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17 March 2017

Guest Blog: Ross Atkin and Design Society

Ross Atkin's residency at Design Society is in full swing, below he shares, via V&A Shekou, what he is most looking forward to during his time in Shenzhen as well as a little about his background of making in London.

We are delighted to introduce Ross Atkin, the first maker in residence hosted by Design Society (DS). Ross will be working with the DS and V&A learning teams in Shenzhen for three weeks as part of the British Council’s Hello Shenzhen project. This is exciting not only because it continues the series of pre-opening events but also because it illustrates the potential that our collaboration with CMG and DS holds in further extending the links between creative communities in China and the UK.

For our residency we have asked Ross to explore how maker education can be used to engage students and young people with problem solving through making using objects that will feature in the opening exhibitions of DS and the V&A Gallery as inspiration. We hope that this project will help us further develop relationships with our target audiences and shape our practice as learning practitioners, developing a learning and public programme for a new design museum in the context of Shenzhen. Ross will guest blog throughout his residency.  Here he shares what he is looking forward to and what he hopes to achieve in Shenzhen:

Ross Atkin

Ross Atkin

Ask someone to point to the heart of the film industry and, assuming they aren’t from India, they will tell you it’s Hollywood. If you ask them the same about the smartphone industry, worth more than a third more than the entire global film industry in 2016, and they probably won’t be able to tell you.

Like the renaissance glass industry was led by Venice or the Victorian steel industry by Sheffield, the modern smartphone industry is dominated by Shenzhen. Because the smartphone supply chain has enabled all kinds of other new products, from the ‘Internet of Things’ to drones and hover boards, Shenzhen has become known as ‘The Hollywood of Hardware’.

As a UK based designer who works combining physical and digital products, the prospect of spending three weeks in the ‘Hollywood’ of my industry would have been compelling enough. Add in the opportunity of working with Design Society, an exciting new cultural platform opening in October 2017 with the V&A as founding partner, on a project to engage local students with the design process, and it is hard to think of a more exciting opportunity.

Working in London as a design consultant I focus mainly on projects involving older and disabled people, either trying to improve accessibility, building assistive technology or sometimes both. I work for municipal bodies, charities and medium sized UK manufacturing companies creating products like intelligent street furniturecontrol interfaces for sensory rooms and improvements to roadworks equipment.

Ross Atkin

MSE Genie, Control Interfaces for Sensory Rooms

Ross Atkin

Sightline, Improvements to Roadworks Equipment

In my spare time I am part of ‘the Maker Movement’, a loose knit international community of people working to make the process of building new things with technology accessible to more people, especially children. I make really affordable and simple robot kits under The Crafty Robot brand.

Ross Atkin

The Crafty Robot

Ross Atkin

Crafty Robot Workshop

Because of these interests I am keen to put together a programme that will encourage students to engage directly with disabled people and create designs based on their needs and aspirations. I also want the students to engage properly with technology and build working products that take advantage of the incredible resources available in Shenzhen.

Organising and running an activity like this in a country where I do not speak the language and where social norms are quite different will be a challenge. Luckily, from our initial long-distance discussions using Chinese messaging app WeChat, it seems I have an incredible team helping me—Cassi, Ke and the team at DS as well as Sarah and Luisa the V&A staff who are supporting all of us. I am also lucky enough the awesome networking power of the British Council’s Hello Shenzhen programme (who put together the residency in the first place) to plug me into the Shenzhen maker scene. Hopefully together we will be able to put together a programme that delivers on all the promise and can live on long after the residency has finished.