Reflection Week 3

I started this week without a strong plan of progress. Therefore I took some time to sort my thoughts and go through the research so far. I identified key topics and tried to put them into context as well as collecting outstanding quotes from my research. In the weekly meeting with the supervisor I talked through this that I selected quotes which give further direction, rather than definitions.

ResearchBoard_month1In doing this, I found that I have lost the overall aim of my study at the moment. Even though the initial serendipitous research has been useful in helping me to identify possible topics and further areas to look into, I should change my research direction at this stage. After talking to my supervisor  I set up a more formal literature review in the area of dementia and HCI, areas I had previously neglected, but rather explored the deeper topics.

In looking back at HCI and dementia again I will be able more easily to define the gap in the literature and position myself against existing projects.

Form and affordance

I have learned about the principle of affordances as introduced by Gibson when I started my MA, but I have been quite suspicious about it. Two examples of my own life, make me hesitant to fully inscribe to this idea. I have problems picking up scissors. As a left-handed person I am quite used to them being annoying, and it was rather recently that someone pointed out that the smaller hole is for the thumb and the other one for the other finger. Even though this is meant to guide the hand, it never did for me. It was something to consciously learn. Another problem – maybe even more awkward – is the use of doors. Even after five years in the UK I have problems to distinguish between ‘push’ and ‘pull’. And even thought it is true that a door without a handle lends itself to push, I still have many doors I run into as handles can mean ‘push’  or can mean there are handles on both sides. Even though the handle is more inviting to pull, I have learnt that this is often misleading and do not use it ‘instinctive’ anymore.

James J. Gibsons text on “The theory of Affordances” is often referenced and both admired and rejected in this context. He defines affordances as “a specific combination of the properties of its substance and its surfaces taken with reference to an animal.” (Gibson, 1977, 67) Later on in the text he extends into more detail the different activities that can be afforded with this being the most relevant one in this context: “Moreover the objects of the environment afford activites like manipulation and tool using.” (ibid, 68) He relates the idea of affordances to the biological term of the niche, which he defines not as the habitat of a species, but “how it lives”. (Gibson, 1977, 69) He goes on to define the niche as a “set of affordances”(ibid) into which the animal not only fits because it is suitable, but also because it fits metaphorically. (compare Gibson, 1977, 69)

The point that causes the largest controversy within the discussion around affordances and which will be discussed in the context of this projects, is his claim that affordances are neither “subjective” to the animal, neither “objective” to the object. (Gibson, 1977, 69) He goes on to explain that “The affordances of the environment are facts of the environment, not appearances.” (ibid, 70) Later in the text he distinguishes between the “qualities” of an object and its “affordances” (ibid, 75) In context of everyday design this distinction becomes important as Gibson argues that affordances may be first to notice:

“Nevertheless I suggest that we perceive when we look at them are their affordances, not their qualities. We can, of course, discriminate these dimensional qualities if required to compare them as objects. But the unique combination of qualities that specifies what the object affords us is what we normally pay attention to.” (Gibson, 1977, 75)

This thought is interesting as it emphasises how people make use of objects by looking at how it can be used, rather than how it should be used. When discussing if this is true only for children or also for adults, he specifies that “The meanings are observed before the substances and surfaces are.”

Based on Gibsons work Bozeat (2002, 237) explains two different categories of affordance:

“In recent studies, the term affordance has been used to refer to two
potentially separate mechanisms that support object use directly from visual and/or tactile input. One is problem solving, or reasoning about the use of an object on the basis of its physical characteristics, which will be discussed below. The other is more like the Gibsonian notion of  affordance, in which clues to the hold, orientation, movement, and purpose of an object are systematically related to its physical structure (e.g., if it has a sharp edge, it is used for cutting).”

Greenhalgh et.al. add another layer to the qualities an object inherits: the cultural.

