“a Pop-Up Sensor Nail Salon”

"The Future of Wearable Services: A Proposal for a Pop-Up Sensor Nail Salon" is an intriguing design studio project conducted by Kristina Ortega at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, in the Media Design Practices program. It addresses the adoption of wearables, which shouldn't rely on a "one size fits all" approach as "context and specificity matter". Such starting point led the team to focus on nail art and how to embed sensors into layers of a gel manicure.

Useless Wearables (Photo: Kristina Ortega)

Useless Wearables (Photo: Kristina Ortega)

The website described the process they adopted:

For the first part of the lab we designed wearables with the idea that they would be "useless". This was our first version of our nail service, which we called "ritual nail". We experimented with form, 3D printing cats with LEDs embedded in them and embedding a nano pixel into the nail. [...] After our first round of making we decided to take a research trip to a nail art salon. While we were there we were fascinated by the process and negotiation that took place between the technician and the client. We really discovered the place of the service in the process. What would technicians look like in a electronically embedded salon service? The process of making prototypes, some with "sensor extensions" others made extremely brittle from the z corp 3D plaster printer. [...] We tested out five sensored options during a workshop/ user test [...] After user testing our early prototypes we decided that our project wasn't so much about the electronics embedded into nails, but more about the new services that will grow out of the need for wearables that can be specific and customizable. The new question is: who are the technicians in a new electronic fully customizable salon? We stopped looking for a solution and started looking for scenarios.


Why do I blog this? The topic (wearables) and the way it's addressed via nail art is interesting. I take the project as a relevant counterpart to lots of boring-and-utilitarian products or prototypes. Plus, the design process (with the useless-to-useful move) is curious, and somehow typical as an assignment.



queue norm

queue-mtl1 queue-mtl2

A fascinating line observed in Montreal, QC.

Why do I blog this? Simply because it highlights a cultural use of space that is different than other places.

“why we made this”


Why do I blog this? I'm not necessarily a big brand advocate, nor a fan of Lulu Lemon. However, I'm fascinated by the way their products come with such USP-oriented "why we made this" tags. Obviously, the answers are sometimes so-so (#1 and #3 overlap here) but I would certainly find fascinating to see ANY product around us with similar labelling. It's perhaps an intriguing assignment to ask workshop participants.

Resurgence of early software?

Currently reading “Software Takes Command” by Lev Manovich, i’m fascinated by the part where he explains the lack of interest about the history of cultural computing by our cultural institutions and computer industry itself. He explains that a possible reason for this lies in the absence of profits from the old software by current companies, unlike, say, Hollywood which "continues to receive profits from old movies as it reissues them in new formats (VHS, DVD, HD, Blu-ray disks, etc)”. The most intriguing part corresponds to this affirmation that I find super intriguing:

"given that consumer culture systematically exploits adults’ nostalgia for the cultural experiences of their teenage and youth years, it is actually surprising that early software versions were not seen as a market opportunity.”

I guess that’s quite common in the video game industry, see for instance the release of yet-another-version of Eric Chahi’s Another World, but what about other types of software ? What would that entail ? Which software would you pick?

Why do I blog this? Thats looks like a good design fiction angle, and alternatively, a curious assignments for marketing students: how would you sell the resurgence of Quark X Press and Mac Paint ?

Paper-based video games

"my son has limited screen time so he plays @PlantsvsZombies on paper" says Boian Tzonev in an insightful tweet.

"my son has limited screen time so he plays @PlantsvsZombies on paper" says Boian Tzonev in an insightful tweet.

At some point, I'll have to investigate this. A phenomenon that always fascinates me: how players use paper as a (brick-and-mortar?) substitute to video games when devices are not available, or as a complement (for taking notes, drawings maps, etc.).

Another example of paper video game found on boing boing

Another example of paper video game found on boing boing

Why do I blog this? This is definitely fascinating. Not just because you see kids' fantasies and ways to change mediums. It's intriguing because it reveals how a game mechanic, or a graphic pattern, circulates and mutates to create a curious experience. I've seen once kids playing together on paper and I enjoyed observing how they "filled the gap", how the absence of the mighty computer was turned into creative engine.

