Interview Subjects

It occurred to me that I’ve never really outlined who I hope to interview. At least, not on the blog. I’ve set up a LiveJournal account to get insight into the huge LiveJournal Steampunk community, so I’m going to post the same basic introduction here that I posted there. For posterity’s sake and all that jazz.

I’m looking to speak to the following groups of persons involved in the Steampunk culture:

  • Artist
    Skilled in imaginative, non-functioning art meant for personal satisfaction
  • Cosplayer
    Skilled in creating imaginative fashion, assuming a fictional identity while dressing the part
  • Commentator
    Interested in reporting trends, new projects; the “town criers” of the community
  • Inventor
    Skilled in imaginative, potentially functioning art meant for experimentation and/or exploration
  • Merchant
    Interested in receiving payment for services and/or products
  • Scholar
    Interested in studying the phenomenon of Steampunk itself

What is the goal?

The goal is to create a holistic academic understanding of the act of creative appropriation, specifically, how involvement with Steampunk reflects and/or influences your personal identity. A potential outcome could be a design framework to help professionals design for such opportunities.

I hope to observe and/or interview at least two-to-three persons from each of the previously mentioned categories. I hope to observe the creative practices of artists, cosplayers, and inventors. I intend to interview all categories of persons. If you happen to live within 100 miles of Bloomington, IN, I would love to observe your creative practices, if possible.

Artifact Analysis at Rate My Steampunk!

I do, in fact, have 75% of an artifact analysis (a detailed analysis) waiting in the wings. In the meantime, I’ve dumped the other artifacts I’d like to study into a public blog.

If you have some free time, help me categorize and rate the Steampunk artifacts at Rate My Steampunk!.

I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible for you. I’ve put up a rating system, and I’ve installed a plugin so you can use your existing social networking usernames.

Help me, oh mighty internet addicts. You’re my only hope.

Intentional Redesign vs Non-Intentional Design

A little while ago, Lynn told me about Design by Use because of its applicability to my capstone. I thought I’d use Siriomi Reflects to capture my notes and reflections on the matter.

Intentional Redesign and Appropriation

The authors discuss appropriation as changing the experiential meaning by its transfer to a “different cultural context” (50). They continue, “Making things your own by endowing them with personal meaning seems to be a deeply ingrained human need” (50). They talk about such things as “waste as inspiration,” and other instances where “objects are used differently from their intended purpose” (47, 35). This is different from non-intentional design (NID), because these different uses are not based in “situational use” but rather consistently misused, as it were (35).

Non-intentional Design

The authors go into this idea of non-intentional design by observing “similar forms are used for the same purpose even if they were not created to fulfill the same function” (55). For instance, using a butter knife, keys, etc, to open a letter. They therefore say that “form follows use” rather than the adage “form follows function” (55).

This is a big difference, because function implies the designer’s intended use, versus the user’s actual use of the object. “Use implies choice” (56). I think my favorite line in this book is:

If, in the spirit of NID, things are used for purposes other than they were intended for, this is not due to a misinterpretation of their original function, but is instead rooted in our ability to see beyond this and discover abstract or open forms.


While this book focuses on appropriations defined by non-intentional design, i.e. using a radiator to dry a pair of wet shoes, etc, I still found it interesting. My appropriations are related more to the intentional redesign, or intentional use that is other than the use intended by the artifact’s designer. This could mean the functional use of the artifact, or the aesthetic use of the artifact, which changes the interaction/experience.

I hope this post makes sense. I’ve been completely knocked out by a sinus-cold-thing the last couple of days. This is my first true day of lucidity. Yay me!


  1. Brandes, U., Stitch, S., and Wender, M. 2008. Design by use: the everyday metamorphosis of things. Birkhouser, Boston, Mass.

Light-bulb Moments

Things have been pretty hectic around here, but somehow I still manage to make progress on my capstone. I love having conversations with the people in my program because the most interesting points come up.

