Type Practice-led Research, Editorial Year 2019, Helsinki
This long-term research explores several inter-related issues: improvisational creativity, the agency of digital tools, and working around flaws and mistakes. The point of start for the research was the curiosity whether design and crafts can be improvisational—just as fields of performing arts. As I dug into the fields of jazz and theatre, I became fascinated by their theories on improvisation realizing that it is not solely a magical moment of spontaneous and intuitive creation; it can be understood, practiced and, to some extent, repeated.
Improvising can be roughly defined as creating on-the-spot without preparation, focusing on the process over outcomes, embracing risks and mistakes. Planned structures, no matter how predefined and planned, can easily fall apart by small and unintended interruptions arising related to time and space in the middle of the process. Improvisation can also be referred to as a form of knowing how to act in uncertainty and adapting to changing settings.To put my fascination towards improvisation into practice and to translate the core values of improvisational creativity into my own design methodology, I sought for an unfamiliar setting in which I could learn how to deal with uncertainty and be flexible. Eventually, 3D clay printing, a computer-based yet imperfect medium, became the ground for my exploration.
Within the process full of flaws and struggle, I slowly acknowledged that the 3D printer had an agency of its own and could act on its own terms. By treating the machine as a design partner—not as a production tool—whom I improvise along, I accepted its character and input to the process. Reformatting my perception and attitude enabled me to productively dwell within frustration as Richard Sennett suggests. In the moment of production, I aimed to form a dialog by observing and responding; I did not try to alter the step that the machine has taken but aimed to carry it forward. In this way, the 3D printer and I did not have superiority over each other, rather we completed deficiencies of one another—as the printer has digital and mechanical skills and I have the intuitive and material-based skills. Artifacts emerged though the process are the results of this continuous and interaction between a designer and a digital machine.
Exploration of improvisation was significant to form this type of designer-machine interaction. The approach was similar to the primary “yes, and” principle of improv theatre where participants in a scene have to be open to the possibilities arising throughout performing together instead of judging or rejecting inputs of others.
Each artifact, based on the same digital file, is shaped by the manual interferences and embracement of flaws. One main aspect of the process was to work around the errors, glitches, and mistakes occurring partly due to machine’s nature and party to my inexperience with the tool. Every new day working with the printer, there occurred a new problem in a different parameter: clay consistency, air pressure, code… Accepting that I cannot prevent flaws, I rather embraced them and integrated as design inputs. Such unpredicted and unwanted elements enabled to naturally explore and develop new qualities, forms, and expressions. This required being aware of all the events occurring in the process and being flexible to adapt to new situations as they arise.