Research & Story Telling

I've chose my 7in7-day1 project, Universal Mechanical Structure & Subconsciousness Behaviors, as my further-developing concept. My research process mainly focuses on three part: those artifacts and their mechanical structures, subconsciousness behaviors and the link between those subconsciousness behaviors and artifacts’ structures.

Artifacts & Mechanical structures

Artifacts nowadays play an incredible significant role in modern society. You may can’t think of a natural being you’ve touch today except for food. On average, modern human beings consume 13000 kinds of artifacts in their entire life. However, this all began just two hundred years ago—the Industrial Revolution. The industrial revolution is the transition to new manufacturing processes from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840. It makes mass production possible. Without it we can’t have phones, watches, lamps even fast food. But also, mass production made products identical to each other and often different kinds of products can share the same structures/components. This made the artifacts we see, use today homogenous, sometimes we don’t even have to know what it is but are able to use it whiteout learning cost. Whether what’s mass production’s initiative goal, it’s truly reduced modern human beings burden on using daily objects.

When it comes to what meets the standard of a universal mechanical structure, Staring from very broad aspects, I found those pictures demonstrating the objects modern human beings touch each day. Very Inspiring to just see how many man-made product we touch each day and how familiar they are to me even though its someone else’s daily objects.

Also I talked to a lot of people around to ask what they can come up with when talking about universal mechanical structures and listed a few for further idea development.

A list of those mechanical structures (to be sorted out)
1. Spinning bottle cap

(PS. Interesting fact: why does cap of every bottle or tube opens anti-clockwise and closes clockwise. Was it decided initially. It goes back to why are all screws and lids tighten clockwise? Your bicep muscle. The arm motion to tighten a screw or a lid is called supination. The arm motion counter clockwise is pronation. the muscles that do that are smaller and not as powerful. Your arm will tire less from screwing in 10 screws than unscrewing those same screws, in general. So in general, anything where you want to exert more force to tighten, its clockwise.)

2. Clicking button

3. Lid

4. Hinge

5. Plug

6. Some paper/packages also indicates certain open ways. e.g. Envelop, Food package.

To be added…

Subconsciousness behaviors

Subconsciousness allows us to do things we don’t have to think about, but we can alter them if we choose to. A good example of subconscious behavior is breathing. We don’t have to think to breathe at all, but we can change how we control our breath and its pattern.

Other examples of the subconscious are subconscious memory or automatic skills. Pianists or typists don’t have to look at the piano keys or keyboard to know where the keys are. Automatic skill started as a learned skill, but as we repeat the movement, the executive function fades over time.

How artifacts link with subconsciousness behaviors?

Artifacts can play two roles when it comes to affecting human actions. In their first role they can enable or facilitate human actions. Here, the presence of artifacts changes the number and quality of the options for action available to us.  For example, their presence makes it possible for us to do things that we would not otherwise be able to do, and thereby adopt new goals, or helps us to do things we would otherwise be able to do, but in more time, with greater effort, etc. 

Artifacts can also play a second role, where their presence increases the likelihood that people will perform, or abstain from performing certain actions. In this role, the presence of artifacts affects what people actually do. Authors like Akrich and Latour have argued that artifacts (themselves) can prescribe actions to us. Following their lead, Verbeek has argued that artifacts mediate actions in part by inviting or inhibiting us to act in a certain way. For example, speed bumps can be said to prescribe slowing down to the oncoming driver, while SUVs seem to invite reckless driving. 

To dig deeper into the fundamental question, how do people seems to always know how some artifacts function?

First, mass production afford us enough memories for the same structures again and again. Then we try out new things by always identifying them as something we’ve used before. In cognitive psychology theories, this is because human mind categorize artifacts by seeing similar surface appearances objects as one category.

Also we have to mention the famous Ecological Psychology & Affordance brought up by Phycologist J. J. Gibson, his theory has been widely used in the design field. Basically Ecological psychology believes the environment around an organism affords various actions to the organism. One of the best example would be Naoto Fukasawa’s record player. It afford you with an intention of dragging the string. The theory and its practice actually utilized the subconsciousness of human using objects and therefore create a unnoticeable experience of using artifacts.

But are those universal mechanical structures Affordance?
it is a sort of ‘affordance’ I guess but it is not what affordance was originally defined as. those designs focusing on creating unconsciousness behaviors are not similar to my intention because they want to reduce the attention you paid and make products naturally/spontaneously used. Mine is to raise our awareness of how we’ve been manipulated by artifacts.

In summary, human interact with objects in the ways precedent humans designed. In a interacting process, a human input something and the objects have an output that they are expecting (The surface appearances of those mechanical structures give people an expectation of their inner structures). And human tend to believe it should work in the way they are used to.

To break these kind of link between their input and expected output, I want create something to surprise/frustrate them.

Examples that discuss similar topics

Katerina Kampari's The Uncomfortable highlights those household objects that frustrate the audiences in order to let them think what designs should be and creates a sarcasm on bad designs.

Rachel Yin from Design Academy of Edinhoven Similar project, de-function chair, clock, clothes tree.

THE MISUSED is a research-based project that investigates hardware culture all over the world. The project has been dedicated to inspiring people to re-imagine daily hardware in alternative contexts.

By turning objects from its original usage to a misused yet still workable status, this project has a much more serious research process.

How’s my work different from those projects?
My work focuses more on mechanical structures, which is movable. My work focuses more on making the process of exploring fun and surprising, not frustrating. My project doesn’t aims to serve any practical purposes, but to simply exhibit those structures to audiences.

Concept Declaration

The outcome should be a series (4-5) of artifacts that correlated with each other.
Letting users perceive those artifacts as how they think they should function, but turns out it functions in another way, in which process creating a surprising & fun experience (Maybe a little retrospection as well).
1. I am NOT frustrating users by de-function mechanical structures.
2. The exhibition to place the series of objects encourages audiences to TOUCH/INTERACT with those objects. Play it to understand it!

Purposes and expected results
To remind people that being able to use those artifacts subconsciously is not something granted. This is purely human-defined habits for human.

By redefining those functions, I want to challenge your second-nature habits, therefore provokes thoughts and retrospection on those artifacts. What we adapted to are can be something none-sense, it can be just a mistake by a designer and accidentally being passed on. We adapt to them simply because we live in this society and in this era.

How is these ‘Universal mechanical Structures’ different from Graphic Symbols?
There are some sort of similarity but they are absolutely different feelings. In some way, they are both human-made symbols that can can be comprehended by audiences. However, graphical symbols, or signs can’t change even a bit and therefore conveys very clear information. Physical(3D) symbols are just similar forms that indicate its function. They are vaguer and subtler.

Do Culture differences, Era differences influence this?
Absolutely. If you live in the Victoria era, of course you won’t be able to have an expectation of how to spin to open the bottle cap.
Also living in different counties can cause different habits of using artifacts because they can look very different. Take the first time I went to USA as an example, I was really not used to open the light switch with one finger because in China we can put the whole palm on the surface.

This is very interesting facts and we can manipulate them sometime later. In this project, I will try to eliminate the impact of culture differences, in order to make a universal understandable artifact.

Feedbacks from My Classmates

Questions to be answered & Inspirations: