Spekkl: Food Safety, Revealed.

Core Concept

Our project addresses the themes of trust, information credibility and the relationship between fads and crises. We are using food safety and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as target issues because the information surrounding them is notoriously hyperbolic and their proponents are stereotypically ill-informed or easily persuaded.

We are creating a pseudo-scientific food safety product, Spekkl, that targets overtly health-conscious parents—mommies and daddies actively anti-GMO blogging and shopping. The caregiving and protective nature of these parents makes them an especially susceptible audience within the realm of food safety.

Related Work

Works of satire and designed hoaxes were influential to the way we approached our project.

Carrot Dan Angelucci

Audio Tooth Implant Auger

Bhopal Disaster The Yes Men

Food Babe

The Onion

Design Process

Finding a topic: Our team was interested in food because it is a necessity to life, and therefore can ignite highly controversial futures. We began to look at large, evil food manufacturers like Monsanto and the anti-GMO movement as starting points for areas of conflict.

Deciding an angle: We chose to, rather than pick a side of the GMO issue, use the topic as a method of critiquing the naivety of those that buy/write/discuss in reaction to it. We decided on a near-future scenario that would bring the issues of credibility and trust to a more believable, and possibly shocking, reality.

Creating a product and brand: We used our strengths as industrial and communication designers to build believable prototypes, renders and online content for the fake product. We believed these elements to be essential to creating a convincing project. The product’s form was inspired by products that are similarly trusted by our audience: baby thermometers and infrared meat thermometers. The brand materials such as logo, color and pattern were created to be friendly and relate to our key audience of parents.


Developing brand language and communications: Online content and our audience-reaching methods of website and marketing e-mails relied on fine-tuned language that delivered approachable authority. Again, realness was key. Our email marketing was sent to the food safety and wellness blogosphere, complete with a thank you coupon and link to the official product press release on the product website.

Response: An important part of the project is witnessing and recording how participants react to the fake product. We will send the email to our blogger list in the coming days and wait to see what their response is. We will be keeping track of pre-orders on the Spekkl website to understand the number of people who seem to believe and want to own the product.


Throughout the project we have more clearly come to understand that it’s too easy to make fake things. We haven’t confirmed that people will believe our product, but the process to make a pretty convincing, bogus product was fast and simple. We used free or cheap online services to build a functioning website and marketing email. This makes us question the responsibility held by designers and the power we put in their hands. Do we feel evil? Not really, but we’re a little scared by potential susceptibility of our audience.


Our project addresses the themes of trust, information credibility and the relationship between fads and crises. We are using food safety and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as target issues because the information surrounding them is notoriously hyperbolic and their proponents are stereotypically ill-informed or easily persuaded.

We are creating a pseudo-scientific food safety product, Spekkl, that targets overtly health-conscious parents—mommies and daddies actively anti-GMO blogging and shopping. The caregiving and protective nature of these parents makes them an especially susceptible audience within the realm of food safety.


Spekkl is a small, handheld device that claims to detect GMO contamination, pesticides, herbicides, irradiation and freshness in any food or drink item using infrared spectroscopic scanning.

ds002 copy

Spekkl allows us to create a performative fiction that takes place online via the Spekkl website and dedicated email. We have accumulated contact information for over 65 blogs and Facebook groups in the topics of food safety / parenting / health. We will send a Spekkl press release to this list in hopes that the bloggers will publish our content and market the product:

Spekkl Begins Pre-Orders for Spekkl Food Safety Tool

April 13, 2015 (Pittsburgh, PA) – Beginning April 13, Spekkl is offering pre-orders for Spekkl, the on-the-go well-being and food safety tool. Spekkl is a small, handheld device that detects genetically modified organism (GMO) contamination, pesticides, herbicides, irradiation and freshness in any food or drink item. The device leverages infrared spectroscopic technology to read and interpret the chemical makeup of food in the grocery store or at home, empowering the everyday consumer to know exactly what they purchase and eat.

Spekkl will be available for pre-order at spekkl.com and will retail for $69.99. Pre-order submission will act as a waitlist with no purchase necessary. A limited supply will be available for purchase beginning June 1 and orders will begin shipping around July 1.

Spekkl was developed by a team of engineers and industrial designers to be practical, powerful and beautiful. Spekkl features a 1.5 x 2.2 inches (38.1mm x 56mm) 256-color transflective TFT display and simple three-button control. At 7.5 oz. (213 g) and 2.4W x 6.1H x 1.3D inches (61mm x 155mm x 33mm), Spekkl fits easily into a purse or bag. Spekkl is powered with two “AA” batteries (not included). An adjustable, detachable wrist strap and information guide to the measured food safety levels are included with Spekkl.

