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DDW Report

Dutch Design Week happened virtually last week. Through the website, I was able to “attend” six different events.

  1. What’s in store for the future
  2. The Future Is Private
  3. Agora – Mental Wellness For Cancer
  4. Prosthetic X
  5. The Future Protein Plan
  6. Design Academy Eindhoven Graduation Show – Communication

What’s in store for the future

This project is presented in the form of an online gift store that offers 5 products based on the themes of sex, death, life, religion, and pleasure. For my thesis, I am creating a series of workshops introducing new designers to speculative design. This project gave me the idea to organize prompts based on themes that participants could explore. I appreciated that each product had a thought-provoking question. Speculative design should encourage critical thinking and dialog, so the questions are a direct way to ask viewers to consider a future in which these products exist. The fact that the store seems to actually function like an online retailer was really interesting and a fun way to experience the project.

The Future Is Private

This project explores the “right to move anonymously.” I enjoy thinking and learning about privacy, but I hadn’t heard it framed this way specifically. It made me think: how are we generally rethinking what human rights are as technology evolves? This project was not very thoroughly explained, so I suspect that it would have been more impactful if experienced in-person.

It did lead me to explore the “Privacy in the Age of the New Intimacy” virtual tour. The project that stood out to me most on that tour was “Privacy Label”. They created a rating system to evaluate products and services based on how they collect and use personal data. I think we need a system like this in place, and I suspect (or hope) that privacy-friendliness will eventually become an important consideration for consumers.

Agora – Mental Wellness For Cancer

This project is an app that allows cancer patients to track their health issues so that they can be prescribed care techniques that benefit their mental and physical wellness. I really appreciated the holistic approach to medical care. Truthfully, I was attracted to this event because I wanted to see how they presented a UX-driven project. I have a couple projects that I need to add to my portfolio. I like the structure of outlining their research insights and the features of the digital project. The video included was very simply executed, but it clearly presented their concept.

Prosthetic X

This project presented 9 concepts for prostheses that could be worn by the elderly to track health and well-being. This was a very interesting look at how health tracking devices could evolve in the future. At first, I was skeptical about the piece that is worn on the head. When they explained the connection between loneliness and health for the aging, it made more sense how this could be useful.

The Future Protein Plan

This project shows a digital platform where people could design and order their own protein source. It reminded me of a project we did in our Studio II class in which Ellen Lupton asked us to create a unique imaginary restaurant concept. One of my peers created an app that allowed people to design their own meal-replacement pills to pick up at an ATM. I feel like food is an especially interesting lens to view the future because it is universally such an important part of daily lives.

Graduation Show – Communication

This show included work from graduating students in the Design Academy Eindhoven’s BA Communications program. I appreciated the breadth of topics that were covered.

Experiencing Dutch Design Week gave me lots of inspiration to pull into the workshops that I am developing. It gave me news ways to think about creating future-oriented work and examples I can showcase during the workshops.

DDW in combination with our Unravel experiences has also pushed me to potentially expand my thesis work. While I am enjoying creating my workshops and helping others create their visions of the future, I have a particular speculative project that I would also like to explore. During the early stages of the pandemic, I started thinking about what a virtual campus could look like. I considered how the architecture of rooms and hallways and other communal spaces could exist digitally. During our weeklong workshop, we discussed the shortcomings of Zoom and ended up creating a project that was related to my idea for the virtual campus. Even the challenges I faced trying to navigate the Dutch Design Week website are related to this idea. In our reflection call, Alan mentioned that he was used to experiencing DDW “spatially.” I think this is another example of how some sort of geographic or “physical” structure can help ground virtual experiences so that they are more intuitive and engaging. Truthfully, I am not sure how to fit this in with the other work I need to complete for my thesis concept as it currently exists, but I have a feeling this project idea is an itch that needs to be scratched.

Encoding Environments

Last Wednesday, we joined students from the Fashion Tech Farm and Tu/e Wearable Senses Lab in Eindhoven, NL for a workshop about using Grasshopper in Rhino. Marantha Dawkins, designer and PhD candidate at University of Virginia, guided the workshop based on the idea of translating the invisible things around us.

