Participating guests were Charlie Gullström Hughes, University Lecturer at KTH School of Architecture and head of the research group KTH Smart Spaces, Stina Hagelqvist, Senior lecturer and researcher at the Department of Art History, Stockholm University, Konrad Tollmar, Associate Professor at the School of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Deana McDonagh, Associate Professor of Industrial Design at the School of Art + Design at the University of Illinois, who participated via Skype.

Virtual and real space

"Architecture is about bringing people together, people that want to interact. In a very short period of time communication technology has transformed the way we can interact and relate to each other. I work with presence research. It's about virtual spaces in terms of rooms. A combination between real spaces and virtual spaces, where we today can communicate with people who are not here. Real space and virtual space becomes a mediate space", explained Charlie Gullström Hughes, University Lecturer at KTH School of Architecture and head of the research group KTH Smart Spaces.

Design can decide how we live

“Design has decided how we live and still do”, Stina Hagelqvist, a researcher in Art History at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics at Stockholm University explained: "If you design a kitchen that is too small to put a table in, you need to eat somewhere else. This was a planned decision in the 1930ths. There has been a way of civilising the inhabitants through the design of their apartments, making life better, but also making people move in a certain direction."

Stina Hagelqvist, Associate Professor in art History at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics at Stockholm University
Stina Hagelqvist, Associate Professor in art History at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics at Stockholm University

Interactive design

Design and technology make people more connected, and there are new ways on how to create the connection being invented all the time. "I design mobile technology. What we have done is to look into forms of sense spaced interaction, how we can make more human connections in a more subtle way. For instance we have conducted research with connected lamps in houses, which showed that people called each other more when they could see that the lamp in the other connected house was lit”, said Konrad Tollmar, Associate Professor at the School of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Charlie Gullström Hughes gave another example related to her research on presence demonstrating a SharedSpace prototype her research team has created: "We can use other surfaces than our laptop to meet. Live video streams where we can see each other, draw ourselves and interact. Go to compeit.eu to see a film about it. This is a parallel virtual work space, where we can do certain things together, and then we can do other things when meet in real life. Today at the work places we do not always know where people are. In this space you can declare your presence and people can reach you."

"With this new media the separation between work and home space has totally broken up", Konrad Tollmar added.

Taste and beauty

Another topic related to design is beauty and taste. What is taste? Stina Hagelqvist explained:

"Taste is an ability to make distinctions, it's not a feeling, it feels natural but it's actually acquired. You acquire it from school, and from growing up, but it comes natural. You think it’s right, but it is not necessarily right for someone else. It is socially constructed, but it feels natural."

Deana McDonagh, Associate Professor of Industrial Design at the School of Art + Design at the University of Illinoism who joined the discussion via Skype added that "Industrial design is one of the best kept secrets. It's what we have around us from we wake up until we go to bed. As designers we have an opportunity to bring delight to everyone's life, in a very seamless way. The home is going to become the segway between your work, doctor and everything”. "I am an empathic researcher”, she continued. “How do I make this technology speak more emotionally researchers ask me, as design is about generating a positive experience".

"If you look back at the 19th century, you used things to show that you were modern. And today we regard the things from that time as overdecorated and ugly. At the time they were modern, and were interesting for people who could afford porcelain and cutlery. What is beautiful, ugly or functional? Beauty does not need to be practical. It can be a symbolic function, to show that you have taste”, Stina Hagelqvist added.

Design creates emotions

Creating design which goes into mass production may create another meaning Charlie Gusström-Hughes said. "When we speak about design, it is a broad field. You need to interpret the user's needs. A professional response to a certain context. After a year or so it may go into mass production. But when we go into our task to create it, we think about it in a certain context, but it may have another meaning for someone else."

Design is all around us and becomes more and more personalised. Deana McDonagh told the panel about her work with students who have disabilities and need computerised prosthetics, legs. “They are very robotic. The industrial designers are trying to find a wrap around the technology which helps to personalise the person who has this leg, to destigmatise it. Technology is going to be in us, not only around us. We should make objects emotionally sustainable so that we do not own too many things, but rather recycle them."

Can objects and design make politicians more emotional? "Social media technology has certainly helped politicians to understand how people think, which hopefully makes them more empathic", Charlie Gullström Hughes said.

Design studies in the future

Charlie Gullström Hughes, University Lecturer at KTH School of Architecture and head of the research group KTH Smart Spaces, collaboration between KTH ABE Architecture and KTH CSC Media technology and Interaction Design
Charlie Gullström Hughes, University Lecturer at KTH School of Architecture and head of the research group KTH Smart Spaces, collaboration between KTH ABE Architecture and KTH CSC Media technology and Interaction Design

The panel concluded by stating what they think is the most exciting design study field of today?

"Industrial design for medical products”, Deana McDonagh said. Charlie Gullström Hughes put the light on architecture and the possibility of “integrating virtual space with the reality."

"Interaction design is where we see the most potential today, how we change the quality of life, quality and service. Something we barely have understood yet, as this design phase has just started. Mobile phones and computers for instance we have had for only twenty years, we do not know where it will lead us”, Konrad Tollmar added.

Stina Hagelqvist gave a historical perspective on the whole discussion underlining of the importance to look at design from the outside. “Study art history to look at design from the outside. Learn how to read design, function, environments, and buildings. To understand the logic behind their creations, to understand and explain what the designer has thought. Study art to become more critical and look at the design all around us from a distance. To take a critical stance at it is important."

Watch the full episode here.

About Crosstalks

Crosstalks is an international academic talk show, broadcast once a month by two of Sweden’s top universities – KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stockholm University. All episodes are available here.

Photos: Adam af Ekenstam