Video: Demangeat & Gilleland’s #mexsession on thinking with things

The opening session of MEX in March 2015 saw participants arriving to a conference room unexpectedly devoid of the usual chairs, screens and speakers. Instead, Think with Things (@thinkwthings | – led by Isobel Demangeat & Julie Anne Gilleland – had laid out thousands of individual objects which could be used to solve a number of challenges related to key themes of the MEX event. After nearly an hour of frenetic activity, with participants collaborating to use the objects, Demangeat & Gilleland explained how their methodology applies to digital experience design, drawing on insights from several MEX attendees who were trying this technique for the first time.

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  • Digital interactions are dominated by flat, smooth touchscreens. These glass surfaces lack the tactility which leads to playful exploration.
  • Removing rules and expectations from exploration can lead to an initial sense of fear. As this fear is overcome, participants open themselves to exploring dimensions such as sound and texture, which are often absent from visually-dominated digital interaction design.
  • The rush to achieve a definitive outcome within a set time often comes at the expense of experimenting with creative processes. Open-ended explorations could lead to better, more varied results.
  • Using a variety of physical objects to assist exploration lends itself to cross-discipline discussions, providing a common language for subjects often separated by their vocabularies, such as design, engineering and art.
  • Assisting creative exploration with physical objects is inherently collaborative, as thought processes are visible for everyone to see.
  • Physical objects tell more compelling stories and provide a sense of completion often missing from digital interactions. In doing so, thinking with things helps us to access our longer-term memory, where we store more powerful emotions. Digital interactions tend towards temporary and insignificant memories.
  • Digital can augment and enhance the process of thinking with things, by allowing participants to capture and share a library of uses for everyday things. This could help evolve both children’s education and the creative process in adult life, from companies to personal exploration.


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