This summer we are going to explore how to design for and with living organisms.
Maria Anat’kay Bermudez Elsinger
Designers bridge between human innovations and our everyday lives. More often than not we focus on the creation of everyday life products, communication and services and tend to overlook the other end of our endeavours: human innovation. Our technologies, media, values and social organisation keep changing and it is crucial to observe and react to those changes. This is why we need a solid understanding and lively debate about relevant contemporary questions concerning human existence, including social, historical, ecological, economic, technological and philosophical developments.
Why do we design?
After the first thrill of functioning in a commercial design context or later on in life when changes seem to shake former beliefs and motivations we are forced to confront basic questions about the purpose of our work. This is where a broad and openminded understanding of our profession is helpful. The more we know about the embedding of our work in human society the easier it is for us to see the bigger pictures and find a personal position in those pictures. Debating what we do and understanding our connections between innovation and everyday life is not just a matter of intellectual culture, it is critical to maintain in this profession.
Design and Biology
The question of “Biodesign” is central to many design discourses. Dramatic evolutions in synthetic biology and genetics demand a different design logic and the invention of adequate design processes. So it is about time we join this discourse! We will examine our relationship to life, our concept of “nature” and will – among others – discuss two questions:
How do we design our understanding of living organisms? For instance, are the pictures and ideas which Charles Darwin brought home from his trip to the Galápagos Islands still valid today? Can evolution be understood as a tree? Does an anatomical depiction of a plant explain what a plant is? Is the colour green sufficient to describe “organic” food? What does a picture of a double helix actually tell us about genetics?
How do we design with living organisms? What is the difference between living and lifeless material? How do you design objects and communication which evolve over time? Is DNA a “new medium”?
Please read more about these questions in Designing Life!
What is the structure of this project?
The main idea of this project is that it is a “free” project in the sense that you can do whatever you want. Its purpose is to help you find your personal approach and interest in design. This project provides a framework which helps you achieve this. It consists of the following components:
- A central debate: We explore and discuss the relationship between Life and Design. This will be kickstarted by 2 small tasks which we conduct within the first three weeks. And yes, this also means that there are a lot of books to read.
- Field trips: We will travel to Vienna and London to visit design shows, museums and crazy people. We also conduct experiments in a genetic laboratory, visit botanical gardens and take walks in the woods.
- Design making: We explore by making design. So please forget your design thinking strategies for a semester. We will derive knowledge from doing and making things with our hands.
- Room for exploration: You will define your project. You can try out things. There will be time and space for you to figure out what you enjoy doing, regardless of the medium, materials or questions you want to work with.
- Physical communication: We don’t limit ourselves to 2-dimensional planes. We create objects and communication which takes into account not just the eyes but the whole body of our audience.
- Community: Friendships and collaborations are the magic ingredients of this project. Building social ties is a key aspect of your time at this University.
- Exhibition Design: We don’t necessarily aim for shiny pretentious final results – even though those are always welcome – but rather put an emphasis on the process and on sharing this process with others. Hence we are going to put a lot of effort into the presentation of our work in a beautiful exhibition.
What are we going to learn?
You will dramatically expand your understanding of Design and get a clearer understanding of your personal direction.
What will be our results?
We use living organisms to create physical – possibly dynamic – objects which communicate our thoughts about Design.
What is the ideal number of participants?
Ideally we will be working in a group of 10-15 people.