- Design is not just things. We experience the world around us in a myriad of forms, and design should be responsive to this, exploiting this fact to communicate ideas. By providing firsthand experiences, in the form of workshops, interactive installations and events, these projects aim to engage people in a ‘hands-on’ approach, bringing design to life, and as such combining a wide range of skills, ideas and opinions from all involved.
- Knowingly or otherwise, we are immersed in a Digital Topology. We are surrounded by digital objects and electronics, and these have become an intrinsic, inescapable part of contemporary life at all levels. The projects in this category consider the current and future development of this landscape, and how digital technology can be used in a social, cultural and local way. Merging digital and non-digital elements, I aim to create subtle and creative alternatives for this technology, questioning (and breaking) the rules of the current digital paradigm.
- These projects challenge the concept of what is (im)possible. Asking what we really know about reality, these designs are fantastical in their nature, but never frivolous or parodies. Taking design beyond its traditional role, I intend to show how it can be used to not only clarify, but to distort. Such speculative design can excite and stimulate, feeding our need for discovery and our imagination. The products in this category take us beyond our hopes for the future, making tangible our dreams of today.
Recently, I suffered a terrible incident of my Parallelograph collapsing from numerous angles – and only days before it was due to be shown at The V&A Museum and the TATE Modern!
1) The server running the backend software and housing the databases dies – after trying every potential solution to breath new life into it, it became apparent it was not going to happen. As a result, I had to buy an alternative mac mini server.
2) The fantastic software wizard Tim Brooke currently of Moving Brands stepped in to help me migrate my server software onto my new mac mini. I think Tim was cursing me by the end of it as it turned out to be a bigger job that thought. Tim did manage to get it transferred, but I would soon discover that I had forgotten to give him a vital database, so I would have to set this up again later from scratch.
3) The WiFly shield from sparkfun became stuck in an infinite loop trying to associate with a non-existent wifi network. As there is no hardware reset for the WiFly module with communicating through the SPI (which was blocked whilst in this loop of death!) it meant it was also impossible (or far too time consuming) for me to restore it.
As a result of this, I had to buy a new Arduino Wifi Shield. As a note on this – I would highly recommend the WiFi shield over the WiFly shield which has always been a pretty terrible module in my opinion.
4) After getting the WiFi shield, I had to basically re-write all my arduino code to comply with the new hardware. As you can imagine this wasn’t simple.
5) Making things worse however, was the fact I blew two ATMega chips when connecting the whole thing up. It turned out that the voltage regulator I was using to supply power to both the Arduino and internal printer of the Parallelograph had also died! This was probably my fault for not using proper current limiting resistors when first designing the circuit a few years ago, but did it have to give out now?!
6) So I managed to re-make the circuitry that was faulty, but again this was a very stressful process.
So as a result of all this, I have decided to make a new arduino shield with all my parallelograph circuitry on it that I can just plug in and it should work reliably. Im using Fritzing rather than Eagle for this, as I want to have a go at using their PCB producing service. It sounds good and is pretty cheap. It also nice as there is no minimum order.
So far I have this…
But I need to give it another few checks to make sure all is ok before sending off to the board house. I will post some pictures when I get the final boards.
For the past two weeks, the Arts Catalyst space in Clerkenwell has been home to an overwhelming amount of bacteria, fungi, dead fish, cells, tissues, mud and even a synthetic heart. Its not that hygiene standards have been let slide, but rather, the Arts Catalyst invited some of Europe’s leading BioHackers to setup a pop-up DIY Bio lab in the heart of London. In addition to this, members of the public have been invited to take part in a number of workshops exploring the ideas and techniques of bio hacking. The tickets were bought up in hours for all the events, but I was lucky enough to get my hands on ones for three of the workshops.
Shoestring BioTech: Build your own lab!
The first workshop I attended was also the first of the week. We were all welcomed by Asa from Manchester’s MADLab who was running the event, and Marc Dusseiler from Hackteria. After the intros we all set to work on setting up the “laboratory” and building some equipment from everyday objects.
Some of the equipment included ultra hi resolution microscopes made from hacked webcams, DIY centrifuges from old hard drives and drills, autoclaves made from pressure cookers and gel electroflourisis from tupperware, pencils, glueguns and ingredients from the chinese supermarket.
Its amazing what can be done with such basic materials. Although we were using very unsophisticated kit, we were able to produce good results. Individual cells could be seen with our microscope, which had a magnification approaching the limit of optics. We were able to separate DNA stands to create DNA fingerprints, and a host of other interesting project.
One of the main barriers of entry to all new technologies in the early phases of adoption is the cost of equipment or technology. By elevating this issue, DIY bio can be democratised to some extent. Of course not everything can be made this simply, but we were still able to do experiments that normally could only be done in a lab with specialist machines.
