conceptualising the future: a look behind the scenes

Ever wondered how the show-stopping projects exhibited at CSM’s annual degree show come to be? In this new series, THE CROSS+NG follows the journey of final year Masters students, starting from term one through to exhibition at Degree Show.

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What is seen at the degree show is the result of intense, research-based innovation that uses design's power to engage with many of the challenges ahead. From concept through to the final display, young designers thoroughly explore their projects through extensive research and testing – these generate pivotal moments as well as epic fails. The final outcomes often offer the most powerful synthesis of multifaceted, mature concepts and are able to engage with the audience at a profound level.

Over the course of a year, THE CROSS+NG will follow a collection of future-focused projects from MA Material Futures. Starting from the early stages of their projects, we will provide a sense of how their projects develop at regular intervals. By the Work in Progress Show in January 2017, you may wish meet them in person to find out more, or wait until the Degree Show in June to see how each concept has matured into a full design proposal. Either way, THE CROSS+NG will be there to offer behind the scenes access!

Don’t worry if some topics feel unclear, that is very much part of the process when creative minds engage with rigorous research methods. But also, some themes are quite abstract; where else would we be able to discuss colonising Mars or the future of online dating?

If you like this story, watch this space for the follow-up on the featured projects later in January next year.

 

1
The Future of HUMAN EVOLUTION: Solar-charged humans

“Could humans power their body with radiant light to reduce their reliance on food supply?”
- Christine Lew

 

The most viable source of renewable energy is solar power. Yet, humans rely on food. What if humans could be 'powered' by the sun instead of food?

Christine Lew is taking this bold approach to envision the optogenetically-enhanced human in the context of colonising Mars, “Instead of having to carry heavy food supplies on the spaceship, these newly re-bioengineered Mars explorers can now sustain life without as much food but can power their bodies through light energy.”

Christine Lew - Solar-charged Humans

Christine Lew - Solar-charged Humans

The project is situated in a scenario in the distant future and looks at synthetic biology as a way to embrace tailored genetic adjustments in order to adapt to new or extreme conditions. Imagine if our bodies could partially bypass the need for food. As we turn to genetic manipulation and technologies to respond to extreme adaptation, we are also deliberately altering and speeding up human evolution.  What would be the implications? 

The project's wider translation would be whether we can power our own bodies with another source of energy that is more efficient and sustainable than food, “The renewable energy revolution seems to ignore one of the least efficient systems - our own bodies -  and I would like to use my project to challenge this idea.”

 

2
The Future of DEVIANT BEHAVIOUR: Virtual Reality, Real Consequences

Will the exciting advances in VR technology bring along a darker side when it comes to deviant behaviour?”
- Marta Giralt


Marta Giralt is looking into the evolution of AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) technologies, "Much like many of the people who have tried a VR experience I am amazed by how real it feels - it's almost addictive. Which lead me to the main drive behind the project, I enjoy and see the potential benefits of this technology, but I also see grey areas."

The diffusion of social media platforms has put all of us behind the barrier of a screen, increasing users’ disconnection from the consequences of their actions. We are more likely to push beyond the limits of what is acceptable and examples of resulting dangerous online behaviour is already evident. Once the tangibility of the screen disappears and we immerse into a virtual yet very realistic world, what happens to the responsibility of our actions? Will new and worse forms of deviant behaviour develop? What might happen to the porn industry?

The project explores the morality and ethics of VR, looking at how VR will inform our 'virtual behaviour'. The ambition of the project is to use the audience's morality to actually engage them in a conversation about the use and potential risks of virtual reality, "Emerging VR technologies are exciting and powerful -  I believe it is my role as a designer not to be just a spectator but to encourage a debate and a deeper understanding of something that’s likely to enter our homes and have a dramatic impact on our daily lives. Especially when it comes to exploring the darker side of it. At the moment, I am developing a series of artefacts that bridge the physical and digital to engage in conversations with experts who will guide me in a deeper understanding of online psychology and sociology for the context of the project.”

