11 June 2010

Academia in the afternoon

Catherine Rossi

I didn't get a chance to sum up the afternoon sessions on Day 1 so I'm combining Day 1 and Day 2.

Day 1

Monday Afternoon speakers

Catherine Rossi ‘the role of prototypes in italian radical and post modern design.’

PHD student Catherine began her speech with a Through the Keyhole style introduction showing us the homes of celebs who’ve had their homes kitted out in Italian ‘Memphis’ furniture. Memphis was a Milan based collective of young designers headed up by the more experienced Ettore Sottsass. The collective designed Post modern fabrics, ceramics, glass, metal and furniture throughout the 1980s. Their bold use of acid colours and fake finishes was a reaction against the more conventional styles that had emerged in earlier years exploring kitsch 50s inspirations and futuristic concepts.

For someone who detests drawing and likes to get straight in with the making side, I found her talk a relief. I’m a hobby crafter and I’ve always got projects on the go but I’ve never been a fan of drawing on paper first or maybe I should feel ashamed to say, making prototypes (cough). The group challenged design by not following strict design processes – it wasn't just their work that was unique, so was their method – using no drawings or designs – it was more of a verbal communication between the designer and maker. I guess this it was we would call a kind of 'abstract prototyping' as it’s designing in the head. There’s no physical object to show ideas or suggestions – it’s just 'here it is', this is the product. This method works because the designs were so unusual – while conventional designs require more conventional methods, these post modernist designs didn’t. I like the fact this point was included in the selection of topics as again it showed a completely different take on what ‘prototyping’ is all about.

Michael Schrage
from MIT also spoke about The Purpose of Serious Play and Dr Elizabeth Sanders from Maketools talked about Prototyping for the Design Spaces of the Future.

Day 2

Professor Norman M. Klein, California Institute of Arts: Embedded Media and the ‘Futures’ of Material Culture: Synopsis for a future essay, an emerging history of parallel words

Norman gave us a sneak preview into his new project, a novel/DVD/art piece called The Imaginary 20th Century. Explaining this through a selection of archival images, photos, illustrations, covers, designs, he spoke about the role of ‘embedding’ revealing some fascinating ‘past' takes on the future – in essence this showed just how unstable prototyping can be.

For example he showed illustrations of the year 2006 drawn in the 1970s, but sci-fi as full of prototyping as it is, never quite turns out that way. And yet at the same time, they do, but just in different circumstances – the examples were endless, in fact he has over 2000 of them. Being a cultural critic, urban and media historian, Norman’s approach was certainly different. I can’t explain much more than that so recommend you check out his website
Professor Pieter Jan Stappers

ID-StudioLab, University of Delft: Prototypes as Central Vein of Knowledge Development

The afternoon kicked off with a vibrant session by Pieter Jan Stappers who is professor of Design Theory at Delft University of Technology, Netherlands where he leads a group of researchers and educators that focus on the early phases of design, including mapping user contexts and exploring understanding through prototypes. His talk was about how prototyping can contribute to research. It was a fast paced session with charts and tables but it was his last slide that summarised his thoughts and made the most sense (to me anyway!) These were his 5 ways in which prototyping can contribute to research:

1. It confronts the world (so it has to work)
2. It confronts theories (you can’t hide behind abstractions, this is it!)
3. It communicates outside the core team (it’s not to be kept to yourself but can be shared, demonstrated and discussed with others)
4. It can test a theory (on numerous occasions, we’ve heard at the symposium that a prototype can be seen as a hypothesis)
5. It changes the world (a big statement that can be left to your own interpretations.)

Dr Rosan Chow
from Deutsche Telekom Laboratories also spoke about a design method called 'Rip & Mix.'

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