Designing for Ambivalence

In 2019 I completed a practice-based PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London. My research, called Designing for Ambivalence: a designer’s research into the role of smartphones for mothers and young children, investigated the role of smartphones during the care of young children, focussing on situations of mothers who have the primary role of childcare. Informed by critical, speculative and feminist design research, the work explored ambivalent attitudes towards uses of smartphones during childcare and, more generally, towards the role of technology in family life.

I developed a series of experimental artefacts that gave form to behaviours brought by smartphones, and that were used as conversational probes. Producing both attraction and rejection, the artefacts invited conversations about practices, often private, that are ridden with ambivalence and guilt. My PhD research is an example of the possibilities for design to expose unintended uses of technology, to challenge conventional user portrayals by depicting mothers as complex users, and to explore potentials for change.

A phone on wheels that gets irritated when used as a toy, protesting “I am not a toy”

Cultural probes.

Small edition publication, 2019. Goldsmiths

Public engagement at the Victoria and Albert Museum London


- PhD thesis: Designing for Ambivalence: a designer’s research into the role of smartphones for mothers and young children. 2019. Yurman, P. Goldsmiths, University of London

- How was it made? A Smartphone In the Nursery ACM Interactions Magazine. January 2020

- Demo Hour ACM Interactions Magazine. November 2019.

- A Smartphone in the Nursery. 2019.Yurman, P. Research Through Design Conference, Delft University of Technology, 18-22 March 2019

-Smartphones and Constructions of Motherhood (position paper). Yurman, P. Technology to Mediate Role Conflict in Motherhood, ACM CHI 2019 workshop, Glasgow

- Designing for Ambivalence: Mothers, Transitional Objects and Smartphones. 2017. Yurman, P. ACM CHI 2017, Denver, Colorado.

My supervisors were Professors Bill Gaver and Janis Jefferies. My viva examiners were Professors Jayne Wallace and Les Back.
Ambivalent objects are critical artefacts that suggest smartphones as pacifiers, evoking their intrusion into the world of mother and infant.

This artefact uses the metaphor of a pet. The phone is put to sleep, snorring while it charges and suggesting a nap, a concept easily understood by young children. It invites both adult and child to take a break from the phone.

Workshops with participants, using the artefacts as probes.

ACM Interactions magazine, November 2019

ACM Interactions magazine, January 2020