Work in Progress

Materials as a Journey

Since the last blog post I have been studying how human interactions influence materials, surfaces and objects over time.






























These interactions whether small or big, deliberate or indeliberate, over time or all at once, old or recent all tell a story of human interaction. Perhaps it was Jacob’s first grind, or the time Lucy dropped a crate on the grating. Every mark, scratch and sign of wear tells of an event, memories known only to the object itself. Think of the stories they could tell if only they could speak.


Thus it may seem materials are more than characteristics, price tags and chemical structures in which they are categorised; no materials are a journey. Take steel for example. Iron is created during a supernova at the end of the life of a red giant. It is expelled into space along with other elements before collapsing under the force of gravity to form the sun. The remaining material including some iron begin to clump together under their own gravitational force to form proto-planets, including Earth. This iron embedded into the rock and suspended in the ocean reacted with other elements to form hydroxides, sulphates and more. However 2.8 billion years ago the emergence of oxygen producing cyanobacteria and halobacteria allowed those hydroxides and sulphates to be displaced to form iron oxide, forming layers of iron rich sediment. Ancient seas would disappear to allow humans, eons later to mine the iron ore. From there together with coke and lime the ore is processed into pure iron. Oxygen is then blown into molten pig iron to form steel. Steel from which we use to build our buildings with, go to work with, eat our food with… without for a second paying appreciation for it’s celestial origins.


As an initial experiment I took a computer keyboard painted it bright orange and painted removable chalk paint on top. The idea is over time different users’ iterations will wear away at the keys differently, thereby mapping their usage, preferences, profession… and more. Through the scope of wear the keyboard can speak and tell of those stories we do not even think about in our daily lives. However, I have found the chalk material to be too difficult to work with, they crack and require several coats at which point hey become too thick. Furthermore, the chalk paint hides the key symbols. After some research into materials such as thermochromic paint which changes based on body heat, I found printable temporary tattoo film to serve this function perfectly.


First however, I needed to test the feasibility to see whether usage actually does vary based on use case. Below are two heatmaps of my keystrokes on two different days. On the first one I was using Photoshop extensively thus the Alt (for navigation and shortcuts) and Ctrl (I was doing a lot of clone-stamping) keys were used the most, on the second one the alphabet keys were used the most due to writing a lot of text. This kind of deviation in usage could possibly represent the difference between a graphic designer and a historian for instance.










I envision making a number of these wear away keyboards to send out as probes after which usage patterns of different groups such as: designers, business-people, accountants can be mapped and used to draw certain insights. From which there are many totally different avenues I can think of to take, but I am completely lost at the moment. 

Work in Progress

Gestures and Materiality

As a designer, my passion for technology is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it is an interesting and familiar topic where I can focus and hone my skills, on the other hand my obsession with small technicalities has always been a burden on my role as designer to truly see the role of technology; that is to serve people. Inspired by design literature such as The Language of Things by Deyan Sudjic and The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman, I have decided to reevaluate design in technology through a more human centred perspective. This initial study lead me to explore different gestures and materiality as ways we can interact with technology in a more meaningful way.

Not long into my research I discovered many of these gestures (pull, turn, squeeze, twist…) can all be found in the recent past. Being a bit of a history buff I visited the Edinburgh Flea Market and The Edinburgh Antiques Centre for inspiration. From there I explored and iterated through making simple prototypes that replicate these gestures.





















However, what I quickly realised was that I was more interested in the evidence of gestures rather than the gestures themselves. Such as the warping on this comb.








Theses signs of wear are physicalised data of human-environmental interaction. They represent history, memories and events.

From here I will be exploring how objects change through our interactions or lack of interactions, and how I can apply what I have learnt to rethink our interactions which technology.

New Making Projects

Repurposing disposed Laptop

According to a study by the EU, as of 2015 only 35% of Europe’s e-waste is disposed of legally. The rest is treated as regular rubbish or exported to less-economically developed countries such as Nigeria, where recycling methods such as burning cables to extract the copper raises concerns over environmental impact, social justice and appropriate land use.  Resulting in the accumulation of deadly toxins (e.g. cadmium & lead) in the environment, food supply, water supply and ultimately people’s bodies.

In contrast a circular economy calls for is reducing consumption, reusing functional products or components and recycling materials of discarded products, as well as creating value in a sustainable supply chain. Thereby minimizing and recovering materials and energy from the supply chain. To explore designing towards a circular economy we started with a visit to the Edinburgh Remarkery. Whose mission is to create a substitute to a disposable society by making repair education accessible to all, and to build a stronger, waste-free community.

There I picked up a 2007 17″ Macbook Pro (click here for the teardown video), and soon learnt that existing options for broken laptops are often limited to disposal or recycling, with little opportunity for reuse. This is due to the fact that unlike the standardised components of desktop computers (people often save money by buying used CPUs, RAM sticks, power supplies… etc), laptop components on the other hand are often bespoke designed specifically for a limited range of models. While standardized component such as hard drives are often too old and unreliable to be reused. Moreover, as designers strive to make their laptops ever slimmer, options for reuse is further diminished (all RAM in modern Macbooks are soldered on).

The discarding and recycling of perfectly functional components such as the display panel and chassis therefore presents a hindrance towards the goal of a circular economy. Something the Edinburgh Remakery is already trying to change by refurbishing laptops with used hard drives, RAM sticks and display panels.

