Laurens Boer and Jared Donovan: Sensitive Aunt Provotype



The Sensitive Aunt Provotype was designed as part of Indoor Climate and Quality of Life, a three-year research study of participatory design and user-driven innovation resulting from collaboration between two universities and five industry partners. Indoor Climate endeavoured to understand inhabitants’ experiences of comfort in domestic, business, and institutional environments. It involved a literature review on the meaning of comfort, an ethnographic study of a range of indoor climates and environments, a provotyping process designed to provoke debate and engage participants in discussions about future possibilities, and a final phase on the development of new product opportunities. Laurens Boer, Jared Donovan, and Jacob Buur describe “provocative prototyping” as that which engages a range of stakeholders and helps participants understand what they call the “tensions at the fuzzy front end of new product development”. The tensions to which they refer involve the different conceptions of a new product or service from the perspectives of manufacturers and design users. The Sensitive Aunt emits coloured light in relation to the temperature and air quality of the environment in which it is placed. In addition, when the buttons on the top of the device are pressed, it displays suggestions for ways to improve the temperature, light intensity, and air quality on an LED screen. The provotype was distributed and tested in a range of contexts by each industry partner involved in the project.


Dr Laurens Boer is Assistant Professor at IT University Copenhagen. His research interest is in the areas of speculative design and experience design. He studied Industrial Design at the Eindhoven University of Technology, the Netherlands. In 2012, he completed his PhD at the SPIRE Centre with a dissertation titled “How Provotypes Challenge Stakeholder Conceptions in Innovation Projects”. Boer has worked with provotypes as ethnographically based and technically robust artefacts that deliberately challenge stakeholders. By building provocative prototypes and deploying them at family homes and industrial organisations, he aims to bring together practices of critical design, design ethnography, and organisational change.

Dr Jared Donovan is a Lecturer and researcher in Interaction Design in the Creative Industries Faculty at QUT, Brisbane. His main research interest is in finding better ways of interacting with computer technologies with the goal of making computer technologies easier to use, more enjoyable and more respecting of people’s abilities for skilled physical movement. In particular, he has investigated the use of gesture as a way for people to interact with computer interfaces without the need for computers and mice. Donovan is also keenly interested in Participatory Design approaches and finding better ways to involve stakeholders in the design process. Before joining QUT, he worked for four years at the SPIRE centre for Participatory Innovation at the University of Southern Denmark where he researched the use of ‘provotypes’ (provocative prototypes) to spark discussion and debate. Donovan co-edited Design and Anthropology with Wendy Gunn (Surrey: Ashgate, 2012).