PhD:Designing for Ambivalence

I am currently doing a PhD in the Design Department at Goldsmiths College under the supervision of Professors Bill Gaver and Janis Jefferies. My practice based design research investigates the competing discourses offered by smartphones to mothers and their young children, exploring their complex relationship with the device. My research combines critical and experimental design approaches with psychoanalytic, feminist and related perspectives on the meaning of products.

I have created a series of experimental proposals that range from critical and suggestive to potentially functional and deployable. Through tailored activities and events, I have used them to engage with people about our complex, often ambivalent relationship with technologies in family life and to explore potentials for change.

Two grants from the EPSRC Balance Network, have allowed me to run design led workshop sessions as part of my research. Material Desires* explored the management of home and work identities. Conversation Pieces* explored the complex role of smartphones during childcare. These design activities became core elements in my investigation.

I have also received a grant from the Foundation Scotland’s Fran Trust

I have shown my research artefacts at the V&A on the 11th November 2017, as part of their Digital Design Drop-in programme.

My work was on display at King’s College during October 2017, to coincide with the Anna Freud and Play Conference, held on 15/9/17.

My work was displayed at the Freud Museum London exhibition on Play and Psychoanalysis, during July and September 2017. You can see some of it here.

I have presented my work at the Freud Museum on the 9th August, 2017. Here is the link to this event.

I have presented my PhD work at the CHI 2017 Doctoral Consortium in Denver, Colorado in May 2017. You can read the paper here.


Ambivalent objects 1, 2016 (3D printed, smartphone, baby bottle): these critical artefacts represent the use of the smartphone as a form of pacifier, invoking practices that often take place in private, at times ridden with ambivalence and guilt.



Ambivalent Objects 1, 2016 (3D printed, rubber, modified laptop packaging)




Ambivalent Object 2, 2016 (acrylic, wood, bottle top, cord, smartphone): this critical artefact is a sort of pull along comfort toy, exposing the role of the smartphone as a pacifier. A psychoanalyst called it a ‘maternal ambivalence object’.


PhD models good pics

An Uncanny Pet, 2016 (Synthetic fur, phone charger, smartphone): this proposal uses the metaphor of a pet. The phone is put to sleep while it charges (snoring and with its eyes closed), making it temporarily unavailable. Sleep is a significant aspect of young children’s routines and here it represents an act of taking a break from the device’s intrusion.

You can see this artefact in video here.


An Uncanny Pet, 2016



Multiple models, 2016. Cardboard, wood, phone handset, iPhone, Lego wheels, cord, cnc machined hard foam. These objects explored the role of the smartphone as tool/toy


IMG_8302 2

Herby, from happy to grumpy explores the phone as a tool/toy family member. It is an artefact that could live on a desk and be used to make phone calls, but when it is pulled along it gradually gets angry, claiming ‘I am not a toy’ or ‘take me to your mum’.



Sketch exploration. possible artefact


Sketch exploration. the smartphone as surrogate


Sketch exploration. pet/toy


Sketch exploration. the smartphone as a mediator of needs between mother and child

Scan 17'.jpg

Sketch exploration – phone as tool/toy


creating a collection of sketches and objects that explore the themes in my research

picture 1st workshop copy 2

Using experimental proposals for engaging with publics

4 picture 1st workshop copy 2.jpg


Sketch exploration. pet/toy

SKETCH 14 copy

Sketch exploration. Objects of rivalry.



Ambivalent Objects on display at the Freud Museum’s exhibition on Play and Psychoanalysis. London, Summer 2017


Displaying my research at the V&A digital design drop-in, November 11th 2017


Displaying my research at the V&A digital design drop-in, November 11th 2017


Displaying my research at the V&A digital design drop-in, November 11th 2017