At a recent biotech conference in France I came across an exhibit by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr showing a piece of ‘victimless meat’, a 3 cm disc of meat grown in a laboratory from cells removed from a living animal. Nothing had died to produce this piece of meat. It was a classic fusion of science and art — strange and thought provoking but disconnected from everyday life. I wondered how designers might deal with this subject. They might ask what if this meat was available in a restaurant? Maybe you could eat yourself, a lover, or someone famous? The type of debate this shift from the abstract world of lab/gallery into an imaginary commercial context generates, engages peoples’ imaginations in a very different way. Designers would naturally explore economics, materiality, ethics, aesthetics, and technology to ensure their story was plausible, but in doing so they would also focus debate on a very different set of issues generated by this little piece of technology.
For me this is one of the strengths of design over art and science in relation to technology, it can pull new technological developments into imaginary but believable everyday situations so that we can debate the social, cultural and even ethical consequences of new technologies before they happen and try to ensure that the most desirable futures are realised. And it can do this with intelligence, wit and insight.
In Design Interactions (known as Interaction Design before October 2006) at the Royal College of Art, we have broadened our technological focus to include other technologies like nano- and biotech as well as electronics. We have changed the name because the meaning of Interaction Design is becoming too narrow and fixed, most people think it is about designing interfaces for products or designing websites. But it needs to be much broader than this, design needs to continue to evolve in response to new technologies, and just as interaction design grew out of the challenges created by digital technology, other forms of design are sure to emerge in response new technologies like bio- and nanotech.
Our focus is on designing interactions between people and technology on a number of levels. We are concerned not only with the expressive, functional and communicative possibilities of new technologies but also with the social, cultural and ethical consequences of living within an increasingly technologically mediated society. We are exploring new ways design can make technology more meaningful and relevant to our lives, both now, and in the future, by thinking not just about new applications but implications as well.