Continuing my notes from the recent Research Through Design conference in Newcastle [see opening keynote]. This is the first of the sessions I attended on Day 1. Each session was held in a small room that sat about 30 people, all around a large conference table, and featured talks by 3 or 4 of the participants who had each submitted some kind of artefact to the event. Each artefact was presented, then plenty of time was left for discussion amongst the presenters and audience, not that it felt like there was a division between the two. Each session was tied thematically, with the following talks all being connected through the “Doing” of design research.
Bio-mineralization – process through which organisms produce hard tissue, e.g. bones.
Controlling density results in material properties including strength, finish etc.
Avalon Shells – like bone but different structures on different layers. Hardness on the outside. Softness on the inside.
Artefacts developed using Synth Morph – a design environment through which shape can be evolved based on cellular growth. Dictating a density pattern for the cells results in particular patterns of growth.
Artefacts represent a catalogue of shapes based on the design language that emerged from this tool. These are Material Proxies – assemblages. E,g, In artefact 1 the attractor system is placed at the centre of the object. In the second round, 3 attractor systems are placed in the artefact. Long way to go from these early objects to the complexity of a shell.
Show how different disciplines come together in one piece of work.
Social science looking for "texture" – small number of people in a longitudinal study.
Sian’s work (represented through a recreation of her whiteboard of notes) – trying to find an authentic attachment to her participants, rather than find a convenient representation. Uses space – looking for outliers etc. Not aesthetic. Looking for something that is actionable by other disciplines.
Tim’s code. Notions of failure in different disciplines is not the same.
Bob’s sketchbook. Very concerned with people. Jumps between high level and detail.
Fashion academic at Northumbria now looking more at soft product development.
Health and safety driven product development and certification process – e.g. baby sling.
Up-cycling – promoting responsible design practice in the lingerie industry. Trying to change people’s view on materials for new uses.
Swimwear project – show industry that is quite conservative new processes and old techniques.
New technologies/new fabrics. Nano-tech etc. Quite fascinating, but construction really matters. What can you MAKE out of these new technologies. Marrying old techniques with new tech. Making a glove the way they would have in Tudor times.
Set a brief of design for future space travel. Space gloves. Both have to be long-lived, and also part of a long journey where people will need stuff to do.
Looking back at vintage astronaut wear they were clearly influenced by fashion of the time, not just the technology.
Using a glove to test tailoring during the project. A Microcosm of the human body – how it bends and moves. A starting point from where new tailoring and joining tech could be applied.
Not much information in general about gloves. So prototyped based on V&A original. Old gloves don’t have the gussets between the fingers etc. Hadn’t been invented yet. Had to experiment with pattern cutting to get it to really fit the hand. A specific hand.
Eventually honed a pattern that helped teach how a hand works.
Tailors and plastic surgeons DO meet because tailors have such a good understanding of how to cut for the body.
Mike Shorter | The Invite: Adding Value to Paper with Paper Electronics
Artefact: Paper invitation printed in conductive ink that links to a device for playing musically.
Paper invented in 105AD.
We’re born, we graduate, we die – we get a piece of paper for each. We keep on using it. Paper consumption continues to grow.
Paper electronics – conductive inks + components. Can use traditional processes – hand painting, screen printing. Just draw a circuit diagram.
Donald Schön, 2003. Reflective practice.
Reflective practice is "the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning",
Work still feels rooted in online graphics and interfaces. Trying to find paper-equivalents of electronic things.
3 versions of the invitation from literal to abstract, set to challenge the visitor to think about the electronics.
Examples of thickening from Social Science – how sometimes visiting Facebook is like glancing out of a window.
Objects are at different scale. Harder to get an overview from the printout of the program.
How do we make code readable by real people (Jon Rogers). Tim disagrees. Such a gulf between the way the technology works and what it does. Discussion about whether Raspberry Pi is good or not. Can visual programming languages (e.g. Max) scale to big problems.
Is Sian a psychologist? Now much more ethnographic end of sociology.
What was the starting material for these things? 3d Printing – powder and glue.
Is the goal a design tool for creating objects? Changes in the microscopic level can create effects in the macroscopic. In design we have intent and have to tweak materials to get what we want. With this project the process of design is part of the material because its alive. The seed.
