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.
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.
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:
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.
Christan Svanes video of objects and their history is a simple piece of work that reminds me of Berg’s visualizations or the great experiments and ideas from the Oslo School of Architecture and Designs “Touch” project (particularly this one). This idea that objects can hold their history, and through that keep us in touch with out past, is one that I find really compelling, and is obviously related to my interest in digital heirlooms. It’s also being explored through projects like “Tales of Things”, using RFID tags to connect objects to their data.
Jenny imagines digital skin as a virtual overlay, providing a strange, biological anonymity, a morphing mask. In addition to some great research work she had a live demo at the show that used augmented reality to overlay visitors faces with strange, biological growths (see bottom picture).
"I designed a collection of virtual digital skins that was inspired by morphogenesis and mineral crystalisation processes. a series of radical non-human like aesthetics were fashioned, to engage the public to consider if we have the tools to-redesign ourselves, would we still look, feel and be human? I also worked in collaboration with a company called holition who deal with a range of 3d technologies in particular augmented reality. augmented reality technology blurs the boundaries between the real and the virtual worlds; it superimposes graphics, audio and other sense enhancements over a live view of the world. holition and I designed and developed new ways to utilise and implement the AR to enable a more tactile and tangible response to technology, bridging the gap between the immaterial and material worlds. we translated the digital skins into the technology, and developed face-tracking ar to create a virtual experience that would enable the public to interact and visualise the future technological impact on society and the self."
A lot of the written material that we produce in the research team that I’m a part of is directed very much at an academic audience. Through conferences like CHI and CSCW we build on the research work of others and find out about new efforts going on in our domain of human-computer interaction. That’s as it should be for research.
We’ve been trying to think of some ways to make our work more accessible, though. Partially this is because the busy people who work for Microsoft in the US, building products that we want to help influence, don’t have a great deal of time to read a 10 page academic treatise. They need something a little more…succinct, and to the point. In addition to a focus on Microsoft, we think the subject of our research work is generally and genuinely interesting to a broad audience. We deal with the way people live their lives, and try and gain some understanding of the appropriate way in which technology should play a part. We look for the “human values” that motivate people, particularly in their personal relationships and in the places in which they spend time, then we ask how technology can enhance, rather than undermine, them.
So as part of this effort to make our work more approachable we’ve started a magazine called “Things we’ve learnt about…”, which will focus on succinctly summarizing what we’ve learnt around a particular theme, to provide simple insights into how we think people tick. You can download read about, and download the magazine from our site at:
Feel free to print it any way you want, if you want a hard copy. We’ve also made the magazine available through MagCloud, which is another alternative for getting a printed version. They can do a great, glossy print on demand version for you at cost.
The first issue deals with human-to-human communication. We’ve tried to wrap up over 5 years of research and design work in this area to talk about why people communicate. A lot of the focus on communication technologies is on the substance of the message – getting some “data” if you like, from person A to person B. A lot of this issue of the magazine deals with the reasons and methods through which people communicate that have little to do with the message. Sometimes people send message to remind other people that they care about them, for example. The content of the message matters less than the fact that the sender thought about sending it. The magazine is full of little insights like that, that are about the subtle underpinnings that make communication important.
Anyway, hope you like it. Let us know what you think in the comments below. And look for future issues on different themes.
Just came across this project by Kristin Grafe, Gene Lu, Russ Maschmeyer and Evinn Quinn at the School of Visual Arts in NY. It’s a beautifully executed example of interaction design looking at the idea of technological heirlooms. Something close to my heart. Project page is here.
As promised a while ago, when I posted the videos of the Backup Box and Digital Slide Viewer, I’ve finally put together something that shows the Timecard device (see video below). This is a timeline viewer, meant to represent someone’s life, that we imagine might be the digital equivalent of a photo album or baby book. We’d like to think that it might become a precious object for a family, forming a new class of digital heirloom.
More explanation of these devices (including Timecard) here and of our ideas behind Technology Heirlooms here.
I’ve posted a couple of videos of the Digital Slide Viewer and the Backup Box prototypes that are described in my earlier entry entitled Some Technology Heirlooms. I hope to make one for Timecard as soon as we get them back from out “volunteers”.
[UPDATE 9th Dec. 2010 – Just added the Timecard video]