“The material features of technologies – dimensions, shape, colour, durability, size of buttons, brightness of screen and so on – have a powerful influence on whether and how technologies are used. But ‘materiality’ also includes sociological implications of these features (Dourish & Mazmaniam, 2011). Digital goods have cultural meaning.” (Greenhalgh et.al., 2013, 87)

Christopher Alexander emphasises the form and the fit as a guiding principle for design: “Indeed, the form itself relies on its inner organization and on the internal fitness between the pieces it is made of to control its fit as a whole to the context outside.” (Alexander, 1967, 18) But he explains that fit is hardly recognized, rather people turn to “misfits” for guidance: “These misfits are the forces which must shape it, and there is no mistaking them. Because they are expressed in negative form they are specific, and tangible enough to talk about.” (Alexander, 1967, 23) He further emphasises that these design problems are interconnected: “This is a typical design problem; is has requirements which have to be met; and there are interactions between the requirements, which makes the requirements hard to meet.” (Alexander, 1967, 2)

In his text he distinguishes “unselfconscious” and “selfconscious” culture, which are distinguished by the way they teach design rules:

“I shall call a culture unselfconscious if its form-making is learned informally, through imitation and correction. And I shall call a culture selfconscious if its form-making is taught academically, according to explicit rules.” (Alexander, 1967, 36)

Design guidelines often motivate the designer to think about affordances and ways in which they can be introduced digitally. But are affordances inherit in material objects? And how does this apply to everyday design? Brandes, Stich and Wender observe 4 categories which influence Non-Intentional Design (NID): form, material, value & dispensability and availability (compare Brandes; Stich; Wender, 2009, 149)

In the context of health and well-being, affordance has slightly different connotations. Bozeat (2002, 237) explains how the term is used to evaluate performance:

“In neuropsychological contexts, affordance has typically been characterized in a post hoc fashion: If a patient’s use of an object is better than would be expected, it is assumed that the physical properties are guiding the patient toward the correct manipulation.”

They conclude suggest in  their findings that “familiarity
is only important in the use of unaffordanced items; for affordanced
objects, there was no influence of familiarity. (ibid. 245)

Analysing requirements in dementia specialised care homes, Topo, Kotilainen and Eloniemi-Sulkava (2012, 120) emphasise the importance of motivation in regards to affordance and define affordances in a very subjective manner:

“A person’s motivation is central to perceiving, uti-lizing, and shaping affordances; for this reason, it is impossible to fully define all the available affor-dances of an environment because they are con-stantly under interpretation.”
They warn against relying to strongly on affordances in the context of dementia:
“Because peo-ple with dementia typically have difficulties with perception, such as perceiving common objects or distances, the possibility of false affordances also needs to be taken into account.” (Topo; Kotilainen; Eloniemi-Sulkava, 2012, 120)
A particular problem has been observed by Nyberg and Starkhammar (2007, 151f): “In a couple of cases, a particular form of directional problem occurred when participants knew which button to push, but were trying to push it in the wrong direction. … This indicated the presence of a spatially related problem even when the objects and the movements were highly familiar.”
A “misfit” in form and therefore in use can leave a technology disabling, as observed e.g. by Greenhalgh et.al. (2013, 88):
“A familiar technology is ‘ready-to-hand’, backgrounded and available to mediate between the individual and the world when picked up and used by the skilled human actor. But if the technology does not ‘work’ as intended, it loses its phenomenological transparency and begins to interfere with the individual’s relationship to the world.”
This idea leads to the relationship between the body and technologies and further to questions about embodiment and the idea of the cyborg.

Hacking and dementia

Hacking in the context of this study will be considered as a craftlike activity, that takes mastery and skill to create something new, often with a trangressive and/or playful element. It incorporates all sorts of material and digital techniques used, but I expect a focus on material hacks at this stage.

Dementia is an umbrella term for degenerative illnesses that affect the brain and lead to memory loss and/or behavioural change that influence daily activities.

In this post I want to explore the relationships in which the elements of hacker culture and dementia overlap and what questions can be generated for this research project.

