2AD The Second International Appliance Design Conference :: Danielle Wilde

May 2004 :: Hewlett Packard Research Labs in Bristol

In May of this year I had the opportunity to present a paper describing and comparing two of my recent works, Ange and Dress, at 2AD – the Second International Appliance Design Conference at Hewlett Packard Research Labs in Bristol. I also took part in the associated Appliance Bazaar, presenting and performing with the interface created for Ange.

2AD brought together some of the worlds leading interface designers, many of whom are thinking in challenging and whimsical ways about technology and how it’s use could be integrated into our lives. Being invited to participate presented me with an extraordinary opportunity to engage in conversation with people who are developing the kinds of technology I dream of having access to.

The conference lasted 3 days and covered a wide range of topics including; Home Entertainment and Appliances; Urban and Social Contexts; Experience Design; and a special session [in which I participated in] on Intelligent Textiles, Social Interaction and Emotional Aesthetics.

The topics could be perceived as rather dry and potentially uninteresting but it was refreshing to see the range of projects presented. Though often couched in highly academic terms it was clear that everyone involved was searching for poetic solutions to practical issues which come up in everyday lives.

The Appliance Bazaar, which took place on the second day of the conference, was like an open format for presenting works in a way that allowed direct engagement and personal feedback – something which is elusive when working in relative isolation, yet incredibly important during the research and development phase of any work (as I’m sure everyone knows). Having access to the thinking of people whose technological expertise and experience far outstripped my own was incredibly valuable and continues to inform my work today.

Of the keynote speakers at 2AD, I think it’s most important to mention Bill Gaver, head of Research in the Department of Interaction Design at the Royal College of Art. Bill spoke about the scarcity of compelling applications of technologies for everyday life. He discussed in detail his own designs – of an illuminating tablecloth and superstitious houses, amongst others. His work is poetic and thoughtful, at the same time open enough to allow for multiple interpretations or responses. He discussed at length the importance of developing personal tactics for learning about people, for designing technologies that are engaging over time and for assessing the results of non-utilitarian designs. Most importantly, perhaps, he spoke about the importance of balancing deep personal engagement with a purposefully reticent ambiguity.

Though Bill considers his work to be Design, rather than Art his works seem more to me to be like social interventions that cross the artificial boundary that often separates the two. His talk was well received and his workshop, Designing for Everyday Life, which I was unable to attend as it conflicted with the Appliance Bazaar, was oversubscribed and ran well into the night. Other workshops included Visualising Context and Time, Creating Digital Mediascapes and How to Put Ideas on Paper.

Scott Jenson’s keynote talk was also interesting. Though he presented and discussed Nokia mobile phone interface design, he used his subject to talk about a myriad of issues confronted by artists and designers who use technology, his main thrust being the importance of simplicity and transparency of design – subjects close to my heart which often get lost in the enthusiasm experienced in the face of technological capability.

At 2AD there was an overall emphasis on the importance of facilitating poetic and human experiences, of being in touch with human emotions and everyday realities.

In the Appliance Bazaar, David Frohlich presented his audiophoto desk which allows you to attach a sound to a photograph and then to create visual and audible spatial compositions – the volume and pan of the related sounds playing back according to where the photographs are placed on the desk; and there were a myriad of other inspiring projects; The City as a Playground; Designing the Bodyscape; Multi-user Adaptive Sound Environments, and a raucous, silly and fun robot soccer competition, to name a few.

I think I can safely say that participating in 2AD was invaluable for me as an artist and designer working with technology. Presenting work gave me privileged access to the kind of conversations about my ideas that are rarely possible, with people to whom I never normally have access.

The session I presented my paper in: Intelligent Textiles, Social Interaction and Emotional Aesthetics, was led by Sharon Baurley -one of the head researchers at Central Saint Martins and the London Institute. Sharon has long been an inspiration for my work and this alone warranted the investment I made to go to 2AD. But this wasn’t the only valuable contact I was able to make. Participating in 2AD allowed me to renew many contacts I had made whilst studying in London and to make many more. The advantage of email and the web allows these contacts to be maintained in a meaningful way, but nothing can replace the kinds of opportunities that arise from talking with people in an informal setting and being able to present work, and underlying intentions, in the flesh. Without the support I received from ANAT’s Conference and Workshop Fund this simply wouldn’t have been possible.





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