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“I remember I had a resistor stuck in my heel when I walked barefoot … stuff just kept flying around my apartment.” — Laura Kampf, Youtuber/Maker (Bricolage podcast, 15th December, 2017)

While working on a project, do you find loose resistors lying about willy-nilly (or for that matter any leggy electronic component) and you fancied a temporary pad or holder so you could access them quickly and safely? As someone who recently began sewing and crocheting, I recognized a similar problem with pins and needles. But in the yarn world, we have a solution for that — pin cushions! I figured why not have cushions for electronic components? They can be exceptionally useful for pointy-legged, cryptic resistors, with colour codes that are hard to read unless you are bestowed with excellent sight, math wizardry, or a photographic memory! …

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DON’T PANIC badge by David J. Watts

Things having ethics?
When people talk about ethics, they are usually addressing ethics in and between humans — to cause no harm to one another, to be polite, to respect one another, to not cross boundaries etc. However, people rarely think about ‘things’ having ethics in them. For instance, consider a non-human thing as mundane as a door. While on the one hand, its purpose is to keep us safe from external harm, but on the other, it brings about the need for polite behaviours such as knocking before entering and being respectful of one’s space and privacy.

As smart things in our homes, bodies, and cities are driving ethical actions, now more than ever, on the humans’ behalf — such as a smart door camera warning about intruders or a smart weighing scale sending reminders about healthy food to avoid bodily harm — there are new questions on the rise. For example, who else knows about these intruders, other than the device owner? What if the person at the door is harmless but the device categorizes them as harmful based on their race or class? Or, what does the scale know besides the user’s weight? Could it be that the user is at the risk of a heart condition, but the scale withdraws that information to protect the user from causing harmful stress? In this regard, there is now a higher moral imperative for focusing on the ethical role of things.

Areas of scholarship such as technoscience, political ecology, cultural studies of design, environmental science, and geography have been discussing the ethics of things for a couple of decades now. These discussions are deeply relevant in contemporary debates around not only technologies of automation, but also sustainability, nuclear power, and gun control. In particular, the notion of user-centeredness or human-centeredness has come under fire for being the main driver for any ethical action. …

These days I come across a number of news articles about racism, poverty, surveillance, extremism, exploitation, sexual harassment and climate change, and they worry me as much as, I assume, every other designer who thinks they have a part in making our world a better place. What gives me, a trained designer, the idea to think I alone can make a difference? A difference that cannot come from being a farmer, a businesswoman, an analyst, a programmer, a banker or a journalist? What is in a designer? Who is a designer?

As a doctoral research candidate in design, I have many academically-framed answers to that question. But three years into my candidacy, I feel very much like an imposter to this title. I feel an urge to dig deeper to understand why I had not continued in the engineering field, a field that held a promise of future wealth and comfort. My shift to design was a grand leap of faith after being repeatedly disappointed with myself, the choices I was obligated to make, and the society I grew up in. Suddenly, with design, I discovered a safe space where I met others like myself who were also confused and unhappy with the dominant way of the world. I fell into the embrace of the graphic arts, animation, and interactivity — these mediums gave me the space I needed to express my ideas in a way that I couldn’t with engineering. Then onwards, I pursued a career in design in a wholesome manner, and my curiosities eventually landed me on a research path, literally a ‘re’-search — of the past, present and near futures we will encounter by design. I find myself stuck, though, because I forgot to ask myself along the…


Anuradha Reddy

Researcher, designer, crafter of things

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