Marantha provided us with six different Grasshopper scripts that we could use to explore invisible phenomena. My group chose a script that turned 2D information into 3D data. We used three different pictures of clouds so that we could “make the untouchable tangible.”

I struggled with using Grasshopper, but other students in my group were able to put the images in to the script to create this output.

The students who had access to a laser cutter were able to create these shapes based on the shapes generated by Grasshopper.

We imagined what the installation would like like in a gallery space.

Fluidity of Presence

Friday morning, I woke up early and met with Fien to continue working on our plans for the Circuit Playground interaction. Our team member Arimit from Willem de Kooning Academy got the chat platform up on his server and provided us with the link we needed to test our hardware code. We tested the platform first and found it to be really delightful. Each participant appears as a glowing white dot with their name next to it. I thought I would miss the video interaction, but I actually really enjoyed the disembodied experience. The platform was successful in that the sound would change based on our relationship to each other in the interface.

Our hardware code mostly worked well, but there was an issue with the way the data was being used to light up the LEDs. Each data point came through quickly, so it was hard to perceive the change in the lights as they responded to the volume of a voice. We need to make the code simulate the effect of an audio equalizer: the light would get bright quickly but then dim more slowly. This could be accomplished by having the light actually respond to the average volume over a certain time period. Though this was a practical need, it actually fit conceptually with our idea about “traces of presence.” The light is basically responding to a memory of the sound rather than the literal volume at that moment.

While Fien, Arimit, and I focused on the code, Ezra from Sint Lucas Antwerpen focused on refining the language to describe our project and documenting the process in our project wiki. Armith from WdKA created a 3D prototype for how the Circuit Playground could be housed. Marit from WdKA, Michelle from SLA, and Jin from MICA worked on visuals of how the platform could look and be promoted in the future.

There was a real rush to the finish line, but we were ready to present our work at 10:00 am ET on Friday. We first presented internally to the Unravel participants/mentors. We then presented again for a public audience. I was really touched to see the MICA Graphic Design MFA directors, Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips, and about 7 of our cohort peers also joined in to support Ana, Ruichao, and me.

24-Hour Marathon Begins

This morning, we began hour 24-hour making marathon. Frederik helped my group realize that we had a lot of different ideas, and we needed to focus on just one if we were going to have anything to show tomorrow. We decided to hone in on the idea of challenging the binary of digital presence/absence. We about the suddenness of ending a video a call and how that can feel like a real drop in energy. In physical reality, the process of entering or leaving a space is more gradual.

We landed on the idea of a chat interface that allows for spatial mapping. The interface allows for multiple conversations to be held simultaneously with users being able to “physically” move between them. We will be using the Circuit Playground as a physical device that indicates the liveliness of different conversations. Each LED on the circuit will represent a different participant and will glow brighter as that person speaks louder.

We separated into 4 subgroups to complete the work for tomorrow’s presentation. One group is developing the interface as it can practically exists for tomorrow. Another group is developing a sort of speculative interface for how it could exist in the future and accompanying visuals. The third group is developing the hardware as it can practically work for tomorrow’s presentation. The final group is creating a speculative model for how it could exist in the future. Fien from Sint Lucas Antwerpen and I focused today on getting the Circuit Playground working. We both have a pretty limited knowledge of the code needed to make this actually work, so started with just testing how the circuit could respond to sound.

Once Frederik was free to help, he explained that we basically need to create a line of communication between the server that our project will be hosted on and the Circuit Playground. Whenever you load a website, for example, you open up a connection, but it just gets information once. We need a constant stream of data to represent the voices in the chat. The amplitude of their voices will then be converted to a numerical value that is assigned to the color of the lights. We now have the code working to create that constant stream. You can see how the data represented by the 10 circles on the screen is translating through to the lights on the Circuit Playground. Tomorrow, we just need to replace the placeholder server with the actual server for our project, and it should be ready to go.

Sensing the Connection

Our international group started off today with quick presentations of our ideas for telepresent greetings. It was interesting to hear what the other groups had talked about from the idea of different levels of greetings to drawing on traditional greetings to reimagine what we do in the present. There was one note about commenting on the internet connection in the same way we often comment about the weather that I thought was particularly amusing.

