return of the field kit

Finally five Field Kits were completed and distributed to participants who owned a variety of objects that required some form of maintenance or care. These were:

  • a musical instrument (banjo)
  • a mountain bike
  • horse riding tack
  • a vintage road bike
  • a vintage sewing machine

There hasn’t been time to do a full evaluation of the material that was returned, but a quick review shows that there is a wealth of rich material to inspire and inform the direction of the design projects to follow.

Vintage Sewing Machine Maintenance

Boeing Says Augmented Reality Can Make Workers Better, Faster – Recode

via Boeing Says Augmented Reality Can Make Workers Better, Faster – Recode

Boeing have been pioneering research into the use of Augmented Reality (AR) in the aerospace industry. This exciting technology that overlays digital information over a realtime view of the real world could offer useful context relevant instruction for anyone wishing to work on their own products. There is a wealth of information online with instructions, videos, step-by-step tutorials available to help people with maintenance and repair.

This work is still under development and as aircraft need to be built to exacting standards, it will not be used commercially until proven to be reliable. However, coupled with Google Cardboard or similar such commercial versions, there is potential in this technology.

Result(s) – useful insight

Going through the process of converting the data from a survey into a graphical format is not automatic and can take considerable time and effort. This effort is rewarded as the process of selecting appropriate graphs and choosing how to input the data  forces a form of analysis and reflection. This proved useful as a means of translating the information that has been gathered and generating useful insight.

Initially, respondents were asked if they owned or used anything that required regular maintenance. 40 of the 42 who filled in the survey said yes straight away. 2 said no, but were then asked if they were sure having been told that this could include cleaning, adjusting or caring for materials. These 2 respondents then decided that they did own something requiring maintenance and proceeded to complete the survey.

click on each image to view at a larger size and select ‘view full size’


  • All respondents had something that they felt required some form of maintenance.
  • The majority of items were mechanical in nature and the top three were forms of transport.


  • Those who chose to undertake all of the maintenance themselves did so because they enjoyed it, to maintain high standards and to save money (over 80% combined in total).
  • Those who chose to do only some of the maintenance mainly did so because it needs doing often and to save money.
  • Respondents cited the need for specialist knowledge and specialist facilities as the primary reasons for having some or all of the maintenance carried out by someone else.
  • Performance, Safety and Longevity were cited as the equal strongest motivations for conducting maintenance with Value and Appearance coming equal second.


  • Those who chose to do all of the maintenance were mostly prompted to do so as part of their normal routine and because there was an indication from the product that it needed doing.
  • Those who chose to only do some or none of the maintenance were prompted to do so mostly because there was an indication from the product or they were following the guidelines supplied with the product.

knowledge and equipment:

  • Most respondents learnt how to undertake maintenance from a manual supplied with the product, were taught by a relative or used websites/YouTube.
  • The vast majority of respondents used some form of tools or equipment to undertake the maintenance.
  • General house hold tools, specialist tools and lubricants were the most common form of equipment used.
  • Most tools or equipment were bought specifically for the maintenance of the product, with only a small response indicting that equipment was supplied with the product.



lots of questions – online survey

I planned and set up an online survey to gather the thoughts and opinions of as many different people as I could. The survey aims to gauge the attitudes that people have towards maintenance through a series of simple questions. I chose to use typeform as a platform as reviews say that it offers downloadable data and logic steps that allow you to tailor the questions in response to the answers given. At this time I decided to create a simple logo for the project to help communicate the intentions of the research.

TGCoT Logo
project logo

At the point where I decided to analyse the data received from the survey, 42 responses had been received. This is sufficient to make the survey useful and for the finding to be valuable. To help make the results accessible, the data was converted into an infographic format using another piece of online software titled Piktochart The results can be seen in the following post as they warrant further discussion.

The survey will be left to run and can be completed here as a broad set of responses will make the data more reliable. This is a useful method for gaining insight through questions, the answers to which can help to steer the future direction of any design project work.

Longer Lasting Products

Starting to read this excellent book properly, having skimmed through it and read selectively in the past. In his chapter, ‘Re-evaluating Obsolescence and Planning for It’, Brian Burns writes:

Misuse or mishandling caused by the user’s lack of knowledge about how a product is supposed to be used, perhaps a consequence of removing users from any maintenance or functional engagement (as signalled in the advice;’Simply take it out of the box and plug it in’), may lead to prematurely short product life-spans.

This implies that a deeper engagement with a product, gained through having to take care of it,  can help the user to understand how to make sure that the product has a long and useful life.



