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I’m half way through my time in NYC. The time has sped by at a startling pace, inducing acute panic and anxiety. What have I achieved? What have I to show for these weeks?! It’s clear that I’m struggling to ‘lean in’ to having time to think, idle and reflect. I have this nagging voice in my head demanding productivity; a number of words written, a set of projects developed, a range of outcomes produced with the idea of deep personal and intellectual transformation (!!!).

I’m know that I should resist, I should give my mind space and time to drift in a new landscape; allowing my thoughts to catch the wind, find serendipitous connections, follow things that capture my imagination. But it’s hard. Maybe I need to meditate or maybe I need to medicate.

One thing I’m currently caught on is the split between reflection and production, moving forwards or looking back. I came to New York with a mission to develop a project (a book) about design education. This has been in the pipeline for years and I’ve not had the time to fully engage. The book will allow me to ‘capitalise’ on the effort, work, time and energy I’ve put into teaching over the last 17 years. I have a hope that it will act as a way to move my thinking on, whilst creating a vehicle to communicate the amazing work that my colleagues and I have achieved at Goldsmiths. It’s my opportunity to shout loudly about what we’ve done, creating a record that I think is important at this point in the history of design education. However, as with most of these moments in my life; capitalising on something that I’m in  prime position to do so, is something I rarely do.

I end up feeling bored by the ideas I’ve already thought, annoyed at the banality of my brain, and with this come the loss of curiosity and excitement. I want to move to new pastures, think new things and imagine a different set of possibilities. This is made worse  because I’m away from teaching and away from Goldsmiths; so the book feels like I’m making a prison for myself. A way to remain in the past.

As I write, Herbie is on a plane, over the Atlantic. A brave boy, flying on his own, heading to me and the promised land of endless pizza and ice-cream. I think his presence will help… or at least distract me from my privileged purgatory (only joking here… being overly dramatic… I’m still loving NYC).

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Pesce

So my diary isn’t going too well… there’s a temporal disjunction between the amount of sensory and cultural input I’m receiving and my ability to write it down. This maybe due to my poor writing skills, my lack of routine and discipline or it could be that I’m being over-stimulated and my fingers are too slow.

I do however, need to record my encounter with Gaetano Pesce. I went to a lecture he gave at Columbia on Monday and it was an incredible experience. It was perfectly timed for me; I was desparate for a type of input that would uplift me and make me have hope in design and design education.

I’ve been a long time fan of Pesce. I first came across his work during a period in my design education when I tried to deconstruct my aesthetic values. I looked for work that I didn’t ‘like the look of’, that challenged the norms of my aesthetic sensibilities and I found Pesce and Sottsass. Both of which, I had instant aesthetic responses against, both I have grown to love. I’ve been lucky enough to hear them speak, had they’ve had a massive impact on my understanding of the world and the world of design.

Pesce’s lecture at Columbia Architecture was full of humor and insight. He spoke passionately about what he felt was worth while in architecture. He made the distinion between ‘architecture’ and ‘building’… he said that most of the constructed environment today – the buildings that the architecture press sell as Architecture (with a big A) are merely buildings. Because true architecture both reflects the context in which it sits, but also moves it forward – it speaks of a future. He beleives many of today’s star-hitect buildings are BORING!

He has a joyful playfulness combined with grand scale hopefullness that I feel is missing from much of todays design culture. He really gives NO FUCKS. I went along, aware that I could be disappointed with an old, white, italian man who was likely to be sexist and old fashioned. I came away wanting him to adopted me. He talked about gender politics, a tricky thing for an old man to do in the age of #metoo, but he sent a clear message: the male ego has fucked things up, we need to give all positions of responsibility to women.

In an age of post-disciplinary, post-industurial design practice that engages with the knotty problems of the 21st Century, it’s hard for us to remain connected to a material practice, a sense of simplicity, or humour in the face of desparation. There’s very little to smile about in the world. As we look through our tiny media windows we see things that feel too big to ‘solve’, too advanced to restore. But Pesce remained hopeful, he remained humble and he remained deeply individual in his aesthetic evolution.

