If electronic media is a practical tool for conveying information, books are information sculpture. From now on, books will be judged by how well they awake this materiality, because the decision to create a book at all would be based on a definite choice of paper as a medium.
– Kenya Hara
The Runcible looks beautifully designed and I don’t doubt that it has the potential to offer a unique experience.
The trouble begins with the supposed criticism over the lack of “sustainability” in modern electronics manufacturing. The only “sustainability” presented in their product is the wood back. No mention of the electronics or the source of those materials, the labor, mining source, economic and trade conditions being sustainable. Or at the very least transparent.
Electronics with Values
The fairphone isn’t sexy but at least it does a better job at addressing issues of efficacy and transparency. Given it’s more realistic approach to modularity and repairability, it would seem the fairphone would give you a more useful long term product. Perhaps not as aesthetically appealing, but the device and its manufacturing address the nature of built in obsolescence and disposable electronics. It does so in a more meaningful way than “heirloom” every will.
A small point of contention also comes from the description of reclaimed plastics from shorelines as “fished from the Great Pacific Plastic Island.” That description seems to lend even greater emphasis to the devices “sustainable” credentials. The source of the material is most likely a company like Envision Plastics, who reclaims the material from beaches, either washed up or collected before it can reach the water. It’s a small distinction but important. The use of ocean born plastic waste in recycled products is laudable. But the emphasis in the advertising on the “Great Pacific Plastic Island” as the source of the material suggests it’s not about the sustainability, since collecting plastic from the pacific garbage patch isn’t sustainable, but the feeling it gives.
A convoluted smartphone is not anti-smartphone. Abstracting out common functions like making a phone call, and requiring additional peripherals (Bluetooth) to make it work isn’t a novel user experience and challenges notions of interaction and engagement, it’s an anti-pattern.
Devices That Last
It is laudable that the device is easy to disassemble and the software is open source. We can only hope to see this in other electronics. But given the electronics involved in this device, this is hardly “repairable” to the vast majority of users (not to mention the fictitious future family member cherishing the device). Especially those who are likely to buy it for the novelty, internet-of-things, experience. Many of the complex electronics we own today are repairable but are made difficult to do so by design and lack of information for those equipt to make the repairs.
The price of finding someone willing to repair it is likely to outweigh just replacing it. I am doubtful that sentimental value will trump convince, assuming the device ever garnered enough affection to warrant the consideration. The theoretical ability to upgrade doesn’t mean there will ever be upgradable parts, especially when manufacturing something with novel shapes.
That’s not to say that there won’t be those who love the runcible enough to continually tinker with the electronics and the source code, but the advertising does not seem aimed at them. The advertising gives the impression that it will be for people looking for a unique aesthetic or novel digital experience. For which it will likely deliver. But early adopters are not the same as makers or electronic aficionados.
The Value of Nostalgia
Which, in the end, makes the “heirloom” notion of this device, absurd. The use of the phrase seems to play more heavily on the value of nostalgia than the qualities of long-term reliability and usability.
Maybe I have focused too much on the phrase “Heirloom Electronic”. What makes something heirloom is more than anything addressed in the video or in my post. It’s an emotional and historical connection to an object. Objects with a sense of history, and a place in time, for an individual or individuals who will cherish that experience. In the same vein, sustainable long lasting electronics are more than just unique designs and materials.
It’s the convolution of these two objectives that fails. One does not solve the other.
I can applaud what product designers are attempting to do in breaking with set conventions, both in materials and design. The Runcible delivers a different approach to living and interacting with electronics in our lives. But finding a solution to the closed source, unrepairable, obsolete, disposable nature of high-cost, high-value electronics, may have to look elsewhere.
Silo Studio is the design collaboration of Attua Aparicio and Oscar Wanless, who formed the partnership while studying on the Design Products course at the Royal College of Art (2009 – 2011). Currently based within a plastics factory on the southern bank of the Thames.
Coming from backgrounds in engineering and design, the core of Silo’s work is to look at industrial processes and materials, bringing them into the studio to develop. By adopting a hands-on approach, which they refer to as ‘Handmade hi-tech’, they aim to discover possibilities that the production line does not see, developing the expressive potential in industrial materials. A mix of craft and technology.
They invented a new manufacturing process that involves steaming polystyrene beads inside fabric moulds. They used the process, called NSEPS (Not So Expanded Polystyrene), to create this range of furniture. Steaming causes the beads to melt, expand and fuse together, distorting their moulds to create writhing muscular shapes.
To make a certain piece, the designers first sew a simple mold from a coated textile. “Because polystyrene expands at 212 degrees, and you can wash clothes at that temperature, we thought to use fabric,” says Aparicio. “It’s so much cheaper to be able to sew your own mold, not to mention faster and easier to change. It’s more like drawing, in a way.” The mold gets packed completely full with granules.
House dust is commonly perceived as dirty, intrusive and repulsive. We know it as fine grey dry powder consisting of tiny particles and waste matter collecting on surfaces or carried in the air. It is often associated with unkempt and neglected environments, where as a clean environment is considered as civilized and proper.
‘Dust matters’ aims is to re-evaluate this ‘dirt’, and convey the value of dust as an indicator of our environment, showing how it reflects our daily life and traces our journey through the world. Focusing on the individual’s private sphere as the research arena, I have collected samples of dust from various homes, observing and analysing the different inherent components. The physical value of those components was discovered to be substantial.
This value is brought to life with as an unusual coating layer on ceramic objects. Using “dust matter” technique, I created a range of bespoke vessels that display the different sampled environments, and ultimately tell a story of their origin location.
The collection’s varied surface patterns are obtained by mixing different metal particles with water-based resin and plaster. The metal dust used for the pieces originates from key cutting and other metalworking workshops across London.
“It takes us about three days to complete a piece in RUST. That is not considering the rusting time and the high variability of the process — I often reject and recycle pieces in the production when I’m not happy with the result. But every time I go to my studio I’m excited to see the objects’ changing textures. It’s like each one of them was alive and mutating with time.
The shapes I chose for the RUST range are extremely simple. I wanted to let the material and its visual articulation be the heroes of this series of products”
Particle jamming is amazing. Take a balloon, fill it with some granular media like uncooked rice or beans and suck the air out with a vacuum. The balloon stiffens and holds its shape. The stiffness of the bladder is easy to manipulate and quickly changes from a completely floppy state to something as hard as a rock. The higher the vacuum, the stiffer the jamming bladder becomes. Of course, the granular media that you put inside the bladder also affects its performance. Fill a balloon with jelly and it’ll remain relatively malleable even with a high pressure vacuum. On the other hand, if it’s filled with glass marbles, you’ll won’t be able to shift its shape whatsoever once a high vacuum is pulled. That’s the magic of particle jamming.
With that little piece of magic, we developed a process to create custom molds for thin shell casting using various granular media. We worked with two primary variables. The granular media and the shape of the bladder. The thin shell casts take on the form of the shaped bladder as well as the granular media, crystallizing the intricate texture created by the relatively coarse grain. Choice of granular media affects the stiffness of the bladder, the stiffness of the cast, and the texture of the cast. Glass marbles casts have a stiff structure with a hexagonal pattern of craters while rice creates a fragile structure with an irregular speckled texture.