Artifacts of Interaction: design research proposals

Meme me

A cultural commentary realized through interaction, and one designed around the framework of an entertainment experience.

Memes, in the form of captions on a select handful of images, are an inherently participatory phenomena. A user selects from a handful of images with strong cultural connotations and then expresses, through that meme’s archetype, their thoughts and anecdotes.

The term also describes wider forms of Internet-based subculture. Some that are scripted and repeatable, or emergent and absurd. But all memes are an expression of old behaviors in a different cultural context.

Why collect a wall of memes?

First because memes matter (see Luckett and Dennett). They are often very short lived, and so any collection of them would become a snapshot of an almost exact moment in history. Next, because memes, if not largely enjoyable, are at least infectious. Meme was a term originally coined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene to describe thoughts that are able to self-propagate through a population and which are also honed by that population into more “virulent” forms.

Harambe memes are an example of this, and they dominated 2016. Once disassociated from the tragic events in Cincinnati, the word itself became a means for discussing race relations and the popular media, as well as an explosively infectious and inherently meaningless form of meta-humor­ — laughter because people won’t stop laughing.

This is the key part in the belief that such an installation could be successful. Happenstance alone cannot ensure a meaningful level of participation. In order to research design in environmental and participatory installations, participants must be willing and gain some value from it. With Meme Me, the enjoyment comes from the absurdity.

Meme Me is designed to be a novel, absurd, and sharable experience.

This is done in light of the goals of the project and the constraints and considerations of the site.

First, the installation collects graffiti. It is this interaction that houses the design experiments and challenges. The immediate hurdle for any interactive site is getting people interested at all, but the next are directing those interactions and accounting for bad behavior.“Meme Me” takes those bad behaviors on the nose. It is presented as an art installation in order to disguise its utility as design research to uncover the ways participants might subvert, spoil, or diminish such interactions. And asking people to graffiti memes is, unquestionably, a provocation — there are ones for hate speech, like “Hitler did nothing wrong” and “Pepe,” and their use ranges from absurd, dark humor to genuine expressions of hateful bigotry.

Study tips

An installation about sharing, taking, and leaving your mark.

​Study Tips” combines a bulletin board concept with constructive disassembly as an interactive component.

The installation encourages the public to take pieces, move others around, and leave behind messages. In this, is the design experiment and part social experience. The notion being tested is if such artifacts will influence further participation.

Popular distributions demonstrate a trend in human behavior, where success is heavily influenced by the reactions of other people. This study would look into how “seeding” influences participation rates.

Constructive disassembly and artifacts of interaction

The interactions in this plan give students an opportunity to share advice and ideas — and a chance to observe if and how participants voice humor or cynicism. This last point is important, because, as with the Meme Me installation, it requires significant forethought to mitigate trolling and undesired outcomes.

Since the installation would be in place throughout the last month of the semester, while students are preparing for exams and finals, it presents a timely opportunity to talk about studying. Good working and studying habits are often unintuitive, such as the advice that shorter studying sessions with more time between them increases memory retention. They can also be novel and incredibly personalized, and these tips are the true goal of such a collection.

Here, a passerby is prompted to remove a pencil which leaves behind the loose string holding it. They then write a piece of study advice on the provided paper, and finally to hang the paper at the end of the wall. The loose string and written notes become the artifacts of those interactions, and further invite participation with the site.