One rather obvious overlap is the area of specialised hackathon events, in which designers and developers get together to find innovative solutions to specified problems. Even though an expert panel is often involved, people with dementia hardly are. This area will be discussed during the project, but as I assume now mostly in the context of expert participation and elements of co-design.

Hacking and craft: Hacking needs an element of mastery. Even though some design by use or everyday design creates new uses for everyday objects, in my opinion little of those constitute hacks as they are done unconsciously with little skills involved. In the context of dementia it will be interesting to explore whether crafters or people involved in DIY are more open to self-made solutions after a diagnosis, e.g. if this kind of activity is linked to ones life story. The element of tacit knowledge and how that can be drawn upon by people living with dementia will also be part of this exploration.

Hacking and innovation: Everyday design alters objects, but not always does it create innovative solutions. Even though putting a jacket over the back of a chair constitutes a new use for the chair, it can be observed on a nearly everyday basis and therefore does not lead to innovation. Creativity and innovation are still subjects I need to look into further, but I will do so under the context of divergent thinking and how far this is preserved in people living with dementia. The roles that partner and next of kin play as innovators will also be relevant to this exploration.
Materials and methods for ideation used form another interesting aspect of this subtheme.

Hacking and transgression: In this context I want to look into power structures between people living with dementia and their carers. Who does bring in assistive technologies and by whom are they used? Questions of identity and citizenship are touched upon in many instances of technology use in care, such as surveillance and acceptance of tools.

Hacking and wit: Even though playfulness is rarely a topic considered in the context of dementia and care, I am convinced from anecdotal evidence that is plays into the everyday experience and I consider two subthemes in this context. The first one is the question how playfulness is linked to dementia and whether this is incorporated into the everyday experience of people living with dementia. The other point is the question whether technologies, tools or strategies are developed to facilitate this exploration on the context of care.

Social Cognition, Affect and Motivation Week 2

The second lecture of this course emphasises the role the bodily experience and particularly facial expression plays in our appraisal of emotions.

The concept of mirror neurons is introduced which leads us to react unconsciously to the facial expression of the person next to us. Tests have shown that we like people more who mirror us, but dislike if we notice we are mirrored. Mirroring can lead to understanding. This process even works on a sub-conscious level. Facial muscles are also activated when emotional words are read. There is a relation between power and how we respond to other people, e.g. smile at them.

Experiments in which facial muscles have been activated showed that we respond both to positive and negative stimuli differently if our muscles are engaged. These tests have been criticised for not adequately ensuring that other stimuli are left out.

Three hypothesis evolved about the relationship between muscle stimulants and emotional perception. The “necessity” hypothesis states that there can be no emotional experience without muscular feedback. The “sufficiency” hypothesis states that facial activity can provoke emotional state. The “modulation” theory states that facial expression can modulate emotional experience after external stimuli.

The relationship between facial expression and emotions has lead to experiments with botox, but these are highly controversial, especially in regards to singling out cause and effect.

Not only facial muscles, but the whole body can influence how emotions are perceived. Experiments have shown changes in regards to feeling powerful when people take on poses for a longer period of time.

Social Cognition, Affect and Motivation Week 1

In this introductory lecture an outline of the course context was given. The overall aim is to provide an understanding of the interplay between cognitive processes, affect and the social context. As the title suggests, a special focus is on the question how social cognition and affect influence motivation.

To get an overview of the area different scientific positions have been introduced, starting off with two positions on social cognition, which consider cognition to be either “hot” or “cold”. Hot in this context means a fluid approach which is hardly governed by stereotypes, but rather relies on a momentary evaluation of a situation, the senses and the emotional state.

The effect emotions have on motivation and on the evaluation has received great attention in the last 20 years, showing a strong research interest in the topic, as also indicated by the number of journals dedicated to the topic.

In the context of this course, motivation is considered to deal with the “why” of behaviour and is defined as “Internal forces that energise and direct human behaviour, including goals and needs and are linked in some level to persistence.” It lies on the interplay between direction, intensity and persistence.

