How do we design holistically for water stewardship? Open Droplet at #LOTE4

I’ve often had a niggling bothersome thought about IoT (Internet of Things), in that it seems always to put the onus on the individual to make change. I’m all for collective action, and responsible attitudes to the environment, but sometimes the stats don’t lie – if industry is guzzling more gas than domestic users, and if the plastics industry pollutes more than one country’s yearly car usage, there’s only so much of a dent that the public are going to make in our juggernaut progress to ecological and climate catastrophe. We have to look at the situation as a whole, something that I think it’s increasingly important to incorporate into our quantified, sensor strewn lives.

Open Droplet Logo

That’s been the aim when it comes to design for Open Droplet, in this case – what if water leakage outstrips domestic water use, for instance? The key question, is how do we facilitate citizens, communities, cities and infrastructure providers to take care of this precious resource? It’s a concept and question that I’m delighted to be bringing to my forthcoming session at LOTE4: The Stewardship later this month in Matera, Italy.

I’d really love it, in the spirit of openness, LOTE and Open Droplet, if you’d take a look at the session. Even if you can’t make it there, I’d love to hear what you think about the proposition. What’s important and what should we be bearing in mind when designing for a holistic approach to water stewardship? What approaches can we generalise as a holistic IoT methodology?



A call for a new language for interdisciplinarity

Why do we still need to fight for the idea of interdisciplinarity? I recently reported on the Wellcome Collection Hub and Reading Room renovation for CultureLab. These two new spaces mark a watershed for active interdisciplinary research and its dissemination into the wider community.

In my article, I juxapose this most contemporary enterprise with that of the Gaberbocchus Common Room, set up in 1957 by Franciszka and Stefan Themerson – a project that has been brought to public attention by an excellent exhibition at London-based gallery GV Art.

What is striking when you read the Common Room paraphinalia, is that the rhetoric its users applied to collaborations between disciplines is almost word-for-word the same as that which we use today in debates around the globe on the future of art and science collaborations. What’s also striking is that the misappropriated Two Cultures rhetoric, which often used as a justification of the division between the disciplines of science and arts (rather than the call to bridge the differences between science and literature as it was intended by CP Snow), is the one most commonly applied to these interdisciplinary endeavours. As I recently asked UCL Natural Sciences and BASc undergraduates and post-grads at my seminar on interdisciplinarity – the benefits of sharing knowledge from many disciplines on a common theme seem so obvious, it’s a wonder we have to so constantly justify it.

So why does a divisive paradigm persist? It’s something I have discussed widely and have come to the conclusion that it is perpetuated by 3 main factors:

1) Institutional structure
* physical boundaries get in the way of people meeting and exchanging knowledge* a lack of flexibility in demands on time, deliverables and top-down structures for courses and assessment hinder exploration of ideas

2) Funding models
* eligibility requirements can stymie good ideas
* bias towards institutions conferring legitimacy for applicants – in an era of portfolio careers, interdisciplinarity and start-ups this loses a lot of good people
* assessment criteria for the success of a project are usually outcome-oriented and fairly immediate. they often neglect value in information exchange, networking and longer-term delivery or inspiration

and most importantly:
3) An inadequate lexicon for interdisciplinary endeavours, and interdisciplinary researchers
By naming something we make it real to ourselves. But by naming we also tie something down into a generalisation that loses its uniqueness and nuance. Negotiating this problem is an issue in interdisciplinary research, for which there is no established language. It is time to develop a new language for interdisciplinarity – something that allows those practicing a multi-faceted approach to knowledge to name themselves and thus persist in the social consciousness. It’s something that Giles Lane recently had a stab at with his notion of Public Agent, but I think we maybe need to move beyond an amalgamation of existing words, to create a new description of people who seek to know the world in a multi- or interdisciplinary way – focussing on their way of knowing, not their means of production.

This perhaps would have helped the Themerson’s endeavour, and their own historical reputations too.

So, I’m going to kick off with a suggestion to get the conversation going. I think we need to keep familiar syllables to make a new word – but you can by all means disagree and go elsewhere with it.

How about: Netknower ?

OK, your turn.


Information overload: the ‘scape coat solution

Sometimes it feels good just to get away from it all. With a constant information flow – whether it be advertising, social media, traffic noise – sometimes we just want to switch off. But in most urban environments that’s not very easy.

That’s the problem I came to address in last Saturday’s speculative biology workshop at Art Laboratory Berlin, using speculative design to address biologically oriented problems. Run by artist Pinar Yoldas, the workshop aimed at finding innovative ways to address problems that run deep within our world. I teamed up with Claudia Manningel, Oliver Connew and Dustin Carlson for a crack at a design solution.

Our design grew out of two ideas. The first was choreographer Ollie’s penchant for public toilet cubicals, which he liked because he could have his own personal space away from the pressure of public interaction, but he was still in the midst of things. The second was artist Dustin’s response to overburdened senses, the idea of android-esque volume buttons on the ears and nose to dampen the amount of stimulus to which one is subject.

We morphed through many iterations until we came to the idea of a hood that cut out unwanted noise, and communicated how you were feeling through the use of non-verbal messages – namely light. But a hood can have negative connotations, despite efforts against maligning them, so instead we decided to go for its inverse – the collar.

The result? The ‘Scape Coat. It’s a large collar, that uses noise cancelling tech and directional microphones to control your auditory environment, and uses coloured lights to convey your mood. Image

The collar, as you can see from our cardboard mock-up, also acts a little as an enclosure, and it does make you feel safer, but also quite cut off. I have to say that I rather wanted to have one on over the last few days, so I think it’s a winner.