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Data Objects enable people to access and make sense of information by physically encoding data into the form and function of objects. This Speculative Design approach was developed with Ricardo Sosa at AUT with the intention of being used in Design Activism to generate meaningful dialogue.


#1 Data Tables

In this case study, the dual function of a “table” as “a set of facts or figures systematically displayed, especially in columns” and “a piece of furniture with a flat top and one or more legs, providing a level surface” is playfully intertwined to create a series of physical data tables. These everyday tables enable different user groups to experience and explore the meanings and consequences of the data sets. 

  Table for Two    Table for Two  is synonymous with a romantic dinner. The idea is to create an intimate dining experience with the table as the only barrier between the couple – acting not only as a support for plates, cups, cutlery etc. but as a boundary object through which various romantic gestures can be played out – the holding of hand, the brief brush of a foot, the exchange of food etc. ‘T able for two ’ however, disrupts this play by creating a literal gap between the dining couple based on the gender pay gap. In this DO example the data has been used to directly contradict the function of the table as an object to assist in the uniting of two people, and instead creates a barrier between them. Additionally, the female diner is put in a position of discomfort as her leg and dining space are invaded by the ‘gender pay gap’. As the female diner becomes agitated by the discomfort, the male diner might offer assistance, either by swapping seats or by compensating in other ways – perhaps by paying for the meal. Neither proposal solves the problem and although suggested with good intention only serve to support the existing patriarchy. Exclamations of ‘what a stupid design!’ by the couple follow, who abandon the table in favour of a more equitable dining arrangement – a physical metaphor for the obvious need to abandon the practice of unequal pay based on gender.

Table for Two

Table for Two is synonymous with a romantic dinner. The idea is to create an intimate dining experience with the table as the only barrier between the couple – acting not only as a support for plates, cups, cutlery etc. but as a boundary object through which various romantic gestures can be played out – the holding of hand, the brief brush of a foot, the exchange of food etc. ‘Table for two’ however, disrupts this play by creating a literal gap between the dining couple based on the gender pay gap. In this DO example the data has been used to directly contradict the function of the table as an object to assist in the uniting of two people, and instead creates a barrier between them. Additionally, the female diner is put in a position of discomfort as her leg and dining space are invaded by the ‘gender pay gap’. As the female diner becomes agitated by the discomfort, the male diner might offer assistance, either by swapping seats or by compensating in other ways – perhaps by paying for the meal. Neither proposal solves the problem and although suggested with good intention only serve to support the existing patriarchy. Exclamations of ‘what a stupid design!’ by the couple follow, who abandon the table in favour of a more equitable dining arrangement – a physical metaphor for the obvious need to abandon the practice of unequal pay based on gender.

  This Table is Occupied   The Occupy Movement of 2012 was concerned with highlighting inequities in global wealth distribution. “This Table is Occupied” is a play on the data voiced by the protesters to show that the richest 20% of the population owns 82.7% of global wealth while the remaining 80% share only 17.3%, with the poorest 40% owning virtually nothing. The data is represented in a DO table which seats 5 people – each representing 20% of the global population. One member of the group has access to 82.7% of table surface area while the remaining five people have access to 17.3% - and, in reality, two of those five have very little access to any part of the table surface. Not only does the person representing the wealthiest 20% have access to the most table space, they are separated from the majority – with a large barrier between them and the other 4 users, and facing a different direction. This divide is a reflection on reality, where the world’s richest are increasingly separated from ‘the rest’ by systems which provide few opportunities for dialogue between income groups. A secret suggestion for action is embedded in the table design where if the table is flipped over, the distribution of table surface is the same for each person. The difficult activity of flipping a concrete table represents the difficult task of flipping current economic systems which are needed to overcome disparities in global wealth distribution. 

This Table is Occupied

The Occupy Movement of 2012 was concerned with highlighting inequities in global wealth distribution. “This Table is Occupied” is a play on the data voiced by the protesters to show that the richest 20% of the population owns 82.7% of global wealth while the remaining 80% share only 17.3%, with the poorest 40% owning virtually nothing. The data is represented in a DO table which seats 5 people – each representing 20% of the global population. One member of the group has access to 82.7% of table surface area while the remaining five people have access to 17.3% - and, in reality, two of those five have very little access to any part of the table surface. Not only does the person representing the wealthiest 20% have access to the most table space, they are separated from the majority – with a large barrier between them and the other 4 users, and facing a different direction. This divide is a reflection on reality, where the world’s richest are increasingly separated from ‘the rest’ by systems which provide few opportunities for dialogue between income groups. A secret suggestion for action is embedded in the table design where if the table is flipped over, the distribution of table surface is the same for each person. The difficult activity of flipping a concrete table represents the difficult task of flipping current economic systems which are needed to overcome disparities in global wealth distribution. 


#2 Too Many Cooks?

Too Many Cooks? is a gallery installation where the relation between people and change are explored and interrogated through Data Objects. The objects presented in the gallery were designed with data from a Belgium-wide city census aiming to understand how cities are performing in the eyes of citizens. They describe how residents experience participation in city decision making. The objects are intended to help residents and city councillors understand participation and change in the cities of Hasselt and Genk. The installation will be part of the Participatory Design Conference 2018 and will be on display at Galley Z33 in Hasselt, Belgium, from August to December 2018.