Creating Fictional Data Products and Their Implications

Creating Fictional Data Products and Their Implications

When conceptualizing a service or product based on data, I first transform visions into a tangible visualization or prototype that anyone in a multi-disciplinary team can feel and understand. Additionally, I generally create Design Fictions that explore possible appropriations of the envisioned data product along its life. Taken together, prototypes and fictions present tangible concepts that help anticipate opportunities and challenges for engineering and user experience before a project gets even founded. These concepts give a clearer direction on what you are planning to build. They are a powerful material to explain the new data product to others and they act as a North Star for a whole team has a shared vision on what they might to want build.

Taken together, prototypes and fictions present tangible concepts that help anticipate opportunities and challenges for engineering and user experience before a project gets even founded.

This is the approach I aimed to communicate last week in a 5-days workshop at HEAD design school in Geneva to an heterogeneous group of students coming from graphic design, engineering, business or art backgrounds.

The syllabus of the 5-days workshop
The syllabus of the 5-days workshop

Part 1: Sketching with Data

Sketching with DataThe first part of the workshop was dedicating to become familiar with the theories and practices related to data science, data visualization, and information design. Along with Julian Jamarillo from Bestiario, we introduced different ways of extracting insights from data and convey a message effectively from the simple result of a collaborative filtering algorithm to the proper use of a map or a chart. The main objective for the students was to acquire a hands-on experience visualizing data and transform them into small stories.

The day of a bike sharing systemFor instance, through the manipulation of a real dataset participants apprehended its multiple dimensions: spatial, temporal, quantitative, qualitative, their objectivity, subjectivity, granularity, etc. It only took a full day of sketching with data with Quadrigram, for participants to start write and tell small stories about crime in San Francisco or mobility in Barcelona. Embedded as a data-driven web page, we motivated students to provide a critical eye on the current hype about big data: What are the limitations? Do they tell a story but not THE story? Consequently, we discussed the notions of trust, quality and integrity of the sources, the ownership of personal data, and the subjectivity in many design decisions to convey a message.

Through the manipulation of a real dataset participants apprehended its multiple dimensions: spatial, temporal, quantitative, qualitative, their objectivity, subjectivity, granularity, etc.

Part 2: Creating implications

Creating implicationsIn the second part of the workshop we projected into the future the datasets and their stories. We started to imagine a future service, product, solution that link data to fashion, entertainment, the environment, social relations, etc. Using an approach called Design Fiction, we encouraged participants to build elements of a possible data product without being too precious or detailed about them. The aim was to spark conversations about the near future of data, check the sanity of visions and uncover hidden perspectives.

A Design Fiction approach to bring a technology to the world starts by anticipating how people could co-evolve with it. Instead of designing for Time 0 (T) when people start using a data product or service, I believe it is important to consider the evolution of the user experience with its frictions, rituals, and behaviors at T+ 1 minute, T+ 1 hour, T+1 day, T+1 week, T+1 month, etc. until the actual end of life of the product (e.g. what happens to my data when I retire my Fitbit into my box of old devises).

The evolution of the user experience
The evolution of the user experience with its frictions, rituals, and behaviors at T+ 1 minute, T+ 1 hour, T+1 day, T+1 week, T+1 month, etc. until the actual end of life of the product. Inspired by Matt Jones’ Jumping to the End talk .

Hence, in our workshop, similar to Amazon’s Working Backward process of service design, we asked students to write first a press release that describes in a simple way what a potential data product does and why it exists. The format of the press release is practical because it is not escapist. It forces to use precise words to describe a thing and its ecosystem (e.g. who built it, who uses it, what does it complement, what is it built with?).

Writing a fictional press release forces to use precise words to describe a thing and its ecosystem. Quite naturally it leads to listing Frequently Asked Questions with the banal yet key elements that define what the data product is good for.

With the press release in hands, the next exercise consisted in “cross-pitching” their concepts for 2 minutes to each other. Quite naturally, from the questions that came up during the exchange some participants started to list the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). The FAQ includes the banal yet key elements that define what the data product is good for. That exercise forced participants to consider the different situations and frictions users could have along the life of a product.

As the concepts clarified, we sketched storyboards of use cases and mocked up interfaces that described in more details the user experience with the product. Finally, each embryonic concepts of data product became alive with the production of a piece of design fiction.

