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:
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.
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.
My phone shots from the CSM show this year, in their cool new King’s Cross building. Most of these are from the Textile Futures program, which was, as usual, really thought provoking.
Project from the TEXTILES FUTURES MA students. I’ve managed to link these mysterious looking shots to their project pages up on the course homepage. They’ve been pretty smart, and made dedicated project pages for each, which hopefully they’ll keep alive now that the students have graduated.
This year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are titled “Size Matters”. Presented by Dr Mark Miodownik, they’re an exploration of materials science looking at facts like “How can hamsters survive falling from an airplane? How can hair keep you warm in the cold and cool in the heat?” and so on. Aimed at kids from 11 to 17, they’ll be broadcast on BB4 on the 28th, 29th and 30th of December from 8pm. Definitely one to watch for the budding scientist. Good for adults, too, actually. And something I’m very happy to see us sponsor.
Videos have just been posted for the six student presentations from this year’s Microsoft Design Expo. This is an international competition we’ve run for a decade, inviting various design colleges to do projects to a brief that we set. They pick their best student team and send them to Redmond to present their work at the Faculty Summit.
This is the third year that I’ve been a coordinator for a school in the UK. The firsttwo were with Dundee University, and because we try and mix up the schools regularly, this year I picked Central Saint Martins to participate. Slightly radically, we’ve been working with the Textile Futures course. This is an amazing department, combining technology with the craft of surfaces. Their work was really challenging and conceptual, and quite unlike anything that Microsoft employees tend to get exposed to. Well done to Natsai Chieza and Amy Congdon (from the team Social Pica) for inspiring the audience, and presenting so well. And well done to all the students on the course for some beautifully compelling work.
Here are the shots from our two crits (in March and May). They’re very random and anonymous, as was my photography, but compelling.
On the 10th of April I helped host a workshop session at this years Computer Human Interaction conference (known by the shorthand “CHI”) in Atlanta, Georgia, with Mike Massimi (who really did the bulk of the work), Dave Kirk and Will Odom. I’m a little late getting this out, but I thought I’d write up some thoughts about the experience, as well as use this blog post as a place to write up the notes from my breakout session during the day, which was on “artefacts”.
Workshops are run before the conference proper begins, and are a chance for groups of like minded people to get together to discuss and learn more about a topic area. Our topic was “Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) at the End of Life”.
The term HCI is getting a little outdated in this context, really. It’s a term used in our industry as shorthand for “people using technology”, although it sounds way more geeky than that. What the 11 of us who met were primarily interested in was how technology is being used, or might be used, during the difficult period towards the end of a persons life and after.
Mike Massimi’s original call for participation gives you a good sense of the themes in more detail, and the position papers we received from participants show the variety of work going on in this area. These are all downloadable from the site and worth a closer look. For example, some of the participants had studied activity on social networking sites such as Facebook after someone in a community had passed away. Others looked at how technology might make decision making easier for those approaching the end of their lives. A few papers dealt with the use of digital media in this space, from creating personal chronicles of a life, to photographing people after they had passed away. My own interest was through the work I’ve been doing on Technology Heirlooms, looking at the process of passing digital things on at the end of life.
It all sounds very morbid, but actually wasn’t. I think we had a very thoughtful, thought-provoking and insightful day, with some great discussion and some practical next steps. We spent quite a bit of time doing introductions, and giving each participant time to explain their work. It’s always great to hear first hand accounts of motivations and outcomes.
Then after lunch we did a classic post-it note exercise, developing a grouping the different themes we had picked up during the day. We found 4 themes that emerged:
The Temporal – about the process before, during and after bereavement. Something we called the “Narrative of Dying”.
Identity, Ethics and Social Networks – around issues of online identity. How control of someone’s online identity comes about after their death and the ethics of then managing someone else’s online presences.
The Ethics of Research Practice – dealing specifically with how researchers should do their work sensitively in this domain.
Artefacts – around issues of dealing with “stuff” before and after bereavement.
ARTEFACTS. PROS AND CONS.
I joined the group (consisting of Angela Riechers, Jim Kosem and Daniela Petrelli) that took on the last of these topics, on Artefacts. We really felt like this was an issue of the tension between digital and physical things, that somehow we didn’t understand what we might be losing as heirlooms shift from being ‘real’ to ‘virtual’. We decided to use the time listing out the positives of each.
There was a suspicion in our group that our relationship and sentimentality towards physical things was a generational thing. That new generations, who spent more time with the digital than the physical, wouldn’t feel the same bias as some of us towards the physical.
There was also a sense that physical things were losing their value, as they become transient and temporary holders of digital content. An example of this kind of object is a mobile phone, which is typically replaced every 14 months.
An interesting outcome of these lists are that the positives of one form of artefact are inevitably a negative for the other. And in many cases the reverse of a positive of one artefact type was a positive of the other. So, for example, the ‘uniqueness’ of a physical thing was seen as a positive – the fact that there’s only one of each physical thing makes it somehow more precious. So somehow the fact that digital things are easy to copy and therefore can’t be considered unique cheapens them. At the same time, the fact that a digital thing can be so easily duplicated is also a positive. It makes a digital thing shareable amongst family members, for example, with no arguments over ownership.
So here is the list of positive attributes of physical things:
Physical things are unique.
Physical things are precious.
Physical things have a “smell” – subtle qualities of being physical.
Physical (particularly old) things have an aesthetic that comes with time.
Physical things have to be curated because they take up real space. You can’t keep a limitless number. They force decision making.
Therefore, physical things have been ‘selected’, which makes them more meaningful.
Physical things have stories associated with them about their physicality.
Physical things get a patina through their knocks that also tell their story.
Books exemplify a special example of the physical. They have attributes that it’s hard for the digital to match (such as browsability, portability)
Physical things can be personalised and changed.
And here’s the positive attributes of digital things:
Digital things do not take up space – there’s no cost associated with keeping them and they are very portable.
We can have a serendipitous relationship with digital things that can be delightful. I can put all 60 gigabytes of my music collection on random, for example, and find songs I haven’t listened to in decades.
Digital things can have rich interactions, motion etc.
Digital things can be easily duplicated and shared.
Digital things do not crumble.
Digital things can be augmented with metadata – objects can carry their stories, for example.
And a few things we found that both shared:
Both physical and digital things need to be maintained to make sure they persist.
Both digital and physical things make us guilty if we don’t sort them out.
We feel delight when we randomly come across lost or forgotten things, whether they are digital or physical.
Both need curating, but for different reason. For physical things we need to decide what to keep in order to keep our environments sane. For digital things we curate to make special, in order to elevate the “best” for sharing for example.
This feels like a useful list, for me at least, as we continue to think about the digital and physical forms that we reminisce with through the things we keep. Relevant to the Technology Heirlooms work, anyway.
I’d forgotten about this video from last year’s Innovation Day event at Microsoft Research in Cambridge (so this was from about April 2009). It shows the V1 of Timecard, which was a non-working proof of concept that came before the working version I described recently. The comments about the goals behind the project still apply, even if the object itself has changed quite a bit.