Last night found me sipping red wine surrounded by hundreds of biological specimens!
This sounds slightly bizarre, but I was actually at an event in the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons. This is a wonderfully quirky museum. There are two floors of glass cabinets brimming with glass jars full of specimens from humans and animals. It was described by one person I met there as being like an old-fashioned curiosity shop for scientists.
Those milling around, peering at the specimens, and occasionally reeling back in disgust ,were a mixed group; scientists, science communicators, writers, artists, designers, architects and people who represent various different combinations of these general areas! They had gathered to attend the launch of the Design Science Research Group. This is a venture, based at Central St Martins College of Art and Design, which will see science communicators and designers come together to explore whether, and how, good design can help effectively communicate science and address any deficits in current communications.
After spending some time exploring the museum, people gathered to hear Science Communication graduates and Communications Design students debate this broad topic. Dr Mark Miodownik introduced the evening. Drawing on his own research, he highlighted how science and design are inextricably linked even in the most mundane everyday objects, metallic spoons! (More information on this research can be found here) It then fell to the panel, chaired by professional designer and co-founder of the group, Anne Odling-Smee, to broach the vast topic of designing for science communication.
Cramming this subject into an hour was certainly very challenging, and the debate had to give a whistle-stop tour of the strengths and weaknesses of current communications, as well as what design can bring to the table. The diverse range of people in the audience meant that there was great discussion, and there were certainly specific areas which both audience and panel members were keen to explore further.
A couple of examples of hot topics are:
- Should there be re-design of scientific journals? They work very well for their intended audience, professional scientists. However, sometimes scientists refer lay people to the scientific literature as proof of their arguments. To these individuals, the journals are often impenetrable and intimidating. Does this indicate a need for a re-design of journals or a better relationship with the scientists?
- Do designers and scientists work in the same way? Some people thought that there was a similar linear work process but others disagreed. Also, is it helpful to think about this or not?
- Science doesn’t deal with facts, it deals with the best theories and results until proven otherwise. How can design help to communicate how science works without detracting from the authority of scientific information?
(Disclaimer: these are not necessarily things I personally believe, just points of discussion which arose through the evening)
The evening certainly got people talking which was certainly the aim of the event. Hours after the event had finished, people were still having in-depth discussions about various nuances of the debate content in the Royal College of Surgeon’s bar. I think that the event reassured the group’s founders that there is an appetite to explore this area of research.
Over the coming weeks the future of the research group will be more clearly defined so please do keep an eye on the website – http://www.design-science.co.uk/ – there will be more information about our activities and also a chance for you to feed in your thoughts and comments about this area. In the meantime, please feel free to make your comments here – it would be great if we could keep the momentum going. What points did you want to make and there wasn’t time to? What were your feelings about the areas covered?