There seems to be a green shift happening in Dutch Design, where the traditional vision is slowly sprouting into a newer, more refreshing one. The biodesigners are emerging from the soil just like their newly discovered organic materials. But if a material is alive, is it still really a material? Or is it more like an entity, a co-worker, or a guest even? Are we using them or collaborating with them? Design researcher Daniëlle Ooms explored this new relationship between designer and their non-human participants. The result? A nonhuman consent form.
The No(nhuman) Consent Form is a form that humans can use to assess the ethical side of the choices they are making when interacting with nonhumans. During her master studies at the TU in Eindhoven, Ooms conducted research about the relationship between humans and nonhumans. She looked at ways in how designers could cooperate with nonhumans in a more equal way. During this project she collaborated with different types of nonhuman participants like bioluminescent algae, mycelium and electro active bacteria that are found in mud. During these types of study cases, the TU Eindhoven hands out mandatory ethical review forms that need to be filled in by their students. But this traditional form is almost fully oriented around the ethics regarding humans; Ooms wanted to take it a step further and include her nonhuman participants as well, making designers think about what they use or who they use. She designed a consent form resembling the original human-oriented one, but this time round it was aimed at working with nonhumans.
The project was presented during the Dutch Design Week 2021 where a large version of the form was displayed. Visitors could fill in their own forms, questioning their interactions with nonhumans. And the answers were as diverse as the nonhuman participants we meet in our day to day life. Because not only in the laboratory, but also at home we interact with nonhumans; how do we invite a new plant into our homes? And did we ask for their explicit consent when we purchase a new pet?
Ooms hopes with her project to grow more awareness and change the perception we have when working with nonhumans. Instead of perceiving them as 'new materials' she hopes to cultivate the realisation that in reality we are collaborating with them, not using them. The consent form helps designers and non-designers alike to reestablish a more equal and intimate kinship with our nonhuman participants.