COLLABORATIVE UNIT | Week 1

Week 1 🗓: 10 Feb - 14 Feb

Brief 🔍

Design a new idea/ concept for natural sponge according to posthumanism

Teammates: 🤝Lili, Yuki and Guang


Research Methods 📚

We used the "Literature Review" and "Prototyping" methods to do our project. I read Timothy Barker's "Object and interaction", Laura Forlano's "Posthumanism and Design", Ron Wakkary et al.'s "Material Speculation: Actual Artifacts for Critical Inquiry", in order to understand how to use materials to design new object and interaction for posthumanism. I also read the book - James P Clements's "Effective Project Management" and Essi Salonen's "Designing Collaboration" in an attempt to learn how to collaborate with partners in a better way.


Background 📌

In the first week, we have a guest lecturer - Tyler Fox, who is from Centered Design & Engineering @University of Washington. He talked about what is posthumanism and the object & interaction. And gave us a task to discuss and make a physical diagram of a prehending phone, used by a (Human) user focus on one phone prehension.


Starting out I formed a group with Lili, Yuki and Guang. We wrote a list of things about ourselves as collaborative partners and what we looked for in a partner. It helped me to understand what my partners think of being a partner and how to co-work in a better and efficient way.


What is Collaborative design? 🤔

Collaborative design is all about getting multiple perspectives on a problem. (Salonen, 2012) We can’t design in a vacuum. We need to understand the needs of the issue as much as we need to understand how people will use it. With the collaborative approach, designers work with others to get multiple perspectives on the problem in order to arrive at an effective solution. We need to have a deep understanding of the problem. After understanding what collaborative design is, we did two tasks, one is about Human and Phone, another is about Natural Sponge.


Task 1 - 📱

Make a physical diagram of a prehending phone, used by a (Human) user focus on one phone prehension.


We were then starting to do our first task. Firstly, we all talked about our thoughts which are related to this topic. Lili suggested us to think of what are the functions of mobile phone and their relationship with humans. Then, I came up with an idea about the "Notification" of the mobile phone. As we all know, the mobile phone will send notifications to you and remind you to check on the news, email, message, etc. And, you will react to them, like click and check or even delete them. It is a loop between humans and mobile phones. It means that phones give you notifications by push visuals, sounds or vibrate movements. You will then give them reaction and data by click, search, speak or delete. Phones will analyze your reaction and revise the notification push. Below is our concept flow of human and phone notification.

Concept flow of human and phone notification (sketched by me)

Then, we quickly designed a physical prototype about notification. This is a box with three different lines, which represent three different notifications, like social media, entertainment and political news. Then we asked a user to pull it if he decides to receive this notification. After he pulls it, the color flag will rise, which means the phone react based on your data. Below is the physical prototype.

Physical prototype - mobile phone notification
Team work

Task 2 - 🧽

Design a new idea/ concept for natural sponge according to posthumanism


After doing the first task, we build a more efficient teamwork flow. We understand each other better. Everyone gets the motivation to work together! Then, Tyler gave us a second task which is about the natural sponge.

The natural sponge

In the beginning, we felt so confused as we only know the sponge is for showering. According to Clements and Gido (2012), "A project has a clear object that establishes what is to be accomplished. It is the tangible and product that the project team must produce and deliver." So, the first thing we do is to get a deeper understanding of what is a natural sponge and clarify our goal of this project.


We searched on the Internet and explored what is a natural sponge. The most interesting fact is that the natural sponge is an animal! We are shocked when we saw the sponge, we thought it is an object without any biological features. The natural sponges are multicellular organisms that have bodies full of pores and channels allowing water to circulate through them. They don't have a nervous system. Therefore, it is a simple animal with many cells, but no mouth, muscles, heart or brain. It is sessile. It cannot move from place to place the way most animals can. It grows in one spot like most plants do. Moreover, people will exploit them in the ocean. Then, we came up with an idea and we found that it is interesting to show its difference between living in human life and living in the ocean. So, we designed a physical prototype to introduce the natural sponge to our classmates. Below is the concept sketch.

