Enhancing Innovation in STEM by Exploring Aesthetics

Posted on 16 October 2013

Presented at the 2nd Annual Bridging the Gap STEM Conference

Design encompasses three unique domains: Firmness, Commodity, and Delight. While firmness relates to structure, commodity relates to usability, it is the delight that relates to aesthetics giving most designers the greatest challenge. When faced with making decisions about aesthetics, designers often alter their modes of thought and methods of operation. Many in engineering separate themselves completely from aesthetic decisions by placing the responsibility of "how it looks" into the hands of a collaborator that works solely in that domain. This separation that some identify as "back-end" vs. "front-end" development usually results in irony; aesthetic are labeled a front-ender's design problem but is addressed at the later stages of the design process. Architects deal with aesthetics differently in that they readily embrace the aesthetic as a core component of their professional activities. However, their method of dealing with aesthetics is not done with the same clarity as other domains of design. They rely on "artistry" and "intuition" as guiding forces to solve the problem of what looks right. The aesthetic component of design is important not only for architects, but for all branches of engineering.

Rolfe Faste, Stanford professor in mechanical engineering, points out two distinct reasons for engineers to consider aesthetics:

• It is vital for the creation of successful products

• It is a key component to being creative

Likewise, the importance of "Play" in the design studio has to do with play's ability to bring forth creativity. In fact it is impossible not to be creative while in state of play. Singer (2011) states, "…play and playfulness must be understood as essential elements in creativity as a whole." We can safely summarize that play and creativity have a strong correlation. Architecture and design education has for years been making learning "invisible" by not dealing with the nature of creativity. Instead they come up with labels such as "tacit knowledge" to avoid dealing with the formal explanations for what it is they do (Alexander, 1964; Lawson, 2004; Schön, 1987). Visual Calculation however deals directly with the creative process and gives new meaning to creativity. Embedding and recursion allows us to debunk the ambiguous mystique of creativity and gives design students and educators a way to make learning very visible (Stiny, 2006). .

"At the core of this research is an understanding that "Play" is essential to any creative endeavor. "

The Game

This research utilizes a new set of playful games that install the skills necessary to increase visual calculation abilities and therefore make people more creative.The Shape Game has a series of phases (or mini games) that a player plays through. Each phase of activity is played with a set of transparent cards with shapes on them. The set of shapes used for this game were selected to present a wide range of ambiguity and abstraction. It is intended that new decks would be introduced throughout the duration of the study (inclusive of a deck of "basic shapes" containing the set of shapes in the original Froebel system). The transparent nature of the cards allows the players to explore phenomena that are not present in the Froebel set of gifts. By using transparent cards players are allowed to move beyond combinatorial play. Players can embed and place cards on each other allowing the lines and edges to fuse together. This allows the player to discover both embedding and emergence as they interact with the cards.

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