Future Farm

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Bring me home, please

0leshowioh.jpgSome of you are wondering why i still haven't posted anything about the interim show of Design Interactions (RCA, London). Can my silence be interpreted as a critique? No, on the contrary. The show is overwhelming, stimulating and i need some time to digest it. There's some "traditional" interaction design projects and some very challenging works which engage with issues such as stem cell research, viruses, phantom limbs, etc. There's a lot of humour, dark moments, a bit of religion, funghi here and there and apples that communicate how good they are for you. All of that co-exists without any trouble.

Here's one of my favourite projects. It's called Future Farm and its designer is Michael Burton whose previous project Memento Mori In Vitro had already put me into deep thoughts when i first heard about it.

0pustulese.jpgFuture Farm imagines a near future when stem cell research has lived up to its fantastic promises.

His scenario follows Beth, an employee of the Department of Stem Cell Technology (DSCT). She's now one of their representatives and organizes information meetings to convince people to do just what she used to do: become stem cell producers and turn their body into a farm where stem cell samples are grown then harvested. In return they will get some financial retribution and the satisfaction to know that their "work" will bring some health benefit to other people. It's not very easy to determine how much they will get pay, it depends on a series of factors such as the quality of the harvest and the kind of stem cell currently in demand.

A mobile clinic provide stem cell producers with all the help and answers they might need: diet plans, advice to become a healthy producer, etc.


As you have to be financially desperate to accept to cultivate stem cells on your face and other parts of the body or to get fat in order to be a provider of adipose-derived stem cells, only people with low income would go for it. This will very probably be echoed by changes in bodily aesthetics within the upper classes: they'll show off their pure, un-soiled, unspoilt body and wear as a sign of their social status body fragments that others have to sell in order to be able to pay the bills.


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Its weird, I've heard quite a lot of people complaining this week about the quality of the show and how they don't like the new direction. Is design interaction all about nano tech, bio tech & fungi?

a few blog posts

I'm going to reserve judgement until I've been to the final show.


hi chris,
i was about to say something similar to what Tony explained. i feel like you're a bit unfair, there's some "old style" ID in the show but most importantly, i talked with several students and didn't detect any hint of frustration: those who keep on exploring the old ID road are encouraged to do so and the others as well. i don't think that the show was showing a drastic change of the field, the issues it encompasses just evolve and get broader. the fact that all that co-habited so well might indicate that there's some space for fungi and pox teddies, two projects i liked a lot btw


i'd also like to add that i don't know how much "quite a lot of people" is, all i know is that i ran into some well-recognized interaction designers or interaction design teachers who actually visited the show and really enjoyed it. the new direction of design interactions is challenging, it will probably take some time for a number of people to get it and i suspect that other people will just never like it. that's fair and that's what makes the whole challenge exciting.

I don't know who people can continue to talk about Interaction Design when what is show is basically Interactive Art (poorly interactive). Spot the difference!


I should point out from my first comment, that I didn't make it to the interim show, so I don't have a strong opinion on the direction of the course yet, as mentioned will reserve judgement until the final show. Interim shows are always hard either way.

It is easy for people like me to forget that the RCA is an art college, not a media lab.

Its actually good to see that my post above has started a debate on handcircus.com and designswarm.com about this. At least the change in direction is making people think about the future of the field and state of education. I can't think of many other related courses doing this.

Like the term new media, interaction design / design interaction is hard to pin down. This is something that won't be clearly defined right now.

It is also a case of personal taste. My path is in physical devices, entertainment and play. The 'quite a lot of people' comment, was around 8-10 people who work in the field who I guess preferred the old path of the course.

"There is definitely less focus on toys and gaming as more students look to contexts beyond entertainment."
- I may be wrong, but it feels like this is an area that would be discouraged for current students. Can entertainment not be an artform?

"whether interaction design as a design approach can be uncoupled from digital and electronic media and technology and applied to other areas"

this I agree with totally, but are other areas limited to future applications of bio and nano tech?