In the workshop portion of the day, we took what we learned yesterday and built on it so that we could interact with each other through our Circuit Playgrounds. Alan Grover, Arts Engineer at MICA, provided us with the code we needed so that we could touch our own circuts and cause the LEDs on the circuits of others to light up—even from across the ocean!

My Circuit Playground receiving inputs from other students in the Netherlands, Belgium, and the U.S.

We also learned about concepts like “Evil” code (code that causes suffering) and thinking about coding as a craft. Frederik de Bleser from Sint Lucas Antwerpen covered the topic of protocols, which he defined as “how you behave under certain conditions.” During our break, we were charged of take a “group selfie” showing our respective cities (Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Baltimore).

Group 2

After the break, we met in our groups to brainstorm what we can create during the 24-hour making marathon that begins tomorrow. We talked about memory and how that is impacted by different senses. Since digital platforms tend to flatten the experience of something, we can infer that they are, in a way, flattening our memories of these experience. How can we use touch to add dimension to a digital experience? Annet Couwenberg challenged us specifically to consider how meaning changes as it migrates across platforms. We also discussed how we could disrupt the binary nature of digital tools (on/off, present/absent). One way is by considering the trace of presence. If a person with a strong perfume leaves room their smell lingers. If you touch a Circuit Playground with sweaty fingers, your sweat could cause the circuit to perceive touch even after you’ve removed contact. Tomorrow is likely to be a whirlwind moving into our presentation on Friday morning, but I’m excited about the direction we’re going.

Telepresent Greetings & the Telepresence of Touch

Yesterday, we began our internal collaboration week. We were introduced to our groups composed of students from MICA, Willem de Kooning Academie, and Sint Lucas Antwerpen. We learned what some of each other’s interests and “super powers” are, so I’m excited to see how we can work together to explore this week’s theme: Sense of Connection.

Today, we started with a workshop from Paul Mirel, Engineer in Residence at MICA, about controlling our Circuit Playgrounds by writing code in Circuitpython.

Circuit Playground

There were some technical issues with getting all the applications up and running at first, but it was easy to follow along once we got into the actual coding. We progressed from learning the “print” function to making the circuit light up. Then, we were able to add in touch as an input to make the circuit respond with lights whenever we touched different parts of it. The Circuit Playground has sensors that allow it to respond to touch, sound, light, temperature, proximity, and motion. It has lights and speakers for output. While we were on our lunch break, Ana and I played around with some of the extra code samples that were provided to see some of the different combination options for inputs/outputs.

Ana Tobin testing the touch function

After our break, we split off with our assigned groups to discuss telepresent alternatives for common greetings. “Group 2” (the name we very creatively settled on) had discussed the intimacy of voice yesterday, so we talked again about sound again today. What if we turned off our cameras to focus on the singular sense of hearing as opposed to all of the senses you experience in-person? We found ourselves torn between discussing practical examples we could demonstrate over Zoom tomorrow (like tapping on our cameras) to more speculative ideas (like how could you simulate the ability to have multiple conversations that can be overheard in a physical room).

We experimented with bringing others into our physical spaces. It was an unexpectedly strange feeling to see other sitting in my bedroom, especially with a background of my personal mementos.

We had to end the call somewhat abruptly when the WDKA students got kicked out of their school building, so it’s not entirely clear what we’ll share with the group tomorrow morning. We are meeting before the second workshop begins, though, so I think we’ll get on the same page then.

I was inspired by the conversations we had to experiment with the Circuit Playground some more this evening. I modified the code provided by Paul to have 2 sound outputs. My idea is that the students from Group 1 (or “Spice Girls”) could press button A to hear their sound greeting. Students from Group 2 (or “Tequila”) could press button B to hear their sound greeting. These groups took their names from Zoom karaoke songs they performed, so I turned clips from those songs into wav files that could be played by the Circuit Playground. Figuring out how to trim and convert the sound files actually took more time than modifying Paul’s code to fit this purpose. Our group had discussed having the circuit be wearable as a necklace that would respond to body heat. I tried piecing together some code bits to have the circuit lights increase in intensity as it warmed up, but I couldn’t quite get it to work. I was able to find some code online, though, that makes a new light on the circuit light up as it heats up. It’s actually a more obvious effect than what I had in mind, so I think it will work better on Zoom. We’ll see if my group is interested in maintaining any of these ideas for our greetings tomorrow.