About Spekkl

Spekkl is a health technology startup based in Pittsburgh, PA, founded in September 2012. The Spekkl team began within the Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation at Carnegie Mellon and is made up of two chemical engineers and two industrial designers. In a world of false advertising, buzzwords and sensationalized labeling, Spekkl aims to make accurate food knowledge accessible to each and every person.

The website will feature renderings of and information about the product, why you should use it, and a form to pre-order (with no purchase necessary). We will measure the success of this project based on the number of pre-orders we receive, signaling belief and desire for the product.

Towards the end of the project we will send reply emails to individuals who placed pre-orders, describing the nature of the project and that the product is not real.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.09.25 PMWe will present our project as the physical product and branded website, along with the email conversations we have with potential consumers and their reactions to the project.

The Effects of Food Homogenization



Currently, food homogenization is a common problem . Certain plants are bred to grow faster and to grow more, causing a decrease in nutrients in the soil and a strong dependency on certain crops. Livestock is bred in close quarters, and swine flu, bird flu, mad cow’s disease, seems to pop up in the media regularly causing spurts of public outcry. What happens if the world is so affected by homogenization that all animals are sick and inedible? How do humans adapt to this, and where are they willing to go in order to have a sufficient source of protein?

Auditory Ads

Year: 2050


In a world lacking screen-based interfaces, how do corporations battle with the dropping use of visual advertising? Auditory “pop-ups” interact with wearables that infect your ears with soundbites of the hottest and newest objects. Product labels and billboards are no longer needed outside of the branding, because they are read to you almost immediately. Passing by a billboard triggers commercials in your ear, picking up a bottle plays the latest auditory ad campaign. The need for graphic design decreases and audio design flourishes.

Blank billboard in subway station

How does one make a “pop-up blocker” for such things? People pay premiums, just like we do on Spotify or Hulu today in order to have a lighter inundation of advertisements. You can download third-party blockers, but it get more and more difficult to overcome as time passes as corporations shut such things down or create new technologies to trump their functions.

The movie Her touches on a world where such technology is prevalent, where emails are read when commanded through voice. Instead of staring at our phones, we will be talking and listening to our devices. Our computers will no longer be screens with information, but rather voices in our head, creating a truly mobile device that is wearable and unobtrusive.

Because we hear every aspect of our lives, physical speech between persons is almost nullified. What is the meaning of spoken word in a time where we are spoken to by a cochlear implant or an earpiece? True silence does not exist in today’s world if one has a phone, laptop, tablet, etc, and it will cease to exist once computer interfaces become entirely auditory.

Below is a use case of the simple act of taking an ibuprofen in a future of auditory ads.


The idea of science fiction influencing science fact is not much of a mystery to many people. If you point out something like, “Voice command? They had that in Star Trek.” Most anyone would just nod and acknowledge the connection and go their merry way, or go, “Oh, yeah you’re right.” I think a lot of us take technology for granted because it’s been primed in what we see before much of it really exists. Future technologies are always in our periphery, sometimes it explodes in the news and people talk about it for days, or it slowly creeps in to our lives to the point where it becomes the norm. Coming from an experience in wearable technology, namely smartwatches, Dick Tracy is always brought up, regardless of the brand or model.


This is one of the earlier accounts of wearable tech – a watch that has a “2-way wrist TV” with many functions including voice command – or basically a phone on your wrist. Working at Pebble and seeing new people interact with the watches who hadn’t seen them before, many tried two things. Either they 1) tapped the screen, thinking it was a touchscreen or 2) asked if there was a microphone for voice command. Being one of the first smartwatches to infiltrate the market, Pebble has neither of those, and from my experience many were surprised that those weren’t functions of the watch. It’s interesting to me that people automatically think you can talk into your wrist or have touch capabilities, mostly from the previous imprint of these ideas either in science fiction or the technological advances of a smartphone and how apparently all those functions should transfer seamlessly to a wearable device. Then again – are these functions even necessary? Some people I know refrain from even using Siri on their phone because it looks or sounds funny talking to a machine, so how would that look talking into your wrist? If one feels uncomfortable talking into their phone how will people be able to adapt talking into their watch? 

This is a pivot to talk about my next project….