Creativity isn’t consistent

I had lunch with Chad Camara one day, and we got into this conversation about creativity. He mentioned that even though we are both creative, he sees our creativity as being very different. Mainly, that mine is extremely personal. I write stories that reflect some deep belief or question that I have. I paint, draw, dance, sing, sketchnote, and create objects from clay.

I write this because it seems that my intrinsically personal creativity is a huge part of my self-perception and identity. If I can’t be creative, I feel lost. In the same way, if I can’t appropriate something into my world so that it feels personal to me, I don’t care about it. So that’s food for thought.

Getting push-back

I had a design session with my roommate, Lynn, and she had the brilliant idea of looking at how people look at objects. She made the point that I see everything as a potential building material to make something else… which she simply doesn’t do.

Nov 5, 2009: Lynn Dombrowski suggests that I do a design exercise where I take people to Goodwill, etc, and ask people what they would do with the objects they find. Will they see built/”finished” materials as components of new projects?

It has since occurred to me that not only do I learn from what they choose, but also what they don’t choose. As in, what do I see as building materials, and why don’t they see them that way?

Nov 8, 2009: Rachel Bolton asks me questions that stump me, only because all my information is stuffed somewhere in an inaccessible part of my brain. Her questions, however, start a subtle thought-chain which eventually lead me to my light bulb moment.

  1. What makes the steampunk appropriation unique… what are the
    specific implications for HCI?
  2. What makes the creative/identity rewards of appropriation
    (specifically steampunk?) different from other identity-forming
    endeavors like sports?  Is it the process, the materials, the people
    that are attracted to it?

Because I find I have difficulty answering these questions, I begin to wonder if it’s so smart to be studying steampunk in the first place. I love the topic, I find it fascinating, but really, what does it mean for HCI? I asked for push-back from Rachel, and she gave it to me, and I had no answer. Sigh.

Class Exercise

On Tuesday, Nov 10, we were required to bring our sketches in for discussion in small groups. Because I’m doing a research capstone, I was a bit stumped. I’m not sketching, at least not in the visual sense. So I brought in my pseudo-affinity diagram, pictured below.

Poster of Themes and Questions

So I threw it up on the wall with all the other sketches.

Sketching Exercise

Sketching Exercise

During this exercise, we had groups of four-to-five students. We walked to our different sketches and discussed the purpose of them, etc. My group was awesome with feedback. CJ Page admitted that he doesn’t appropriate anything at all, which just boggles my mind. I appropriate almost everything that comes into my life, in some form or another. It’s my way of engaging with the world. Which struck me as a worrying point while CJ spoke.

Light-bulb moment

That night after capstone, I climbed into bed with a frown. Something was off, I realized, in how I was approaching this entire research project. It wasn’t until about eleven at night that I had my epiphany.

You see, I had a dream about capstone. Specifically, a dream in which I realized my case study group (steampunks) don’t have to be my target user group. At first, I stayed in bed, repeating that mantra to myself: “Case study doesn’t equal target user.” I quickly became paranoid that I would forget the epiphany by morning’s light. So I grabbed my whiteboard markers and attacked my unsuspecting whiteboard for about two hours.

Sketching Exercise

I’m feeling pretty good about this direction. I feel like I have an idea of how I can apply the literature and my own experiences, compare them to the experiences of people who don’t do such things, and see what we can learn. Now if I could only find the time… and get some sleep!

Making my thoughts tangible

Over the weekend, I threw together some sticky notes, as mentioned in my status report. This has been extremely helpful for me to get some of my thoughts out without censoring myself, which is great. When my thoughts are hidden in my head, they’re locked in a black box. When thrown out onto sticky notes? I can move them around, create associations, transcribe the ideas into a meaningful post on a blog, etc.

Theories, Concepts, Issues and Questions
Theories, Concepts, Issues and Questions

Above, is a photo of the wall above my bed. The orange notes are my questions, the blue notes are questions that are explicit from the papers I’ve been reading, and the fuchsia are the theoretical concepts, theories, and issues that I’ve determined from my papers. Continue reading

HCI’s Appropriation of Appropriation

Well, it’s about 1:30 in the morning, so of course I’m working on capstone and have to blog about it. In reference to my former post about appropriation, where I discussed the common definition of the word, I thought it high time I also discuss the ACM’s definition of appropriation. I do this with the hopes that I will determine a working definition of appropriation and what it means to my capstone.