On the Sympathy of Things

In our reading from “The Sympathy of Things: Ruskin and the Ecology of Design,” Lars Spuybroek draws a connection between digital technologies and Gothic architecture. The text was somewhat challenging because I am not familiar with the craft or theory of Gothic architecture, so the references felt quite abstract.

I was intrigued by this statement: “We come across the same erroneous idea time and time again… that we can humanize machines by slowing them down, refraining from their continuous use, alternating their use with authentic home- and handcrafting, or using them on a less massive scale.” It reminds me so much of the conversations we are having about our digital relationships right now. In so many ways, refraining from machine use is fully impossible. We need to complete our work or connect with people in ways that simply cannot be accomplish in person. I think it has fundamentally impacted our society’s relationship with technology. I don’t know that slowing down is possible, so thinking of ways to “make machines do things differently” may be the only effective strategy.

I appreciated when Spuybroek articulated that the design of a Gothic cathedral related to a coded methodology through redundancy, changefulness, rigidity, naturalism, savageness, and grotesqueness. For me, this provided the best explanation of the connections he was drawing.

When Spuybroek described the patterns of snowflakes, my mind wandered to considering digital patterns and the concept of “uniformity amidst variation.” It reminded me of fractal branches created using p5js.

Sources: Learn p5.js by Making Fractals & Fractal Tree GIF

Weaving Workshop

Before we could begin the workshop, we had to warp our looms. Warping a heddle loom has a reputation for being a real chore, and it turns out the rumors are true. I think the hardest part was not really understanding what steps were going to be coming up, so I think it could go quite a bit faster in future.

Artist Robin Kang began our workshop by walking us through a sort of loose evolution of looms across the globe, from backstrap looms to the Jacquard punch card system. I had heard that “looms were the first computers,” but I did not know the actual story about how the Jacquard system inspired a method used for the U.S. Census collection (or about how that company later became IBM).

Robin introduced us to weave drafts and how to read them. We were then set off on our to do the actual weaving. I started with a simple plain weave to get comfortable with the loom.

I started by just weaving back and forth with the raspberry-colored yarn. Then I swapped back and forth with two rows of raspberry and two rows of blue. Finally, I alternated every row between the two colors. I unintentionally created a sort of gradient. It would be interesting to explore that further to see how gradual I could make that effect.

I then began experimenting with other materials. Tin foil was the first thing that came to my mind. I like the contrast it adds and the way it sort of emphasizes the warp threads. My next idea was to try parchment paper to see how the transparency would change things. It didn’t have a very dramatic effect, so I pushed the idea further and tried weaving in lines of plastic wrap. The first time I tried it, the plastic wrap smooshed down. It lost its transparency, but did have an interesting glossy texture.

One thing that struck me as I was weaving is the way you have to roll up your work as it grows. You might be weaving in patterns and messages, but you’re forced to forget about them (at least temporarily) to move forward.

On Weaving Reflection

I really appreciate Anni Albers’s clarity and direct writing style. The first line that stood out to me is “All weaving is the interlacing of two distinct groups of threads at right angles.” Thanks to my grandmother, I have been knitting since I was fairly young and have since experimented with macrame and tapestry weaving. I do not have any formal education in fiber arts, though, so I could not have articulated the distinction between the different constructions. I appreciate this definition and the further clarification regarding woven vs braided vs knitted/crocheted vs lace.

The differences between plain, twill, and satin weave were really meticulously described, but I still had trouble visualizing them. I found myself searching for images and came across this graphic explanation.

The basic structures of woven fabrics

I think most people probably take the construction of fabrics for granted. How many people know that the stiff material of cotton sheets is made with a plain weave? Or that jeans our jeans have a twill weave?

I was excited to see Quipu referenced in our additional readings. As part of a group project in the Design Writing Research course last semester, my teammates and I created a language for a fictional civilization that was inspired in part by quipu. We had to develop the full language from alphabet to grammar, and the “writing system” was actually constructed from knots in threads. You could think of it as Braille-meets-macrame. I can’t seem to find any images of the prototypes we made, but here are diagrams of the language.