My co-teacher was Adrian Westaway, an official member of the Magic Circle, a secret society of magicians founded in 1905. Yes, they were aware of the workshop. Adrian trained at the Royal College of Art and now runs a physical-computing consultancy with brilliant projects like this Lego calendar.
After a deep dive into the history of magic and astonishment including:
The students each learned tricks and stagecraft from Adrian and performed their own show. While no elephants were levitated nor Statues of Liberty disappeared, each student did some conjuring and impossible feats using misdirection and illusion. Then we took the design principles from magic to interpret modern tech-infused products and experiences. For each product/service, they drew from the emotional engagement curve—from anticipation, to experience, to memory of the experience—then proposed ways to improve each one.
The next design brief was to visit IKEA (or Bolig Hus) and select a piece of furniture or lighting to enchant, then make a concept video to animate the idea. A couple of the highlights are here:
The last project was to invent, design, and code an enchanted object that would be useful for the school. One group made a system of digital shadows for common tools. Another did a voting machine masquerading as a magical trash bin. Another made a set of presence clocks to show activity and presence in other parts of the five story building. The last group used levitation to regulate noise in a shared workspace.
One of the important design take-aways was about what should be concealed and what should be revealed.
“Behind all magic there is an explanation, but it is not wise to seek it too vigorously: there are lots of things in life which are more enjoyable when they are not completely understood.”
—Charles Reynolds, 1930-2010
The temptation to immediately show everything is often the norm at MIT where engineers hope to amaze their engineering peers. But magicians never reveal their tricks. They know that the best show allows the audience to remain suspended in awe and wonder. As product and services designers, we should learn this technique. The best solutions are relatively simple from the customer’s vantage point. An explanation of inner workings won’t make it any more successful. The lesson here is that products that have true magic to them should conceal their complexity.
Ultimately, we found that studying the history of magic and conjuring provides a rich palette for imagining a future where everything is connected and a little smarter—for a world of enchanted objects.