How do making and materials contribute to our understanding of personal data representations? To explore how materials, data, and humans collaborate to produce physical data representations, we created a series of artefacts from personal data we collected (about commuting, forgetting, and busy-ness) in different media: yarn and sound.
We used these data artefacts to interrogate the boundaries between maker and interpreter, and to ask who—or what—has the authority to interpret narrative and assign meaning to data things? We exchanged these artefacts without providing guidelines for how to interpret them in order to study where the boundary between maker and interpreter emerges. In exchanging the artefacts, we explored the role of the interpreter as a re-maker and how multiple narratives can productively co-exist. We conclude with a discussion about how reimagining the roles of maker and interpreter might lead to new interactions with personal data narratives.
Through creating hand-crafted physicalizations and sonifications, we present three themes on making personal data narratives:
matching data to the materials (and vice versa),
accepting the materials’ will to co-author,and
negotiating between the experience of the data and data of the experience.
We found that our relationship to the roles of maker and interpreter is a circular one—we are constantly being reborn from one to the other.
To learn more about our work, read the full paper here or watch a video presentation:
Recently, LOOMIA and the Unstable Design Lab jointly ran a survey that asked people working in e-textiles (or more broadly, “electronics + textiles”) how they liked to talk about their work. LOOMIA is a flexible electronics start-up creating prototyping components for creative technologists, designers, and all sorts of e-textiles folks, hence the interest in how we label e-textiles and related work. LOOMIA has posted on their blog about the differences and overlaps between terms like “e-textiles”, “smart textiles”, and “functional fabrics”, but we wanted to test some theories about how people are actually using these terms.
The survey asked people to think about the following terms:
FHE (Flexible Hybrid Electronics)
Participants were asked which terms they had heard of, if they preferred or disliked any on the list, and if they saw any differences between the terms. They could also add any terms that we had missed.
We received a wide variety of responses, representing a range of age, genders, nationalities, experience levels, and professional backgrounds!
Total Participants – 63
0 years of e-textile experience – 21 1+ years of e-Textile experience – 42
Gender – Female (28), Male (33), Non-Binary (2)
Age – 18 to 75
Occupation – Homemaker to CEO
In particular, the terms “e-textiles” and “flexible hybrid electronics” seemed to stand at two extremes of a language spectrum.
Did Not Like:
30/63 did not like Stretchable Electronics
26/63 did not like Soft Circuits
31/63 did not like Flexible Hybrid Electronics
17/63 did not like Flexible Circuits and Devices
14/63 did not like Functional Fabrics
17/63 did not like Smart Textiles
5/63 did not like E-Textiles
Because we also collected demographic information on participants’ career paths and asked them to categorize their own work, we wanted to see if there were any differences between the disciplines represented in our field. The main categories were “engineer”, “creative technologist”, or “artist/craftsperson”, but participants also added “venture capital”, “HR”, “textile designer”, and other roles.
What Engineers Liked
7/19 liked E-textiles/Smart Textiles (tied)
3/19 liked Flexible Hybrid Electronics
2/19 liked Soft Circuits
What Creative Technologists Liked
18/20 liked E-Textiles
10/20 liked Smart Textiles
7/20 liked Soft Circuits
5/20 liked Functional Fabrics
2/20 liked Flexible Hybrid Electronics
What Other Careers Liked
8/24 liked Smart Textiles
7/24 liked E-Textiles
2/24 liked Stretchable Electronics
1/24 liked Soft Circuits
Digging deeper into our data, many participants generously gave time to answer some free-response questions on their language associations with “e-textiles” or “flexible hybrid electronics”. By and large, people were concerned about future e-textiles/flexible device products being washable, both as an essential criteria for usability and as a technical challenge to overcome with new materials.
Q: What do you believe are essential features or descriptors of future e-textiles/flexible electronics? (For example: thin, washable, soft, etc.)
Q: What sort of products do you associate with flexible or wearable devices? These can be existing products or future hopes.
We also see some interesting disagreements about how much the “e-textiles / smart fabrics” label overlapped with the “flexible / wearable” label. While most people said that they’re either related or even nested categories, a minority of respondents associated the two with different materials or fabrication techniques. A key quote from a dissenting opinion:
“fabrics are made of fibers that can easily be manipulated whereas flexible and wearable devices are made of plastics or hard materials”
anonymous survey respondent
which points out that many of our current wearable devices like smartwatches don’t use fabrics (or if they do, there aren’t integrated electronics in the fabric).
