“You can do better than giving me these dreary designs”

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Prof. Praminda Caleb-Solly, Professor of Assistive Robotics and Intelligent Health Technologies at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, UWE Bristol and Head of Electronics and Computer Systems at Designability, shares with us her poem about integrating arts with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (so that STEM becomes STEAM) in this guest post.

One of my recent projects was an Innovate UK Long Term Care Revolution funded project called Connecting Assistive Solutions to Aspirations. The aim was to develop personalised packages of innovative products and services to help people maintain enjoyable, independent lives in later life.

The work included a review of currently available assistive technology and understanding older people’s aspirations. The findings and insights from the research helped to surface some startling issues relating to a mismatch between people’s aspirations and the type and aesthetics of the technology available. We also explored the changes and cuts in health and social care services and the impact these are having on people’s lives.

The problems are so complex that the breakthroughs needed require us to re-imagine and restructure how we think about the design of technology and its use.

When I received an invitation from the Knowle West Media Centre in Bristol to present at one of their community events, it was accompanied by the KWMC manifesto which included a call for action: Move from STEM to STEAM:

restore the arts as a core part of the National Curriculum by expanding the priority STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) to include both the Arts and a focus on high-tech crafting and making”

Knowle West Media Centre

I thought this was brilliant – exactly what we need – it inspired me to write something creative for their event, drawing on the findings and experiences of our research participants. On hearing Lisa Brodie promote STEAM at our EDM away day, I thought I would share the poem as I am strongly in support of her initiative.

[A Plea for more Artistry in the Design of Assistive Technology]
                                                                         by Praminda Caleb-Solly

3 shades of grey and if you are lucky aluminium with a touch of teal
It’s definitely not going to go with my snazzy hat, one with the velvety feel
What I see, assistive technology, bland icy steel
Economical and effective, should not mean lack of appeal

Light up my life – fill it with style, understand my contextual vibes
It will need more than integrals and executable files
More than inverse kinematics and the coefficient of heat
Find out what makes me squeal, feel my heart beat

Delight me, make me joyful
I know you are trying to make it easier, it’s not that I’m not grateful
But using this frightful grey mobility aid
Is making me feel downgraded and frayed

You can do better than giving me these dreary designs
You need to start with understanding what fits in my life
Not trying to force fit a solution that you feel will be right
Think about form, make it fun, make it bright

Fill my life with hope and desire,
Not the dread of reaching the end of my fire

3 shades of grey and if you are lucky aluminium with a touch of teal
It’s definitely not going to go with my Indonesian batik
Don’t think that you can get away with a covering of frills
I am not after a cheap set of tacky thrills

A revolution won’t happen just by thinking or wishing it,
What’s needed is a rainbow of skills to commit to it
A multifaceted team reflecting the wonders of life
Artists and craftspeople, sculptors and people people, to get it right

The challenges are immense – easy to clean and cost effective to buy
and we don’t want to go wiping out the butterfly
Sustainable manufacturing and ergonomics
Assembly times and economics

All the more reason to incorporate
Art history, sociology and fashion skills to colour coordinate
Bring in an equitable purchase plan
It’s not just about making money for the man

Light up my life – fill it with style, understand my contextual vibes
It will need more than integrals and executable files

3 shades of grey, aluminium and some teal, it might be straightforward
for just in time manufacturing and clinching the deal
But it’s causing my world to have an excitement outage
With your focus on STEM, my world’s experiencing an artistry shortage

Respond with sensitivity to my style,
Make it scream, make me smile
Fill my life with hope and desire,
Not the dread of reaching the end of my fire

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