undertaken by the Royal College of Art as part of SusLabNWE (2012-15). The project explored people’s perceptions of energy, by asking them to write, draw or illustrate their thoughts and reactions to the question ‘What does energy look like?’ Over 180 members of the public took part in the process.

The larger SuslabNWE study saw 11 partners from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK come together to understand and investigate energy use in the home. At the Royal College of Art in the UK, we looked at bringing together two ideals and practices around inclusive design and sustainability. Both often have different starting points and deal with different scales. Inclusive design usually focuses on people’s needs and capabilities at the domestic scale, while sustainability embraces complexity and systems thinking, addressing systemic change.

Drawing Energy negotiates a space between the two, bringing together people’s aspirations and perspectives with the context of socio-political mandates and changing infrastructure or technologies. The study also moves beyond the idea of purely functional research (such as numerically measuring energy use) to depict the less tangible area of how people relate to energy in a visual, literal or metaphorical way – it takes us from data ‘performance’ through to human ‘perception’. The work represented in this collection builds on a history of using drawing as a tool for research and as a way to enable people to express their ideas and imagination fully.

We hope you appreciate this publication, whether you see it as a strategy within design research, or simply enjoy it for the rich and varied artwork that represent the public’s views of energy.

Drawing Energy: Exploring Perceptions of the Invisible was designed by Hannah Montague and edited by Rama Gheerawo.

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Update

Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore

It’s been a bit of a chaotic time recently, both in family terms and professionally, so my apologies for the lack of updates. In February I started as Visiting Research Tutor in Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) at the RCA, helping develop a programme of research and helping to supervise a group of excellent PhD researchers with a range of very interesting projects. IDE has one of the largest design research cohorts within the RCA, and I am looking forward to helping develop this further, in some new directions, through both academic and industry collaborations.

Part of this, from my point of view, will be reinvigorating and developing the Design & Behaviour Research Network which I started back in 2008, into something more substantial and which can build on other work such such as last year’s Creating Sustainable Innovation project. If you’re interested in collaborating, please get in touch.

The Performance of Nonhuman BehaviourAt Nordes 2015 at Konstfack in Stockholm in June, I will be running a workshop, The Performance of Nonhuman Behaviour, with Delfina Fantini van Ditmar (IDE PhD candidate) and Claudia Dutson (Architecture PhD candidate). My part of the workshop builds on many of the ideas explored in this blog over the years, around people’s understanding of the systems they interact with, and I’m hoping it will be a fun and useful event. More details in due course.

Some background

I’ll be blunt here: academic career prospects for what are termed “early career researchers” in the UK are not great, particularly in subjects which fall between the cracks of major research councils’ funding scope, and particularly at places like the RCA which don’t have any kind of staff development programme for researchers, and which depend heavily on “visiting” and part-time staff, often with no contract at all. My choices have been, essentially: 1) bring in enough funding to pay my own salary plus all of the overheads which universities require (which I have tried to do, and am trying to do, but which is very difficult starting from a near-zero base); 2) work on others’ projects on a series of short-term contracts, with little strategic input (which I don’t mind doing if I have to, but which is a step backwards); 3) leave and go somewhere with better support for early career staff. The RCA has some fantastic people, both students and staff, so I am trying option 1), as best I can, but I am aware that as an institution, it doesn’t try very hard to hold onto people.

GATEway project, Meridian ShuttleIn option 2) terms, working for the Helen Hamlyn Centre together with Vehicle Design at the RCA, I have temporarily (since January) also been project manager for setting up the public engagement work package of GATEway, an £8 million Innovate UK project looking at understanding and demonstrating driverless cars in the UK, led by TRL in conjunction with partners including the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Commonplace, and Shell. The introduction of new technology of this kind, the designed systems, services and infrastructure around it, and the potential effects on everything from urban planning to jobs, is fascinating, and I will be intrigued to see how the project develops and what it finds.

SusLab, Drawing Energy and Powerchord

My job at the Helen Hamlyn Centre as part of the RCA’s role in SusLab has ended when the RCA’s funding ended, although I am still contributing to the project by supporting other partners in analysis and writing up of the results, and co-editing an academic book with Professor David Keyson and Dr Olivia Guerra Santin from TU Delft.

