11 June 2010

Day 1 - the Power of......

Credit: NASA, 1968

During the first talk of the day Constance Adams stood in front of this photo and told us - “there's no barriers - its all one planet”. For me, this set the tone for the first day of the Prototype Symposium ,which provided the audience with a heady mixture of craft, design, architecture, business, art, science, and engineering.

People Power

A common thread running through all the talks was 'openness', a willingness to share information and ideas, collaborate and participate. Constance also informed us that the current space programme is made up of many countries working together - something which would have been unimaginable in the past. If former 'sparring partners', the US and Russia, can collaborate to achieve a common goal then why not business, the creative arts and science?
There was a feeling of grass roots activism afoot, a desire to work from the ground up, for people and with people – as Michael Schrage put it – “it's no longer DIY it's DIW – Design it With who?”.
A different world has begun to emerge during the last few years. People no longer want to depend on the 'Cathedrals' that Leonardo Bonnani spoke of but are looking to the 'Bazaars' for ideas, inspiration, innovation, community and authenticity. This was also a theme in Faythe Levine's fantastic film 'Handmade Nation' (which was screened as part of the Symposium at the DCA on Wednesday night).
Hazel White mentioned the special role that craftspeople and makers have – a deep understanding of the raw material they work with and the resonance and meaning that these materials have with people. This was evident in her 'Hamefarer's Kist' which utilised familiar materials – wood and wool - to create a piece which would engage even the most diehard technophobe.
Here is a video of the 'Kist' in action:

This idea of approaching design from a very human level arose during the discussion which followed the morning sessions when the panel discussed the idea that our bodies do more of our thinking than we realise. In many cases we have become dependent on machines to do things for us, however, as Leonardo pointed out we are not as dexterous with an ipad or a keyboard as we are with a fork. Alex from Chicks on Speed showed us a fantastic example of this as she and her collaborators actually used their own bodies as instruments with their 'bum-slap' percussion! Perhaps we need to trust ourselves and our bodies more and move back to more physical ways of engaging with objects, ideas, technology and each other.
The Power of the Prototype
The physicality of prototypes and the innovation which can occur when designers and users interact with prototypes arose time and time again throughout the day.
According to Liz Sanders prototyping can and should occur at every stage of the design process and can help invite people into the conversation. A big part of Liz's approach is getting people to make rough prototypes and then talk about them - often they do not end up talking about the prototype but about their real feelings on a issue.
Hazel spoke about the bond which is created by 'making' with your participants and end users – this process relaxes them and allows you to ask probing questions and gain an insight into their lives.
During the panel discussion it was mentioned that it is easier to have a conversation around a prototype than around a screen and that prototypes can even help when dealing with professional and cultural language barriers.
The Power of not being Precious
Micheal Schrage described the idea of working closely with your participant, requesting feedback and inviting comment as 'Show and Ask' rather than 'Show & Tell.' Indeed this idea is not as new and radical as we would like to think, Cat Rossi showed us the example of Alessi designer Enzo Mari's DIY furniture. As far back as 1974 he was giving people the template to make their own 'designer furniture' out of cheap material which was available to them, inviting them to modify the design and send photographs back to him.
The Power of the Process
This was a common theme throughout all the presentations but, for me, it was Alex from Chicks on Speed who tied everything together when she spoke of the moment she and her collaborators realised that "the interesting bit is the process, not the final perfect thing”.

It was a privilege to gain insight into the processes of these amazing innovators on Day 1 – I can't wait to see what Day 2 will bring!

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