I want to focus on the transformation of speech, specifically in 50-60 years. In my generation, a lot of our speech is influenced by how we text, message, tweet, etc. We abbreviate words out loud (which is stupid, but I definitely do it all the time), spelling out L-O-L or saying v instead of very, etc. How does the way we speak now transform when I’m a 80 years old? The way people spoke in the 20’s is vastly different from how we speak today.I’d like to create artifacts of this world to take a peek into how the English language is changing. In the future of technology-driven vernacular, what will literature, product labels, music lyrics, basically anything words, look like in every day life? Even more so, what will it sound like?


I find Cameron’s criticisms of “DnR’s” work interesting, notably the lack of diversity in speculative design work. It has become very apparent to me, as an American-born Asian female, that much of speculative design work comes from white Westerners. Whether or not that is a good thing isn’t really something on which I can elaborate. However, now it is even more clear as to why this is so. In his citation of the case of the Pakistani design school being generally against the idea of typical speculative design, the problems I see as a student in a prestigious university versus a world fraught with conflict, I, comparatively to that of a Pakistani design student, see the world differently. I feel that I take for granted every day that which is given to me. I complain about how hard school is, how difficult it is to find a job, how my relationships keep failing, how sad I am, how much sleep I lack. And yet, I have the privilege to even talk about speculative design. Is speculative design a privilege to begin with? I’m not sure, but it seems that only the privileged practice it. As a designer, this is rather conflicting. I think that it is common sense to focus on problems of the now – that’s an obvious and apparent thing that most anyone can get behind. I’m not saying that speculative design is useless or that it’s first-world problem solving (see my previous post), but of the many philosophical questions designers have to deal with, is it something that I want to spend time doing? Then again, maybe I should stick to what I know – how do I design for the third world if I have never experienced it before.

An Open-Source Future

A future wheel describing possibilities in an open-source world

Article: http://factor-tech.com/feature/open-source-surge-companies-may-ditch-patents-favour-open-tech-research/

This article predicts that within ten years, many companies will open their technology and patents to the public.


In 2035, most companies are expected to release their technologies for the now affluent open-source community. Ten years previous, a movement for corporations to open their doors was in high pursuit after many large companies such as Microsoft, IBM, and Toyota released their technological information. The maker community was overjoyed and instilled a new-found trust between corporations and their consumers. As the maker community grew more and more, so did the complexity of the newfound technologies developed from past existing products.

With a bursting community of engineers and programmers, new talent is found and the same companies that released their technology begin to scout for new hires to develop even more advanced tools. Also, a spiked interest in open-source robotics is rampant in the world and people begin to create task robots to aid everyday life. Education in schools start to focus more on the sciences and being able to “hack” different products becomes a common skill. This creates a lesser interest in the arts and humanities, as technology becomes so intertwined into everyday life that many children strive to become computer scientists and electrical engineers.

With this also develops many complications. Companies such as Apple who were hesitant in releasing their patents, begin to deteriorate because the general public begin to prefer to support those who encourage open-source platforms. People prefer to modify and build their own custom operating systems and hardware, creating a drop in obsolescence and technological landfills. There is a lower incentive in buying new models, which start to hurt certain companies. However, some take advantage of this and have people pay freemiums or membership fees to be a part of their open-source communities. Also, a decrease in market competition begins to hurt the economy because corporations begin to stress innovation over profit. On a brighter side, this encourages a faster development of new technologies without the archaic limitations of patents. Patent lawyers lose jobs because patents are no longer used, and complications over ownership and intellectual property still continues because it starts to become difficult to trace who exactly was the first to do what.

While many use these opportunities for the greater good of advancing technologies, many begin to use some of the materials maliciously. Untraceable terrorism sparks fear amongst the government and the public, and question of “who is to blame” inundates the media. Are the companies who release the technologies to blame? Or is the maker community to blame? Some fear that the once prosperous world of new technologies might be barred and limited once again for the safety of the public. Lawmakers as well as corporations who are hurt by the open-source community push for more and more limitations in releasing information, creating a rift in the political as well as the business worlds.



A “Frankensteined” phone with the body of an HTC one, iOS interface, Windows Phone navigation, and Moto X back housing and camera. This combines into a thrown together product of Motorola, Apple, Windows, and Google (Android) – thus Motopplewindroid.

Group critique: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qwlNDIvExt2lFr4QQL7V2vuhBMs-mF0Qk3JiV8ulnnQ/edit?usp=sharing