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A HighWire forum with Monika Buscher, Daria Loi, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino & Lucy Suchman took place this week. Opening with an introduction by Monika we proceeded to discuss innovation.

Alexandra CEO of Tinker London spoke of the Arduino chip and the growing community of tinkerers who engage in projects using this chip.

‘Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.’ Arduino

This platform is interesting to consider in terms of democratising innovation, the community which grows around it provides a source of support and information for individuals working on projects using the chip, and the open source chip facilitates innovative use. Within this elements of participatory design, collaborative design and prototying emerge.

Alexandra made an interesting observation about the hacking community and its overlap with the product and industrial design disciplines. In that Alexandra perceives parallels between the two. Alexandra also raised an important comment about product design education which resonates strongly with my thoughts. Product designers commonly design products involving digital and electronic elements, but receive no training in these areas. Like Alexandra, I suggest this is a limitation of product design education.

My questions arising from this talk are;

  • Who are the individuals involved in hacking/designing with the Arduino & why are they motivated to do so?
  • Are these skills that the average citizen wants, needs or should develop?
  • What are the implications of hacking/user design?

Lucy Suchman then offered some very insightful and socially engaged comments in relation to innovation. She points to the idea of old and new as political categories and to the political economies involved in innovation. As a student investigating innovation from a perhaps more socially engaged position Lucy’s perspectives on innovation are particularly relevant to my research interests.

Lucy asked, ‘What is the use and outcome of innovation?’ a complex question, about as complex as trying to define innovation in the first instance.  In terms of Intel I perceive innovation as being about change and progression. In terms of Tinker, it is more about possibilities, play and questioning norms. The difference in these evidently arises from different organisational and situational constraints.

Intel according to Lucy is innovating for current and future needs and demands. Whilst Tinker facilitates user innovation, where needs and wants are less defined. In a sense it can be argued that Tinker and Intel are two sides of the one coin, where intel investigates and defines user needs and wants through extensive user research while Tinker facilitates users exploring and fulfilling their own needs and wants.

Monika added to the discussion by suggesting that intel engages users in design through experience design whilst Tinker generate and facilitate communities using tools (Arduino Chip). Monika poses the suggestion, all that is being generated are new desires. From this arise questions as to the implications of innovation.

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