Design: Interaction Research Studio
Submitting InstitutionGoldsmiths' College
Unit of AssessmentArt and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Built Environment and Design: Design Practice and Management
Summary of the impact
Since its formation in 2005, the Interaction Research Studio (IRS or `the
Studio') has developed
distinctive practice-based research into new interactional possibilities
afforded by digital
technologies. Over the course of eight externally-funded projects the
Studio has worked on during
this time, it has made methodological and conceptual
contributions in the course of producing
exemplary research products.
Research products — the Studio develops highly-finished
research products that serve as
landmarks of new interaction paradigms, application domains, and product
Methodological — methods such as Cultural Probes have travelled
widely to influence commercial
research in Design, HCI, contextual research and related fields.
Conceptual — the Studio's promotion of playful engagement,
ambiguity and interpretive flexibility,
both methodologically and in the products it develops, has helped
influence high-tech industries
to investigate non-utilitarian values and approaches.
Bill Gaver has been at Goldsmiths since his appointment as Professor of
Design in 2005. He leads
the Interaction Research Studio [IRS], a design-led, interdisciplinary
team with expertise in design,
technology and social studies. The group has varied from about six to
twelve contract researchers
over the reporting period, several of whom have worked in the group for
many years. Their practice-
based research has developed as an alternative to traditional science and
engineering's stance of
dispassionate objectivity, respecting personal and situated engagement on
the part of researchers
and participants alike.
The Studio's core research is pursued via projects funded by the UK and
EU research councils, most
involving a trajectory of:
— design-led contextual studies including Cultural Probes (Boehner et al.
— ideation captured by design workbooks (Gaver, 2011)
— implementation of highly-finished working prototypes (e.g. Gaver et al.
— long-term field studies of the prototypes in everyday, situated use
(e.g. Gaver et al. 2011)
In the course of realising a portfolio of fully realised `research
products', the Studio has developed a
collection of robust methodological and conceptual contributions.
Research Products: The IRS has produced a portfolio of
fifteen highly-finished `research products'.
All have been field trialled in participants' everyday environments, and
many have been exhibited as
well as reported in the research literature. For example:
- As part of Equator, an £11m EPSRC Interdisciplinary Research
Collaboration (2000 - 2007), the
IRS developed a total of six prototypes. These included the Drift Table
and the Plane Tracker.
- In the Joint Council `Landscapes of Cross-Generational Engagement'
project (2008 - 2010), the
Studio created two prototypes exploring innovative uses of technology
for aging people. The
Photostroller has been installed for several years in two care homes.
The Prayer Companion was
installed in a Catholic monastery for 3+ years for use by a group of
- As part of an ERC Advanced Investigator project (2009 - 2014), the
Studio has deployed 60+
Indoor Weather Stations as part of an exploration of batch production
and deployment as a research
method (Gaver et al., 2013).
- The Material Beliefs project, funded by the EPSRC (2007 - 2008)
partnered four biotechnology
laboratories with designers, who created artefacts exploring how
emerging technologies might
manifest as commodities. Along with a range of exhibitions and public
engagement events, this
project investigated the potential for speculative design to play a
central role in new `upstream'
modes of public engagement with science.
Methodology: The Studio has developed and disseminated a
variety of methods to establish a
dialogue with participants that can be intermittent, challenging and even
the Studio's identity and point of view, and producing outcomes that are
both relevant and surprising.
This perspective has resulted in several landmark methods:
Cultural Probes are collections of evocative tasks given to
participants drawn from potential user
communities to elicit revealing responses (Boehner et al. 2012).
Design Workbooks are collections of indicative design proposals
and treatments of issues used
to create spaces of possibility for development (Gaver, 2011).
Cultural Commentators are independent practitioners drawn from
outside the research
community to help assess research prototypes during field studies. Like
the Probes, they are
`cultural' in addressing societal values and attitudes as well as those
of small groups and individuals
(see e.g. Gaver et al. 2005).
Orienting Concepts: The IRS has developed an approach to
design-led research that extends
across its varied projects. The conceptual underpinnings of this style,
and of the Studio's
methodology, have been elaborated in articles discussing concepts that
help orient our practices,
and that may help people orient to our designs:
Ludic Design (e.g. Gaver 2009) emphasises the value of
non-instrumental, exploratory and
curiosity-driven engagement with everyday life, with implications both
for methods such as the
Probes and the products we develop.
Ambiguity (e.g. Gaver et al. 2003) can be a positive value,
opening products to users'
interpretative appropriation and engendering engagement in the process.
