Mobile devices as conceptual and creative instruments

Natha Khunprasert, MA Design student

Work of Natha Khunprasert, MA Design, exhibited at Blythe House 2014

Digital Present is interested in understanding the impacts of students’ personal mundane technologies on their learning lives. In this article CSM MA Applied Imagination student, Paulina Jawor, explores how smartphones are adopted by students as part of their art practice and looks at the work of her peers. She also looks briefly at how smartphones became integral to the conceptual and making processes undertaken by CSM MA Design students for the recent Blythe House project.*

Mobile digital devices have enabled social media, email and apps to weave themselves into our everyday experience. Increasingly, mobile technologies are at heart of what we do, and how we do it. However, it’s not the device itself but the internet connection that has enabled smartphones to become the multifaceted and integral creative tools they are today. We are used to businesses creating online brand experiences as part of their core strategies, and there is an increased focus on mobile in a number of sectors, including retail and financial services. For instance, restaurants create customised and interactive menus available on tablets, sporting venues make it possible to order food and beverages on a smartphone and have it delivered to your stand. The examples are endless. Of interest to the University of the Arts London is how our students’ smartphones or tablets are being used in art and design practice, as our understanding of evolving digital culture will inform the ways in which we develop our approaches to art and design education.

Ilaria Bianchi, MA Design student, work exhibited at Blythe House 2014

Ilaria Bianchi, MA Design student, work exhibited at Blythe House 2014

Apps for creating
Last month my laptop broke and I had to create a movie. So, I downloaded the iMovie app on to my tablet in order to make the short film – which can be watched on YouTube.

It wasn’t until my laptop broke that I realised the number of apps that can replace many functions of large computer software packages.

In fact, I have become rather enchanted by the number of applications that help you to edit your movies: apps which create scrolling credits, music libraries and starting trailers are all very useful. I have since been on a shopping spree and purchased numerous apps for different reasons, some to help with my project and others because they were a good idea. Instagram makes photo editing quick and easy, however if you’re an artist and perfectionist, there are a number of apps, that help you edit the smallest aesthetic details of a photo. As a freelance graphic designer, I often use my iPhone or tablet to work on small jobs whilst travelling by train. One of the best apps that I would recommend to anyone is Photoshop Express. It works without the wi-fi connection and makes my job easier. I use Adobe Sketch to finish off the corrected photo and create a brochure, business card, postcard or anything else that I am working on at the moment. I don’t waste my time, I save it.

For those who are interested in graphic design practice, there are apps like ‘Practical Photoshop: the Adobe Photoshop magazine’, where you can find out about newest features of Photoshop, step-by-step tutorials, master new techniques and many more. Another useful app, to help you become a better designer and gain a professional qualification is CS6 ACE Exam for Photoshop. It helps you to prepare and revise.

I spoke with Gabby Edlin, a CSM MA Applied Imagination student, about the way she uses her smartphone as a creative tool: “I use Instagram all the time. It’s very good at enhancing my photos and helps me to store ideas and past projects as an online portfolio. I also use an app called ‘Brushes’ that I create my artwork with on my tablet using a stylus, and then edit the images on photo editor. I have created a number of portraits that can be purchased via my website.


I use my smartphone and tablet almost as much as real brushes. They have become part of my creative tool box. You would not think of Snapchatt as a creative tool, however I use it to make graphics, to overlay images. I save time that way and when I don’t feel like opening up my computer, or I’ll get an idea in the middle of nowhere, I use Snapchatt as my creative storage, it helps me quickly put my thoughts together. I used to use scraps of paper to write down my ideas, though the disadvantage of the above method is that I lost them all the time.

I am at the beginning stage of my MA project, that requires me to do a lot of research, thus I use the smartphone’s voice recorder a lot to record interviews or take notes. I also take great advantage of Kindle and read lots of articles for my project. I do think it enhances my creativity, it’s like my scrap-book with ideas that are stored in one device and are available for access everywhere.”

Blythe House project
Treated as mundane artefacts, the role or significance of personal mobile devices in the creative research process is neither understood nor appreciated. The lofty heights, status, and pedagogic framing afforded the physical sketchbook by the art and design community has yet to touch the smartphone – and indeed, may never do so. This study, undertaken by Jo Morrison and the MA Design staff and students in partnership with the V&A, seeks to draw attention to the ways in which our mobile technologies are being used as creative research tools. The project invites students to visit the V&A’s archive at Blythe House and respond to their experience of the place or an artefact, privileging their smartphones within their process. It’s aim is to heighten student and staff sensitivity to the ways in which young designers are using digital technologies to support their creative process and critical inquiry.

Work of Xiaoqian Wang, MA Design student, 2014

Work of Xiaoqian Wang, MA Design, 2014

At this point I shall highlight some of the investigations undertaken as part of the Blythe House project. This project will be written about in later posts, so my intention here is simply to wet your appetite!

I regard the smartphone as a versatile assistant. If I can’t come up with an idea, it can do alot of amazing things that give me the inspiration and help me to see the world in different ways.

Xiaoqian Wang, MA Design student

…digital cameras on mobile phones have created hyperreal assemblages we interact with, and experience through archive systems and everyday lives.

Evangeline M. Pesignan, MA Design student

My work symbolises the process of accessing the database of the archive and asks  how the database interacts wit h the user.

Yiming Yao, MA Design student

My project researched the future functions of the smartphone, exploring how the visual language systems of the museum can be translated to an auditory experience for visitors.

Gong Ban, MA Design student

Marta Bordes and Brook Sigal, MA Design students exhibiting work at Blythe House 2014

Marta Bordes and Brook Sigal, MA Design students exhibiting work at Blythe House 2014

This swift post shows numerous practical applications of smartphones, and how creative apps are already part of our suite of tools. It also highlights the importance of concentrating on the objects conceptually, and the intriguing places such approaches take us. The work undertaken with the V&A at Blythe House enabled students to ask all sorts of new questions, to reframe their ideas, learn new research methods, and critically engage with their own mundane personal technologies.


*To reveal student relationships with social media and personal digital technologies, CSM’s Jo Morrison has been leading the Researching Learning project with staff, students and organisations – some outcomes of which have been highlighted on the Digital Present site previously. The Blythe House project is part of this research.

Useful links

V&A Archives

Reframing Blythe House Workshop

Gabby Edlin website

Apps for designers