Slowing things down with Goldsmiths


Thanks to the brilliant Matt Ward, Head of Design at Goldsmiths, this year Doteveryone was one of three organisations (alongside Microsoft and Innovation Unit) to set briefs for Goldsmiths’ second year design students.

Here’s an excerpt from the challenge we set:

Politics is moving at the speed of Twitter. Amazon wants you to put a button in your bathroom in case you run out of loo roll. Uber’s got a car at the end of your road. Your Facebook news feed is personalised. And your phone company’s storing your browsing history — just in case the police want to see it.

And as everything gets faster, there’s less time for us to think, understand or analyse. So what happens if we start to slow things down?

In a time when technology is focused on offering ever-faster and more frictionless ways to do things, we wanted the students to try designing for more than just optimised speed. Our brief wasn’t intended to be nostalgic — we weren’t asking them to turn Twitter into a newspaper. Rather, we saw it as an opportunity for students to see what happens and how we respond when we intentionally reduce our technology’s speed.

Over the course of four weeks, six groups of students developed their ideas; on 16th March, we went in to Goldsmiths to see what they’d come up with. Here’s what they showed us.

A digital security campaign to highlight the hidden, intangible world of data ownership

This group was concerned that tech companies were using the speed and complexity of the internet to take advantage of consumers — especially in terms of data rights, terms and conditions, and content licensing. (For example, right now Facebook’s terms of use is more than 14,000 words long.) They wanted to explore if a slower internet could help make it possible for users to truly understand and take back ownership of their rights.

Through tangible artefacts like leaflets, posters, and props, they designed ways to give the online a physical context — one that would make our digital world, and the footprints we make through it, more tangible.

A poster using fairy tales as a metaphor for location tracking

A performative and community engagement program to build digital curiosity and skills

This team felt that slow adoption of the internet (skills, understanding, and awareness) was the slow web. They literally wanted to slow the internet down by taking engagement into the real world, using personal interaction to reduce fear and apathy around digital skills.

After ethnography in local libraries, skills workshops, and Techy Tea Parties, they developed educational games and scripts using discovering knowledge as their hook and Wikipedia, Google Maps, and YouTube as their platforms.

The students looked at hardware, too — after discovering that VR helps reduce fear because it’s so awe-inspiring, the team ended up creating inexpensive VR headsets to share with their learners.

A network of office games to slow people down from their overworked lifestyles

People spend up to 10–15 hours per day on computers, phones, and tablets. That makes the work day longer — and stress a more widespread problem. This team wanted to empower others to spend less time in front of screens and more time being playful.

After researching both office life and play, they designed Recess: a gamified series of ways to stimulate wellbeing. In addition to a kit of three games, they created a website and a series of advertisements.

The group are now deciding whether the games are meant to help increase productivity or to slow it down entirely. As a piece of speculative design, the tools could be interpreted as both ways to free people’s time and to keep them at their desks.

The RECESS kit.

Scenarios to question power structures between networked appliances

In the pursuit of making tech more human, this team actively designed for imperfection. Their reasoning was that it’s hard to empathise with perfect things — and internet-enabled objects with human foibles might be easier to connect with.

After researching current design and advertisements for IoT products, the team designed four scenarios supported by infographics and video. The scenarios included clumsy tech, fridges that bargained, crockery that got jealous, and kettles that boiled based on their users’ body heat.

Reacting to jealous cutlery.

Pleading with the fridge.

A blend of physical and virtual spaces to relax from the speed of everyday existence

After first exploring alternative Google searches and comparing how long it took to go to the library vs look something up online, this team decided to focus on relaxing. They researched literal and traditional forms of slowing down, including meditation and intentionally quiet places.

The final design was a multi-sensory experience for people to use for slowing down. It included watching animated film from Minecraft with accompanying aromas, sounds and sensations inside a “private space” designed to be set up anywhere.

Design research in situ.

A micro-donation platform to directly connect people living on the streets with those who want to help them

This team centred people experiencing homelessness in their work. Their theory was twofold: first, we tend not to notice people sleeping rough because we’re too focused on our screens; and secondly, when we do see people sleeping rough, we want to help but don’t know how. The latter is particularly true of the men and women we see over and over again during our daily routines.

In response to these issues, the team created Helpy. It’s a platform which provides people sleeping rough with access to opportunities, contacts and facilities by connecting them with existing support systems. It’s also a micro-donations platform that helps make individual connections between people; the team explored how micro-sponsorships, top-up schemes, or a Helpy Card might work.

One of the artefacts the team used to test the idea.

It was a pleasure working with the Goldsmiths students, along with their tutors Nick Mortimer and Nick Williamson. We are currently looking at how Doteveryone might work with the WeOwnThis and Agent_01 groups as part of their summer placements, combining their work on digital rights and digital understanding to explore what kind of public or regulatory body might be responsible for managing programmes like these.

Thank you to Matthew Edgson for the images and documentation he did of the projects.