Another approach to emotions is the approach-avoidance division, which states that people move towards a pleasurable experience and away from pain.

Affect is defined as a valenced emotional state and consists of moods, which are states of low intensity, diffuse affective states, no salient antecedent and little content and emotions, which are short-lived and conscious with prototypical context.

Based on evolutionary theories and funded by Darwin, emotions are inherent and used for communication. They are further divided into basic emotions (anger, fear and happiness, which are shared with other animals) and secondary emotions, which are conscious and/social. To see whether these emotions are basic, tests have been undertaken to see if they predate language and are pancultural. Further tests have been undertaken with athletes who are blind who shared the same responses as seeing athletes, which lead to the conclusion that facial expression is not learned.

People are normally well equipped to recognise if emotions are faked. Animals may show facial expressions that we appraise as emotions, even though they have less facial muscles than humans.

Another school sees emotions as valenced states with a certain intensity.

An affective state consists of an antecedent, such as appraisal, social context etc and is followed by an either cognitive or behavioural reaction.

The link between emotional sensation and the body has been researched, leading to questions in which relationship the sensation, the appraisal and the conscious emotion stand.

Asking what role emotions play in our lives it can be said that they are social communicators, are an output of an inner experience, play a role in decision-making and well-being.

Reflection Week 2

This week I got sidetracked from the original plan and have managed to confuse myself.

A key text of this weeks reading has been “Design by Use” by Brandes, Stich and Wender, which explores the concept from various angles, e.g. inside & outside, gender-related and from a philosophical point of view. Most insight is based on observation and participant questionnaires and backed up with images. The methods described and images provided are very close to what I plan to do at this stage. Even though reading through their work has been highly exciting from this point, it left me slightly ‘lost’  as to what outcomes of this kind of research might be and what value might be added by this knowledge.

What this book got me thinking about -and what got me sidetracked- is the topic of form and affordance. It leads me back to my interest in objects and how people relate to it – and in how far this is influenced by the user and how far by the designer. I am still unsure where I stand personally on the question of appropriation and inhowfar this is a creative act, but it is something that my research will evolve around. In “Design by Use” the authors give many examples of objects used in different ways than they were intended,  which obviously involves creative thinking in the sense of problem-solving and divergent thinking. But some of these examples, such as jackets flung over chairs or the use of jars to hold paint brushes, is so well known and so common that I hesitate to consider it a new or creative use. This leads to the interesting question of when use is considered creative and what establises a new use?
Form and affordances have been named as relevant influences on how objects are used and it is therefore very interesting to consider them in the context of appropriation. I read the original text by Gibson of affordances, which I have come across mentioned quite often to get an idea of how it become such a relevant topic in human-computer interaction. In my opinion there are two thoughts that I take away: Firstly that affordances are neither subjective to the observer, nor objective to the item, but they get meaning in the context in which they are used. The other point of interest is that affordance is different to other descriptive qualities of an object, such as size, colour, material etc, which allows for new uses and appropriation.

Even though I have practiced writing a blog as a research tool for all of my MA, I think I need to adjust my technique for the PhD. I write two sorts of entries, one of which collects my research and the other my reflection. I need to make sure to connect the two strands better, which will not only support my writing and the communication of my insights, but also help me to stay focussed of where I am going with my research. While for my MA I wrote mostly about individual articles or summed up a couple under one heading, I think I need to work more with headings and themes now. I have tried that already, but I think the different threads are too widespread at the moment and do not allow for consistent linking.