From the UK perspective, our book Drawing Energy, on which Flora Bowden has led, with myself, Clare Brass and Rama Gheerawo as co-authors, should be published in June this year by the Helen Hamlyn Centre. I’ll put more details on the SusLab at the RCA blog when they’re available.

Powerchord, energy sonificationI am going to continue to work on Powerchord, the home energy sonification system, as a personal project. Being freed of the constraints of a major project ought to make this easier and faster, though of course without the benefit of funding. Claire Matthews has produced a brilliant range of sound schemes, and I’m hoping that a Mark II version of Powerchord using Jack Kelly’s approach to extracting CurrentCost/EDF individual appliance monitor data will prove more flexible than the previous approach. More news on this in due course.

Design with Intent

In February, while I was en route to Munich to talk at the wonderful Hans Sauer Foundation Social Design Elevation Days, a PHP upgrade by the webhost, combined with a long outdated version of MediaWiki meant that the Design with Intent website became unusable (blank, basically). My botched attempt to fix it rapidly via FTP, hotspotting from my phone in an airport departure lounge, made things worse. So I have put up a temporary site which has most of the same content, but does not have individual pages for each pattern. Something better is on the way when I get a spare weekend…

Drawing Energy and Powerchord at the London Design Festival 2014


The latest Powerchord prototype in use..

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The London Design Festival is a huge event taking place across London from today (13th) for the next couple of weeks, and we’re proud to say that two of our SusLab mini-projects, Drawing Energy and Powerchord, are featured, as part of two exhibitions.

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V_and_A_DiliffV&A Digital Design Weekend: 20 & 21 September

At the Victoria & Albert Museum, the 2014 V&A Digital Design Weekend, on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st September, from 10.30am to 5pm, is a fantastic transformation of the V&A into “one big workshop… where visitors come together with artists and designers to discuss and think about objects, making and working collaboratively.” We’re honoured to be presenting our work in some very talented company, including James Bridle, Tine Bech and Bristol’s REACT Hub.

You can take part in Drawing Energy—please come along to see the collection, and create your vision of energy!—and play with Powerchord, and contribute to shaping the next stage of its development.

Dyson exterior_Helene BinetBreaking Through: New projects from the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design: 15-25 September

Our projects are also featured in the Helen Hamlyn Centre’s own exhibition and symposium, taking place in the Dyson Building at RCA Battersea, each day from the 15th to 25th September, from 10am to 5.30pm. Breaking Through “demonstrates how emerging ideas can shape alternative futures in areas as diverse as energy use, office life and ageing populations—when ethnographic research and people-centred design are considered in tandem. From designs for a new London taxi to innovations in healthcare and developments for digital communities, there is an emphasis on user push rather than technology pull as the driving force to improve people’s lives through design.”

We’ll be showing the results of Drawing Energy so far, and you can also play with Powerchord by using appliances and hearing how it responds.

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About the projects

Drawing Energy (What Does Energy Look Like?) is a drawing project led by the Royal College of Art to explore how people imagine and think about energy. It is part of the wider European SusLabNWE project that is exploring energy use in the home.

Over the past year we have asked over one hundred people – students, children, academics, energy experts, designers and members of the public – to draw for us what they think energy looks like.

The project is described in a paper presented by Flora Bowden at the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics 2014 Congress in New York:

  • Bowden, F., Lockton, D., Gheerawo, R. & Brass, C. (2014). ‘Drawing Energy: Exploring the Aesthetics of the Invisible’. IAEA Congress 2014: Congress of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, 22-24 August 2014, New York (paper PDF).

Powerchord is a prototype data sonification system, under development, which turns near-real time electricity monitoring, of multiple household appliances, into sound. The concept was developed from ideas suggested by householders during co-creation sessions as part of the SusLabNWE project.