I would have liked to see the boundaries pushed a little further (this was my feeling for all the workshops really, but I understand that you have to appeal to a wide range of skill levels and expertise), but the fundamentals were set out well. It was a great way to get people from any background started with doing some DIY Bio.
An Evening of Bioluminescene
The second workshop I attended was one on bioluminescence. This is a process exhibited by 90% of ocean life, and is responsible for the coloured glowing bodies of many deep sea creatures or fire flies.
A really interesting fact about bioluminescence which I hadn’t realised, was that it is really a symbiotic relationship between a host (such as a fish or squid) and bacteria which are actually responsible for the illumination. In the instance of the squid for example, they suck in aquatic bacteria into a pouch inside their mouths. This provides a nice environment for the bacteria to grow, and in return, the squid can control the illumination of the bacteria as needed.
The night was planned as a ‘dinner party’ where tables were set, and each person given an appetiser of a chinese bioluminescent lollipop. The lolly contained the protein responsible for the luminescence, and was activated when they reached body temp – when sucked.
It was difficult to capture on my iphone, but the blue glow was really intense. They lit up your entire mouth and tongue amazingly.
For the workshop, we were joined by Liz Anderson and Kieran O’Malley from the University of the West of England. Both Liz and Kieran specialise in the area of bioluminescence, and gave a fascinating talk about its history and current uses. I was amazed to discover that as early as the 1920s, Welsh miners found that they could use dried squid as lamps to illuminate the mine shafts.
Today however, Liz spoke about how she uses it in biosensors, and in testing the effectiveness of new cancer drugs. She explained that the bioluminescent characteristic was the first thing to go when the bacteria was dying, so the intensity of light produced could be used as an instant and simple measure to test any medication. This was something we also did in the workshop.
The last experiment of the evening was extracting and culturing some of the bioluminescent bacteria naturally occurring on fish skin. Some fish were bought from a supermarket, and left in a sealed container of a salt solution. This is the natural habitat of the bacteria, and creates the perfect environment for them to grow.
The final workshop I was able to attend sounded the most exciting to me – bioelectronics! This is the idea of combining electrical systems with biological systems. As my background is in digital products and electronics, I was really interested to see how living systems could also be made to communicate with technology.
Marc started off this workshop by explaining what bioelectronics and bioelectonix were (high and low tech versions), and showing some famous, obscure, high-tech and low-tech examples of the area.
It was really interesting stuff, and wetted the appetite, but unfortunately the workshop itself didn’t explore the area as much as I would have hoped. Of course it had to cater for all levels of experience. The experiments we did do were turning biological matter into sound synthesisers (using their resistance), and making a biological fuel cell from soil cultures of bacteria.
Even though the workshop wasn’t as in depth as it could have been, it sparked quite a few questions, and prompted me to explore the area further.
The workshops I attended were really well run – as you would expect from the Arts Catalyst – and I thoroughly enjoyed them. Their popularity was unexpected, but great to see. I have no doubt that the things I have learnt here will feed into my own practice. Watch this space!
So Ive been working on a few experimental processes recently, and this morning, I wanted to have a go at making my own conductive rubber. I love Sugru, but seems a shame that you cant get a conductive version – so I made my own!
Its got the same consistency as playdough when soft, and can stick to most things. It does make your fingers a bit black but this easily washes off. It cures within a few hours to a fully flexible rubber without any residue.
I took this picture before it had fully cured, but when it does the resistance drops down to the range of 0.6ish mega ohms per 5cm and 1cm diameter. But obviously the resistance changes a lot with its shape.
Already have lots of ideas for this! Check back soon to see them.
I am genuinely gutted that someone has done this project – not because I have some ethical reasoning behind geo-engineering, or am against the idea of sending stuff into the sky, but because its something Ive wanted to base a project on for quite a while but havent found time. Easy to say. Anyway – great project! I hope Karolina Sobecka keeps developing the project. Maybe there’s time for me to get in on the next iteration :-)
I came across this lovely project by Gabriele Meldaikyte (RCA Design Products) on dezeen today. Its an exploration of the gestural controls we have all become completely familiar with. Meldaikyte created a set of beautiful devices which encapsulates the essence of each of the common gestures we use in a single object. They are wonderfully designed, and Id love to see them in reality (or at least a video). Its interesting as I remember talking with a friend about gestural interfaces when the iphone came out. Although the iphone made a big deal about its intuitive interface, and it undoubtedly is, almost none of the gestures existed naturally before the touch screen. In most cased previous to this, gestures tried to replicate movements already existing which would come naturally. So its interesting to see the physical world catch up with the digital in this case, and invent objects to mirror the gestures technology created.
July was a busy month in Cambridge as a number of projects neared deadlines. In addition to this, I was asked by technology company CISCO if they could record a very short video documentary about me and my approach to design. Although it was a very long and stressful day, the video was finally recorded in a single day! The resulting piece is a bit cringy at times!
