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The design industry’s reigning paradigm is in crisis. It’s time to evolve from human-centered design to humanity-centered design, write Artefact’s Rob Girling and Emilia Palaveeva.

If followed blindly and left unchecked, this cult of designing for the individual can have disastrous long-term consequences. A platform designed to connect becomes an addictive echo chamber with historic consequences (Facebook); an automation system designed to improve safety undermines our ability to seek information and make decisions (the plane autopilot); a way to experience a new destination like a local squeezes lower income residents out of affordable housing (Airbnb). Each of these examples is recognized as a real product or service design feat. Yet by focusing on the individual user alone, we often fail to take into account broader cognitive and social biases. By zeroing in on the short-term impact and benefits of our designs, we spare ourselves asking the really hard question: Are we designing a world we all want to live in today and tomorrow?

 To be agents of positive change, we as designers need to think more broadly about the direct and secondary consequences of our work. We need to be clear-eyed about what we are striving to do and minimize the chances of creating more problems than we are trying to solve. To do that, we need to integrate our discipline with systems thinking, which entails understanding how systems work and evolve over time. This will allow us to anticipate and mitigate the negative longer-term consequences of well-intentioned solutions. As a result, we will be poised to design systems that have minimum negative impact, create and sustain equity, and build on technological advances without disrupting the foundations of society. We have the responsibility to evolve from human-centered design thinkers to humanity-centered designers.


Artificial Theatre

May 15, 2017


I invited Louis-Philippe Demers for a talk at our CGI – International Seminar series.

Louis-Philippe Demers makes large-scale installations and performances. His projects can be found in theatre, opera, subway stations, art museums, science museums, music events and trade shows. Over the past two decades, he participated in more than seventy artistic and stage productions and has built more than 350 machines.

Demers was Professor of Digital Media and Exhibit Design/Scenography at the Hochschule fuer Gestaltung Karlsruhe, affiliated to the world renowned Zentrum fuer Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM, Germany). Since he joined the Interaction and Entertainment Research Centre and the newly founded School of Art, Design and Media at the Nanyang Technological University.

On the talk: Theatre has always been the test bed of illusions. The illusion of the actor replaced by a machine signifies the fantasies found in the scientific and the science-fiction communities. However, what Louis-Philippe Demers is targeting here is not the artifice but the uncomfortable communalities between the flesh and the mechanical bodies. Having these radical encounters at the liminal space bordering man and machine, it forces audiences to (re)consider their human bodies and the latest transforms in the history of their own embodied experiences.

Models of Diversity

March 11, 2016


Gave a talk on New Narratives at the conference Models of Diversity at the ETH and ZHDK Zurich.

The main aim of this conference was to create 3-way discourses to search for correlations and models that can foster deeper creative levels of discourses across the disciplines of art, science, sociology and philosophy. A round table conference with paired presentations of art researcher, scientists and theorists in diverse fields of inquiry-alongside dynamic moderators who tried to stimulate discourse.

Saschka Unseld  Creative Director, Oculus Story Studio

In virtual reality, you are at the center of every story. Saschka Unseld, head of Oculus Story Studio, wants to keep you there, experiencing virtual worlds directly, with characters who interact with you in real time. You read a book and you watch a film, but in virtual reality, you experience a story. It’s told through your senses, and Unseld and his team are now discovering what that means—how characters should react to you, how to make your experience interactive and responsive. It’s a learning curve that’s just beginning—built on a heritage of storytelling but breaking down the fourth wall in a new way. Unseld shared some of what his studio is learning at this year’s Future of Storytelling Conference.

The studio has already released two short form experiences, Lost and Henry. The latter was intended to be a comedy, but as Unseld explained, it was difficult to keep if from being a tragedy:

With Henry, for example what we did, we thought, “Okay, let’s try to tell a comedy — typical slapstick kind of animated character comedy.”

The final film turned out to be more sad than funny. If you would cut it as a film, exactly the same thing, you would have a lot of laughs. But in VR, you don’t. If someone falls on their face right next to you, it’s not funny.

In cinema. you have something like the fourth wall, which means there is this wall between the story and the world and the audience. In VR, there is no such thing as a fourth wall, because in VR you are right there with the characters in the world.

Understanding Perception

October 10, 2015

Lazy Chief, a Studio in London, translated the studies of neuroscientist Beau Lotto into motion design.

The 4-minute short film explains the way that evolution has shaped the way we perceive the world.

One important statement for visual designers, is that our brains don’t differentiate between imagined stimuli and real stimuli. Professor Lotto explains:

[W]hat’s remarkable is that when we imagine something, it activates the same part of our brain as if we’re actually seeing it. So imagined perception is the same as a real perception.

This has tremendous impact for thinking about the narratives that a culture tells itself.


Nir Eyal constructed a framework for designing habit-forming products. He states:

The “desire engine” gives product makers and designers a model for thinking of the necessary components to create user behavior. Habit design is a super power. If used for good, habit design can enhance people’s lives with entertaining and even healthful routines. If used for evil, habits can quickly turn into wasteful addictions.

The trinity of access, data, and speed creates new opportunities for habit-forming technologies to hook users and everything becomes more addictive. Companies need to know how to harness the power of the desire engine to improve peoples’ lives, while consumers need to understand the mechanics of behavior engineering to protect themselves from manipulation. More and more developers realize that their success hinges on understanding user behavior. Nir Eyal used patterns collected from his 4 years in the gaming and advertising business and one year of research as a consultant and lecturer at the Stanford GSB, to create a tool, which should greatly improve the odds of success for a startup.

For more info, see his blog at:

Catch up on all the insights from our NESTA’s Digital You-Event which looked at telepresence and the psychology of electronic communications. This event explored how robotics and new collaboration tools can emulate being there in person, and how we can make better use of email and video conferencing without ‘information overload’