This Happened

In honor of Valentine’s Day on Tuesday, I spoke at the V&A for This Happened. This Happened is a series of talks that focus on the stories behind interaction design – not just the initial ideas or the end results, but all of the steps, mis-steps, and learnings that happen along the way.

Although the events are not themed, last night’s three talks all ended up being about strange machines.

Ruairi Glynn spoke about Sociable Asymmetry, a large animate robot that moves in response to people’s movements. He spoke about the challenges of building architecture-scale robots, and what kinds of movement people interpret as lifelike. He also had some interesting things to say about the roles of prototyping when building complex systems. At one point, he recommended avoiding getting bogged down in the maths, and prototyping to find out quickly what does and doesn’t work. In a counterpoint, he showed examples of what can go wrong with that approach, such as motor axles being bent askew by unanticipated forces. So there’s a balance there, between understanding a system well enough to avoid disastrous mistakes and being willing to work loosely enough to move forward.

Marguerite Humeau spoke about reconstructing the vocal tracts of extinct creatures, and the challenges of trying to create art based on information that doesn’t really exist. The project necessitated crash courses in paleontology, the anatomical subtleties of the larynx, and interpreting CAT scans. She ended up with a scale model that pushes compressed air through an artificial larynx to create a reconstructed voice. The model was impressive and eerie—but sadly she didn’t play any audio of ghost mammoth cries.

And to wrap the event up, I spoke about the 3D Advent calendar. I spoke a bit about the technical challenges and quirks of printing in chocolate, from choosing the chocolate to how it tasted in the end (not so good). I also looked at how a tech R&D project fits into the context of a creative studio: how hands-on exploration of new technologies (even if we don’t know if we will use them on a day-to-day basis) can influence what we think of as possible or reasonable, add to the design toolbox, and make sure we keep moving along with a moving world.

To read what other people thought of the event, head on over to the Digit blog, or check out #thlon on twitter