Finally I am putting together the ‘Field Kits’ to be used as Cultural Probes for my investigation into preventative maintenance.

I am producing 5 kits and have identified a number of people who will act as subjects for the exercise.

They include:

  • a woman who owns a horse
  • a keen road cyclist
  • a semi-professional tailor
  • a saxophonist
  • a mountain biker

I need the kit to ask a series of questions, but need to be careful that the questions don’t prejudice the answers.

One of the postcards in the Field Kit asks:

how did you acquire the equipment that you use for maintenance?

Originally I had thought to as “how did you come to own the equipment…..”, but changed this as it assumes that the equipment is owned by the person using it and not borrowed or rented. This is a good example of where care needs to be taken over the language used to ask questions.


I set out to investigate maintenance as an activity that can extend the useful life of a product. This remains, however my understanding of the breadth of this subject has deepened as I have begun to discover the many factors and theories that can impact upon this intention.

This start point and the research that followed have exposed a number of ideas and theories beyond the design discipline that are directly relevant to this subject. It has become apparent that, what I once considered a simple proposition of taking active care of an object is actually a complex issue with many avenues to explore. In this respect, the approach that I have taken so far seems to have been productive.

Initially this complexity and wealth of opportunity that it presents seemed overwhelming until I discovered the concept of speculative design as practiced by Dunne and Raby and The Agency of Design. This presents the opportunity to use the professional tools of a designer to present tangible, but challenging concepts through the design of familiar objects that embody alternate narratives. This approach is something that I wish to pursue as a means of communicating the many complexities of this subject.

The notion that design can have agency is not new, but to frame it in this way is exciting as I felt I needed to find a strong direction for my work that goes beyond notions of sustainability. For the first time I have read Social Science theory and found aspects of it to have great relevance to design. The evolution of the design discipline as described by the Bremen Scale, the notions of Human Agency that propose the capacity to imagine alternative possibilities and the ideas proposed by Matthew Crawford about Manual Competence all seem to tie together to provide a theoretical framework for my future design project work.

I feel that this research has taken my understanding of my discipline a good distance and has opened up some strong direction for speculative design response as a means of articulating the ideas that have developed from this work so far.

The Case for Working with your Hands

This is a great Ted Talk by Matthew Crawford, author of “The Case For Working With Your Hands”. In the film shown below, Crawford summarises a lot of the topics discussed in more depth in the book.

The notion of ‘Individual Agency‘ and the idea that if people are able to see the consequences of their actions on the world (agency), they may take better care of it is discussed. Also, Crawford talks about the connection between the person and the object that they ‘tinker’ with or take care of.

A lot of the ideas from the book are directly relevant to my maintenance project and support the idea that working on our own possessions builds a deeper relationship between consumer and product.

Maintenance, or taking care of things, can extend product lifespan in a pragmatic sense; it can extend the useful life of a product by maintaining it in peak working condition. It can also contribute in that the bond that is created through active caring can lead to the consumer wanting to keep products for longer.



service prompts

Today, by chance, the service warning indicator on my VW T5 van lit up on the dashboard. This indicator tells me that I need to service the vehicle in 2000 miles. This made me consider what it is that prompts users to conduct preventative maintenance and whether the warning lights actually serve to disconnect users from the actual systems that need regular care or attention.IMG_3241

The image shown at the top of this post contains a selection of the common warning (or witness) indicators that tell the driver of a car there is an issue that needs attention. I struck me that these indicators have always raised a level of alarm when I see one light up and see me searching through the owners manual to find out exactly what the warning means. As cars have become more complex and the electronic systems they contain have become more responsive, these notifications can be delivered with much more information.

325 warning lights 1
from a BMW owners manual

These are good examples of where technology is used to monitor the condition of certain service parts and provide an indicator to the user as to when an intervention is required. These indicators provide a convenient solution, but cannot cover all aspect s of the operation of a vehicle. There are also many examples of products where it would be inappropriate to provide so much technology simply to monitor the health of a product. There are other, simpler ways of checking the condition of many of these parts, but this requires some specialist knowledge. I suspect that most people have no idea how the vehicles that they own work, what the indicators mean or which part of the car they refer to. This seems to indicate that owners/users are far removed from the physical care of their own possessions and are unable, unwilling or simply not aware of how they can correctly maintain their own vehicles.

I started this post considering what it is that prompts someone to carry out maintenance and got distracted when thinking about the fact that the indicator lights removing the necessity to check parts of a vehicle could actually prevent people undertaking maintenance. There is more research to be done to help understand the relationship between owners and products that require some form of regular intervention.