When toys come to life

Jan 18, 2021

Zaman, B., Van Mechelen, M., & Bleumers, L. (2018). When toys come to life: Considering the internet of toys from an animistic design perspective. Proceedings of the 17th ACM Conference on Interaction Design and Children, 170–180. https://doi.org/10.1145/3202185.3202745

This paper does a traditional as well as an animistic analysis of three different toy prototypes. Especially the thematic analyis as well as it’s basis on the Betti Marenko’s paper on neo-animism in design is of interest.

The research presented in the paper leaves missing any notion of things having soul, spririt, conciousness, etc. The analysis works solely with the notion of agency. This is no necessarily the notion of animism I want to work with, but the analysis presented is very interested. Agency is in line with perceiving something as animated, physically or epistemologically.

The meaning of the Bracelet is incomplete when children do not co-construct its significance, which signifies the embodied nature of animistic design and echoes [23:228] statement that agency in animistic designs is not something that objects have, but only exists in relation to its user(s) or in its encounters with other things and data.

I’m not quite sure, if I would agree with this statement, following Vibrant Matter1, but it’s certainly valid from a interaction design perspective. Things can have agency without our doing, but we can perceive them as such much better if we’re integrated in the interaction.

Especially four concepts were of importance in the animistic analysis:

Following Betti Marenko on neo-animism, these are the core factors of animistic design. While agency, embodiement and ecology are more common in the posthuman discourses, uncertainity is not. She worked on this in the research project Animistic design: how to reimagine digital interaction between the human and the nonhuman2. Uncertainity is opposed by the more tradition UX pattern of command-response, and is deemed a core quality of animisitic design. The interaction is not predefined, but overshadow by uncertainity. The answer is not necessarily being predictable.

Reading this paper, not finding any animistic weak signals in the interaction with the voice assistants is understandable.