 

3
The Future of GARMENT MANUFACTURING: 3D-Printed Garments

“Can 3D printing significantly help reduce increasing garment production and waste?”
- Jenny Banks

It is no secret that the fashion industry is detrimental to the environment in many ways. Many practices and strategies are being explored, yet they hardly make a significant impact on the increasing size of garment production globally. This is related to the complex nature of the current fashion manufacturing system, but the single factor which seems to negate any benefit to the various attempts is over-consumption. We produce more than 150 million garments per year, which means more than 20 new items for every person on the planet. Jenny Banks is wishing to tighten the screws and looks to 3D-printing as a potential way to make a greater difference, "Users could produce custom designs from recycled materials, but could also use the technology to adapt, evolve and repair garments to prolong their use." Banks is currently exploring an 'infinite recycle loop' – a system where we collect, deconstruct and reconstruct from fibres to garments and back to fibres again. Could we tackle over-consumption with a manufacturing solution?

The project is currently focusing on material explorations; how to hack a 3D-printer in order to achieve a satisfactory material standard. 3D-printers are widespread and very popular, but they are not normally programmed for the tactile and draped nature of conventional fashion garments, "Another important element is energy; whatever system I will end up designing, it has to make sense in terms of how much energy it needs to run on compared to the benefit it generates."

"I believe sustainable fashion has been explored widely now, yet most of the proposals seem to focus on the ethical aspects or have a very niche audience. I am aware of the level of ambition of my project; I very well may fail, but I truly believe it is time to push the bar higher if we really want to address the huge problems related to our daily consumption of garments."

“I am currently working to overcome the challenge of effectively breaking down waste garments into staple fibres for use in the printing process and experimenting within my 3D printed designs, to produce an aesthetic that is not obviously digital. Adopting a digital aesthetic could limit the manufacturing alternative to being just another fast-fashion trend. Versatile and market-competitive outcomes are key to success.”

4
The Future of FASHION CONSUMPTION: Love Your Wardrobe

“Can we reduce our garment consumption by restoring a deep appreciation of our existing wardrobe?"
- Martina Rocca

Similarly to Jenny Banks, Martina Rocca is determined to tackle the well visited area of 'garment overconsumption'. Her approach however, is not focusing on the practical aspects directly. Rocca alters the angle - if we loved our garments more, we would potentially be less interested in buying new garments at the rates that we currently do. It is a familiar feeling; we own garments we bought and never used, or some we wear 'because we bought them' but later lost interest in them. The project therefore focuses on rebuilding our 'broken' relationship with our wardrobe.

Rocca is envisioning a dystopian future-based storytelling scenario, where governments impose impressive restrictions on new purchase allowances, with consumers not at all psychologically ready to adjust their behaviour to meet the new legal requirements. There would be a therapy centre called 'The Sanctuary' where consumers are guided through a sensorial journey. The therapy is meant to support them towards a deeper appreciation of their garments, to experience satisfaction from fashion not only at the moment of purchase. To shift focus from ownership to usership.

"At the moment, I know what the core message and goal of my project is. Going forward, I will keep exploring the best way to stage the consumer journey with sampling and making. It will be a sensorial experience, involving touch, sound and smell.”

“In response to growing resource scarcity and irreversible, environmental changes caused by the fashion industry, designers have reacted by focusing mainly on technology-based solutions to improve the efficiency of garments and materials. While the reduction of products’ environmental footprint is important, it may tackle the consequences of the problem but not mitigate high levels of consumption and disposal. I design for people because I believe people are the most powerful catalyst for a change.”

 

5
The Future of LAND USE: Palm Oil - Not in My Backyard

“What does the controversy surrounding palm-oil say about our relationship with land?”
- Annya Suhardi

Palm oil is a raw material present in half of the commodities sold in supermarkets that has become almost a symbol for the evils of globalisation. 

