Why Dinosaur?

Dinosaurs is first defined as a group of diverse reptilian population under the name “Dinosauria”(Owen). These reptilian population became the dominant vertebral species after the Triassic–Jurassic extinction around 201 million years ago, and went extinct during the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event around 66 million years ago. Dinosaur is a novel population for a design research due to the facts that: 1) The dinosaurs are the under studied population due to geological, and chronological challenges (in term of the design research). 2) The dinosaur population exhibits interesting biological morphologies that would influence and yield an interesting design outcomes. And 3) The dinosaurs have been a subject of many interests from children to a computational biologist (Chi), and certainly the author of this paper.

Based on the the fact that all members of the dinosaur population have been long gone from the earth, and there is a current limitation on a time traveling technology. The only way, we can conduct a population research on the dinosaur is through the studies of paleontology and evolutionary biology. The species of dinosaurs belong to a group known as “archosaurs”, which also includes crocodilians. Within the archosaur group, the dinosaurs are differentiated most noticeably by their gait. Dinosaur legs extend directly beneath the body, whereas the legs of lizards and crocodilians sprawl out to either side (Brusatte).

Dinosaurs are divided into two primary branches,  Saurischia and  Ornithischia. Saurischia includes those taxa sharing a more recent common ancestor with birds than with Ornithischia, while Ornithischia includes all taxa sharing a more recent common ancestor with Triceratops than with Saurischia (Benton).

Extensive morphological studies of dinosaur fossils led researchers to hypothesize that dinosaur exhibits many behaviors that resemble the behavior of modern avians and reptiles such as food hunting, nesting, courtship. These behaviors in the ginormous body of dinosaurs required high volume of energies and food consumptions. Therefore, thermal regulation of the dinosaurs is an on-going area of research that interested many scholar.

Previously, the arguments about dinosaur’s body temperature have been made for both endothermic and ectothermic metabolisms on the basis of differing methodologies (Eagle). However, the recent finding using isotope thermometry to determine body temperatures from the fossilized teeth of large Jurassic sauropods indicate body temperatures of 36° to 38°C, which are similar to those of most modern mammals. (Eagle). Even though dinosaurs are diverse in forms and sizes, the understanding of dinosaur’s body temperature helps researcher understand hypothesize further on the notion of metabolic pathway and how it’s related to the extinction of dinosaur (Russell).

Visualize the tension


There is a current limitation that prevent the direct interaction between the users (dinosaurs) and the designer. This conflict is part of the greater conversation on the philosophy of design, whether a designer can design for the past that is already gone or not?

To visualize this conflict, I picked “Design Thinking Canvas”, a template for designer to interview user, identify pain points, and come up with the solution, as the object for interrogation. I modify “Design Thinking Canvas” for the user to interact with dinosaur. By blacking out all the places that are originally intended to be filled with information from the user this “Design Thinking Canvas” for dinosaur become a useless object since its main functionality has been disrupted. Because all dinosaurs are gone and all dinosaurs do not understand human language, this prototype questions the relationship between the designer and the research subjects in the past geological time, and foster a new way to think about the methodology for design research. The language used in the “Design Thinking Canvas” is human language without modification. It represents the way in which the designer colonize the research subject with human centric way of thinking. The notion that this “Design Thinking Canvas” for Dinosaur is useless can also be interpret further in two directions : First, if designing for the past is the useless act? or if designing for the past with the same way of thinking when we design for the present is the the useless act? In conclusion, this prototype visualize conflict of designer and dinosaur in the tangible way and it pushes the conversation around designing for the past to the next level.

Rethink the tension


After visualizing the conflict, my peers and I have a workshop to think through the tension using brainstorming session. I rethink the tension by exploring other elements that are associated with the notion of “designing for the past” and “designing for the dinosaurs”. Some of the thoughts are :

The idea that some futures might resemble the past

The contemporarily of the events

The interspecies conflict between the design subject and the designer

The user is perceived through artifacts that he/she/it created.

The notion that some identities of the users are constructed through design

The question on “what is the role of the design if the target users no longer exist?”

“Is a user the premise for design?”

“How might we design the unusable product?”

“Can a human designer designs something that is not human centric?”

