Strange and Unstable Fabrication
In the 1950’s a group of artists led by experimental composer John Cage actively engaged chance as a means to limit their control over the artworks they produced. These artists described a world filled with active and lively forces, from the sounds of rain to blemishes in paper, that could be harnessed in creative production in order to give rise to new aesthetics and cultivate new sensitivities to the everyday. This approach to making was not simply act of creative expression but active attempt at creative expansion — a way of submitting to a world of creative forces beyond the self for the sake of seeing, hearing, or feeling things anew. I use these practices as a lens to reflect on the way HCI researchers think about and design for making, specifically as it relates to the present day “maker movement.” Specifically, I focus on how the design of digital fabrication systems, like 3D printers, could make room for creative forces beyond the maker and why such modes of making are worth considering in HCI research. Since digital fabrication technologies have catalyzed the maker movement and are often described as key instruments for “democratizing” manufacturing, this project joins broader efforts to reflect on values in maker technology as a means to support diverse audiences in participating in the movement. By weaving through post-anthropocentric theories of the new materialisms, design practice, art history, and HCI, I contribute a theory of making that accounts for the creative capacity of nonhumans as well as design tactics to make room for nonhuman forces in the design of digital fabrication systems. In doing so, I add dimensionality to HCI’s existing focus on making by suggesting new strange and unstable design territories in fabrication design that trade control, mastery, and predictability for chance, compromise, labor, and risk.
Laura Devendorf is a Ph.D. candidate at the UC Berkeley School of Information. Her research on unstable design approaches to digital fabrication and wearable technology has received multiple best paper awards and honorable mentions at top HCI conference venues as well as press coverage on Gizmodo and National Public Radio. She will join the faculty of the University of Colorado, Boulder, as an assistant professor of information science and ATLAS Institute Fellow in January 2017.