We started this session with a slide from Ernesto Oroza’s “Technological Disobedience” series from Cuba, reminding students that there are places where there are no spare parts, and new is not an option. We can learn from the ingenuity and creativity of Cuban fixers, while we might not want to trade places with them.
Next we featured Bridget Harvey‘s amazing knitwear piece which has been mended to become something entirely new. We suggested that a fix is often not returning something exactly to its original state, but instead a solution, or a way of keeping the essential functions of a product. And sometimes, even improving on the original.
We then focused in on creative problem solving, showing examples of physical and software-based work-arounds, like using assistive touch when a home button breaks.
We intended to stop the session for a free fixing period, and an opportunity to put some of the creative solutions into practice. But not enough students remembered broken items to fix. (We are going to solve this in future by doing a huge collection of broken items before all of the sessions, and keep them at school until the right days.)
Good (and bad) design
Instead, we launched straight into good (and bad!) design – something we’d wanted to save for the end of the session.
We brainstormed some of the things that most irritated us in previous sessions about electronics design. We had a great list: glue, screws of different formats, screws that are simply too small, gadgets that were simply too hard to pry open.
Then we talked about the notion of a “single point of failure” and resiliency – obvious this applies more to systems (like, ahem, British Airway’s bookings) but the same logic should be applied to the design of appliances and gadgets. Also considering that increasing “smart” gadgets are actually parts of a system or network.
Then we wowed students with some innovative good designs – like HP’s Z1 (a modular and highly openable PC) and the Fairphone 2. We also talked about lifecycle assessments, spare parts, documentation, and extended software support – all as elements of good design.
Instead of another free repair session we had planned, Archer students were lucky to get their hands on our demo Fairphone – and experience what a screen replacement without a screwdriver or glue might be like.
We will have to consider how to include the crucial material from this session and the prior session without taking away too much time from the practice of troubleshooting and creative problem solving. Being an in-school enrichment session, the one-hour time limit has been our biggest constraint, by far!