The project synopsis
Synthetic Biology is the engineering of genetic material. It allows desirable functions or qualities of one organic thing to be passed to another. This technology provides the opportunity for novel, sensory experiences involving taste, smell or even enhancing our own bodies. In order for this bio-tech to make its way from the lab into everyday use, it must first be translated by designers into real life products, services and experiences.
Blush Jewellery is a speculative design project using synthetic biology to explore the potential future of inter-personal match-making. Made of synthetically engineered plants that monitor the wearer’s pheromones from sweat produced by the apocrine glands located on the body, the Blush necklace features a decorative array of small flowers which blossom slowly when the wearer is visually and “biologically” attracted to a potential mate.
I started to look at fashion within society, and came up with four key findings: Extension of Self, Utility, Customisable and Value. I wanted my outcome to bring more utility into fashion, add value to the user, and ultimately express a part of their identity, but I needed to find a social context to design within. I started looking at fashion utility more, and how garments can be used as tools in attracting a mate- much like peacocks using their feathers to court. I chose the context of first dates and conducted interviews and observations. I recruited “Gen Y” interview participants, because of the increased use, and lowered taboo, of online dating. 75% of participants were singles and actively dating- on and offline.
These participants generally found the experience of dating “nerve- racking“ putting them off engaging in dating at all, resulting in dating apps rising in popularity. The majority of males I spoke to found it increasingly hard to read their date’s body language. Interestingly Matt, 22, said “girls always make the first move, they give you the “invitation” with their body language in order to say I like you”, however he goes on to express how this invitation is one that he can’t always read from his date, and therefore misreads what his date’s true feelings are. Interview and observation takeaways included: dating brings out a lot of nervousness and stress, body language and sub-conscious gestures can be misleading, young people have a lack of confidence because of fear of rejection.
How might we celebrate people's unique qualities to boost their confidence? AND How might we aid the reading of body language?
Before I jumped into ideation I wanted to host a workshop with some of the people I interviewed. I asked each of them to complete a simple task of drawing themselves, indicating which body part they felt was their best feature/s. After producing a few 5 minute sketches, I got everyone to put them up on the wall to discuss. This workshop helped me carve a design direction, to design a wearable that complimented -not overpowered- the human body to compliment the wearers physical appearance. It’s function, to aid communication and highlight attraction.
With the proposal of designing “match-making wearables” I began developing ideas of how this could manifest, during which I researched more about the biology and psychology of attraction. I began reading a lot about pheromones and the subconscious methods in which mammals choose their mates. I liked this idea being another sense into the social interaction of dating. Pheromones are airborne molecules that are released from certain sweat glands of the body called the apocrine glands which are picked up through smell, and are used to attract a member of the opposite sex. My strongest concept consisted of a “coded” plant which changed in shape or colour depending on attraction (heightened pheromone levels). I eventually came to the idea of designing a range of embellishments and jewellery which could house these genetically modified plants. Jewellery is used to “mark social status within society”, such as an engagement ring, could it possibly be a way to show your sexual interest in someone? There are many layers to a person’s physical appearance, and I was designing for the most outer, the finishing touch that will bring interior emotions to the surface, giving the physical appearance of someone more depth and meaning. This concept plays on the idea of “love at first sight”.
How does it work?
Each jewellery design will hold bespoke synthetically engineered plants. The BioChem company Evolva have proven that plants can in fact be coded, much like component parts of a circuit. Through this cellular programming, plants will be able to react to certain inputs, and emit a desired output by taking the qualities of different plants and embedding it within one’s DNA. Therefore not only will would my jewellery be able to emit pheromones on command, but they will be able to detect the levels of pheromones emitted by the wearer to produce an appearance change.
For input, I discovered that when a human is attracted to someone their pheromone production increases. Since plants already communicate this way theoretically the plants can be triggered when it detects a pheromone spike. A similar thing can be done with touch, the input for ear-cuff piece, by taking the qualities of the Mimosa plant which closes in reaction to touch. Evolva have successfully embedded the qualities, flavour and aroma of vanilla into yeast. They have concluded that they will be able to adapt other plant life in much the same way within the next 5 to 10 years. There has also been discussion about the implantation of different pheromones into plants DNA. They were successful in implanting a female moth pheromone into a plant in order to lure males, and act as a pesticide. This suggests that within my necklace design it could release “highly attractive” chemical, and the ear-cuff an alpha male repellent.
Product Design: Hannah Steele
Tutor: Kirsty Ross
Model: Fiona Arnot