I have determined two categories from the six papers I found in the ACM Digital Library that specifically discuss appropriation: temporal experience and adaptability. The categories and provided definitions don’t seem to stray too far from the common definitions, except that they are applied to technology and our relationship with it. That said, I would be interested to read papers from the psychology tradition to know if the definition alters at all. I suppose it might/must.

Appropriation as temporal experience

Based on my readings from Adhe, McCarthy and Wright, and Wakkary and Maestri, one can think of appropriation as the amount of time spent with an object. All three papers suggest that there must be some sort of meaningful interaction or experience with the object. Adhe suggests the interaction/experience needs to be positive, whereas the other two papers make no distinction.

According to Adhe (1), the “appropriation process is part of a biography of goods. It is part of the biography of the products from the moment of purchase.” He goes on to say that  “the process of appropriation requires pleasurable experiences with the product.”

McCarthy and Wright (4) seem to have a similar definition, saying that appropriation means “making an experience our own by relating it to our sense of self, our personal history, and our anticipated future.”

Wakkary and Maestri (6) reference McCarthy and Wright by saying “we mean the remaking of something through a use that becomes personal, framed within our understanding of our situation and our anticipated future.”

Appropriation as adaptability

I don’t want to say that the following quotations are in contrast to appropriation as temporal experience. It seems to me that appropriation as adaptability and as temporal experience are inextricably intertwined. At the same time, however, their motivations are slightly different. One can’t learn to adapt an object without spending time with it, and without having an experience which suggests adaptation is an option.

Anyway, Dix (2) says:

“These improvisations and adaptations around technology are not a sign of failure, things the designer forgot, but show that the technology has been domesticated, that the users understand and are comfortable enough with the technology to use it in their own ways. At this point we know that technology has become the users’ own, not simply what the designer gave to them. This is appropriation.”

March, Jacobs, and Salvador (3) say that their focus for appropriation is on “openness, transparency and adaptability.” Similarly, Salovaara (5) says appropriation is when “users invent ways to use technology for purposes that they had not been considered before.”

So what do I think?

Well, first off, I don’t think you have to have a positive experience in order to appropriate something. I think that a positive experience helps, for sure. But I think one can appropriate something even under negative circumstances. For instance, how many of us hold on to our lemon cars, perhaps, because of memorable road trips with family/friends, etc? Maybe it’s the first car we ever learned to drive, even though the bottom’s basically rusted out now. It doesn’t matter if the car is decrepit, in our minds, it’s still that shiny car our parents gave to us.

In that way, it seems I agree with McCarthy and Wright in saying that appropriation is when we “relate [the object] to our sense of self, our personal history.” It seems to me that in order to appropriate, the object must become a part of one’s personal narrative. And how does one do that, exactly? Because it isn’t enough to simply bring the object into one’s life… that’s not appropriation, that’s possession.

Appropriation, then, is when one uses the object “in their own way,” as according to Dix. It is when one “adapts,” as per March, Jacobs, and Salvador, the object to one’s life/task/style/etc. I especially like Salovaara’s idea of appropriation, where it’s about using the object for something it hadn’t been “considered before.”


Meaning that, by looking at the ACM definitions of appropriation, I think of it as adapting an object to oneself in a way that not only redefines the object, but also relates the object to one’s sense of self.

This relates back to my previous post, where I highlighted specific common definitions of appropriation, pulling out the following keywords and phrases:

  • To set apart for or assign to a particular purpose or use (Merriam-Webster).
  • To make (a thing) the private property of any one, to make it over to him as his own; to set apart (Oxford English Dictionary).

Excellent. So there you have it. My (current) understanding and working definition of appropriation. All of this might change, though, if I read something that truly ignites a spark in me. But in the meantime, this is what I will be using as my definition.


