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Speculating on everyday computational things
Doenja Oogjes’ PhD research speculatively explores new kinds of relations that might form among people, things, and their everyday environments
What are you working on in your graduate studies?
I am interested in the different types of relations people might form with everyday computational things. In coming to understand these, I am looking into what perspectives have been overlooked (such as non-normative, and non-human) and through design speculate about new forms of relations.
What are your favourite projects?
Videos of Things
I really enjoy working on the projects of the Everyday Design Studio with my supervisor Ron Wakkary – it’s hard to pick a favorite! When I started out as a PhD student, I made a couple of videos featuring some of the design objects: the Table-Non-Table (a slowly moving stack of paper supported by a motorized aluminum chassis), the Tilting Bowl (a ceramic bowl that tilts three to four times a day) and Lyssna (a hearing aid for your refrigerator). In the making of these videos, I explored different narrative strategies that could help depict how subtle and intertwined relations between people and these things might evolve over time. For example, and in contrary to most design videos, I tried to somewhat displace the design objects, for example by filming from their perspective, or letting them in on the scenario quite late. I wanted to allow the viewer to imagine the broader world and situations that those things might find themselves in, rather than simply how they might be used (which for say, a bowl, would make for a very silly video).
Designing for an other home
This project is with my supervisory committee member William Odom (co-director of the Everyday Design Studio). We started this project as a collaboration with the Interaction Research Studio and their Taskcam platform. We created cultural probe packages (open research tools meant for creative responses) and recruited a variety of participants living in non-normative living situations, such as a tiny house dweller living on a nearby island, a nomadic pet/house sitter who moved from one house to another, a vehicle dweller living in a retrofitted van, an urban boat dweller, and people living in collective houses.
The returned probe kits included photographs, audio recordings, written notes, personal artifacts, and so on, and we developed a series of speculative design responses. Our aim was to explore an attitude toward design for other, less considered forms of domestic life, and to open up a dialogue about different ways that the home and domestic technology could be treated and explored. Some examples included a video-window that allows you to look back to views of previous/other places that feel like home (such as the view from the ferry), or a van that is equipped with connected everyday things that project their status on an LED-scroll, to inform suspicious passers-by of the homely and mundane activities that go on inside the van.
What motivated you to pursue graduate school?
I think grad school lends itself well for the type of design I am interested in. As may have become apparent through the examples above, speculative design challenges norms and assumptions, and can ask critical questions – but it can also open up new forms of design. I saw grad school as an opportunity to further explore and deepen the types of questions I am interested in: the silly, the philosophical, the absurd.
Why did you choose the School of Interactive Arts & Technology over other programs?
Ron Wakkary and William Odom taught a master’s course at my previous university, the Industrial Design department at the Technical University of Eindhoven. I really enjoyed their approach to design and when the opportunity came up to do part of my masters at the Everyday Design Studio, I was happy to find even more people doing similar work at SIAT. I enjoy how the program is research-oriented but how within that, there is still a lot of room to explore artistic and unconventional approaches.
What advice would you give to those who are deciding if graduate school is right for them?
I think you have to be (slightly) obsessive. If you genuinely can’t stop thinking about something, and feel like it can keep you curious, excited and motivated over the long term – find some other people (professors, preferably) who are similarly obsessed, and you’ll have a great time, obsessing over that.
How did you cope with the transition into grad school?
Having the opportunity to spend some time here at SIAT before starting my PhD made the transition a lot more gradual. I also think it is really important to be able to step away from it all: of course, it’s hard work and you have to be committed, but also be kind to yourself and don’t take it too seriously, all of the time. I have a milestone-reward-system that has gotten a bit out of hand: my record collection has grown significantly.
What are your future aspirations?
Oh my. For a speculative designer, I probably don’t spend enough time thinking about my own future. Most of my best decisions have been spur of the moment (like coming to SIAT)!