Palm oil production is the primary reason for massive deforestation, which causes a domino effect on water, food security and biodiversity. The consumers of palm oil are very detached from such issues, it all happens 'over there'. In places like Indonesia (the world larger palm oil producer), environmental consequences are visible, yet palm oil has been playing a key role in economic development, providing jobs to the most rural areas of the country and along with it, infrastructure.

Annya Suhardi - Palm Oil - Not in My Backyard

Annya Suhardi - Palm Oil - Not in My Backyard

"Palm oil has become almost a clichéd talking point in any climate change or ethical consumption conversation. Yet it hardly goes beyond that; current debate seems far from facilitating the zero-deforestation target aimed for 2030. Therefore, the aim of my project is to engage in a wider conversation, taking palm-oil as the starting point, as it reflects on how humans haven't made much significant change in dealing with land use since the discovery of agriculture. Palm oil remains as prominent evidence of human dependency on raw materials, causing an intertwined relationship between nature, culture and political power."

More demand of palm oil is inevitable and production unstoppable. So, what would it take for us to be fully aware about the process behind such an invisible yet evident ingredient in our daily lives? "A study shows that if distributed equally, each human on Earth would receive 1.8ha of ecological capacity to use, around two soccer fields. What if we were forced to take responsibility for our consumption in relation to land use? With my project, I am intrigued to use design as a communication tool to generate debate and explore what that could mean."

 

6
The Future of ENTOMOPHAGY: #yummy #delicious Insects

“How can Western Cultures be more accepting to eating insects?”
- Lucinda Pender

Our current animal agriculture is not sustainable and we soon need to embrace meat alternatives if we want to feed the planet's growing population. Approximately, 2 billion people in Eastern cultures currently eat insects as part of their daily diets. Moreover, insects favourably compare to meat; nutritional values are similar, yet the sustainability of the production process is incomparable - insect breeding produces minute greenhouse gas emissions, can be reared on a very little land and be produced in high quantities with relative little effort. 

"The problem is, that no matter how much information in placed in front of them, Western culture is still struggling to accept insects as a viable food source. Insects have been introduced in interesting ways such as insect chocolate or lollipops, yet they haven't captured people's imagination as many other food trends have. I believe the culture of Westerners is key to a more accepting view on Entomophagy."

The project aims to address 'cultural resistance' - there is a solution to a massive environmental issue and it lays in our behaviour. An analysis of our culture with other foods might contribute to highlighting the potential of insects. Why would eating chicken feel less disgusting - because we are used to it? Do we need to rewrite our relationship with our food or reinvent insects in order for them to be more appealing to our palate?

“At the moment, I am currently in the process of farming my own mealworms preparing for my first harvest, as well as exploring the possible welfare and process of killing insects for human consumption.”

 

7
The Future of ROMANCE: Your Data-driven Sixth Sense

“How will technology impact on privacy in future romantic relationships?”
- Bolor Amgala
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Bolor Amgalan is interested in exploring the future of relationships through the lens of technology, “In this age of self-awareness and emotional wellbeing, we are increasingly willing to give away our emotional data in exchange for more fulfilling emotional experiences. Neuroscience and Data Analytics are involved in measuring our emotional parameters, such as heart rate, breathing patterns and galvanic skin responses – these are able to get clues about our levels of surprise, stress or happiness.”

Put this in the context of a relationship; this data could provide tailored services to support our hunt for the perfect match or enhance our current relationship by connecting to your partner in a deeper and - in a way - more accurate manner. Technology could provide us with a sensory enhancement very close to the so-called sixth sense; simply sensing each other’s feelings without verbal communication or even physical proximity.

This scenario might offer new territories of emotional connection for couples or more efficiency for online dating services. However, what about privacy? What about the push and pull dynamics that is considered key to 'keeping the spark alive'? “When a garment allows you to connect to your partner at the deepest level - how do you manage your need for me-time? Are you literally going to switch-off/disconnect? How would that affect the relationship?” The next stages will involve further exploration of the implications of when switching-off from your partner is no longer a metaphor. What will happen to divorce and marriage, romance and online dating?