Plus, I find this interesting because it obviously leads to curious game design propositions, and bc it makes me think of how to take this into consideration in video game design itself: how would you enable the other persons around a player to use paper to improve the game? Can one create a game in which the person holding the controller needs a friend to use a hand-drawn map to help her?

Besides, no one here thought of booklets with video game grids, Zelda open world maps in B&W versions, Super Mario Sunshine levels... with weird paper game mechanics so that players can "interact" with them? I'm pretty sure this exist. The Star Wars starfighter battle book series is a good start but still...

Update: another curious example found here, it looks like UX prototyping.

Update: another curious example found here, it looks like UX prototyping.

Visualizing TV series

This month, I'm giving a workshop at HEAD–Genève with Frédéric Kaplan and Yannick Rochat about Information Visualization and TV-series. The idea is to show the students how to visually depict events, characters' network, geographical evolution, among other things in these shows... using various sources (scripts found in imsdb, subtitles, Wikipedia entries fan encyclopedia like wookiepedia, etc.). Some examples below we discussed in class:


Production of various visualizations, like the one below (Game of Thrones)

TWIN PEAKS 1990 on moviegalaxies


CORE-SAMPLE by Aurelien Farina:

This editorial and artistic project is based on the metaphor of "coring", a technique used for geological and industrial ground surveys. The project was elaborated as an application of the coring technique to a particular mass-culture production : the "Starsky & Hutch" TV series. The book consists in a number of chapters made of screenshots captured in the series' first two seasons (1975-1977) : all recurent scenes are gathered and accumulated in series of similar images.

Core sample

Core sample

Core sample

Core sample



"we need to talk" pages

"we need to talk" pages

Why do I blog this? Collecting examples for the coming days of the workshop: types of visualizations (social networks, maps), sort of data proposed (texts, images...), the type of analysis, etc.

“These machines can be a metaphor for whatever’s on people’s minds.”

A dialogue from Mad Men S07E04:

"Lloyd: These machines can be a metaphor for whatever's on people's minds.

Don Draper: Because they're afraid of computers?

Lloyd: Yes. This machine is frightening to people, but it's made by people.

Don Draper: And people aren't frightening?

Lloyd: It's not that. It's more of a cosmic disturbance. This machine is intimidating because it contains infinite quantities of information, and that's threatening, because human existence is finite. But isn't it godlike that we've mastered the infinite? The IBM 360 can count more stars in a day than we can in a lifetime.

Don Draper: But what man laid on his back counting stars and thought about a number?

Lloyd: He probably thought about going to the moon."

Why do I blog this? Just found this dialogue interesting as a metaphor for discussion in the 1960s about "computing" and the role of this machinery in society.

“Pop-up studio” manual

Studio D Radiodurans – Jan Chipchase's new boutique – just released an intriguing booklet called "Pop-up Studio: Designing The Design Experience".  It's basically a 43-pages guide that describes "how to run a pop-up studio, when and why it is appropriate, the trade-offs that need to be understood".



Based on various examples coming from Jan and his current/former colleagues, it's full of insightful material for design researchers, field explorers and people interested in product/service/strategy development. The set of tools and the approach explained in this book are meant to show how to manage "rapid immersion" into new cultural forms, people's practices and use that material to surface new ideas and designs. Lots of details are provided about how to do that and what it means practically (studio duration, use of space, budgets, check-lists, ...). It seems like a great companion to the upcoming "the field study handbook".

Why do I blog this? Definitely because I'm interested in others' methods, guidelines, recommendations and informed opinions. It's always good to take them as inspiration and cases to create one's approach. Plus it's related with a current project that aims at describing how designers repurposed ethnography in their own work context (book to be released in few months).

Collection, accumulation, compilation

Coincidentally, I received two magazines today about a similar topic: collection and compilation. The first is the last copy of The Wire, the British music journal; and the second is FACTA, a fascinating Brazilian fanzine about "gambiologia" (the study of creative improvisation and electro-digital DIY).