Background in architecture – how do you collaborate with other disciplines. The more you get into a science the more you see the specialization. Different language between a microbiologist and a developmental biologist.
Issues of scale. Material proxies because the things we’re looking at occur at small scales, but are being explored at larger scales.
How does the fact that this is research change the kind of things you’re doing. Doing research makes you analyse things that you would have taken for granted. Being asked to engage in research, but we’re design practitioners.
Aim is to do something interesting about the future, but couldn’t move on without looking at the past.
How do the shoes you’re wearing affect the noise? The earthing process is affected by the soles.
Is the black box necessary? Could have the electronics locally.
I’m at the very excellent Research Through Design conference up in Newcastle. Unlike many of the events I go to, this one is very focussed on the things that people design. All the speakers have had to submit an object, which they are then talking about during the sessions during the day. There have been some beautiful objects, and some great discussion.
I’m dumping my notes from the event here with very little expansion. I hope they may be useful to someone, but I suspect actually that they will be quite opaque to everyone but me. Ah well.
Day one opened with a great keynote by Rachel Wingfield from Loop.pH. She showed a LOT of cool stuff.
Loop.pH – a "spatial agency". Lots of work in an architectural context.
Focus on “Space Crafting”
Architectural scale textile structures.
Lots of community work including more recently a focus on craft and farming.
At the RCA did an Mphil with Jon Rogers. Use of light in the home using printed electronics. Resulted in a number of projects, including:
The digital version is available for free, or you can buy a printed version if you want (they’re really nicely printed, but done print-on-demand so are a little pricey – we don’t make any money from them).
This issue is a summary of the SDS “Beyond Search” theme, focussing on Sian’s “5 Web Modes”, and showcasing various projects that have come out of the work, including Seeds, Cards and our work with Aalto University on “Domesticating Search”. I’m pretty proud of this magazine series, and this is another great issue for us to give out both internally and externally, to showcase what we do.
As a reminder, there are now three issues of the magazine, on Communication, Memory and Search. All of them are available from the here.
I’m at the SXSW Interactive festival in Austin Texas for a few days. It’s a huge event made up of talks, workshops, films and lots of other stuff to see. I’m going to a number of the talks, and I thought I’d try and post some of my notes online here.
The first of these is the opening keynote, given Bre Pettis, the founder of MakerBot, which produces a cheap 3D printer, and of Thingverse, an online forum for sharing 3D models that can be printed out with these kinds of printers.
Questions for Bre were posted to Twitter under #AskPettis.
To be honest, other than describing 3D printing as “The Next Industrial Revolution” and saying that “Creativity is now accessible in the world of things”, Bre’s talk was a little shallow and vision-free. He didn’t really paint a big picture of the changes that 3D printing will bring to society, commerce etc, but instead showed lots of little examples of things that people had made, mostly with the MakerBot printer.
FWIW, he was wearing a jacket by Sruli Recht, produced using 3D printing and laser cut wood. It reminded me an awful lot of the wooden textile produced by Elise Strozyk at Central St. Martin’s in 2009. I’m not sure which part of this, if any, was 3D printed.
Here are a bunch of the examples Bre gave of things made with Makerbot:
Markerbots are starting to show up in schools (there’s an interesting thread at SXSW about how kids are embracing digital creativity – drawing, coding, electronics etc., despite the feeling that school curricula fail to keep up with the times).
Other examples include someone who created the part to fix an espresso machine, a guy who created shoe inserts to make his daughter tall enough to go on some fairground rides, and another person who replaced expensive piano parts with 3D printed version.
Bre presented a prototype of the “MakerBot Digitizer” for the first time. This is basically a rotating platform that uses two lasers and webcam to scan 3D parts so that they can be reproduced using the printer. Bre described this process as "…like when Flynne gets scanned into Tron", and a way of “building out a "3D ecosystem". He admitted that the technology has been around for 25 years, but requires a lot of post-processing, the implication being that the secret sauce for the Digitizer is the software, which must make it easier to create closed meshes that can actually be printed.
Bre also mentioned the MakerBot partnership with Autocad. In the “Create” tent at SXSW they are teaching people to use Autocads “123D Creature” iPad app to make monsters, then printing them out on the spot using a row of Makerbots.
Here’s my ninth (gulp) annual set of favourite photos that I’ve taken this year with my Lumix GF1. I still love the camera, and picked up a new lens which zooms (a little) and goes pretty wide. I’ve primarily taken these shots with the fixed 20mm lens, which I still love. It lets in lots of light.