Creating implicationsIn Design Fiction, we use cheap and quick content production material (e.g. video, data visualization, print, interface mockups, …) to make things (e.g. diegetic prototypes) as if they were real. For instance, one student project took the form of the user manual of a smart jacket that shows how a customer should use it, what personal data are exploited, how the information is revealed.

This type of exploration serves to design-develop prototypes and shape in order to discard them, make them better, or reconsider what we may take for granted today. It served at considering the data product and its implications. The Design Fictions act as a totem for discussion and evaluation of changes that could bend visions and trajectories. They are some sort of “boundary objects” that allow heterogeneous groups of participants to understand with a common language the exploitation of data and their instantiation into a product or service.

Some of the created and discussed implications include the Fashion Skin jacket that explore through a user manual the affordance of smart clothes and how people might interact with contextual information. The press release says:

The Fashion’Skin, with its unique sensing and adaptive fabric, is a revolution in the fashion and the smart clothing landscapes. It is always accorded to the people’s feelings, the weather, or the situation, without compromise. The fabric can change its color, its texture and its form.

Others looked at the data intake rituals of the near future and the hegemony of mean-well technologies with Noledge a data patch that transfer knowledge on languages directly into your brain. Here is its unboxing video.

Almost all groups looked at the virtues and pitfall of feedback loops. For instance Real Tennis Evo for the Wiii that models data generated with Wilson-Sony rackets into simulations of one-self. The game cover advertises that “you can improve your skills by playing against your real self at home”.

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The next generation mixed reality tennis experience: Real Tennis Evo.

Data visualizations help extract insights, and prototypes force to consider the practical uses of those insights. Design fictions put prototypes and visualization in the context of the everyday life.

Take aways

Data visualizations, prototypes and design fiction are ‘tools’ to experiment with data and project concepts into potential futures. They help uncover the unknown unknowns, the hidden opportunities and unexpected challenges.

Data visualizations help extract insights, and prototypes force to consider the practical uses of those insights. Design fictions put prototypes and visualization in the context of the everyday life. They help form a concept and evaluate its implications. The approach works well for abstract concepts because it forces you to work backward and explore the artifacts or the byproducts linked to your vision (e.g. a user manual, an advertisement, a press release, a negative customer review …). Eventually the approach encourages considering the ecosystem affected by the presence of a data product: What do people do with it over time? Where are the technical, social, legal boundaries?

Thanks to Daniel Sciboz and Nicolas Nova for the invitation, Julian Jamarillo and Bestiario to share their practice and Quadrigram and the students of HEAD and HEG for their creativity, energy and capacity to leave their comfort zone in design, engineering, business and art.

Our Approach of Design Fiction

One of our objectives at Near Future Laboratory is to help carry Design Fiction to maturity and any interrogation or critique from the public is a source of reflection and an opportunity for describing our understanding as to what Design Fiction is, how it’s best practiced, and in what ways it can evolve.

We frequently receive requests from journalists, students, fellow practitioners and clients to describe Design Fiction and shed some light on our approach as a micro-multinational company. All the questions are legitimate as Design Fiction was, not a long time ago, still an emerging practice. We have gathered here a potpourri of the recent recurrent questions. Many thanks to their authors for their curiosity.

This is the Q&A on our approach of Design Fiction as of Summer 2015.

We are interested in foresight; futures research and in this idea that we can’t predict, but anticipate and speculate on near future worlds

Q — You are working on future exploration. How is speculation incorporated in your work?

NFL — At The Near Future Laboratory, three of us have a background in academic research, and one in industrial design, all with a proven experience of multi/inter/un-disciplinary work. We are interested in foresight; futures research and in this idea that we can’t predict, but anticipate and speculate on near future worlds. We grew interest in design and how designers work, and think there is a strong potential in connecting between these two fields, future and design. This appeared particularly true with the recent increasing capacity to design, build and prototype tangible things fast and at low budget.

In 2009, we chose the notion of Design Fiction and began to develop it. We started to investigate how design can help to materialize and to make tangible scenarios about a near future by using very mundane artefacts that we can craft and design. We introduced and appropriated the term ‘diegetic prototypes’ to account for the ways in which cinematic depictions of future technologies demonstrate to large public audiences a technology’s need, viability and benevolence. These technologies only exist in the fictional world — what film scholars call the diegesis — but they exist as fully functioning objects in that world. For instance, we produced catalogs, newspapers or user manuals from the future, which are objects that could be designed to exemplify and to materialize these scenarios about possible futures for clients as well as for our own investigations.

