Investigation I - That Which is Hidden

Investigation I: That Which is Hidden

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 short rapid explorations of a theme, idea or theory. Because of being remote for the first two weeks, our first investigation will be a really rapid one week exercise.

In this investigation, we’ll think about how many aspects of everyday technologies are hidden from plain sight: from their operation, to their infrastructures and their effects. We’ll examine how the complexity of current systems defy explainability and lead to breakdowns in interpretability. 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 designed artifacts (technologies, renderings, etc) might allow us to create encounters that could be difficult to explain or appear otherworldly.

Learning goals

This investigation is designed to surface some early stage ideas of what we’ll respond to throughout the rest of this course, give you an opportunity to showcase existing skills for making and designing technological artefacts, and get familiar with how spookiness can potentially be explored with new forms of ubiquitous, physical and tangible computing. As part of this exercise, you will:

  • Develop your understanding of 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

  • Identify issues with the complexity and scale of everyday systems and connected technologies.

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

  • Develop an 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 quick creative project. Using your research, you’ll develop your own ‘prototype’ and experiment with spooky technologies by preparing a designed artifact.

Specificially, this module will formally introduce themes surrounding ‘That Which is Hidden’ and the intersection of ubiquituous computing and explainability. To do this, we’ll examine the spoooky technology design research project — and the examples it contains — in detail. We’ll tour case studies from the book, be joined by guest lecturers to discuss topics, and surface questions of interest to you.


Date Type Description
Tues, Jan 18 Intro Introduction to Spooky Technology
Thur, Jan 20 Cases Course Logistics. Introductions from Students through Examples.
Tues, Jan 25 Guest Guest Speaker: Dan Lockton. What Ifs
Thur, Jan 27 Work Think Piece Review. Work Session - Feedback on Concepts
Tues, Feb 1 Review Screening of creative project.
Prepare a 2 minute video.

Deliverables and Deadlines

Due Date Deliverable Details
Thursday, Jan 20 Intro/Case Introductions: What’s spooky about technology today?
Thur, Jan 27 Think Piece Research a think piece on that which is hidden on Slack in #thinkpieces.
Tue, Feb 1 Project Present your prototype in class as a 2 min video.
Wed, Feb 2 Documentation Deliver documentation of your creative project

Think Piece

That Which is Hidden: To help prepare for your project, research and report on a topic directly related to the themes of the module: explainability and complexity of systems; magical thinking; hidden work, economies, infrastructures, or effects, etc; etc. Prepare 500-750 words (max) in a short essay on a topic of interest that elaborates a critical point of view, raises a question, or provoke conversation. Read the full description.

Creative Project

Explore a spooky line of design inquiry that reveals an aspect of a system that is hidden. Make (an aspect of) a hidden system visible, tangible, perceivable, or discussable through a designed artifact. Read the full brief.


Review For Class

Thursday, Jan 20 Excerpts from Spooky Technology (forthcoming). Essay: ‘That which is hidden’
Thursday, Jan 25 Excerpts from Spooky Technology (forthcoming). Essay: ‘Far away is close at hand’


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.



  • 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).


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

  • 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.