In 2019 I completed a practice-based PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London. My research, called Designing for Ambivalence: a designer’s research into the role of smartphones for mothers and young children, investigated the role of smartphones during the care of young children, focussing on situations of mothers who have the primary role of childcare.
During the trajectory of my research, I developed a series of experimental and critical design proposals that give form to behaviours brought by smartphones in the childrearing task. The development of these proposals formed the first stage of exploration in this research. A second stage took place in the encounters between people and the designs. At times producing both attraction and rejection, the design proposals helped me engage in conversation with others about practices, often private, that are ridden with ambivalence and guilt. My PhD research is an example of the possibilities for design to expose unintended uses of technology, to challenge conventional user portrayals by depicting mothers as complex users, and to explore potentials for change.
Informed by critical design and feminist psychoanalysis, the work involved a series of suggestive designs that I used as conversational probes in tailored events with participants and at public events. I used these experiments to explore ambivalent attitudes towards uses of smartphones during childcare and, more generally, towards the role of technology in family life. My supervisors were Professors Bill Gaver and Janis Jefferies. My viva examiners were Professors Jayne Wallace and Les Back.
Two grants from the EPSRC Balance Network enabled me to run design led workshops as part of my research. Conversation Pieces explored the complex role of smartphones during childcare. Material Desires explored the management of home and work identities. These activities became integral elements in my investigation. I have also received a grant from the Foundation Scotland’s Fran Trust and a grant from Goldsmith’s Graduate Fund.