Today, for each project we engage with a growing list of Design Fiction archetypes (e.g. unboxing videos, user reviews), we test alternative approaches, draw their processes and debate the best practices of Design Fiction.

Somebody’s future is somebody else’s present. We are particularly attentive to “weak signals” of the everyday life in form of behaviors, new rituals and frictions.

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Q — What is the difference between your work at the Near Future Laboratory and that of other more traditional designers?

NFL — We are a bit peculiar in our studio structure. We are what you might call a ‘micro-multinational’ company with headquarters in Venice Beach, San Francisco, Geneva and Barcelona. We came together through our academic careers, but mostly driven through our curiosities about the emerging practices of a peculiarly transforming world — the networked world. As academics, we were trained to question and interrogate emerging social, technological, cultural practices that we observed — and there were plenty of weird emerging social practices around the first, second and third dot-com events. Those observations led us to consider implications and consequences, and develop our own set of techniques for understanding and then communicating our insights.

The Near Future Laboratory crew

We are particularly attentive to “weak signals” of the everyday life in form of behaviors, new rituals and frictions. For instance in TBD Catalog we depict a fantastic near future translated into its inevitably fraught, low-battery, poor reception, broken firmware, normal, ordinary, everyday sensibilities. It is neither boom, nor bust. It is just the near future as if it was now.

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We have largely eschewed the traditional academic channels of research papers, academic conference talks and the like. Producing evocative little pamphlets, fictional product catalogs, software that is quite counter to prevailing intuition about what software should be, little hardware devices that are designed to be used less rather than more — these are the kinds of provocations we like to produce. Not academic papers or typical research studies. We found it more engaging and more to our own individual sensibilities to produce material that was available to larger, more public audiences. We also have a strong instinct towards making things — props, prototypes, objects, software, devices, films — that we felt told stories about implications of modern society more effectively than pure academic prose.

Q — Which are the steps of the process of thinking and designing a new and still unknown product?

NFL — Depending on projects and client, the starting point of a Design Fiction can be a new technology (e.g. self-driving cars), evidences of a practice (e.g. gestural interaction with technology), a vision described in a few sentences (e.g. the bank of the future), a full investigation (e.g. the future of water) or a whole field (e.g. big data in sport). Alternatively, we developed our own Design Fiction Product Design Work Kit  to help define the core elements of a designed product.

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Then we run materialization of conversations amongst a small group often composed of a mix of visual/industrial/product designers, makers, researchers, curators, creatives, engineers and writers. Together we express the pragmatic concerns, ambitions, fears, everyday needs and wishes of the inhabitants of some envisioned near future. Also, we consider the evolution of the ways and means of production of the near future, as well as shifts in the dynamics of creativity, law, norms, economic models, aesthetic, social and personal values and incumbent measures of cultural achievement.  We then turn talk into deliberate actions and artifacts (i.e. “diegetic prototypes”), that is material from a near future represented as fully functioning objects in that world: a product catalogue, a manual, an app, a Kickstarter, a magazine, advertisement, popular book review or cover jacket, news broadcast, talk show interview, unboxing video, medical prescription, a video showing a days in the life of a particular character, etc.

In Design Fiction we make implications without making predictions.

Q — What is the aim of designing products that do not really exist? Or asked differently, how do you know that the future will be approximately like the one you describe?

NFL — Design Fiction doesn’t so much “predict” the future. It is a way to consider the future differently; a way to tell stories about alternatives and unexpected trajectories; a way to discuss a different kind of future than the typical bifurcation into utopian and dystopian.

In Design Fiction we make implications without making predictions. We propose and build elements of a possible future without being too precious or detailed about them. Our aim is to spark conversations about the near future, check the sanity of visions and uncover hidden perspectives. Our work serves to design-develop prototypes and shape embryonic concepts in order to discard them, make them better, or reconsider what we may take for granted today.

