The Design Lab: research through the process of making

The Design Lab, located in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning, is a research discipline that focuses on the valuable role design plays in human experience of new technologies. This increasingly visible role values the importance of human considerations in technological development. Here, members of the Lab explain how their research works.

The Design Lab and Neighbourhood scoreboards

The Design Lab fuses empirical social and scientific research methods with creative components.

The Design Lab engages with research through an innovative method. The academic context is addressed through both traditional research methodologies alongside conceptual developments and innovations drawn from industry.

The Lab's research mandate is to provide innovative research that addresses broad theoretical questions about the ways we innovate and design, and how this relates to the common good.

The Design Lab fuses empirical social and scientific research methods with creative components. Our research happens, and is understood, through the process of making.

This core focus has led to a progressive, interdisciplinary research culture that engages practitioners from allied fields, including the visual arts and music.

We investigate three key research areas.

Firstly, creative technologies explores the creative application of emerging technologies and the development of technological tools for creative expression.

Secondly, the Design Lab are designers of the human experience as it relates to technology; we seek to understand human needs across a range of technology-media contexts and to design solutions that meet those needs.

Finally, our focus on computational modelling involves modelling non-human/human cognition and behaviour to inform theories of and applications in autonomous and generative systems.

This approach allows the design-led exploration of innovative concepts. For example, the Neighbourhood Scoreboard project used chalkboards as a low-cost prototyping material to emulate large, digital displays integrated into the house facade. The project aimed at investigating the effect of public exposure of domestic energy usage.

Five chalkboards were installed in a Sydney neighbourhood and manually updated each day. The visualisation included the change of electricity consumption compared to the previous day, a symbolic representation for each day of the current month, a graph representation for each week, and a daily neighbourhood ranking.

Chalkboard was the material choice because it does not require any energy, is easily updated and maintained, low-cost in production and we found the aesthetics to match nicely the existing architectural typology.

The public feedback display was developed through a design-oriented research approach. Successive designs were produced through iteratively refined constraints and requirements.

Design techniques involved the production and evaluation of various low-fidelity sketches, mockups and working prototypes.

The house facade was chosen during this process as the ideal location for conveying feedback in a public context: a large sign mounted on a house facade intuitively refers back to the inhabitants that cause the behaviour, while it also ensures uninterrupted visibility to neighbours or passersby.

We also conduct research on understanding of creativity – human, social, artificial and even through natural selection – through empirical research and theoretical and computational models.

Dr Rob Saunders and Dr Oliver Bown, both working in this area, will co-chair the 4th International Conference on Computational Creativity, which the Design Lab will host in June 2013. The conference will explore mechanisms that unite creativity in these disparate areas and allow us to build new creative tools.