The idea

 Creative Soft Circuits is a web collection of hands-on workshops focused on creative engagement with electronics, which shows how the current opening of the wearables and e-textiles field would allow non-technical audiences to approach fundamental concepts of design, circuitry and programming, through practices where design and the development of artistic creativity are fostered.

Creative Soft Circuits is a project led from 2011 to 2017 by Paola Guimerans who has teaching and designed these workshops as part of her Ph.D. research. This project aims to highlight new opportunities for building a bridge between the arts and STEM. Thus, this collection of  workshops aims to provide educational options for the inclusion of women and new audiences in the creation of technology and point out emerging cultural practices of digital literacy that enable people access to DIY tools and technology for social change, design, and innovation.

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▲ The story behind the project Creative Soft Circuits

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In an era of increasingly available digital resources, many artists and designers find themselves at an interesting juncture between traditional craft processes and newer digital technologies. As a result,  we can observe an emerging generation of creative practitioners from a fine arts, crafts and design background working with digital tecnologies and new materials that are redefining conventions of technology and design education in our digital culture. In the last years, some of this practitioners have been working really active in the maker movement that emphasize the democratization of access to tools and DIY technology for social change, design, and innovation. Also, they have been contributing to advance innovative educational methodologies by defining how to include the Art and Design in STEM. Specially, some of them  with the goal for attracting new audiences who otherwise whold have not get attracted to the science and technology.

My name is Paola Guimerans and  I am part of this emerging generation. My background is in fine arts and design and I have passion for teaching and making artworks created with new media technologies. In 2008,  when I move to NY to  Parsons School of Design to achieve an MFA in Design and Technology. In the context of my own artistic practice, I started to investigate new models of teaching and learning to programming that include the realization soft circuits techniques. As a consequence, I started to make paper circuits and e-textile projects that mix traditional textiles, paper or cardboard with microcontrollers, sensors, and electrical components to create new and interactive projects or wearable designs. This situation, bring me to get really involved in the emerging field of the soft circuits that linked with the world of wearable technology. Also, to get involved in the cultural debate about education across design, art, crafts, technology and creativity and in technological and cultural trends such as the DIY and maker movement.

In 2009, I started to work with Dr. Sabine Seymour at Parsons School of Design for the Fashion Technology Lab. At that time,  I also participate in a series of e-textiles and smart materials’ workshops leds by Hannah Perner-Wilson at the High- low tech group at the MIT.  This, I  started to approach educational theoretical studies related to e-textiles field  from Kafai and Peppler.  and to read the work of pioneers of the e-textile and wearable field  such as Margaret Orth or Joanna Berzowska o Leah Buechley creator of lilypad arduino, a tool that allows designers to create e-textiles using sewing, quilting, crocheting, knitting and other techniques.

In 2010, I got the opportunity to start to design and teach interdisciplinary workshops for students of the Parsons School of Design  community. In 2011, under the supervision of professor Katherine Moriwaki I co-design and teach the Class Soft Circuits: an exploration of new materials in the context of tangible interface. Also, I started to work as a led mentor in the Quest to Learn school in NY. My role It was to teach in a functioning afterschool design studio /makerspace, and design a STEAM curriculum for k12. During a schoolar year, I teach students open source programming and the use of graphic design as factor in interdisciplinary and technology-based projects. Also, I promote the experimentation with e-textiles and  paper circuits. With an increased focus on STEM education, I started to defend  the objectives of the STEAM movement leading by Jon Maeda  which defended adding an “A” for Art to  to the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics curriculum.

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After all this experience teaching in the school and university level, I realizated  that soft circuits are a great learning tool for students to explore creativity, design and that can serve as an on-ramp to STEM. Also, that soft circuits offer different approaches to learning circuits and electronics in wich the hands-on, the craft and arts are include which places a greater emphasis on artistic expression.

This situation make me to question what place has the art and the design in the physical computing field ? Specially, I got interested to answer if  soft circuits as a  learning tool can promote the visual arts. Thus,which is  the rol of the art and crafts practitioners and if they can help the democratization of access to tools and DIY technology.

In 2012 I decided to return to Spain and make this questiosn the topic for my Ph.D. . As a part of my academic researher, I include the project creative soft circuits that I haven been started in 20011. The aim of the project it was to design and teach workshops to promote this new and creative way to build circuits that allow people to manually approach the technology and explore arts and crafts practices. Also, to observe if this new way engage diverse audiences in designing and building their own technologies.

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Since then, I have been designing and teaching more than 50 hands-on workshops for non-technical audiences focused on creative engagement with electronics in which participants and catering to a variety of age. Some of these workshop I teach in the academic and universitary contexts ( link here) , but the most which I include in this collection are running at informal learning enviroments such as citizen labs, science museums, afterschools, libraries, Fab labs, makerfaires, etc…

After all this years, my observations shows that engage non- technical people in learning crafts, circuitry or coding meanwhile they make soft circuits artefacts are more attractive that tradicional educational models that do not promote the development of creativity. Thus, I observe that incuding new materials ( such as the conductive thread, conductive paints or smart materials ) and DIY tools for the creation of soft circutis  (such as Lilypad arduino,…)  can promote the creative expression but also reduce the learning curve  enganging new audiences to electronics through arts and crafts.  Furthermore,  I have concreted that since soft circuits is related to e-textiles and wearable technology field, mostly of the workshops participants were women and girls or  new audiences with background in the humanities or arts, and non-experience in technology .

The project creative soft circuits ended in 2017 , when I defended  my Ph.D. at the University Complutense of Madrid under the title” Technology as a creative material: E-textiles and its derivations in the field of the visual arts”.  The study examine how the improvements that has taken place in the field of e-textiles provides new opportunities for research and learning in what visual arts concerns, with the use of digital technologies and electronics.