For instance in our Pilot Helios Quick Start Guide, we consider what would be the experience of a self-driving car owner: when driving, no driving, when using the car in an automatic mode or not. We listed the main issues about how to adapt to that, the problem that may appear, the kind of regulation likely to be adopted, etc. Since we worked with a good group of 15 designers from various part of the world to do that, the answers were quite broad and enabled us to embrace a wide range of options that describe how such service may come to be.

The Design Fictions act as a totem for discussion and evaluation of changes that could bend visions and trajectories

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Q — In your Design Fictions, do you also take into account the technical characteristics of the products and services?

NFL — With our engineering backgrounds, we are fairly aware of the technical features of a device and the technologies that lay beneath them. However, technical constraints do not lead to fertile creative process and discussions. We do not stop to think that — because something is not technologically possible or too expensive today — it should be removed from consideration. What if there is a breakthrough or what is there are legal, social, ethical or economic changes that make a certain limitation become possible? We want our clients or the public in general to suspend their disbelief as to what is possible and focus on the implications for the company, a product, its customers and society in general, because our techno-cultural-political world is weird.

Our approach of Design Fiction is a way to perform “micro” future studies that pays particular attention on the everyday life and the standard objects or services that might fill possible futures.

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Q — What is your interest in using Design Fiction methods when it comes to deal with possible futures?

NFL — We do not position ourselves as “optimists” or “pessimists” when it comes to technological evolutions. We are not exuberant about the future of 3D printing, nor Google-powered autonomous vehicles. At the same time, we aren’t apocalyptics who believe Algorithms will lead us to Terminator-like smoldering ruin. We are not in the business of making predictions — rather, we make multiple propositions meant to lead to productive conversations about what’s next. Creating representations of our perspectives in material form produces these conversations and discussions. This is our goal.

To contrast with other similar design approaches, we think Design Fiction is a bit different from critical design, which is a bit more abstract and theoretical compared to our own interest in design happening outside of galleries or museums. Design Fiction is about exploring a future mundane. It tackles a future-oriented problem or opportunity with an everyday-object to address it to anyone who could be concerned in few years.

In many cases, time horizons of innovation have shorten and we believe that the 5-10-30 years timeline is no longer useful today

The old models of scenario planning from the mid-century and newer models referred to as design research from the late 20th century considered to future to be 5-10-30 years forward. In many cases, time horizons of innovation have shorten and we believe this timeline is no longer useful today. The effects of the network, the ways and pace by which ideas circulate, the availability of exceptional scales of funding and resources for even the craziest of ideas by very anxious, eager, intrepid entrepreneurs, the importance of “fixing” the world’s problems much quicker than 10 years — all of these indicate that we need a new set of tools to develop solutions to our ideas that don’t work at the old-fashioned scales of large governments and world organizations. We need tools, approaches and ways of thinking that are based on the pace of the modern human creative apparatus, that can find possibilities in unexpected places that are not known in advance. This is what Design Fiction is able to do and why it is an important creative design tool.

That being said, our interest is not to focus on abstract and theoretical perspectives, but rather to make people conscious about certain changes and opportunities. They can be technological, social or political. This goal makes us think about the right artifact or the right format to start a discussion with people about these stakes and uncover hidden perspectives. When we say people, we mean anybody, not necessarily specialists. Hence, we are interested in very mundane and banal type of artifacts to create this discussion. It’s not necessarily about making people believe that these things have already happened in reality, with a fictional product for example, but to raise awareness that there are weird possibilities and changes going on.

Unlike other foresight studies which remain generally quite polished and theoretical, we are less formal in our approach. We do not invest too much time in measuring and analyzing the macro variables of change, the “big shifts” or “large crisis”. We are influenced by design and have a more implicit way of operating that starts with finding the appropriate representations of a possible future. Our approach of Design Fiction is a way to perform “micro” future studies that pays particular attention on the everyday life (e.g. the rituals, the behaviors, the frictions), its short term evolutions (3-5 years) and the standard objects or services that might fill these possible futures. The Design Fictions act as a totem for discussion and evaluation of changes that could bend visions and trajectories. This emphasis on the relation of individuals with technology contrasts with classical future scenarios that analyze the world at longer terms and a large range of variables.

For our clients a successful Design Fiction means that they can feel, touch and understand near future opportunities and with convincing material of potential changes of their customers, markets, technologies, or competition.

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Q — You make your work public in museums, galleries, magazines and your shop, but is Design Fiction useful for companies?

