Topic Workshop: Sustainability

I’m simply amazed by the sustainability workshop. The team members took on four meaningful directions: product-making, digital energy consumption, informing public, and social space. I’m also happy to see the useful strategic advice that the team suggested in digital product design, such as encouraging the meaningful actions at the right context.

The first section of the presentation talked about the acceleration of consumerism after WWII. I think it touched on a question that many end up asking themselves at night: can we encourage people to consume less at an age when buying more is the main avenue to the economical revenue?

Researching about climate crisis made me exposed to different answers from others. It might be a far stretch, but sometimes I feel that promoting sustainability without changing our culture is like trying to dismantle master’s house with master’s tools. I have the feeling to many dilemmas that I’m facing today as a student, an interaction designer, and a person who sincerely wants to make the world a better place. Just like Gil Friend said, how can we think our way out of these messes, when the way we think is part of the mess?

I hope I could get closer to my answer to the question, maybe in ten years.

Sprint #2: Food Again?

As another attempt to bring the high-level thoughts to the ground, I decided to used early brainstorming to see how the potential solutions manifest themselves and looked for focused areas for application.

Crazy 8 under 16 minutes (Oops!)

The first and the fifth concept to be similar. I found the concept promising in facilitating behavior change, since it creates supportive environments for decision-making.

Information-processing based models to facilitate behavior change for climate change, from Rare.

I think the concept is applicable to food consumption, an important portion of humans’ carbon footprint. It threw me back to the water footprint project I did in 2018 with Nathalia. The similar approach focuses on surfacing statistics that break down the impact of farming and manufacturing processes.

The implementation of carbon labels are quite difficult, since it requires building infrastructures for farmers, processors, and retailers. However, the increased transparency resulted from such framework could have tremendous systemic impact for better farming mitigation, acuter policy-making, and more sustainable consumption.

What does it look like when the infrastructure is in place? How could the new information empower us to understand our impact in changing our food consumption patterns? I’m currently creating low-fid prototypes and hope to get early feedback by next week.

Sprint #2: Focus Focus

Wow, it feels really bad to drag the research phase for more than two weeks.

In the previous week, my research result focused on the individual actions one could take However, I found it challenging to write a clear problem statement. I reflected on the past two weeks, and I think the expert research was conducted with a lack of intention. The conversations helped me understand the issue of climate change in general, but I kept beating around the bush without finding the right problem space.

At the end of last week, I turned to look at the article that inspired me to examine the intersection of critical thinking and climate change: We Might Be Reaching ‘Peak Indifference’ on Climate Change. I decided to turn my attention back to how we as individuals understand climate change and the impact of our actions.

Bret Victor’s What Can I Technologist Do about Climate Change? explained the problem well:

Imagine a concerned citizen who does a web search for “what can I do about climate change”. The top two results as I write this are the EPA’s What You Can Do and the David Suzuki Foundation’s Top 10 ways you can stop climate change. […] These are lists of proverbs. Little action items, mostly dequantified, entirely decontextualized. How significant is it to “eat wisely” and “trim your waste”? How does it compare to other sources of harm? How does it fit into the big picture? How many people would have to participate in order for there to be appreciable impact? How do you know that these aren’t token actions to assauge guilt?

Even though I wouldn’t call myself a technologist, I wholeheartedly agree with what he wrote here. It’s a vicious feedback loop.

  1. The scale of climate change prevents us from understanding it.
  2. Our inability to evaluate impact of actions prevents us from understanding climate change.

I have forced myself to start brainstorming on connecting specific actions one takes to carbon emissions of the world.

Hope I could run a third sprint this semester!

Topic Workshop: Sound

Eugina, Kendra, and Heather did a fantastic job introducing the development of use of sound in consumer experiences, from media production to advertising to digital products.

During the presentation, Gretchen gave an example of how a wrong sound could disrupt the interaction, such as sending a message. The explainer video from the Wired also made me aware of how the most memorable sounds are designed to set the atmosphere and amplify the emotions.

The activity was so much fun! I felt like a foley artist when Grace, Ann and I tried to produce sound to the Weather app experience on iPhone. Touching and experimenting with different objects made me pay more attention to the materiality of many things around us today. It’s magical to think about how we react to different sounds psychologically.

Sprint #2: Focus

The research for the climate change is a blend of secondary research (mainly OtherLab and Project Drawdown) and conversations with experts including Elaine Hsieh, the marketing consultant for Generate Capital.

