Day Nought

Posted on September 20, 2009


Eighteen months ago on the Design Interactions MA at the Royal College of Art, I began researching synthetic biology, an emerging area of biotechnology. I knew absolutely nothing about it before – I am an architect by training. And now tomorrow morning, I’m starting a three-month residency at SymbioticA, a unique science laboratory where artists and scientists collaborate, located in Perth at the University of Western Australia. It seems like we’re on the edge of the world here as the windows rattle with wind coming off the Indian Ocean: the  focus of the lab seems at odds with the sleepy suburban Perth I have been exploring over the weekend.

On my way to Western Australia, I spent a week in San Francisco discussing my work with designers, scientists, science fiction bloggers… The conversations were fascinating and helped me to refocus on the questions underlying my research into synthetic biology. That is, how can we use design to open up new thought areas and unravel the complexity of subjects otherwise out of reach?

While biotechnology is functioning at all scales, scientists working in this field are working at the scale of the contents of a petri dish (and smaller). Design, however, works at the human and global scale. We’re trained to look at the bigger picture. So how can these two separate scales overlap? What role might design have in a biotech revolution? What insights can we offer? What might designers be doing in twenty, fifty, one hundred years time? What new directions might design move into? What skills might we need?

Through these questions, I’m looking at how  designers can work differently, finding new ways to apply design research… just like my experiment to learn synthetic biology. Now it’s time for the scientific proof.

Posted in: SymbioticA