Over the last year, I have embarked on a new research endeavor initiated by my interest in research collaborations with design colleagues at other institutions and driven by the technological tools that make said work possible. As a researcher, writer, and maker, initial investigations of types of design collaborations and technological communication and editing tools resulted in the realization that limited tools exist that foster design making in a way that is spontaneous and fluid. Happening simultaneously, my husband developed a mobile robot with video capability to (yes, I’m not kidding) check in on our two dogs while we were out of town. The result became the fusion of these two ideas: the development of a new technological tool, a mobile robot with video capability to support design collaborations in remote scenarios.
With Rebecca Tegtmeyer, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Michigan State University and under the advisement of my husband, Ray Walker, software developer and generally speaking, robot extraordinaire, we developed a tool that enables experimentation in drawing in a brand new way. With a canvas laid on the floor, Rebecca and I can drive and draw with the robot in real time using an online user interface from a web browser. The result becomes a collaborative drawing in the physical space.
With further analysis, Rebecca and I positioned the work in the field of critical design, a term coined by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby (2013) in the mid-nineties.
“Critical design uses speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions, and givens about the role products play in everyday life…Its opposite is affirmative design: design that reinforces the status quo.” (p. 34)
Critical design (and speculative design) are often situated in the field of HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) where technological tools speculate on the possibilities of new ways computers and humans can interact. Through the practice of experimentation, play, and risk-taking, we investigate how this type of collaboration can be expanded. The working method of experimentation has allowed for us to test possibilities and react to obstacles with new ideas and modifications.