NFL — We divide our efforts between self-initiated projects that we make public and private consultancy for clients. Projects like TBD Catalog showcase the influence of designers, writers, researchers, entrepreneurs, artists and engineers in our approach of Design Fiction. Design Fiction demands creative skills as much as a capacity to understand and analyze the world, technologies, people and its evolutions. Companies approach us for our multi/inter/un-disciplinary points of view as well as our ability to propose potential near futures. Their requests rarely specifies a need for “Design Fiction”. Rather, the discussion with clients often from R&D, Innovation, or Marketing starts with more specific needs around the development of new products or services and strategic choices related to them.

Design Fiction is one approach among others, but its contribution focus on the near future and is tangible. For instance, instance of participating to workshops of multi-disciplinary experts with a powerpoint filled with ideas for a technology, we propose to create the user manual for the envisioned product or produce a video that showcases how an employee appropriates the technologies with its features and limitations. These artifacts are meant to materialize changes, opportunities and implication in the use of technologies. They particularly point out details in situations of use with the objective to avoid a “general discussion”. For instance in our Quick Start Guide project, the outcome of that Design Fiction is not the guide per se. Rather the outcome is the discussions provoked by the many diverse “real” situations described in the guide and that highlight the challenges, the issues, the frictions and the necessity to think a service into its details.

For our clients a successful Design Fiction means that they can feel, touch and understand near future opportunities and with convincing material of potential changes of their customers, markets, technologies, or competition. For instance TBD Catalog is an alternative to traditional ways of imagining, constructing and discussing possible near futures. Rather than the staid, old-fashioned, bland, unadventurous “strategy consultant’s” report or “futurist’s” white paper or bullet-pointed PowerPoint conclusion to a project, we wanted to present the results in a form that had the potential to feel as immersive as an engaging, well-told story. We wanted our insights to exist as if they were an object or an experience that might be found in the world we were describing for our client. We wanted our client to receive our insights with the shift in perspective that comes when one is able to suspend their disbelief as to what is possible.

The point is to be creative, to discuss, to debate and produce artifacts

Q — In projects like TBD Catalog are the products already invented or did you thought about all of them? Where did you take the ideas from?

NFL — Ideas and concepts come from our research mixed with evidences, imagination and dialog between people of multiple disciplines and backgrounds. Because the future is unevenly distributed and somebody’s future is somebody else’s present it is common to stumble on some concepts that are already real products/services or Kickstarter projects. Our approach is then to consider what these objects, products or service might feel or look like in one, two or three iterations? Or how might people talk about them in the near future? We don’t actually care at all if our creative process comes up with some idea that someone else has already imagined, discussed, built or sketched. The point is not to be “the first” — the point is to be creative, to discuss, to debate and produce artifacts.

Q — Which kind of improvement could be brought to your approach of Design Fiction? For instance, do you look at methods and tools borrowed from ethnography?

NFL — In projects like Curious Rituals, we employed our expertise in ethnography particularly to study and understand people’s behavior, people’s habits and their rituals, with technologies . So far we have not used ethnographic methods after the production of a Design Fiction, but mostly before as a way to feed the design process. However, there is surely something interesting to think about, in terms of getting back to the people who shaped our perspective about the future and to explain what we did with all their insights. There is also room for exploration on that side.

The World Of Self-Driving Cars

It’s easy to get all..Silicon Valley when drooling over the possibility of a world chock-full of self-driving cars.

The fact of the matter is that a world where self-driving cars are a reality will be as prickly as the world today, only Algorithms will be the source of our frustration rather than other drivers..at least until the underground of self-driving car retrofits, mods and hacks come along and everything goes all amuck despite Google-Apple-Facebook-Amazon’s best efforts to convince us things are better..

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It’s easy to speculate breathlessly about the world of the future when the self-driving car is normal, ordinary and everyday. However, when an idea moves from speculation to designed product the work necessary to bring it into the world means that it is necessary to consider the many facets of its existence — the who, what, how, when, why’s of the self-driving car. To address these questions we took a sideways glance at it by forcing ourselves to write the quick-start guide for a typical self-driving car.

A Quick Start Guide as Design Fiction Archetype

To spark a conversation around the larger questions regarding a technology that could substantially change mobility in the future we followed a Design Fiction approach to produce this Quick Start Guide.

