Inclusive design. People-centered design. Design for all. Universal design. Each of these practices is an attempt to articulate a design approach that puts the individual at the center of the design agenda. For me this approach takes shape a bit differently in that it also forcibly puts at its center multiple points-of-view, orientations and abilities. This practice has led me to produce some pretty unusual outcomes for a designer—graphic design for people who do not see, communication spaces for people who do not speak and technology for people who have no power. And although these projects were designed to support issues significant to others, they simultaneously afforded me a unique opportunity to question the convenient assumptions we so often default to when considering what people need.
You know those artificial rocks people use to hide pipes, pumps and other domestic structural elements deemed too aesthetically displeasing for a proper residential landscape? Turns out they’re not the most comfortable objects to sit on for an extended period of time.
Nevertheless, that’s how I spent 45 minutes last week—sitting atop wheel-mounted fake rocks and talking with their creators, Asli Serbest and Mona Mahall, the Stuttgart- and Istanbul-based art, design and architecture duo who go by the nom de guerre micro architecture unit star energy ray, or m-a-u-s-e-r for short.
I met with them to discuss Natural Wi-Fi, their research project that culminated in an installation in Wind Tunnel Gallery, part of ArtCenter’s Graduate Center for Critical Practice, that explored the material byproducts of the Internet as well as how Nature has become the online world’s aesthetic obsession.
“Being part of a community that provides support and critique is important,” said Media Design Practices (MDP) Chair Anne Burdick as she kicked off the department’s first ever Faculty Work-in-Progress show on a recent Thursday evening in Art Center’s Wind Tunnel gallery space. “It’s really a super amazing gift.”
As the MFA program’s twelve faculty members’ presentations unfolded over the next two hours, it quickly became clear that Burdick was not overstating the rewards of her department’s commitment to open dialogue. The event, which Burdick hopes will become a regular piece of programming, was organized around the following theme: a piece of something bigger. Faculty responded to that imperative with a series short presentations of unfinished projects they’re cultivating in their private creative practices.
From high-tech research to creating social change, the Media Design Practices program’s two new tracks foster a hotbed of ideas. Department Chair Anne Burdick explains how.
Dotted Line: Why did you recently introduce two tracks?
Anne Burdick: Bringing new practices to design and media is a key aim of our program. So when we see an emerging direction that offers our graduates opportunity and adventure, we go for it.
We saw our alumni generally heading in one of two very different directions: future-oriented research and experimental media or on-the-ground social engagement. We felt if we created a curricular experience tailored to these orientations, we could create a vibrant dialogue and an environment that becomes a hotbed for new ideas.
DL: Talk about the two tracks.
AB: The two tracks are Field and Lab. The curriculum for each is built on a project-based model in which students approach complex situations from multiple perspectives. But the time frame and context that structures their work differs substantially.
Lab track prepares students for work in high-tech, future-focused settings. Before working on a thesis project, Lab students work on five “inquiries”— three-week intensives in which they investigate recent advances in culture, science and technology. Each inquiry is team-taught with researchers, experts, and industry leaders.
Ah, summer, that time of year when research-led design turns to rocket scientists, parking lots, quantum physics and the formation of cults.
These summer days have been far from lazy for Art Center’s Graduate Media Design Program (MDP), whose students, faculty and researchers-in-residence have been knee-deep in off-kilter research projects for the past 13 weeks. Their findings will be unveiled at “In/Conclusions: Results from the MDP Research Residencies,” tomorrow, Wednesday, August 18 at 1:30 pm in the Wind Tunnel Gallery (RSVP here).
“In/Conclusions” is just one of several events surrounding a newly-launched bi-annual program designed to identify and explore ideas that emerge from recent MDP faculty and student work. A related exhibition, Made Up, and panels, screenings and readings are also scheduled for the fall and spring, and all the activities will be captured in a publication released in Summer 2011.
For its inaugural year, MDP chose the theme Made Up, which it describes as a consideration of “the relevance of speculation, role playing, idealism, skepticism, and simple lying as instruments or objects of the design process.” This year’s researchers-in-residence—Sascha Pohflepp and duo Ingrid Hora and Daniel Salomon—were chosen by a jury made up of MDP faculty Sean Donahue and Ben Hooker; Fiona Raby, principal of design practice Dunne & Raby; and science-fiction author, WIRED columnist and former Art Center Visionary-in-Residence Bruce Sterling.
The L.A. Earthquake Sourcebook and the short film Preparedness Now, developed at Art Center as part of The Los Angeles Earthquake: Get Ready project, will be showcased in Cooper-Hewitt’s 2010 National Design Triennial, opening Friday. Art Center students, faculty, alumni and artists, in partnership with leading scientists and community experts, generated new research and visual communication tools about seismic safety as part of this Designmatters-led project. The project has become a national and international example of the power of design thinking applied to disaster preparedness.
“When we initiated the research phase for Get Ready, we were coping with the aftermath and systemic disruption caused by Hurricane Katrina, and seeking to understand how we could use the art and design expertise of our community as a catalyst for resiliency in our own backyard,” said Mariana Amatullo, vice president and director of Designmatters, the College’s social impact educational initiative. “We wanted to provoke a conversation about preparedness and rally public attention around it. Today, we look back at this project that has engaged so many of our students, faculty, alumni and a multidisciplinary consortia of partners nationally through Designmatters with a great sense of accomplishment. The conversation we started keeps resonating with the same sense of urgency and relevance as before.”