Design for Interpretation (e.g. Sengers & Gaver, 2006) more
broadly provides a path for designers
to address issues with their products without dictating peoples'
These concepts have been continually explored and extended during the
References to the research
Evidence of the international quality of the research: The
work was presented at prestigious
international conferences and in some cases was awarded `best paper'
1. Gaver W, Bowers J, et al (2013). Indoor weather stations:
investigating a ludic approach to
environmental HCI through batch prototyping. In Proceedings of the
SIGCHI Conference on
Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '13). ACM, New York,
DOI=10.1145/2470654.2466474 (Best paper honorable mention).
2. Boehner K, Gaver W, Boucher A (2012) `Cultural Probes' in Inventive
Methods: The Happening
of the Social, C. Lury and N. Wakefield (eds.), Routledge.
3. Gaver W, Boucher A et al (2011) The Photostroller: Supporting
Diverse Care Home Residents in
Engaging with the World. Proceedings of the 2011 Conference on Human
Factors in Computing
Systems (CHI 2011). ACM, New York, 1757-1767.
4. Gaver W (2011). Making spaces: how design workbooks work. In Proceedings
of the SIGCHI
Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '11). ACM, New
DOI=10.1145/1978942.1979169 (Best paper honorable mention)
5. Gaver W, Blythe M et al (2010) The prayer companion: openness
and specificity, materiality and
spirituality. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors
in Computing Systems
(CHI '10). ACM, New York, 2055-2064. DOI=10.1145/1753326.1753640
6. Gaver W (2009). Designing for Homo Ludens, Still. In (Re)searching
the Digital Bauhaus. Binder,
Löwgren, and Malmborg (eds.). London: Springer, pp. 163-178.
7. Sengers P, Gaver W (2006). Staying open to interpretation:
engaging multiple meanings in design
and evaluation. In Proceedings of the 6th conference on Designing
Interactive systems (DIS '06).
ACM, New York, 99-108. DOI=10.1145/1142405.1142422
8. Gaver W, Beaver J, Benford S (2003). Ambiguity as a resource
for design. In Proceedings of the
SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '03).
ACM, New York, 233-
Details of the impact
The IRS's products, methodology and conceptual work have made impact
across Human Computer
Interaction (HCI) and Interaction Design, including large technology
companies (Microsoft, Intel,
IBM) concerned with how computing enters everyday life as well as cultural
institutions that explore
Methodological Impact: The Microsoft Research Laboratory
(MRL) has taken up IRS methods:
- Microsoft researchers have used Cultural Probes, e.g. for a project on
intelligent machines with
researchers from MIT Media Lab and the Stockholm Mobile Life project,
and for MRL work on
technology heirlooms which "built a range of interactive probes to
explore concepts of the passing
on and inheriting of digital data." Thus the
Deputy MD of MRL writes: "the seminal notion of
cultural probes as a means to elicit surprising designs has inspired
us in our research into the
digital aspects of home life, and in our more recent work on the
meaning of big data to the local
- The Studio's `in-the-wild' research has resulted in the MRL adopting
its methods: according to the
Deputy Managing Director: "the emphasis that the Studio have placed
on building and deploying
prototypes and evaluating them through lived interpretation has
provided us with a valuable
counterpoint to more quantitative techniques for studying ubiquitous
- The Co-Manager of Socio-Digital Systems at MRL
writes that "the design-led methodologies
that come from this group have expanded not just the repertoire of
approaches we use in our
work, but they have had a game-changing impact on the field of
more broadly" because they "offer much needed alternatives to
the tried and tested social science
methodologies in the field and have led instead to a more eclectic and
energising set of
techniques which has helped to cement the central importance of design
in this community."
Conceptual Impact: The studio's conceptual work has
influenced Intel's approach to products:
- Intel financed a collaborative project called "Supporting Reflection
on Well-being in the Digital
Home" from 2004-2007 with the Studio and Cornell researchers. Two
designs using ambiguity to
promote engagement were produced and discussed during presentations at
Intel in Portland.
- Conceptual work on ambiguity developed in part by this project was
cited as a primary source in
award-winning Intel research.
- IRS and Intel staff have made regular visits to each other to share
insights, with the Manager of
the Cultural Transformations Lab, Intel Corporation
explaining: "Intel labs is pursing a research
and product agenda around new relationships, not interactions, with
technology. Dr. Bill Gaver
and The Studio's work around the importance of ambiguity in design is
one of our organizing
principles. Personal wellness data sensing devices that we wear or
intelligent devices in our
homes, can no longer stand out as `technologies' but must blend with
other objects in our lives.