One of the things I worry most about is how, as designers, we manage to evolve a sense of humour (what, in conversations with Fiona Raby & Tony Dunne call), a ‘lightness of touch’, in response to the complexities of our world. At the moment I see a bifurcation; where funny, joyful and light work sit in the realm of meaningless, excessive consumption. Whilst social engaged, community focused and politically meaningful design work is often humourless, austere and self satisfied. We need to stop being so binary. We need to be multiple.

In the questions after, I was a little too overwhelmed and intimidated to ask a question, but after the lecture, talking to a colleague we thought of loads. The two most important are; how does Pesce make decisions about his ideas? And, does he think it’s possible to teach the sense of self confidence needed to produce work that bucks the trend – that reaches outside of the aesthetic norm?

A student asked about his working process; he answered by saying it’s simple – he has an idea, then makes it. Although I laughed, I’m not convinced this is true, he must have a way to work though an idea, to understand if it’s worth pursuing. He must have a way to make decisions within his process. I’d like to try and understand this process a little more.

As for the pedagogy of confidence, I’m a bit stuck. My hope is; if you are an educator and you support the learning of students to understand (self actualise), to be revolutionary in their understand of the world, to transgress the social, political and aesthetic norms, to help support them in understanding their agency… then this confidence will come. But I’m not too sure… I hope it does.

The Friday before last (21st Oct 2018) I went to a GIDEST seminar with Siri Hustvedt. I discovered Hustvedt’s work through her husband, Paul Auster, 24 years ago.  On seeing and listening to Hustvedt, the significance of Auster’s work on my life suddenly hit me. Zac Baker, a dear old friend of mine, gave me Mr. Vertigo at a very dark point in my life. In my first year at University, my best friend died. I couldn’t sleep and I was spiralling into a black hole. The book saved me. It changed my relationship to reading and opened a new world to me. A world, where words… stories… books… fiction could be a place to escape to. A world where I could process my feelings and thoughts. All these years later, I’m sat at a table across from Siri, with a feeling of excitement and intellectual giddiness.

Siri Hustvedt is an amazing woman; a creative thinker who possesses razor sharp intelligence, her ideas are expressed with a poetic clarity, which is unusual for someone who draws on such a diverse set of references. She manages to move smoothly across disciplinary boundaries, without care for their formal and superficial barriers. She has the feeling of a person from a different era; driven by curiosity and a desire to understand the world around her, somehow avoiding the politics and trappings of the modern ‘public intellectual’.

We were given three pieces of her work to read before the seminar; an excerpt from The Blazing World, and the chapters; Becoming Others and My Louise Bourgeois from A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind. All three pieces were fascinating; I particularly liked Becoming Others where Hustvedt examines her mirror touch synesthesia.

The most fascinating aspect of mirror-touch synesthesia maybe precisely that it lies at, indeed appears to cross, the border between self and other, but does so in a way that forces us to examine the limen itself and what it means for empathic and imaginative experience.

Hustvedt goes on to make links between phenomenology, psychology and neurobiology  through Merleau-Ponty’s intercorporeality, Winnicott’s transitional objects and Gallese’s we-space.  It was the ‘we-space’ (Gallese, 2001), the space of relational agency, that fascinated me. In my talk at Critical by Design earlier this year, I spoke about my Fathers dementia and how fiction became an intersubjective tool of translation and mediation for his madness. I spoke about how stories became a way for us to engage, care and comfort him during his distress. Reading Hustvedt, it made me think of the semi-fictional reality that we co-created with my dad as a ‘space of the imagination’. A space to make empathy possible.

Much has been written about design and empathy (the original phrase was developed by Dorothy Leonard-Barton and Jeffrey Rayport, Spark Innovation Through Empathic Design, in 1997) and how, as designers, we need to develop empathetic techniques to understand our users. User Centred Design has become a common approach and method for designers to consider people in a systematic manner throughout a design process. However, I’ve always found the use of personas problematic in their representational limitations. Often, the fictional characterisations are thin and generic characterisations of human complexities and identities. My question to Hustvedt centred around how the intersubjective space, the we-space of imaginative potential, could be tapped, enriched and furnished with complexity. Ultimately, creating fictions – our projections of ourselves into the we-space – to enable alternative spaces of potential without the horrors of cultural assimilation and colonisation. This starts to sound a lot like Anne Galloway‘s Fantastic Ethnography, in particular her reflections on the brilliant Ursula K. Le Guin‘s challenge for us to go beyond-realism.