Concept sketch for introducing the natural sponge (Sketched by me)
The making of
Our prototype

Final Task 🙌

After presenting our idea, our classmates also felt shocked about the fact - Natural sponge is an animal. Then, Tyler asked us to find one specific layer or area of natural sponge and try to develop a new idea/invention that can go beyond human. In the beginning, we are having some trouble with what is going beyond human and are we going to design something that can improve human life by using the natural sponge? After we told Tyler that we were thinking of an idea about using the system of natural sponge and their features to filter fake data or fake news on social media, we found that we are in the wrong direction. In posthumanism design, designers need to look beyond human intelligence and consider the effects of their practice on the world. (Forlano, 2017) Therefore, we rethought our direction again and tried to think of the natural sponge's needs and the environment.


1.💡DISCOVER (Salonen, 2012)

• the beginning of the design process

• an idea or a need to do something new or develop existing products or services

• exploring and gathering inspirations

• identifying the problem


So, we imagine the natural sponge is our user. We assume that they don’t want to be tools for humans anymore. We aimed to design something new that can improve natural sponge's life and living quality.


As we know, the sponge cannot move from place to place the way most animals can. They can only grow in one spot. This is their limitation as animals. Second, they are the filter of the ocean. What they eat is tiny and floating organic particles and plankton that they filter from the water the flows through their body. Therefore, eating, filtering and growing are the only things that they can do.


2.💡DEFINE (Salonen, 2012)

• filtering and analyzing the findings

• brainstorming

• visualization

• prototyping and testing

• selecting ideas for development


So we focus on their original behavior and design to help them eat better, breed better and even more connect better.


How❓🤔

To achieve our goal, we created a new technology and ecosystem for them.


Firstly, we designed new food with better nutrition. When they eat new food, they will digest the case which has better nutrition for them. And there are 3 engines that will filter out from their bodies and deliver part of them to a better place so they can breed in a better way and travel to other places. Also, this food can connect them with other animals and sponges. When they go to the new place, they can build a community to protect themselves more easily. Below is the concept sketch.

Concept sketch for the new prototype

3. 💡DEVELOP (Salonen, 2012)

• prototyping and testing

• gathering feedback

• further visualization, brainstorming

• narrowing down offered concepts


Prototype ✂️

In order to present the idea and how it works, we designed a physical prototype to show the process of eating, breeding and connecting. Below is the prototype.

The final physical prototype

When we thought that we already communicated so well and planned to design a physical prototype with “Arduino” programming. Nonetheless, we found out that editing the coding is not that easy. Even if we tried a few times, it still not works as expected. We wasted a lot of time on it and one of our groupmates started being nervous about the time. In this case, I also felt a little bit of panic but I believe "Nothing is impossible". Therefore, I suggested the team to rearrange our technical plan on the prototype. We sought advice from the Creative Technology Lab and tackled the technology problem together. After dealing with the problem together, I found that I successfully built trust and leadership in my team. My teammates were more supportive and our collaboration runs more efficiently than before.


4.💡DELIVER (Salonen, 2012)

• testing and refining

• stakeholder approval/rejection

• presenting or launching the product or looping back to an earlier stage


After we deliver our idea to the class, we got a lot of valuable feedback.

Photo during presentation

Project feedback & Reflection

They like our idea to assume natural sponge as our user. And tried to imagine bringing the sponge to a new place and provide them a new way to travel around the ocean. It just like creating a trip experience for the sponge. They suggest us also consider how technology can create new food for them rather than just showing the concept. Tyler also said maybe it is good to explore the exciting technology and adapt them to our concept. So it is not just a design fiction but a possible design for helping natural sponge and also the environment! After we heard their feedback, we found them very useful. If we have a chance to develop the concept and bring it to the world, we will definitely revise them according to their comments. And our team also want to explore more about the relationship between human and nature. This project is great for us to rethink our responsibilities of being a designer in the future and learned a lot about how to design in a better way for posthumanism. Last but not least, we equipped ourselves with better collaborative skills and project management skills.


References 📖

Barker, T. (2011). Objects and interaction. Digital Creativity, 22(2), pp.65-77.


Clements, J. and Gido, J. (2012). Effective project management. [Mason, Ohio]: South-Western, Cengage Learning.


Forlano, L. (2017). Posthumanism and Design. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 3(1), pp.16-29.


Salonen, E. (2012). Designing Collaboration. [online] Designing Collaboration. Available at: http://www.designingcollaboration.com/ [Accessed 15 Feb. 2012].


Wakkary, R., Odom, W., Hauser, S., Hertz, G. and Lin, H. (2015). Material Speculation: Actual Artifacts for Critical Inquiry. Aarhus Series on Human Centered Computing, 1(1), pp.97-105.

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