Currently doing some research on "smart textiles" (more details on that later!) and I happened to find this really captivating project: BioLace

"‘BioLace’ is a speculative design-led research project that investigates the intersection of synthetic biology and textile design to propose future fabrication processes for textiles.  The motivation behind this research lies in the hypothesis that living technology can foster a new approach to address some of the key sustainable challenges of the 21st century." Carole Collet

Culture, Power and Learning in Makerspaces

Interesting talk coming up tomorrow at IDAH:

Culture, Power and Learning in Makerspaces: Enacting Equity at the Crossroads of Arts, Humanities and Sciences

Date: Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Time: 10a-11a
Location: Wells Library Room E174 (off the south vestibule of the main library entrance)

Description: Making is a deeply cultural and historical practice that often lives at the intersection where science meets the arts and humanities. As a portal to practicing various ways of knowing, inquiring, creating and relating, making is increasingly shaping educational spaces, both inside and outside of the classroom. Yet efforts to expand access to “makerspaces” often treat making as a normative or ahistorical practice, and tend to reproduce individualistic and economic narratives with regard to the purposes of making.

In this talk, Vossoughi offers a critical framework for design, practice, and research on making in educational spaces. This framework draws from cultural-historical theories of learning, literature on educational equity and justice, and Vossoughi’s long-term ethnographic research on afterschool tinkering programs for students in non-dominant communities. More specifically, Vossoughi argues that a framework for equity in making ought to include: a.) critical analyses of educational injustice; b.) historicized approaches to making as cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary activity; c.) explicit attention to pedagogical philosophies and practices; and d.) ongoing inquiry into the sociopolitical values and purposes of making. Offering examples of each of these principles, Vossoughi considers the specific theoretical and pedagogical sensibilities that animate transformative visions for educational equity. 

midweSTS keynote speaker

Very happy to have Karen Levy as our keynote this week! 


midweSTS keynote speaker / informatics colloquium

Data Driven: Truckers and The New Workplace Surveillance
Friday Sept 30, 2017 - INFO EAST 130, Indiana University

Abstract:  This talk examines how electronic monitoring systems in the U.S. trucking industry are used to compel truckers’ compliance with legal and organizational rules. For decades, truckers have kept track of their work time using easily falsified paper logbooks, and performed their work without too much regard for legal worktime limits. But new regulations will require truckers’ time to be monitored by digital systems, hard-wired into the trucks themselves, which remove much of the flexibility on which truckers have historically relied.

I focus on how digital monitoring reshapes truckers’ social relations in two spheres. First, I examine how the systems reshape organizational information flows in trucking firms. Electronic monitoring systems accrue real-time aggregated data in remote dispatchers, allowing firms to construct alternative narratives to truckers’ accounts of local and biophysical conditions. Data are then reembedded in drivers’ social networks—fleets and even families—as firms attach economic incentives to them to create new performance pressures. These dynamics facilitate firms’ control over truckers’ work in new ways. I then consider challenges created by human/machine hybridity in inspection interactions, in which law enforcement officers seek to verify truckers’ time logs. Digital monitors destabilize traditional power dynamics by making officers’ technical troubles newly visible to truckers, undermining their authority. Truckers exploit officers’ anxiety by misleadingly signaling the presence of monitors (through a process of “decoy compliance”) in hopes of avoiding inspection. These interactions demonstrate how human discretion and the performance of authority remain fundamental to enforcement regimes, even when they rely in part on digital technology.

Duolingo: Language Learning in Interaction Design

I have been brushing up on my Spanish recently and a friend recommend that I try Duolingo. It has turned out to be a really pleasant (and effective) learning experience. The design of the site is excellent, and varied enough to be challenging and yet repetitious enough to promote memorization. I've noticed that the site has several commonly used frameworks for learning.

Connect an image with a term:   

Verbal repetition:

Verbal translation:

Spanish to English written translation:

Type what you hear:


Each of these designs is extremely effective, simple, and intuitive. I did very little to "learn" how to use this tool. I just started using it and was practicing Spanish quickly and effectively right from the start. There are several key interactions that make this design work so well:

1) The response is always consistent: if you are correct or if you get the answer wrong it appears on the lower left and gives you the correct answer if you missed it. The question also repeats later in the lesson if you missed it.  

