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Blog posts tagged as 'hopeful monsters'

New Nature: a brief to Goldsmiths Design students

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

The project we ran in the spring with the Goldsmiths Design BA course was not ‘live’ in the sense that there was a commercial client’s needs informing the project, but it was an approximation of the approach that we take in the studio when we are working with clients around new product generation and design consultancy.

It was also an evolution of a brief that we have run before at SVA in New York with Durrell Bishop – but with the luxury of having much more time to get into it.

Our brief was in two parts – representing techniques that we use in the early stages of projects.

The first half: “Death To Fiction” stems from our love for deconstructing technologies, particularly cheap everyday ones to find new opportunities.

It’s a direct influence from Durrell – and techniques he used while teaching Schulze, Joe Malia and others at the RCA – and also something that is very familiar to many craftspeople – having at least some knowledge of a lot of different materials and techniques that can then inform deeper investigation, or enable more confident leaps of invention later on in the process. It also owes a lot to our friend Matt Cottam‘s “What is a Switch?” brief that he’s run at RISD, Umea, CIID and Aho…

We asked the students to engage with everyday technology and manufactured, designed goods as if it were nature.

“The Anthropocene” has been proposed by ecologists, geologists and geographers to describe the epoch marked by the domination of human influence on the Earth’s systems – seams of plastic kettles and Tesco “Bags For Life” will be discovered in millions of years time by the distant ancestors of Tony Robinson’s Time Team.

There is no split between nature and technology in the anthropocene. So, we ask – what happens if you approach technology with the enthusiasm and curiosity of the amateur naturalist of old – the gentlemen and women who trotted the globe in the last few centuries with sturdy boots, travel trunks and butterfly nets – hunting, collecting, studying, dissecting, breeding and harnessing the nature around them?

The students did not disappoint.

Like latter-day Linneans, or a troop of post-digital Deptford Darwins – they headed off into New Cross and took the poundstretchers and discount DIY stores as their Galapagos.

After two weeks I returned to see what they had done and was blown-away.

Berg: New Nature brief

Chewing-gum, Alarm-clocks, key-finders, locks, etch-a-sketches, speakers, headphones, lighters, wind-up toys and more – had all been pulled-apart, scrutinised, labelled, diagrammed, tortured, tested, reconstructed…

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

Berg: New Nature brief

And – perhaps most importantly I had the feeling they had not only been understood, but the invention around communicating what they had learnt displayed a confidence in this ‘new nature’ that I felt would really stand them in good stead for the next part of the project, and also future projects.

Berg: New Nature brief

It was all great work, and lots of work – the smile didn’t leave my face for at least a week – but a few projects stood out for me.

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

Charlotte’s investigations of disposable cameras, Helen’s thought-provoking examination of pregnancy tests, Tom’s paper speakers (which he promised had worked!), Simon’s unholy pairings of pedometers and drills, Liboni and Adam’s thorough dissections of ultrasonic keyfinders and the brilliant effort to understand how quartz crystal regulate time by baking their own crystal, wiring it to a multimeter and whacking it with a hammer!

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

Hefin Jones’ deconstruction of the MagnaDoodle, and his (dramatic, hairdryer-centric) reconstruction of it’s workings was a particularly fine effort.

The second half of the brief asked the students to assess the insights and opportunities they had from their material exploration and begin to combine them, and place them in a product context – inventing new products, services, devices, rituals, experiences.

We’ve run this process with students before in a brief we call “Hopeful Monsters”, which begins with a kind of ‘exquisite corpse’ mixing and breeding of devices, affordances, capabilities, materials and contexts to spur invention.

We’d pinched that drawing technique way back in 2007 for Olinda from Matt Ward, head of the design course at Goldsmiths so it only seemed fitting that he would lead that activity in a workshop in the second phase of the brief.

Berg: New Nature brief

The students organised themselves in teams for this part of the brief, and produced some lovely varied work – what was particularly pleasing to me was that they appeared to remain nimble and experimental in this phase of the project, not seizing upon a big idea then dogmatically trying to build it, but allowing the process of making inform the way to achieve the goals they set themselves.

We closed the project with an afternoon of presentations at The Gopher Hole (thanks to Ossie and Beatrice for making that happen!) where the teams presented back their concepts. All the teams had documented their research for the project as they went online, and many opted to explain their inventions in short films.

Here’s a selection:

A special mention to the ‘Roads Mata’ team, who for me really went the extra-mile in creating something that was believably-buildable and desirable – to the extent that I think my main feedback to them was they should get on KickStarter

There were sparks of lovely invention throughout all the student groups – some teams had more trouble recognising them than others, but as Linus Pauling once said “To have a good idea you have to have a lot of ideas”, and that certainly wasn’t a problem.

I wonder what everyone would have come up with if we had a slightly longer second design phase to the project, or introduced a more constrained brief goal to design for. It might have enabled some of the teams to close in on something either through iteration or constraint.

Next time!

As it was I hope that the methods that the brief introduce stay with the group, and that the curiosity, energy and ability to think through making that they obviously all have grows in confidence and output through the coming years.

They will be a force to be reckoned with if so.

Mouse-Trap/Ghost-Trap: Summer teaching at SVA

Jack and I taught a short class at SVA’s Interaction Design MFA this July.