Returning to our initial hypothesis, it seems that our hunch was wrong about engineers preferring terms with “circuits” or “electronics” over terms that focused on “textiles”! But the data shows a much more nuanced picture of how people are thinking about the future of e-textile technologies. We see folks grappling with using language that is specific and descriptive (e.g. “electronics” implies semiconductor devices and the associated materials and processes, while “textiles” implies yarns/fiber and knitting/weaving/felting/etc.) versus language that is general and accessible. Broad terms like “e-textiles” and putting the “smart” label before a product category are easily understood by a general audience, but for those working within the industry, these terms can become “buzzwords” which are vague and unhelpful for describing the technical details of their work.
We presented these initial findings and analyses in a webinar, hosting a town-hall-style discussion with interested survey respondents. Again, there was a diverse range of experiences in the virtual room. Speaking face to face, we wanted to get the room thinking about their language use when talking to others in e-textiles. Since the survey focused on people’s language use within their own professional contexts, we were especially interested in any experiences that people had collaborating across disciplines when working in e-textiles. From one participant on the differences in working with textile engineers vs. electrical engineers:
“textile engineers tend to have a broader perspective as they can see concrete applications (wearables / clothing). Whereas [electrical engineers] may be a little more broad technically: e.g. use of flexible circuits in detecting stretch.”
anonymous webinar attendee
While our dataset is by no means comprehensive, these survey results were a fascinating exploratory poke into the interdisciplinary nature of the emerging e-textiles field and the future of its industry. We hope that sharing these findings will help us all to speak across professions and consider different perspectives, particularly in collaborative settings, when discussing soft, flexible, and textile based circuits of all shapes and sizes.
We’d like to shout out the following people for their contributions and thoughtful responses:
Vicente Jorge Sanchis Rico
Md Mehdi Hasan
Lori Ann Wahl
Eddie Yam (Intertek HK)
Muhammed Tawhidur Rahman
If you’d like to learn more about LOOMIA’s side of this collaboration, please check out their website and blog (where this article was also posted). You can also learn more about their founder and our main collaborator on this study, Maddy Maxey.
Knotting began for me as a way to mark time. But as our lives changed because of the impact of the coronavirus, knots evolved into an exercise to ease anxiety. It was now a way to mark time and emotion. My relationship to time and memory has changed a lot since we began ‘staying-at-home’. I feel the passage of time more acutely. I have a hard time remembering when something happened. Maybe it was only one week ago, but it feels like months have passed.
Uncertainty and instability have become trendy words because of the coronavirus. The things in our lives that we perceived as stable or certain are no longer seen or felt that way. I wanted to explore this idea of uncertainty/instability in relation to garments and textiles. Garments are often referred to as a second skin, or security blanket. What happens when they fall apart? Sweaters and knitwear have the potential to unravel. Clothing can wear out, or tear. But I wanted to think about designing for falling apart. Or more specifically, dissolving.
What if the act of wearing a garment causes it to fall apart? The moisture produced by our bodies has the potential to cause a garment to come apart, or in this case, dissolve.
‘Knotting. Knotted. Knot’ is the first iteration of this research. ‘Knotting. Knotted.Knot’ uses water soluble embroidery interfacing as the ground for knots to accumulate. Instead of making an identifiable garment, I instead kept the embroideries in the abstract forms that they took, expressing the state of the emotions that the knots are keeping a record of.
Laura Devendorf and Sasha de Koninck are designing a new course to be offered in Fall 2020, Soft Object. The course will cultivate a community of material researchers seeking to make soft things that expand how we think of interactivity. While starting with soft circuits, the class will support material investigations with novel techniques for textile structure, growth, computation and decomposition. Students will learn about different soft material structures, properties, and possibilities. As a course, we will develop, refine, and publish novel techniques for smart/functional fabrics in the form of a physical and open source digital “swatch book.” Students we will think about the history and future of textile and soft-object making, while conducting their own material investigations.
We are designing the course to run mostly virtually. If you are a CU grad student or undergraduate student, please join us. If you are an interested global community member, please get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org as we may look to develop a forum for public engagement and critique.
