For our course, DEI613: design principles and practice I, we were tasked to design an artifact or an object for a fictions world using a technique called sacrificial concepts. It was my first time hearing this term and as our professor talked about, I became intrigued and actually puzzled by it. Many questions came to my mind, what is this practice? Is it a design ritual? What is being sacrificed in the process? As I discussed it further with the professor and my team mate, the concepts started to become clearer and clearer.
What is Sacrificial Concepts?
Sacrificial concepts is a method, created by IDEO, to help designers infer meaning about the world and users they are designing for. You can think of it as a design thinking exercise. This method is widely used in media industry, game and product development. As designers and UX researchers we need to have empathy and understanding of people’s needs who can be different than us. This helps us design products/ services that meet those needs. What is the role of sacrificial concepts practice? it provides a way to gain insight and deeper understanding about the beliefs, culture, society or environment; things that are different from us. Thus, helping us tackle problems from multiple perspectives while ensuring that we develop empathy for the users or world we are designing for.
You might wonder what is being sacrificed in this process? When using this process, you come up with concepts that are raw and not necessarily feasible in that world. Those concepts function as a way to help spark discussions and conversation about that world. In other words, it works as ideas generating mechanism. As the discussion goes on, the picture becomes clearer and our understanding of the world we are designing for unfolds. As we collect the ideas and thoughts, then we can let go of the concept and focus not the design. For example, if you are going to design a school in the world of avatar movie, for example. You have to think of what things are present in a school in that world. Do they use black boards or books? Then you think how a school would fit in there? Does the Na’vi, the blue Pandora planet inhabitant, have a school system? Doe they have a written language? How do they transfer knowledge? as you continue on, you get a clearer picture how that world live and how the society interact. At the end you end up with a design idea.
The Design Challenge
The first step in our challenge was to pick a sci-fi or a fantasy movie to design for its world. I expected that we would choose planet of the apes or lord of the rings, but at the end we all agreed on avatar. Our choice was not based on the movie’s beautiful graphic or mesmerizing world. It was more based on the complexity of the of the world of planet Pandora and the society of Omatikaya. If you don’t know anything about Avatar, I advise you to read Avatar as design fiction written by my team mate Kesiena who explains about the world of avatar.
The next step, we each watched the movie individually to familiarize ourselves with the world of Pandora, build our views and to use a critical lens when observing details within the movie. Also, taking notes of possible problems or needs that are depicted in the movie or can be present in that world. Like Jake, the human protagonist in the movie, I navigated through the world of Pandora; observing and analyzing each detail. I can say that I was interested in the environment, the diverse fauna and flora, and how the Na’vi lived in harmony with their environment. because there are many interesting things in the movie, I decided focus on few points:
- The Na’vi beliefs, culture and behaviour. (are they social or individualistic)
- Their relationship to their environment.
- The tools the Na’vi are using (material used)
This helped me note details about their environment, how they interact with each other and with their environment. What is their physiology? What do they eat? Is their society primitive or sophisticated? And what is the role of the flora and fauna?
After this step, we met and watched the movie as a group. Each one of us brought their ideas and perspective that we built after the individual watching process. As we started the movie, we took notes about what we observed and we actually focused on few scenes, which we discussed deeply to help us better understand that world and its inhabitants. Although the movie was long, it was an enjoyable to watch the movie with the group and at the same time enjoying the snacks that we shared.
Then it was time for the group sacrificial concepts. We brainstormed couple of concepts from our world that are applicable in the the planet Pandora:
To stay focused on the task, we agreed on using two concepts, cooking and entertainment. Then we brainstormed ideas from our experience and life that falls under those concepts. For instance, we thought about these things when we discussed cooking:
– Cutlery/ pots/ plates
Based on those points we started to infer about the Na’vi, precisely the Omatikaya clan, and the world of Pandora. Each one of us came up with ideas which we discussed and organized them into facts, beliefs or assumptions. For instance, we discussed whether or not the Omatikaya have cutlery? What kind of food they eat? Does their diet include both meat and vegetables? How they serve the food? And do they have cooking plates? From those, then we discussed what we saw in specific scenes and using them as points to come up with facts about the Omatokaya eating habits and the tools/ materials they use.
What I like about this process is how few concepts helped us generate multiple ideas; additionally, it gave us deeper understanding about that world. Who new that we were able to figure out how the Omatikaya interacted with one another from their eating habit! or how the environment is tropical based on the how they drink water and way they collected it!
Although the process took us a lot of time, but I can say that it was a time well spent. It was a truly enlightening and interesting discussion that I enjoyed. Now our next step in the challenge is to agree on our rules and our design challenges.
After we are done, we celebrated by taking a group selfie
What will we design for the N’avi? Stay tuned for part II 😉