2) The use of sound (which I can't display here) is effective. There is a bell that marks a correct answer as well as when you hit "enter" to move to the next prompt. This makes navigation easier because sound is faster than sight. 

3) The top blue line tracks movement though a lesson. Each lesson is divided into 6-10 individual sections, depending on how many topics are included, and this makes it easy to see how far you have gone within each individual lesson. There are concluding marks are the end of each section.

4) Hovering over the Spanish words provides an English translation. This is helpful because the translation is hidden unless you need it. You can try to guess it beforehand, but hover over the word if you need assistance. 

5) The activities are varied. It moves from a verbal task to a written task to a visual task to a verbal task, and so forth. Varied enough that you don't get bored, and repetition is built into the program in less obvious ways because you might verbally respond to a prompt that comes up later in a written version. So by the time you finish the lesson, you have written and spoken the response. 

The overall organization of the site is quite good as well. For example, see above. This illustrates how the lessons are grouped together. In this case, there are 8 lessons about "objects" and each lesson takes about 3-5 minutes, so overall, this would be a 30-40 minute lesson.  As you finish each section, the conclusion screen tells you what you did, for example, what areas of language you have strengthened. 

And finally, the site keeps track of your overall learning by calculating your total proficiency based on which lessons you have completed. I'm not sure how accurate this 19% is in my case, but based on what they assume I have learned, it might be in the ballpark.  

There are a lot of subtle interactions that happen in Duolingo, and I would be very curious to know more about their design research practices. How did they come up with these particular lesson plans? What informed the process in terms of the amount of back and forth between verbal and written work?  On a purely aesthetic view, the site is beautifully designed, clean, and optimistically colored. I would also like to know if there are differences in the design in terms of the languages that are offered. So far, I have only worked with Spanish, but I look forward to trying out some new languages. Overall, I have been extremely impressed with this tool, which may be partly due to the fact that so many language learning tools are so poorly designed. It's nice to see a site that gets everything so right. 

After Nature and the Future of Interaction Design

I recently read After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene, by Jedediah Purdy. It's a fascinating book that explores the history of environmental thought in the United States. Purdy suggests that we have gone though several phases of human-environment relationships, changing the way we construct nature time and time again. The crux of the argument is that we can no longer separate humans and nature because humans are now so deeply involved in the environment, there isn't a place on earth that isn't in some way "touched" by humans. It's a foundational idea in my dissertation, and one that I hope begins to shape the way we think about interaction design and technology use in the future. In the book, Purdy writes, “Whatever innovation brings, people will continue to shape the earth by inhabiting it, changing everything from its atmospheric cycles to its soils and habitats. It is much too late to imagine that any technology could enable humanity to “stop disturbing” the earth. Instead, every technology will become part of the joint human-natural system in which we make and remake the world just by living here.” It's a provocative idea and one that presents new challenges for designers as we learn how to live in a world affected by climate change, urbanization, and other global concerns. I will write more about this in the future as I continue my research in this area. For now, take a look at this great interview with Purdy at the Atlantic. 

Critical Design Favorites

I gave a talk about critical design in class last week. It was just a quick introductory overview, but I was reminded how much I love some of these projects, especially Chris Woebkn's work, which got me interested in animal research in the first place! Since the talk, a lot of students have emailed me for more critical design resources, which is really inspiring. Thought I would post a few of the projects here as a reminder of how design can be used as a tool, not only to change perspective, but also to push us beyond our everyday sense of what design is for, and what kinds of things we can do with it. 

Animal Superpowers by Chris Woebken. How the world looks to an ant!

Animal Superpowers by Chris Woebken. How the world looks to an ant!

Collaboration Birdhouse, by Chris Woebken, which requires two birds to work.

Collaboration Birdhouse, by Chris Woebken, which requires two birds to work.

Blendie, by Kelly Dobson - Humans learn to speak the language of the blender.

Blendie, by Kelly Dobson - Humans learn to speak the language of the blender.

Foragers, by Dunne and Raby - Imagining the future of food.

Foragers, by Dunne and Raby - Imagining the future of food.

Personal Space Dress, by Kathleen McDermitt

Personal Space Dress, by Kathleen McDermitt