Francisco Norris

MA Information Experience Design, 2015–17

What were you doing before you started at the RCA?

I’m from Buenos Aires in Argentina. I studied graphic design at the University of Palermo, while going to the Buenos Aires Fab Lab, which was run by RCA graduate José Garcia Huidobro. I worked there on music production and designing musical instruments. I had two halves: graphic design on one side, and electronics and building audio systems on the other.

When I finished my graphic design degree, José put me in touch with Vahakn Matossian, another RCA graduate who was running a studio in London and that’s how I ended up here, working at Vahakn Art & Design. Vahakn was designing and making musical instruments for people with disabilities, such as developing midi controllers for members of the British Paraorchestra.

After about a year, that work led me to working with Yuri Suzuki in his studio for a few months. Yuri is a tutor on the Information Experience Design (IED) programme, and he suggested that, given my background and where I wanted to take my practice, IED might be a great choice.

How has your work developed over the time you’ve been here?

Students here take their work seriously; they are very talented and their feedback is really valuable. This pushes everyone to have a really solid understanding of what they are trying to do and to express it in the best way possible. 

My thinking towards design has become increasingly focused and driven by research. Ensuring that my work is grounded in both theory and qualitative and quantitative research is crucial. It’s about more than just aesthetics or function, but about identifying real complex problems and working towards solving them.

Have there been any particular projects that stand out for you?

In the de-computation elective we do in the first year, we had a sound object project that was really interesting. The brief, initially commissioned by Sonos, was to design an object that would fit in a domestic environment and fill a social need. The project was about social sound, and we were looking at ways to make the act of listening to music more inviting to people within a household environment.

We designed a musical interface which would spin and take measurements of the objects around it, producing different musical notes depending on the distance of the objects around it. This made it possible for users to ‘sonify’ their environment and surroundings. The development process was fascinating and challenging, and because tutors were always giving feedback, it moved quickly and effectively from our initial idea to a polished prototype. The realisation and conclusion of the project was very rewarding, since we took it to Sónar Festival in Barcelona, where it was played by hundreds of people, including legendary music producer Brian Eno.

What’s especially rewarding about studying at the RCA?

For me, the sense of freedom for creation in the RCA is very valuable. I have explored different ideas and had the liberty and time to fully develop projects. There is a strong sense of community in IED. As a programme, it is very interdisciplinary, so there are always ways to share skills and collaborate; everybody wants to see everyone else do their best work.

Designing towards achieving your own personal goals is very rewarding, and the College gives you the time, tools and support to do that. I didn’t just want to come to the RCA and continue to do the same work that I was doing before; I was determined to make the most of my experience here. During my time here, my work has evolved towards helping to make a real contribution to society through design.

What are your plans for this year?

One of the best things about studying at the RCA is the space and freedom to pursue your own personal projects over a significant part of your second year. I realised in my first year I was getting more and more interested in projects that had real social impact. 

This year, I’m working on a wearable device for cattle that aims to neutralise methane emissions. The system detects methane from the mouth and nostrils and combusts it in real time, turning the gas into carbon dioxide and achieving an improvement on the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions of around 24 times.

The project is called Zero Emissions Livestock Project (ZELP) and it’s getting a lot of traction from professionals in the field of methane mitigation. I have established contact with different governmental institutions in Argentina, and have been working with scientists, engineers and livestock farmers throughout the project’s lifespan. I’m working towards developing a fully functional product by the end of the MA and am also developing a ‘carbon reduced’ label, which aims to generate a higher selling value to producers, promote subsidies from governments, and stay ahead of taxes related to GHG emissions.

"For me, the sense of freedom for creation in the RCA is very valuable. I have explored different ideas and had the liberty and time to fully develop projects. There is a strong sense of community in IED."
Francisco Norris
Francisco Norris