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Privacy in the contemporary world

A person wearing a piece of jewellery which allows them to see the inside of their mouth
A person wearing a piece of jewellery which allows them to see the inside of their mouth
Emma Xuan Ma (BA Jewellery Design)
Written by
Teleri Lloyd-Jones
Published date
19 June 2019

We join the dots in Show Two: Design by looking at projects that skirt the line between our public and private lives.

During Show Two: Design there is a student who isn’t entirely in control of what he is doing. Joe Fraquelli, BA Graphic Design, has turned his life into a real-time digital game. As he wears a rig that transmits his every move, players log in to decide the direction and to write whatever announcements come through his loudspeaker. Called Ctrl Alt Me, the work takes its inspirations from our experiences online and programmes like Black Mirror, specifically Bandersnatch, which act as provocations around the social impact of technological change.

“I’m interested in the idea of play within design, especially interactive design. How we as an audience can control design. What happens if I press this button? Do we realise implications online and the impact they have in the physical world? I’m testing our civilised nature, and I’m really interested to see what people will do.” Joe Fraquelli

While Fraquelli becomes a conduit for, possibly, the worst impulses of private selves, Jeremy Kelleher, BA Product Design, works to reinstate a clear boundary for privacy in our daily use of digital technology. His project is NED (the No Eavesdropping Device) is described as “a smart assistant that is not always listening. His problem began as a consumer when he was looking at which smart home assistant to buy. The products work by always listening for the wake word ­– be it “Alexa”, “hey Google” or something else – to kick start them into action. After research, including interviewing a cyber expert, Kelleher was shocked to discover that these devices are always listening, gathering data and sending it elsewhere whether called upon with the wake word or not.

A white pod with bright blue lights around the middle
Jeremy Kelleher (BA Product Design)

“It’s a common worry. According to a Deloitte survey on digital security, 40% of consumers are worried about the encroaching smart home. So how can I, as a designer, have my cake and eat it? How can I design a smart assistant that is convenient but also proves that it isn’t always listening?” Jeremy Kelleher

The challenge for Kelleher was one of trust. To feel truly private in their own homes, consumers have to be convinced that the device isn’t listening; a simple on/off light won’t work so he turned to an electromechanical solution. The NED is a two-part device that only works as a smart assistant when the contact points are together. The upper piece sits, poised to connect, and only does so physically when prompted by a simple loud double clap. The device can also be connected and disconnected manually. The user has total control over when NED is connected to the network. “These companies are losing so many sales because people are uncomfortable about the products. My solution is extremely simple and I’m surprised nobody else has done it.”

A person wearing a piece of jewellery which allows them to see the inside of their mouth
Emma Xuan Ma (BA Jewellery Design)

In BA Jewellery Design, Xuan Ma has created a collection that advocates for private moments of self-appreciation. Reacting against the process of selfie-taking, photographing ourselves for public presentation, Ma creates a series of mirrors made to views parts of ourselves we usually cannot see: the inside of the mouth, the armpit, the top of the head, our bottom and genitals. “I wanted to create jewellery where the wearer forms part of the work. Normally we use jewellery to decorate our body but can we use our body to decorate ourselves instead?”

Private View, as the collection is called, takes inspiration from a surprisingly wide variety of mirrors from dentists’ tools to under-car inspection mirrors used by the police. But in Ma’s hands, the mirrors become exquisite tools for ritual. Turning away from public gaze, she asks us to reconnect and appreciate the miracle of their own body in quiet contemplation.

“It’s not for daily life but because the parts I discover people aren’t wanting to show to the public. Personally for times at home. I encourage people to really see themselves.”

Joe Fraquelli, Jeremy Kelleher and Xuan MA are nominated for the MullenLowe NOVA Awards. All their projects can be seen in Show Two: Design at Central Saint Martins, 19-23 June.

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