From the rca site: "For instance, we are keen to explore the design potential of biotechnology and nanotechnology, both of which are now moving out of the research laboratory and into everyday life."

What about new approaches to existing technology? An interaction design approach to other disciplines is very interesting, something that started getting bigger and bigger, but now it seems like these are beeing slightly left behind to explore our future selves and health. We've seen examples of interaction designers in architecture, toy design and products that give unexpected results within those fields. Because bio and nano tech are just out of reach, we can only theorise how people will react to these new services, no?

I think it's just a venting of frustration among those like myself who are in the interaction design field who want to explore the now, things that have happened, how user behave in a space or with an object within our constructions.

I hope that the students are allowed free reign (within the module guidelines) to create whatever they want, be it a toy, interactive architecture or bio project, without being pushed down the path of any one industry.

Anyway, lets continue the discussion.

Hi Chris, I also think it is good to debate these matters.

I'm just going to try and clarify a few possible misconseptions about the new direction. Nothing is excluded or forced upon students in the department although staff and visitors do have very strong opinions, but we expect our students to have strong views as well.

We introduce a variety of different subjects, skills and approaches in the first year and students then develop their own projects in second year. It's most exciting when there is a good mix of digital and other tech, future and present day, provocative and concrete projects. All we have done is to broaden the range of possibilities for students, we have not blocked any type of work and have no intention of doing this in the future. The second year work on display reflects what students are interested in this year (it will be different each year) and is at a very early stage. The first year projects on show are from two briefs exploring 'design for debate' (for biotech) and 'complicated needs' (for electronic tech) both projects ran for 4 weeks in the first term (they have 5 more terms).

We continue to support and encouarge a wide range of approaches. Our main aim is to provide a unique, exciting and challenging environment for our students that allows them to experiment and develop their own individual approaches to design in relation to existing and emerging technologies.

We are just begining to explore what this means, it is still early days, but we have had some excellent feedback so far and it's great that this debate is happening.

Hi Chris, I don't agree entirely on what you say. Tony's course does obviously "research", and the research should be clearly about tomorrow, not today. Personally, I've be often disappointed about the too "today" approach that IIDI had. That ended up creating too low tech toys, while companies, and thus the market, have clearly interest on promoting their own new technologies. Said that, the future is obviously unpredictable, and more we look forward, more we risk to waste our thoughts. So, I think is definitely good to "explore" future technologies, if this is not too remote, but keeping in mind todays needs.

Neil C

Some very clear misconceptions continue in this discussion. Interaction design is not a discipline, it is basically a holding name for the development of technology and how it impacts on culture. Sure, that includes interface design both graphical and tangible but can automatically include other investigations like this one. The RCA is a design and art college, not an art college. It has a great tradition of design which includes this. Creating visions of a future by understanding the impact of emerging technologies is called innovation, not art. This work, using designed scenarios to show potential impact is much the same as innovation process, even if some of the ideas have an amplified sense of beauty. I also challenge the comment that IDII was too 'now' in its approach. This was not true. Most of the design work was innovation and much of the thinking extended into understanding the social aspects of technology in an advanced way. It may be that the work had commercial viability but that did not make what we tried to achieve too 'now'? I think this thinking is yet to permeate design to any large extent in the 'real' world.

Of course creating visions of the future helps to innovate, but this future should be likely, not fantastic :)
So now innovation is also when we don't use emerging technologies, like in IDII. Probably you should decide which definition to use for innovation :)
If it's arguable enough the definition of Interaction Design, I would recommend to keep away innovation in our discussion, otherwise it gets all too ridiculous.
I'm not designer enough to explain the relation between design and art. But if art is what is exposed in exhibitions, and design in shops I can say my point in quality of user and that is that we need interesting, and useful, products to (eventually buy and) use not to see in exhibitions. I'm disappointed that there are REALLY few schools that prepare in that.

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