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

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.


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.

Design for space

I came across this section of a manual published by NASA that gives guidelines for the design of spacecraft. As you  would expect, it appears that there are some demanding standards to be met when considering the design and engineering of such craft. This section of the manual is specifically focussed on Design for Maintainability and lists a number of very specific considerations and requirements to ensure that spacecraft can be maintained effectively on the Earth and in orbit.

The general principles outlined in this document look to offer some simple and sensible considerations and design requirements that could be applied elsewhere.

Often, insight derived in extreme conditions can make highlight the smallest of issues that might normally get missed under normal conditions. This manual is based on experience gained from many space flights and experiments conducted on orbiting space stations.


The photograph above shows the improvisation that saved the crew members of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission. During an emergency return to Earth, the crew needed to replace the saturated filters from the air scrubbers used to removed CO2 from the air. The only replacements available were from a different part of the spacecraft and would not integrate with the equipment that needed to be maintained. This blog gives considerable detail of the emergency procedure that was rapidly developed on Earth to help the astronauts.

This is an example of a valuable lesson learned. The design of future craft would ensure that parts were interchangeable and I’m certain that this incident contributed to the motivation to produce the standards document mentioned above.

Publishing some form of ‘Design Guidelines’ that both encourage designers to consider maintenance as a fundamental aspect of the design process and also aid them in doing so could prove to be a useful tool.

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.


Dunne and Raby

Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby are noted for their work in speculative design. They are quoted as stating:

Dunne & Raby use design as a medium to stimulate discussion and debate amongst designers, industry and the public about the social, cultural and ethical implications of existing and emerging technologies. (Dunne & Raby, 2016)

I can’t possibly cover all of the work that this prolific partnership has generated, but one particular project has captured my attention and helps to explain their approach to using design as a means of communicating speculative future thinking.

Digiland, United Micro Kingdoms, Dunne & Raby.

The United Micro Kingdoms project was commissioned by the Design Museum and uses speculative design to communicate four alternative imagined futures for the UK. It envisages a future where the UK is split into four separate autonomous states that choose very different social and political directions. The concept is well informed by contemporary thinking and published research, but the often abstract concepts can be hard to communicate. The use of ‘good design’ to help make the thinking behind the work accessible is not dissimilar to the methods used in film to help the audience imagine a different reality. Their work is designed to inform, but mostly to spark debate.

Dunne and Raby contend that if we speculate more—about everything—reality will become more malleable. The ideas freed by speculative design increase the odds of achieving desirable futures. (Dunne & Raby, 2013)

I have seen ‘critical design’ and ‘critical artifacts’ used as research tools through the work of Professor Paul Chamberlain of the ADRC at Sheffield Hallam University. I have also used speculative design as a means to communicating ideas at the culmination of some research into how caring can help users extend the life of their possessions in the Critical Care project. I am interested in using a form of speculative design to express ideas about how designers might tackle certain problems. It seems possible that this same work can be used to trigger reactions that can form the basis of further research.

Cultural Probes

These are a research tools that offer a less than scientific, but effective means of generating insight and inspirational materials that can help define the direction of a project. This is could provide an interesting start point, but it is difficult to know what to include. Design Research Techniques – Cultural Probes offers a useful description of this technique.

Developed by Bill Gaver, Tony Dunne, and Elena Pacenti in the late 1990s (Gaver, Dunne & Pacenti, 1999), this technique was designed to be deliberately casual as means of gaining a more natural response from those engaged, that could facilitate research.

The final research event from a group research project that I was involved in, the caring project, identified a number of people who actively ‘cared’ for one or more of their belongings. As an initial step in this project I am going to ask a number of these people to use a Cultural Probe Set with the aim of identifying interesting avenues to explore further down the line.

The kits generally consist of a number of means of recording information and typically contain some form of diary, a camera for recording images and other ways to prompt a response. They are often employed when the activity that needs to be observed  takes place in remote locations, over a long period of time or where there is a requirement for minimal influence on the activity to be recorded. (