Ultimately, my question fell a little flat. Not due to Hustvedt’s lack of engagement in the idea or her generous attempt to understand what the hell I was saying, but more due to her understanding of the word / discipline DESIGN. The disciplinary elephant in the room… I’m sure many of you have been there; the conversation is going well, non-designers are speaking to you as smart, intelligent humans, then you drop the D-bomb and it all goes wrong. Suddenly the world collapses as the person you’re speaking to suddenly can’t think of anything but throw-cushions, fancy bathroom taps, ‘designer’ handbags, ‘problem solving’ and Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen (thanks Jimmy!).

The GIDEST seminars are set up to create a space of interdisciplinary discourse, but as those who have tried this know it’s a difficult space to engage in (especially for design); language barriers, disciplinary biases and divergent interests slow the discussions down and often lead to unproductive conversations. For design, it’s a deeper problem, we have a pretty terrible rep. So much of the work we (designers / educators) need to do, is to translate and reposition how design is seen – in both the ‘academy’ and general public.

Reference:

Gallese,V. ‘The ‘shared manifold’ hypothesis. From mirror neurons to empathy’.  Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 8, Numbers 5-7, 1 May 2001, pp. 33-50(18)

 

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This time two years ago I was sat in the Oncology lounge of Watford General Hospital waiting for my Dad to receive his first dose of chemotherapy. It struck me then, a feeling I still can’t shake, that the number of discrete decisions, actions, objects and processes that converged on that moment of time defied understanding: the eternal human endeavour to survive meets the unknowable complexity of a system on the brink of collapse.

I’ve begun to think of this feeling as a form of the infrastructural sublimity; standing on the edge of a complex human and non-human system so in awe of its complexity, that one becomes overwhelmed with both fear and hope.

As we waited there, for a bespoke mix of chemicals to be made, by a highly trained set of people, to be administered by a kind and caring nurse, in a space designed (in all its material complexity) to give comfort and reassurance, with a set of tailored objects designed to give relief of specific diseases, all free on the point of access, through a massive system of taxation, wealth distribution and public health care, to act on the out-of-control cells in my father’s lungs, I was in awe of what humanity had achieved.

I have come away trying to fathom how we (designers) start to navigate, mediate or manipulate these impossibly complex and messy infrastructures. Is this just a form of dark matter, that we need to find the correct instruments to detect, measure and affect change through? How do we model, prototype and predict the consequences of our actions? How do we not lie down in the face of such complexity and give up?

Our first difficulty arises when we try to ‘understand’ the scale and complexity of the systems we face; instead of creating a ‘children’s book version of reality’, we need to map the extent of the network, to chart all the access points and actors in order to make sense of the relationships that are forged within the messy complexities of our socio-technical systems. But even the act of mapping or diagramatising these infrastructures is difficult enough.

This can be broken into two main problems; the issue of representation (or the gap between the map and the territory) and the problem of truncation (or falling off the edge of the map).

Like the 17th Century portolano makers, the difficulty found in the art of cartography has been fully explored. Problems of ‘truth’ within our systems of representation has been interrogated by scholars (see Denis Wood’s The Power of Maps), and the power relations written into cartographic systems have been uncovered. Whether through the issue of selection (what is included or left off the map), language (the codification system used to symbolise reality) or projection system (the ever present problem of converting 3D objects into 2D representations), drawing a map has its own discrete set of politics that are difficult to navigate. We all know that Cartography is an act of colonisation, through the drawing of borders we define identities and write laws. So when we begin to evaluate ‘where’ to act within a system, we must first need to ‘understand’ through drawing out the spaces of agency.

One of the key moments in mapping is knowing when to stop. If we pay heed to a Latourian sense of interconnectedness, then our actions as designers are linked to a growing network of human and non-human actors. Where do we draw the line, when do we turn our heads away from the page and decide to act. With our students, this can be seen in the compulsion to ‘research more’ to make more and more connections, until they have a full picture of the situation. But sadly, this is reminiscent of the Borgesian Map, where the act of cartography becomes so obsessively detailed it is eventually abandoned and lies in useless tatters on the borderlands of efficacy. As designers we need to make the leap into the material unknown.

