To spark real and relatable conversations about such a specific situation, like a wearable device for receiving amino acids into the body, I had to step away from the perspective of the desire to augment myself, and, instead, create a narrative in which such a need would be triggered by an external, non-negotiable agent. So I’ve changed the motivation from self-enhancement to healthcare.
In order to do research on a piece of speculative design, I had to create a speculative scenario. For that reason, I’ve used fiction as a tool to immerse users into the context.
As a design-research method, I’ve designed a co-design workshop that takes place inside a story.
The story resumes as such:
It’s the year 2027, and a new virus appeared. It causes a genetic mutation that impedes whoever is infected from producing digestive enzymes that break down proteins in the stomach. That means that whoever has it cannot eat proteins anymore. While scientists work day and night to find a cure and revert the genetic mutation, this device needs to be designed urgently, because the emergency parenteral nutrition plan being used to combat that is expensive, inconvenient and painful. I, the Head of Insights for Wearables from a biohacking company, have invited 6 designers to collaborate on this project, which is being commissioned by the UN as a top priority one
It was important to me that the story was not only realistic, but also that its main element was a foreign invader – the virus – of which people had no control.
All my previous research has helped to use science at the basis to create a scenario that is:
realistic enough that people will acceptit, even if their knowledge is very basic;
fictional enough that people will not aguewith it, leaving me, the storyteller/researcher, in control of the narrative;
urgent enough that people would get easily immersed on it.
The story was also important not only to set context, but also to justify the constraints of the design, such as “it has to be wearable” and “it has to generate its own electricity”.
Why a co-design workshop?
My main interest is to discover not only what are people’s perceptions and desires in terms of a wearable device for this kind of technology, but also what are the fundamental questions that arise from it.
The workshop was one hour long, with a 20 minutes introduction to set context and answer questions, 30 minutes for crafting the prototypes, and 10 to 15 final minutes to discuss the designs. It took place at LCC, with a group of 6 students from MA UX Design, from the first and second year.
It was successful, in three ways:
a variety of low-fi prototypes with different properties were created;
it has raised lively discussions about identity and self-perception, using as basis other experiences they’ve had with devices for healthcare;
participants were genuinely involved in the story.
My immediate next step is to evaluate in detail all the artefacts created, and then realise what is the next step for the final outcome.