Part 1 – Design Probes
Working From Home was an Applied Interaction Design (Module CS4078) project in year 3 (2019) that focused on the design space, “Working from Home.” The brief was to explore this design space and to come up with a design solution for a future scenario, something for in 20 – 40 years.
The first part of the project was group work. Initially I worked in a team of three to research, design and make probes that would be used to explore peoples’ experience of working from home and find out what were the technologies these workers used. We recruited six working-from-home (WFH) participants. We researched and designed a set of eight probes for the participants to engage with (see the slide presentation to view the probes). We dispatched the probes to the participants who completed the tasks the probes asked of them. This generated the data which we later collected, organised and analysed. Full ethics considerations were adhered to.
The introductory postcard collected basic participant information. The photo task asked participants to upload photos to a private Instagram account. For the audio task they captured ambient and noise sounds from their working day which they shared to Soundcloud. The other probes consisted of material objects with accompanying instruction cards. It was hoped the probes would collect data to help us gain an understanding of the lives of people who work at home and also “inspirational data” to stimulate our imaginations (Gaver et al 1999) which they indeed did.
We had set out to make the probes artistic, pleasing, provoking and playful with the intention that they would be enjoyable to interact with and might also offer the participants moments of reflection. After a week we would collect the results of their completed tasks. Our literature research pointed out that the probes may not be participatory enough because too much of the data analyses may be left up to researchers’ interpretation. We therefore made plans to host and invite our participants to a generative follow up session to involve them further in the design process.
Up to this point this had been a collaborative project with each team member fulfilling different roles. Aisling focused on graphic design of the cards and research. Erin coordinated the photo and audio probes, setting up the accounts for the photo and audio tasks and emailing the participants. My part was in the construction of the material probes kits. After the probe kits had been completed by the participant and we had collected all the information we moved onto the second phase of the project which we undertook individually.
Part 2 – Organizing, Analyzing & Synthesizing the data.
I downloaded all the photos and comments that the participants had posted on the WFH_Instagram and printed them to enable viewing them all together. As I sifted through the data I wrote observation memos. I collected information into tables. Then I sorted the data into different arrangements on a large board to discover patterns and connections (See Slides). This process helped me to get to know the data.The main categories I found in the data were:
- Animals and Pets
- Time and travel in remote work
- Family & relationships
The main themes that emerged from the analyses were:
- Physical wellbeing (bodies need to move regularly, need breaks, fresh air etc)
- Human-animals-nature relation is beneficial
- Super Fast efficient broadband (LiFi) desirable
How might urban or non remote industrial/corporate workers have more accessibility to nature? And how might we design ways for animals to live/exist in urban areas?
Participatory & Co- Design
First I considered a design scenario involving the super fast internet of the future (5G / LiFi) which will be useful for rural remote workers. However, what I was really drawn by was the significance of peoples’ relationship with animals that had emerged from all of the probe data. I did further research, this time on “animals in the work place” and “animal centered design”. I found there are cases that show the benefits of having animals in the workplace. I also discovered there is a field of design known as animal centered design which endeavors to safe guard wildlife habitats in urban planning.
To further collaborate with the participants, I then contacted two of them via a WhatsApp chat for their inputs into the co-design of a solution. I explained that the design solution could be applicable to any working environment not just useful for people who work from home. One suggested an idea for a forest garden and offered links to relevant resources. The other suggested a bio-diverse wild flower garden project for workers.
A wildflower garden for pollinators, surrounded by stuff for birds (feeders, nest boxes, a bathing area), would be great on a company’s premises. The employees could take it in turn to manage it, while everyone can sit and enjoy it on their lunch break…?
The Phenology Garden
A company designates a patch of outdoor ground on it’s premises for a garden. An expert forest gardener designs and oversees the initial planting of the garden with native plant species, edible plants and herbs. Bird boxes, feeders for birds and seating for the staff are installed. Staff are invited to get involved in maintaining the garden. Personal development training credits are awarded for their participation in the project.
Government incentives for companies for each square meter of land dedicated to the workers wildlife forest garden might be a possibility.
The Phenology App
To incentivise engagement with the garden and to raise awareness of biodiversity there is a Phenology App proposed that workers can update with photos of wildlife and species in the garden throughout the year.
Participatory Design is the direct involvement of people in the shaping of future artefacts. Participation refers to the taking part but also to the relations with others, therefore, action and connection (Wenger 1998).
Design Probes were initially developed by a group of designers led by Bill Gaver as part of the EU Presence Project, which explored how to better integrate older participants into the everyday life of their communities (Boehner et al, 2007).
The Phenology clock image on the app idea is from the Interactive London PhenologicalxClock by Natalie Jeremijenko’s Environmental Health Clinic + Lab, exhibited in London, 2015.