ATLS 4519/5519: Soft Objects Monday/Wednesday 3:00-4:40 ATLAS 113 – Blow Things Up Lab
Back in the days when the world was pandemic free, we used to attend conferences where we would get to share our work with our research community. This year was going to be especially fun/valuable as we had four full papers to present, two best paper honorable mention awards, one workshop and a first time presentation by Jolie and Shanel. Sadly, the conference has been canceled and so no presentations will be given. Instead I’ll write a kind of editorial summary of the work we submitted below. Stay posted for more detailed summaries of each project.
Unfabricate: Designing Smart Textiles for Disassembly Shanel Wu, Laura Devendorf. click here to read the paper Shanel is an expert knitter who we are converting to a weaver. They spent a year thinking about how we might apply some techniques for re-harvesting knits to woven fabrics. Specifically, we were envisioning an eco-system where parts from e-textiles could be harvested and re-used. This included developing new weave structures to maximize yarn yields, are shape woven, and that are held together with a “key” thread that when removed, make it easier to pull the constituent yarns apart. They even made a little tool that adds onto AdaCAD – our smart textile design software, that can help designing these drafts.
What HCI Can Learn from ASMR: Becoming Enchanted with the Mundane Jolie Klefeker, libi streigl, Laura Devendorf. click here to read the paper
Jolie took up a fascination with ASMR media a while back and we started doing a series of investigations around what it would look like to translate ASMR into the design of interactive products. This led to studies, interviews, and some kits and ended up in an exploration of augmenting daily interactions using binaural audio. We all started developing custom ASMR wearables using Teensy microcontrollers and wearing them around. Jolie made a coat the highlights the sound of mundane objects and Laura made a cloak to facilitate recording and screaming with the sound of motors. Many many more details in the paper 🙂
Craftspeople as Technical Collaborators: Lessons Learned through an Experimental Weaving Residency. Laura Devendorf, Katya Arquilla, Sandra Wirtanen, Allison Anderson, Steven Frost. Best Paper Honorable Mention!!! click here to read the full paper This paper takes a strong and perhaps critical position to talk about the role of craftspeople in technical research. Basically, craftspeople should be included at the early stages of research (not just brought in later to bring aesthetics to the work). It describes the structure and reflections from our experimental weaving residency, including how our own conceptions of craftspeople were too narrow prior to our experience.
Making Design Memoirs: Understanding and Honoring Difficult Experiences Laura Devendorf, Kristina Andersen, Aisling Kelliher. Best Paper Honorable Mention!!! click here to read the full paper
This paper describes a very personal collaboration between the co-authors. Specifically, we started the project as an attempt to understand the limits of design–what does it mean to design if its not about making something “better” or “easier.” Specifically, we thought back on our experiences as mothers and tried to develop methods to investigate that experience through design. In this way, we try to make “memoirs” with objects that tell of our felt experiences and that bring out practices of witnessing and honoring instead of resolving.
In a future where we track everything, how will data representations dictate how we relate to ourselves and the world? This speculative design project explores the relationship between personal biometric data and the meaning we find in it.
Quantuition is a speculative self-tracking system that collects data from body-based nanosensors. The system renders that data into 3D data sculptures. Presented in the form of an Instagram feed, this speculation highlights how data-design influences the process of individual and social sense-making. We often ascribe power and authority to data representations — while simultaneously overlooking the hidden decisions embedded in those representations about what to measure, analyze, emphasize and display.
When self-tracking becomes pervasive, are we ruled by data or do we rule it? In the near future, personal sensors track everything: how fast our hair is growing, the amount of dust we inhale, how many tears we cry. As we become aware of these myriad personal data points, they could overwhelm us. How do we draw meaning from this data? How do our interpretations of this data influence our actions, and what are the implications of these new feedback loops?
This project raises several provocations for tangible data futures:
What new interpersonal interactions does data physicalization uncover?
What positive and negative feedback loops are present in a hyper-quantified future?
How will emerging technology shape the relationship between data representations and actions?
Where does the user’s control – and free will – begin and end?
This work was submitted to the TEI 2019 Student Design Competition, where it won the award for best concept/design.
Drizzling, or parfilage, is an 18th century term for the act of unravelling metallic threads, such as lace, embroidery or tassels. These metallic embellishments were made out of a metal thread wound around a silk core. Because they were using pure metal, all of that ornamentation is conductive—meaning it has the ability to conduct electricity. This makes these historic materials very similar to the materials we use today to create soft circuits, and sensors for smart textiles and wearable technology.
