Circles and Props: Making Unknown Technology


Session Title:

  • Bodies as Bio-Interfaces

Presentation Title:

  • Circles and Props: Making Unknown Technology




  • “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?”          _Meno, from Plato’s dialogue (in Solnit, 2005)

    The OWL project is an evolving interrogation of how we might design technologies that do not yet exist, and are not predicated on what we already know. How do we support the emergence of radical future technologies that reflect and respond to personal desires? How can those outside the design process inform and shift the way we think about design, such that our usual processes are not only short circuited, but are rendered irrelevant?

    The project began with a series of bodyprops that aimed to support magical thinking around potential (yet to be imagined) body-technology relationships. The props were used in a series of interviews with a relatively broad sample of participants from Europe, Australia, North America and Japan. Participant responses were consistently surprising, sometimes so exceptional that we began to wonder what kinds of props people would make if they were to make their own.

    From this work the OWL circle naturally emerged. The circles take the knowledge and understanding accrued over the course of 31 interviews into a slightly different space, perspective or approach. The circle creation process is a structured gathering in which participants are supported to create a personal exploratory device. The device is not designed in any traditional sense, rather it emerges from an open making process that combines art and design ideation techniques with scientific curiosity and retrospective ethnographic evaluation.

    The traditional design approach is to imagine a scenario, to define a device, object or experience-based “solution” for the scenario, then to “design” and prototype or otherwise describe this solution. In the OWL project we work backwards by allowing people to consider where desires live in their bodies, then to work instinctively on how those desires could manifest themselves in new unknown devices. Rather than predicating design on scenarios based on what we know, our aim is to discover what we do not yet know so that devices, objects and other experiences might emerge from a physical making process.

    The paper outlines the theoretical background for the OWL project and shows the results from both the interview and the circle processes.

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