What did we do in 2019? Imaginaries Lab end-of-year review

Announcements, Design, Imaginaries, News, Site Announcements

Students using the New Metaphors cards

New Metaphors

First, some big news: we’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign for the New Metaphors toolkit. Please help us bring the project to fruition—get your own pack, and start generating new ways to think and imagine. More details on the toolkit here, including a great video produced by Christian Svanes Kolding, introducing the concept. If you’d be interested in us doing a New Metaphors workshop at your IxD or UX or other event in 2020, let us know!

Emotional Modelling at MozFest 2019

Models of emotion produced by participants at MozFest 2019, using the Emotional Modelling toolkit developed by Katie Herzog, Laura Rodriguez, Josh LeFevre, Nowell Kahle, and Arden Wolf. Photo by Ulu Mills.

Looking back on 2019

Happy holidays from the Imaginaries Lab! In 2019, our third year, we’ve pushed our work in a few new directions in collaboration with some great people. We’re still a very part-time lab within Carnegie Mellon, but I think we’re doing quite well at extracting opportunities from the situation we’re in.
I’m writing this from the UK, where I’ve just participated in the Design Research for Change Symposium at the Design Museum in London, organised by AHRC Design Leadership Fellow, Professor Paul Rodgers. This was a great event, showing a huge variety of design research from some wonderful researchers—from 3D printing with ocean plastics to a haptic data physicalisation ‘vibration’ interface for marine engines—and I’d recommend keeping an eye out for the proceedings, a beautiful, substantial piece of work, when they’re available online. Aside from enabling meeting and reconnecting with some brilliant people, the event also hit home for me just how much academic design research (and funding) in the US could learn from Europe. In the US, we are still often at the stage of trying to persuade people, often in our own universities, that design research is even a real thing, let alone that it might have applications to real-world challenges. But more on that another time.

Visitors to the Climate Pathways exhibition

Climate Pathways

Megan Urban, Lea Albaugh, Julia Petrich, Tammar Zea-Wolfson, Elena Deng, Judy Chun, Antonio Song, Sharon Lee, Coco Allred, Joyce Wang, Yixiao Fu, Yingli Sieh, Chris Costes, Ema Karavdic, Cathryn Ploehn, Shawn Koid, David Lin, Rachel Kim, Matt Prindible, Matt Geiger.

How do we imagine the climate crisis? In an era of urgency for some and apathy for others, where Greta Thunberg and Donald Trump are ‘thought leaders’ in very different ways, what futures do we understand, or can we envision, for our own communities or others? It’s easy to be completely overwhelmed with powerlessness, and the complexities and uncertainties of the situations we might have ahead of us. International bodies such as the IPCC, and climate science researchers, have developed the idea of plural ‘pathways’ which give insights into possible futures for humanity, but what could they look like in everyday life? How might we actually experience these pathways? Interdisciplinary student teams from Carnegie Mellon, part of the Imaginaries Lab studio course Research Through Design, tackled these questions from a variety of directions this semester. Over three weekends, a month apart, we took inspiration from the notion of climate pathways and explored the issues through team projects which each came to focus on specific facets of everyday life, with our Pittsburgh setting providing a local focus for some projects.
Download the exhibition catalogue (PDF) for more details on the projects:

  • SCENTREES: How can we train our senses to detect changes in air quality?
  • COLLAGING SHARED WORLDS: How can people have improved conversations with
    loved ones about the climate crisis?
  • #CLOSEDLOOPCLOSET: What would be our relationship with our clothes once we opt out
    of fast fashion?
  • CARBONCASH: Can we close the intention-action gap through financial incentives or
    environmental impact information?
  • A QUEST FOR THE GOOD MEAL: What we learned by designing an experiential quest that
    exposed the disengaged (yet environmentally interested) to a stewardship worldview

Over the three weekends and in between, we were lucky to have had guest speakers and visiting critics, in person and remotely, including Katja Budinger (Fjord), Charlotte Kessler (Queensland University of Technology), Stuart Candy (Carnegie Mellon), Györgyi Gálik (Design Council and Royal College of Art), and Muireann McMahon and Niall Deloughry (University of Limerick), and, as part of the Plurality University Network’s Many Tomorrows Festival, we had a collaborative creative charrette with Elliott Montgomery’s students at Parsons School of Design in New York, ‘Rebuilding the ship as we fly it’. We’d like to thank all our guests and visitors, and also to Chloé Luchs-Tassé and Lara Emond from the Plurality University Network, Meg Richards and David Gerritsen from Carnegie Mellon’s Eberly Center, and to Stef LaVattiata and Michelle Chou from the Imaginaries Lab for their help. Above photo by Jackie Chou.
Workshop participants in Tangible Thinking at RSD8