Design and the articles of change
Once we have mapped our territory and unpacked the web of human and non-human relationships, we then need to identify our place to act. In service design these are often called ‘touch points’, but I don’t really like this term, it bases it too neatly in the material domain of ‘the user’ or (more sinisterly) ‘the consumer’. I want to identify the sites of concentrated agency, the material and non-material actors that can affect change. It’s here that we find our place of design intervention. This is were a post-disciplinary design practice comes into its own; instead of trying to affect change through the medium of your training (web / product / graphic / interior etc), you move to place of action / the site that is pregnant with possibility and choose the tools necessary to be most affective.

I’m currently struggling with a book chapter titled; rapid prototyping politics. It’s for a Birkhauser publication on ‘Transformation Design’. In the piece I’m trying to highlight the necessary changes needed in design education to prepare students for this new type of design. The article explores the idea that through design we can prototype normally slow, large scale problems – such a policy implementation – in a rapid and agile fashion. I think there are many ways to ‘try out’ and prototype new forms of political and material engagement. Here, policy is transformed into the ‘object’ of design and experience design into the ‘randomised control trial’ to understand impact of your strategy.

As design expands beyond a purely material or functional role within society, we need to come to terms with the boundaries of our reach. How we re-conceptualise and build tools for change needs to be considered within an ethical framework. How to ‘reduce harm’ when we are trying to change the lives of people. How is ‘behaviour change’ (although I’m very sceptical about this whole field, but that’s for another post) understood within a positive, humanist approach to our discipline that doesn’t tie people to systems of consumption? How do we resist the feeling of uselessness when faced with the infrastructural sublime?

Drawing in the studio

Within design education, there’s little shared wisdom about how to conduct a tutorial. The tutorial is the bread and butter of design learning; the main pedagogic object of interaction. But we, the design community, rarely share the nuts and bolts of how to navigate and steer a student through a successful project; how to encourage, provoke, inspire and lead a designer into new and fascinating territories.

In this post, I’d like to outline a few basics. It’s me, stating the obvious, in what I consider good pedagogic practice; how best to support, guide and get the most out of students and their work.

I believe the things I’ve learnt over the last ten or so years are applicable to other disciplines and within the professional context of design. Whether as a Creative Director or a Design Manager, the following points are a good place to start when it comes to directing creativity;

Listening is Key

At the heart of a good tutor is their ability to listen. Understanding ideas, position and intent allows for more connected, meaningful feedback. Asking questions to clarify is key to aiding your understanding. Sometimes students take a long time to get to the salient point, they can skirt around the topic due to a lack of confidence, confusion or perception of expectation, so be patient, let them ‘talk out’, only respond when you understand what’s in front of you. Wait until nerves die down to get to the heart of the matter, then you’ll be in the best position to advise.

Ownership and embodiment

It’s all to common for design tutors to try to design vicariously – to direct a student in a way that they would do the project. This, in my opinion, is a flawed approach. It has a history in the master/apprentice model of education; watch, copy, admire, repeat (where learning is a happy side effect). However, it rarely allows the student to feel ownership over the content and learning experience.

Within Art and Design, intellectual ownership is a tricky subject to navigate. The messy and complex network of ideas become distributed across a number of different references, conversations and people, the genesis of an idea is difficult to locate. Tutors that have a ‘that was my idea’ attitude rarely survive or remain happy and motivated. Intellectual generosity is an essential quality of a good educator. Having the humility to understand and value that the adoption of ideas ‘as their own’ is an important part of learning – it allows for the embodiment of the ideas into the identity of the designer.

Mutual exploration

However, in the age of the Internet, the tutor as gateway to all knowledge is long gone. The ability (or illusion) of a Professor having read ‘everything’ in their discipline is a distant memory. When knowledge is acquired and disseminated in such a radically different manner, it calls for educational revolution. Sadly, the rise of the MOOC isn’t the revolution I was hoping for.