Later in the month, the interactive experiential piece I developed for Geurilla Science went live for the first time at the Secret Garden Party. The performance was called the Particle Zoo Safari, making reference to the term used by particle physicists when talking about the Standard Model of particles. The aim of the project was to think about how you might communicate some of the ideas in particle physics in a novel way. The audience was to be festival goers, and the budget was pretty none existent. Although I didnt get along to the festivals myself, apparently it went down really well!
Work progressed for the Vauxhall KXFS event, but the end of the month was reserved for The Exhibition Road Show. The event, as part of the cultural olympiad, was a massive deal. At it, I would be exhibiting the Hand Crafted Particle Accelerator with super/collider, and giving a talk with Dr Hideaki Page, the physicist who helped me with the project.
The event was really well attended, and after an initial setup problem, all ran smoothly. Over the course of three days, we had over 2000 visitors, and everyone seemed thoroughly impressed. I was even lucky enough to get a Royal visit from the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker Bowles
August began with more preparation for the Vauxhall event, but was intersected in the second week by the next round of interviews for the TED Fellowship. I was ecstatic to have been selected for the final interview stage.
It would be another month though before I would find out the result of my skype to California.
The end of the month saw the final on site setup of the Vauxhall KXFS installation. It was pretty stressful as deadlines had a habit of rapidly changing on this project, but with the colossal help of Rebecca Scott and Loren Fillis we got it done!
The pieces were menat to represent four strands of potential sustainable energy futures – solar farms, biogas, high altitude wind turbines and algae farms. The pieces formed the focal points for an evening of talks and demos.
September is always a crazy month for any London based designer as the London Design Week rolls round again. This year I had great luck to be involved in two separate shows. It was the 15th year of the wonderful Designersblock show, and for this great anniversary the exhibition was to be held in the Southbank Centre. For this show was asked to create a “useless object” for the It Wasn’t A Problem stand curated by Harry Trimble. This type of project definitely plays to my sense of humour and sometimes peculiar designs.
For this, I created a product called the Mr. Sandman Sheep Counter. A device shaped like a tapered rectangular box worn over the eyes of the user. At the end of the product, there is a cavity to place you iphone. One your iphone you can download the Sandman App which plays a looping video of an animated sheep baaing and jumping a fence – and therefore lulling you to sleep.
Unfortunately in the take down of the show someone misplaced my piece! So there are no images or video of it
The other exhibition I was part of was Fieldguide, a collective of designers, makers and hackers all interested in the future of digital technology, print and social issues. The Fieldguide show was held over in the Brompton Design District. This exhibition was the first UK showing of my Liquidity lamps., and was featured on Core77′s review of the week.
The feedback from both London exhibitions came thick and fast in October. It was brilliant to hear so many people enjoyed the work I showed.
The first week in October was the Jiggling Atoms week long science communication event held in the Old Rag Factory near Brick Lane. Organised by Jennifer Crouch, I was asked to give a talk about my work to some A Level students studying art and some studying science.
The end of the month brought some early festive cheer as I was asked by Tim Brooke to do a days consulting with Moving Brands for their annual Christmas Card for their customers. The initial idea was that they wanted to create some origami style paper christmas tree lights which could be posted flat and assembled on receipt. The act of folding them up into the correct geometry would close the circuit and light the smalle LED inside. Bare Conductive ink was used to make the cards.
The end results were stunning, and the team went on to produce some larger pieces for a window display. All the work can be seed here.
The month ended with a request by the Arts Catalyst organisation for me to give a talk about my work over in their wonderful space near Clerkenwell.
Keeping with both the science and festive themes, in Superflux in November, we started work on our christmas cards. Being superflux though, these were never going to be any ordinary cards…
After exploring a lot of fantastical ideas, we started to wonder what christmas dinner would taste like on mars? From this insight, we all agreed that we wanted to do something with food! We tested a few ideas, and settled upon the idea of making our own fruit leather/paper, and using this to make our own edible christmas cards.
In superflux we also got some great news that the next round of funding for our Internet Of Things Academy (IOTA) with Sony had been given the go ahead, so lots of exciting internet of things work next year!
Work at Novalia was picking up pace as the rush to get projects finished before the holidays mounted. It was stressful at times, but everyone pulled together to get what was needed done in time.
As things started to wind down , I was able to schedule some meetings with a number of different organisations about potential projects in 2013. Some very large, some short term, but all very exciting! I will leave it for the blog post of 2013 to reveal exactly what is in store!
2012 has come to an end, so I thought I’d take some time to go back and revisit what I got up to over the past year – and turns out it was a pretty busy one!
The year kicked off at a fast pace. I was commuting to Cambridge three times a week to work with printed electronics company Novalia on a number of large scale projects. Unfortunately I still cant give too much away about these! But hopefully fairly soon I can give full documentation on what I’ve been up to here.