Tangible Thinking

What does it look like when we bring together modelling methods from design, art, and data physicalisation, to materialise not just envisioned ‘things’, but qualitative or abstract or invisible ideas and relationships? In October, at the Systemic Design Association’s RSD 8 conference at IIT Institute of Design in Chicago, Dan Lockton and Matt Prindible (MDes) from Carnegie Mellon joined Manuela Aguirre Ulloa and Palak Dudani (AHO, Oslo), Lisa Brawley (Vassar College), John Fass (London College of Communication), and Laura Forlano (IIT Institute for Design) to run an afternoon workshop, Tangible Thinking. With a great group of participants from industry, academia, and the public sector, we carried out what we described as “a scaffolded series of playful experiments animated by some serious concerns”, using multiple ‘tangible tools’ to help explore shared understanding of shifting fields of knowledge and practice, the relationships between people, and the temporal qualities of experience.
What this meant in practice was a fun afternoon of using materials (including our Mental Landscapes kit) with different degrees of metaphorical and actual properties, to build collective models, or perhaps miniature installations, in which the ‘areas’ of expertise of people present, the properties of the relationships between ideas, and the dynamics of those relationships over time emerged through the materials used. Our workshop slides are here for reference—a paper is in preparation, and a larger group of us are aiming to develop aspects of what we learned. Here our application was around knowledge and interdisciplinarity, but the wider scope of using materials to enable intangible ideas to be made tangible has a huge amount of potential, and we’d love your involvement if you have interesting ideas or applications.
Empathy Rock Garden at MozFest 2019

MozFest: Materialising Mental Health

Also in the “making the intangible tangible” vein, in October, Ulu Mills (MDes), Jen Brown (Senior Graphic Designer, University Advancement), and Dan Lockton ran a workshop at the Mozilla Festival (MozFest) at Ravensbourne in London. MozFest is an international gathering of educators, activists, technologists, researchers, artists, and young people dedicated to creating a better, healthier internet. As part of the Festival’s Neurodiversity space, curated by the Mozilla Foundation and the BBC’s CAPE Neurodiversity initiative, Materialising Mental Health built on projects from 2018’s Imaginaries Lab elective New Ways To Think, developed further to enable public engagement activities. Visitors to MozFest were invited to use a range of modelling materials with different sensory properties, to express emotions, feelings, aspects of mental health, wellness, self-care, or other intangible-but-important elements of thinking and experiencing the world.
A shared Empathy Rock Garden proved a very popular installation, growing over the course of the weekend, and visitors could also create Personalized Potions which capture a picture of emotional needs and wellbeing (building on work by Ulu, Jen, Michal Luria (HCII) and Supawat Vitoorapakorn (BDes)), build personal sculptures embodying hard-to-describe emotions (using elements of the Emotional Modelling project by Katie Herzog, Laura Rodriguez, Josh LeFevre, Arden Wolf, and Nowell Kahle), and use Mental Landscapes to create ‘landscapes’ for neurodiverse teams or discuss team culture in a physical form.
An updated version of our Materialising Mental Health booklet was designed by Jen Brown for the event—download it here. Thanks to Sean Gilroy, Lucie Daeye, Leena Haque, and everyone else who helped put together the event, and Tammar Zea-Wolfson back in Pittsburgh for updating and expanding both the Emotional Modelling and Mental Landscapes kits.
A participant take part in 'hi how r u' at RISD, November 2019

