Brass Goggles and Lace

So I’m working on my capstone proposal, and I’m worried. I’m worried, because I’m not sure this is exactly what I’m trying to study, or if I’m letting professors put words into my mouth because it sounds good, or if I’m saying these things because I feel it’s easier to argue for them. Anyway, see below for my draft, which took far too many hours to write. I need critique!


Brass Goggles and Lace: Steampunk as a Case Study of the DIY Creative Process and the Implications for the HCI Design Process

Target group affected by study
Interaction Designers

Binaebi Akah

Description of Problem Space

Why does the do-it-yourself (DIY) movement exist? It is more convenient and possibly even more practical to buy a finished product. Yet, stores like Lowes, JoAnn Fabrics, and Hobby Lobby; television shows like Design on a Dime, Trading Spaces, and Carter Can; and websites like Design Sponge, Etsy, and Instructables, are all flourishing. Why is this? I often hear it is the economy, and this is why people are doing more on their own. This is both true and untrue… it is still much cheaper to buy clothing than to make it from a yard of fabric, for instance, and I have the receipts to prove it.I contend that a large portion of the DIY movement exists because it is in people’s nature to be creative; to want something that is personal, meaningful, unique, and with a story. But DIY itself is vast and deep; so I am focusing on Steampunk as a case study.

Steampunk has multiple connotations with fashion, fiction, music, and technological aesthetics, among others. I am focusing on the latter. The technological aesthetics of Steampunk rebel against our always-connected-with-my-super-high-tech-homogenized-gadget culture by finding inspiration in the past, specifically, the Victorian era, when industrialization did not mean homogenized yet. Why do people join this movement, and how? What is their creative process?

Why Important

My goal is to learn how and why people become involved in this movement. What is their creative process? How does it differ from traditional computer science and interaction design processes? The do-it-yourself movement is all about discovery, personal meaning, the art of craft, choice, freedom, and invention… is it possible to bring some of these traits into the interaction design process? What would this mean to human computer interaction design?


People tell stories.

People create and feel creative.

People embed objects in their personal lives.

People invest when there is a perceived benefit.


I have been reading about appropriation, the diy movement, hacking, creativity, identity, and, of course, Steampunk. This is to get a basis for definitions about creativity and the individual, and how it shapes the individual’s creative process. I have begun to involve myself in the Steampunk movement by buying the independent magazine and following the top blogs. I will conduct narrative interviews and hopefully some walkthrough probes to learn about the creative process and how these DIYers define themselves as creative individuals. I hope to attend a Steampunk convention, but that depends on availability.

Preliminary Plan

Please see here for my visual timeline.

4 thoughts on “Brass Goggles and Lace

  1. Binaebi,
    I don’t know enough about this HCI stuff to critique, but I’m very excited to see what you come up with. I also adore the sewing machine sculpture (better than anything I could hope to make) and love that you are working steampunk into multiple classes. Yay for semester themes! I’ve decided my theme for the semester is groundwater.



    1. Thanks Kate! I’m working on another ceramics project that has similar steampunk themes… I hope. It’s definitely fun and interesting to explore this appropriation space from multiple perspectives… physically by manipulating clay, and cognitively through my research.


  2. As a stempunk luvr and an HCI professional who’s alter ego is all about DIY craft, I can tell you it DOES effect my day to day. I could write a novel on what I’ve come to understand from the experience in both worlds and would be happy to talk to you about it.

    By day: ID, VisDe, Illustrator (hybrid ux designer)
    By night: fine artist painter, crafting maniac, graphic & visual arts

    A couple things I’ve learned:

    1. DIY re-humanizes you. You are more holistic in your approach to what you’re creating. You create and design with a different level of humanity in your project that you don’t often see or do when looking at a more business centered HCI project.

    2. Identity is more strongly identified in DIY. In the most basic terms, you’re often designing or creating for yourself or for a very narrow group.

    3. Steampunk has a technological aspect that is personalized and it is only the platform from which to begin. You decide where you want to go with it. It is not limiting as technology tends be when it is the focus in the HCI design process.

    Hope this helps, keep up the good work.



    1. Dee, thanks for this great reply! I completely agree that DIY re-humanizes you; by engaging materials through DIY, by being creative, you’re engaging the world. There’s a certain creative spirit during the DIY process that makes one feel connected, or so it seems to me, which is perhaps what you mean by saying “you create and design with a different level of humanity …. than when looking at a business-centered HCI project.”

      Very true, that in engaging in DIY, you are often designing for yourself. But I wonder… I mean, just because it’s DIY doesn’t mean that it is designed for the designer. Does designing for a niche market still mean you’re designing for yourself and others like you?

      I find it very interesting when you say “technology tends to be [the focus] in the HCI design process.” That is a bit worrisome, actually. Shouldn’t the human aspect in the human computer interaction design process be the focus? Why is it that we focus so much on the technology? I think this is partly why I like Steampunk; by changing the aesthetic you greatly alter the interaction. Now that it (whatever it is) looks so different, are people still able to determine what the object is used for, and how to interact with it? If that’s the case, why do we stick to “tried and true methods?” Why not experiment more? Or encourage more experimentation with our users?


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