User Preferences: Tech Q&A With Studio NAND
Each week we chat about the tools of the trade with one outstanding creative to find out exactly how they do what they do. The questions are always the same, the answers, not so much. This week: Studio NAND.
Who are you and what do you do?
Studio NAND: We are Studio NAND (Steffen Fiedler, Jonas Loh and Stephan Thiel) a multi-disciplinary design practice in Berlin. We have been working together for many years now and met in the interface design program at the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam back in 2006.
We like to describe our work as “researching at the intersection of design, science and technology” because it hardly fits into one specific category. We invent and create products, objects, interactive environments, applications and visualizations, which explore the potential technology can have in communicating and understanding things in our world. This can range from web-based, interactive visualisations and installations to devices and scenarios we design to ideally foster a debate about contemporary and future technologies and their social and ethical implications.
Additionally, we teach at several universities and organize workshops, for example at festivals such as Resonate in Belgrade, where we are pleased to collaborate with Warp Records on the topic of how technology could redefine our experience of music. Such workshops are important for us, since almost everything we have learned about design and technology was enabled by open-source projects and knowledge. We believe that ideas and knowledge should be shared as much as possible, which is why we founded CreativeCoding.org in 2008, a platform for learning materials about technology and design, currently only in German, but hopefully with more English content in the near future.
What hardware do you use?
Besides our laptops this really depends on the project we are working on. It can range from cardboard to microcontrollers, from an old lathe to 3D printers, cloud chambers or a KUKA industrial robot. We love to build hardware ourselves and combine existing things in a new way.
What software do you use?
We use many open-source software projects in general. Whatever is adequate for the project and helps us to prototype and realize our ideas quickly and efficiently. Processing is definitely first in this list, but also Cinder and openFrameworks are brilliant tools we like to use when the project requires it, i.e. for installations or iOS-based mobile applications. For anything related to architecture and product design we also like to use Modo and Rhino with Grasshopper in combination with Processing and Cinder. But this has only happened in an academic context so far. Additionally, there’s plenty of tools we use for scripting, organization and administration. Sublime Text for scripting, Google docs for collaboration, Basecamp for project management, iA Writer for distraction-free writing and so on.
If money were no object, how would you change your current setup?
We would definitely get a Lasersaur, a 3D printer, a CNC mill, a lathe, a DNA sequencer and anything else you need to have in your workshop to conquer the world. We like to experiment with data, materials, and devices, which is why having such machines in the studio would be a dream setup! Oh, a KUKA robot obviously!
What fantasy piece of technology would you like to see invented?
In general we would love to see inventions that enable people to become more independent and self-sufficient. Whether they want to produce things or communicate with anyone without being charged, censored, or tracked. If we may get a bit utopian: technology that doesn’t belong to anyone and allows us to fulfill basic needs without forgoing modern conveniences. But for a start, we would be quite happy with an open-source Star Trek Replicator.
Is there any piece of technology that inspired you to take the path you did?
The first thing to mention here, which got us hooked regarding the combination of design and technology while being able to build our own tools, was indeed getting to learn Processing, mostly through our mentor and professor in Potsdam, Boris Müller who introduced us to the principles of computational design. Since then, we’ve had a passion for generative design and visualization and a kind of urge to invent something which has not existed before. During the same time, Arduino was a fascinating project for us especially when it came to the design of physical interaction and understanding the technical things that surround us. During our time in the Design Interactions course at the Royal College of Art in London we were introduced to more futuristic technologies such as nanotechnology and synthetic biology. We all have more or less non-technical backgrounds in graphic design, motorcross, theatre and music (on a hobbyist level) as well. That might be the reason why we have quickly started to think about possible combinations of what we already love and the new set of tools and possibilities that were opened up by these projects.
What’s your favorite relic piece of technology from your childhood?
Fiedler: My first motorbike which my father got me when I was twelve years old. I took it apart many times—trying to understand the mechanics to make it go faster. After all, it introduced me to the workshop as a creative space for modifying present things or even inventing new ones. It also became an essential part of the way we approach projects by actually making things work, rather than only leaving them on a conceptual level. Everyone should have a workshop at home.
Loh: A Korg MS-20. I still haven’t fully figured out how this analogue synthesizer actually works with all the knobs and cables for patching. It surprises me every time and does something totally unexpected. This is something that I love about our work and the concept of generative design in general. You never know the exact outcome and have lots of surprises—sometimes for the worse sometimes for the good.
Thiel: An old analogue SLR my grandfather gave to me, if that counts as technology. I wish technological devices today would have the same appeal in terms of mechanics and form through which you can understand and start to explore its inner workings. Devices nowadays are more like black boxes when it comes to their form and how this relates to the underlying function of a device. This is why teaching practitioners in design and art about technology is so important.