The Fine Art of Context Creation

by February 11, 2007

Last week I heard Sara Diamond, President of Ontario College of Art & Design, talk about The Fine Art of Context Creation: Cross-Disciplinary Methods in New Media. Here’s some of what I heard:


  • Artists are social critics & lateral thinkers that identify and fill in gaps in tool kit.
  • They develop their own tools and fill gaps in dominant tool systems, which often results in pushing technology & science forward.
  • Do it for selfish reasons: want to make something but the technology is not there.


  • Designers sniff the zeitgeist. They have a "trained" gut feel.
  • Designers also push technologies but they are more process based: understand the user, understand materials
  • Designers are eager for stuff to work (generalization). They really care if things works (unlike artists).
  • Represent a productive mix of optimism & pessimism; mix of pushing boundaries & containment

Contemporary Context Demands Cooperation

  • A co-reliance of knowledge is needed for developing solutions
  • Need to bring processes and knowledge together to achieve viable prototypes
  • Boundary Objects are gifts between cultures, terms that are redefined through collaboration or emergent use
  • Taught to approach problems in different ways in science, engineering, and design
  • Our challenge is not the technology but the communication between people.
  • Leadership needs to shift within teams based on tasks
  • Share physical & network process+ spaces
  • People like structures and will do incredible things with them
  • Method 1: Participatory Design
  • Method 2: Rapid Prototyping
  • Method 3: Take things out to the public
  • Really important for engineers to engage with the design process
  • Important for designers to understand how hard it is to build things