February was a month filled with making and doing – meeting people and exploring new processes and materials. I wanted to rebrand my studio identity for the new year, and thought this might be the perfect opportunity to try a technique I had always wanted to do – foil blocking. After getting in touch with the brilliant guys over at the Henningham Family Press in Dalston, I was soon foil blocking my way to 1000 new business cards with a gold stamped logo on crisp white card. A great process that I’m really happy I got to do, and which gives wonderful results. I will definitely be making use of this again to satisfy my graphic design needs in the future.
In addition to foiling the cards, I wanted to go that bit further to creating a completely bespoke design, so I took the opportunity to learn how to design and create my own custom fonts to use (mode soft tt and mode soft tt).
It was February when I first met the fantastic guys over at Bare Conductive. After already working with conductive inks for 6 months, I was really eager to learn about the brilliant product they had created and the ways in which they were using it. They operate very differently to Novalia in Cambridge, and fulfil a very different role with a different market – it was very inspiring talking with Matt and Beebee about how they saw the future of the area of conductive inks, and the new ideas they were working on.
This month also marked the start of my exploration and experimentation for the Milan Design Week where I would be exhibiting two separate projects in two exhibitions. Lots of meetings about spaces, logistics, set up etc were had, along with time spent researching and thinking about various ideas. One of the shows was the Hacked Milan exhibition at La Rinascente where I would eventually show the Handcrafted Particle Accelerator for the first time with Super/Collider. Preparation was well under way for this, with the highlight of the month’s work going to Harlow, North London, to do some glassblowing for the vacuum chambers.
My good friend Dean Brown of Fabrica also contacted me in February asking would I be able to submit something for the Luxembourg Mobile Museum he was curating. The them was money, and with little of my own to spend on making something, I started to think about ways in which I could make some more…
The idea I came up with was to create a new currency – a fabrica currency. But to make things a little more interesting, I wanted to make them from chocolate! There is a full review of the project in my portfolio section.
Along with the chocolate Fabrica coins, I made two moulds (foundries) to make the coins, and a press to foil them. The project was exhibited in the Mudam Museum in Luxembourg from Feb to June.
As the deadline for shipping to Milan for the Design Week approached in April, March was spent in the workshop/electronics lab/glass blowing studio. There were some extremely stressful days in this month. Trying to juggle the building of the Handcrafted Particle Accelerator, my Liquidity lamps for the Designersblock MOST show, and work at Superflux and Novalia pushed me to the limits. Aside from the stress of just managing these projects, there were some major potential set backs with both the Milan projects.
The HPA was suffering from a lack of suction which was threatening to bring the entire project t oa halt, whilst the Liquidity lamps were less liquid and more sticky as the ink stuck to the glass. It was going to come down to the wire to get both projects finished.
The first two weeks of April ramped up the stress levels further as the shipping dates for Milan got closer. There was very little sleep, and masses of filing, sanding, painting, cutting, glass blowing, soldering and glueing!
Eventually though, both projects came to fruition. I was incredibly relieved to get both pieces finished and shipped off the Italy, and I was really pleased by how they both turned out.
Milan was a brilliant week – lots of great people were met, and I got to catch up with some old friends.
May was a chance to regroup after the madness of the preparation of Milan, and catch up with guys at Novalia and Superflux, and continue our studio work there.
The end of the month saw the start of two new projects working with super/collider to create an installation for Vauxhall, and with guerrilla science developing an interactive event for some of the UKs newest summer festivals.
This month continued with the development of the Filling Station of the Future for the Vauxhall installation to be held at the new Kings Cross Filling Station. The idea was to create four “fuel pumps” symbolising the types of fuel which maybe used in the next 50 years to meet the worlds energy needs.
Mid way through June I received an extremely exciting email from the TED organisation inviting me to apply to become a TED Fellow. I have always loved what TED does, and been inspired for years by the TED talks, so it was a huge honor to be invited.
The month finished with a trip back up to Dundee for the Product Design Hack Day, and to see some mates. The event was great fun, and as always when I see Jon Rogers and Pete Thomas, I learnt a lot! It was brilliant to meet some other great people for the first time.
In an attempt to keep the prototypes rolling out, I came up with a quick little game using Bare Conductive ink as capacitive touch pads, and the electric imp.
The game is really simple, and is very rough and ready! Ill apologise now for the aesthetics!
The concept is a straight forward reactions test game where two people compete against another. The theme is a wild west quick draw, where each player has a revolver and has to be the first to reach for is on the “DRAW!” call.
The idea is simple, but actually really addictive and competitive. There are a few things I’d like to update with the game, such as displaying the scores, and showing the data on a webpage rather than the imp planner. And the aesthetics of the card/electronics of course!
The code for this was actually more challenging than I was expecting as there is a lot of logic without any multitasking.