Normally writing is quite a painful process for me. Forcing my chaotic thought-process into a linear piece of writing is challenging. It often makes me feel uncomfortable about myself and question my decisions. If I cannot bring them down in writing into a coherent story, how can they be good thoughts? Maybe what sounded like a good idea when I explained it in a chat was not such a good idea after all if I could not bring it down? As a result I was always quite vague when describing my project to others – I do something around technology and dementia.

But the last month of my binge-writing has changed this. I forced myself to go back to the items I was a bit unsure about, re-read a lot of the papers I had read more than a year ago and was not completely sure about anymore. In addition to giving me confidence by making me more assured about what I know it also helped as I could tell that my purpose had shifted over the last year and a half. Instead of reading everything I could get my hands on and worrying how to make sense out of it all, I re-read these papers with specific questions. I have grown as a researcher and the leader of this project. When going back to earlier versions of writing I could also see how my writing has come along. I used to hide a lot behind other people’s quotes and struggled with finding the link between what I read, which in turn created the feared ‘list’-style. In the newest version I have found a much stronger voice, linking points and articles more strongly and critically, highlighting why they have been included in the report. Obviously that meant killing a lot of darlings throughtout the way.

In addition I am much clearer about the aims of my project. I expect for my project to add to the discourse around dementia and technology, create new directions for design and development and add to the understanding how critical design can be used as a method. All of these are connected and I have put it off to decide what my key aim is, which meant I put off deciding on a researc question. I expected that would weaken my focus as I would concentrate on one thing only and drop the others. Instead of losing direction I gained confidence as I looked deeper into how my research aims are related and how they relate to the methods I chose. I still think the different aims are connected, but understanding how they build on each other, chosing the one that for me is the most important has helped to talk about my project in more detail more easily.


Picking a project

When I listen to presentations here at the school of computer science I see a lot of excited faces, hear descriptions of how ‘cool’ things are and listen to a lot of talk about progress, innovation and breakthroughs.

My work is very different. Anger is mostly on my face as it is a strong driving force, it is not cool but sensible and rather than driving things forward I throw spanners into the work of others.

How did I end up here? Why is my work so different from what others do? What was my decision to turn away from making nice things and my turn towards criticism? I have already pointed out that anger was a driving force behind my project. I personally felt so strongly that I could not turn away from this problem that I saw. Others often take this way out. Many papers I read have a last paragraph like this: “There are privacy / ethical questions surrounding out work, but they are not the scope of our project.” Fair enough. Not every developer can think about all aspects of their work, many of which are clearly outside of what they can influence. If we stopped all research because it may have some negative effects we would never get anything done.

But where does this discussion take place? I am concerned that these technologies are made is used as an argument that they can be and should be used. Clearly it would not have been made if there were concerns? I felt a need to fill this gap and be a voice that questions this self-fulfilling prophecy.

But this is the first time I have done this. All my former projects are of the first type. I turned to the fun projects, the colourful ones, the ones were I could make something. I can see the appeal of this. Which is one of the reasons why there is a lack of critical engagement. It is not cool, not progress, it is mean. It questions others. It is hard to keep motivated.

I resolved this by turning towards critical design and both its creative but also its optimistic focus. Design presents alternatives. It not only questions, it also creates. But I will need to be careful and read up on how I can stay critically while undertaking this project. How I can avoid being seduced by the bright and colourful that design proposes.

Weekly reflections: Narrative

Last week I got a lot of feedback on my work that highlighted points that were completely clear in my head but apparently not there yet on paper. It has been painful but very helpful critique that forced me to rethink the narrative of my PhD and highlight items currently buried within the information.

Hearing people talking about the ‘narrative’ of the PhD is quite common and it is something that seems to be quite an elusive thing. I am starting to understand how the thing that holds the different strands together and link and weave them together is the narrative element of the PhD. As you can see from my metaphors I consider this the craft element of the PhD – the point where skill and a certain sensitivity come together to make a compeling argument of facts and figures.

I put the wrong emphasis on the structure in parts and while there points were not made as clear as they could have. Hopefully I gain the skill and sensitivity to ‘weave’ a more compelling argument.

