David Cuartielles & Tony Olsson, ‘The digital artisan’

History and frameworks for the labs

David began the seminar with an introduction to the background of his work at K3 and Malmö University. When David arrived in 2000 he wanted to look at how the Interaction Design program could refresh its focus on prototyping with physical materials. One emphasis became to teach and encourage the Interaction Design students to build the tools if they didn’t already exist. The need for easy to work with circuit boards became one clear need in many of the projects and this experience of working with the students fed into the further development of the Arduino project, which David was directly involved with as one of its founders.

Further lessons learned in these early labs included:

1) the need for setting interesting goals that would act as drivers for pushing students beyond their expectations of what was possible,
2) pushing students to exhibit in public,
3) the need for better documentation processes of the work produced,
4) the need for constraints that enable the students to work more directly with specific concepts,
5) the need for objects to be able to connect to other objects. Building on these needs, the lab was professionalised in such a way that the now standard model of fast prototyping with interesting and critically-oriented design briefs that challenge students to think beyond straightforward functionalities was born.

Tony joined the teaching team in 2006 and brought with him a specialised knowledge of the growing field of wearable computing. Tony was commissioned to write one of the first books on the design of wearable computing (http://www.apress.com/9781430243595) and a major challenge of this project was to find a way of documenting knowledge from one field (engineering) into another (design, fashion).

As a team, David, Tony and Andreas (Göransson) continue to emphasise how by creating your own tools you become the gatekeepers of knowledge, and to this end they have recently developed their own Sweetblue API, which makes it possible to have objects in the physical world talk to phones. Tony and Andreas have also recently collaborated on several art projects with artist and Stahl Stenslie, professor in Art and Technology, involving haptic-based wearables (e.g. http://psychoplastics.wordpress.com/, http://blindtheater.wordpress.com/, http://sensememory.me/). This has included using the newly developed Stitchies telehaptic communication system.

What the lab is becoming
The next steps for the team include to produce more work and development on Internet of Things style projects, to improve the wearables tech they are working with and to integrate the idea of the accessory development further within the program.

In suggesting their notion of the digital artisan, the emphasis is on a regaining of control over the everyday technological products of one’s environment. The figure of the digital artisan builds on top of open licensing models, hacker methodologies and a deep understanding of design materials so as to reach the user, often with the understanding that one doesn’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel to achieve innovative results. The newly formed Institute of Interactive Objects (IOIO) lab will be one such place to further explore and iterate upon these practices that have been ongoing in the team’s practice over the last decade (https://ioio.mah.se/).

Summary of Q&A
Q: Do you see these as process-oriented ontologies, and if so, what role does context play?
David: The user has a big influence on design. Focus is not so much on context as on creating engaging and critically-oriented briefs for the students.

Q: What is the result of making explicit a space for play and creativity where everything can potentially be reconfigured?
David: This approach is starting to initiate a very significant change in the engineering discourse. Big firms are coming to Arduino and saying we want our tools to be like your tools because of this sense of accessibility and flexibility.

Q: Have you ever seen any unethical uses of Arduino?
David: We avoid collaborating with people we wouldn’t want to collaborate with. Arduino is just one alternative in an emergent field.
Tony: The open source community is very engaged in what other people are doing, and as such there is a strong sense of self-policing and transparency in the majority of Arduino related projects.

Q: Do you see anything like a “material turn” in your discipline as a result of the kinds of physically oriented computing you emphasise?
David: There is not a major difference in the internet of things style concepts that we were pursuing already in 2004 to what is done nowadays. The change has been in the sense of thinking of this kind of research as more standard and commercialisable. It is more “real” now and on a larger scale.
Tony: It is coming, people now thinking of these things as a material. Several visits to the lab from major manufacturers.
David: Expect we will see a transformation of social values via the internet of things. Self-monitoring being one such example, with things like in-home sensors possibly becoming mandatory for regulation, making the whole concept more real for everyone.

Q: The example of interfaces in sci-fi films and television shows, how what you are imagining, via prototypes, can influence what is happening. How do you see prototypes travelling? Thinking about ontologies not just epistemologies. We are making worlds, constituting the world.
David: Technologists have long been in love with sci-fi and there are many examples of how they try simply to replicate such interfaces. What is harder to understand is how these prototypes might affect social behaviours. The need to envision new uses from the social point of view. Telling our students to think about how the prototypes and thinking behind them will affect the future.
Tony: Sci-fi can also be a way of informing and educating people.
David: The physicalisation of things will change social interfaces. Also, as the examples from sci-fi often show, we have a way of always being able to find ways of intimacy in even the most Orwellian dystopias.

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