Data for Treats—A Chocolate for Your Data

Teaching technological fluency around emerging digital systems. What does the pervasiveness of data mining mean for the future?

Nov - Dec 2018 | Physical Making


Interaction design
Industrial design

Team: C McKenna, U Ndali

In my first term at the University of Toronto, I took a course called Critical Making: Information Studies, Social Values, and Physical Computing. It was by far one of my favourite courses because it encouraged me to think beyond theory and making and to fuse them together to derive a new sort of understanding from the making process. It especially encouraged me to think beyond designing for individuals and to instead view things from a more collective, societal perspective. This is the final project of that course.


In their 2012 paper titled “Speculative Design and Technological Fluency”, Lukens and DiSalvo discuss how speculative design can be used as an approach for developing technological fluency programs, especially in educational contexts.

Encouraging speculation about the future allows students to create distance between them and the world, letting them consider the future not just from their current view but by actively analyzing different angles and perspectives. This approach is particularly valuable when applied to technology, because it allows people to explore issues and controversies in unconventional ways and to nonstandard technology in our changing world.

Speculative design is multi-disciplinary, spanning across multiple dimensions and forms, i.e. the interactions between culture, technology, and the physical environment. In essence, it is rooted in investigating the possible, looking beyond technical and material constraints, and rethinking assumptions to explore the unexpected and embracing the unknown derived from open-endedness. Technological fluency, the ability to be creative with technology, is not focused on cutting and pasting ideas and concepts, but to be able to use technology to create and design new things in a variety of unexpected situations and scenarios, including the known and the vast unknown.

We developed a mini skit with audience participation.

The participant would sell their biometric data for chocolate. We simulated the data collection process by using a potentiometer; the more they turned the valve, the more "data" they would be selling to us.

The data analyst would analyze the data and then sell it to a third party—an insurance agent.

When the participant would attempt to buy insurance at a later date, they could be denied depending on the result of the data they had sold before.



My foray into design stemmed from learning about interfaces for medical purposes—in particular, creating play therapy interfaces for children. While I enjoyed the visual aspect of design, what I truly valued was the ability to think, research, and synthesize beyond the surface. The more I delved into the field, the more I learned about speculative design and the unexpected design implications about everyday inventions. However, my understanding of this field was very limited and unorganized until I took Critical Making.

Due to my background being in engineering, I tend to quantify things and optimize for rote application. However, I know and realize that humanity does not operate on pure economic output and that there are many nuances that systems thinking cannot capture. The ability to consciously target my knowledge gaps in this course by researching, making, and reflecting was incredibly valuable to me. The entire course was structured around thinking beyond the item, to think deeper into the intention and potential repercussions of it, and to creatively explore and play with concepts in face of a speculative future. Not only will this aid me in becoming a stronger and more empathetic designer and researcher in my future endeavours, but it also satisfies my personal interests and goals.