Creative Technology: A Seven Step Process for Inspiration, Execution, and Reflection

This article is part of the  Arm Innovator  Program, a series created to highlight the work of key technical leaders who are pushing the boundaries of how Arm architecture can enable next-generation solutions.

Meet Chelsea Klukas, Co-Founder of MakeFashion

Arm speaks to Chelsea Klukas, Co-Founder of MakeFashion and Arm Innovator. MakeFashion is a wearable technology startup that brings high tech and high fashion to the runway. Chelsea is passionate about building design culture in data-driven environments and driving processes to innovate at scale.

Creative Technology: A Seven-Step Process for Inspiration, Execution, and Reflection 

With the rise of the maker movement and the increasing accessibility of information, a new field of creative work combining design and technology has emerged. Creative uses of technology can take the form of technology-enhanced art, maker projects, or integrating technology into the domains of beauty and fashion. 

The intersection of creativity and technology has been a theme of both my career and passions. My education started in traditional fine art, however from a young age I had been enthusiastic about computers and technology. This led me into a career as a graphic designer, later evolving into UX and product design management exploring digital agencies, start-ups, and more recently larger-impact projects at Amazon and Facebook. While working in technology, I continued to explore the realm of artistic expression by co-founding the MakeFashionfashiontech organization. With our team of designers we have produced over 100 fashion technology garments and have showcased at events around the world. 

MakeFashion on the runway

MakeFashion on the runway. Photo by MakerFaire Shenzhen

Even when tasked with demanding roles, I am a strong advocate for creativity and playfulness outside of the realms of our regular workday. Creative exploration increases our flexible problem-solving skills, keeps us informed on the latest technology, and provides inspiration and spark for our daily grind. These are my guidelines for the seven steps I use when initiating, executing, and reflecting on creative technology projects.

1. Be technology-curious

Fiber optic jumpsuit by Chelsea Klukas

Fiber optic jumpsuit by Chelsea Klukas

Knowing where to start for a creative project can be overwhelming, and every project starts with inspiration. This is why ongoing curiosity and discovery of technology is the first step of the process, plus ongoing commitment. Most creative technology projects start with a foundation of understanding the capabilities, limitations, and opportunities of the technology they utilize.

Develop a habit of learning about different types of technology, whether through blogs, magazines, social media, or your local makerspace. When inspiration does strike, you’ll have a mental archive of different possibilities to explore. Many of our seasoned MakeFashion designers, for example, have an understanding of the current Arm-based microcontrollers and their capabilities. As a product design manager I have a similar expectation that designers on my team stay in-the-know on the latest operating systems, design trends, and prototyping tools.

While it isn’t necessary to be a walking database of every product and tech spec (unless you geek out over that sort of thing!), it’s easier to stay up-to-speed with the latest technology rather than starting your research from scratch.

On my YouTube and IGTV channels, I regularly share my findings on the latest in fashion technology, as well as how-to videos and updates on my works in progress. The community also has a fantastic blog and video channel to stay in the loop on interesting technology.

2. Then, break all the rules

Work in progress on the Lumen Couture Projector hat.

Work in progress on the Lumen Couture Projector hat. Photo by Vian Esterhuizen

Once you have a broad understanding of the capabilities and rules of the latest technology, it’s time to break those rules! Don’t rely on technology and products alone to provide inspiration. Often, technology is designed for a specific purpose, and being too tied to that purpose can limit your creativity. Find your inspiration, and then hack the technology to suit your needs

When my partner Chris Corner and I created the Lumen Couture projector hat, we had a vision for how the projector would move around with the model. Most projectors are designed to stay in one place and project on to a flat surface. We designed our vision of a model moving down the runway first, and worked backwards from what we wanted to achieve. The final solution required taking apart the projector and re-soldering connections to spread the weight evenly. If we had remained too focused on the current limitations of projectors, we would have been defeated before we started

3. Have a vision

Concept sketch for Lumen Couture projector hat and fiber optic dress

Concept sketch for Lumen Couture projector hat and fiber optic dress

As mentioned in the previous step, it’s important to have a “true north” vision for your end goal. More often than not, you will have to make changes and compromises based on the practical realities of technology, time, and budget. However, without giving yourself the opportunity to start with a bold and creative vision you’ll be limiting yourself before you start.

I find that having a sketch helps in this process. Some projects can also benefit from a mood-board of inspiration and similar concepts. Keep this vision in mind as you work towards your solution. It can be fun to look back at the end of a project and see how closely you’ve aligned to your original concept.

4. Gather materials

Product recommendations from Chelsea

Chelsea’s product recommendations

One of the unique aspects of creative technology projects is that unlike other skills like drawing or painting, you’re using new and unique materials each time. I’ve learned through trial and error to plan and gather materials early in the project. There’s nothing more frustrating than being on a roll with a project and realizing you’re missing one component that can only be found online and with a two week delivery.

Predicting the exact materials you’ll need is challenging, and you may need to order extras and alternatives to support your project. Make sure you give a bit of extra room in your budget for trial and error.

Fortunately, most Arm-based boards have documentation and GitHub support that help with deciding the right tools and products. This is also a great time in the process to discuss your project idea with other makers in the community and gather feedback on the materials you’ll need.

Arm DesignStart is a great resource for developers when if you’re looking to instantly access Arm IP for research and learning – and it’s free. For wearable tech specifically, I also share my Amazon wishlists for various projects and run a wearable tech tutorial site.

5. Prototype, prototype, prototype

Lumen Couture at the prototyping stage

Your designs are drafted, your materials have all arrived, and you’re excited to get going. It can be tempting to jump right into building your masterpiece. However, in most cases it’s best to do a prototype before building the real deal.

How you prototype will depend on the nature of your project. Generally, it’s good practice to prototype all the technology components before constructing your project. For wearable technology, our MakeFashion designers will test and program the electronics before constructing the garment. It’s much easier to troubleshoot before you’ve sewn everything together. When we made the Lumen Couture projector hat, we spent most of our process wearing the projector in a metal cake pan on our head: the hat came together as a final step once we had the bugs completely sorted out in the prototype stage. Sometimes prototyping can mean making a smaller version of your project to ensure everything fits together without using excess materials.

6. Bring it all together

Prototype for Lumen Couture fashiontech skirts

A prototype for one of the of the Lumen Couture Ready-to-Wear fashiontech skirts. Photo by Nikki Solemsaas

Once you’re feeling confident about your prototype, it’s time to bring it all together. The magic of creative technology projects often comes together in the final moments when all the details are complete. Even if you’ve had a successful round of prototyping, consider how you will construct your final project to troubleshoot if something does go wrong. The most seasoned design technologists will still sometimes make an error in the final construction. Often it’s useful to have a way to access the technology without needing to completely dismantle the project: in wearable technology, we will often add a concealed zipper for access the wires and microcontrollers.

7. Showcase your work

Light Corsets by Matt LaPrairie at the MakeFashion gala.

Light Corsets by Matt LaPrairie at the MakeFashion gala. Photo by Ernesto Augustus

Once you’ve completed the hard work of building your project, don’t forget to show it off! Take photos and videos of your project, and share with the community through groups and social media. You may consider documenting throughout the entire process: often the journey is just as interesting as the destination, and other innovators will be inspired by your learnings. If the project went well, you may consider creating a tutorial so that others can replicate it. Regardless, don’t hesitate to brag a little about the hard work you’ve put into your creative technology project, you may just inspire the next innovator for their own work!

Stay in the loop on how-tos, the latest innovations in technology, and work-in progress updates on my website, YouTube and Instagram channels.

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