The abolishment of levels and the flattening of hierarchies are at the heart of how I believe education needs to change. Breaking the often fictitious boundaries between teaching and research to allow for the mutual exploration of ideas is a fundamentally different model of education. Sadly, due to financial scalability, this remains relevant only to an elite. But as a tutor, see your conversations with students as a space to explore ideas, be the learner as much as the teacher. Reframe higher education away from the hierarchies of expertise towards mutual exploration of the distant boundaries of your discipline.

Expanding possibility space

It’s important to remember that a tutorial should be expanding the cone of possibility for the student. They should leave, not with answers, but with an expanded notion, a greater ambition of what they were trying to achieve. It’s important to be ambitious and set tough challenges for your students, otherwise boredom or (heavens forbid) laziness can take over. Most student’s I’ve met love being thrown difficult challenges, most rise to the occasion, all learn a great deal. In order to move towards the goal of a self determined learner, the student should control the decisions of the design process. If you’re telling them what to design, not opening up possibilities and highlighting potential problems, you’re probably missing something.

Understand motivation, vulnerability and ‘learning style’

Every student we teach, learn in a different way, have different hopes and desires, react to feedback in a different way. Navigating and ‘differentiating’ these differences is really difficult. Some tutors take a distanced intellectual approach, where the content in front of them is a puzzle that needs to be solved, this is the classic personae of the academic, distanced, emotionally arid, intellectually rigorous. But this doesn’t alway mean a good learning experience. Other tutors operate on a more psychological level; the try to understand the emotional context of the situation and adapt their advise accordingly. Whatever happens, understand you have a individual in front of you, they have lives outside of the studio, they are going through all manner of personal shit that will effect their attention and engagement. They come from different cultures, different educational backgrounds, so their response to your advice is going to shift like the wind, be adaptive, read body language and don’t go in like a bulldozer (I have definitely done this in the past!). 

In terms of learning style, without this becoming a paper on pedagogy, understand that your advice need to be tailored to different students. Some (a lot) need to learn through a physical engagement with their material, others needs to have an intellectual structure in place in order to progress. Throughout a project, course or programme, try to understand this and direct your advice accordingly.

Agreed direction

Tutorials shouldn’t just be general ‘chats’ about the project or world, they should give direction, tasks and a course of action. I have a rule: Don’t end the tutorial until you’ve both agreed a direction. This can be pretty tough to manage in terms of time, as I get more experienced, I get better at reaching an agreement within my tutorial time allocation, but I still often can overrun by hours. The important thing to work towards is the idea that you both understand the project, and you both understand how it could move. End the tutorial when this been reached.

Read and respond

It’s really important, in design, to respond to what is in front of you. To actual STUFF. It’s far too easy to let students talk without showing evidence of their work. This is a dangerous game. Words can deceive, hide and misrepresent action. Dig into sketchbooks, ask to see work they’ve done. If they haven’t done anything, ask them to go away and do something to represent their ideas and thoughts. Production is key to having a productive tutorial. Only through responding to actual material evidence of action can a project move forward. At its worst, students can develop the skill to talk about stuff, making it exciting in your mind, but fail to produce the project in the end. But this isn’t the main reason for this section, it’s more about the ideas of design residing in the material production, not just the explication. You can tell me what you believe something does or means, but it’s only when it’s in front of me that I can fully grasp this.

The art of misinterpretation

Another reason why it’s important to dig into sketchbooks and look at work, is that looking at something and trying to work out what it means – the space of interpretation – is an important space of learning. By interpreting and indeed misinterpreting work, you and your student can find out things about the project. If the student intended one thing and you understand something else by it, you’ve at least learnt that it was poorly (visually and materially) communicated. But the exciting stuff happens when misinterpretation acts as a bridge between your internal mental processes (with all references etc) and your students. Your reading of a drawing acts as a way to generate a new idea or direction. This is when there is genuine creative collaboration.

References

One of the roles of a tutor is to point students towards relevant and inspiring resources. In the age of the internet, when student’s roam the halls of tumblr and are constantly fed inspiration by their favourite design blogs, the use, meaning and impact of tutor driven references has changed. Be focussed with reading, ensure students know why they are looking at a particular reference and make sure that you contextualise the work within the ideas that they have.

