Auger Loizeau: Sublime Gadgets

via Auger Loizeau: Sublime Gadgets

Further research into the work of Auger and Loizeau and also, I believe, my better understanding of the nature and purpose of Speculative or Critical Design has led me to appreciate this work. Initially I found aspects of the work of James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau impenetrable, however further research around the subject has allowed my understanding to develop. This shows how important time is in allowing an appreciation of complex work to form.

ripple counter
Sublime Gadget No.1, Auger & Loiseau (2012)

Auger and Loizeau write about the Sublime Gadgets project:

Gadgets are the most ephemeral of domestic objects. Their dazzling but fleeting existence is a consequence of two combined factors:

1: The value of a gadget is found in its novelty and ability to provide spectacle.
2: This novelty is provided by the latest technological innovations.

Arthur C. Clarke’s often quoted 3rd law describes the relationship between these points:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

It is in this magical element that the spectacle resides but as a consequence it follows that just as the illusion dies when the magician reveals his slight of hand, so the technology becomes distinguishable from magic when it becomes familiar. This normalising of technology leads to the death of the gadget.
Sublime Gadgets aims expand the lifespan of these ephemeral objects through introducing notions of the romantic sublime. This shifts the focus away from technological fetishism towards objectifying ‘pleasures of the imagination’ (Addison), the infinity of time and space (Shaftesbury), agreeable kinds of horror (Addison), randomness found in nature and the management of life and death.

This work also illustrates the many layers of ideas and theory that are encapsulated in well developed critical or speculative design concepts.

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


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.



field kit – cultural probe

Having read about Cultural Probes as a means of providing insight and inspiration for a design project I have decided to put together 5 kits and ask 5 different people to use them.

IMG_3238For the kit I have chosen:

  • A single use camera
  • Postcards
  • Graph Paper
  • Journal
  • Pen and Pencil

I will package all of this in some form of case and label each item with some simple instructions help the subjects use the kit effectively. The aim of this exercise is gain some insight into the maintenance practice and rituals of people who take good care of their possessions.

Whilst the single use camera feels like an outdated technology, it is an appropriate choice for this exercise as it is relatively inexpensive and is instantly accessible for the user. I want the participants to feel at ease completing the exercise, in their own environment and without interruption from a nosey researcher.

The use of the post cards, which are currently blank but I may print on them, also sets the user at ease as the post card was traditionally used for a quick and casual message. I’m hoping that, as in the experience of Gaver et al. , this will lead to the participant noting observations without thinking to much about what the write. The aim is to gain information in an informal manner.

I will ask them to use the Graph Paper to draw a plan/map of their environment and to identify where any tools or equipment is stored, where they conduct the maintenance and where the product that they are maintaining is kept.

The journal will be used as a diary to note activity over time and to record anything that may trigger the maintenance activity.

I am quite excited to be producing these items, but some technical issues have slowed down the process. I will post again in the near future to show progress with this aspect of the project.


The Evolution of Design Theory

In Beyond Design Ethnography, Lysianne Léchot Hirt writes about “Users in Design” and includes a interesting analysis of how the discipline of design has evolved from a focus on the object, to the user, to the actor. This is commonly referred to as the Bremmen Scale after where a symposium to place and this model was first proposed by Alain Findeli and Rabah Bousbaci. Léchot Hirt states that:

This evolution clearly shows a progressive shift from the aesthetic understandings and analysis of design (from the Renaissance to the early Modern movement) to a methodological-technical one (around the 1950s) to a contemporary model centred on psychological and social values (from 1990s onwards).  Léchot Hirt, L. (2014)

The Bremen Scale (Findell, 2005)

The notion that contemporary design is centred on psychological and social values links with the theory of design having agency.

It is important to note that it is acknowledged that even though the discipline is continuously evolving, the evolution of a new focus does not remove the older ideas. They remain valid and important, but can be seen as enabling a new way of thinking.