Pushing the Boundaries

The following is an excerpt from our forthcoming publication Viewfinders: Thoughts on Visual Design Research (2016).

Visual design research is relatively young, making it ripe for exploration and experimentation as it continues to grow and develop. We look at how film and photography can be used to share another’s story and experiences, allowing us as design researchers to empathise and step into their shoes. What happens when we push the boundaries of our existing approaches to visual design research with lm and photography? There’s plenty of room for experimentation with both technology and methods.

At STBY we’ve found using auto-ethnography to be a valuable way for participants to share their experiences with us. As participants are responsible themselves for capturing and sharing, it gives creative authorship, an opportunity to share their stories in a personal way and time to think and reflect on these experiences. Mobile diary study platforms like NativeEye provide a way to carry out auto-ethnography through a mobile app on one’s smartphone.We recently used NativeEye, asking participants to respond to questions over three weeks. Some questions were more akin to tasks, for example asking participants to take a selfie when they felt a certain way and share the reason with us. Receiving visual material in addition to text helped paint a richer picture of a participant, serving as valuable material to review with them when we met later on for interviews.

With the proliferation of wearable cameras, where can we take visual design research next? Experimental projects in this space tackle technology, research methods, or both. In 2005, Microsoft Research made its first SenseCam available, a wearable ‘black box’ camera that took a photo every 30 seconds.The project paved the way for research using automated wearable cameras and showed its value and applicability in various contexts, from aiding with memory loss to ‘lifelogging’.

Showing the evolution of ‘lifelogging’ cameras from 1998 to 2013 (left to right).


Our auto-cam project at STBY in collaboration with Goldsmiths’ Interaction Research Studio looked at how automated point-of-view photography can push visual design research forward.The Interaction Research Studio is currently working on their own project, developing DIY research tool kits incorporating technological devices, allowing design researchers to combine components for a tailored tool to their particular research. With wearable cameras and sensors on accessories like watches, helmets and glasses, projects like Nikon Asia’s Heartography show that nearly anyone can be a photographer now — even dogs. If a dog can wear a camera with built-in sensors, could it be a participant in design research? A design researcher?

Samsung's 'smart' contact lens is envisioned as a soft lens that would feel no different from wearing an everyday, disposable lens.
Samsung’s ‘smart’ contact lens is envisioned as a soft lens that would feel no different from wearing an everyday, disposable lens.


We often take individuals as the starting point for our design research, capturing and collecting in-depth material from each participant, followed by synthesis and analysis. MIT Media Lab’s ‘Socioscope’ takes human networks as its starting point instead, capitalising on the potential that wearable sensors provide for tracking and mapping larger groups of people, and therefore larger, more complex data sets. Samsung is working on a ‘smart’ contact lens that could constantly capture visual data. When we capture everything, how do we then make sense of a gigantic amount of visual information? Future experimentation within visual design research will have to address the ever-increasing complexity of visual analysis, as changing technology enables more frequent and various forms of visual material to be captured and shared.


Nativeye (2014). How it works. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from: http://nativeye.com/how-it-works.

Microsoft Research. (2013). SenseCam Overview. Retrieved May 19, 2016 from: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/ cambridge/projects/sensecam/.

Nikon Asia. (n/d). Heartography. Retrieved May 19, 2016 from http://heartography.nikon-asia.com/.

Pentland, A. (2006). Are We One? On the Nature of Human Intelligence. In International Conference on Development and Learning. Bloomington, IN, May 31 – June 3 2006. MA:The MIT Media Lab.

Yadron, D. (2016). Samsung patent reveals ‘smart’ contact
lens with built-in camera. Retrieved June 8, 2016 from: www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/06/samsung-smart- contact-lens-camera-patent

Image Credits

rwilco12. (2016). Samsung Files Patent for Smart Contact Lenses [digital image]. Retrieved from epicdroid.com/2016/04/Samsung-Files-Patent- Smart-Contact-Lenses/

Softpedia. (2016). Samsung’s smart contact lens blueprints [digital image]. Retrieved from news.softpedia.com/ news/samsung-receives-patent- for-smart-contact-lens-502652. shtml#sgal_0

Glogger (2013). Evolution of the lifelogging lanyard camera [digital image]. Retrieved from: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifelog#/ media/File:LifeGlogging_ cameras_1998_2004_2006_2013_ labeled.jpg