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It was a year ago that I wrote ‘The Matt Ward Manoeuvre Part 1’, with the good intension that I would write this post soon after. As life gets busy, I find myself having done another year at AHO, teaching a new and improved class on design ideational methods. So here are some of the techniques and exercises I’ve developed over the last 7 years to aid the drawing process. Many of my drawing exercises have been influenced by my colleague Terry Rosenberg who continues to be a brilliant drawing teacher, so this post is a big nod to him.

I’ve ran these classes in different forms and situations for over the last seven years, what you see here is a selection of highlights that try to give a overview of the approach. Ultimately, I’d like to write a book about the approach. Until then, a blog post will have to do.

The warm up; reconnecting the hand, eye and brain

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I start my workshops with a drawing warm up; A set of exercises that are common on foundation courses and life drawing classes around the country. The idea of the warm up is three-fold:

First, it acts as a diagnostic; giving me insight into the skills and abilities of the group. It’s allows me to assess the levels of the participants, whilst starting to see the good and bad habits they have evolved in their drawing practice. It’s important to know their strengths and weaknesses in order to pace the session. Strangely enough many people with very good drawing skills find these classes harder – I think this is due to a more developed (entrenched) way of using their hand, eyes and brain.

Second, it allows me to set out the relationship between the hand, eyes and brain within the drawing process. The exercises isolate each part of the body to explore the role it plays in the drawing process. It gives people insight into how practice builds strength in all three. By isolating looking, thinking and moving I highlight how each contribute to the production of ideas. Deconstructing the physicality of drawing identifies the bodily nature of the imagination.

Finally it allows me to discuss the difference between representational and ideational drawing. Drawing to make a representation of something that already exists and drawing to generate the new. It is here that I argue that drawing, even at a representational level, is the construction of ideas. Therefore the conscious manipulation of ideas through the act of drawing becomes highly fruitful for a designer.

The exercises are timed (between three and ten minutes a drawing) and are delivered with a sort of military charge (I was once accused of being a Sergeant Major of Drawing “Drop and give me 50”). I do this on purpose, the tight time restrictions give people little time to think and critique their own work. This means they relax and become less precious with their marks. This is essential, as it’s impossible to generate ideas through drawing if you spend your time fearful of ridicule and critique. The students are asked to draw portraits of each other, this also acts as an ice breaker. They laugh at each other with mutual generosity.

I move from finger tips to shoulder, isolating parts of the body to highlight the effect of bodily movement on the mark and mode of representation. I show how shifts in bodily relations change the nature of the mark and therefore the idea of the drawing. I end the warm up with a series of ‘continuous line drawings’, again these act as a great leveller. It gives everyone the same ‘style’ and aesthetic, relieving tension and expectation. It helps remove hesitancy and nervous ‘hairy’ lines, building a form of false confidence. It also forces the participants to locate their subject within their environments. The web of lines move across the page connecting disparate objects and ideas, they form a visible network of things, aiding connections and relations.

Drawing at AHO

Investigate and deconstruct

After the warm up we move on to drawing things. I normally ask the students to bring a collection of interesting and unusual objects, it starts with the familiar feeling of a ‘still life’, a pile of unusual objects (found, scavenged and treasured) ready to be observed and documented. I start with a series of continuous line drawings, at this stage it’s really important to keep the momentum going, it becomes easy to fall back into old habits. It’s also important to emphasis detail and dimension; things are made from materials, they have weight, density and texture, using continuous line technique it’s easy to make shorthand assumptions about an object; a slow abstraction towards an icon.

Once the objects have become familiar, I ask students to draw an exploded diagram, still in continuous line, we deconstruct the constituent parts of an object to see it in its complexity. Obviously, at this stage, it’s not possible to break the object to pieces, it’s here that the drawing moves from observation to assumption. By asking for an exploded diagram, I challenge the students to deconstruct the object in their imagination, giving them an access point into understanding manufacturing and construction. A form of engineering fiction.