For some reason, I thought I’d had a slow year for photography, but looking back it doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve taken 7,400+, which is a couple of thousand above what I usually take. It’s been a busy year, though, with visits to Rome and Disney World, and with the Jubilee and Olympics at home. With those and our recent close call with flooding, there’s been plenty of subjects to shoot.
I’ll be running Nike’s “Run to the Beat” half marathon in London on the 28th of October, and am madly training with my wife, Shannon, who is also running. We’re raising money as part of the run in support of Lupus UK. Lupus is an auto-immune disease with a whole bunch of nasty side effects that’s had an impact on my family, and Lupus UK provides support for the 50,000 sufferers in the country and their families, as well as raising awareness of the illness.
Please don’t feel any pressure to support, but if you’d like to make a donation towards our run than we have a web page through which you can contribute:
The exhibition opened in April, but I only just had a chance to see it in August when I travelled North to Yorkshire for a spot of camping. It’s a great exhibition, with a lot of old bits of technology leading to more contemporary content. A timeline made of glass, embedded in the floor, runs all the way through the gallery, counting off the years next to examples of technology of the time. At the end of the timeline is a glass exhibition case, with our prototypes in them under the banner “Into the Future”. Really nice to see them put to good use.
On Thursday 12th of July 2012 I spoke at Getty’s “CurveLive” event on social photography. Here are some notes I wrote up soon after that I’ve been a little lax in posting. Hopefully they’re still interesting.
For reference, here’s a video of the event. My bit starts at 12:50 minutes in.
Here are my notes:
“The brief for Friday’s #CurveLive event at the Hospital Club was a tough and compelling one. It asked “How is social photography changing the way brands tell stories?” There are a lot of ways into that question since implicit in it are overtones of the changing nature of sociality, photography, the meaning, construction and reinforcement of person’s relationship with a brand, and new ways to tell and even participate in stories, all brought about by new technologies and a novel sense of interconnectedness between products and people.
I’m not really a brand person at all. Although I’m a designer by trade, and I suspect should be brand savvy because of that, I work in a world at Microsoft Research that has one foot in a large corporation and one foot in academia. I work with social scientists and developers, studying everyday life. My interests are in people’s relationships with things, with a particular focus on how the objects in their lives connect people with their past.
Images play an important part in this connection, as objects of legacy, since they allow us to see and recall the people, places and events that we might otherwise have forgotten. They also play more symbolic roles, allowing us, for example, to fulfil our obligations as family members. We’ll often walk into homes, as part of our research, and find mantelpieces stuffed with family portraits, in which an important aspect of the arrangement of the pictures is that every family member is represented. No one should be left out and forgotten. When family members visit and they see a display like this, they often can’t stop themselves from checking that they are represented. They want to see that they are being remembered.
From this personal perspective, then, it’s important to recognize that photos already play a very social role, and that the purpose of much social photography may be driven by the same old motivations –recording and remembering; fulfilling obligations; telling stories.
I’m not at all saying “same old same old”. The transition from physical photos to digital ones is certainly a monumental one, bringing new forms of old thing into people’s lives. Like all changes, it is double-edged. We lose some properties and gain some new ones. I have old photos of my Grandfather, taken during WWII, that have an aesthetic in their physicality, for example, from the visual – the white border and slight sepia tone that was typical of photos of the day – to the transitional – the way the picture has faded and curled slightly. They are beautiful objects that have aged gracefully, in a way that we suspect that digital things are not capable of. Perhaps that is motive for our search for authenticity in digital images, or our current obsession with deliberately distressing our photos through services like Instagram.
I have about 200 old photos of my Grandfather. I now take about 5,000 photos a year digitally. I realised that when my daughter, who is six and a half now, comes to inherit my “photo archive” she’ll be the lucky recipient of about 200,000 images. That seems like quite a burden.
