Hardware decays, software obsolesces, infrastructures sediment, devices patinate. While recent scholarship has examined longevity and sustainability, we have little empirical understanding of how things age, decay, and obsolesce and how we might approach impermanence as a resource for practice and reflection. What are the material and temporal qualities of aging, decay, degradation, and obsolescence? And how can we use impermanence as a resource for design, use, and maintenance of long-lived technological artefacts?
This is an ongoing research topic that is related to my previous research on Wabi-Sabi as a concept to discuss impermanence, incompleteness and imperfection in Human-Computer Interaction.
Tsaknaki, V., Cohn, M., Boer, L., Fernaeus, Y., & Vallgårda, A. (2016). Things Fall Apart: Unpacking the Temporalities of Impermanence for HCI. Workshop paper In Proceedings of Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction. Göteborg, Sweden.NordiCHI’16. ACM Press. (Link to the paper)
Expanding on Wabi-Sabi as a Design Resource in HCI
A practical challenge for designers as well as users of interactive products today lies in how the engineering discourse of technology tends to promote values of designs to be finished, lasting, and perfect, while at the same time contradicting the same notions by technology that easily breaks or quickly becomes out of fashion.
An important aspect of this discussion concerns how the design of interactive systems is physically tied to the material foundations that define possible interactions, computations and media expressions. Developments in hardware for representing, storing and displaying electronic media have fundamentally affected not only the types of software that can be produced, but also how that software may be practically used and interacted with. Software and hardware is thereby “intimately connected to a cycle of mutual obsolescence”, as phrased by Blevis (2007). In this context it is increasingly relevant to reflect on how we, as an interaction design community concerned with design and user experiences, may provide advice and guidelines for new solutions to be not just attractive and easy to use, but also of relevance over time.
In this work we use the japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi that embraces three basic realities of the material world: 'nothing lasts', 'nothing is finished', and 'nothing is perfect'. We use these three realities to ground a discussion around how the above situation could be embraced in the design of interactive technology. Wabi- Sabi is a traditional Japanese philosophy that “nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.” (Powel, 2004). We explore the realities of Wabi-Sabi in interactive artefacts by first providing an extended overview of how its three themes have previously been addressed in Human-Computer Interaction, followed by an articulation of our own understanding of the concept through analysing four distinct design cases.
Our analysis result in the formulation of three principles, which we suggest might help guiding designers who aim to approach Wabi-Sabi more concretely in their design work. The three principles each involves an element of contradiction, and are framed as:
1) Design for long-term interaction through conscious use of impermanent materials and media,
2) Approach perfection through explicitly unfinished designs, and
3) Engage with the richness of interactive expressions by embracing limitations in current technology.
Thus, we contribute by elaborating on Wabi-Sabi as a conceptual framework to reflect on crucial aspects that seem predominant in contemporary computing, but also as a practical resource to guide the design of new interactive solutions.
Tsaknaki, V. & Fernaeus, Y. (2016). Expanding on Wabi-Sabi as a Design Resource in HCI. In the Proceedings of CHI' 16, San Jose, CA, USA. (download paper)
Material Programming: a Design Practice for Computational Composites
We propose the notion of material programming as a future design practice for computational composites. Material programming would be a way for the interaction designer to better explore the dynamic potential of computational materials at hand and through that familiarity be able to compose more sophisticated and complex temporal forms in their designs.
We offer an analysis of qualities that we find a material programming practice would and should support: designs grounded in material properties and experiences, embodied programming practice, real-time on-site explorations, and finally a reasonable level of complexity in couplings between input and output. We propose material programming knowing that the technology and materials are not entirely ready to support this practice yet, however, we are certain they will be and that the interaction design community will need to find new ways of relating to such computational materials.
This research project was initiated at the IxD lab, IT University of Copenhagen during autumn 2015, when I was a visiting Ph.D. Scholar there. Together with Anna Vallgårda, Laurens Boer, and Dag Svanaes.
Vallgårda, A., Boer, L., Tsaknaki, V., & Svanaes, D. (2016). Material Programming: a Design Practice for Computational Composites. In Proceedings of Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction. Göteborg, Sweden.NordiCHI’16. ACM Press. (Link to paper)
Vallgårda, A., Boer, L., Tsaknaki, V., & Svanaes, D. (2016). Material Programming: A New Interaction Design Practice. In DIS’16 Companion of Designing Interactive Systems. Vancouver, Canada. ACM Press, 149-152. (Link to paper)
Hybrid Crafting: the Intersection of Physical Materials and Computational Composites
This is ongoing practice-based research and design work, which is the main theme I am exploring during my Ph.D. studies. I am studying various ways of combining traditional crafts and new interactive technology, in the form of electronic components or crafting with personal fabrication machines, such as a laser cutter.
