Investigation I - The Unexplained

Investigation I: The Unexplained

About this Investigation

Investigations are a series of small exercises designed to explore a conceptual space and culminates with a made artefact. The format is 3-week rapid explorations of a theme, idea or theory.

In this module we’ll explore the intersection of ubiquitous computing (smart and connected devices, voice assistants, and other everyday technologies) and creating unsettling or spooky experiences through glitches, hacks, and hoaxes. We’ll examine how the complexity of current systems defy explainability and challenge our mental models, leading to breakdowns and beliefs. We examine how people navigate these frictions and how they might provide an opportunity to critically respond through technology. Using this footing we’ll explore how deliberate manipulations of smart and connected devices and everyday systems and processes might allow us to create encounters that could be difficult to explain or appear otherworldly.

Learning goals

This investigation is designed to develop knowledge relating to critical perspectives on everyday technology and help to develop a body of knowledge as to how spookiness can potentially be explored with new forms of ubiquitous, physical and tangible computing. As part of this exercise, you will:

  • Develop your domain understanding of ubiqutious, tangible, and connected technologies, as well as theory, concepts and ideas relating to the supernatural or haunted.

  • Investigate existing technologies, creative projects, critical designs which can, could and are exploring explainability in complex systems

  • Speculate on potential approaches to creating unexplainable and otherworldly experiences from the practical to the outlandish (strongly encouraged);

  • Develop a hands-on exploration that begins to tease-out the broader considerations, issues and requirements in building spooky technologies (social, cultural, personal, implications etc.)

  • Work individually to explore your own skillsets, expertise, and perspective within the context of this course and understand how they might contribute to an interdisciplinary investigation by making work.

Content and Methods

To learn about the wide range of topics in spooky technology; we’re going to learn from each other. Each of you will research a topic of interest to you as well as share a case study in the space and report back. This will help you build familiarity and give us as a group a catalog we can draw from in our explorations. The review of this catalog will provide groundwork to building an informed response to the creative project. Using your research, you’ll develop your own ‘prototype’ and experiment with spooky technologies by preparing a conceptual design for a device.

Specificially, this module will formally introduce themes surrounding ‘the unexplained’ and the intersection of ubiquituous computing and explainability. To do this, we’ll examine the mental models, histories and believes that have emerged around smart and connected objects through research and practice. Case studies will introduce examples of how we can begin “augmenting objects with capacities for communication, such intimate designs recognize the significant role objects play in mediating interpersonal relationships between people, but also the ways objects are active participants in social relationships.” *

In addition to themes of explainable systems and spooky technology, we’ll also explore methods for designing provocative objects through making. Specifically we’ll look at the role of critical design and critical engineering in our explorations and investigations.


Date Type Description
Tues, Feb 9 Intro Breakdowns in Understanding
Thur, Feb 11 Cases Glitches, Hacking and Hoaxes
Tues, Feb 16 Methods Critical Engineering
Thur, Feb 18 Proposal Feedback on creative project proposals
15 mins per person + office hours
Tues, Feb 23 No Classes Break day
Thur, Feb 25 Tech Tools for Prototying
Hybrid Objects with Particle
Tues, Mar 2 Guest Irene Alvarado Guest Lecture: Teachable Machine.
Feedback on creative project
Thur, Mar 4 Review ZipCrit of creative project.
Prepare a lightning Demo - 5 mins per student.

Deliverables and Deadlines

Due Date Deliverable Details
Thur, Feb 11 Warmup Share your Spooky User Research on Slack in #projects.
Tues, Feb 16 Think Piece Research a think piece on manufacturing the unexplained on Slack in #thinkpieces.
Thur, Feb 18 Proposal Create a proposal for your creative project (200 words + illustrations) and share on the Gallery
Thur, Feb 18 Case Identify and describe a case study to support your project. Share on Slack in #cases.
Tues, Mar 2 Project Develop a rough cut to discuss during desk crits
Thur, Mar 4 Project Present your prototype in class.
Thur, Mar 4 Digital Crit Give feedback projects in class
Fri, Mar 5, midnight Documentation Deliver documentation of your creative project

Warm up Exercise

Spooky user research: Drawing on the examples introduced in class, work with someone to examine an everyday technology of the smart and connected home. Use the supernatural or superstitious metaphor to help this exploration. Prepare a materialization or diagram their mental models.

Read the full description.