The prototype uses the ‘guts’ of a CurrentCost energy monitor, connected to an Arduino which reads the XML data stream from the monitor and maps the power levels to particular tracks, played using a WAV Trigger. The current iteration uses birdsong, of different intensities, from recordings at xeno-canto.org

The project is described in a paper presented by Dan Lockton at the SoniHED Conference on Sonification of Health and Environmental Data, 12 September 2014, York:

  • Lockton, D., Bowden, F., Brass, C. & Gheerawo, R. (2014). ‘Bird-wattching: exploring sonification of home electricity use with birdsong’. SoniHED – Conference on Sonification of Health and Environmental Data, 12 September 2014, York (paper PDF).

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Designing with people in sustainability and behaviour change research: DRS 2014 Workshop, 15 June 2014

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On 15 June, at the 2014 Design Research Society conference in Umeå, Sweden, we will be running a workshop on Designing with people in sustainability and behaviour change research along with SusLab project colleagues from Chalmers University of Technology and the Wuppertal Institute.

This full-day workshop should be of interest to designers and researchers working at intersections of sustainability and ‘behaviour change’—two major current themes across product, service and architectural design and human-computer interaction.

We hope we can learn from each other—we want participants to share methods, ideas, stories ‘from the field’ and needs and possibilities arising from ongoing and future projects, through group exercises, presentations and re-enactments; over the day, we’ll collect these insights in a structured format, matching needs, methods and case studies with potentially applicable behavioural design techniques. This will be then published online as a guide for researchers, but also to inform others working on sustainability and behaviour change—including in a policy context—of design research’s value in this area.

While technology is important, people (whether or not we call them ‘users’) are key to the environmental and social challenges of design in everyday life. Understanding people—and the contexts and social practices of living and working—is crucial. Without these insights, work on sustainability risks being based on assumptions about human behaviour and decision-making which may not capitalise on the opportunities design offers.

In the workshop, we’ll be exploring methods for involving and including people better in design research for sustainability and behaviour change—designing with people. These include ethnographic methods, participatory design and co-creation, prototyping, probes and provocations, and integrating qualitative and quantitative data. We’ll discuss aspects distinguishing sustainability and energy research from general user research—how can specialist knowledge best be used?

Here’s our proposal for reference (PDF)—the details may change slightly.

Taking part

To take part in the workshop, you need to be registered for the conference (you can’t register separately for the workshops), and also submit a case study (see below) directly to us – email dan.lockton@rca.ac.uk – by 1 April. We will let you know your acceptance by 15 April, which is also the cut-off date for the early bird conference fee, so we’ll try to make sure we let you know a few days before this.

Here’s information on the DRS 2014 workshops and how to register.

Submitting a case study

We would like participants to put together brief case studies (approx 2-4 pages) of methods, ideas and stories ‘from the field’ about research relating to behaviour, people’s interaction with products, services or environments, with either a sustainability perspective or relating to other areas of social benefit. These do not have to be formal papers, but they can be if you wish. Key things to include are:

  • how you framed the problem you were investigating, or what you were trying to find out
  • how/why you chose the research methods you did
  • how they worked in practice – how did the results inform your design process?
  • how you would improve the methods

Ideally, we would like you to bring to the workshop (or at least have images of) some of the actual artefacts / tools involved. For example, if you used a form of design probe, be prepared to talk through the details of it.

Please also include, again briefly, some needs and possibilities you see arising from ongoing and future projects: what kinds of questions are you going to need to answer?

The point of the workshop is collectively to share and learn from each other’s methods and experience, so our main criteria for selecting participants will be based on a) making sure we have a diverse set of people, methods and contexts represented, and b) making sure we keep the workshop to a reasonable number of participants to allow easier discussion and group work over the day.

Please send your case study to dan.lockton@rca.ac.uk by 1 April. We will let you know whether you’ve been accepted by 15 April, hopefully before.

Organisers

Dan Lockton, Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art, UK
Flora Bowden, SustainRCA, Royal College of Art, UK
Sara Renström, Design & Human Factors, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden
Anneli Selvefors, Design & Human Factors, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden
Pernilla Hagbert, Homes for Tomorrow, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden
Carolin Baedeker, Sustainable Production & Consumption, Wuppertal Institute, Germany
Najine AmeliSustainable Production & Consumption, Wuppertal Institute, Germany