Week 6: Critical Research Journal

Weekly Learning Objectives

By the end of this week you should be able to:

  • Research and analyse how interdisciplinary collaboration can form exciting partnerships in graphic design;
  • Research and analyse new genres of design specialism;
  • Identify a discipline and specialist who could help you to reflect from a dynamically opposing position on a specific problem;
  • Find, manage and record your cross-disciplinary discussion in relation to the specific problem;

interdisciplinary collaboration

Coelicolor by Faber Futures

On this course I keep referring to Faber Futures, first as a local practice in Contemporary Futures and then a couple of weeks ago when we looked at mission statements. Why do I keep on coming back to it? It’s an amazing project that uses genetic and biological solutions to dye fabrics in a sustainable way.

For the project, Coelicolor, featured above, Faber Futures worked in collaboration with Professor John Ward and his synthetic biology lab at University College London’s Department of Biochemical Engineering, They discovered that unique interactions between S. coelicolor and protein fibres could yield a colourfast finish without the use of chemicals – and with significantly reduced water usage compared to current industrial dyeing methods.

Color Coded by Faber Futures

From there, Faber Futures went on to create the first DNA labelled specimen in the Forbes Pigment Collection. Working in collaboration with Michael Napolitano, a design engineer at Ginkgo Bioworks, Faber Futures “has explored emerging DNA-based data storage techniques to encode a contextual explanation of the project, the organism’s complete genome, and information about its potential applications, including textile dyeing.”

Imagination and skills

Design, I think, is all about imagination about new ways to show the world around us, real or speculative.

I would argue that all jobs are creative in their own way: creative with words, with numbers, with colours, with strategy; and all roles require that people think in novel combinations of these creativities. We can do things as we did before, but without that spark between flints in a cave, that spark of understanding of our place in the sky, we would not have progressed as a species. Everyone is creative and uses their imagination to different purposes and extents.

Sometimes, imagination isn’t enough to realise an idea. A sketch is the start and designers won’t have all the skills to being their idea to life. They reach out to other people with different skills to help them, whether on a small scale like printers to display their work, a traditional illustrator/designer pairing, or a more radical collaboration called Interdisciplinary collaborations.

Human knowledge is one huge ocean that gradually we have put up (shifting) boundaries between disciplines. It can be enough to swim around with the rest of the water in the same pond, but to make truly startling innovations, we need to jump into other ponds. Is that enough analogy?

Faber Futures could not have progressed with their projects without the collaboration of scientists who were able to contribute their expertise and knowledge to further the projects. Would the scientists have thought of these possibilities on their own? Maybe, maybe not. Would Faber Futures have been able to do this without them? Maybe, if they had retrained as in that field to great expense and time cost. The collaboration brought their skills together that would not have been as possible otherwise.

This weeks resources …

… I found it harder to engage with than other weeks but here are my thoughts.

The lecture started with a recap of Bauhaus, a school of design that allowed students to pass between and over the disciplines as they studied to create an overall experience rather than a specialism. I’m sure some people leaned to one interest or another, and being educated together in the same schools would have fostered collaborations.

Bauhaus curriculum

With Dr Ian Medway and Katie Mae Boyd, Louize Harries created a project that borrowed inspiration from apocryphal crises with a drone that rained red when the air pollution in the area breached the EU air quality limits. This was a proof of concept project, rather than a fully realised project, and has a similar aim to Anub Jain’s air-quality presentation for the UAE energy board.

The Red Rains of Change

Drones are becoming a popular way for designers to explore large 3D areas and can provide many functions. Still, drones are not ubiquitous and to navigate the legal frameworks and immense physical space with humans and other 3D objects would require a whole other set of people well versed in these subjects. For the drone-vigilante project “The Night Watchmen” by Anub Jain that tracked and monitored people around an area, it was the consideration of what kind of society would allow a piece of equipment to be used in this way? The suggestion that this is what the combination of drone and facial recognition technology could do is enough for us to decide whether we want to transform into a society that sanctions this. For Harries’ drone project, to create a fleet of drones that would rain red would be extremely difficult and unpopular with the people it rained upon. The concept was evidence to show the world we are living in now and to draw attention to the issue, a call to action to change.

Referring to a different project of Jain’s, she has stated that because the world seems to be moving too fast and we are experiencing a disconnect with our future. For the air-quality presentation to the UAE energy board, she wanted to bring the reality of poor quality air into a concrete example.. Most of us know that using more cars and unsustainable energy sources will result in poor air quality, but how many of us truly understand this? Jain created flasks of air simulated to match potential airs in the future. By breathing in the noxious air, a bridge was built between the disconnect of the future and now.

Change in air quality, after and before lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic

Side note: since the pandemic of Covid-19, lockdowns across the world have drastically reduced traffic in cities and meant that people can experience the effect that poor vs good air quality can have. Mountains can be seen from cities that hadn’t seen the ranges for generations, the air felt cleaner to breathe. I hope that it serves as a starting point from which we can start discussions and change our actions.

To be honest, I didn’t connect with the rest of the projects and videos,. I tried! There must be many more examples of projects and maybe they will come through in my workshop challenge. What did strike me, though, is the necessity of collaborations between designers and any other discipline to spark an idea of a new future, to challenge the knowledge and the skills to bring it to life.


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