Reading Response: Critical Making

In Garnet Hertz’s article “What is Critical Making?”, Hertz explains the concept of critical making and how it differs from critical design. Critical design and critical making seem remarkably similar, however critical making focuses on the process of making technology rather than what the actual completed object is. I believe that the main point this article is making is that the maker movement has forgotten its roots as a movement of the people and has lost focus on just that – the people. Part of the wonder of the maker movement is that it has made the creation of different and new technologies more accessible to a wider range of people. New technologies should have more public prototypes in order to be tested (and potentially improved) by people of all backgrounds, whether that means scholarly backgrounds or people with different physical capabilities.

I think this idea of  using a wider audience to test more prototypes is a fantastic idea. Creating new technology should be about making it accessible for as many people as possible. I am interested in this specific area due to personal experience, specifically with my father who has a fairly common vision disability – colorblindness. He isn’t fully colorblind, just the more common red-green variation. Video games can be a challenge for him, particularly if there are specific puzzles that rely on distinction between red and green components of something. Many games and/or consoles don’t have color filter options to compensate for colorblind people. I can specifically cite Ratchet and Clank (2016), for the Playstation 4 for being a culprit of this. There is a specific gadget in the game, the “Trespasser”, that has the player attempt to solve a puzzle by rotating rings of lasers to connect with contact points. The lasers are red when not connected, and turn green when they are. Consequently, when my father was playing and attempting to solve these puzzles, he nearly always had to get help from either myself or my mother as he could not distinguish between the red and the green. Without allowing a wide variety of people to test technology, it can be difficult or even impossible to try to make accommodations for people who need them if the designers and developers don’t ever become exposed to those particular issues. This rings true for any sort of technology, whether it is software or hardware.

An example of a technology I have found that I believe is relevant to both the idea of critical making and the challenge of colorblindness is the EnChroma glasses. From what I have been able to discern with my research into these glasses is that they help to mitigate the severity of red-green colorblindness by way of the specially designed lenses that filter out specific light frequencies that are problematic for people who are red-green colorblind to discern from each other. I have found another company, ColorMax, that makes color corrective lenses, however they need to be tailored to an individual’s specific needs for color correction, as the color sensitivity of the cone cells in the human eye vary from person to person. I was also unable to locate a price for these models. The EnChroma glasses are commercially available to anyone, and cost between $299 and $499, and can be tailored to work with prescription glasses as well. From what I can tell, this price is at least relatively comparable to some glasses, depending on the type. The beginnings of the EnChroma glasses happened accidentally – when one of the creators, Don McPherson, had a friend who happened to be colorblind try on some lenses he was developing to protect doctor’s eyes during laser eye surgery. It turned out that the lens coating McPherson had used improved his friend’s perception of color, and so they began developing and testing the EnChroma glasses. This accidental discovery illustrates, at least to me, the importance of widening the audience of the people that designers could have testing prototypes. Not only does a person get the variety of experiences and backgrounds to provide input on how to improve a device, you may find an unintended or expanded application for something you were already working on.

Sources:
EnChroma glasses – official website:
http://enchroma.com/

Data on the effectiveness of EnChroma glasses:
http://www.blakeporterneuro.com/color-vision-efficacy-enchroma-glasses/

How EnChroma got started and how they work:
https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601782/how-enchromas-glasses-correct-color-blindness/

ColorMax:
http://colormax.org/