We’d visited previously for a week in the Spring, and Liz Danzico was kind enough to invite us as part of their Summer School programme.

The two days started with thinking-through-drawing exercises we like to call “Hopeful Monsters” based around an exercise we’ve described on the blog before, and other drawing activities around generating ‘Inbreds and Hybrids’ that we were introduced to by our friend Matt Ward from Goldmsith’s Design faculty.

Hopeful Monsters

Initial thinking and brainstorming about cheap, ubiquitous, mundane technologies leads to fantastic leaps as the particpants draw on the whiteboard.

As always there are dead ends and flights of fancy – but, as always – there are a couple of intriguing combinations and mutant products that have an itchy promise to them…

Hopeful Monsters

The mutating, morphing quality of drawing our hopeful monster objects on the whiteboard…

Hopeful Monsters

Hopeful Monsters

Always contrasts interestingly with the more procedural, mechanical evolutionary drawing produced by tables of post-it-pixels…

Hopeful Monsters

On the second day, we deployed our secret weapon!

We were lucky enough to have Durrell Bishop of the mighty Luckybite join us, and set us all an incredible brief for the day – design a mouse trap, and a ghost trap…

We’d asked the group to think about their favourite traps overnight, and come back with a drawing.

My favourite I think was this diagram of the boulder trap in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

So much peril encapsulated in a stick figure!

The day saw the group tangle with the realities of catching mice, and then swap to the more symbolic, reality-shaping nature of designing a ghost-trap.

Hopeful Monsters

Some favourites – from many – include…

Jill’s self-composting mouse-trap

Rafa’s CCTV gargoyle ghost-trap

Peter’s ghost-traps, including the awesome ‘Dark Sucker’, which we hope he builds…

And… Nora’s Black Cat/White-Cat ghost-trap service
Hopeful Monsters

Fantastic fun, and everyone produced really excellent, surprising stuff.

Thanks again to Liz Danzico, Qing Qing Chen and, of course, the group who attended the workshop and threw themselves into it so fully in the NYC heat…

Finally - I had great fun one of the afternoons taking photos of the group with an iPhone and a magnifying glass while they drew…

IMG_1414

SVA Hopeful Monsters Workshop (magnified)

SVA Hopeful Monsters Workshop (magnified)

The Hopeful Monsters of New York

SVA

We’re wrapping up our week teaching at SVA on the interaction course tomorrow.

It’s been an amazingly fun week – with an excellent group of students throwing themselves into material explorations, generative drawing, prototyping behaviour and surfaces and more.

It’s like Sterling’s cave of Taklamakan, made from post-it notes and acetates.

We’ve had a little blog for the week set up where we’re posting the work as it’s produced, and have put the briefs etc.

Hopeful Monsters and the Trough Of Disillusionment

Last Saturday, Matt Webb and I hosted a short session at O’Reilly FooCamp 2010, in Sebastopol, California.

The title was “Mining the Trough of Disillusionment”, referring to the place in the Gartner “Hype Cycle” that we find inspiration in – where technologies languish that have become recently mundane, cheap and widely-available but are no longer seen as exciting ‘bullet-points’ on the side of products.

For instance, RFID was down in the trough when Jack and Timo did their ‘Nearness’ and ‘Immaterials’ work, and many of the components of Availabot are trough-dwellers, enabling them to be cheap and widely-available for both experimentation and production.

While not presenting the Gartner reports as ‘science’ – they do offer an interesting perspective of the socio-technical ‘weather’ that surrounds us and condenses into the products and services we use.

In the session we examined the last five years of the hype cycle reports they have published – it’s kind of fascinating – there are some very strange decisions as to what is included, excluded and how buzzwords morph over time.

After that we brainstormed with the group which technologies they thought had fallen, perhaps irrevocably, into the trough. It was fun to get so many ‘alpha geeks’ thinking about gamma things…

Having done so – we had a discussion about how they might breed or be re-contextualised in order to create interesting new products.

These “hopeful monsters” often sound ridiculous on first hearing, but when you pick at them they illustrate ways in which a forgotten or unfashionable technology can serve a need or create desire.

Or they can expose a previously unexploited affordance or feature of the technology – that was not brought to the fore by the original manufacturers or hype that surrounded it. By creating a chimera, you can indulge in some material exploration.

The list we generated is below, if you’d like to join in…

It was a really fun session, that threw up some promising avenues – and some new products ideas for us… Thanks to all who attended and participated!

"Trough of disillusionment" session, Foo10

  • Mobsploitation (a.k.a. Crowdsourcing…)
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • <512mb thumbdrives
  • Blinking Lights (esp. in shoes)
  • Singing Chips (esp. in greetings cards)
  • Desktop Web Apps
  • Cameras
  • Accelerometers
  • MS Office Apps
  • Physical Keyboards
  • Mice
  • Cords & Wires in general
  • Non-Smart Phones
  • RSS
  • Semantic Web
  • Offline…
  • Compact Discs
  • Landline Phones
  • Command Lines & Text UIs
  • Privacy
  • P2P
  • MUDs & MOOs
  • Robot Webcams & Sousveillance
  • Google Wave
  • Adobe Flash
  • Kiosks
  • Municipal Wifi
  • QR Codes
  • Pager/Cellphone Vibrator motors
  • Temporary Autonomous Zones

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