Makerversity meets Jesse Howard

By Cissy Lott-Lavigna

Approaching design speculatively can ignite the spark for some of the most provocative and important ventures into design. It questions the way we do things, why things are made the way they are, and a lot of “what ifs” teetering on the borderlines of reality.

Jesse Howard is a fascinating designer who places himself in the centre of all this. He interrogates objects and investigates new systems of making. Jesse is embarking on a new project in collaboration with Makerversity, Museum Vrolik and Waag Society. For the next year Jesse will be investing his time researching and expanding his new project: D.I.Y. healthcare. Jesse is looking into the next wave of healthcare, and the role that tech companies will play in this. He has dissected this project into three categories: data, devices and communication. Of course these categories beautiful interweave but we’ve outlined some of the interesting elements that will rise out of each section.

Data – What happens when a healthcare provider acts like a tech company?
In this first category Jesse will be raising the question about the value of healthcare data. Tech companies providing healthcare and devices opens liabilities about who healthcare data belongs to, and what the value of this data is. This uproots a lot of interesting points about ownership, responsibilities and copyright. If we start to use healthcare provided by tech companies, what is the value of our medical data? What is our health worth to tech companies? Jesse will be looking into what kind of objects he can create that are feasibly makeable by tech companies, which also source healthcare data, and how this data might be valuable yet also a risk. By making the idea tangible it allows us to have a speculative object which can make the idea a lot more accessible.

Devices – How can open source/D.I.Y. practices of research, development and production operate within the tightly regulated medical industry?
This section of Jesse’s project is his main collaboration with Makerversity, as this is where he explores devices in terms of production. Jesse recently ran a workshop at Makerversity hacking an open source syringe pump. We will go into further detail about Jesse’s workshop after outlining the categories of this project.

An example of an open source syringe pump.

When discussing this category and workshop, Jesse shows his wariness of becoming too idealistic. What makes him a fantastic designer is, although this is speculative design and research, there’s always the risk of it becoming too far a reach from realism. There’s always the awareness of where this exploration fits into the world. This workshop is a graspable, accessible piece of research, but also poses the question, why wouldn’t you use this? How could you possibly certify this method of making for hospitals and medical companies? It is an experiment, and a method to reflect on the realism of D.I.Y. healthcare.

Communication – How have we used telecommunication as healthcare?
This last question explores the history of technology and healthcare. The research will look at what has already been done and how the transfer of healthcare data has been communicated in the past. For example, using telephones to hear and monitor someone’s heart rate. There’s the opportunity within this section to look at the poetic language of communication through technology of healthcare data.

A pacemaker monitor that uses telecommunication

Jesse’s Open Source Syringe Pump Workshop
With an intimate group for this workshop Jesse adopted an open approach for the session. After a short introduction to two selected syringe pumps, and their associated design tools and platforms, they collectively discussed potential directions for development (with the goal of creating ‘something’ during the afternoon). This meant that as a group were able to dictate the course for the workshop.

After deconstruction and anatomical analysis of the two syringe pumps, the group decided on an impromptu field-trip to the nearest hardware store. This was to search for existing standard materials that could be used to replace (and rethink) the existing pump components. This allowed them to test whether D.I.Y. healthcare can truly be accessible, with easily available hardware, rather than 3D printed components.

Two proposals were developed and steps were made toward initial prototyping. The proposals each addressed unique challenges and potential of prototyping techniques, which could eventually inform alternative approaches to development and production. This hands-on exercise was also confronted by direct practicalities such as how accurate need one be when machining the parts and where is limit in allowable error.

Though time constraints meant that neither design could be fully realised, the perspective of the attendants led to an open collaborative session in which ideas relevant to prototyping the syringe (as a medical device or otherwise) could be explored and refined through practical hands-on making.

One of the attendees, Luca, said:

“We had the freedom to follow a truly interactive workshops and work totally hands-on. We learned, we discussed, we went to the hardware store, came back and started making, it was a great afternoon! I’ll definitely keep in mind the way Jesse approaches his work”

Workshops like these clearly demonstrate the importance of physical testing, particularly in speculative design. Making, analysis and discussion can expand other worlds of discovery.

The outline of Jesse’s project has made us extremely excited to be working with him, and are compelled by these big questions about the future of technology and healthcare.

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Posted By Cissy Lott-Lavigna
Graphic Design graduate from Kingston University. Working and living in Amsterdam.
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