5 incredible tech and science-infused designs we saw at the CSM degree show

The future is looking pretty bright from where we're standing

Attending university degree shows is always such a joy. It’s an easy, free way to refill your creativity tanks, to see new perspectives and ideas, and to recharge your hope for the future.

We recently attended the world-renowned Central Saint Martins (part of UAL) 2018 design degree show at their stunning HQ in King’s Cross, and came away feeling not only inspired and refreshed, but also completely awed by the technical skills on display.

The show is sponsored by smartphone brand Honor, which you’ll have seen on these pages many times. It’s pretty smart of CSM to monetise their degree show this way, and the partnership makes perfect sense because many of the students used tech, including mobile tech, in their degree projects. Some of them even used Honor’s current flagship, the gorgeous Honor 10.

We didn’t get to see everything in the show (it was enormous) but of the many graphics, jewellery, ceramics, product and other types of designers we saw, here are the ones we think are going to set the world on fire. And with CSM having 70% female students (as the awesome Stephen Beddoe, Director of External Relations told us on the tour), they’re all women. Awesome.

1. Nina Cutler

Cutler’s dead robot Tonii lying in his coffin was easily one of the most arresting sights at the show. We revisited it several times, enjoying the frisson of unfamiliar feelings somewhere between sadness and humour.

The piece is about the future of humanoid robots, and how we’ll interact with them. Cutler notes that “we are beginning to engineer robots that can recognise human emotion and simulate a personal response.” How, then, will we deal with the inevitable issues of robot breakdowns, obsolescence, and even full-on destruction?

As someone who cried (no lie) during the robot-beating scene in Chappie, I related to this completely. Hurting robots — physically or emotionally — is completely antithetical to human instincts, yet that doesn’t seem entirely rational. It does show how easily our emotions and instinctive responses can be hijacked by tech manufacturers, though, and that is a very interesting train of thought.

RIP Tonii.

See more of Cutler’s work on her website.

2. Linnea Våglund

Another piece that stops you in your tracks is Våglund’s neon pink chicken. This isn’t just kitsch, though, it’s a sophisticated scientific commentary on the use of genetic modification tools like Gadgette favourite CRISPR, and humans’ impact on the world.

The Pink Chicken Project suggests taking insect DNA for the colour cochineal and ‘pasting’ it into the genome of the common chicken, to turn all chickens pink within a few generations (there’s lots of details on exactly how this works here). The pink tint to the feathers and bones wouldn’t harm the chicken, but it would leave a noticeable tint on the geological record for our current age, the Anthropocene, as a way of protesting against detrimental environmental decisions made by global powers.

There’s also a time capsule-style message encoded within the implanted DNA, which explains that said decisions were not everyone’s choice:

“We the humans of planet earth, write this message at the beginning of the Anthropocene.

The current devastation of the planet is not the result of activities undertaken by the whole species Homo Sapiens: instead it derives from a small group of humans in power. We urge you to fight this oppression: for it enables and aggravates the anthropocentric violence forced upon the non-human world.

Sent in hope that you have re-imagined us as a biological organism, joined in symbiosis with each other and the planet.”

This project does a great job of attracting mainstream attention (everyone wants to know why the chicken is pink), then imparting scientific knowledge and related ethical questions in an accessible way.

Plus of course the chicken looks really cool.

See more of Våglund’s work here.

3. Jen Keane

Another project looking at how humans can collaborate with and control nature, Keane’s ‘This is Grown.’ uses bioengineered microbes to create new hybrid fabrics, giving a tangible idea of how we might be able to move away from petrochemical-based materials in the future.

Keane explains:

“By manipulating the growing process of k. rhaeticus bacteria, I have developed a new form of ‘microbial weaving,’ working with microbes like bacteria and yeast to optimise the natural properties of bacterial cellulose and create a new category of hybrid materials that are strong, lightweight and potentially customisable to a nanoscale.

If we talk about the work in context to traditional weaving, I am doing the warp, and the bacteria are growing the weft. But because the bacteria are so small you don’t have the same restrictions of directionality that you would have with a traditional loom, you have quite a bit more control over the material properties and you need less yarn.”

She goes on to say that, as with the preceding two projects, there are ethical considerations here too — at what point have we stopped working with nature, and started orchestrating it for our own ends?

See more of Jen’s work on her website.

4. Yixuan Gao

There were many incredible jewellery designs in the degree show, but Gao’s ‘Whisper’ range stood out because in addition to being wearable and beautiful, the gold-and-silver-toned earrings have audio tech built in to create a soothing soundscape audible only to you.

The bottom of the design acts as a touch sensor, and all you have to do is touch your finger gently to the earring — which wouldn’t look strange even in public — and the jewellery plays relaxing, melodious and harmonious sounds close to your ears to help you feel calm.

Gao says the project is intended “to introduce some romance to daily life in this crowded, bustling and stressful world,” and we think it absolutely does that. Earrings that whisper sweet nothings when you’re anxious? Want.

See more from Yixuan on her website.

5. Kendall Slade

We saved our favourite for last. As well as being involved in the very cool responsive digital branding that accompanies the degree show, Slade’s degree project ‘Your Privacy Is Very Important To Us’ manages to be timely, beautiful, and incredibly thought-provoking all at once.

As you might have guessed from the title, it’s about data privacy. The name is actually taken from Facebook’s data privacy agreement, and uses Slade’s own personal data. When someone tweets using the words ‘privacy’, ‘data’ or ‘exposed’, the UV light powers up to reveal private information.

Kendall explains:

“I downloaded my Facebook data, which was a staggering amount of information. From this, I created two screen-prints, each over 3 metres in length. The source code is printed in black, but my personal information is in invisible UV ink.

I rewired three UV lamps and used an Arduino to program them to react to tweets. Each one is triggered by the use of one of three words in the tweets: exposed, data and privacy.

The idea is that we only really see the extent of the data we share when there is a conversation being had about it.”

We’d love to see this as a big installation outside a tech company, ideally with Zuckerberg’s own information.

Image: Annabel Lake

Find out more about Kendall’s work on her website.

Big thanks to Central Saint Martins and Honor for inviting us to the show.

Holly Brockwell
About Holly Brockwell 282 Articles
Tech addict Holly founded Gadgette in 2015, and won Woman of the Year for it. She's firmly #TeamAndroid, has ambitions to become a robot, and beat all other Hollies to her awesome Twitter handle.