Examples include materials such as leather, silver, copper, wood, textiles or bamboo. During the past four years I have collaborated with experienced crafters in the domains of leather crafting, silversmith crafting and textile crafting. During such collaborations I engaged with such crafters in practice-based explorations, bringing together the distinct worlds of practice-based and exploratory interaction design research on the one hand, and their expertise with physical materials and crafting techniques and particular tools, on the other. Our aim has been to explore future potential interactions and design challenges. Within this broad theme there are several ongoing explorations and smaller research projects, such as the 'Precious Materials of Interaction' or the leather-crafting project.
In Figures 3, 4 there are explorations on crafting simple input senosrs, such as buttons, switches or potentiometers from fragile and organic materials picked direcly from nature (e.g. seashells, nuts, dried leaves). This was party explored during the workshop I co-organized at TEI'14 conference in Munich at 2014, with the title 'Handcrafting Electronic Accessories Using 'Raw' Materials' and partly during the 'Precious Materials of Interaction' project, together with the silversmith Stockholm-based artist Emma Rapp and my supervisor Ylva Fernaeus. In Figure 5 there are conductive threads of various kind, shielded off with glass beads.
In Figure 6 is a collection of hybrid crafting with leather, copper/silver, textiles and bamboo (physical not hybrid).
In Figure 7 is the speaker scarf with an embedded textile speaker, crafted during the 'Soft and Tiny Arduino' workshop in Oslo, organized by Hannah Perner-Wilson in Nov. 2012.
Nebula Interactive Garment
Nebula is an interactive prototype used to examine the properties of textiles, fashion accessories, and digital technologies to arrive at a garment design that brings these elements together in a cohesive manner. Bridging the gap between everyday performativity and enactment, Nebula is part of a longer project addressing aspects of the making process, interaction, and functional aesthetics. The studs seen on the garment are the endpoints of a live electronic circuit. When the garment moves, the studs touch and create connections that are used to envelope the wearer in an electronic soundscape.
The design of the garment evokes images of star fields and nebulas.
Implemented as part of the SoundClothes project, with a grant for 'Small Visionary Projects' at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.
Ludvig Elblaus, Vasiliki Tsaknaki,Vincent Lewandowski and Roberto Bresin.
Featured at the ACM Interactions Magazine, in the Demo Hour section, Volume 22 Issue 5, September-October 2015
Precious Materials of Interaction: Exploring Interactive Accessories as Jewellery Items
This project was a collaboration with the Stockholm-based silversmith artist Emma Rapp and was funded by Innovativ Kultur and Stockholm Stad.
Our aim during this research project was to study a fundamentally different approach to the design of wearable and mobile interactive and electronic products, based on contemporary artistic practices in metal and jewellery design. By combining conductive and non-conductive materials, such as silver, copper, wood, leather and electronic components, we explored new ways of understanding and relating to concepts such as longevity, obsolescence, preciousness and sustainability, within the domain of wearable electronic products. Additionally, it was an exloratory process on how the distinct practices of exploratory interaction design research and silversmith crafting can be combined, in terms of materials, tools and crafting techniques.
Throughout the project we organized a series of workshops and exhibitions with invited (interaction) designers, researchers, jewellery artists and master students in Media Technology at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.
Additionally we presented a peer-reviewed full paper at Nordes'15 Conference 'Design Ecologies', which took place in Stockholm, Sweden in June 2015 at Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design.
We also exhibited a series of handcrafted cases for electronic components, a series of copper and silver buttons, and a concept design for an Mp3 player made of silver and wood at the Nordes'15 Conference 'Design Ecologies' parallel exhibition. In December 2014 we organized an exhibition at Emma Rapp's silversmith studio in Södermalm in Stockholm, where we showed the process of our design work.
Tsaknaki, V., Fernaeus, Y & Jonsson, M. (2015). Precious Materials of Interaction- Exploring Interactive Accessories as Jewellery Items. In Proceedings of Nordes' 15: Design Ecologies, Stockholm, Sweden. (download paper)