Transient Transient Transient Transient

"What is a compilation but a collection of similarities and differences? To compile is to suggest or imply that everything within it has something in common, whether it be a sound, a time, a place or a theme. The remainder is difference: the varying species of that sound, other elements in that time or place, alternative angles on that themes" describes Adam Harper in his introduction to the special issue of The Wire on compilation.

Why do I blog this? I'm curious about the role of compilation, collection and selection, mostly with regards to the analytical mindset of designers/artists and ethnographers. There's something in common here that should be explored, beyond the type of artifacts and cultural content that is collected. I generally work using aggregation of various types of material and enjoy this type of process. For instance, the game controller project was based on collecting actual game pads that we explored in conjunction with patents, interviews with designers and players, books about the history of video games... the careful compilation of facts, anecdotes, pictures, opinions, statistics and hypotheses created a curious assemblage that helped creating various intermediary objects (diagrams, genealogy trees, installation in exhibits) and two books.

The Smithsonian on Science Fiction, the Future and design fiction

The May edition of the Smithsonian has an article on sci-fi, the Future (capital F) and design fiction. Based on interviews with various science-fiction authors (Kim Stanley Robinson, Cory Doctorow, William Gibson, Ursula Le Guin, Ted Chiang or Neal Stephenson), this piece by Eileen Gunn highlights how the genre acts as a sort of laboratory and "how the task of science fiction is not to predict the future. Rather, it contemplates possible futures."

Interestingly, this article describes classical debates about the mutual relationships between sci-fi, science and technological research: the opposition between utopian and dystopian futures (as well as the acknowledgment that this dualism is flawed), the "where's my flying car?" frustration that some authors want to move away from, the need to embrace new visions of the future, etc. The paper concludes with this sort of summary of the role of science-fiction for society:

Science fiction, at its best, engenders the sort of flexible thinking that not only inspires us, but compels us to consider the myriad potential consequences of our actions. Samuel R. Delany, one of the most wide-ranging and masterful writers in the field, sees it as a countermeasure to the future shock that will become more intense with the passing years. “The variety of worlds science fiction accustoms us to, through imagination, is training for thinking about the actual changes—sometimes catastrophic, often confusing—that the real world funnels at us year after year. It helps us avoid feeling quite so gob-smacked.”

This piece is quite interesting. However, I'm not sure about the current debate on the importance of reading science-fiction in research labs ("Brueckner laments that researchers whose work deals with emerging technologies are often unfamiliar with science fiction.") Of course, I'm convince about Delany's quote above but I'm unsure whether this applies to ANY book, film, video-game or comic-book related with "the Future". Would the Warhammer 40K series of book really help like a JG Ballard novel? Besides, one might also argue that poetry or other forms of literature might be helpful? And why limiting oneself to this? Perhaps there are other ways to get this "flexible thinking" promoted by the authors there: RTS games or Eve-Online situated in a distant future might be relevant too. This problem was recently address in another article in The Atlantic. Robinson Meyer commented on Google's process for selecting Google X projects: "lt must utilize a radical solution that has at least a component that resembles science fiction.", to which the author wrote:

When we imagine a “science fiction”-like future, I think we tend to picture completed worlds, flying cars, the shiny, floating towers of midcentury dreams. We tend, in other words, to imagine future technological systems as readymade, holistic products that people will choose to adopt, rather than as the assembled work of countless different actors, which they’ve always really been. The futurist Scott Smith calls these ‘flat-pack futures,’ and they infect “science fictional” thinking. Science fiction, too, can underestimate the importance and role of social change. For every feminist science fiction writer or Afrofuturist, there is a still better-known member of the genre’s far-right.

Why do I blog this? I'm currently writing a book (French) about these topics, and such articles offer interesting parallel to my current thinking and projects carried out at the Near Future Laboratory.

For people intrigued by such material, these pieces should be read alongside Julian's essay on design fiction, as well as "Better Made Up: The Mutual Influence of Science fiction and Innovation" (Caroline Bassett, Ed Steinmueller, Georgina Voss, Nesta, 2013) and "Imagining Technology" (Jon Turney, Nesta, 2013).

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