Exploring Sustainable Materials through Interaction Design Practice
Dew, Kristin N.
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Responding to concerns about the environmental impacts of human-computer interaction, this dissertation explores what it means to pursue design activities focused on ecological limits: what designers’ tools and skills might look like if they took seriously concerns for resource scarcity, provenance, and disposal. In this dissertation I ask: How do designers who are already faced with resource limits create lasting materials? And how might designers sensitize to the role of design techniques like prototyping in shaping material flows like natural resource depletion and waste streams? Through interwoven ethnographic and design inquiry spanning two sites of production -- a timber framing workshop where resource limits are already central to design practice, and an academic design studio -- I contribute a material-driven description of sustainable interaction design, as well as new methods of sensitizing design practitioners to the potential impacts of our material handling practices by examining their leftovers as connections to production and disposal processes beyond the design studio. I find that design can push against resource depletion by extending materials’ endurance and sufficiency with salvage sourcing and tooling, and by reflexively prototyping new design practices around the potentials of discarded materials. Across these studies, I surface, develop, and demonstrate a process I call speculative sufficiency, an ongoing negotiation of material exploitation and preservation through design processes themselves. In pursuing speculative sufficiency, sustainable interaction design becomes a process of apprehending and responding to potential environmental impacts not only in consumer practices, but from within sites of technology design.