Introduction and Aim
As a child, I was identified with dyslexia. This identification meant I was labelled as a special student and given an independent education plan (IEP) in school. On occasion, I was bullied because of my difference to other students, but sometimes in surprising ways. Once a classmate attempted to bully me by saying “oh so you think you are special having an IEP” along with some other things not worth remembering. I thought to myself, is this kid jealous? Because, yes, I am special. Isn’t everyone special in some way?
Inclusion is about ensuring no one is excluded. Sounds simple but it can be complicated. A lot of interventions, designs, policies, etc. are put in place to help members of a ‘special’ group be included in the ‘mainstream’. Initially, I was interested in recreating this experience – can you make someone who would be considered part of a normative or mainstream group, want to be part of a group often seen as disadvantaged or excluded? Can you change their way of thinking and turn it on their head? Could you make someone want to be ‘disabled’? And would that then change the definition of disabled?
As I was thinking about this concept, I happened upon a news story about a young boy. He committed suicide at the age of 10 due to being bullied about his colostomy bag (Merrett, 2019) What would his world have been like if his bag was seen as desirable and not as undesirable? And so, an idea was born.
Methods and Processes: What I Did, Why, and How
Design fiction & a diegetic prototype
For this project I used a method known as design fiction. Commonly used in product design, although arguably underused (Adam, 2020) this approach helps me articulate the desires for a new future of everyday life, allows for discussion and critique, but its fictional nature removes the accountability required for designs in the present. (Gonzatto, et al., 2013)
David Adam discusses the role of design fiction in the medical community in his article entitled “Design fiction” skirts reality to provoke discussion and debate. He says the design fiction approach “is finding increasing use in scientific and medical fields as a way to explore the possible consequences of technological development” (Adam, 2020, p. 13179) Merging the world of product design and the medical field, I designed a colostomy bag that converts your waste into energy to charge small electronics like your phone.
I first thought about representing this idea with a drawing or a rendering, but colostomy bags exist and I’d never actually seen one in person before. So, I started researching online about different types and how to get one. You can get a free sample from some manufacturers online, but you must share a lot of personal information to get a sample and some suppliers even required a phone call. Understandably, these requirements ensure that users were ordering the correct sample. You can also get colostomy bags on prescription – not really an option for the purposes of this project. In the end, as with many things these days, I ordered a set available for purchase on Amazon. I took a small cable, and an old camera remote (a small black electrical product with a power button to represent the ‘generator’ or where the waste would be converted into energy), attached it to the bag and then to a phone. I photographed this set up at different angles to achieve the look I was going for. I also photoshopped it onto a torso as a reference point.
My prototype is simply constructed, but as a diegetic prototype it provides strong communication about my design idea. The term diegetic “attempts to explain how the reader should understand and relate to these designs in a fiction” (Levine, 2016) There are three main reasons why this prototype is diegetic in nature (or at least why I as the designer have decided to call it that).
First, it is designed as a functional object in a futuristic world, and as Levine states “while a prototype exists as a model or representation of some concept, a diegetic prototype exists as a functional piece of technology within a fictional world” (2016). Arguably, this prototype isn’t functional as a colostomy-energy bag. But it’s not meant to be functional in a sense of actually being able to do what it is saying it can do, i.e., convert your bodily waste into energy. Even in its simplicity of creation it communicates the idea, which is a large part of what design is. Good design hinges on good communication.
What increases the believability of this design is the likelihood of its existence in the future. Research on converting human waste unto biofuel and then into energy is well underway (Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), 2016). On the surface, it may seem impossible that a generation plant the size of a building could fit in a small object able to be worn on the body, but when we think back to the first super computers that took up entire rooms, and now we have powerful technology that fits in our hand and work being done on nanotechnology, anything seems possible. With technological advances in mind, a colostomy bag converting your own waste and making your body a phone charger doesn’t seem that crazy after all.
Secondly, this project goes beyond speculative design. Unlike speculative designs which are concerned with explorations of the near future of design possibilities, diegetic prototypes live within their own fiction. While this design may be possible, it would need to be in a different world to the one we live in now, or even in the near future. Additionally, speculative design does not come with accompanying narrative (Levine, 2016) My prototype is primarily driven by the narrative of the 10-year-old boy and his experience of how an object affected his life in a profound way. And my prototype attempts to change that narrative.
Finally, this prototype attempts to tell a story of a different world – rather than simply being a presentation of an object that could exist. Once the belief that this object could exist sets in, our thoughts turn to what else might be in this “future world”. Would people elect to have a version of this product implanted in them, even if they weren’t in need of a colostomy bag? Would the colostomy bag become desirable? But mostly – would the kids in that little boy’s class been jealous of him and want to charge their devices off his bag instead of bullying and excluding him? The fictional scenarios that accompany this prototype allow for debate and discussion (Adam, 2020)
Findings and Reflections
Design fiction as a method of research seems more effective with an audience, a larger one than I had. When presenting my idea to friends and family they all seemed agreeable, understanding its positionality and agreeing that if this product existed it would have been in the world I imagined. A more robust understanding of the design’s effects on the viewer would require a larger, more impartial audience, with greater diversity.
Diegetic prototypes are often found in cinema, particularly in science fiction, making the communication of this narrative more wholistic than in my project. Diegetic prototypes are most effective when situated within a contextual narrative. (Kirby, 2010) As Levine argues in relation to the computer in the 2002 film Minority Report, “If we remove this diegetic prototype from its fictional narrative and present it as an isolated design object, the rich drama this computer affords would be lost. (Levine, 2016) In my project, presenting this object with the accompanying narrative of my design thinking starts to create this future world. As a next step, my prototype presentation could be developed further into a short film piece to add clarity and impact.
Upon reflection, this design does more than speak about the story I set out to tell. It challenges our ideas of medical design. By medical and commercial standards, the current colostomy bag design is complete because it serves its intended purpose. But is that where design should stop, especially medical design? What if we took a second look at medicine and considered the social aspect of medical devices? What could we do if we didn’t stop at the first ‘purpose’ of objects in the medical industry?
Adam, D., 2020. Science and Culture: “Design fiction” skirts reality to provoke discussion and debate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 117(24), pp. 13179-13181.
Bleecker, J., 2009. Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction.. [Online]
Available at: http://drbfw5wfjlxon.cloudfront.net/writing/DesignFiction_WebEdition.pdf
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Gonzatto, R. F., van Amstel, F. M. C., Merkle, L. E. & Hartmann, T., 2013. The ideology of the future in design fictions. Digital creativity (Exeter), 24(1), pp. 36-45.
Kirby, D., 2010. The Future is Now: Diegetic Prototypes and the Role of Popular Films in Generating Real-world Technological Development. Social Studies of Science, 40(1), pp. 41-70.
Levine, D., 2016. Design Fiction. [Online]
Available at: https://medium.com/digital-experience-design/design-fiction-32094e035cd7
[Accessed 05 12 2020].
Merrett, R., 2019. People Human Interest : 10-Year-Old Kentucky Boy Allegedly Dies by Suicide After Being Bullied Over Colostomy Bag. [Online]
Available at: https://people.com/human-interest/kentucky-boy-10-seven-bridges-died-by-suicide-colostomy-bag/
[Accessed 21 11 2020].
Toda, A., 2017. The UX Blog: Design is Communication. [Online]
Available at: https://medium.theuxblog.com/design-is-communication-e371ad9042a3
[Accessed 05 12 2020].
Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), 2016. Turning human waste into next generation biofuel (ScienceDaily). [Online]
Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160531131113.htm
[Accessed 07 12 2020].