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Towards a new design frontier

Imagining possible futures among digital technology, science and design. Models and perspectives, according to two protagonists who have taken up new paths of knowledge.

MEG is a system of open-source domestic greenhouses connected to the internet: the whole project foresees to install five of them in five stations of the Milan underground during the six months of Expo. Five cultivations from the five continents will be grown in these urban “greenhouses”, where visitors can test interactive contacts. It is one of the winning projects of Hack the Expo – universal exhibition of innovators, people and ideas – launched by the magazine Wired Italy for the world event in 2015. «We are used to think that design deals with shaping objects, but this approach is very limited», Paola Antonelli affirms, Senior Curator of design and architecture at the MoMA in New York and guest of Meet the Media Guru in Milan last April. «The scope of today’s design is trying to imagine possible and plausible futures. Museums of the future shall be built around this idea. The new digital technologies allow to shape ideas and insights very quickly. They can also be employed to customize, extend and change the physical properties of materials and invent new ones. This is the proof of how the high technology can today co-exist with more traditional processing methods: some innovative materials, for example, require a manual intervention and the digital experimentation compares with this practical approach». Frida Doveil, architect and designer, co-founder of the corporate identity Fragile studio, joins Antonelli’s comments and affirms: «It is an important turning point, that of digital design, matching a new model of project and the so-called “democratization” of technologies. The 3D printers and open-source planning platforms are “picklocks”, bringing out a different perspective of relationship among the objects. It is an opportunity to innovate, also for companies. Rather than an industry that manufactures products as if they were closed-loop systems, perfect and self-protected, why don’t we think of an industry that brings production towards open systems, where spare parts, accessibility to components, easy assembly and disassembly and co-designing become part of the product quality?». During the meeting in Milan, Paola Antonelli mentioned projects, once impossible, that now are part of the creative horizon of designers. Like “Eyewriter”, created by a group of hackers for the graffiti-artist TEMPT1, paralyzed due to an illness and unable to work: wearing digital glasses and a webcam, TEMPT1 can draw with his eyes and see his creations projected with a laser on a building in Los Angeles. Or like the experiment by the Swedish Front at the Tokyo’s Design Week: to draw in the air thanks to a special pen, to record with cameras every moves and broadcast them on a monitor. Information are then transferred to a machine making the laser- prototype, reproducing the 3D drawing. Et voilà: the objects designed earlier take shape in a few moments. Mrs Antonelli answers to whom are amazed by the incredible possibilities of the interactive design: «The adaptability is a distinctive peculiarity of the human intelligence, but the instantaneous changes of the nowadays rhythms require a stronger quality: the flexibility. Halfway between adaptability and acceleration, the flexibility is the ability to negotiate change and innovation, without letting them interfere excessively with their own rhythms and goals. It means being able to embrace progress and understand how to make it yours. One of the aims of this project is helping people to deal with change. The designers nowadays act like a bridge between revolutions and the everyday life».