Further, Intel products have global reach: designing around ambiguity
enables people with
different social, cultural and economic backgrounds to interpret the
technologies in meaningful
ways to themselves. Over the years, we have continuously looked to Dr.
Gaver and The Studio
as a source of new insights and design methods — they continue to
provide innovation that has
value to the corporation."
Impact of Products and Making:
Both the products made by the Studio and its practice-based processes
- IRS products have been chosen to represent new trends in interaction
design. For instance, the
Prayer Companion was exhibited at MOMA from July-Nov 2011 and again from
and has been acquired for their permanent design collection.
Other IRS designs have appeared
in exhibitions in Spain, Sweden, the US and UK.
- Microsoft product research has reflected the Studio's products. "The
concepts and prototypes that
come from the Studio are provocative and insightful, and many have
influenced our own research
themes over the years."  The MRL Principal
Design Manager has said: "The studio's blend of
nuanced social science and exemplary design craft have inspired our
own work, both in the way
we discuss the role of design in research, and on the types and
qualities of artefacts we develop
and deploy. Our work on digital heirlooms, for example, was heavily
influenced by the objects
developed by the studio." 
- The Studio's development of fully-finished prototypes impacted on the
development of a rapid-
prototyping platform commercialised by Microsoft. The system, called .Net
Gadgeteer, is being
used by increasing numbers of professional prototypers, educators,
hobbyists and inventors to
rapid-prototype computational products. In 2011-12, the computer
scientist responsible for the
original and sustained development of the system (a researcher from the
Sensors and Devices
Group) was seconded to the studio to help develop the Indoor
Weatherstations, a set of sensor-based
devices that used a hard- and software prototyping platform that he had
He has noted:
"The team's detailed feedback about what worked and what didn't was
very useful in the drafting
of the final Gadgeteer hardware specification, which is used today by
the various commercial
hardware manufacturers that make and sell Gadgeteer-compatible products
Electronics, Sytech and Seeed Studio] .... The success of the
collaboration has directly
contributed to the Microsoft Research Connections team (which
coordinates engagements and
funding programs for academia) reconsidering the importance of engaging
with design schools
to be on a par with computer science departments.... This was
particularly evidenced by the
inauguration of the 'Design Day' at this year's Microsoft Faculty
Summit, where the work that the
IRS team did with Gadgeteer was highlighted."
Impact of the Studio's Overall Approach
The combination of methodologies, products and concepts that comprise the
IRS approach has had
a cumulative impact on the technology and HCI sector.
This has been felt beyond the technology
industry to other players such as the BBC, who hired Gaver to give a
keynote address to the UX&D
Connected Studio event on 30 October, 2012: "Bill Gaver and his group
have been a strong force in
keeping personal emotional narrative as a key care-about for design in a
digital age. Teams like this,
that champion the individual, the lyrical, the intuitive with rigour and
demanding models of enquiry
are rare and important." 
Gaver has also been funded by IBM from 2000-2002, and kept in regular
contact with researchers
since that time. For instance, he has been commissioned to write a chapter
on science and design
for a book on `ways of knowing in HCI' co-edited by the founder of the
Social Computing Group at
IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center. She explains: "Gaver
and team's work has catalyzed a better
understanding of design within the worldwide HCI community, from
articulating entirely new
perspectives on design (ambiguity as a resource, design proposals) to
providing innovative and
widely adopted tools for understanding users (cultural probes), to
defining an emerging "third
paradigm" of HCI that underscores the significance of users' experience
of designed artifacts. Truly
remarkable, transformational work."
Sources to corroborate the impact
The individuals listed below are willing to provide corroboration on
request (details provided
separately). Other sources are available in hard or electronic form on
request from Goldsmiths
- Co-manager of Socio-Digital Systems, Microsoft Research Ltd
- Principal Engineer and Manager of the Cultural Transformations Lab,
- Paul M. Aoki and Allison Woodruff (2005). Making space for stories:
ambiguity in the design of
personal communication systems. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI
Conference on Human Factors
in Computing Systems (CHI '05). ACM, New York, 181-190.
- Senior Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at The
Museum of Modern Art
- Executive Creative Director, Future Media, BBC
- Harrison, Steve, Phoebe Sengers, and Deborah Tatar. "Making
epistemological trouble: Third-
paradigm HCI as successor science." Interacting with Computers
23.5 (2011): 385-392.
- Founder of the Social Computing Group at IBM's TJ Watson Research
Center and member of
the IBM Academy of Technology