Disruption: art and design higher education futures

Neocraft_Humanising-the-machine-by-Frances-Norris_01Bower and Christensen came up with the term ‘disruptive technologies’ in their Harvard Business Review article, ‘Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave’ (1995: 43-53). Disruptive technologies can be viewed as early stage catalysts for change, and fundamentally destabilising of an existing equilibrium – be it a method, technology or product. Today, one such technology heralded as being disruptive is 3D printing*, or 3D manufacturing. In part, what is considered disruptive depends on its context and the scale or type of change; let’s remind ourselves that humanity has a long history of technologies causing radical global change (e.g. wheel, steam engine, Jacquard Loom, Gutenberg printing press, internet).  Whilst 3D manufacturing has yet to happen to any form of impactful scale, and indeed may not do so, its very concept allows us to imagine the implications of post-industrial manufacturing for the ways we might wish to develop future Art and Design higher education (HE). Central Saint Martins’ students are already creating possible scenarios, by connecting the present and the future.

In an earlier post about social and technological futures and arts higher education I suggested that Central Saint Martins has a wealth of insights, critical questions and creative future scenarios generated by our student cohort every year. As such, CSM is in an extremely fortunate position to imagine, explore and critique multiple potential futures for Art and Design higher education.  I also suggested that it is important for us to dedicate ourselves to the exploration of our complex potential socio-technical futures, and how arts and design educators help to shape, as well as proactively respond to them. For example we could ask, ‘how might Art and Design HE take place when all information has been dematerialised into a distributed and networked virtual global environment?’ or, ‘what are the preferential future scenarios for Art and Design education in a world rich with intelligent and connected objects?’ (today’s students will help to design and make these possible futures).

So, to get the ball rolling I studied the recent final degree projects of 65 postgraduate students from CSM’s MA Industrial Design, MA Design, and MA Textile Futures courses. Having gathered a set of themes often used in Futures discourse, I looked at the students’ work to see how/if their research interests connected. In doing so, I found that there were three main areas where a large amount of research was undertaken: Science, Engineering and Technology; Environment, and Society. Of course, it’s recognised that these thematic breakdowns are not exclusive, and there are student investigations that cut across multiple areas. However, for the purpose of this quickfire inquiry-on-the-fly, this process is valuable.

Hisako Sakurai. Emergence of Existence

Emergence of Existence. Copyright, Hisako Sakurai. CSM MA Design


Student work themes and topics:

Science, Technology and Engineering

  • Neocraft: Humanising the machine: the fate of craft in a digital and technological era.
  • Next in Line: how can we preserve and ethically bequeath digital possessions in their original form?
  • Gather3D: imagines a future scenario of a return to small-scale, exclusively digital manufacturing.
  • Scent-ography: how can we archive memories through captured scent?
  • Extraterrestrial Acoustics: how can acoustic discoveries in the exploration of planet Mars inform sonic understanding on Earth?


  • Mutual Interspecies Invitation: new forms of objects to be shared by humans and animals.
  • Disquiet Luxurians: challenging assumptions of material rarity and luxury.
  • Smart by Nature: how can we create a more sustainable future by harnessing smart sensing systems in nature?


  • Questioning the Orders of Furniture: provoking the viewer to question society’s habitual behaviours and routines.
  • Borrowed Landscape in Jewellery: linking worn jewellery to the landscapes and environments that surround it.
  • Mundane Biomimicry: can a critical exploration of mundane biomimetics lead to innovation and generate sustainable approaches to sustainable design?
  • From Creatures: addressing contemporary issues of over consumption.
Sophie Thomas

Planet Corian. Copyright, Sophie Thomas. CSM MA Design


What this exercise reveals is the weight of ‘evidence’ we already have at-hand to inform sets of creative future scenarios. It also shows the large thematic gaps that could benefit from investigation through our imaginative and unique lenses – such as Politics, Globalisation and Economics – as well as key themes that CSM’s students (and staff) pursue but that are not part of the usual Futures discourse. The next step will be to enable some delightful collaborations that explore possible and preferable educational, social and technological futures, and then to ask questions that allow us to imagine, and work towards shaping, the kind of future Art and Design higher education system we want. If not us, then who?


*At Central Saint Martins we have 3D printing machines that are used by students across the College for myriad projects. 3D printing adopts an additive layer manufacturing process – using 3D CAD software to represent digitally each cross-section of the artifact. The object is printed, or grown, by fusing the cross-sectional layers of deposited powder material with a laser (there are a number of links at the bottom of this post that provide both text based and video explanations of the process). 3D printing has been part of the prototyping process for years, but it is the possibility of ‘manufacture’ that is causing frenzied speculation – understandably. Whilst it is argued that the technology is yet to transform manufacturing, many posit that in the next two decades it will. The United States has established a significant research and development programme to fund additive manufacturing and associated technologies.


Interesting links and references

MA Industrial Design   http://www.arts.ac.uk/csm/courses/postgraduate/ma-industrial-design/

MA Design: Ceramics, Furniture or Jewellery   http://csm-ma-design-2013.com/

MA Textile Futures   http://www.textilefutures.co.uk/

CSM ‘What’s the point of art school?’  http://www.arts.ac.uk/csm/csm-culture/events/whats-the-point-of-art-school/

Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave by Joseph L. Bower and Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard Business Review, January-February 1995

3-D printing: The new industrial revolution Barry Berman, Business Horizons (2012) 55, 155—162

Frank G. Zarb School of Business, Hofstra University, 222 Weller Hall, Hempstead, NY 11549, U.S.A.

Open-source 3D printer for food creation   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQni3wb0tyM

3D Printers in Schools   https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-3d-printers-to-boost-stem-and-design-teaching

The emergence of 4D Printing   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gMCZFHv9v8

Hyperform 4D Printing   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGeGI9qxBAs

3D Bioprinting   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9D749wZSlb0

Science Museum 3D Printing   http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/plan_your_visit/exhibitions/3d_printing_the_future.aspx

Main image: Frances Norris, Neocraft: Humanising the machine