Friday, March 26, 2010 vs. design...

Today Eanna gave a presentation on The relation between Art & Design. We had a bit of a discussion later. It seems difficult to draw ultimate conclusions in this subject.

I have a weird, not really defined attitude to art. I have been called artist before in my life, yet I'm still not sure if I like this 'tag'. Art seems to be something that I aspire to and, at the same time, laugh at :-)

I think design needs to be more user aware. Art is often allowed to be ignorant towards audience. Whether it should be like this? I have no idea.

One thing I know for sure: design can be art! Just look at this, this, this or this :-) Pretty, aren't they?

As I like to show what smarter then me people have to say, I recommend watching TED talk by Paolla Antonelli. Enjoy!

Monday, March 22, 2010

...give power to patients...

I like to have my cup coffee in the morning. Quite often I switch on my laptop and watch one of TED or PopTech talks enjoying both the drink and inspiring ideas. Some time ago, I watched Jamie Heywood's talk on TED and Haiad Sindi's PopTech talk. Both made me think, once more, about the scope and complexity of healthcare issues we face in nowadays world, also from the interaction design perspective.

Today, Cristiano Storni from IDC gave us a talk on healthcare, technology and the role of participative design. It was a nice supplementary to what girls presented a week before.
Cristiano explained some issues of mobile technology used by patients and briefly explained research he carries out as part of FutureComm. The main focus of that research were patients with diabetes. It was of a particular interest to me, as my mother has type 2 diabetes. Some time ago, her and myself were discussing the functionality and form of those devices she uses every day to monitor glucose level in blood. Here they are:

Glucose meter:

Piece of paper:

My Mom developed this condition only in recent years so her experience cannot be compared to patients who live their whole life with diabetes. If it comes to various health problems among older generation, one may be tempted to assume that certain inconveniences in everyday life are simply part and parcel of aging. That is exactly how a vast number of people, including those experiencing those inconveniences, think. They accept the status quo.
We - designers, who are more aware of opportunities created by technology - shouldn't.

What I liked the most about Cristiano's talk, was emphasis on understanding the patient and involving them in the design process. He introduced the concept of 'reductionism' which means reducing the role of patient in the healthcare system. Cristiano explained, starting from the beginnings of modern healthcare, through its current state, how patients are treated as 'less important'. Of course, it was not a critique of particular doctors - rather a reflection upon mental models underlying the structure of hospitals, clinics, even the design of stethoscope - a doctor gets to know/hear something about your own body that you don't know . He stressed the need for more holistic approach to the patient, who is not only another case of particular illness but a very different subject, with different everyday life, different needs etc. than fellow patients. He also mentioned that 'empowering patient' is a common postulate these days. However, as good as the phrase sounds, this 'empowerment' should be defined and explained. I now slightly simplify what Cristiano said but I hope message conveyed remains the same.

I found the talk inspiring. I am aware that healthcare is one of the most developing domains as companies can foresee future profits from current research. For me advances in healthcare are interesting for more naive reason - if something can help reduce the discomfort of an ill person, help in therapy, give a hope for more 'normal' life, it is more interesting than another amazing game console etc. Simple thinking, I know.

When brainstorming on my FYP, I had an idea of adjusting LiteFoot for therapeutic purposes e.g. to facilitate autistic children therapy. However, the scope of research necessary for such a project seemed too big for me to afford it within our masters. Although I decided to go a different path, this idea is still at the back of my head and I keep an eye on related to this issue research e.g. I've read about interactive floors' application for hearing impaired children with a cochlear implant.

While exploring the subject, I have found other inspiring talks related to healthcare e.g.:
Josh Nesbits on Mobile Healthcare

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

...what does it mean to be a designer...

A few days ago, Triona, Lucy and Fionn gave a very thought provoking talk about 'design sensibility'. We were asked by Gabriela to describe what 'being a designer' means to us, personally?

It is not a new question to me. I believe that everyone who attempts to pursue a career in any field of design, whether it is graphic design, product design, fashion, interaction etc., has to ask themselves at some stage: who I really want to become and what role I am going to play in society?

Whenever I try to understand something, I start from the very basic descriptions, simple explanations that, surprisingly many times, capture the gist. Those can be often found among children. Kids have this amazing skill of simplifying complexity in a way which one forgets while growing up. Although their 'definitions' may seem infantile, they frequently manage to encapsulate true nature of things. This time I also decided to use 'child's brains' and go back to my own innocent childhood days.

