experiments in more-than-human design ethnography

On dogs and design ethnography

My colleague Sarah Baker and I are heading up the School of Design‘s new postgraduate Design Ethnography research stream, and we gave a brief presentation this week to new students.

When I was searching for less obvious examples of this kind of work, I came across a lovely project by Malavika Reddy and Taylor Lowe. The Story of The Story of Tongdaeng: A Tale of Unspeakability and Thai Politics is all about Khun Tongdaeng, the royal canine companion of King Bhumipol Adulyadej of Thailand. But, of course, this dog is much more than just a dog:

“Enter Khun Tongdaeng. Her mobilization through a variety of media is ripe with the unsayable. The Tongdaeng images and paraphernalia that flooded Bangkok in the early part of the decade “spoke” to, but also around the anxieties of the monarchy in a way that no amount of paternal speechifying could ever do. At the same time, the manifestation of Tongdaeng in a variety of objects makes connections between His Majesty and significant political economic developments of the day, including copyright regimes, branding, and the ongoing project to make Thais more ‘modern.’ Tongdaeng became a device that was seen to impart the King’s luster to these bureaucratic and business endeavors, ostensibly legitimating them. What follows then is a look at the politics of Thailand in the early 2000s, and the unspeakability at its heart, via the King’s favorite dog.”

Choosing a non-traditional social subject like a dog offers, I think, a unique and rich opportunity for both cultural and design research. This particular dog, as manifested through a published biography, commemorative statues and t-shirts, and the King’s annual greeting cards, exemplifies the material, visual and discursive elements found in all human-nonhuman assemblages–and presents a fascinating subject of, and for, design ethnography.

I highly recommend checking out the project for yourself, but what I wanted to highlight to the students, and draw attention to again now, is the use of visuals to re/present research.

For example, I love this updated version of a traditional ethnographic kinship chart:

Tongdaeng's Kinship Chart

And this collage does a good job of showing what a story of A Story can look like:

The Story of The Story of Tongdaeng

I particularly like the balance of written academic analysis and visual materials, and the design’s pop culture aesthetics are consistent with the cultural research, so I think it all comes together quite nicely. As Reddy and Lowe note: “Despite being spoken for by an excess of words and actors, there persists around Tongdaeng a critical silence,” and I think their project offers interesting visual possibilities for both engaging with, and responding to, this silence.

Posted: March 7th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Material & Visual Culture, People & Animals | No Comments »

Counting Sheep speculative design ethnography research

We’re very excited to launch the website for our Counting Sheep design scenario research, starting with three speculative design ethnography projects, and more on the way:

BoneKnitterBoneKnitter (Anne Galloway & Dani Clode)
The BoneKnitter is a dream for slow technology that honours New Zealand’s natural environment and pays tribute to generations of Māori and Pākehā merino growers, shearers and wool handlers. We envision a future where orthopaedic casts are crafted from all natural materials and slowly knitted over broken bones. We see individual casts crafted from the range of natural merino wool colours, both plainly styled and patterned after the topographic contours of the land where the sheep were raised, or the genetic sequence of the sheep that produced the wool. Each cast comes with data histories for each animal, and we are given personal collections of photos and stories to take home.

Grow Your Own LambGrow Your Own Lamb (Anne Galloway & Mata Freshwater)
A revolutionary new service that puts New Zealand consumers in charge of how their meat is produced! Select whether you want your 100% Pure NZ Merino Lamb raised in the paddock (in vivo) or raised in the lab (in vitro), and download the GYoL app so that you can check in on the growing process anywhere, anytime. Then select the actions you want your growers or technicians to take to ensure your meat is just the way you like it. When your lamb is ready, select how you want it slaughtered or harvested, and get the best cuts of meat delivered right to your door. Finally, enjoy your 100% Pure NZ Merino Lamb knowing that it was produced exactly the way you want it.

PermaLambPermaLamb (Anne Galloway & Lauren Wicken)
On 7 June 2019, in an unprecedented show of national cooperation, all of the country’s political parties unanimously voted in favour of creating the NZ Ministry of Science and Heritage. Using well-established transgenics research and recombinant DNA techniques, scientists cross-bred an animal that embodied the behavioural traits of a dog and took on the physical appearance of a lamb for its entire life. Each PermaLamb was also implanted with a full suite of networked identification, location and sensor technologies, enabling it to generate and collect petabytes of data over its lifetime. The National PermaLamb Programme was born.

Please take a look around and share what you find with friends and family.

We also invite you to take part in a short online survey to help us better understand what kinds of science and technology people want – and don’t want – in the future.

If you have any questions about our research, please just email us.

Posted: November 26th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Material & Visual Culture, People & Animals, Science, Technology & Society | No Comments »

Golden fleece and other fantastic things

As part of Ethnography MattersEthnography, Speculative Fiction and Design month, I’ve just published “Towards Fantastic Ethnography and Speculative Design“–a personal reflection on what I’ve been doing (mostly design ethnography) and what’s been inspiring me (mostly Ursula Le Guin).

Right after I wrote it, I read the following passage in the latest installment of my favourite urban fantasy series:

“Did you really kill a ram with gold wool?”

“Gods, no. It’s synthetic,” he said.

“How?”

“We took a ram pelt, coated it in magic to keep it from burning, and dipped it in gold. The real trick was getting the proportion of gold and silver right. I wanted to keep the flexibility of gold, but it’s so heavy the individual hairs kept breaking, and too much silver made it stiff. In the end we went with a gold-copper alloy.”

“Why go through all this trouble?”

“Because kingdoms are built on legends,” Hugh said. “When the hunters are old and gray, they will still talk about how they went to Colchis and hunted for the Golden Fleece.”

How perfect is that?

And then I saw these two things:

Mid-century Australian Petrol Station

Australian Golden Fleece Petrol Station advert, 1950s-60s (via)

Sheep Station

Sheep Station exhibition featuring the work of François-Xavier Lalanne, 2013 (via)

See? It’s ALL ABOUT THE SHEEP.

Posted: September 18th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Material & Visual Culture, Research Methodologies | No Comments »

Sneak preview: speculative design for animal-human relations

When I get back from Australia we’ll be launching four speculative designs from the Counting Sheep project. Here’s a sneak preview:

Grow Your Own Lamb: Would you like your NZ merino meat pasture-raised or lab-raised?

BoneKnitter: What if orthopaedic casts were made of all natural, traceable native materials?

Sadie & Rye: Could you love artificial NZ huntaway and heading dogs?

PermaLamb: What if every Kiwi had their own transgenic pet lamb?

Stay tuned for more!

Posted: June 9th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Material & Visual Culture, People & Animals, Progress Reports | No Comments »

New (old) books

Excited to receive reprints of these classic texts for one of the summer projects we’re working on:

Full text

Full text

Posted: December 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Material & Visual Culture, People & Animals | No Comments »