QuantHumanists update 2: life decisions
Updated: Apr 30, 2019
Mapping this project out started around spring break, with a lot of conversation and critique along the way. When I first brought it to Joey, he suggested worrying about the tech later and concentrating on making a fully-fleshed out proof of concept first. This advice provided a great opportunity to walk through the real life decisions toward bringing an idea to fruition without being distracted by any technical roadblocks... and the tech is still happening thanks to some serendipitous cross-project pollination..!
I started by asking for a lot of feedback, it was vulnerable and difficult but ultimately has molded my project's journey from day one. Even before thinking of Pleasure Principal's interface, I had questions about stigma and body politics, tested some critical waters, and made sure I wasn't violating any rules. From those conversations I created some core principles (Every Body. Destigmatization: sexuality ≠ obscenity, pleasure is a universal right. Education/evolution. Art is mandatory! ) , and defined my motivation (last post). I recognize that this will be a confrontational piece and I expect an array of reactions, but I've found comfort reminding myself that this project is not for mainstream consumption and that it's ok to speak to a very specific group who are looking for messages like this one, that this project can cull toward the like-minded if done right, and others can move along according to taste.
One of my biggest difficulties has from anticipating conversations dealing with gender, with two considerations in mind. First, I'm wary of being accused of gender essentialism; at its core, dopamine-related behavioral intervention is an agender concept, but bringing an anatomy-related object into the picture risks essentialism. I know I can't answer for every accusation, but I definitely acknowledge this in my design choice for the object in that I am prototyping toward external stimulation which I hope translates toward universality. Second, the semiotics of the new wave of sex tech live well within ideas of privilege when it comes to who and what is represented by companies currently "breaking open" the industry, and I'm trying to be very careful about not playing into those tropes. It's complicated presenting a deeply personal exploration that lives well within a hot topic that will entice the opining audience.
When I first proposed the idea, I was considering a sort of generic app-based interface that asks users to input data similar to other tracking apps that don't rely on other data collecting hardware like heart rate monitors (mood tracking apps, for instance). Upon further consideration realized that my ideation process was warped by our data assignments over the course of the semester toward currently popular designs for inputs such as sliders, timers, radio buttons, etc. This typical "tracking app design" would be a pretty dry approach for a project that drives the user toward creativity and sexual exploration, thusly the input interface has evolved into immediately engaging the user in an artistic activity as opposed to asking the user to reflect and self-report toward prompts.
Tech-wise, I've been collaborating with Arnab Chakravarty who initially joined the project toward a Critical Objects final. Arnab has been instrumental in helping me visualize beyond proof of concept and offering me an opportunity to exercise some project management skills while challenging me to lock down the whats and whys of Pleasure Principal. The tech won't be done in time for final presentations, but there will at least be enough of a prototype to document toward proof of concept, and we've been continuously iterating the design of the interface and output object along the way:
In its current iteration, the device reacts to using an MSPaint-style p5 sketch via serial with a mouseDragged() function communicating with vibration motors and LEDs via Arduino. In prototype format, we are using a paint-style interface I found on Codpen developed by Darshan Rajadhyaksha, the idea being you are immediately rewarded while making art. Iterating toward the show, we will create a storage database that will analyze time spent on a drawing app until your doodle is saved, and translate that to a length of time the vibrator can be used in the future. There are some more complicated iterations that will build along these lines, but the concept is officially alive and breathing :)
Here's a video of our classmate Becca testing out the minimum viable prototype (definitely not "product" yet), I can say that Pleasure Principal successfully surprises and delights..!
And presented in a bit more developed form for Quantified Humanists final presentations:
Building the Pleasure Principal world
This has definitely been where I've been spending most of my time project-wise these last few weeks I'm hurtling through some entry barriers—I really just started practicing my video and design chops here at ITP, so while conceiving what I want a proof of concept to look like is fairly easy and even fun, executing it has been a challenge. I'm happy with how everything has turned out thus far, and am excited to continue refining the presentation of the Pleasure Principal world after getting feedback on this first iteration.
Our visit to Mt. Sinai was actually really helpful, and I used a lot of the tools presented by The Resilience Project team to sort my way through figuring out what to focus on when designing the face of the project. I started with a lot of aesthetic research, digging into the sex tech industry, creative agency projects, and ad campaigns for other niche products and services. I also looked into other tech artists and designers who have addressed sexuality in their work. I realized that I really don't like the sort of generic millennial pink, quirky-but-minimal styling that a lot of startups are using nowadays, nor do I like the sort of "lusty-but-empowered" presentation that new-wave luxury/boutique sex tech companies are using either. I can't really pinpoint why those templates don't really fit for my idea, but they both feel like marketing toward store-bought feminism and that's not my message at all.
I used are.na to do my mood boarding, it looked like this:
I found myself attracted to bright colors/gradients, illustration, strength, inclusivity/gender-neutrality, playfulness, tech & space vibes, and education. I also turned Pleasure Principal into a company brand that created the product, which I named virtuOso. I designed a website to represent the concept, though there is no documentation of the product itself as it doesn't quite exist yet... that's on the list for next iteration! Here's a walkthrough video:
The site is currently password protected until I finalize the product and documentation.
Finally, I created a video that explains the concept in two minutes, abstracting around the product itself since it doesn't currently exist. The video was shot completely solo (it was quite a day) and Ronen helped me with the first edit. I refined on that edit after getting some final missing shots in, and there will be another version ready for the show (should Pleasure Principal be accepted). I'm not posting the video here, but it's available on the password protected site and will share upon request. I'll tease with some screen shots though..!
Not bad for four weeks of production..! There's still a lot of work to be done to really knock it out of the park. But it exists! And the development process has been extraordinarily rewarding thus far.