The research made me believe again that our individual impact matters. Both organizations strive to understand the inefficiency of the systems, but continue to encourage individuals, especially those in U.S., to change the culture. There is certainly a lot in the scope: food, water, electricity, and other lifestyles that contribute to significant carbon emission.

So far, my research resources have led me to examine the human behaviors more closely. I do hope to learn more about the intersection of the public and policy makers, and I’m trying my best to connect with people before I had to shift my focus in the timing.

Topic Workshop: NUI

During the charades workshop, our small group was asked to design a NUI for calling. I was surprised that our imagination is constrained by the representation of today’s technology.

The smartphones are certainly not the end form of communication tool. Yet, they have become a pillar for the infrastructure that powers our culture. My generation is born with the existence of immediate voice communication by remembering and dialing people’s numbers. The tool has integrated to our ways of living, so much that it became difficult for us to think of other ways of talking to each other.

Can we imagine a new way to communicate beyond using phones? I asked myself: if calling is magic, how would we call each other? It inspired me to look for other possible interactions we can have with the world, such as bringing a person to me wafting on a person’s picture to bring them (and the air around them) towards me.

Dialing a picture!

When a technology product works exceptionally well, people describe it as “magic.” But I think magic and technology relate to two distinctive directions of imagining our future. When we think about achieving a goal by magic, the interactions might better map to the hopes and needs we have. At a moment when many solutions derive from technological advancement, this way of imagination could be much needed.

Topic Workshop: Mental Health

I appreciate that the presentation highlighted how relevant mental health is to our discipline.

I mostly consider myself a person who grew up with messaging services and the rise of social media. Time flew by so fast! Social media, an invention from around a decade ago, is considered as a negative influence on our mental health today. Sometimes I wonder, how does growing up with a world entangled with social media influence the new generations? Will they take immediate connection as granted, like we do with the Internet? What value do they put on the numbers of likes and views? How do they construct their world views on things that the older generations (like me??? Gosh, writing this post makes me sad) might consider as problematic?

When I was little, there’s a quote that gets passed around in my family:

Everything created before one turns 18 is taken as granted; everything created when they’re 18–35 is the greatest invention of human history; everything created after they’re 35 is stupid and will will destroy the world.

I’m writing it here to remind myself to be open-minded, just like when my mother told my father to do so.

Sprint #1: Documenting & Moving on

While I found expert research interviewees, it took me longer than expected to document the sprint in the past week.

For a project that I learned and found the direction on the way, writing a post is a mix of documentation and reflection. At the moment, I’m looking for the best way to separate my design approach and the critique on the issue. It’s important to tell the story well, and I recognized it might take some time for me to get feedback before sending it out.

It’s also a great timing to introduce my work around YouTube when Mozilla published #YouTubeRegrets, a new project collecting stories when people’s lives are changed by the “bizarre and dangerous recommendations.” I’m planning on reaching out to them after I publish the post.

Time is ticking for my senior project. It’s been more than a half of the semester, and I’m just starting my second sprint. I realized that I could’ve spent the time more wisely, and that I’m way too ambitious with my deadlines. I guess everyone has a moment when they wish they have all the time in the world to do something.

A month ago, I stumbled upon this quote found by Tina Eisenberg, a Swiss designer:

I can’t give my students more time in their lives; but what I try to do is change the way they think about and value it in the first place. My class typically includes students who aren’t art majors, some of whom may never have made art before. I give them the same advice every quarter: Leave yourself twice as much time as you think you need for a project, knowing that half of that may not look like “making” anything at all. There is no Soylent version of thought and reflection — creativity is unpredictable, and it simply takes time.

— Jenny Odell

Maybe I’m looking for the right balance between design and life, or between moments of “creation” and “execution.” Maybe I’m lazy. I guess I will find out later in my life.

Topic Workshop: VR/AR

I walked into the classroom seeing two VR headsets set up. I thought: it’s going to be a crazy morning.

This summer, I had a chance to listen to a talk from Jaron Lanier on problems with today’s VR industry. He imagined VR as a creative tool that augments our senses and trigger new possibilities that could change lives. Instead, most of the markets focused on offering illusions, mostly games, rather than experiences that facilitate creations.

I was happy to learn the (visual) design principles in AR environment from the team. But it was a more interesting moment when the classmates waited in line to try out the two experiences. Some are watching the mirrored screens, others are chatting about if they had enough time to try it out. I had mixed feelings to our social dynamics in the room. Working on HoloLens for a side project recently gave me a taste of the potential of the AR/VR platforms, but I just couldn’t get the feeling out of my head when I saw the announcement of Facebook Horizon.

How further secluded can we be?