A New Renaissance for Creative Design?

[tweetmeme]I recently went to the excellent exhibition of Italian Renaissance drawings at the British Museum.
Verrocchio's Head of a Woman

The drawings were, of course, amazing, and included works such as the Head of a Woman by Verrocchio, and Leonardo’s first landscape (1473). But what has stayed with me, as well as the memory of the drawings themselves, is a couple of thoughts the exhibition triggered about today’s world of design and technical innovation.

So, the main source of material for new works of art before the Renaissance period were ‘model books’ – collections of images and compositions from which artists copied and used ideas and representations they liked. During the Renaissance, artists began to take their inspiration and draw more directly from nature, leading to a more naturalistic style, and more freedom for creative expression. This was in part due to the increasing availability of paper – much cheaper than vellum – on which drawings could be made.

My favourite section of the exhibition was dedicated to explaining the impact on artistic practice of the new tools (such as paper) and techniques for drawing that were developing at the time of the Renaissance. For example, how the use of pen and ink for sketching was increasingly favoured for its responsiveness and expressive capabilities, how techniques for drawing using silverpoint – that couldn’t be erased – compared with those for drawing with lead – that could be rubbed out and changed, and how the development of print-making techniques enabled designs to be mechanically replicated and shared with larger numbers of people for the first time. The exhibition shows how developments of this kind in drawing laid the foundation for a new world of art.

It struck me that current developments in interactive tools and technologies offer the potential to deliver a similar revolution in today’s world of creative design. Interactive technologies are more pervasive and available to us all than ever before – they are in our buildings, on our desks and in our pockets. We can share digital artefacts as never before, and the possibilities of gestural interaction offered by devices such as the Wii and iPad offer huge potential for flexible and fluid interaction. How are such developments in new technologies laying the foundation for a new world of creative design?

This is a question I’m looking forward to exploring in my course on Technologies for Creativity and Innovation as part of our new Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership. In the meantime, I’ll be happy to share more experiences, and hear yours too.

We are enabled by design: How designing for the minority can benefit the majority

Enabled By Design Logo[tweetmeme]A couple of weeks ago I attended a very interesting event called “We are Enabled by Design” at the Design Museum in London, organised by Enabled by Design. (Check out the excellent summary of the event by my colleagues at City Interaction Lab Blog.)

Enabled by Design was inspired by co-founder Denise Stephens’ experiences following her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in 2003. Having suffered a series of disabling relapses and hospital admissions, Denise was assessed by an Occupational Therapist (OT) and given a range of assistive equipment to help her to be as independent as possible. Although this equipment made a huge difference to her life, she became frustrated as her home started to look more and more like a hospital.

The inspiring thing about Denise is that she didn’t just accept that this is the way it is, she went out and did something about it. Denise and her co-founder, Dominic Campbell, have been working hard to spread the word about Enabled by Design and get people involved to share their views and experiences of assistive equipment, and to bring them together with designers to work together on new products and ideas. I wish more people would take such brilliant initiative, just imagine what could be done.

“We are Enabled by Design” was a one day event, looking to reframe the ageing and disability debate by focusing on Design for All. They believe the world is made up of people who have a range of abilities, with each person having their own personal strengths and qualities. Design for All focus on meeting the needs of as many people as possible, to make either a product or service accessible.

Besides being interesting and informative, I discovered a lot about my own misconceptions of disability. The key thing that I took away from this event is the creativity a lot of people with disabilities displayed in the way they adapt to a world often designed for the able bodied. The adaptations on display were fascinating, and some were very creative.

Another thing that stuck with me was innovation thought leader and evangelist Charles Leadbeater‘s point on the inherent risk of having things done to you when having things done for you. And the importance of thinking of with solutions to get for solutions done. For me and quite a few of the people I work with, the notion of creating with people is and has been an important part of what we do, but the realisation for me here, was how easily something you do for someone, becomes something you do to someone. It’s an important distinction, and one that is relevant in many situations, not just when working with people with disabilities.

I wonder if the buzz surrounding Open Innovation will enable more participation and inclusion in developing new products and services going forward…

What do you think?

Author: Kristine Pitts