  1. Ahde, P. 2007. Appropriation by adornments: personalization makes the everyday life more pleasant. In Proceedings of the 2007 Conference on Designing Pleasurable Products and interfaces (Helsinki, Finland, August 22 – 25, 2007). DPPI ’07. ACM, New York, NY, 148-157.
  2. Dix, A. 2007. Designing for appropriation. In Proceedings of the 21st British HCI Group Annual Conference on HCI 2008: People and Computers Xxi: Hci..But Not As We Know It – Volume 2 (University of Lancaster, United Kingdom, September 03 – 07, 2007). British Computer Society Conference on Human-Computer Interaction. British Computer Society, Swinton, UK, 27-30.
  3. March, W., Jacobs, M., and Salvador, T. 2005. Designing technology for community appropriation. In CHI ’05 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Portland, OR, USA, April 02 – 07, 2005). CHI ’05. ACM, New York, NY, 2126-2127.
  4. McCarthy, J. and Wright, P. 2004. Technology as experience. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  5. Salovaara, A. 2009. Studying appropriation of everyday technologies: a cognitive approach. In Proceedings of the 27th international Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Boston, MA, USA, April 04 – 09, 2009). CHI EA ’09. ACM, New York, NY, 3141-3144.
  6. Wakkary, R. and Maestri, L. 2007. The resourcefulness of everyday design. In Proceedings of the 6th ACM SIGCHI Conference on Creativity &Amp; Cognition (Washington, DC, USA, June 13 – 15, 2007). C&C ’07. ACM, New York, NY, 163-172.

How I Found Steampunk

I don’t remember when I first heard about steampunk. I feel like it was a couple of years ago, when I was heavily embroiled in historical research for my novel. I was looking for exemplars for book covers, and potential artists to design mine. I stumbled upon a Deviant Art profile, I remember that much for sure. I quite literally geeked out about the clothing the actors wore in the photos, and the wonderful framing. I thought they were reenactors, a là The American Civil War or something similar. But the clothing was incorrect for my assumed time period to explain the photos, so I began to read the descriptions. “Steampunks” it declared. I was hooked.

But even though I was hooked, I didn’t really pursue it. It wasn’t my focus at the time. I was looking for people to provide inspiration for a book cover, nothing more. So I put it aside and continued on my merry way.

The Three Sisters, it seems, had other plans for me.

Weren’t you going to do something with nurses?

This past summer, I began some preliminary research for my capstone. I wanted to do something with nurses and technology… something that bridged the gap so that nurses could spend more time with the patient, and less time fiddling with a beeping computer. The topic was interesting. It was important. It didn’t spark my passion. So I thought perhaps it was about the nurses’ relationship with their technology. Maybe I could help them like the technology they’re forced to use by their administration. But how to do that?

Appropriation. I thought if I could help the nurses appropriate their technology, then maybe that would ease the pain of learning a new system. Reading about appropriation was far more interesting than about nurses, and there were more papers available to read, anyway. I began to wonder what sort of exemplars I could grab to showcase unique appropriations.

From mere exemplars to central focus

It was about this time that Dane wrote a post that sparked my interest. The comments to that post consisted of us joking that we would take over the world using a fleet of zeppelins, with our brass goggles gleaming in the sunlight and our scarves flowing “majestically,” I think was the word I used, as we floated toward triumph. This was the first time I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun if I dressed up as steampunk for Halloween?”

With images of brass and wood machinery, steam and goggles, lace and grommets, all swirling in my head, somehow, in the raging mind storm, the word “appropriation!” burst through. I distinctly remember saying to my laptop, “Oh. Steampunk! Duh.”

Getting serious about having fun

Thus began my hunt. I went to Wikipedia to find a general definition. I searched the web for images of technology and clothing. I found blogs to follow and an independent magazine to buy. I embraced the visual aesthetic and used it to inspire my works for ceramics. In class, people joked about my wearing steampunk for my capstone presentation, and I joked along with them.

