Brad Tober /
Experimental Interface Lab


Digital technologies of all kinds—both hardware and software—are becoming increasingly integrated into both our individual lives and society as a whole. This can be attributed to at least three distinct factors at play: the increasing accessibility in terms of cost and computational power of technology, the increasing number of devices we interact with on a daily basis, and the growing interest in the culture surrounding technological entrepreneurship. These factors culminate in the contemporary maker movement, which promises to democratize and extend the means of production (such as 3D printers) to nearly everyone with interest. This movement, however, has significant implications for the profession of design, as the democratization of technologies prompts a questioning of the role of those who had previously (and exclusively) engaged with those technologies. If the conventional means of design production are made accessible to non-designers, then in what activities should the professional designer be engaged?

My current research (as well as that of my practice-led research entity, the Experimental Interface Lab) focuses on speculative investigations of emerging and novel digital technologies in the interest of identifying potential relationships to design practice. In part, my work aligns with UK-based design firm Dunne and Raby’s concept of critical design, which is described as using "speculative design proposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions, and givens about the role [designed works] play in everyday life." The term speculative refers to the fact that much of my work is explorative, experimental, often without immediate application, and does not serve an end-user (or consumer) audience in the same way that commercial design work might. Instead, my audience consists of—and my work intends to provoke—other designers: those currently working in the field and those entering it in the near future. Thus, my research mirrors the way in which a scientist might conduct pure (or basic) research to establish a foundation for other scientists to subsequently build upon. I see my research, in part, as establishing a model for other designers to follow that allows them to reassert their roles as design experts and professionals in an increasingly technologically-focused society.

My work investigating emerging and novel digital technologies—particularly those that are interactive—synthesizes both conceptual (in terms of design ideation and planning) and technical (in terms of design execution) skills. One of the most valuable technical skills that a practicing designer can have is the ability to write computer code, as it enables a comprehensive and cohesive approach to designing for and with technology, and so my ability to write code substantially characterizes the way I position myself as a designer. Furthermore, as my work is concerned with expanding the scope of design through technological experimentation and exploration, I must consider the other designers that will practice within the new boundaries I am setting for the discipline. Consequently, much of my academic research both argues for developing proficiency in computer coding (along with its associated principles) as part of a designer’s professional preparation and investigates methods for doing so most effectively.

Some designer friends and colleagues