Week 37 - 22 October 2021

Entry points

  • Is it useful to encourage people to make small lifestyle changes in the name of sustainability, such as recycling, not using plastic straws, etc etc, when we ultimately need to make systemic changes to our society in order to meet the challenges posed by the climate crisis?
  • It's said those small changes can offer an entry point for people to grasp and care about those wider systemic issues. However, the obvious danger is that people do their small actions and think that's enough. How can we lay the path to engagement with the broader issue?
  • This tension is at the centre of two projects I'm juggling. Most pertinently in a solo prototyping arduino brief - so I'll talk about that. This is a bit of a detour - but I'll return to the issue of entry points soon enough.


  • I'm buying a selection of fox deterrent devices, which I'll then hack and alter to instead replicate various ways that foxes sense. Through seeing the world as a fox, I'm hoping to enable people to empathise with them - and perhaps foster a more inter-species way of considering the urban environment. Let me tell you how I got there.
  • From the start I knew I wanted to focus on the urban environment. A little research on how people have used arduino in the city turns up a lot of the same projects. Usually this involves some sort of physical interaction producing a response - whether that's auditory or visual. Things like this piano. I'll talk more about why I was less interested in these interventions later.
  • So I returned to the brief, and the focus on colour somehow made me recall the fact that foxes, like dogs or cats, see different colours to us. I think they were front of mind as I was feeling irritated with them...that morning I'd again found that they'd dragged random possessions from my neighbours into my garden.
  • I reckon this low-level irritation with foxes is pretty common around London. I wanted to find out if this irritation is truly warranted, and ended up changing my mind. Firstly, urban foxes generally don't have a negative impacts on humans. In fact, they can help to control rodent population. Secondly, culling them doesn't do much - they tend to have a stable population (in London that's around 1 fox for every 800 people). So foxes are here to stay, and they don't do much harm. And ultimately, I thought, they have as much right to the city as we do. So we might as well learn how to live with them.
  • That's how I've ended up trying to hack fox deterrent devices - a sort of symbol of our collective hatred - to turn them into something that helps us better understand them. Of course, perception is such an individual experience that this feels a little futile, which is compounded by my poor prototyping skills. Which means this is more about the gesture - it's a concept or a meme. It is an entry point to the idea rather than a solution. In a sense it's a classic graphic design project, in that it's a piece of communication (if an elaborate one) rather than anything else. Which makes me wonder if I'm challenging myself and my practice enough.
  • One of the other related niggles about this is that it feels very neat and self contained. I wonder how I can give the project a few more edges - or connections with the world. Can this be done retrospectively?
  • For the moment I'm pressing on, with these concerns, because we only have 1 week to finish the project for submission. There is something catchy about the idea, and maybe that's ok. I struggle to know how much to 'zoom in' from these wider issues to find something with a hook, like this - and whether creating such an accessible 'entry point' makes it too far removed from the wider issue to enable people to jump that gap.
  • Artists can create their own problems, which designers typically can't. Maybe I just need to be more accepting of that and do this more for me. mmmmmmmmmm

Play in the city

  • As mentioned above, I've also been thinking about play in the city. As mentioned, many 'playful interventions' in the city can feel a little hollow - the equivalent of an urban fidget spinner. They'll make you smile once, but I'm not sure they are alive.

Noguchi Playground

  • Noguchi, who has an excellent exhibition on at the moment in the Barbican, decried modern playgrounds as being too directed (in the 60s). If you make a slide, you are telling the child how to play with it. Instead, he favoured abstract constructions which could be played with in many ways. In this way the designers job becomes more to be a creator of the conditions for play, rather than a designer of the rules of the game. Although Noguchi articulated the importance for children's self-direction in play, I don't think his structures, as beautiful as they are, go far enough in achieving this.
  • The attitude of giving up control of play to children is brought more to life by the theory and practice of Playwork. It recognises play as an evolving condition rather than an activity to be completed. Maybe this is why the aforementioned 'playful interventions' feel so dead - they offer singular activities rather than the ability for people to create their own.
  • Liza Fior, director of muf architecture/art, said 'a named space (a playground) to play gives permission and somewhere to go, but just like the home can be isolating for some. Therefore we have always designed for the child and adult to take up space in the public realm'. This points at the tension of the built environment as a static, defined space and the ambition for it to provide the conditions for something emergent like play.

MA GCDP - Week 5 resources

Last update: 2021-10-22 12:00:00 -0600