James Pierce

Lecturer at UC Berkeley Jacobs Institute for Design Innovations
Researcher at Georgia Tech, School of Literature, Communication, and Culture


Obscured Cameras, Wireless Derouters, Frictional Internet Packets, and Other Counterfunctional Devices

In this talk I present a set of current and recent speculative design research projects.

The first project, the Obscura 1C Digital Camera, is a small, fully functional digital camera fully enclosed in concrete. In order to access the media files recorded, you must physically break apart the concrete enclosure to reveal the micro SD memory card buried inside. Obscura inhibits access to its contents to offer a digital experience based on uncertainty, patience and surprise.”

The second project, Design Proposals for a Wireless Derouter, presents plans for a device which disrupts wireless signals to create digitally disconnected spaces free from Wi-Fi, cellular, GPS, and other regulated radio frequencies. Currently the operation of such a device is illegal in most developed countries. The proposals here functions as an anti-antenna and interference device that clears space for new receptions: interrogations, critiques, and the generation of new speculative proposals for the future.

The final project is an ongoing set of explorations into concerns with IoT (Internet of Things). Developing an approach called design packeting, IoT concerns are explored with light-weight small-scale participatory design interventions, including a Network Anxieties Coloring Book, Privacy and Data Policies in Print, and Ghost/Bug/Waves Detection Devices.

I draw these three projects together to articulate approaches to speculative design that generate alternative and oppositional artefacts and scenarios through their use of friction and resistance.


James Pierce is currently lecturer in the Jacobs Institute for Design innovation at UC Berkeley and research affiliate at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication. He has longstanding research interests in speculative design, design theory, and everyday social practices. His more recent research interests include state surveillance, digital disconnectivity, and ghosts. James has published over 50 articles in top conferences and journals spanning the fields of design research, human-computer interaction, and ubiquitous computing.

James work frequently overlaps with art practice and the humanities. His worked has been awarded numerous best paper awards. Previously James worked as Research Scientist and Visiting Scholar at the UC Berkeley Center for New Media. James has a PhD from Carnegie Mellon University in Human-Computer Interaction, and a Master’s Degree in Interaction Design from Indiana University.