Sustainable Awareness Tools


Project Description


Sustainability has been an emerging topic in design research for quite some time with a strong emphasis on environmental sustainability and material effects. Our research interest lies predominantly in the field of interaction design for social sustainability. We intend to address following questions within the research project:

Can interaction design enable and progress an environment of inclusion and equality within urban social ecologies?
How can patina by use and re-use shape the artefact and how it influences the user’s attitude towards it?
Can critical approaches in interaction design lead to a hightened awareness of aspects of sustainability?

We analyzed approaches to sustainability in different fields including media art, service design, product design and interaction design. By deconstructing the term sustainability and its meaning into micro-fragments such as re-use, patina or re-appropriation, we are able to focus our practical intervention on a particular field within sustainability, which then puts us in the position to investigate specific aspects of it more closely.

Our hypothesis that Interaction Design as a critical practice can be established as an agent for change towards a more sustainable future within urban neighborhoods, shall be proven by the various practical interventions such as the “Cultural Exploration Kit”.

The first phase will be an analysis phase which portrays the city’s tracks of wear and tear, patina and usage. Inspired by archaeological methods, we systematically collect, describe and map the artefacts and their scanned representations.
The first design intervention, the Cultural Exploration Kit, is a research tool used for the collection of data concerning patina, traces of use, appropriation, wear and tear, etc. The portable lab kit is built upon citizen science approaches and is designed to be visually obstrusive in order to catch the eye of spectators.

Citizen science employs technological artefacts (e.g. Devices to collect data on air pollution) and transforms users into researchers, by equipping them with the scientific authority embodied in the artefact. The Kit is designed as a speculative object, concealing its function from passers-by but raises curiosity and is intended to draw attention, questions or even suspicion.
By carrying this kit, we are transformed into archaeologists scrutinizing the city, digging towards its roots, uncovering traces left by its inhabitants and conserving and mapping them, while at the same time getting in close touch with the real fabric of the city.

The first phase was dedicated to investigating and testing collection tools for gathering traces of age, use, re-use and patina in the wild. Our main goal here was finding the appropriate method for the collection of traces and patina.
We experimented with analog (tin-foil, gold-paper, wax, play dough, etc.) and digital tools (document scanner, camcorder, digital camera), in order to ensure the creation of a more-dimensional account of those traces.
In order to create a systematically analysable „pattern-library“, traces and patina have to be categorized: Traces can be induced, caused by use, re-use, appropriation or adaption of interaction.


Sametinger, F. & Weiss, L. (2012). Sustainable Awareness Tools – Introducing the Cultural Exploration Kit as a Critical Design Research Tool. Poster Presentation at the DRS Conference.

Download PDF