School of machines, making & make–believe

How can objects take on intelligences of their own? How can these intelligent objects in turn be used to create and critique how the future will be?

  • / UPDATED 1. April - 26. April 2019

  • / Four weeks, full-time in Shanghai/Shenzhen, China

  • / Special two-week option in Shanghai available

  • / Up to 10 participants accepted

  • / Program held in English

  • / With support from Seeed in Shenzhen



Made In China is an intensive four-week program led by artists and creative technologists from London-based VVFA and Automato Farm based in Shanghai, China.

The aim of this program is to enable a hands-on creative exploration of digital fabrication and Internet-of-Things connected devices, while gaining deeper insight into China's cultural surroundings from an inside perspective. What are the implications of a society that can manufacture any new product on demand? What can we learn from such an approach to society and to life?

Made In China will emphasise the learning and use of digital fabrication techniques to examine how technologically mediated interactions can produce emotional and empathetic responses. Once repurposed, they enable us to experience distant futures.

Note: This program will be taking place in two cities. The first two weeks will be in Shanghai, China, while the third and fourth weeks of the program will take place in Shenzhen, China. This is in order to utilise Seeed fabrication facilities located in Shenzhen.

Course Description

In this workshop we will design fictions and future potentials rooted in a solid reality, taking us on a journey from the possible, through the plausible, preferable (or not) and into the future.

We are interested in using design as an exploratory tool, in order to depict the possibilities associated with new and future technologies. Through an entanglement of narratives we will paint a picture of a tomorrow, imagining objects, artefacts, and systems starting from the very small and peculiar and reaching towards a broader, bigger picture. In doing so we will critique the cultural and social implications of these aspirations, whilst reflecting heavily on the present status quo.

Throughout the workshop we will explore critical and speculative design processes, enabling us to develop narratives, and tangible, accessible artefacts, experiences and environments with which to communicate and engage wider audiences with new possible futures.

Course Outline

Week I & II

Exploration of chinese present, in comparison with european preconception (and vice versa).

Collection of objects, materials and other ‘ingredients’ from locals shops and markets, to construct a context from which to design future consumable products.

Delving into theory and practice of the current state of IoT connected devices.

Rethinking IoT connected device methodologies.

Gaining an understanding of and experience with speculative design and design fiction methodologies.

Week III & IV

Exploration of production facilities / processes / critical design methods relating to production of goods and tools for imagined futures.

Design of objects to be produced in China as prototypes for future productions that could be elsewhere.


Documentation and archive of new objects.

Learning outcomes

Students participating in the workshop will be familiarised with some implications of current and foreseen technological developments. They will be encouraged to develop an awareness allowing them to take an informed critical stance which can be applied to their own design proposals.

They will learn methods for addressing and engaging with new and emerging technologies to prototype relevant, thoughtful futures while gaining a practical experience of a speculative design process.

With a focus on world-building and narrative development from a design perspective, participants will gain experience extracting and extrapolating pieces of these worlds while learning to communicate and disseminate these ideas through object and elemental development.

Hands-on experience of manufacturing processes in China.

Note: as part of our collaboration with Seeed, final projects will be fully documented on the Seeed blog.


  • Artist / Student (Full Time)*
    Freelance / Professional*
    Two-week Program (Shangha Only)*

  • Women and persons from LGBTQ+ and other under-represented communities in the tech field highly encouraged to apply!

    *Includes in-class materials, use of space, and professional mentorship
    *DOES NOT INCLUDE travel or accomodation fees

    Through Seeed, we are offering 2 tuition scholarships for women from China, Hong Kong or Taiwan. The closing date for the application is March 1st... 2 weeks to go! Please share this post with anyone who you think could benefit from it!

    To apply - for the program, or specifically for the scholarship, please fill out the form at (select which scholarship you are applying to in the PRICING CATEGORY section). More info on Made in China can be accessed on

In this course, you will be introduced to

- Prototyping as iterative design and development process
- Design, development and fabrication of physical mechanisms
- Integration of multiple materials and media to create interactive objects
- CAD design for fabrication: use of Rhino to develop 3D models suitable for manufacture with 3D printers, CNC machines, and laser-cutters
- Digital fabrication tooling, e.g. 3D printing moulds, jigs, etc.
- Basic programming using Arduino - motors, steppers, servos, sensors, LED strips, etc.
- Use and integration of traditional manufacturing processes alongside new technologies in creation of new objects/components.
- Experience with different materials, e.g. plastics, metals, rubbers, timber, etc. as necessary
- Presentation and communication of ideas and projects to an international audience.

World Creation

Using a speculative design process, we will conjure detailed timelines for alternative or possible futures. Using a collaborative world building process we will utilise the collective experience of the group to investigate and detail a potential future (and the many aspects and intricacies that this may incorporate). Working in groups we will develop thorough narratives within this world and create audio recordings starting to tell the stories we uncover.

