Archive for ‘background’

14 April 2008

“Geeks and Guinness”

Yesterdays Observer carried an article by Lucy McDonald about the Material Beliefs event at the Dana Centre.

Cafe Scientifique events provide an environment where science can be discussed informally over drinks. There’s comment here from Duncan Dallas, who talks about the success of the format, which was set up in Leeds in 1998:

For me the whole point of science cafes isn’t to promote science or make more kids become scientists, but it is about being able to discuss topics which are revolutionary.

The article contrasts the popularity of the science cafes with the drop in uptake of physics at A-level, “from 43,416 in 1991 to 28,119 in 2005″. There’s cause for concern here, but where initiatives like the Science Learning Centres respond to issues in uptake of science in schools, and the provision of science learning for young people, science cafes are for those who left school some time ago, and address their continuing relationship with science through the broader role it plays in their society. Quotes in the article from the evening attendees reflect this:

It’s all really relaxed and you don’t feel intimidated about challenging speakers beliefs or scientific research. Science is becoming more part of out lives, and I want to hear about it from the experts.

It’s an increasingly scientific society that we live in, understanding what’s going on in science helps put everything in context.

There’s no dull theorising so it was rally accessible, it’s better than staying in and watching television every night.

01 April 2008

So what are the roles of the designer and how could scientists benefit from collaboration?

Design and its potential in the research environment can be mis-interpreted.

In many labs designers brush shoulders with computer scientists, programmers, electronics engineers, biotechnologists, and other experts from a whole plethora of disciplines. Their research is often very focused and therefore easy to define; design research as a discipline is not and that is perhaps where the confusion stems from. Design without a pre-fix can have a whole multitude of meanings (Graphic, product, vehicle, fashion, textile, interaction); add to this differing roles and aims of research using design as a medium and we begin to understand why it can be confusing.

To complicate matters further we have the activity of so-called ‘celebrity designers’ to contend with. In the ‘Hello’ magazine age, home makeover shows and domestic furniture commercials have put a public face to the professional designer as one who firstly entertains, often through flamboyant behaviour and methods. Their roles and methods are significantly different to the designer in the material belief context. This anomaly needs to be addressed if we are to be taken seriously.

So what are the roles of the designer and how could scientists benefit from collaboration?

Philosophers of technology such as Martin Heidegger and Marshall McLuhan have written at length about technology and culture but their work remains inaccessible to the majority of the population. The language usually employed in these academic circles can be too daunting, too specialised or simply too boring for the average reader.

Design on the other hand, with its familiar physical and tempting language is an appropriate and accessible medium to explore the issues surrounding the development and application of existing and emerging technologies on culture and society and to expose the debate to a wide public audience.

In this situation the designer can act as a bridge between the technologists and the public. By utilising traditional design skills the [design] researcher can imagine a world in which emerging technologies exist. Products and peripheral services can then be developed which enable the viewers to place themselves in this fictitious world and understand, embrace or challenge the underlying technology. These critical proposals needn’t be judgemental of any particular technology, they simply ask for a more complete debate on how it is applied, who is applying it and how we could be affected by its mediation of our lives.

Successful design research comes about from good balance and application of 3 things:

  • The application and usage of technology should be relatively feasible, i.e. the concept cannot easily be dismissed as science fiction. This is where the collaborative element makes sense.
  • The design concept, product or service needs to be desirable both in form and function.
  • Communication is of fundamental importance. This is why the written word usually reaches such a limited audience; a page of complex text does not encourage the average person to read on. A sophisticated critical design proposal can utilise props, newspaper articles and other means to entice and coax the audience into the discussion. Video, for example has the ability to operate on the borders between fiction and reality allowing the audience to enter a parallel world that provides an aperture on possibility.

Successful collaborative design projects can operate as cultural litmus paper, gauging public perception, imagining potential issues and generating awareness before radical new technologies arrive in the public domain changing irrevocably the fabric of our lives.