EPIC: Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference

At EPIC 2019, the international conference on ethnography in business, taking place at RISD in Providence, RI, design undergraduate Erin Ryan, doing an independent study with the Imaginaries Lab, showed her project hi how r u: A Toolkit for Digital Expression as part of the EPIC 2019 Gallery. hi how r u is a compilation of participatory design research and ethnographic inquiry exploring the ways in which we communicate digitally, exploring how digital communication within particular social groups has evolved in spite of the constraints of modern-day messaging platforms, how these trends can find parallels in linguistics, and how communication can be furthered in the absence of those constraints to allow for communication that is more specific, creative, and expressive. Erin developed the project through an Imaginaries Lab independent study, building on one of her projects from Environments Studio in spring 2019. You can download her booklet produced for the exhibition here.
Also at EPIC, Dan Lockton (a member of the programme committee) convened a panel, Climate Crisis and Collective Futures, exploring what ethnographers’ role is in dealing with catastrophic climate crisis. With panellists Makalé Faber Cullen (PhoScope), Györgyi Gálik (Design Council), and Mike Youngblood (Youngblood Group), the panel examined tensions and responsibilities in individual and collective action, individually, within organizations, and beyond. What are the unique values that ethnographers can bring to this critical issue for our collective futures?
Making Time by Tammar Zea-Wolfson

Philips: Sleep Ecologies

Erin Ryan, CJ Walsh, Tammar Zea-Wolfson, Jackie Chou, Antonio Song, Aadya Krishnaprasad, Stefania LaVattiata, Jisoo Shon, Deepika Dixit, Matt Geiger.
Philips‘s sponsorship of our Environments Studio project around sleep this year has enabled some interesting work. Five undergraduates, and subsequently a number of master’s students, have explored sleep, wellbeing and mental health among students through physical and digital probes, each investigating a different aspect of sleep’s intersections with everyday life. Our overarching question comes down to “How can we enable people to explore patterns in their own sleep, energy, and wellness autoethnographically, through both qualitative and quantitative data?” Here’s our exhibition catalogue (PDF), designed by Jackie Chou.

  • Forest of Sleep, by Erin Ryan: Visualising sleep data (from FitBit) in a more qualitative way, using VR
  • Lego to Sleep, by Jackie Chou: Pairing Philips SmartSleep Headband sleep data with encouraging / tracking ‘bedtime routines’ physically
  • FocusWatch, by Antonio Song: Tracking and visualising focus (and distraction), particularly tackling ‘all-nighters’
  • Sleep Armor, by CJ Walsh: Investigating and providing for student sleeping in nontraditional physical environments
  • Making Time, by Tammar Zea-Wolfson: Visualising and re-framing the time/scheduling aspects of wider lifestyle habits and routines
  • Master’s students Stef La Vattiata, Aadya Krishnaprasad, Jisoo Shon, Deepika Dixit, and Matt Geiger also explored intentional ‘performance control’ by tracking caffeine consumption among a group of 9 Master’s students, through ‘tea kit’ probes

The projects explored ‘ecologies’ of sleep, energy, and wellness, treating wider environments (physical and digital) and other contextual aspects of people’s lives, beyond sleep itself, as connected, systemic, and important. We focused on student life as a context (college students represent the majority (68%) of young adult population in US) through autoethnography and playful self-experimentation, and the undergraduates received two rounds of ideas and feedback from the Philips sleep and respiratory business team. Each project uses different technologies: some integrate logging or sensor data; others focus on the physical environment or a combination of physical and digital. Some projects explicitly acted as a form of probe with participants, aiming to gather insights from small numbers of other students as part of their process, while others focused primarily on the outcomes in terms of visualising data or relationships. We aim to continue aspects of this work in the year ahead. Thanks to everyone we’ve worked with from Philips, in particular Tom Bonnell, Pete Weeks, and Jeroen Raijmakers, and to Chris Kissell and Jodi Forlizzi from Carnegie Mellon HCII, and Bruce Hanington from Design, for helping us set up the relationship.
Gyorgyi Galik giving the joint Imaginaries Lab / Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry lecture