These thoughts were critically boiled into three design propositions that rethink and move the tension forward. The first proposition is on the notion that when the designer design for the past and the users that are already gone, the process of designing is also the process of creating the users. For example, in the film Jurassic Park — the computer animation designed the dinosaurs as well as there habitats based on the public imagination of the dinosaurs rather than basing on the more accurate scientific discoveries. The second proposition is on the contemporariness  of the subject. The dinosaur that we design for might return in the future, so the question is : how might we design for the past that might potentially become the future? The final design proposition is how might we (human designer) experience and perceive “the otherness” in order to truly translate that to the design for other species?

Apply the tension


From the three design propositions, I am interested in the notion that the process of designing for the past requires the designer to actually re-create the users. In some sense, the users are created in response to design. To interrogate this idea further, I apply this tension beyond the dinosaur population to a human population and ask a question : “What would the process of design that creates the users looks like?”

I conceptualized an algorithm that would learn the matching between the users and products from the existing market and be able to suggest the group of the users that would be interested in the given product. The idea is to reverse the process from the “user centered design” to the “design centered user”. I visually prototypes this algorithm into an augmented reality app that allow the designer to run the app on their design sketch in order to know who might become their target audiences.

The notion of  “design centered user” mediated through technology is similar to many other processes that have been automated by the Silicon Valley culture in the post-modern era. However, the central idea of this new paradigm appeals more to the design process from the pre-industrial era, where the master of craftsmanship emphasize a product over its users.

Experience the tension


Finally,  I create the experience where other people can engage with the tension. I prototype the experience of the algorithm that would find and create a group of users based on the given design into a web service called “User Finder”: http://pat.design/userfinder/. This fictional service is centered around a slogan that says “Your design is perfect! Don’t change it”. The web service invites the designers to upload a picture of their design in order to see the potential users and percent market penetration. The platform also push the idea of “design centered user” to the edge by having the options for the designers to boost their market penetration through speculative services such as the use of gene editing technology to make the users fall in love with the products.

So what?

To conclude this investigation, this project start off with an idea of designing for the dinosaur population that gradually morph into the notion of “design centered user”

One of the final question that this project poses is “so what?”

 Why would a designer or a user care about this notion of “design centered user”?

I think that the idea of “design centered user” raises a critical consideration on the identity of the individual. In what circumstances that our identity is constructed through objects that we interact with? And how would that make us rethink the relationships between human and non-human in the world? As design become not only the utility objects, but the objects that construct human’s identity, what responsibilities do the designers have in shaping our futures?

I believe that a great design is the design that stir our imaginations and make us think further. As Haraway encourage us to making kin with the Chthulu and staying with the trouble, this project demonstrate how the engagement between the extinct species of dinosaurs and human results in a speculative prototypes that disrupt our perception of design and trouble us to think deeper into the critical questions it poses.

May the dinosaurs and the design be with you 🙂

Work Cited

Brusatte, Stephen L. (2012). Dinosaur Paleobiology (1. ed.). New York: Wiley, J. pp. 9–20, 21. ISBN 978-0-470-65658-7.

Benton, M.J. (2004). Vertebrate Paleontology. Blackwell Publishers. xii–452. ISBN  0-632-05614-2.

Chi, Michelene T., and Randi D. Koeske. “Network representation of a child’s dinosaur knowledge.” Developmental psychology 19.1 (1983): 29.

Russell, Loris S. “Body temperature of dinosaurs and its relationships to their extinction.” Journal of Paleontology (1965): 497-501.

Eagle, Robert A., et al. “Dinosaur body temperatures determined from isotopic (13C-18O) ordering in fossil biominerals.” Science 333.6041 (2011): 443-445.

Seymour, Roger S., and Ralph A. Ackerman. “Adaptations to underground nesting in birds and reptiles.” American Zoologist 20.2 (1980): 437-447.

Spotila, JAMES R., et al. “Hot and cold running dinosaurs: body size, metabolism and migration.” Modern Geology 16 (1991): 203-227.

Owen, R. 1841. A description of a portion of the skeleton of the Cetiosaurus, a gigantic extinct saurian reptile occurring in the oolitic formations of different portions of England. Proceedings of the Geological Society of London, 3: 457–462.