Explode view diagram

In our current climate of conservative ‘design research’ it’s hard to imagine how a drawing practice can be rigorously investigatory; how it can shed light on ideas, objects and forms, how it is part of knowledge production. But I’m keen to encourage our students to use drawing as a way of knowing the world. It’s through the act of drawing, the to and fro of idea to observation, that objects can unravel their meaning. Drawing acts as a process of forensic examination of materiality, demystifying meaning and generating new.

Conjoin and mutate (bridging reality and the imagination)

conjoin

My next activity centres around the move from representation to ideation. From drawing things in the world, to inventing things. I get students to select and draw two objects, one on the far left of the page and one on the right (see diagram above). I then ask them to fill the gap with 3-5 new drawings/objects. As their drawings move towards the centre, they should imagine a hybrid form, a mutant offspring of the two objects either side. By the time they reach the middle, they have a 50:50 hybrid, but either side of the centre is a less dominant mix. I commonly ask the students to use continuous line, this allows them to drift from one form to the next.

As with most of my drawing exercises, the outcome is often not the main goal. It’s the thought process that the act of drawing evokes. In the example above, we start from the familiar and move towards the strange. Drawing allows a space for the careful consideration of materials, construction and form, whilst opening opportunities for the examination of function. By trying to splice together incongruent objects, a slow consideration of their context and use comes into play. Again it is the fluctuation between objects as they are and how they may be.

Conjoin @ AHO

Infection and connection

The last process that I’m going to explain, is probably at the heart of the ‘The Matt Ward Manoeuvre‘, it’s the most challenging to master and the hardest to teach.  In this process my aim is to unlock a state of mind that allows the designer to make connections, interrogate ideas and invent new objects. It becomes hard to describe without falling into theories of ‘flow‘, ‘unconscious cognition‘ and ‘radical plasticity‘, but I’m no neuroscientist or psychologist (although I think there’s a killer PhD in there), and the theoretical reflection of this work has never been the drive for my engagement (I’ll leave it for another time/post/life/paper).

First, I ask student’s to compile some lists. If working on a brief, the lists should be related to a central topic, if not, random lists can suffice (but can lead to difficult dead ends). I ask for five lists containing at least ten items of the following:

  • Objects (artefacts related to their interests/context of investigation)
  • Sites (places where interactions occur)
  • Situations (events that take place in the network of culture that surrounds their objects)
  • People (professions, personalities or characters relevant to their object/context/project)
  • Qualities (adjectives describing of the interaction, behaviour of material involved)

Making lists is an important part of this process, it gives participants the chance to draw up an ecology of ‘actors‘, understanding the constituent parts of the context for which they’re designing. It allows for the mapping of places of action and ultimate the opportunities for design intervention.

I ask the participants to select an object from their list and draw it at the centre of an A3/A2 page. The central object should be something that resonates, something they can imagine designing, enjoy drawing, or something that is key to their interests. I then ask them to write one word from each of their lists in each of the corners of their page (see diagram below).

infection

I then ask for the object to be re-drawn 3-5 times toward the edge of the paper, as the object moves towards the word, it becomes infected by it e.g. as the object get redrawn toward the ‘site’ it becomes more site-specific. This allows for students to start to re-imagine objects through the cultural complexities of the context, it allows actors to merge and agency to become physicalised. In this process form gives way to environment, context becomes reflected on the surface of the world.

As I describe above, the important outcome of the drawing isn’t necessarily the objects that emerge, it’s the thoughts that are triggered, it’s drawing as ideational practice. Therefore, it’s important to jump straight into drawing, I encourage a leap of faith, where the drawing is started without knowing the direction or outcome. If time is spent pre-thinking the outcome, the power of the process is lost. I try to encourage the embracing of dead ends, the power of ideational drawing is in the new beginnings and monstrous births.

These processes can be morphed, adapted and mutated, highlighting different elements of the design context with each iteration. The activities need repetition and practice, as with all drawing, it is through practice that familiarity and flow occur.

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Over the last couple of years, the term Design Fiction (DF) has gained ground and popularity. It has entered design parlance and has become ‘hip with the kids’. As a practice it’s moved out of classrooms and galleries into boardrooms and research labs. I’ve watched the term grow in popularity, been frustrated with the lack of historic contextualisation, and amazed by how little the term has been interrogated.

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