Manual Design noir: the secret life of electronic objects

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Most of us have some concern with the unseen working of electronics, but a few of us take that interest much further. Dunne and Raby refer to this small band as 'electro-connoisseurs'. The group seems to divide into metaphorical foxhunters or birdwatchers: some seek out specially planted transmitters for sport, while others attempt to tune in to the naturally occurring waves that are the outcome of atmospheric events.

But it isn't all good vibrations.

Alongside the electro-connoisseurs there exists another sub-group, the electro-sensitives. These people can go to the Breakspear Hospital for environmental illnesses to enjoy a wave-free space designed for their comfort and well-being. Away from the hospital, some of them opt to live in electricity-free wooden chalets.


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Electro-sensitive, or merely electro-alarmed? There is a website: www. Also on offer are a wide variety of mobile phone shields, although oddly the advice to stop using the pesky things is not forthcoming.

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Although electro-aware to varying extents, none of Dunne and Raby's placebo foster parents took a particularly extreme view of electromagnetic events. As a result the objects became participants in lives crammed with other concerns, and the interaction between people and their placebos, described in a set of interviews published in Design Noir , mostly reflects their relationships with each other and with the world beyond.

Tracey, a Sex and the City kind of a girl, chose a box to house her mobile phone. When she gets home she turns off the ringer and places the mobile inside the box. When the phone receives a call, the box emits a gentle glow. In her interview she tells of a time when she waited for hours for her box to glow, only to discover that her flatmate had unplugged the device. Lauren and Jan adopted the electro-draught excluder. Jan thinks Lauren employs it as a weapon against him; Lauren admits the excluder is useful for 'shutting [herself] away for a little while'. The issue seems to be Jan's invasive use of technology; sometimes he leaves the laptop plugged into the speakers and Lauren has been startled by late-night, maximum-volume 'you have mail' announcements.

Most poignant of all, Neil took home the nipple chair. Neil has recently lost the companionship of Sophie, who has returned to Canada. In her absence he spends time pandering to the likes and dislikes of his chair. Assuming that the slower the nipples vibrate, the happier the chair, and discovering that the more people in the room the calmer the nipples, Neil decides that it must prefer company.

When Sophie calls, Neil holds the phone to the chair so she can hear how it is doing. To tell you the truth, I don't know what it all means. But, in keeping with the vague spirit of the project, I do find it quite endearing.

Skip to main content. Twitter Facebook Email To Pinterest. By Emily King. Are Friends Electric? Emily King.

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Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects

Emily King is a London-based writer and curator with a specialism in design. Issue March Design Noir. More Like This Previous Next. Remembering Mr. Gridnik: A Tribute to Wim Crouwel — What's Free About Free Space?


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  7. Around the Venice Architecture Biennale. It was interesting to me that as the users interacted with the object and carried out their own mini experiments, they gained insights to how electromagnetic waves were moving in relation to the reaction of the objects within their space. I felt that the users attributed meaning to the object in accordance to their experience with it over time.

    Max Mollon's thoughts & explorations

    The journey of discovery of how the object work in relation to the surrounding also influenced not only the placement of the object over time but also to how the users see their space which also influenced their own behavior. Again, this experiment showcased the reaction of users in 3 different aspects of design — visceral, behavioral and reflective. It also showcased the evolution of meaning of the products as the users interacted with it over time.

    I saw a relationship that was formed between the users and their object. Beyond Metaphor in Product Use and Interaction. Presented at the Design and semantics of form and movement , p. Image 1: Anna G, corkscrew. There were 3 different interpretations from the interaction with Anna G that was showcased here.

    The second interpretation by Ozcan showed how meaning was attributed to the product through the experience of using the product over time while the third interpretation by Markussen had conflicting meaning. Time was highlighted as an important factor for product interpretation. However if the object was designed to be open and abstract e. Markussen, T. Basic Books. I have always seen design as being something that can bring joy to people, improve lives and potentially change the world — well for the better of course. But before I can change the world or change anything for that matter, I first need to understand the people I am designing for.

    I started to look at psychology and started reading brain books that explained how the human mind works. Like how do we make decisions? How do we think? This was when I came across Don Norman. I have always been a fan of his work ever since I came across them back in In these few chapters of his book, Don talks about the emotional side of design and its importance in design. He shed light on how understanding the emotional need of a user informs the design, and vice versa, how design can influence behaviour through evoking emotions. The possible emotions that were evoked could be a sense of fear of falling or a fear of heights etc.

    Design noir: the secret life of electronic objects by Dunne, Anthony, Raby, Fiona

    This is where the small details matter. Drawing back to design, I feel it is important for us as designers to firstly understand the emotional state of the user and secondly, being intentional in the desired experience that we want our users to experience. For example if the designer identifies the emotional state of a user trapped in a building that has caught on fire as a distressful situation negative affect. This might explain why emergency exit signs are always lit up in green as in the event of a fire; the entire place would be in a splash of red and black smoke.