Core77 Design Awards
- Other Years
The use of technology has become an integral part of our lives to the point where we finally find ourselves as beings entangled with technological devices on a daily basis. We thereby pay particular attention to their function, usability and degree of innovation, yet often leaving out the question of how our individual relationship with technology evolves. What if we shifted the focus of our everyday technological experiences away from efficient use and functionality?
This work aims to challenge the narrative about the use of everyday electronic devices by exploring the growing intimacy outside of the device's typical purpose: by looking at minor side effects that appear before, after, or alongside its "proper" usage. Whether it is the heat of the laptop or the noise of the devices around us, this fiction creates a poetic side to our relationship with technology and speculates within a series of 5 devices about how small side effects might eventually become a rare necessity.
The work consists of 5 speculative devices, placed in a visual essay (04:42 minutes film) transporting the viewers of the work into a fiction, based of the inconspicuous features of our devices that surround us everyday. (link to film)
In addition, there is a small comic-like brochure available for visitors (in the context of an exhibition) to take home, which discuss the rare necessities devices interpretatively. (attached as a pdf)
Through the lens of film as the chosen medium and with aesthetic recourse to the techno-utopianism of the 1960s, relevant questions are raised and negotiated in a setting that suits the purpose and makes these topics accessible to a wide audience.
Important – Please view the short film under the following link: www.vimeo.com/566226652
The use of technology is often seen as granted in our everyday life, improving human conditions. User-centered design, user friendliness, usability – all these design principles are about the usage of technological devices. But when "using" technologies, the utility becomes the main task and the human role gets defined by this as well: we are "users". This idea puts everyday devices in a place where they must be understood rather than interpreted. Thus, how can we create new space in our minds and our intentions towards the handlings of technologies? (other than the traditional usage)
In interaction design, we aim for user-friendliness, which has also become the main aim of interactivity. However, this means for me that I can make an incision right here by stepping away from the familiarity and encouragement of the predefined user role.
Thus, an aesthetic approach might subvert the idea of user-friendliness and rather provide alternative models of interactivity. An aesthetic experience would set it apart from the usual function-deterministic and user-centered experience, and rather allow to perceive a technological device detached from its previous associations and principles.
How do we think about technology and why is that relevant? It's striking how predefined our focus, our interactions, and the purpose we assign to devices seem to be. This focus on functionality and proper use is based on our subjective necessities. And it is not solely the role a device has to fulfill in our lives, but also the role we take on, both of which (pre)define the human-technology relationship.
It seems very difficult and strange to view everyday devices differently than we are used to. The process of changing one's perception on a device, does not necessarily start from the object or device itself – it rather starts with ourselves and which meaning we assign to the device.
Furthermore, to shift to something that is already present but not in our concern, emphasizes this process of being trapped in our thoughts by the meaning we have assigned so far to a device. This is why it has been even more fascinating for me to work within features already existing in a device and avoided creating something completely new.
For this reason, I focus on the side effects of our devices, rather on secondary uses, on the unusual, and on placing them at the core of the device's purpose. Similarly, I radically erase the functionalities on which we usually focus, and thereby still draw attention to the coexistence of side effects alongside the previous function through its absence.
Avoiding the attempt to look at technologies by trying to understand them, here the user is given the opportunity to interpret new artefacts by feeling surrounded by technology without the actual typical known electronic objects: to hear, see or feel subliminal things that are usually experienced when using technology, but not to benefit from any common functional technological use.
Five speculative devices have emerged from a confrontation with five intimate sensations, signals and phenomenons we unconsciously sense before, during or after the regular use of a device.
Each of these devices, including artistic explorations that went along with them, are concerned with the subject of dealing with the device outside of the typical purpose and functionality. Ultimately, these speculative devices provoke a feeling of everyday immersion with technology and thus remind us in a very simplified way of our relationship to it, foregrounding the trivial and banal of our daily interactions and sensorial experiences with technologies.
The resulting series emphasizes the following aspects: 1) the warmth our laptop emits at our lap, 2) supporting our habitual affirmations on our smartphone, 3) providing the playback of pure soundscapes from our devices, 4) bringing the subtle light signals from our hardware to the forefront, 5) creating the ambient lighting emerging from our digital screens that illuminate our environment and bodies.
Mostly everything has a visual focus in our everyday electronic devices, including the focus within the field of design as well. In my opinion, the near future will rely heavily on digitization, which is mainly experienced and operated visually.
I rather aim to convey a connectivity of our human body with the world through the technological hardware itself, resulting as a device extension.
Within this work, the absence of the familiar functional focus is just as important as the encouragement of the previously trivial side effects. While the side effects are clearly being centered in the design, the absence of the originating phenomena is made visible. The physical occupation of these devices, and the shape of the figures, refer to our current devices and automatically set a relation to the newly born purpose; the side effect.
Working within the context of everyday life has been very important to me since I began this exploration. I believe the most tangible and yet most imperceptible technological progress is to be found in our personal everyday experiences. And I believe that even small moments of mindfulness regarding this relationship in everyday life, can make a difference in how individuals relate to technology. It shouldn't feel like a deprivation through technology, but rather like a matter of sharing space and time in interplay.
The loss of control and the overload that many people feel with precarious technological progress can be reclaimed in this speculative work. First, a conscious control and exploration with auditory, visual and sensory interventions in space, mind and body, and second, a prevention of overload through the meditative and simple nature of these interventions is to be found.
Our devices will always continue to change, but first and foremost they will remain tools to meet our existing and forthcoming needs. This is why I have created this fiction that goes beyond our thinking of what a tool is - that evokes rather poetic and mundane aspects of it. With today's fast pace, especially due to our devices, it is a pleasant balance to give a short time to observe our efficiency driven things differently.
At the end of the day, we don't use our devices the same way, nor do we have the same experiences with them. We all have different stories and perceptions around technology. And with my contribution, I hope to open new doors and perspectives in our minds to perceive, observe, appreciate, discard and reinvent our thinking around technology.
Nadine Cocina (*1994) is an interaction designer and artist from Zurich. She has been a research associate at the Zurich University of the Arts since completing her master's degree there and works on a variety of artistic projects in addition to her work as a UI/UX designer. She uses technology not only as a medium for her practical work but also as a conceptual framework for a critical engagement. In her works, she likes to draw attention to small everyday phenomena that arise from the ever-increasing use and immersion with digital media and technological devices and systems. In doing so, she focuses on the effects they have on the individual relationship to them and translates them into aesthetic experiences.
This work was created as part of Nadine Cocina's master's thesis in the Department of Interaction Design at the Zurich University of the Arts in June 2021. The project was mentored by Dr. phil. Björn Franke and Max Rheiner.
Rare Necessities has since been exhibited at the ZHDK Design Diploma Exhibition 2021 (Zurich) (additionally being nominated for the ZHDK sponsorship Award), Ars Electronica Festival (Linz), and represented in Wanted Design's AIRTIME TV (Basel & Online) and at the Geneva Digital Market (Online).