I remember knowing word 'designer' quite early in my life. I suppose I first got it to know while watching fashion shows on TV. Next, interior designers entered the world of my vocabulary. This word always sounded a bit mysterious - like 'magician' but slightly different one. I clearly remember that I had this picture in my mind of a person who knows/has a power to give the right shape to things. I was convinced, that for example, if designer is given a simple table, they know how to carve its legs, what colour of paint use etc. As a result, the table was given a proper 'shape' - looked nicer, fitted better into the room etc.
To summarize, me-child thought: designer is a person who gives the right shape.

After all the years of my education, also design oriented, I have to admit that I agree with me-child. The same definition still works for me! Of course, now I would expand 'giving shape' also to shaping experiences, shaping interactions etc. I am also aware that designer's knowledge what the desired shape is, results rather from being a diligent student of the world around, not from magical powers.

Another explanation of who designer is, comes from my fascination with languages. I love to play with words, find hidden meanings, unusual collocations etc. Let's look at design.
'To sign', apart from putting down ones own signature, means to write a name on something, possibly explaining what the object is. Using Apple Widget Dictionary, such a note may be ' publicly displayed giving information or instructions in a written or symbolic form'. Quoting the same source, a sign may be a 'gesture or action used to convey information or instructions'.
Having checked a meaning of the prefix 'de-', we discover that it usually indicates some change in minus, getting rid of something or signifies the 'opposite' object/concept to the one following this prefix, e.g.: de-gradation, de-motivation.
What do we get, if we analyze 'design' using this knowledge? 'Design' seems something opposite to sign! 'Designer' so, would be a person who - by performing their work - eliminates the need for signs; 'removes' signs from objects by...
...I believe, it happens by giving them the right shape :-)

I know those two explanations above are rather playful then scientific. However, I have a feeling that they reflect a true nature of being a designer. Once we acknowledge these basics, we can proceed to thinking over nuances and complexities of designers' work.

One last thing:
I want to add one more idea to my childhood notion of a designer. I believe that designers have 'power' to shape the future...
I encourage to give this idea a thought and recommend watching PopTech talk on 'Pioneering Design' by Lorrie Vogel.

* * * mindmap on the subject coming up soon * * *

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

...Oh My Dear Computer, save me!...

...or my reflections on a conversation between Liam Bannon and Brian O'Donovan 'Confronting the Crisis: Can Technology Save Us?' held by Institute for the Study of Knowledge in Society.

coming up soon

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Two consecutive days of encounters with Fernando Orellana, made me think again about my relation to art... or rather to the concept of 'being an artist'.

I really enjoyed he day of workshop with Arduino board (to be honest, I was quite disappointed that we didn't have two more sessions of workshop as it was promised to us). As I'm not experienced in hacking, circuit bending, wireing, soldering etc. I didn't manage to build anythng spectacular. I had a lot of though and feel encouraged to experiment more. Also, the way Fernando was explaining technical things appealed to me. I butchered my robot R.V. to get to motors from his legs. It wasn't easy, emotionally.

In our group we managed to successfully go through blinking-LED-switching examples. Finally, using pulse modulation, we created pseudo-hypnotic spiral, that I really liked!

Fernando pointed out that Duchamp made a similar device in one of his motor based artworks. I looked it up online. Indeed, together with Man Ray, he did some optical experiments. I was glad that with our first experiments we get conceptually close to this class of artists - especially that I like a lot of Man Ray's photographs.

Today we attended Orellana's talk about his art. Some pieces presented by him were from the field of robotics, however, he also showed some paintings. Strangely enough for iMedia student, I was impressed especially by the latter. From mechanic instalations, I liked Extruder in particular: the whole Henry Ford concept behind the artwork and the prettiness of little Play-Doh cars. I believe, my perception of Fernando Orellana would be a lot poorer if I hadn't seen his drawings. The fact that today he mentioned his Fine Arts background made me feel more comfortable - 'oh he is not just a computer geek'.

As I took a lot of photos during Arduino workshop, I uploaded them and sent link to Fernando. In his reply he wrote that I "have a good eye" :-) I don't really know the guy but this opinion means quite a lot to me. I kind of know that I am not bad at photography. It was something I wanted to do since my childhood. Some of my friends really like my works. However, it is very different if my friends or my Mom admire my photos. It is uplifting when someone with artistic sensitivity and knowledge says a good word about your work.

All these made me re-think what art means to me.
When I was really young, I wanted to be an artist cause I thought it is realy 'cool'. I had this notion of beter people, gifted in some miraculous way by gods. A few years ago, I started thinking about 'art' and 'artists' as something hugely overrated. Many times it is just a label, not diffferent from the brand labels of popular clothing.

These days, I'm not sure what my position is...

I'm just hoping to finally get my T-shirt printed:

'I'm not an artist,
I'm a human being'