With that in mind I set out to try to revive the laptop into a usable computer using my smartphone. The idea behind this is smartphones are becoming increasingly powerful (the Snapdragon 835 in my Pixel 2 is being put in some laptops) and capable (more and more programs like slides and docs are web-based). At the same time smartphones are becoming increasingly affordable and ubiquitous with an estimated 2.53 billion smartphone users worldwide in 2018. This is projected to grow even further as large emerging markets like India begin to grow it’s middle class. Therefore it only seems like a  logical step to use the smartphones we already have into reviving broken laptops. Thereby extending the functionality of our smartphones and reducing waste.

The idea of integrating a smartphone into a laptop is not new in itself. The Lenovo Lifebook Concept and Razer’s Project Linda have both explored this idea, although neither has left the concept state. However, I would like to differentiate my design from Lenovo’s or Razer’s not only by using e-waste, but also by making mine open-source. Giving people the information to make, modify and improve on the design both in hardware and software.

When it comes to open source questions may be raised concerning the accessibility of the project given the high bar of DIY electronics skills required. Will people make it? If they do, will it make a difference? There is no definitive answer to that yet. However, one can point to numerous precedents where niche, and complex hardware projects have grown to influence the world through the open-source platform. These include: Arduino, Sparkfun, Adafruit, Ultimaker, Cmoy and more.

The first thing I did in terms of design was studying the feasibility. When I first started I was quite skeptical over whether it was possible at all. After a quick search through the Play Store I found software solutions which turned one’s phone into a desktop, but unlike it’s intended audience I was not plugging it in a TV or monitor but the LCD panel itself. Without the motherboard how was I going to connect these strange looking wires into HDMI? I started by searching up the panel’s model number. After some digging I discovered that I needed a LCD controller. This was the greenlight for my project.

However, early on in the project I encountered an issue which nearly derailed the entire design. I found that my phone did not support USB Alternative Modes such as DisplayPort over USB-C, which allowed phones like the Samsung Galaxy s9 or LG V30 to mirror onto another display natively. Thankfully, I found that I could replicate that functionality with a Displaylink adapter which outputs display data over USB using a virtual graphics card.

For the design I initially explored the idea of making the whole laptop chassis from scratch using scrap materials such as wood. However I decided against it. Not only would I not have time to do that, but in terms of the message of sustainability nothing quite says ‘reuse, reduce, recycle’ than reviving an old Mac. The point isn’t to make a nice polished product but to make something than contributes to the circular economy.


Here comes how I actually made it. Head over to my instructables for the precise process.

Here are the results:





To fulfill the criteria of being an open source project I made an instructable for everyone else to follow (as mentioned before). I tried to make it as easy to follow as possible while offering choice and variation.

Moreever, in the tech community the forums are everything so I posted about my project in the LinusTechTips forum and the diyelectronics subreddit . The response was overwhelmingly positive. However, only time will tell if this project will actually take off. I hope that even if it does not, it can be an inspiration for others to live a more sustainable conscious life.

Ok I need to go to submit this and go to sleep now.


New Making

Low Poly Mask

Inspired by the low poly glitch in the object below (cocktail base), I decided to try to explore this angular aesthetic more within the context of digital making. At the same time I was also interested in trying 3d scanning. Therefore, for my final artifact I made a low poly mask of my actual face.

After scanning my face I processed the 3d information on Skanect, and meticulously carved away at the model in 3ds Max until only what I wanted was left. I purposely made the mask unsymmetrical both as a practical consideration (parts of the scan were very rough) and as a  A E S T H E T I C  choice.

Then I fired up Meshmixer where I did some digital sculpting just to remove glitches like large pits or high bumps (especially around the edges), and then decimated the model (turn into low poly). I played around with the decimation settings for a bit before I got the size and distribution of the polygons just right. I made sure that the polygons were large enough to clearly show the faceted aesthetic while keeping just enough resolution to still be able to recognized the face on the mask as my own. To get it to actually 3d print I had to give the mask volume, so I took it over to Rhino and 3d offset a 2mm thickness.

I then printed it on an Ultimaker 2+. I would have rather done it on a 3 that way I could simply dissolve away the support structure instead of painstakingly chipping away at it piece by piece by a chisel. Speaking of support structures, the support structure for the mask produced some very interesting coral-like web structures. From what I can tell this is caused by the extruder scrapping by the support as it moves between them, slowly building them up like stalagmites in a cave. This may be attributed to the fact that in a bid to speed up the 2 day print time I dialed down the support density to 10% and a ‘line’ in fill pattern which created these large gaps for the plastic coral to develop.

Finally here is the final thing in all its glory and splendor. Originally I wanted to cut holes for the eyes and possibly paint it, but seeing it now I think it is perfect as it is. The low poly aesthetic works to convey both a sense futuristic abstraction and bone chilling eeriness, making it a great death mask.


All in all this project has tough me a lot about technology, experimenting and just having fun with making. which unfortunately for University projects are not always the case. I can use the skills and experience from this to make even cooler and wackier things.

Chris Chong signing out.





I made a dog poo catapult as a way to fertilize the Meadows. The object reflects the amalgamtion of ideas, interviews and my social probe, and represents the narritive that people are willing to accept and even support deviant acts if it ultimately benifits the natural enviroenment. The catapult allows people to get out of their comfot zone to be activley involved in the ecological and social growth of the Meadows which is so deeply cherished.

Social Narratives

A.I. Nutritionist

In this critical design project I choose to critique machine learning and artificial intelligence by creating a smart food dispenser, which analyses the human body to create the healthiest meal for that person, but upon trying the food it tastes disgusting. Thus demonstrating that the logic of machines (nutritional perfection) is incompatible with the emotional logic of humans (good taste), and therefore we should be prudent towards the recommendations of algorithms.