Sm<3 Phone: A Catalog of Provocations

by ehauber

This work has been commented by 1 curator(s). Read the comments


Sm<3 Phone: A Catalog of Provocations


Making our Mobile Experiences Sm(heart)er

Concept author(s)

Erin Hauber

Concept author year(s) of birth


Concept author(s) contribution

Erin Hauber is the researcher, author and designer of every aspect of this work.

Concept author(s) Country

United States of America

Other author(s)

Denise Gonzales Crisp

Other author(s) contribution

Thesis Chair and editor of the writing.

Other author(s) Country

United States of America

Friendly Competition

Radical intimacies: dialogue in our times (2014)

Competition category

Visual communication practice

Competition subcategory


Competition field


Competition subfield


Subfield description

My submission constitutes a portion of my thesis work while I was a master of graphic design candidate at North Carolina State University. I currently work as a user experience designer and educator at IBM Design.

Check out the Radical intimacies: dialogue in our times 2014 outlines of Memefest Friendly competition.

Description of idea

Describe your idea and concept of your work in relation to the festival outlines:

"Sm<3 Phone: A Catalog of Provocations" is a companion publication to my Master of Graphic Design thesis "Extending and Enhancing Meaningful Conversation." The catalog features fictional products, the imagined voice of each product’s user and a design principle each product embodies. This work is directly related to the topic of “Radical Intimacies” because its purpose is to inspire software and app designers to imagine and build more heartfelt and authentic interfaces and interactions that enable people to engage in meaningful conversation* with their closest friends and family.

The principles (referred to as "mandates" in the Catalog): Design for Devotion; Disrupt Delightfully; Embrace Seamfulness. Interactional Friction Enables Conscious Action; Make Personal Actions Feel More Intimate; Give Emotional Weight to Irreversible Destruction; Cherish the Whole Rather than Promote the Fragment; Opting out Should be a Constructive Act

*meaningful conversation: Not casual, a conversation where self-disclosure takes place (Przybylski and Weinstein 2012).

What kind of communication approach do you use?

The product proposals in the Catalog are not apps for conversation. Instead, they are rhetorical. They rely on social psychologists’ findings that feeling close escalates intimacy and results in more meaningful conversation. The proposals question the means by which we connect and converse today, and provide mandates to design more affective networked experiences. The speculative proposals are presented as pages from a pamphlet with "Sm<3 Phone Mandates" any designer may choose to follow. Opportunities exist to design alternative experiences for young women, interfaces and functions that create conditions where meaningful conversation is more likely to occur. The Catalog includes a poster of the design mandates as its cover. This poster can be separated from from the publication and used as a propaganda-like broadcast tool.

What are in your opinion concrete benefits to the society because of your communication?

The Catalog of provocations invites other user experience designers to align the products and experiences they design more deliberately with user’s communication goals—especially if those goals are not “efficiency” and “speed.”

Disturbingly, research suggests that the array of social apps inside my smart phone, are shaping me. Like a dishwasher or an oven, these apps are tools for helping me get things done. With each, I perform a singular communication task, or closely related set of tasks, to generate or respond to bits and fragments of conversation with my social network (Gaver, Martin, and College 2000, 209). Most appliances, however, don’t interact with my personhood as dramatically as Facebook or Twitter. I am in danger when I mindlessly interact with apps in the same way I do household appliances. The habits I form using them affect my relationships with the people I care about.

Additionally, these apps are effective only when my communication goals match those determined by software makers. In general, interface design is aimed at universally maximizing my communication potential by connecting me to more people, more quickly, and more efficiently—a value system imported from the workplace. Broadcasting content using communication apps is “easy.” But what if I don’t want to talk to everyone in the same way?

Surely there is another way. The proposals in Sm<3 Phone: A Catalog of Provocations ask “What if the experience of talking to the people that matter most feels different: more meaningful and intimate?” Each mandate provides a starting point or new lens to apply to a designer’s work.

What did you personally learn from creating your submitted work?