Think Piece

Manufacturing the Unexplained: Research and report on a topic directly related to the themes of the module: explainability; belief, myths and superstitions around sytems and processes; haunted media; hacking and manipulating systems; hoaxes; etc. Document and report your findings to the class and reflect on their implication for what and how we’ll make. Read the full description.

Case Study

Identify and critically review a case study on unexplainable encounters with everyday technologies: glitches, hacks, hoaxes, manipulations and intentional designs that subvert understanding. The focus here is on a product or project that presents an interesting approach, method or strategy that can be leveraged in your own work. Report your discoveries. Read the full description.

Creative Project

Manipulate a system or technical process to produce an outcome or effect that someone might struggle to explain. This critical prototype should embody, materialize, or examine an perspective on explainability through a computational process or a hybrid object (tangible/connected object). Read the full brief.


Review For Class

Tuesday, Jan 23 Chapter 1: Mediums and Media from Haunted media: Electronic presence from telegraphy to television. Sconce, J. (2000). Duke University Press.
Thursday, Jan 25 Excerpts from Spooky Technology (forthcoming). Section 1: ‘Glitches’
Tuesday, Jan 30 Bleecker, Julian. “Design fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction. 2009.” Retrieved June 16 (2015).; & The Critical Enginnering Manifesto


Below is a list of additional online material that relates to the module and provides a starting point for your explorations. This is by no means exhaustive i.e. you should read/research beyond it.



  • Wearable Microphone Jamming - Huiying Li, Shan-Yuan Teng, Yuxin Chen (2020)

    Chen, Y., Li, H., Teng, S. Y., Nagels, S., Li, Z., Lopes, P., ... & Zheng, H. (2020, April). Wearable microphone jamming. In Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1-12).
  • Pierce, J., & DiSalvo, C. (2017, June). Dark Clouds, Io&#!+, and [Crystal Ball Emoji] Projecting Network Anxieties with Alternative Design Metaphors. In Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (pp. 1383-1393).
  • Ambiguity as a resource for design - Jacob Beaver, Steve Benford, William W. Gaver (2003)

    Gaver, W. W., Beaver, J., & Benford, S. (2003, April). Ambiguity as a resource for design. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 233-240).
  • Animistic design: how to reimagine digital interaction between the human and the nonhuman - Betti Marenko, Philip Van Allen (2016)
    More info at:

    Marenko, B., & Van Allen, P. (2016). Animistic design: how to reimagine digital interaction between the human and the nonhuman. Digital Creativity, 27(1), 52-70.
  • IoT Data in the Home: Observing Entanglements and Drawing New Encounters - Audrey Desjardins, Cayla Key, Heidi R. Biggs, Jeremy E. Viny (2020)

    Desjardins, A., Biggs, H. R., Key, C., & Viny, J. E. (2020, April). IoT data in the home: Observing entanglements and drawing new encounters. In Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1-13).
  • A hauntology of participatory speculation - Cally Gatehouse (2020)

    Gatehouse, C. (2020, June). A hauntology of participatory speculation. In Proceedings of the 16th Participatory Design Conference 2020-Participation (s) Otherwise-Volume 1 (pp. 116-125).
  • Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction - Julian Bleecker (2009)


Prototyping Technologies, Tools and Examples


  • New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future - James Bridle (2018)

    Bridle, J. (2018). New dark age: Technology and the end of the future. Verso Books.
  • Enchanted Objects - David Rose (2014)

    Rose, D. (2014). Enchanted objects: Design, human desire, and the Internet of things. Simon and Schuster.
  • Internet Daemons: Digital Communications Possessed - Fenwick McKelvey (2018)

    McKelvey, F. (2018). Internet daemons: Digital communications possessed. U of Minnesota Press.
  • Poetic Computation: Reader - Taeyoon Choi
  • Smarter homes: how technology will change your home life - Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (2018)

    Deschamps-Sonsino, A. (2018). Smarter homes: how technology will change your home life. Apress.
  • Techgnosis: myth, magic & mysticism in the age of information - Erik Davis (2015)

    Davis, E. (2015). Techgnosis: myth, magic & mysticism in the age of information. North Atlantic Books.
  • Haunted media: Electronic presence from telegraphy to television - Jeffrey Sconce (2000)

    Sconce, J. (2000). Haunted media: Electronic presence from telegraphy to television. Duke University Press.
  • Hauntology: Ghosts of Futures Past - Merlin Coverley (2020)

    Coverley, M. (2020). Hauntology: Ghosts of Futures Past. Oldcastle Books Ltd.