PhD research: Designing for Ambivalence

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

I have created a series of proposals that are critical and symbolic. They are not propositions for the commercial market. Instead, they are conversational pieces, material representations of practices involving the use of the smartphone during childcare. They suggest practices that often take place in private and I have used them to engage with participants about our complex, often ambivalent relationship with technologies in family life.  Through the discussions they have encouraged, I have been able to recognise recurrent themes such as guilt, the role of the smartphone at feeding times and as a sort of childcare helper, a family member or pet. Evoking a material space populated by toys, bottles and transitional objects, my proposals represent the possibilities for design to expose and critique current scenarios, and to explore potentials for change.

Two grants from the EPSRC Balance Network, have allowed me to run workshops sessions as part of my research (* see links at the bottom of this page). These have enabled me to develop design led approaches that are core elements in my investigation.

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

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

Some of my work is on display at King’s College, London until the end of October, 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, from 19th July to 10th 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 combines phone and feeding teat to create a pull along comfort toy. 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



Exploring the phone as tool/toy, 2016


Multiple models, 2016. Cardboard, wood, phone handset, iPhone, Lego wheels, cord, cnc machined hard foam

PhD models good pics

Experimental object


Sketch exploration. Watercolour


Sketch exploration. Watercolour


Sketch exploration. Watercolour


Sketch exploration. Watercolour


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


Using experimental proposals for engaging with publics


Sketch exploration. Watercolour

SKETCH 14 copy

Sketch exploration. Watercolour