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Global Innovation Design (MA/MSc)

Mir Ahad Mahmood

Ahad Mahmood is an interdisciplinary designer and filmmaker from Pakistan, Singapore and New York. Prior to enrolling at the RCA/Imperial College, Ahad worked as a Director and Director of Photography in New York. Currently, much of his work focuses on two themes; food systems and the effects of personal technology. Ahad hopes to leverage his experience to help design for a more sustainable and humane future.


Experience:

Commercial Director & Director of Photography - Schrom & Co. - New York (2016 - 2020)

Director of Photography - Freelance (2015 - Ongoing)


Education:

Global Innovation Design MA/MSc - Imperial College & Royal College of Art (Ongoing)

Film and Television Production BFA - NYU Tisch School of the Arts (2012-2016)


Portfolio

Throughout my time in GID, I have been exploring questions about how we relate to the world around us. This exploration has taken place in two main subject areas; how our palate relates to our planet, and how our personal experience is shaped by the technologies that surround us. 


As the son of a chef, and subsequently, as a filmmaker specializing in food narratives, I am fascinated by the way our tastes and consumption habits impact the climate. While an individual’s habits may be a drop in the ocean, en masse, our appetite is pushing the Earth’s ecosystems beyond their limits. In my project, From Cell to Fork, I worked with researchers and chefs to create a cookbook of soon-to-be-possible recipes for Cultivated Meat products, exploring how a novel meat production method may enable a world where sustainability embellishes taste and opens the door to new culinary opportunities.


With AirWave and Technologies of Time Dilation, I sought to better understand the politics of our technologies, particularly the now-ubiquitous-smartphone. Pulling upon 20th century media theorists, I tried to demystify some of the power dynamics between us and object, exploring how we are not often in the position of control we like to think we are in. AirWave picks up where Technologies of Time Dilation left off, imagining a suite of critical design objects that ask the audience about the lengths we will go through to adapt ourselves to suit our devices.


I came to GID looking to expand my practice beyond filmmaking and to explore how I may create work that has a positive impact on people and planet. As I continue this journey, I hope to build upon the themes I have been exploring and create things that push us towards a more sustainable food system and a more humane technological ecosystem.

From theory to design — AirWave began where my Critical and Historical Studies dissertation, Technologies of Time Dilation, left off. The dissertation examined how various technologies have influenced our perception of time and the precedence of political power that accompanies this influence. What follows is an extremely contracted window into some of that research, and my reaction to it. Ultimately, AirWave and Technologies of Time Dilation is an exploration in turning research and writing into an art and design practice.
The average person scrolls more than one hundred meters a day — Too often, we find ourselves looking up from the screen, disoriented and lost, wondering how we didn’t notice the room become dark. The smartphone undermines the faculties we use to derive our sense of time, making us extremely vulnerable to the device’s extractive attention-hacking practices. We do not have the autonomy we think we do. As I explored the power dynamics between person and object, I started to create speculative objects that bring that relationship into focus.
AirWave — AirWave is an experiment in turning my dissertation into a sardonic design proposition. In response to a research paper noting how smartphone use degrades respiratory quality, the object pushes the viewer to question how much they would be willing to augment their body to suit the needs of the device. Though this proposition may feel extreme, research demonstrates that we already shape our behavior, as well as our emotional and physical states to fit our smartphones.
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AirWave is the start of a series of critical objects designed to provoke the audience to question their relationship with their devices. Leveraging the visual language of tech advertising, the image hopes to allure the viewer in then subvert expectations. This exploration started as a way to better acquaint myself with speculative design and how to turn my critical writing into an art and design practice.


From Cell to Fork is a speculative cookbook that tries to frame cultivated meat as food first, technology second. — In order to bridge the gap between researchers and chefs, the cookbook explains the cultivation process in the language of the kitchen, and provides theoretical recipes of how a piece of meat would be made, then cooked. It details the process of cultivation from cell to fork. The book imagines pieces of meat that are theoretically possible, but are not achievable by traditional animal agriculture, showcasing how cultivated meat can expand our culinary horizons.
Research Led Design — Throughout the project, I consulted with scientists from the Takeuchi Biohybrid Lab to understand the process of cultivating meat and the world of possibilities. Similarly I worked with Chefs Daniel Soh and Iskander Latiff of Coriander Leaf Singapore and Chef Christian McConnell of San Francisco to conceptualize cuts of meat that could only be cultivated. With the chefs, I worked to understand their perceived barriers to using cultivated produce in their menus and where they saw culinary opportunities.
Meat that can't be grown in an animal — Chef Christian McConnell suggested creating a carpaccio dish that combined scallop and wagyu beef. One could culture the different tissues, and finish the process by co-culturing them together to create a carpaccio with a cohesive texture but a complex taste. This carpaccio would then be dressed with yuzu caviar and pink-peppercorn infused shoyu.
Pushing possibility — As I spoke with Chef Daniel Soh about the limits of conventional beef, he noted that it is exceptionally hard, if not near impossible to create a dish that is crispy. Together, we envisioned the Dandelion Steak, a cultivated piece of meat that integrates starch into the casing of muscle fibers. While this may be push the limits of possibility, it was important to us to create concepts that would encourage people to consider what meat may look once we remove the constraint of needing to butcher an animal.
An introduction to food of the future — Ultimately, this project is intended to serve as a handbook to introduce culinary professionals to cultivated meat. I saw that the narrative was being driven by silicon valley and venture capital groups, which ended up branding the produce more as technology than as food. I felt a culinary voice was missing, which is incredibly important if these are the people who will be introducing cultivated meat to the public. I hoped this book could help get chefs and restauranteurs excited about the future of food.
Clear Card — Clear Card is a narrative reconstruction tool that helps asylum seekers give testimony while automatically sourcing third party evidence that could be relevant to their claim. Intended as a guide to the emotionally demanding asylum interview process, Clear Card helps users give the right evidence to the authorities using machine learning to identify keywords and corroborate them with trusted sources.
Narrative Construction — The platform is built around an individuals testimony. Alone or with assistance, an individual would input key events in chronological order, uploading any digital or digitized material they have access to.
Contextual Narrative — The platform’s AI would identify keywords from the testimony, and use it alongside input dates and location to search through databases of trusted sources and intergovernmental reports. The AI would then pull possible matches that can help corroborate that the environment was as claimed, building a timeline of the contextual narrative that reinforces the testimony.
Interview Aid — Once the testimony has been input, and the applicant or legal council has approved the accompanying documentation, a Clear Card printout is generated. The Clear Card takes the form of an easy to print, black and white A4 paper that folds into a brochure. The sheet provides key information for the officer reviewing the case as well as serves as a tool to help the applicant navigate an extremely stressful interview.
Visual Timeline — The visual timeline helps map the key events of the testimony against the contextual evidence provided with the application. Hopefully, this will give the applicant something to refer to if there is confusion, as well as prompt them with key phrases if they are going through undue stress.

This concept was created in response to a sprint module on using collective intelligence for humanitarian causes. This concept is aimed at helping asylum seekers build credibility in the eyes of the UK government, which often rejects applicants on the basis of ‘lack of credibility’. Amnesty International found that up to 4 out of 5 rejected cases were overturned due to a flawed credibility assessment. Clear Card hopes to help prevent this in the first place.

While this concept is in need of significant development and expert review, it represents a dive into working with a sensitive subject and how one can use tech forward approaches to design for a more humane world.