Fabricating the Fiction – Reverse Archeology

Having developed the narratives of ‘a’ tomorrow during and following on from the first session, we will extract and design the iconic objects, artefacts or moments seen as pivotal, crucial and primordial to understand the history, customs, values, culture and technologies that are shaping this newly made world. These will culminate in the formation and documentation of a collective archive of objects and artefacts not yet invented, along with the audio narratives and context associated with them.

Inhabiting the Fiction – Situational Response

Following on from part two, we will invite participants to explore a series of specific locations and sites in order to create a live performative response to the world context developed in the previous section. Through this live response we can challenge and test assumptions and uncover new unforeseen aspects of the designed futures we have created.

Key Topics

Understanding the relationships and the parties involved in globalised production processes, and how these could adapt to new shifts in focus.

Scales of production. Asking questions such as: 'Where is the human?', 'What do we mean by ‘factory’?' and 'Can these positions be re-interpreted and re-addressed in accordance with new design and production ideologies?'

Language and terminology of processes and communication networks within the system.

What happens when something unexpected takes place? Could the glitch or error in the system offer a surprising moment of beauty within the globalised production system?

Who is this program for?

This workshop is geared toward anyone involved in creative projects (designers, makers, artists, musicians, performers etc.) that wish to begin incorporating fabricated objects, electronics, sensors, and connected devices into their work or practice. The course approaches these topics from a hands-on introductory level. No prior experience required.

Related Links

See some of the places we'll be in China and speculative projects by former students
~7 Hours in the Future: When sharing goes wild
Very, Very Far Away
The Frenchman and the Yachtsman: An interview with Andrew Friend and Sitraka Rakotoniaina
Interview with an Educator: About School of Machines

With Support from




  • Sitraka Rakotoniaina

    Born in Madagascar and raised in Paris, Sitraka currently lives and works in London. He is an Artist and Designer whose body of works ranges from fictional science experiments to speculative objects and devices. His work explores our relation to science and technology, encompassing cultural and social implications, as well as the beliefs and values intrinsic to their development. With a focus on the possibility of transforming individual sensory experiences, Sitraka often uses the human body as vehicle to trigger people’s imagination.

    He ‘crafts’ narratives through the conception and fabrication of objects and uses their ‘aesthetic’ qualities and theatricality as the foundations enabling a physical form of storytelling. Sitraka studied Industrial Design and Graphic Design/Multimedia in Paris, and graduated from the Design Interactions course at the Royal College of Art. He has worked as an independent Interaction Designer since 2006, with stints at Wieden and Kennedy in London and Phillips Design in Eindhoven. He currently lectures at Ravensbourne in London, in the post graduate department and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in the Designed Objects pathway of the AIADO department.

    His work has been shown internationally including venues such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, Venice Architecture Biennale, Saint-Etienne design Biennial, the Art Center College of Design. And recognised through awards and publications including D&AD, we-make-money-not-art, Axis Magazine, See Yourself Sensing by Madeline Schwartzman, etc.

  • Andrew Friend

    Andrew Friend is an artist and designer who’s work explores experience, and the relationship between people, landscape, and their desires. He is interested in the extraordinary, fantastic and desirable (or indeed undesirable) experiences and outcomes that may result from these interactions.

    Working through objects, performance and drawing his work aims to uncover, challenge and incite individuals in a quest away from their everyday, exploring the gulf between real and imagined in the individual pursuit towards a sublime.

    Andrew is co-founder of the international research platform and consultancy; ‘Very Very Far Away’, recipient of the Arte Laguna Prize (Venice IT), and teaches at Central Saint Martins and Ravensbourne colleges in London.

  • Simone

    In a future world of overpopulated, smog-filled cities and self-aware appliances, what will the everyday objects that frustrate and delight us—our gadgets—look like? Simone Rebaudengo, an Italian interaction designer based in Shanghai, isn’t just dreaming them up. He’s actually building the prototypes.

    He has been constantly speculating about those futures at Automato and, for the past four years, at frog, where he worked with Fortune 500 clients and small startups in bridging the gap between design research, product innovation and big delivery projects across Europe, Asia and Australia.

    His products and scenarios are believable enough to be real, but come from hypothetical and questionable futures. His research focuses on exploring the implications of living with networked and somewhat smart products that change, grow, and are intelligent enough to take their own decisions and show a point of view.

    He’s been teaching and presenting at CIID, SUPSI, China Academy of Fine Arts, Tedx, IxDA, SolidCon, Thingscon and Dconstruct. His works have been published internationally in Wired, Fastcompany, The Atlantic and Designboom. He has won numerous industry awards including two 2014 IXDA Interaction Awards for “Addicted Products”, and a 2015-2016 Internet of Things Award for Best Design Fiction for his “Ethical Things” project.