Other news

  • In November, the Imaginaries Lab hosted Györgyi Gálik from the Design Council for a Steiner Lecture in Creative Inquiry in collaboration with the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry. Thanks so much to Golan Levin, Bill Rodgers, Tom Hughes, and Linda Hager for their help in arranging this.
  • We’re also pleased to have been able to welcome during 2019, in person and via video, guests including Muireann McMahon and Niall Deloughry (University of Limerick), Anne Spaa (Northumbria University), Helen Fisher (Lab4Living), Roxanne Leitão (Central Saint Martins), Iohanna Nicenboim (TU Delft), Katja Budinger (Fjord), Ian Hargraves (Mayo Clinic), Thomas Jun (Loughborough University), Charlotte Kessler (Queensland University of Technology), and Kathryn Anthony (University of Illinois).
  • The weekly seminar that Marysol Ortega and Dan Lockton teach for Carnegie Mellon’s new PhD design students and second-year MDes students has, this year for the first time, a very comprehensive week-by-week chronicle put together by Hannah Koenig as well as a collection of final articles on Research for/into/through Design(ing) which cover everything from gestural design to rhizomatic data visualisation.
  • Universal Methods of Design, the widely adopted design research methods reference by Bella Martin and Bruce Hanington (now head of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design), has been expanded and revised, with 25 new methods. I’m pleased to have been able to contribute chapters on metaphors, data physicalisation, and behavioural design (using some CMU student projects among other examples) alongside some other new methods from CMU colleagues
  • Alumni Lucas Ochoa and Gautam Bose—whose Emoto AI project with Marisa Lu started as a project for the Environments Studio—created the amazing Teachable Sorter at Google’s Creative Lab. What’s a fun project extracting marshmallows from cereal is also a really well explained tutorial on building your own hardware machine learning project.
  • Congratulations to Dan’s advised PhD and MDes students who graduated in 2019! Kakee Scott (committee: Dan Lockton, Ramia Mazé, Cameron Tonkinwise; external reader: Laura Forlano) and Stephen Neely (committee: Jonathan Chapman, Dan Lockton, Cameron Tonkinwise; external examiner: Thecla Schiphorst) completed their PhDs, while Gray Crawford (advisors: Dan Lockton, Daragh Byrne) and Katie Herzog (advisors: Stacie Rohrbach, Dan Lockton) got their MDes.
  • Thanks to Bettina Nissen and the Design Informatics team at the University of Edinburgh for hosting Dan for a talk in May, just before CHI.

DIS 2020

Coming up in 2020: DIS Student Design Competition, More-Than-Human-Centred Design

Just a brief note for 2020: Dan is co-chairing the new ACM DIS 2020 Student Design Competition, with Bart Hengeveld of TU Eindhoven. We’re looking for projects that respond to the question: What can design offer when we move beyond human-centredness? We are looking for exciting demonstrations that show creativity, inspiration, and critical reflection, addressing how design might help establish a posthuman coexistence, and move beyond human-centredness. This could be through re-centreing nature, animals, plants, fungi, things, objects, robots, cyborgs, non-human technological intelligences, places, the Earth itself or more complex assemblages of human and non-human in thought-provoking designs—or even reconsidering the often-unquestioned individual-centredness of current human-centred design practice. What can considering the more-than-human, or more than just humans, provoke? How does coexistence take place? Is there even ‘centredness’ when designing towards human-technology symbiosis?
The aim is that participants can submit current work or existing projects, or create something new. If you know students who might be interested in showing their work at DIS 2020 in Eindhoven in July, the submission deadline is 28 February 2020.
The Imaginaries Lab office, viewed from the other wing of the building

Thank you and welcome

Thanks to all our Master’s and undergraduate research assistants, and independent study students throughout 2019, for all your hard work: Devika Singh, Saloni Sabnis, Gray Crawford, Lucas Ochoa, Rachel Alexander, Jay Huh, Katie Herzog, Zach Bachiri, Stef La Vattiata, Matt Geiger, Deepika Dixit, Aadya Krishnaprasad, Jisoo Shon, Michelle Chou, Tammar Zea-Wolfson, Mia Manavalan, and Erin Ryan—and welcome to our new RAs for spring 2020: Catherine Yochum, Bhakti Shah, and Shambhavi Deshpande. Thanks too to teaching assistants Joe Hines, Laura Rodriguez, and Hannah Koenig.

MozFest 2019 visitors make their personalised potions, facilitated by Jen Brown. Photo by Ulu Mills

MozFest 2019 visitors make their personalised potions, facilitated by Jen Brown. Photo by Ulu Mills

Work with us

As always, we’re looking for international collaborators, particualrly where we could work together to develop new tools or apply them in contexts where they’re useful. Please do get in touch (danlockton@cmu.edu) if you might be interested in doing something together!
And best wishes for everyone for 2020. The world’s in a hell of a state, and we need new ways to think if we’re going to make our way to better futures. Take care of each other.
Dan Lockton (and Bella, see below)
Bella and Dan wish you happy holidays and a better 2020


2019 publications from the Imaginaries Lab