As technologies develop, new kinds of related design practices emerge. The area of biotechnology is particularly intriguing because the roles and responsibilities for designers working with bio-technologists are still undetermined, and frequently contentious – both within the scientific community, and society at large. This project is unashamedly designed to be a ‘gateway drug’ to this exciting, messy space of interdisciplinary practice.
The Against Nature project is co-taught throughout with a synthetic biologist and is comprised of three phases, each lasting a week. Week one, “Immersion,” is a week of lab visits, a biohacking workshop, readings, screenings, seminars. These activities form the culture for the first assignment. Students are asked to formulate a speculative biotechnology-related design question – a question that can be addressed by starting to design something – that would inextricably entail challenging some conventional thinking about morality, ethics, taste, or aesthetics. In the second week, “Agitation,” students devise and facilitate a workshop. Students determine the format and participants with the aim of testing assumptions and sharpening their thinking about their chosen design area. In the final week, “Concretization,” students either create a design proposal informed by their workshop experiences or may instead choose to run another, more refined, workshop.
Throughout the three weeks students are encouraged to steer their inquiries towards areas of ambivalence, and use the act of designing to tease out some of the dimensions of these areas as groundwork for future, more applied, projects.
Guest collaborator: Dr. Christina Agapakis, Hirsch Lab, Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, UCLA