In this Spring issue, M/I/S/C/ looks at gadgets of the past, present and future. We look the definition of a gadget, the greatest gadgets ever, the privacy dilemma and sex, social & beauty in 2020. Our special feature on disruptive technologies talks 3D printing, DIY commercial drones, gesture interfacing and the future of mobile technology. We look projects funded through Kickstarter, two exclusive hotels and feature the work of ten impressive artists and their view on technology and gadgets.
Contributing Writers: Dr. Morgan Gerard, Idris Mootee, Erik Roth, Donald A. Norman, Cheesan Chew, Will Novosedlik, Leah Hunter, Scott Friedmann, Nina Renata Aron, Ankush Chatterjee, Shane Saunderson, Mathew Lincez, Paul Hartley, Dr Emma Aiken-Klar, Dr Marc Lafleur, Jamie Farshchi, Noelani Bailey, Robert Bolten, Patrick Dunn
By Will Novosedlik
As the term suggests, industrial design had its origins at the height of the industrial revolution, in 19th century England. In his seminal work on the subject, Pioneers of Modern Design, art historian Nikolaus Pevsner pointed out that from an aesthetic and functional perspective the fruits of early industrial production were often dreadful attempts at recreating items traditionally made by hand. Everything from teapots to tin ceilings were now fashioned by machines, using materials and processes that were less informed and inspired by human craftsmanship than by their manufacturer's desire for profit.
This naked industrial ambition was most dramatically exposed at the Great Exhibition of 1851, held at the purpose- built Crystal Palace in London's Hyde Park. Though the edifice garnered much praise as a demonstration of England's engineering prowess, the more informed arts and crafts writers of the time were utterly repulsed by the lack of craftsmanship, quality and aesthetics of most of the artifacts on display.
In the UK, the notion that industrial artifacts would be greatly improved by an injection of design integrity gave birth to government intervention in the form of specialized higher education. Schools like the Glasgow School of Art - founded 1845 - and the Royal College of Art - founded 1837 - both originally called the "Government School of Design", were signs of the growing political awareness that industrially produced artifacts did not live on steam-power alone, and that something had to be done about improving their quality.
The cause was greatly enhanced by the emergence of the Arts and Crafts movement, led by polymath designer William Morris and championed by the art critic and historian John Ruskin. Their evangelism was infectious, and soon spread to places like the US, Germany and Japan.
Given America's historical preference for privately rather than publicly funded institutions of higher education, schools tended to be kick-started by wealthy industrialists looking for a legacy. Carnegie Mellon University (1904) founded by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (1859) founded by industrialist Peter Cooper, and Cranbrook Academy of Art (1904), founded by news- paper baron George Gough are classic examples.
That was all more than a century ago. Now that we are living in a post- industrial world, how are these schools responding to the complexities and challenges of technological and social change? All of the above- mentioned institutions are still in existence, and to look at their prospectuses and offerings, you would think that there has never been a more exciting time to be studying design - particularly industrial design. For they not only see themselves as centers of product design excellence, but as leaders in innovation and economic transformation.
The Royal College of Art is a great example. Billing itself as the 'world's most influential wholly postgraduate school of design', RCA has, in conjunction with Imperial College London, recently established a Global Innovation Design program. It is a transnational Master's design initiative that brings together three major centers of design, culture, enterprise and industry: Europe, North America and Asia, and is a collaboration between four internationally renowned institutions: the RCA, Imperial College London, Pratt Institute in New York and Keio University in Tokyo. The most interesting thing about this program, aside from its transnational curriculum of study, is that students graduate with a double masters: an MA from the RCA, and an MS from Imperial College. This unique double degree recognizes that post-industrial design requires more than just creative talent, but also a grounding in science and technology.
In the US, curricula are shifting in similar fashion. Like the Global Innovation Design program at RCA, graduates of the product design program at Art Center College of Design leave with a Bachelor of Science degree. The language used to describe this subject area is reflective of the growing need for designers to be versed in science. Through something called the CMTEL - Color, Materials and Trends Exploration Laboratory - students are immersed in the 'design sciences' of human factors, manufacturing processes, human-centered research methodologies and design management. In addition to that, students can study at the Fontainebleau or Singapore campuses of INSEAD, where they collaborate with MBA students and attend graduate-level business courses in finance, marketing and other subjects.
Ten years ago, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh established the Masters of Product Development as a joint program of the School of Design and the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Late in 2012, the program was joined by the Tepper School of Business. The MPD model is based on the notion that today's great products and services are the innovations of multidisciplinary teams of professionals that can collaborate across formerly rigid silos, meeting at the intersection of form, functionality, logistics, marketing and consumer behavior.
This hybridized approach to design calls into question the very notion of a 'traditional' design education. In most schools today - and there are literally thousands of post-secondary institutions to choose from - the curricula are still contained within the traditional?silos of art and design practice. The notion of?integrating design principles into the industrial?process, as expressed in the ideals of the Arts?and Crafts movement in 19th century England,?the Bauhaus of Weimar Germany or the Con?structivists of the early Soviet Union, never really?saw its full realization in more than a handful of?industrial organizations. With a few exceptions,?design has operated outside the walls of facto?ries, business schools and engineering schools.?But the complexity and multidisciplinary collab?oration required to design and market products?that answer today's needs is breaking down?those barriers.
If the art schools are seeking to integrate math, science and engineering into their curricula, institutions that would not be considered a traditional art school are bringing design and creativity into the lab. NYU's Interactive Tele- communications Program has art students, designers from all fields, and students fromother NYU programs working on rapid proto- typing and interactive media design in a two-year grad program located at the Tisch School of the Arts. The program is focused on exploring the imaginative use of communications technologies.
Unconstrained by traditional disciplines, lab designers, engineers, artists, and scientists at MIT's Media Lab work atelier-style, conducting more than 350 projects that range from neuroengineering, to how children learn, to developing the city car of the future. While creating products like NETRA, a cellphone that can do eye exams, Funf, an open source, Android-based extensible framework for phone-based mobile sensing, MIT's Media Lab has also produced Death and the Powers, an innovative opera scored for an ensemble of specially designed hyper-instruments, set on a first-of-its-kind robotic, animatronic stage.
Thus we have design and creativity happening in schools that would not be considered art and design schools, and science and engineering happening in schools never before associated with science programs. Will the real product design school please stand up??The common thread in all of these examples, whether they start from a science, engineering or artistic base, is the recognition that in an increasingly complex world, the key to the future is innovation. In every sphere of activity, commercial or social, old methodologies and the silos in which they operate are no match for the challenges we face. Gadgetry like NETRA and Funf could not have been created without both inductive and abductive thinking applied to the problem. And the only way to get that is to create environments where artists, designers, scientists and business can play collaboratively. If these programs and schools are any indication, the design schools and firms of the future are going to look a lot different than they have for the last 100 years. Vive la difference.
Will Novosedlik is VP brand & design thinking at Idea Couture. He is based in Toronto, Canada.
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