The first person fictions I authored to accompany the products are based on rich personas are based on real people, communicating real content in actual contexts. They resulted from extensive primary (interviews and a survey of over 100 unique participants) and secondary research . The empathy I developed for each persona grew as I refined and revised her voice, an unexpected experience that yielded stronger and more credible work. That empathy drove my effort to take action on my research findings and design “solutions.” In that design work I also discovered a love of rapid, paper prototyping and honed my critical design voice.

Why is your work, GOOD communication WORK?

The Catalog does not attempt to introduce another set of unneeded and mindless app solutions. Instead, its fictions inspire and persuade people—designers—to join in to imagine “What if …?” or “What else …?” by pointing to people, their needs and new possibilities.

Where and how do you intent do implement your work?

In a sense, I have already implemented aspects of this work. First, I became a user experience designer at IBM Design where I design software products with a dedication to a people-centered approach. Since I also seek to inspire UX designers like me to rethink the communication experiences they design, I have performed readings of a several of these provocation at IBM Design, DesignInquiry and North Carolina State University as well as distributed the publication for free. My hope for MemeFest is much the same.

Did your intervention had an effect on other Media. If yes, describe the effect? (Has other media reported on it- how? Were you able to change other media with your work- how?)

I submitted the work for 2013 How Interactive Design in a student category and won. In addition, my graduate program at NC State has used my work as an example of another means to approach User Experience Design (from a critical perspective) but I’d love to see the work take on a life of its own in practitioner circles.

Curators Comments

Roderick Grant

I'm immediately reminded of Rebecca Mendez, and her 1996 work Mediated Eros - - an attempt to invest the machine with a ghost. What was affecting with that work was the aspect of haptic touch, of getting a sense mediated through a screen. I think what comes through in this work Sm<3 Phone, is not only affect, but effect as well. The rhetorical devices work well to undermine and redirect specific aspects of communication that could benefit from subtle to significant rethinking. Pulse in particular made me think of the Mendez work, but its the collection start to finish that holds true to an overarching theme of deeper connection and meaning in contemporary communication.

The formal qualities of the catalogue itself play with notions of an illuminated manuscript, an illustrated codex, both held together with the casual tone of an instructional guide. Again, the themes are brought together by strong rhetorical play, and a very well intentioned and executed link between the physical, the digital and the verbal. Luum also performs very well, as it is the interaction, the act of weaving that allows specific combinations of media linked to a specific person that keep the weave intact. As the digital is identified in the codex as being both lacking the intelligence and materiality to sustain specific qualities of human-ness, Luum in particular calls forward the notion of tending to an ecosystem of memories, of maintaining, pruning, and tending a digital presence.

In the rich and growing tradition of critical work from RCA and other programs, my questions have less to do with the solid foundation of this work, and more to do with next steps - where can the work go?

Would actual physical prototypes of these objects or interfaces, complete with their own communicative packaging be a useful venture?

In the same light, could this document become animate, allowing the designer to deal with imbuing each rhetorical device with behaviour in movement, sound, and live texture? So much of the formal quality in the work begs to become live, animate and further engaged with its ability to act and become invested with phenomenal presence.

I begin to think here more specifically of the work of Katherine Hayles, looking at media specific analysis - how specific tools of textual production leave/inscribe specific kinds of traces in the objects and texts they produce. 'Writing Machines' should serve as a good introduction to this type of thinking, and might kick this project into another productive tangent. We're in a world of flat screens, and the objects proposed here that both play with and extend critical arguments beyond the flat are most welcome...perhaps there is utility to actually making in 3d?

If the object(s) of the work - devices and interfaces - are given an extension that melds with other forms of contemporary manufacture - 3d printing etc - can the work enter other realms of critique that exist on the periphery of the current work? I'm thinking of the Fairphone, of products and tools that ask for our participation and modification, that are open in their ability to be fixed, and in their ability to be tended by the individuals that relate to them.

This is strong work in and of itself, but could easily jump forward into the real, the physicality of radical object proposals that manifest further the critiques within the textual rhetoric. Very, very well done.