Quantity, then, is one of the bigger shifts brought about by digitization. I wonder how my daughter will consume this vast amount of “stuff”. Maybe this is not unlike the transition of music from physical to digital. I’m one of those people who lament the passing of the LP record, a physical, tangible object that had a real sense of presence in my home, that reminded me of my tastes, and invited me into a little ritual of interaction as I put the needle in the groove. Even as I love physical things, though, I can’t help wondering at my iPod – 60 gigabytes of music, representing my history of taste, all of which I can put on random with one click. The randomness and unexpectedness of listening to songs this way is compelling, as songs that take you back in time pop up spontaneously. Serendipity can be a delightful thing. So, then, can many digital experiences, but in a way that is different from their physical equivalents.
The #CurveLive event was about sociality, not sentimentality, though and I have three observations that I think are interesting from the perspective of the image and its social role. The first is that the act of taking a shot has become performative, about participation, for many people. Hordes of individuals at gigs taking shots of a band with their mobile phones are doing that in part to show that they are involved, that they are celebrating the event in which they are taking part. The images they take may not even matter to them. Taking shots becomes not unlike waving a zippo around in the air as some ballad plays. It is participatory, and the act of taking photos this way is inherently a social one, in a way that diminishes the image.
Secondly, a photo posted online becomes a part of a web of relationships and data, one node in many. A photo might get commented on, and through a comment linked to another person. It may get geo-tagged, and through that tag tied to a place. It is part of a world of data and people, and the image itself may need to be thought of modestly. It may not be the most important thing in that web of data, and the properties tied to that image may be more interesting than it from a social perspective as a resource for creating connections with others, or with a brand.
Thirdly I wanted to comment on the idea of possession. Our sense with SOME (only a subset) of the people we talk to is that their sense of ownership of an image is diminishing. From the second they press the shutter release on their camera they think of the image that they are taking in social terms, as something that by default is shared with their friends. It belongs to their friends as much as it belongs to them. In some senses you can think of this as a tacit contract that they make with their friends through which they agree that their photo is shared, and that they will not take it out of that that shared experience, leaving their friends to trust that they can see it, comment on it, and make it part of their world without risk.
This leads me to wonder whether the idea of possession, from a personal rather than commercial perspective, might be diminishing. If photos become social by default, what else can there be but social photography?”
Microsoft holds an annual design competition for students from around the world who are usually studying either interaction or product design. It’s called the Design Expo. Students work in groups at their school, usually over the spring semester, to a brief that we set and they then select their best team, who travel to Redmond, Microsoft’s home, to present what they’ve done to an audience of employees.
I had a preview of the RCA student work earlier in the year, then we picked the two projects to send to Redmond, which were shown at the colleges degree show in early July, before heading to the US. Rather than taking place at the RCA’s “head office” near the Albert Hall, this year the Design Interactions students showed their work over the river at Battersea in a very cool creative space called Testbed 1.
The first of the two student projects we picked for Design Expo was The Superstitious Fund by Shing Tat Chung. Shing has developed a fully working investment fund, but one who’s algorithms for buying and selling are based on superstition. It primarily uses numerology, looking for example for lucky and unlucky numbers, as well as phases of the moon, to decide when to buy and sell. The amazing thing abut this project is that it is fully working. It is trading live on the stock market, has £4000 pounds worth of investment put it in by people from around the world, and includes a contract, stock certificate and every other legal requirement.
This is a classic example of the schools critical approach to design. It both forces us to think about the random nature of the stock market, for example, or the illogical sense that people have of numbers and data, while at the same time being very real.
Shing had a trade board mounted at the degree show, showing live data for the fund. He also presented some of his other projects which all look at superstition and illogicality.
The second student project which went to Redmond was Neil Usher’s beautiful Pareidolic Robot. Related to Shing’s project, Neil’s interests are in human’s capacity to look for shapes, meaning and data in our surroundings where there often isn’t any. According to Wikipedia “Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant.”
Neil built a fully working robotic system, which uses face recognition to look at clouds. He’s got a lovely selection of images that the robot has found, many of which are face like. The robot is beautifully engineered, with two cameras that look like eyes, and can reorient themselves on the end of stalks.
Again, this is a fully realised object, but one that asks questions about our past times, and what it means to do idle activities. Do we feel so much pressure to use all of our time “efficiently” that we might have to give over the pleasures in our lives, like cloud spotting, to some piece of technology?
So that’s the two pieces of work that went to the design expo. You can see the other participants work here. Neil and Shing did a great job compressing their joint presentation down to 10 minutes. Hopefully the video will be up soon.
A few other pieces of work stood out for me from the RCA Degree Show. Here’s some shots: