22 June 2010

Assemble, London :: Session 1

Rosy Greenlees opened the Assemble one-day conference where Crafts Council (CC) launch their (to be) annual research event. Crafts Council launch 3 new pieces of research today, which as Rosy noted, is their contribution craft future debates and agenda.

Professor Press urged us as colleagues to champion the values of craft and to understand better why craft is worth campaigning for in these new times, i.e. post new-labour. Craft's challenge is to connect with the concerns and interests of the world around us, leaving the urge to define what craft is behind. We have new priorities defined by the sector. How should craft connect with the 'Big Society' set by todays new political UK framework? We have a choice notes Press, seize the moment or squander it? 'It' being the opportunity for change in a way that hasn't been presented for over a generation. Press noted the priority was to refine and define objectives and priorities for the craft sector; to engage in an informed dialogue and debate.

Making Value by Mary Schwarz and Dr Karen Yair, presented key findings from one of the CC new research projects, this one a qualitative piece of research that looked at the 65-70% of makers who have a portfolio of practice and are working beyond the making, exhibition and sale of craft objects'. e.g. Barley Massey, Sheila Tegue. (Making Value in Industry Sectors, in Education and Community Settings). My interest and  interpretation of Schwarz and Yair's talk was about the various forms of knowledge offered by craft: material, social, learning strategies, creative methods.

Listening to practitioners, while interesting on individual level, there appears to be a huge opportunity for 'us' to talk, to converse, to explain what we do, how we do it and WHY we do it differently as it is very difficult to penetrate what the 'value' of craft is when the conversation is heavily descriptive.

Lynne Murray's work is worth having a look at. It is the result of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership project which looked at new ways of understanding the vaue of craft, craft knowledge and craft maker. www.tissot.ch/reality. As is the work of Tom Gallant.

On closing of this first session, what is interesting is that CC appear to have taken a stance that craft is skillful making, and while Professor Press noted that the time to define craft is over, the majority of the presentations were concerned with craft as a 'type cast' process driven experience. The intellectual intentions of the makers were lost and the big brand, 'product' or client were over-riding Craft. Perplexing. There, as yet, appears to be a failure to communicate craft as a bigger set of issues e.g craft as a strategy rather than a concern for technical dexterity.  Explaining craft and crafting beyond materiality has as yet to arise in today's debate.

16 June 2010

In Conversation with Geoff Mann

As part of the new national initiative Craft Festival Scotland and the research exposition 'Knowledge Through Making' (currently on show in the Visual Research Centre at Dundee Contemporary Arts), the Scottish artist Geoff Mann was in Dundee yesterday. 

Geoff explained that he is fascinated with transposing the ephemeral nature of time and motion, and that his studio practice seeks to challenge the existing divides between art, craft and design. Our conversation began with a bit of background using 'Dogfight and 'Attracted to Light' as an introduction to his ideas. He explained that observations of contemporary life and questions concerned with the intangible idea of 'touching motion' lead his practice; he is a narrative led artist rather than process led and, while he is greatly inspired by the process of making he doesn't like to get physically/technically involved in it these days; he sketches via animations, film and 'thought sketches' and, there are no traditional 'sketchbooks' in his studio; he is purposefully vague as to what/how he 'labels' himself i.e. artist, designer, director because the current market(s) in which creatives operate these days have fundamentally changed and are ever changing. 

The focus of the event was his new Crossfire Series  (- an Animation and a series of sound objects are exhibited in Knowledge Through Making and commissioned by Past Present and Future Craft Practice). 'In Conversation' discussed the role of Rapid Prototyping (RP), noting that just because an object can be made by RP doesn't mean to say it has to be made; it explored if/how an object can speak to an audience about concept when the artist isn't there to explain; it delved into the importance of 'tactility' and the role of 'touch' when analysing and evaluating new work, and it questioned the role of material in craft where material is and is not an integral aspect of visual integrity.

Brief Bio
Geoff has exhibited in National and International venues including MoMA New York; International Bombay Sapphire Awards, London and Milan, Jerwood Contemporary Makers exhibition, MAD New York and the European Glass Context in Denmark. In 2008, he was awarded the World Craft Council Prize for Glass and in 2009 won the Jerwood Contemporary Makers Prize. Mann has work included in MoMA New York, Design and Architecture collection and MAD New York, Design and Applied permanent collections.   

Knowledge Through Making :: 10 June - 9 July, Dundee

Knowledge Through Making offers a great experience, built around the magic of craft.  The exposition shows and explains beautiful objects, offering insight into how they emerge following the spark of creativity.  The objective is to delight, educate, inspire and demonstrate the power of craft to create new ideas and ways of doing things. In the spotlight is contemporary craft from Georgina Follett, Geoffrey Mann, Drummond Masterton, Lara Scobie, Frances Stevenson, Louise Valentine, Tim Parry-WIlliams, Hazel White and Ewan Steel.

15 June 2010

Discovery 2: Prototypes can spark interaction

This is the second of my discoveries from the foyer of the Prototype Symposium 2010.

Prototypes can spark interaction: The work of Roy Shearer, uses Niftymitter to look at the possibility of using open source practice with physical objects. Niftymitter: an open thing is a device that transmits from an audio source to any FM radio. It is designed to be taken by the new owner and hacked, tampered, improved and can even be profited from. The only constraint is that you must release it under the same parameters, as there are no patents or copyright attached. This wild card factor allows for the strangers to work collaboratively in a way that though not new, is more predominant in today’s society. In her talk ‘From Mari to Memphis’, Catherine Rossi regales a story about a side note on instructions from an Enzo Mari furniture pack in 1973, ‘The author asks those who build the furniture and in particular those who make variations of it to send a photo to his studio’.

This practice is noticeable in areas such as software development, we had a great talk by Leonardo Bonani, ‘Tools and tool makers of the Bazaar, new paradigms in computer aided craft’ in which he discussed nature of Cathedrals and the Bazaar. The practice of making the tool that makes the object and making them both available, allowing innovators to flourish and remake products in new ways. Bonani also runs a course, Future Craft: Radical Sustainability in Product Design in MIT, in his course description he states:

“The objects we make are the channels that connect us with materials, cultures and individuals around the world. Production practices shape communities and politics. Individuals are defined by the objects they have at their disposal. At every level, designers have the power and the responsibility to define not only how to make things, but what things should be made.”

In a the practice of Design Ethnography, where the introduction of workshops and participatory design leads to new interactions with individuals, we should learn from these teachings and that of prototyping. What is the objects that we are using to communicate, does it give the individual the opportunity to speak and interact at the upper most level? After all ‘individuals are defined by the objects at their disposal’. In addition we should question, how are we prolonging the interactions and conversations? Where in our process should interactions and conversations begin and how long should they last? Should they be revisited and is this a viable option in academia and industry?

Lesson: Evaluate, then improve, my ability to select, use and create objects to instigate interactions with different audiences.

So my task now is to take all these lessons and try and incorporate them into this project. At the end of our project we are traveling back to Ireland to hold a workshop at Intel Ireland, we hope to have addressed the questions above and have a day in which we manage to pass the baton, the baton being our research completed over summer. If you would like to talk about anything just drop me a line, or make me a prototype.

Discovery 1: Prototypes can spark conversations

The Prototype Symposium 2010, brought together a varied group of practitioners exploring theory, practice and recounting experiences. Yet before the speakers even began I was taken on a journey with the prototype exhibition in the foyer, these projects lead me to two new discoveries.

Prototypes can spark conversations: The work of Sarah Kettely was exhibited in the foyer of the Dalhousie building, Aeolia takes the form of stretch sensors embedded in clothing collecting data such as movement, light and or sound, a textile led enquiry designed for a cellist. It is stated that the ‘final application is kept deliberately vague’, for its purpose was to explore how materials, form and weight would interact in reality. Its existence as a prototype creates a conversation piece, how would you use the data created?

I am currently doing my masters in Design Ethnography, here we explore qualitative data method collection such as interviews, observations and participatory design research. The question I would ask myself is how would the data from a project like Aeolia further my work and understanding of my participant group. I am doing a joint project with Caoimhe, looking at older people and game play. Would I get older people to wear an object like this, instead of a cellist. Could it offer an inside look at their daily movements? Would it give another level of insight into obstacles that they face when interacting with objects, spaces and games. The answers are not present but the conversation is.

The physical form of prototypes and its connection to sparking conversations was commented on by Constance Adams, Space Architect in the first panel session of the day. Constance talked about her push to take the prototype from screen to physical model ‘as soon as it’s physical, you can see what is wrong, 2d simulations on computers are hard to critique’. I had always perceived a prototype as an object used in the design process when initial concepts are under construction and the physical shape and interactions has to be explored and tested. Yet the prototype by Sarah Kettler, designed for use on a Cellist can be reused by other researchers to instigate ideas for other types of data collection. The way I understand it is that you have to get people asking the question, 'what can I do with it?', this is where conversations begin, attachment and relationships are forged to new ideas, possibilities and eyes are opened to what is not currently being done. When you get people talking it allows others to understand 'what they do', people can connect to this and magic can happen. The fact that a prototype can create conversation makes it a tool, it seems tools can come in different shapes and sizes.

A prototype is a tool, look at how you can get your audience to talk with it.

The Prototype and the Design Ethnographer

I could write a book about all that I learned during the conference!
However I will force myself to narrow it down to my 3 main takeaways :

"Prototypes can help you find the thing you weren't looking at"

As ethnographers we are trained to observe and look at everything from every angle - but there is always something you can't or don't see.
Prototyping is another tool or approach which can help you look at a problem or research area from a new perspective.

"Prototypes can bridge boundaries"

One of the biggest issues facing design ethnographers is how to bridge the gap between research and design.
As an ethnographer the last thing you want is your insights and research to just sit on a shelf - you want it to be used in the creation of something tangible - having prototyping as part of the design ethnographer's toolkit is one way to do this?

"Prototypes can open up the research and the design space"

I had previously thought of prototypes as a way of beginning to close down the exploratory phase of a project - moving on to the concept phase. As a result of the conference I have seen that they can be a great tool for opening up the space and can be used at the very front end of the project as a conversation starter and method of engaging with your participants.


We also got to the chance to speak with experts in their field such as Liz Sanders, Colin Burns and Michael Schrage who were extremely friendly and generous with their advice - Liz Sanders even gave us one of her 'Velcro toolkit' prototypes to keep in our studio!
And they say you should never meet your heroes......!

In conclusion:

The event was fantastic and very relevant to my practice. It shattered the preconceptions I had about the role of prototyping in research. The range of speakers all had very different ways of using prototypes which resulted in some lively discussion and debate.
If the symposium were to be held again (please, please hold it next year!) I would have just one request - that we have a prototyping workshop during the event itself!

14 June 2010

Prototypes - approach with caution?

In the opening talk of Day 2 Glen Adamson presented us with the idea that a prototype can be a positive or negative thing.
A prototype can be used to persuade, to sell a vision - which can be slightly sinister in some cases. It can trick us into a false sense of security, letting us think we are seeing something completely resolved which can prevent us from questioning and exploring - 'a prototype can be a troublesome thing.'
During the discussion that followed the morning session Rosan Chow defended the prototype from this level of criticism, telling us that prototypes do no harm - it's the way people use them that can be harmful - or as another delegate put it - 'Guns don't kill people, people kill people'.
I had never previously thought of a prototype as something which could be negative - that it's powers could be used for evil rather than for good!
During the short film 'The American Look - A tribute to the men and women who design' you see the management team looking over a slick prototype of a 1950's Chevrolet. They glance at it, then shake hands with each other, nodding and patting each other on the back before heading off to smoke their pipes.

Still taken from 'The American Look'

I have to say that this is never the way I have seen a prototype treated in industry.
In my experience prototypes are scrutinised, pulled apart and questioned
The type of analysis required from different groups and the type of prototype required can depend on who the audience for your prototype is and at what level they will need to engage with it.
Throughout the conference the 'rough and ready', lo-fi prototyping method was a popular approach for our speakers. This reinforced the idea that a prototype was an unfinished, developmental tool.
Stuart Brown presented a slightly different angle. The high flying, time poor surgeons he was designing for would not have engaged with a basic prototype and so the design team employed high end rapid prototyping techniques to present their concept.

This Symposium as a Prototype?

It was mentioned on several occasions that this conference was a prototype. If so, did it fulfil the 'characteristics of a prototype' which were discussed over the two days?
The event was exploratory, opened up a discussion space, brought people together across different cultural and professional barriers, sparked conversations in the lecture theatre and outside.

Michael Schrage, Alex Murray-Leslie, Cat Rossi, Liz Sanders and Chris Van der Kuyl

The symposium was a carrier of many different types of knowledge which the delegates could pick and choose from according to their interests and experiences. The conference has also helped us make some sense of the future and explore where craft, design and prototyping is going.
In my opinion all the characteristics of the best kind of prototype!

11 June 2010

Prototype Symposium: A summary

Dr Louise Valentine, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, one of the main organisers of the symposium

In her closing address, Dr Sarah Teasley from the Royal College of Art responded to the question that if everything is a prototype, then surely the very symposium we were attending is one as well.

Indeed it’s fair to assume that everyone in the audience had opened up to new thinking on the term. Before I came, I was under the impression that a prototype is just a mini version of something and I’ve left (writing this on the train back to London) realising that prototypes are something else completely, in fact their scope is so huge I’m not sure if I can condense it.)

Over the two days we heard from some a diverse range of speakers in fields ranging from art to science to craft to space to architecture, music and beyond. Topics discussed included innovation, style, design, utopia and performance art and all attempted to describe their own interpretation of prototyping, referencing the craft within that process.

The meaning of what is a prototype also differed between discussions. We heard that they can be unstable, provocative, used for demos, to persuade, as actual artefacts, as process……..it was really quite a minefield. But as one person I spoke to said to me during the tea break, ‘this is an event that will be remembered, and those who missed it will be gutted.’

Final words by some of the delegates who attended:

Lisa Cresswell (left), University of Dundee: ‘It was a really good range of speakers, Constance the Nasa speaker was my highlight.’

Sandra (right) , University of Dundee: ‘Great to see so many disciplines mixing, I was blown away by the Nasa speaker and am still processing her presentation, I couldn’t get enough of it!’

Lizz: ‘The event has shown me that prototyping is vital and I believe in it.’

Keith Faskin (left), ITT Defence Ltd: ‘I liked the diverse concept of prototype and the different ways it’s perceived’

Friedemann Schaber (right_, University of Northampton: ‘For me it’s been a great networking event, being able to meet others in the field’.

And that’s a wrap. It’s cheerio from me. I hope my musings on the Prototype Symposium made sense to you, it was a real pleasure blogging at the event. I’ll leave you with my favourite moment; a photo of me meeting two of my idols at once – Faith Levene (Handmade Nation) and Alex from Chicks on Speed.

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.'

Prototyping and art

Speaker: Simon Starling, Conceptual Artist: Five Thousand Years (Some Notes, Some Works)

Being at a craft symposium, it’s refreshing to hear from an artist and their take on prototyping. Simon Starling is a conceptual artist and was the winner of the 2005 Turner Prize. He talked about his fascination with transforming objects into new through using existing objects, installations, and pilgrimage-like journeys that he’s been undertaking for over a decade.

One of the most interesting points he raised was about time, how that in prototyping, although it takes a long time, once a prototype has been made, it’s all about speed, getting it out there before someone else does - while he is the opposite, and likes to slow things down.

An example he gave was needing balsa wood for a project, rather than going to a hardware shop he decided to go to Equador to get his materials. A waste of time ornecessary because it stays true to what he believes in? In art does one have more time to indulge in things like that because in industry this would never be possible would it?

While he talked us through some of his past projects, the one that stood out for me the most was a concept he about different people creating a cupboard, but making the same cupboard using instructions that were emailed to them. It touches on prototyping in a different way – the fact that several different people can try and make one prototype but end up with something slight different and I really like that. It’s just like following a recipe but unlike a recipe, a prototype shouldn’t have the same creative license to make changes otherwise it will lose it’s intention and I guess that’s one of the many things that makes prototyping so unique (and as the symposium is showing there are hundreds of things about prototyping that most people have never thought of before!

Too much R&D?

Speaker: Dr Stuart Brown, University of Dundee : Prototyping for High Value, Time Poor Users

From hearing an artist talk, to the views of a mechanical engineer, Dr Stuart Brown leader of the Surgical Technology Group, an R&D group at the University of Dundee, closed the morning session with his take on the ‘value of prototyping.’

Prototypers can spend years investing (both time and financially) designing a product that in 20 years time can become cheap and everyone has one…indeed I can’t believe the number of people who have an i-phone. Is this something we should get frustrated about or is it just the way of the world?

When I was growing up I remember my mum used to spend two hours cooking up a fresh curry, only for it to be gobbled up by the family in five minutes. It’s a fact of life that research and making (and cooking!) takes ages and when you get to the end product all that gets forgotten. Chicks on Speed’s guitar stiletto is another example, when you see it on display at DCA, you could never imagine the process that went into making in, the fact Alex explained the ‘tale’, makes seeing the shoe in real life so much more impressive.

But can we keep going this way? Isn’t that why he have computers these days to make the design process quicker/easier and cheaper? Would digital prototypes suit a client’s needs or is a physical product still expected?
Stuart put forward some of his opinions with reference to the design process of tools in the ‘surgical’ industry.

Clearly there are benefits to the technical approach – its quick, does the job and adds some prestige. So why aren’t we doing everything by computer instead of clay? Doesn’t real life need things to be done the real way? As we heard yesterday in the aerospace world, the construction of lifesize prototypes are still necessary in that industry.

One of the points that Stuart raised was that he is required to make high value products but because his clients (top surgeons) are time poor, they aren’t always available to get involved in the collaborative process prototyping requires, and that’s where the problem lies. This led him to talk about ‘abstract prototyping’.

Prototypes are vehicles of concept, and to show someone your concept you need to give them some sort of visual aid, whether that’s a physical object or virtual construction. The ‘debate’ itself is not one that was ‘solved’ in the talk but it’s certainly something for us to think about. My own interpretation is that you need to adapt your prototyping to each situation, I’ve never been a fan of spending ages and ages in R&D but clearly it’s vital in some industries and as makers/designers/artists etc, we should be respectful of that – there are always things to be learned from the way other people do things.

Prototype Symposium:Start of Day 2

Dr Glen Adamson’s (above) (Deputy Head of Research at the Victoria & Albert Museum) introduction to Day 2 began with a short Hollywood style docu-movie depicting what happened behind the scenes of the ‘design process’ back in car production in late '50s Detroit. It was shown as a ‘secret undercover operation’, M15 style – taking place behind closed doors - here ‘dreams’ were created and tested in rooms that looked as though they had been decked out in the paint sample cards you find in B&Q.

Although the film was made 50 years ago it still resonates with what happens in design today. When you see a finished car automatically you’d see it as mass produced - the opposite of craft when in fact the prototype design process that comes before a car is made couldn’t be any craftier - for example initial parts were tested in clay before being made from the real materials. It goes to show that every design process has crafts present in it. Which begs the question why doesn’t craft command more respect? Why is it subordinate to art?

This was touched on by Dr Frederic Schwartz who teaches History of Art and Architecture at University College London in his talk ‘Prototopia:Craft, Type and Utopia in Historical Perspective. He talked about craft in the pre-modern era stating it started to decline before technology took over.The prototype on the other hand is, and always has been a craft.

Being a non-academic, I’ll admit that I couldn’t make sense of all his theories. But what I did pick up is that prototyping as craft is not just about Future Craft, it just as much represents crafts in the present – look at the production of any product whether it’s a phone or a kettle, it started life as a prototype; it does things products before it haven't done – this is the present, the future is what it goes on to become. Maybe that’s a really simplistic interpretation but I’ve never viewed the present in that way so it’s given me something to think about at least!

Chicks on Speed: Guitar Stiletto Shoe

Alex in a DIY limited edition dress

How does one describe Chicks on Speed? A hybrid of art, pop, music, DIY fashion, performance, filmmaking, poetry, makers, designers, creative’s and the kitchen sink rolled into one would be one interpretation, but perhaps their appeal is more to do with not knowing how to categorise them?

The there two founding members of the ‘clan’, Alex Murray-Leslie and Melissa Logan and after 14 years together (and with hundreds of collaborations, projects, agendas, achievements under their belt) the girls are currently celebrating an exhibition of their work at Dundee Contemporary Arts. On display are some of their films, zines, protest banners, home made instruments, clothing, posters, textiles, photos and music. Alex attended the symposium specifically to talk about their recent venture – the construction of a shoe guitar.

Firstly though she gave us a potted history of the ‘girl band project’ who went on to shake up the notion of what a girl band can do and achieve.

These highlights included:

Paying their way through art school by selling alcohol at impromptu parties in Munich

Selling a fake box set (when they only had one song)

Getting a major following thanks to coverage in the NME

Exhibiting internationally

Using their naked bodies as instruments

Constructing clothes and textiles that make music

The girl's fake box set

The girls imaginations knows no boundaries and once they decided stilettos that double as guitars, was their next adventure nothing was ever going to stop them, even if it meant name dropping Lady Gaga in order to get attention.

And so began a journey across the world collaborating with shoe designers, technologists and manufacturers until after many, many failures the shoe was born just a couple of weeks ago. They have already been played at an inaugural gathering recently, but are now on display in the exhibition until Lady G’s stylist comes calling.

What a shoe!

Listening to Alex and seeing the exhibition was completely awe-inspiring. COS are the kind of role models that every girl in the UK should look up to rather than being sucked in by talentless reality TV stars. If only Alex could go and deliver the same speech in assembly at every girl’s secondary school in the nation we might have more motivated and inspiring guerrilla groups among the next generation.

Musical tapestry

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!

10 June 2010

Welcome to Dundee!

Hi there!

We are Kate and Caoimhe. Unlike Momtazbh we didn't have to suffer the sleeper train to attend the symposium as we are lucky enough to be students here in the University of Dundee on the Masters of Design Ethnography course. We are really excited about the conference and are going to be blogging about what we see and hear over the next two days!

Future Jewellery

Speaker: Hazel White, University of Dundee: Crafting the Idea

If your jewellery had another use, other than just being an attractive accessory, what would you make it do?

Jewellery designer and Programme Director of the Masters of Design Programme at the University of Dundee Hazel White let us in on her research into this very question. Telling Tales is a project that uses jewellery to explore digital scrapbooks with the specific intention of making communication easier for older people who are less mobile.

Hazel began introducing how her relationship with jewellery developed. While studying for her MA she explored whether jewellery could become permanent parts of our body. She gave us the example of a wedding ring that can be surgically screwed to your finger…painful yes? Necessary…not sure… The Future of Craft? Maybe!

But rather than exploring ‘permanent jewellery’ her research took her down a more anthropological approach,looking at the significance of charm bracelets so see how people react to their jewellery. After gauging opinions following a six week test the types of answers people came up with were about monitoring, similar to how ‘baby monitors’ work i.e. their jewellery could be doing a job. Sounds strange that the jewellery function comes first and the function second but it’s also a refreshing concept. The use that would appeal to me, would definitely be the ‘Oyster Card’ approach, but could something so useful be attractive too or is it like how a lot of ‘organic cotton clothes’ are actually quite ugly, they are ‘good’ but ‘bad’ at the same time.

Hazel’s work led her to her project Hamefarer’s Kist based on research she has undertaken with older people in the Shetland Isles. Her concept is a knitted remote control. Whereby a person has a box of knitted cushions, each cushion represents a person and when that cushion is lifted up they can receive an up to date ‘photostream’ from Flickr of that person, making it an easy and accessible way to keep in touch with relatives without the complexities of using a computer that actually aren’t very useful for people with mobility issues.

Overall verdict?
Wow! I can honestly say that other than a t -shirt I’ve seen in Argos that tells the times in LED lights across your chest, I have never thought of jewellery other than in an artistic/fashionable sense. I have made and sold bracelets that double up as money pouches and belts that have pockets on them but they are very typically functional. Giving jewellery such a personal meaning opens up a whole new world. The future of jewellery is truly sci-fi and as for knitting being part of the grand scheme of things – perfect. Everyone’s knitting these days and this application is taking it to the next level.