25 February 2008

Designing and manufactuing a Bionic Sensor

I spoke to Tim Constandinou about the Bionic Sensor he helped develop with a group of bionics researchers at the IBE. The chip is being used to test a range of technologies which might develop into different applications, including an artificial eye and pancreas.

See a full write up of this process here.

tim demonstrating Cadence

above: Tim demonstrating Cadence – an application that allows chips to be designed and tested, before being manufactured

18 October 2007

Visiting Researcher – Arts Council Interact Placement

Following on the Material Beliefs presentation hosted at Cafe Scientifique in Newcastle – I would like to let you know that I have joined PEALS as a visiting researcher for an Arts Council “Interact” placement from 17th September till January 2008.  The aim of my placement is to engage with PEALS research activities and to “Interact” with researchers to identify and explore shared areas of interest. With this in mind, I am also hoping to spend some time at the Institute of Human Genetics to learn more about the work carried in their labs and visit some of the research facilities, such as Functional Genetics, Human Development Biology Resource and Zebrafish Facility.

I would like to use my time at PEALS to engage with new research areas and develop new ideas for future collaborative work intended to stimulate the public to develop an understanding that enables them to deal not only with applications of life sciences, but with the social development of scientific knowledge.During my time at PEALS I will organize a series of seminars and workshops.

The first event is at the Culture Lab on Design and Bioethics and it explores how designers might participate in scientific debate and the ways in which science and design overlap. It tries to map out a new territory, offering an alternative vision of design practice that is concerned with the ethical consequences of emerging biotechnologies. The seminar considers how separate disciplines investigate the hybrid grounds where areas of expertise overlap and it is also hoped that it can serve as a platform for opening up interdisciplinary research futures.

Design and Bioethics

Wednesday 5th December 2007, 1.00-2.00pm

Culture Lab – Newcastle University

Culture Lab is a research infrastructure providing an environment for academics and practitioners working beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries. It promotes socially and economically valuable synergies with artists, creative industries, and cultural and scientific institutions, and the development of innovative research with digital tools.

culture lab

01 June 2007

Research Engineers

There are still some outposts of industry amongst the bars and retaurants on the gentrifying streets of east london. This building is on Orsman Road near regents canal in Shoreditch. It’s now used as artists studios but as I passed I had a vision of engineers engaged in research, sat in workshops with calibrated tools. This was a vingette of engineering from the 50’s and 60’s, and likely straight from NASA’s beautiful image archives.

Ah how times have changed. Buildings change, our attitudes about what engineering is have perhaps changed, and through this project we hope to give an idea of how research is changing. More ambitiously, the project asks – how should we describe the relationship between the outcomes of research and our experiences of change? With this in mind we’re been busy visiting engineering departments to interview researchers about what they do and why they do it. I’ll shortly add videos and other documentation to this site, so stay tuned. There are some initial details on this page, get in touch if you want to open your doors and talk about your own work.

21 May 2007

The Materials and Design Exchange

MADE is a network of professional bodies and research centres, aiming to build bridges between design and material engineering. Here’s how the MADE website describes itself:

The Materials and Design Exchange – MADE – brings together the communities of design and materials technology in order to stimulate innovation, promote the transfer of materials knowledge and improve the competitiveness of UK business.

MADE also publishes a newsletter, the lateset version is available here as a pdf.

To provide some context, MADE is part of a Knowledge Transfer Network. KTNs are supported by the Department for Trade and Industry to encourage knowledge sharing between research and industry, to bring about innovation and general goodness.

12 January 2007

Welcome to Material Beliefs

Material Beliefs is a two year project which encourages partnerships between engineers and designers. It is based in the Department of Design at Goldsmiths, University of London, and over the next two years will develop links with engineering departments in universities across the UK.

Funding for the project has been provided by the EPSRC, and the proposal was originally developed during an Ideas Factory held in March 2006.

The objective of the project is to let engineers and designers think and work together, and talk to a broad audience about the role and implications of engineering upon our society.

This blog will provide a record of the project as it develops, and highlight other relevent news and resources.


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