How smart design is pushing scientific research forward

As written on the Victoria & Albert museum’s website “In the beginning science and art were one.” The development of research embedded in the creation of new materials and tools went hand in hand with the practices of decorative arts. Architecture, philosophy, sciences, politics and the arts all lived in harmony, side by side, nurturing one another in a truly multidisciplinary manner. This universal polymathy was the sign of the 'renaissance citizen’. Yet towards the end of the 19th century, the trend for specialisation proceeded and with that, the painful division of subjects from one another, and to detrimental setbacks, as one ultimately needs the other to thrive.

Cutting edge research is (usually) developed within the foundations of leading universities and research labs across the world. Funded, incubated and ultimately created inside the closed nature of scientific academia and psyche, the difficulties many new products developed in this way face is their accessibility and consumer targeting. From clunky wearables to complex user data analysis, what these research labs often lack is the consumer-oriented minds to lead the design towards user targeting and trend fitting.

In a recent article, our founder and lead designer Christina Petersen addressed this delicate co-existence between research innovation and design. “I really like how engineers think. They are really good at solving specific problems. But I also realised they were sometimes restricted in their way of thinking. If they had to make a chair they thought: ‘maybe we can make a different leg, maybe we can change the material, maybe we should add wheels…’ Whereas as designers, we are trained to think on a completely different path and challenge our ways of thinking. If we have to make a chair, maybe we’ll think about how elephants walk in the water and then we take those principles to design a chair… suddenly you’ve got something completely new, it’s not just a chair with wheels or made of wood. I think we can learn from each other.”

Taking the LYS 1.0 as a poignant example, the elegant design of the wearable, together with its aesthetic measures has drawn the attention of hundreds of users, all of which are helping develop innovation in the field through the valuable data collected and in turn analysed by researches. Currently there are highly specialised medical sensors used to measure light to unimaginable depth, yet they have proven to be so undesirable in their product form that researchers were unable to lure participants to wear them, not even with payment compensation. By developing the LYS 1.0 with both research and usability in mind, the LYS Technologies designers have been able to reach a wider range of consumers, and with that, advance the development of the product at a speed tenfold.

In many regards, the role of designers who work alongside researchers is to facilitate a buffer between the realm of the scientists’ mind and the consumers’ desires; soften the heavy lab agenda and finesse it with just a touch of consumer understanding. The conscious decision to create the LYS 1.0 in the shape of a circular pin that can be clipped onto garments, instantly made it accessible and (hopefully) desirable – attracting the mass and with that, enabling its algorithms to collect more data for research. Completing the cycle if you will.

So the next time you come across a battle between scientists and designers, just remember that the two are in no way mutually exclusive, instead they feed and inform one another to advance the realm of research and product at the same time.