Conversation Pieces

By Paulina Yurman, Design Department, Goldsmiths, University of London

A series of design led activities in which suggestive and critical artefacts and drawings were used as conversational probes.

These activities formed part of the fieldwork of my PhD research Designing for Ambivalence: a designer’s research into the role of smartphones for mothers and young childrenMore about this work can be found at

We used experimental objects and design proposals to explore and articulate tensions brought smartphones in family life, using the designs to create narratives and discussions around this complex theme. The proposals aimed to explore the complex ambivalent behaviours towards the smartphone as it is alternatively used as a tool, a form of childcare or as a plaything. Meaning different things to different people in a family, it is almost like a family member, a kind of virtual pet or transitional object where rules are created and broken at different times, and where fascination at how able children are with it, together with the desire to limit its use create tangled and ambivalent behaviours. I used my proposals to explore this space and to prompt participants engage and describe the role of the smartphone in family life.

“ yeah, it’s personal and public to the children, the phone… to them the phone is an extension of you….” 

“the phone is more like, the mother is trying to maintain and wrestle back, its like wrestling most, you know you are trying to keep back a bit of yourself through the phone, and what it represents to you, and the child develops a relationship with it that is not necessarily what you think it is” 

“my feeling is I wouldn’t want the phone anywhere near a small child, that’s my view…”

 Quotes from the Conversation Pieces workshop sessions

1. Ambivalent Objects

“These are narrative objects, aren’t they, you are showing potential scenarios, but they actually already exist”

all pics copy

picture 1st workshop copy 2

Scan 8

2. Herby x 4

“it’s quite grumpy!”

3 picture 1st workshop copy 2

3. Uncanny Pet

“it’s making me feel sleepy!”



The sessions are funded by the EPSRC Balance Network.