The New Year and new term kicked off with a reminder that CSM final year students are half way there, as four MA courses showed their ‘Work in Progress’ at this year’s interim show. MA Textile Futures, MA Industrial Design, MA Communication Design and MA Narrative Environments exhibited their projects at the end of CSM’s Street – to gain insights, feedback and critique from colleagues, students, staff and visitors. Here, second year MA Innovation Management student Rita Fernandez describes the work of some students who are exploring relationships with digital technologies.
As designers respond to the increased adoption of technology it is perhaps unsurprising that many of the investigations underway by this year’s MA students interrogate and question society’s growing ‘digitalisation’. Much more than just designing gadgets, interfaces or novel experiences with new technologies, a number of the works in progress are considering the effects these products are currently having, and will have on us in the future. These can be grouped into themes around cognition and society.
Wayfinding, Memory, Early Childhood Development, Stimuli and Artificial Intelligence
With a simple postcard MA Communication Design students posed their projects’ questions and/or statements to the exhibition audience. Speaking directly to the exploration of human relationships with digital technologies that I aim to highlight in this report, Shesley Crustna provided the quintessential statement to introduce the ideas around technology and cognition in her project: Media & Attention: Investigating the effects of media on the human attention span.
The impact of media not only on our attention span but also our memory is being expanded upon by MA Industrial Design student Delia Di Filippantonio, in her project titled ‘Digital Wayfinding’. Focusing on recent research outcomes which describe the effect the Internet has had on our memory, psychologists have found that instead of remembering the information itself, people often remember only where it is located. With ideas around hierarchies, wayfinding and the materialisation of personal data she will continue to push her project while asking, “If the brain is adapting to the Internet of Things, what about the opposite?”
Also exploring issues around memory and wayfinding, Cheng Chiao Yi of MA Narrative Environments has organised a series of public interventions and workshops that she calls ‘The School of Navigation’. These look to counteract the influences that the use of digital maps and GPS devices have on navigational capabilities. Aimed at discovering “navigational narratives that enrich and support wayfinding”, the interventions are targeted towards ‘urban navigators’ that have a poor sense of direction – by providing them the opportunity to understand their surroundings in building new, personal spatial relationships with the city.
Concerned with the effects our technology-driven lifestyles can have on our minds and senses, Carrie Scott and Anne-Lise Franjou of MAID ask us to question the digital environment during early childhood development, and on our own self-awareness respectively. While both look to spark debate and question the digital status quo, Scott has chosen to focus her project’s discussion on the effects a ‘screen’ environment can have on ‘digital natives’ when developing essential real-world skills. Franjou seeks to counteract the over-stimulation and distractions induced by devices through the design of products that “praise awareness of the self, offering a slow and mindful experience”.
The cognitive theme was seen not only with human but also artificial intelligence, as Daniela Toledo of MA Textile Futures asks: “How will we deal with embodied intelligence in the materials and tools of the future”? In her project titled ‘Imminent Body’ Toledo seeks to investigate the unexplored ways of “harnessing consciousness in materials”, considering the possibility that textile workers of the future will have to ‘programme’ their fabrics.
Government Reform, Privacy and Mobility
Beyond the effect technology is having on individuals and their cognitive capabilities, students are also exploring the wider impact of technology on the societal level, with projects concerned with governmental reform, big data, privacy and globalisation.
Ascanio Afan de Rivera Costaguti of MAID explores the challenges a digital migration in welfare or benefit claims will have on the homeless, who often have no access to digital resources. With his project Costaguti aims to raise awareness of the issues that “Digital by Default” will raise for rough sleepers and outreach workers, while underlining the importance of design for digital social innovation.
Akin to Costaguti’s interests in highlighting the societal effects of government reform, Sarah T Gold is questioning the collection and use of our personal data by both the State and corporations. Asking how we might regain our privacy through her project ‘Private Keep Out’, Gold warns us of our loss of freedoms, which has been enabled by our growing uncritical digital culture.
Lea Oneko of MA Textile Futures has chosen to focus on a trend that she calls “global nomadism” – mobility that she attributes to macro trends like climate change, economic recessions and the rise in digital technologies, explaining:
This peripatetic culture continues to play an ever more dominant role in our fast-paced modern society and calls forth new identities – identities that are malleable, partially self-constructed, fluid, metamorphic in nature and mobile.
With these new identities in mind, Oneko hopes to explore the potential material possessions and thus identities of these ‘Future Super Nomads’.
Overall the questions and explorations – digital and otherwise – currently being undertaken by these four MA cohorts speak to the exciting role and possibilities of postgraduate design study: to experiment, provoke and raise debate around often ambitious and passionate points of inquiry. Also, screaming out is the importance of the design discipline to interdisciplinary investigations, and how an expansive definition of ‘digital literacy’ is vital for 21c art and design higher education.
This year’s final degree show promises to be stellar – good luck to all…
MA Textile Furures http://www.arts.ac.uk/csm/courses/postgraduate/ma-textile-futures/
MA Industrial Design http://www.arts.ac.uk/csm/courses/postgraduate/ma-industrial-design/
MA Narrative Environmenets http://www.narrative-environments.com/
MA Communication Design http://www.arts.ac.uk/csm/courses/postgraduate/ma-communication-design/