• Design Research makes us Cool 

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    Posted: 26 November 2009

    By Eyal Fried, Psycho-Designer

    “The inability of human beings to control themselves in the presence of machines is shameful. But what can we do if the flawless functioning of electricity arouses us more than the disorderly mad rush of active people?” [Dziga Vertov]

    I begin with a brief (cautionary) tale.

    A few weeks ago I discussed my recent project, a venture integrating methodologies from design and neuroscience, to a colleague of mine, the head of a VR research lab in a renowned academic institute. Towards the end of our conversation he said: “I think that your project is awesome. Really. Extremely interesting and profound. I wish I could still be doing these sorts of things, but unfortunately the university wants me to do serious research now…”

    The trivial Tale leads to a not-so-trivial Question: “Are we Relevant?”
    Not yet. In a hypothetical meeting, gathering people from the domains most prominent to our contemporary and future wellbeing – would we be around the table? – I don’t believe so. Not because the role of art in global advancement would be under-valuated, but rather because as researchers and thinkers we operate in a transparent bubble, with the occasional microscopic hole.

    We are currently irrelevant. Cool, interesting, innovative – absolutely. But irrelevant**. We are not serving as agents of change, despite popular conception. In the grand scheme of things, we are hardly significant even within our own respective cultures or fields, be that the so-called new media, art, technology or design. We do not “discover”, we do not “revolutionize”. As we stand now we are ephemeral, and we need to think, organize and act differently in order to become relevant.

    A step towards Relevancy: Design As Research
    We should apply design/art/media methodologies to perform research that stands with, and corresponds to, scientific research. We should focus on creating methods, platforms, services, systems (as oppose to “projects” “products”, “experiences”, all still important components in our toolkit) that contribute to new discoveries, new phenomena. We should find a way to standardize the invaluable equilibrium between the flow of “artistic thinking” and rigorousness of scientific exploration.

    Many of the media research labs are collaborating already with the “Others” – the biology labs, the space labs, the medical labs, the material labs. I contend that our future is in engaging with them as agenda-setters, with valid methodologies, toolsets and a long-term vision.

    The case study of Acclair’s Art Valuation Service and the Neurocapital™ Model
    Acclair[1] was founded in 2004 as a company providing airport security clearance service based on neurometric data. Acclair offers its members an alternative, more pleasant security procedure as well as fiscal rewards, in exchange for ownership of the neurometric information extracted from them. Acclair has evolved since and expanded its offer of applications to other markets, such as the art market.

    The Acclair Art Valuation Service[2] offers a more democratic means of placing value on art. By observing viewer’s responses to individual artworks, Acclair can determine value based on scientific methodologies drawn from cognitive science. Unlike traditional cognitive research, which has traditionally focused on the perceptual and affective effects of art, Acclair offers a new way to calibrate the market valuation of art based on the quantifiable data gleaned from electroencephalographic measurements and analysis.

    The core asset of Acclair is its Neurocapital™ methodology. In its essence, it is a system that attributes market value to brain output and can be applied in an array of markets and situations.

    With that stated,
    Acclair is fiction. So are the services it offers as well as the Neurocapital™ business model. However, its components are completely real. Its unique brain-testing system exists, the scientific methodology is valid and the Neurocapital model is raising interest from government, financial and industrial entities worldwide. In its most recent showing in Eindhoven (October 2009), more than 200 visitors have taken the Art Valuation test under conditions of a live art exhibition, and their brain responses to the artworks have been recorded and are currently analyzed. This is, effectively, an ad-hoc scientific experiment; granted, rough and quasi-controlled, but highly engaging, ridiculously inexpensive, and with enormous repetition value. It is design-turned-science-turned-design.

    Wrapping up
    We have the ability to partake in the formation of a new paradigm. We are, to an extent, doing so. Still undefined, this paradigm is composed of a fascinating mixture of DNA deciphering, stem-cell harvesting, open-sourcing, ubiquitous communication, space shuttling, nano-robotics and so on. But in order to be meaningful participants, we have to mature into a discipline. And as Kevin Kelly[3] would have probably suggested, it needs to be done one simple building block at the time.

    _* The term “us” refers to the comprehensive congregation of The Future of the Lab, regardless of organization or expertise
    ** Evidence to support this assertion is outside of the scope of this document, but I’ll be happy to argue it before any interested party.

    1. http://www.acclair.co.uk
    2. http://www.acclair.co.uk/avs/video.html
    3. Kevin Kelly, Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World (1995). Addison-Wesley Longman Publishing Co., Inc. Boston, MA, USA_

    Eyal is an Interaction Designer and a Social Researcher. In his relevant past, he has done web design work in New York, research with the PLAY research studio of the Interactive Institute in Gothenburg, Sweden, and Human-Computer Interaction research and design for MAX Interactive in Tel-Aviv, Israel. His academic journey took him through the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea (2002-2004), Rutgers University (1998-2000), and Haifa University (1994-1998). He has taught or currently teaching at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, Holon Institute of Technology, the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti (NABA) in Milano, and was a guest lecturer at Duke University, Università degli studi di Roma la Sapienza, Bocconi School of Economics, the Technion Institute of Technology and Tel-Aviv University. Eyal’s research focuses on bridging neuroscience and design. He is developing methodologies, technologies and theoretical models that apply knowledge from brain research to “real world”, everyday situations. He is currently collaborating with the Id-Lab, an Interaction Design company in Milan and involved in several research initiatives.


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