A “parfileuse” is a woman who enjoys unwinding wire by wire. Parfilage was a favorite pastime of ladies. It showed off how deft they were with their hands. Ladies would also do it as an act of recycling. They could remove the embellishment from an old dress as a way to reuse the dress, or the embellishment. It was also a way to make money. Ladies would take apart old embellishment to pay for materials for a new dress, or typical living expenses.
For this performance at the Dairy Center, I created an 18th century style garment, embroidered with a 4 channel oscillator. For the performance, I took apart the circuit with a seam ripper and snips in order to perform the circuit.
Artist Tali Weinberg will lead fifteen graduate students in a workshop materializing climate data in the form of woven tapestries. Participants will use basic weaving skills to produce tapestries by hand, experiment with ways to engage data while weaving, and reflect on the unique valences of weaving for engaging with and archiving climate data. Participants will also use the Lab’s computer-controlled TC2 loom to create a collaborative tapestry representing climate data as well as personal recollections.
An exploration into new mechanisms for jacquard weaving, as well as an ongoing interest in asking how non-human materials or forces can be engaged as collaborators resulted in the prototype of the wind loom—a modified tapestry loom that with every 4th warp connected to a sail that moves the warp position in and out. The fabrication of the loom was led by Jen Mah and Rachel Bork, who iterated between several prototypes for laser-cut heddle/hooks that can be attached to the yarn, arms are connected to umbrellas that can move when the wind blows, easily attachable and detachable components to support easy travel, and so on. The prototyping process was complex and frustrating, as the summer in which we prototyped was not very windy and it was hard to test in its specific working conditions we imagined for the loom. Local weaver, and friend, Julie Rodriguez, took the prototype out for a test and captured the photo above. Her approach was to wait for a gust, and then weave into the wind-produced shed with alternating colors that she chose. Continue reading Designing Machines for Human-Wind Collaboration
This is a first prototype of a vision of a force-fabric. When integrated into a garment, this textile could capture and replay how your body made contact with other bodies in the world. Those bodies may be human, created through the experiences of hugs or holding children, but they may also be of nonhuman forces – heavy winds or couches pressed upon ones back. The concept is to think of ways technology can make us aware of how we are physically supporting and supported by other objects and environmental forces. It sees garments as a interesting surfaces of intersection between self and other.
We created this first textile by double weaving sections of color changing yarn (resistive heating wire painted with a mixture of thermochromic pigments that change at different temperatures) on the front face and then integrating conductive pads on the back or under layer of the fabric. We used a tapestry technique to integrate a second piece of conductive yarn along a segment of the warp above the touchpad such that when it is pressed it completes the circuit. The double weaving structure makes the connective “guts” invisible from the front. Thus, the textile does not invite you to touch and poke it (how would you know where to touch), it simply captures a “picture” of the different press regions.
Not so much news, but a post documenting our research group and collaborators at a summer BBQ welcoming our practice based researchers in residence: Gaspard and Milica. We’re all working hard on some new research projects and taking time to watch the world cup and take silly photos (which also happen to be best viewed in VR). We’re hoping to a have a few new projects going public by the end of summer so stay posted.
We’re happy to annouce that we (Laura Devendorf, Steven Frost, in collaboration with Allison Anderson) have won a Materials-Based Research Grant from the Center for Craft Creativity and Design. The funds will support an artist participating on our research in smart textiles during the Summer of 2019. The artist will be based in the Unstable Design Lab and will participate in our ongoing research in smart textiles. The goal is for the experience to produce innovative research that combines weaving and “smart” materials while also providing insights on how academic research labs might meaningfully engage and support artists on their teams. Stay posted for updates and application details. We expect to publish a call for applications later this year. You can read more about the award here: http://www.craftcreativitydesign.org/2018-materials-based-research-grants/
We’re hosting a workshop in conjunction with MediaLive and Boulder Startup Week at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art on Wednesday, May 16 from 6:30-8:30 to bring caregivers and technologists together to imagine what exoskeletons for caregiving might look like. We’re looking to juxtapose ideas of self-realization and military power with the feminized labor of caregiving, particularly as it relates to young children. If we were to imagine what exoskeletons for caregivers might look like, how might it open up new ways of talking about, designing for, and recognizing the everyday struggles of caring for others. The workshop is open to the public and you can register here.
