The initial impetus for this project is rooted in my ongoing interest in human's emotional conditions and needs influenced by my formal study in psychology. I am particularly interested in designed product, system and service that embody human's emotional needs that often arise from social context. As we all know, human emotion plays a critical role in user's behavior and satisfaction level. Facebook can be one of the good examples demonstrating how a designed platform can be successful by meeting people's different levels of emotional desires, both obvious and latent ones. Besides Facebook, there are so many products in the market that attempt to speak to people's emotional needs. In the midst of plethora of these products and services to allure its audience, I stumbled upon an unconventional design practice, called Critical Design, and it introduced me a new approach to deal with human emotion through design.
The term, critical design first appeared in Anthony Dunne's book Hertzian Tales (1999), is gaining popularity in design circles, especially those at the edge of the profession: design academies and the blurred boundaries between design and art, design and science. Practitioners of this area of design create provocative artifacts as a tool to examine, reflect, and critique mainstream culture. They exist not to provide answers to problems, but rather to pose questions and foster debate among designers, industry and the public. The artifacts function more like text-embodying ideas than functional objects for use. Anthony Dunne says designers need critical design as a counterpart to the mainstream, service-oriented design, in order to achieve "intellectual maturity and credibility of its own." This is a conscientious effort for designers to create their intellectual stance, to become an author rather than an agent of capitalism (Dunne,A., & Raby,F., 2001:58-59). This critical theory-based approach to design is not a new idea and has been preceded by Italian Radical Design of the 1960s and 70s. However, while the themes and subjects Italian Radical Design dealt with was often confined to societal, political and ideological issues, critical design goes beyond these themes and also deal with individual's psychology. I would like to share two critical design pieces that influenced me: Dunne & Raby's Designs for Fragile Personalities in Anxious Times (2004/05) and Noam Toran's Object for Lonely Men (film, 2001).

1.Design for Fragile Personalities in Anxious Times

A phobia, an intense and persistent fear of certain situations, activities, things, animals, or people (Wikipedia) is one of the most common mental diseases in our time. What are the things people feel afraid of? As there are many different types of people and situations people are placed, the types of things people feel afraid of are countless. So although it may sound odd, there could be people frightened by ideas of dying in a nuclear explosion or abductions by aliens. Do designers need to care about those kinds of specific emotional problems people have? Is there a need for design objects, which meet highly specific emotional needs of a small number of individuals? The head of the Design Interactions department at RCA, Anthony Dunne, and a professor at RCA, Fiona Raby, respond to the question through their collaborated work, Design for Fragile Personalities. This is a collection of prescriptive products designed to help people suffering from neuroses to conquer their fears. The resulting objects are Huggable Atomic Mushrooms and Hideaway Furniture.
Huggable Atomic Mushroom(left) Hideway Furniture(right)
Huggable Atomic Mushrooms are for people who are afraid of nuclear attack. These are soft toys shaped like nuclear explosions. By being exposed to objects and cuddling them, people may be able to overcome their phobias. The size of this product varies in order to allow gradual exposure (systematic desensitization) to the phobic object. Hideaway Furniture is for people who are afraid of being abducted by aliens. This furniture is made of the same material as the floor, so that this huge object can be camouflaged within the home. Each opens in unusual ways so that opening actions will not disturb domestic objects placed on the surface.
Through this project, Dunne and Raby shift emphasis from the functional aspects to emotional needs fulfilled by objects. These objects also reveal the complexities of the human mind and the frailty of humanity that are often not addressed in the mainstream design practice. Rather than imposing idealistic images of humans on users, Dunne and Raby try to expose people's real emotional states and imperfect qualities through their artifacts. In order to make their work a catalyst for debate, Dunne and Raby intentionally select dramatic and provocative situations, like alien abduction. The scenario is unreal, but when it is embodied by physical materials and situated in everyday life, the boundary between fiction and the reality is blurred. Dunne and Raby call this mix of strangeness and familiarity a "value fiction". In this scenario, the technologies are realistic but the social and cultural values are often fictional. This believable fiction confuses users and motivates them to find their own interpretation through interaction with objects or imagining the use of those objects.

2. Objects for Lonely Men

Loneliness has become one of the prevalent human conditions in modern times as the size of families becomes smaller and less stable. More and more, people decide to live alone, and there is also an interesting trend called Cocooning, the act of insulating or hiding oneself from the normal social environment. The development of entertaining media and technology including TV and Internet has made cocooning easier than ever by providing incidental pleasure and enabling people to escape from their current conditions. In this situation, what is the character of the relationships people make with material objects? What is the current and future role of objects in relation to people's lonely condition? A designer, filmmaker, artist and educator, Noam Toran is one of few people who explore and posit speculative questions around these issues. His work spans multiple disciplines and mediums, but no matter what medium he uses, objects are the central focus of interest to characters and key elements influencing the narrative.
Screenshots from Breathless and Object For Lonely Men
Toran's short film, Objects for Lonely Man is a story of a man so obsessed with Jean-Luc Godard's A Bout de Souffle(Breathless) that he creates an extended TV tray filled with objects reflecting the physical representations of the film. The objects include a child's steering wheel, female mannequin head that resembles Jean Seberg (the main actress), a hat similar to the one Jean-Paul Belmondo wears, cut-out guns, telephone, Herald Tribune newspaper, sunglasses, ashtray, rear view mirror and a pack of Giltanes non-filtered cigarettes. These objects allow him to play along with Belmondo's character while he is watching the movie. This film reflects people's tendency to model them on the film persona as a way to escape from the realities and the influence of film on our imagination. The black and white color scheme, low-key lighting, and jump cut editing style Toran used for his film clearly demonstrate the influence of classic Film Noir. What he borrowed is not only the visual styles or structures of Film Noir, but also pessimistic and cynical attitudes of the genre in order to reveal human's frailty and less desirable human conditions. The way the lonely man uses objects are absurd and strange, but not to the extent they are totally implausible. The potential that this story could be a real story of someone blurs the boundary of the real and the fictional again, and Screenshots from Breathless and Object For Lonely Men provides viewers a room for imaginations and reflections. Similar to Dunn and Raby's huggable mushrooms and hideaway furniture, the lonely man's objects satisfy the person's mental, emotional needs than technical, functional ones. Besides this, Toran also visualizes the objects role as mediators between people and their fantasies. The objects enable the lonely man to become more immersed in his imagination. They are vehicles, which allow him to be someone and somewhere he is not.


Influenced by the critical design practice and projects, I become interested in creating fictional products and narratives. My main questions centered on the future products and services that may arise if our obsessions with happiness continue to increase, and people define happiness merely as a positive biochemical, emotional state. In order to do this, I first researched about existing and emerging technologies that are somehow relevant to assessing and affecting human mind, and then I extrapolated fictional services based on those technologies. The goal of this fiction is to provide a room to speculate about where the restless effort for the happiness may lead us. I also attempt to draw on concerns over the sacrifice of the true depth of happiness due to the need to objectify and quantify it. Please check "The Project" and "Explorations" part to see the range of topics I investigated.