Design thinking and artscience labs


Innovation was related earlier to technology and engineering. Also design was defined to be the creation of beautiful forms to industrial products. In last decade or so innovation and design are seen to be broader concepts including services, new organizational settings, and public and societal issues as well. The core concept emerging from this development is “design thinking”.


In my mind design, innovation and services are starting to form a coherent new approach to solve wicked problems.


Artscience labs


An interesting new concept to tackle innovation and design is artscience, developed by David Edwards in his books Artscience (2008) and The Lab (2010). Artscience is a practice where scientific exploration, artistic imagination and business model-building meet. Edwards has been building several artscience labs around the world (Paris, Boston, Cambridge, Pretoria, Cape Town etc).


In artscience we can combine two fundamental thinking modes, namely aesthetic and analytical, or intuitive and discursive. Edwards describes them as follows (The Lab, p. 4):


“Through aesthetic thinking, we embrace uncertainty and complexity, we induce, follow intuition and draw inspiration form images and sounds.


Through analytical thinking, we simplify a complex world, reduce its challenges to resolvable problems, and pursue the logic of equations.


The aesthetic process is the substance of hypothesis generation, while analytical process is the substance of hypothesis testing.


Inevitable we fuse both when we create anything new.”


This fused process is ARTSCIENCE. As an early prototype Edwards proposes Bauhaus in Germany in twenties. Modern examples are MIT Media lab, IDEO and Ars Electronica Futurelab. Edwards was the founder of a first artscience lab in Paris in 2007, Le Laboratoire.


In artscience labs modern methods of design thinking are applied like interdisciplinary collaboration, rapid prototyping, demonstration etc. According to Edwards, the most distinctive characteristic of artscience labs is the education, cultural exhibition and production are all simultaneously core values.


Different labs


In fact there are three kinds of artscience labs: educational, cultural and change labs. Educational labs are called idea translation labs, where students, researchers and artists learn to translate their ideas to practical solutions. Participants in educational artscience labs learn to matter (humanitarian needs), learn to band (collaboration, consensus), learn to learn (experiments, tests), learn to persuade and learn to act.


In cultural labs participants produce cultural exhibitions. By producing exhibitions people learn to express their ideas in concrete forms to public. The meaning of this is twofold: it is informing public interest and getting feedback from the public.


Finally the translational change lab is for translating ideas to commercial or humanitarian solutions. These solutions might have a huge impact and they change the culture and catalyze education within a broader public.


Edwards sees there three kínd of labs forming a idea funnel:


learning -> presenting -> producing


The whole proscess is idea translation process.


Artscience: both art and science


Although, the artscience labs are reality and there are many examples of them, the concept is still in need of clarification and deepening. The point is not only get scientists and artistes or designers to work together.


The relationship between art and science is complex and multifunctional. Both use their own methods and approaches. Both have their own language and practices. In fact many. On the other hand human thinking is human and it’s about the world. So we have to explore the fundamental pluralism of human cognition and imagination. To understand the world no single perspective is conclusive. There are artistic appropriations of the world (performance, imaging, playing etc.) as well as scientific explorations (science and humanities). Science and art are interpenetrated already in human thinking. Induction and deduction, intuition and analysis, problem setting and problem solving are operating in art as well as in science. But in different forms.


To become conscious about these forms will excite creativity and innovation in an unforeseeable way. To answer these deep issues we could transform artscience labs to labs to study connections and interaction of art and science, intuition and analysis etc. in active mode, in real operation, in practice. Perhaps, a new branch of thinking will emerge: a unified artscience, with is both art and science.


  1. Edwards, Artscience: Creativity in the Post-Google Generation (2008, Harvard University Press)


  1. Edwards, The Lab: Creativity and Culture (2010, Harvard University Press).