RCA Degree Show 2012 & Microsoft Design Expo

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.

This is the fifth year that I’ve acted as a liaison between Microsoft and a design school in the UK or Europe. I’ve done 2008 [Dundee], 2009 [Dundee], 2010 [Central St Martins Textile Futures] and 2011 [Venice], sharing the load with Tim Regan and Alex Taylor.

This year’s the Royal College of Art represented the UK in Design Expo. We’ve had a long-standing relationship with their world-class Design Interactions program, and this year we liaised with James Augur to help select students to go to Redmond.

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.

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 Superstitious Fund Project A Manual for an Uncanny Stock Market

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 WikipediaPareidolia 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?

Cloud Watching Robot Cloud Watching RobotCloud Watching RobotCloud Watching Robot

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:

All That I AmAll That I AmAll That I Am

Running Lives with DataDr. Weiskind's DayRotifer FarmRotifer FarmA Brief History of PowerPeckham Community GamblingThe Thread-Wrapping MachineThe Thread-Wrapping MachineThe One-Way Ticket

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