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Research Projects

Wellcome Trust, Dundee City Council, Scottish Enterprise Tayside £70,774 (Value to University of Dundee: £30,000) 09.2006 – 10.2009

Designs for Life - paintings hanging up
Designs for Life
Designs for Life
Designs for Life
Designs for Life

Main project collaborators

Dr Paul Harrison, DJCAD, University of Dundee
Dr Paul Andrews, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)
Prof Geoff Gadd, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)
Prof Angus Lamond, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)
Dr David Martin, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)
Prof Inke Näthke, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)
Ian Newton, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)
Dr Alan Prescott, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)
Dr Judith Sleeman, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)
Prof Kate Storey, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)
Dr Mhairi Towler, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)
Dr Laura Trinkle-Mulcahy, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)
Dr Arwen Wilcock, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)


Dr Paul Harrison (Principal Investigator)

Project PartnersWellcome Trust, DJCAD and University of Dundee logos

Creative Learning Team, Dundee City Council

Context and background

Designs for Life Scientists, particularly those working in the Life Sciences, often express concerns over their difficulty in translating and presenting their research to an extended scientific community and the wider public. Inversely, few people outwith the scientific community find opportunities to interact directly with current research and discuss any concerns they may have – yet we are all exposed regularly to media sound-bites reporting the latest sensation.

Effective visual information is generally limited or lacking in such communication despite being recognised as a prime method of communicating complex data and concepts. This gap in perception has contributed to a flawed popular understanding of cell biology and genetic research, which in turn perpetuates a potentially widening divide between cultures. As developments in science and technology progress at an ever-increasing rate it is essential to check this situation and understand how new information and knowledge is (or can be) visually interpreted, communicated and discussed.

The Designs for Life project has responded to this need by providing a collective space and framework to explore the process of visualisation of laboratory data relating to cell and gene research. Through a series of production collaborations and integrated public engagement the project aims to stimulate debate at the confluence of science and visual culture.

Aims and objectives

The Designs for Life project utilises cross disciplinary collaboration to examine, in a public context, the processes of transferring scientific data into formal visual representations. The objective of the project is to stimulate debate around this process and encourage further imaginative responses to the interpretation of biomedical information. The project is essentially a tripartite collaboration (laboratory, workshop and community) that utilises arts practice as a means to discuss developments in cell biology in relation to public health and understanding. The project worked with an eclectic mix of people: scientists, artists, academics, students, school and community groups – each with common yet varied interests in the visualisation and understanding of biological science, and the inherent potential and implications of current developments for both individual health issues and for society as a whole.


Designs for Life A folio of sixty-two large format screenprints have been produced with the scientist collaborators. These prints appear in a publication alongside a considerable accumulation of documentary material including photographs and film of the activity, audio recordings and notes on discussions and comparisons regarding arts practice and scientific procedures, as well as tests and colour swatches made during the printing process:
a series of ‘visual dialogues’ evidencing the creative negotiation between collaborators.

This material was made available as part of an integrated public engagement programme. This included a series of open days, an exhibition and accompanying symposium, a new contemporary dance work by Rachel Smith, and the performance of a specially commissioned piece of music by Alex Smoke with The Scottish Ensemble.

Further exhibitions and presentations of project outcomes continue at international art galleries and science conferences. Conference papers and presentations have included themes in arts, sciences, social sciences and education.

Designs for Life - click here to download PDF description

Wellcome Trust, Dundee City Council, Scottish Enterprise Tayside £70,774 (Value to University of Dundee: £30,000)