Everyday design

Within this post I want to explore the area of everyday design. This involves thoughts on everyday design, design-by-use or design-in-use, and non intentional design. All these approaches to design share that users appropriate designed objects to fit them into their own context. This approach questions the common assumption that ‘creativity’ is something that only ‘creative people’ have, a view described in the post on creativity. Kim and Lee (2014, 2) describe everyday design as follows: “However, adapting and changing everyday artifacts does not depend solely on creative people but rather  involves everyone.” (Kim; Lee, 2014, 2) Brandes, Stich and Wender go even further and argue that the ” phenomenon of NID refers to an innate ability of humankind to develop solutions for situational problems through the use of what is at hand.” (Brandes; Stich; Wendes, 2009, 22)
These kinds of appropriation separate the intended use and the actual use of the item as it in itself a ‘creative process ‘ as observed by Kim and Lee (2014, 2):”When use is detached from design, people’s behaviors in relation to designed artifacts are no longer the result of design. Rather, they are creative processes referred to in this study as everyday design.”
But the process is nonetheless different from the creative process of the professional designer as Brandes, Stich and Wender (2009, 12) outline: “There is no impulse to consciously create. Non-intentional design is neither defined by, nor infused with, the will to design.” The authors state three other motivations that might lead to everyday design: “It [non-intentional design] arises from temporary situations of deficit, from convenience and from playfulness.” ( ibid, 13)
Even though the insight of how people interact with their environment in an everyday setting can be very important for designers, it is not something commonly shared as Kim and Lee (2014, 2) observe:
“Individuals who create everyday designs are not aware of the potential value of everyday design as a resource for professional designers, nor do they even acknowledge what they are doing.”  In the second part of this quote they highlight a very important point that resonates with observations by other researchers as well. Many of these alterations are not thought-through activities, but might rather be unconscious, spontaneous events. I assume that to some extent this relates to tacit knowledge about the everyday tasks, movements and observations.From the outside the decisions made seem opaque and Brandes, Stich and Wender (2009, 115) suggest, that they might also be so from the inside:  “Non-intentional design oscillates between conscious and sub-conscious actions, and we can rarely tell by simply looking at repurposed objects why they were used in this way. And most people who implement changes of use are often not able to analyse why they did so in retrospect.”
Wakkari and Maestri (2008, 12) explore this notion through observations in family homes and conclude that this kind of design is not static, but rather an evolution of practices:
“The simplest of appropriations are often opportunistic and temporary; however, it is through experiencing artifacts in use that further ideas, combinations, and recombination are generated, forming  new routines and systems. (Wakkari; Maestri, 2008, 12)
Brandes, Stich and Wender (2009, 150)offer the alternative case that: “the spontaneously selected object fulfils its new task satisfactorily, so that there is no longer the need to acquire a new product.”
They go on to observe that everyday design is a “creative process” (ibid), which implies an element of time. In this context it is interesting to observe that Kim and Lee talk about “design activity” and “transformations of artifacts” (Kim; Lee, 2014, 2)Brandes, Stich and Wender (2009, 150) add in this context in regards to the outcome of the everyday design: “An increase in the time available for solving a problem results in equally higher expectations regarding the result.”
Brandes, Stich and Wender (2009, 151) also bring up the point of reversibility. They distinguish between “things that are only repurposed for a short period of time and those that are repurposed permanently.” (ibid) One of the aspects that might influence the point of reversability is the question of how far the object is changed through its new use. The authors unfortunately do not go further into other factors that might influence reversability, such as testing out ideas or not wanting to settle on a solution. I will see if I can find more information on this.
Kim and Lee used a picture and text database (‘Wikiuse’), which has been shared with professional designers to anlyse how these everyday designs would influence the design process. They give a very positive view on this technique and emphasise that it gives further background:
“However, we found that designers provided with cases of everyday design were more immersed in the actual context. The designers examined the actual context when examining cases of everyday design and then described the characteristics of the target group with confidence.” (Kim; Lee, 2014, 10)
In this context they also discuss the role of interaction between agents and artifacts (Kim; Lee, 2014, 12) and discussed that is was easy to see by the designers:”Rather, professional designers first recognized interactions—relationships between actors and artifacts—from cases of everyday design”. (Kim; Lee, 2014, 10)