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Central Saint Martins

Plate with geometric yellow design

Reader: Tony Quinn

Written by Teleri Lloyd-Jones
Published date 11 October 2019

To mark our new Readers, we hear more about their research plans. Here, Tony Quinn, Course Leader for BA Ceramic Design, discusses the relationship between material and technology and the misnomer of "interactive design".

Congratulations on becoming a Reader. What will be your particular research focus?

"I’m interested in challenging the relatively (im)mature cutting-edge technologies against the thousands of years of tradition and skill within ceramics.

I have recently begun to refer to myself as an interaction designer. It’s a bit provocative, but it’s not wrong. The objects I have designed and made, live in people’s homes and are functional – they are haptic, they are interactive. I started designing tableware and what’s more interactive than that? It’s funny how we describe the virtual as interactive, while dismissing the physical and the real. I have spent the last 7 years collaborating with computer scientists to load digital interaction into all manner of decorative objects.

But what is perceived as cutting-edge and what is perceived as traditional are often set to clash. There’s a conflict between the digitally haptic and the physically haptic. My interest isn’t about these two abstract oppositions but about challenging the future processes to embody traditional tacit knowledge."

Dinner service laid out on table with
Artcodes work for Busaba Eathai

In terms of your research: why this and why now?

"The other day, I was watching a machine 3D print with clay. The object collapsed. It was always going to collapse because the designers hadn’t made any adjustments for the material. I see this a lot. There are thousands of years of tradition, let alone the last 500 years of manufacturing, through which people have figured out, generation upon generation, how to work with clay. Just because you can press print doesn’t remove the need for that knowledge.

To integrate the cutting-edge practices with traditional skills, I don’t just mean a collaboration I mean studying why things are made the way they are.

It’s not a question of simply scanning an old thing and reproducing it, but understanding it. How can we describe and communicate that tacit knowledge? How can we use that knowledge to inform where we, as designers, move next?

One of my first acts as Reader will be to build a 3D printer in the ceramics workshop. We’ve built a raku kiln outside in the local community and this will be another frame through which to work with material. I want it to become something the undergraduate and postgraduate students can explore and challenge, something for the hackers and tinkerers.

I am interested in the idea of reverse engineering. I want to laboriously make something by hand, using traditional processes, then scan it and transcribe it through the digital manufacturing processes to test the capacity for reproduction. I feel this will have potential development possibilities for the heritage manufacturers in the ceramics industry."

What piece of work/research are you most proud of?

"For about 6 years I’ve been collaborating with programmers at the Mixed Reality Lab in University of Nottingham. We’ve been using new vision recognition systems to create Artcodes. It’s like a QR code but you scan an image and make it interactive. The beauty is that it’s a set of drawing rules with a serious amount of background programming meaning that the image doesn’t look digitised, it can be anything so it merge the technology and the object. We can take any image and through a series of tweaks we could make an interactive image. It feels like a real collaboration cross disciplines and the potential is incredible."

What question would you most like to find the answer to?

"We need to challenge new technologies from the perspective of the traditions of manufacturing. At the moment people ask 'how can clay work with this?', as if the technology is the primary agent, but let’s see what happens when we turn that question around."

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