In the Fall of 2017, we coordinated a workshop exploring the future of smart textiles – what new forms of computation and support are needed for these systems and how do we foster production collaborations between artists and engineers? A semester later, Laura Devendorf and Allison Anderson (Aerospace) teamed up to apply for a seed grant from the Multi-Functional Materials research group at CU Boulder to support the purchase of a TC2 digital jacquard loom. The seed grant was awarded and the loom will arrive mid-summer. The first projects in the pipeline include custom fitting textiles, distributed force sensing, and explorations in “un”-weaving. We look forward to community wide collaborations and (hopefully) hosting a summer art residency who will broaden perspectives on our work.
The National Science Foundation has awarded Devendorf roughly $175K to develop new software for designing smart textiles. Smart textiles combine traditional processes of weaving or knitting with new materials that interface with digital technologies. The project will focus on weaving specifically, and proposes the development of a tool that bridges textile design with circuit design. Textiles and technology have a long and interwoven (pun intended) history. Through close collaborations with artists and engineers, we will develop the software to provide new functionality and outcomes while also imagining new modes of collaboration with machines (e.g. what new forms of engagement emerge with the fabrication of soft objects as opposed to rigid objects) and sustainable practices (e.g. in what ways might we un-weave to save on material waste). The funds will be used to support PhD students on this research and to equip the Unstable Design Lab with weaving equipment.
Collaborative survival is a term coined by anthropologist Anna Tsing to describe how our (human) ability to persist as a species is deeply entangled with and dependent upon the health of a multitude of other species. We (Jen Liu, Daragh Byrne, and Laura Devendorf) wrote a paper that explores how this term inspires design. Specifically, Jen Liu reflects on collaborative survival within the context of designing tools for mushroom foraging. Photo Credit: Jen Liu. More Information: fieldcomputing.org
The goal of this one-day workshop is to open space for disruptive techniques and strategies to be used in the making, prototyping, and conceptualizations of the artifacts and systems developed and imagined within human-computer interaction (HCI). Specifically, this workshop draws on strategies from art, speculative design, and activism, as we aim to productively “trouble” the design processes behind HCI. We frame these explorations as “disruptive improvisations” — tactics artists and designers use to make the familiar strange or creatively problematize in order to foster new insights. The workshop invites participants to inquire through making and take up key themes as starting points to develop disruptive improvisations for design. These include modesty, scarcity, uselessness, no-technology, and failure. The workshop will produce a zine workbook or pamphlet to be distributed during the conference to bring visibility to the role these tactics of making in a creative design practices.More information: https://disruptiveimprovisation.wordpress.com/
In an effort to foster more productive collaborations between artists and engineers, Laura Devendorf and Daniela Rosner convened a workshop titled “Weaving Disciplines: Fostering Productive Collaborations between Artists and Engineers” at the ATLAS Institute on Oct 8, 2017. We had a very special guest, Pamela Liou, who came from New York to talk about her explorations creating a desktop digital jacquard loom and other adventures in textile experimentation. Attendees were associated with Art, Aerospace Engineering, and Computer Science at CU Boulder; SparkFun Electronics; The Boulder Public Library; and the Schacht Spindle Company. The event was sponsored by the ATLAS Institute and Research and Innovation Office at CU Boulder. Topics for discussion included the state of the art in spacesuit design, ideas for addressable, self-healing, and temperature regulating fabrics, smart textiles community events, collaborating with ghosts, and the pleasure of working side-by-side when weaving with others.
Emilia Louisa Pucci, and independent artist and designer, worked in the lab this summer exploring textile-based display. We created this circular weave using wool dyed with thermochromic pigments and embroidered heating wire. When current is supplied to the heating wire, the wire heats up and the yarns next to the wire change colors. We arranged the heating wire into several distinct spirals that become visible the longer the viewer is present. What was most interesting about this display is the slowness and the idea that the display will likely never repeat the same pattern. The heat created by the yarns varies based on environmental factors and creates a slightly different abstract pattern each use.
Another interesting discovery from this project is that, since wool is a great insulator, the heating wire running along the backside of the fabric is not visible on the surface. This allowed us to create an animation on the surface of the fabric and a different “negative space” animation that was only visible on the back side of the fabric.