Weekly reflection: Same old

I had the best intentions to get into weekly writing again but I always put it off. This week I learned of its importance again as I did a lot of reading, but no writing, so I confused myself rather than helping myself. Writing for me is a process of forcing the whirlwind in my head into clear thoughts. I have yet to find other ways on how to do this … or just get back into the habit of writing regularly again.

The problem I am stuck with is the same old question of: what do I want my focus to be and how will I evaluate it in the end. I find that design research gives little tools of evaluation – and focus mainly on the object. I do not care much about the objects itself. I think they will be interesting and relevant, but as they are speculative in nature there is little need for and options to evaluate their functionality. I am more interested in the process of developing them – and what comes after. Reflections on the process and the object itself, through observation and interviews will be the main method of data collection. But I am not sure yet how to analyse the data. For earlier projects I have used thematic analysis, but this might lose to much of the richness in transferring them to the written account. IPA might overcome this, but the methodological focus seems too strong on the individual at the moment. Maybe a combination of thematic analyis for the workshop and IPA for individual interviews after? Discourse analysis is another method I look into as it might give me a focus on the process and means with which participants made sense of the data.

With new idea coming in I feel the focus shift a little, never stirring me away from my topic of interest, only reframing the question. I find it hard not to question too much of the plan, but rather refine rather than redefine it.

Reflection: HCI & Art

Design has always been caught between technology or engineering and art. It is not really either of them, not craft, not technical skill, not artisan, but it also draws on all three of those. Design is everywhere and everything which makes it even harder to distinguish.

Currently I think HCI is heading down a similiar path. While formerly bound to a desk quite literally, it has started to explore movement, experience, situation and much more. It is work, leisure, fun, behaviour changing, games and much more. The way interactions are designed starts to shape the way we live together, the way we interact with each other., the way we see each other and much more.

Voices are starting to emerge that HCI needs to rethink its approach to fit into this novel world. That it has to acknowledge its impact and find new ways in which to find potential issues and address them – before facts are made and it might be too late. A turn towards the humanities, towards art practices, has been asked for. Art knows how to make people uncomfortable, to engage in critical thought and to pose problematic questions in aesthetic ways. Critical design has borrowed from this. Now it may be time that HCI does the same.

Probes in all their different shapes and forms have always done so in my opinion. They embraced the ambiguity that comes with creative expression and used it to create pieces that cannot always be called products. Work that does not always address one specific, clearly defined problem, but work around the general queaziness that people experience in their everyday life. It is art trickling through, making tentatice steps into the realm of technology.


But I think what is called for now is a different approach. One that fits both, bends both and makes them work together. Finding a languange with which to manage expectations and communicate results will be one important step into this direction. Finding the gap that technology design currently does not go into very much, asking all the uncomfortable questions will be one important task. Drawing from critical design and learning what worked there, what did not and what has to change to make it fit for HCI will be a great source for inspiration to make it work.


Weekly reflection: Padding out

While I am happy to see a new argument emerging from my current project report, I have also taken this opportunity to look deeper into some areas that I only sketched in the last report. It helps me to gain confidence in my argumentby looking into some of the historical arguments that surround the area I am interested in. I am aware that I do need to be careful not to use this as procrastination and get lost in the details again, but at the moment I find it useful to go back to the literature and identify aspects that I have not given full attention to in the last report.

One measure I apply at the moment is the length of the report: Even though I plan to add things, I think it will be shorter than the last version, showing that I make my argument more precise and that I dare to get rid of the things that do not really fall into the argument. As long as this is the case I will stay with my current method.

Weekly reflection: Sculpting

This week I have worked mostly on my project report again. Starting over and over again. Refining and editing until I feel I get the story right. I feel like a sculptor, hacking away until only the form I want is left. Luckily enough in contrast to many sculptors I can add items again, add new ones or change the shape entirly. Though one of the problems I find it to look beyond what is already there, asking for each sentence: Is this really necessary? Does it have to go here?

I have restructured my literature review and I feel it works much better now. I also have been able to voice a question that is more defined and I feel more confident to give an answer to. Overall I feel this has been quite a successful week even though I have not yet to show it it but fragments and ideas.

But within next week I will be able to get that into shape so that I will be able to get feedback on the text and develop my project and report from there.

Additionally I have started to look into my ethics application that I hope to submit soon so that I can start the studies early next year. With which I feel just about in the timeframe discussed with my supervisors.