Sustainability via IT

Speaker: Leonardo Bonnani, MIT Media Lab. The Tools and Tool-Makers of the Bazaar: New Paradigms in Computer-Aided Craft

‘Science doesn’t advance, it’s pushed and that’s what prototyping is to me,’…is how Leonardo Bonanni introduced his take on Prototyping. With a background in architecture, Leo has been teaching a course called ‘Future Craft’ at the MIT Media Lab for three years. The course is about about making product design sustainable – but not as we know it. We’re not just talking‘reusing materials’. He introduced us to alternative ways to be sustainable, mainly by making what you need, when you need it and sharing the specific knowledge and tools you need to do that task via computer aided solutions.

So why does something need to be made in the first place Leo outlined case studies of new products that can help people all around the world, like wheelchairs that can go up stairs and wearable computers for soldiers. He also shared some of the trends in sustainability that he’s seen over the last few years.

These include: Being Open – making your designs available to everyone regardless of the resources they have, using your own tools but also making them available for mass production and being Virtousic; finding ways to express the skills you’ve developed over years like a potter going digital so we can share their your knowledge.

Sustainability is clearly more than just a buzz word and it’s good to see it interpreted in new ways to what we're normally exposed to. Leo gave us all something to think about – especially when you think about people who are precious about their crafts. Some crafters/makers/designers/artists etc hate sharing their work or telling you how they do things but if we don’t open up and teach others, skills can be lost and in this sense sustainability is essential for the future of craft and other industries.

Mission to Mars

Speaker: Constance Adams - Synthesis International: Techne and Logos at the Edge of Space

There’s thinking big and thinking BIG, but nothing is as big as Space so it was an intriguing start to the event to hear from Constance Adams, a specialist in high performance architecture, design and innovation for human spaceflight…..in other words, a spaceship designer! She’s the scientist everyone wants to be when they’re a kid – a Nasa consultant and her talk was about the craft of designing and building an environment that humans can survive in on a mission to Mars.

But we’re not talking mini modelling….as Constance explained, when you’re designing for space flight, you need to create full-scale models. She’s been involved in designing prototypes of full size living quarters for six astronaut to survive a 180 days trip to Mars for 15 years. Her work involves designing and testing everything an astronaut could possibly need on their space mission. Making furniture for variable gravity, thinking about sleeping and eating: all these things need to be designed on the ground through physical prototyping – that makes a lot of sense….but there’s also other aspects to consider.

Sending things to space is hugely expensive; it costs an estimated $50,000 to orbit a kilo of weight so space travel literally is ‘travelling light.’ But how does an astronaut know what they might need..for example what if a lighbtbulb blows…..taking lots of spare light bulbs would be expensive, what if they were able to make their own while they were up there?? (It’s not like they can be couriered supplies…)

DIY space crafting is just one of the areas Constance is looking into – equipping astronaut with knowledge to make things to help them survive, doing simple DIY with materials they have with them just as we may do an odd job with things we have lying around, the same is possible in space and was done once when a solar ray needed repairing - the team figured it out.

To conclude she left us with some words from Scrimshaw ‘craft keeps you sane in long slow hours’….spending 180 days in space can obviously get dull, although the team are busy completing specific tasks the novelty factor of looking out of the window wears off after a couple of days. So what could our astronauts get up to in their down time?? What about doing some hobby crafting??? Anything is possible in space design, every material would need to be prototyped (they already need space pens as an ordinary biro doesn’t work in space!)..so space friendly knitting needles wouldn’t be so peculiar.

It would certainly inspire them visually, most space rockets after all have totlaly whitewashed walls so it’s hard to know when your upside down or not….but brightly patterned interior fabric panels could change this.

What a fascinating insight. It’s so rare you get to hear from someone who’s job is something to do with Space….but to find someone who’s talking about the relationship between space and craft? The symposium is already living up to it’s name….it’s definitely about Future Craft.

Prototype Symposium:10-11 June 2010 - About to start!


I've survived my 9 hour sleeper train journey from London to Dundee (estimated 3 hours sleep) to keep you up to date with the the event, live as it unfolds!

I've been blogging about crafts for quite a few years, it's my passion. From new developments in the UK crafts industry to emerging artists, I try and keep up to date with important crafty news with the aim of sharing it with other like minded people.

I'll be blogging throughout the next two days, covering all aspects of the event commenting on the the speakers and discussions. Here goes....it's just starting!