Assembly duel: unpacking privilege through design

photograph of instructions, two pieces of wood, wheels and a screwdriver

Design brief

To design an object or experience based on Evelyn Fox Keller’s essay, “Slime Mold”. It was found in the book Evocative Objects: Things we Think With.


  • Complete primary and secondary research to understand the chapter’s message
  • Based on research, demonstrate the immobilization of privilege and corresponding emotions


A 2-player challenge demonstrating how privilege operates.

The game

Each competitor receives:

  • a wooden block
  • a screw driver
  • written instructions
  • a set of screws

The only difference is that ‘person B’ does not receive the correct screws for the screw drivers given. Therefore, ‘person A’ cannot reach the end goal. On the back-side of the written instructions, there is an explanation about how the exercise relates to privilege.

Schematic showing two user journeys - one that ends in a finished car made of one piece of wood and two wheels. The other still has pieces separate
table divided with tape and equipment ready for assembly

The space was set up using tape to make the opponents feel like they were working against each other competitively.

students trying out task around table

Students attempt the challenge at the final presentation day.

image of a poster for the project with two paths - one easy to follow, and one very squiggly. The bottom it says 'Assembly duel'

Poster to visualise the project meaning: Using the screws symbols to show how one path continues smoothly, while the other is a more complex journey.

Usability testing

Usability tests were conducted to see if one barrier of the screws was enough to immobilize the disadvantaged participant. Initially, it seemed to easy. The usability tests also uncovered how to improve the instructions.

In the first usability test, one participant tried to help the other participant. Although this was extremely sweet and altruistic, I then changed the instructions to make it seem more competitive.

Photo of two people trying to complete the task. The person on the left is trying to help person on the right

In the second usability test, the participants were a lot more competitive. There was no helping, and the second participant got very frustrated - success!

Photo of two people trying to complete the task. The person on the right is saying that they cannot do it

Visiting the lab

Secondary Research:

Slime Mold by Evelyn Fox Keller, in the book Evocative Objects: Things we Think With

Within this chapter, Keller explores her experience with Slime Mold. She researched this topic earlier in her career and learnt about how gender influenced the way her research was perceived by her peers.

Primary Research:

I first went to UBC’s Mycological Herbarium Collection to look at their slime mold and fungus collection. The following photos were taken at their collection.

Through this experience, I realised that my ability to go to UBC was because of my socio-economic class. Given my connection with an institution of Emily Carr, I was given access to these resources at a neighbouring university.

I then decided I wanted to look at privilege, as this was a recurring theme with the author’s experience with slime mold, and my own from the primary research.

Photos of fungi or mould up close
Photos of fungi or mould up close
Photos of fungi or mould up close

Phase 1: Mapping identities

I tried using soft materials and fabric to map identities and think about how there are multiple parts to our identities. Based on the feedback with peers, these ideas were not connecting.

A sleeve with sewn lines that intersect
Fabric with sewn lines that intersect
Fabric with sewn lines that intersect

Phase 2: Impossible tasks

I next thought about how a lack of privilege can be immobilizing, and tried to create impossible or difficult tasks by making puzzle pieces that don't fit.

Two puzzle pieces that don't fit together made of clay
Two puzzle pieces that don't fit together made of clay
Two puzzle with clay balls and a platform to put the balls ontop of

Phase 3: Instructions and wood

I decided to continue to make a task where one person could do it easily, and another person would be challenged. I used wood as it is consistent of children’s toys and building blocks. I then created iterations of different instruction booklets. At first I was going to make the booklets difficult for each person, but over time realized it was not needed as the task was challenging enough.

Front of the instructions with directions
second side of instructions explaining the project