On June 23rd University of Edinburgh students Eva Auer, Sean Greaves and Joe Revans showcased their project "UK2029" at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, winning the runner-up prize in the international Biodesign Challenge (BDC). But as they describe below the road to success held many challenges...
As a group, we found participating in the Biodesign course to be deeply fascinating and challenging. The project was incredibly intense and pushed us to the limits of our capabilities; however, we were very fortunate to be working within a passionate team with diverse and complimentary backgrounds across engineering and design.
"UK 2029" explores potential social and political responses to the ever broadening access to DIY Biology. Told through three speculative case studies, our project explores how communities present within the UK today could navigate the increased accessibility of synthetic biology, and reflects the way emerging technologies are often used as tools to empower, disrupt or protect.
Working with biologists was fantastic; our outstanding supervisor Naomi Nakayama is rare in understanding design whilst being able to wonderfully communicate even the most abstract biology in a way that made it designable. Equally, our design supervisor Larissa Pschetz continuously pushed us to be more interesting. We went through so many changes in direction through the messy, frustrating and exhilarating design process that their support and patience were essential.
The course resources were second to none, with weekly guest speakers who were world leaders in their field, such as Jane Calvert and Alistair Elfick, visiting to help shape the direction of our projects with their expertise. We feel that Biodesign, more than any other course we have experienced within our time studying, took full advantage of the cross disciplinary potential offered by Edinburgh College of Art being part of the University of Edinburgh.Reflecting on the success of the course, we feel that similar courses in which art and design students are paired with STEM students could be used to broaden perspectives on other rapidly developing technological fields such as machine learning, financial technologies and engineering. Criticality surrounding the technologies can sometimes be taught in a frustratingly boring way. Courses such as Biodesign use the processes of design to engage students to begin asking difficult, but vital questions, whilst enriching science education with lateral thinking.
Our time at the summit in New York was amazing. We truly commend the organisers for bringing together such a diverse group of speakers and judges from across the spectrum of biotechnology. It was fascinating seeing controversial bodies such as Intrexon and the FBI in the same room as speculative designer Anthony Dunne and artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg. It was also great to see how other schools responded to the open brief of the competition and what conversations they had engaged with.
The experience made us greatly appreciate the quality of resources within the University of Edinburgh, and the critical framework we were introduced to through design informatics. As a team, we feel so much more confident in our ability to work in multi-disciplinary environments, and knowledgeable about the nuances of constructing narratives through design processes.