Envisioning New Realities: The intersection of fashion and aerospace

The first public FAAR event was held last week at Lost Arts in Chicago. Based on the expertise of the three panelists, and the nature of the Chicago creative and technical communities, the talk focused on the panel’s diverse experiences with, and the potential benefits of, interdisciplinary collaboration, and of human-centered design, to realistically imagine, and then set out to create, new realities.

Our panelists, Sean Lally (Night White Skies and UIC Architecture), Anke Loh (SAIC Fashion Chair), and Ovetta Sampson (IDEO), each brought a unique perspective, from architecture, fashion, and user research, respectively. The common ground revealed itself throughout the conversation, reinforcing the power of interdisciplinary communication.

Some highlights are shared below:

Image via Bobby Baker

Framing the discussion between fashion and aerospace, we are talking about the tangible overlaps like materials and manufacturing already in place, but also the intangible: What will space look, feel, and smell like? Intellectually, will we miss the feeling of wind on our faces, and sun on our skin, and physically, the vitamins and minerals that we intake as we move through the world? We could aspire to recreate earth-like environments, or we could start with a clean slate, and further aspire to improve our quality of life in this new environment.

The possiblity exists for us to enhance and even expand on our own capabilities. This example of sensory substitution through noninvasive means is just one way we can teach ourselves to interract in new ways with information and the world around us.

Eventually we could have products or space creations that are able only to exist in the space environment. Like if we were to have a space museum on earth, Sean suggested, it wouldn’t be possbile to house these items without recreating their natural environment in space. Like a deep sea creature that can’t survive above a certain depth (although, studying the resilience of other deep sea creatures to high-pressure changes is an opportunity for our pressure suit research). This idea is intriguing for many reasons, including the simple suggestion that we have so many more discoveries to make.

Embarking on new territory bring with it many questions of what is right and wrong, and who gets to decide. Artificial Intelligence, for example, is a contentious issue for many reasons including job replacement, privacy, and fear of a robot appocolypse, among others. A recent chatbot incident from Facebook could be seen as an exciting development in a useful tool, a step closer to the singularity, or a step closer to AI taking over the world.

As the model goes: a new technology is developed that brings with it many benefits, and also drawbacks. Which side outweighs the other is a matter of opinion. The level of danger these drawbacks represent is unknown, and there-in lies the dilema. We cannot predict all of the issues that will arise, and thus cannot plan for them. We have to figure it out as we go along, which means that intent and good-consciousness become all important.

Ovetta encouraged us all to “be good actors,” elaborating through examples of transparency and optimistic versus pessimistic approaches. In your own practice, mitigate unintended conqequnces wherever possible. In order to prevent bad actors, be curious and ask for answers, don’t take for granted that a business or service has your best interest in mind. Encourage transparency from others and prevent perpetuating bad behavior.

A great question came from the audience: How do you create space for yourself amongst a team of experts in a field, when brought in from the outside as a consultant or collaborator on an interdisciplinary team? For Ovetta, the key is curiosity and confidence. Know your own value, and know how to get the information you need from the other brilliant people in the room. According to a Google study, the best teams have mutual trust and respect amongst themselves that comes from asking questions and sharing about their personal lives. They care about each other as people, beyond just the work at hand. When you feel safe in a group, you are more likely to feel creative and to suggest your wild ideas, without fear of rejection. This is the kind of freedom and trust that makes great teams.

It is also a two-way street: sometimes opportunities will find you, and other times you will seek them out. This kind of boldness, to step out of your comfort zone and work with other teams of experts in order to experiment or advance an idea is exactly what it will take to create the new realities we are imagining. In both cases, everyone needs to bring an open mind, and patience. It takes patience to teach, and to learn. And around such a table, both are happening simultaneously.

For starters: where is the human in the process? The input, or the output? What is the structure of the product? Is it digital, or physical or conceptual, like a system or process? And what is the intent?

The Final Frontier” by Fashion Director Tonne Goodman and Photographer Steven Klein

Both architecture and fashion are opening up to a revolution, thanks to technology and new ideas about how much more profoundly we could interact with our surroundings. New ways that we can receive and process information, or communicate our thoughts and needs. Can fashion become a medium for well-being, beyond the psychological benefits of self-expression? Clothing could be a delivery system of beneficial elements, or a filter for external toxins and stressors. New interactions could make us more aware of our environment, and thus encourage us to respect it and the other people around us in a deeper way. If fashion and architecture are mediating between us and the outside world, we can potentially turn each of those instances into a productive interraction.

The future in space brings up questions of culture and inclusivity. Space can be designed for everyone. Right now we can map out what the requirements of such an environment are. As a non-sovereign territory, what will culture develop as? Maybe national identities will be a thing of the past, and new kind of cultural codes will emerge. Will the diversity of earth trickle up, or will the uniformity of space trickle down?

Figuring out what questions to ask is a good place to start.

Fortunately, the practice of addressing needs, and listening to people will carry us through much of the uncertainty. If we continue matching innovation with answering needs, one step at a time we will shape this new future. This discussion hopefully demonstrates the many exciting directions to explore. For anyone interested in getting a foot in the door, there are endless ways to get started.

*We regret that our intended moderator, and FAAR contributor, Peter Lloyd Jones of MEDstudio@Jeff was unable to attend from Philadelphia.

*See the full video here.

Save the date for our next event in Boston on November 2! If you’d like to receive announcements, please sign up here.

We will continue documenting these discussions, and hope to meet many of you interested at a future event. Stay in touch!

Design strategist, researcher & educator. 🔎 sustainable future through design science collaboration & new business models. 📚 @SDSParsons . Also @faarfutures