But it isn’t a joke anymore. Somewhere along the way, I realized I could pull it off. Not only can I probably pull off a steampunk costume, but I already have most of the components hanging innocently in my closet. I have enough exemplars from searching Flickr groups to know the general look. I have the artistic skills to potentially make a pair of cheap safety goggles look steampunkish. I even have a preliminary sketch (above). I’m really excited. I love art projects, they make me feel creative, and engaged with my materials.

Getting systematic

When I mentioned to Shaowen that I’m planning on going steampunk for Halloween, thinking it would be another way to experience steampunk, she told me that was a valid form of research. This was great, because I thought it was just something fun. Sweet! She mentioned autoethnography, and that it’s like ethnography, but using the self as a participant as a part of the study. Where ethnography tries to bring the viewpoint of the “native” into focus, and represent that experience faithfully, autoethnography assumes that the observer cannot be impartial, and that these partial observations are as valid as the impartial ethnographer’s observations.

Shaowen wants me to be very systematic in how I go about reflecting as an autoethnographer. To be honest, though, I felt uncomfortable jumping in headfirst like that. She wanted me to say what sort of information I’m going to gather, when, and why; what do I hope to learn? I felt like I couldn’t do that without having  a better understanding of autoethnography… so tonight I read two papers* that inspired me so much, that I sketched a page of notes, began to get a feel for the sort of information I want to gather/look for, and began writing this post.

Why do you always write at night?

That is such a good question. It’s plagued me since I was young. Most of my best ideas, for fiction anyway, come at 2 AM. I am both excited for and dreading the moment when that begins for capstone, because I will never get a solid night’s sleep again, and I am already exhausted. I should be asleep… I was in bed two hours ago! Yet here I am at midnight, feverishly writing while my bloodshot eyes manage to stay open.

Anyway, as I continue my (perhaps) more formal research, my next step for the autoethnography is to list out a couple different categories of data I want to collect, why I want to collect them, and what information I hope to learn from them. I’ll begin to formally document my iterations on my Halloween costume, and continue blogging. I’m still looking for my definition of appropriation, with the added question of why is this so important to me.

So much to do, so little time, way too much fun.

* Duncan’s Autoethnography: Critical Appreciation of an Emerging Art, and Spry’s Performing Ethnography: An Embodied Methodological Praxis

Cuz We Are Living in a Material World

So this past week, I’ve been trying to follow the advice of one of my professors, Shaowen Bardzell, about how to narrow the scope of my capstone. Yes, I like the idea of appropriation (why do we personalize the things we do, and what does it mean?). Yes, I love Steampunk. But what is it about these topics, and how can I make them relate to HCI?

Well. I’ve been reading articles from ACM this week on the following suggested topics:

  • DIY
  • Craft
  • Creativity
  • Narrative
  • Material Culture

They were all interesting, but one stood out: DIY. This makes complete sense to me. I’ve always been a crafter, and this past summer especially I reignited my passion for crafting (take a glance at my Flickr to see what I mean). Anyway, I found an article on IKEA Hacking with a sentence that literally made me say “Oh my God. That’s it.” It talks about the growing “intersection between online culture and the material world of creative practitioners,” and that “creativity and identity are transforming through the merging of online and material culture.”

I love this because I am all about materiality. I am a tactile person, and love using my hands. I’m frustrated with the flat touchscreen obsession riding the technology wave… I like buttons! I like not having to look at my mp3 player when I want to skip a song, or my phone when I’m making a call. I have fingers, they have sensors, I want to use them to their full extent.

But not only that, I also feel I’m a part of this culture. I do T-shirt surgeries, but I didn’t know they were called that until I found the LiveJournal community. Watching that community inspires me, and sometimes I post my own creations to it. Would I continue my crafting without this community? Definitely. But does it make me feel like I’m part of something a little bigger? Yes, which is cool. Same thing goes with my furniture refurbishing, or my art pieces, etc.

Anyway, I emailed my professor asking if we can talk about this topic and she seems pretty excited! Which is awesome, because I feel like I’m getting somewhere with this crazy topic. And, to help with research, I bought every available issue of the indie Steampunk Magazine… along with their guide to surviving the apocalypse.

Moral of the story: Research is fun.