In a world where innovation is often characterized by rapid iteration and change, William Odom likes to take things slow. Fascinated by technology that positively shapes the human condition, the design researcher uses slowness as a metaphor for framing and developing interaction design. As a Assistant Professor at the Simon Fraser University School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Odom investigates both the process and the underlying design strategy behind creating technologies that could have a more meaningful, longer-term place in people’s everyday lives.
Upon earning his degrees in Informatics and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Odom began to explore how people develop personal attachments to certain material objects as compared with interactive technologies. In the process, he obtained his Master’s in Human-Computer Interaction Design from Indiana University and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Griffith University Queensland College of Art. In 2014, Odom completed his Doctorate in Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University.
Designing for a longer-term place
According to Odom, the Digital Age has brought about a massive production and accumulation of data. These digital archives contain information bearing some personal significance such as photos, videos and music. Unlike material possessions, digital collections can be aggregated in a seemingly boundless virtual space, which can make it difficult for people to curate, safe keep or even dispossess these items. With thousands of digital possessions at our disposal, Odom inquires as to how we can engage with these things in rich ways over time.
“How do we create technologies that might manifest or embody these digital collections in ways that might be meaningful to people,” Odom asks, “not just immediately or in the moment but also in terms of crafting a longer-term place for them in people’s intimate settings and everyday lives?”
As a Design United Research Fellow, Odom continues to develop his line of inquiry with students and design researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology. During his visit, Odom collaborated with students to produce a form-family of slow interaction design artifacts, which was exhibited at Dutch Design Week 2015. The challenge was to devise methods that bring form to computational things that both are meaningful and rich in aesthetic.
A plurality of outcomes
Despite initiating numerous slow interaction design research projects, Odom admits that there is no catch-all solution in fostering long-term engagement with digital things. Nevertheless, he considers these multiple outcomes as a hallmark of design research.
“I think that’s one of the really exciting and interesting things about being in design research, the fact that the things you produce can have these multiple outcomes and raise dialogues across different kinds of communities.”
Odom maintains that design should ultimately benefit the human condition. Since contemporary consumer technology is being driven by the creation of objects marked by efficiency and functionality, the researcher is concerned about humanity’s place within the many competing visions of the future.
“It feels like design in general is inundated with so much rhetoric around all these wild visions of what the future could be and I think what we should really watch out for is how we remain human in all of that.”