MIT Media Lab presents: Manufactured Objects

THU, JUL 16, 2015

Between makers and manufacturers, the spectrum of economic, social, political, and aesthetic issues connected with contemporary manufacturing grows wider every day as we develop new human needs, desires, and behaviors. These shape—and are shaped by—the objects produced in factories, garages, and desktops worldwide. Modern design developed in tandem with the industrial revolution. Since then, different ballasts have anchored design to various locations, attracted designers and intermediaries, and created concentrations of cultural and technological production. The first poles were the actual manufacturing plants, directly run by the company in a vertical integration of production - from design to distribution. Postwar 20th-century corporations, however, began subcontracting most of the construction and assembly, while keeping the pre-, and post-production phases in house. Recently, manufacturing has become even more opportunistic, spread and outsourced in fragmented ways. Great innovations in complex system design and management hold it all together, while labor pools ranging from highly skilled to poorly paid (and sometimes both), or even the cooperative labor between humans and robots, keep the edifice standing. What does it mean to manufacture objects in an age where the assembly line has been atomized and reconstituted globally? How does manufacturing adapt to a world in which service design has usurped product design? What is the threshold between maker and manufacturer, and how do new means of interacting with consumers, including crowd sourced funding, change the behaviors within that spectrum? The intersection of design and manufacturing immediately triggers economic, social, political, and aesthetic issues, as well as the human needs, desires, and behaviors that shape and are shaped by them around the world. How can we shift our perspective to understand the tyranny of the carefully restricted iPhone “designed in Cupertino” in relation to the cacophonous open market of the $12 mall phone designed and deployed in Shenzhen? Manufacturing has always existed within a complex web of regulation, law, and cultural practice. Of late, nations and startups alike have begun to leapfrog these conventional constraints, from demand (Etsy, Kickstarter) to supply (from 3D printing to Dragon Innovation) to all the pieces in between, including designers who work more closely with their consumers and their manufacturers than ever before. What are the consequences for design, manufacturing, labor, and even entire markets and economies—and how might they affect us all?

+ BIO: Anab Jain

Born and educated in India (NID), with an MA in Interaction Design from the Royal College of Art, Anab founded Superflux in 2009, leading the Consultancy’s client partnerships whilst balancing the Lab’s self-initiated conceptual projects. She has lead multidisciplinary design, strategy and foresight projects for businesses, think-tanks and research organisations such as Sony, BBC, Nokia, NHS, Design Council, Forum for the Future, Qatar Foundation and Govt. of UAE.

+ BIO: Rob Walker

Rob Walker is a technology and culture columnist for Yahoo News. A contributor to Design Observer and The New York Times, he previously wrote the Consumed column for The New York Times Magazine, and Ad Report Card for Slate. His books include Significant Objects (co-edited with Joshua Glenn) and Buying In.

+ BIO: Revital Cohen

Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen are London-based artists working around broad meanings of materials and systems of industrial production. They create objects, installations, and films that explore manufacturing processes as cultural, ethical, and political practices. Since graduating from the Design Interactions department at the Royal College of Art in 2008, they have been exhibiting and lecturing worldwide. Recent exhibitions took place at Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Vienna, Ernst Schering Foundation and HKW in Berlin, Jerwood Space in London, Fotomuseum Winterthur Zurich, and The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, amongst others. They are the recipients of several awards and commissions and their work is part of the permanent collections of MoMA and the M+ Museum in Hong Kong.

+ BIO: Tanya Menendez

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Tanya studied technology and its socioeconomic impacts on rural economies at UCSD. Conducting a number of studies on financial technology advancements in Oaxaca, Mexico, she co-authored “The Economics of Migration”, published by the University of California. Shortly thereafter, Menendez joined the Google Strategy and Integration group advising on internal system operations. In 2011 Menendez partnered with Matthew Burnett on The Brooklyn Bakery to manage sales and operations. While at The Brooklyn Bakery, she came up with the idea to create a platform for entrepreneurs to be able to easily access American manufacturers. Combining her experience in operations / automation with Matthew’s experience in global manufacturing, they started Maker’s Row.

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