Our Quick Start Guide is a 14-page z-fold document from the near future. It’s a reminder that every great technology needs instructions for the uninitiated. That instruction may be a document, a tutor from a friend, ‘rider’ instructions — something that gives a feel of the things car owners might do first and do often with their first self-driving vehicle. Get your copy.

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This Design Fiction archetype is a natural way to focus on the human experiences around complicated systems. It implies a larger ecosystem that indeed may be quite complex. It also allows one to raise a topic of concern without resolving it completely — often an approach that’s necessary in order to not be bogged down in details before it’s necessary. For example, mentioning that it costs more to park your car rather than sending it back on the roadway as a taxi is a way to open a conversation about such a possibility and its implications for reclaiming space used by parking garages. In the Quick Start Guide, you will find:

  • What do you do if you forget a bag of groceries — or your sleeping child — after sending your self-driving car off for the evening to earn a few shekels in ‘Uber’ mode?
  • Is there a geo-fencing mechanisms to control where the car goes — and how fast it goes?
  • How do you activate and lock the “Child Safe Mode” for your teenage son to take to football practice?
  • Does it conform to ISO1851 Codified Child Rearing Mandates and Findings?
  • How does the car pickup groceries — and how do you upload the list — when you send it on errands?
  • Will you pick a car based on the size and features of its Cold-n-Hot Grocery Trunk?
  • What do you do when the display shows “Unknown Profile”?
  • Does your self-driving car obey the most recent DoT Emergency Maneuvers requirements?
  • How do you activate ValetPark®, Amazon PrimeValet®, EverDrive™, RE-FRESH™ and of course the agnostic Interior Ambience by Amazon®?
  • Which countries/protectorates/jurisdictions allow a total car history reset?
  • How to install your Dynamic Insurance plug-in from your insurance providers’ download site?
  • What supplementary fees does the car charge for using Apple Roadways?
  • And more…

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The Design Fiction Workshop

The Quick Start Guide was produced as part of a workshop at IxDA 2015 in collaboration with students from the California College of the Arts and conference participants. In a short amount of time, we  identified the key systems that implicate the human aspects of a self-driving car and we brought to life such experiences in a very tangible, compelling fashion for designers, engineers, gurus, and anyone else involved in the development of a technology. Through the collective production of Quick Start Guide it became a totem through which we could discuss the consequences, raise design considerations and hopefully shape decision making.

The Design Fiction approach led to:

  • Better thinking around new products, a richer story and good, positive, creative work.
  • Identify topics that may not come up when discussing the larger system.
  • Create rather than just debate, and represent topics concisely to focus the work and challenge us to describe features succinctly.
  • Experience the consequences and implications of a world with self-driving vehicles.

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The Assumptions

Visions of exciting future things rarely look at the normal, ordinary, everyday aspects of what life will be like to turn the thing on, fix a data leak, set a preference, manage subscriber settings, address a bandwidth problem, initiate a warranty request for a chipped screen or increase storage. It’s those everyday experiences — after the gloss of the new purchase has worn off — that tell a rich story about life with a self-driving vehicle. In this project, we made a few category assumptions.

  1. The self-driving vehicle is all about the data. When Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google and/or Apple become part of the vehicle “ecosystem” — either by making cars, having their operating system integral to the car, owning roadways or whatever their strategy teams are dreaming up — they will do it because #data. To them it will be about knowing who is going where, when they’re going there, to get what; it will be about knowing when your tires are wearing down; it will be to give you discounts when send your car to get Pizza Hut for dinner; it will be to have your car go through the Amazon Pantry Pickup Warehouse to do your grocery shopping. The data.
  2. As fundamental as mobility is to humans, owning a network of millions of interoperable vehicles is big business. Apple’s vehicle ecosystem will be always moving, as will Google-Uber’s. It will cost you more to park your self-driving car because it can earn money for them (and maybe you) by putting it into “Taxi” or “Uber” mode when it’s dropped you off at work. This led us to consider what one might need to do if one’s car has strangers in it while you’re at work, or the movies, or asleep. And what will happen to all those parking garages?
  3. Roadways will be the new platform play. How will (or will not) roadways that are owned by Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google and/or Apple interoperate? Will Google have the best, fastest, least congested roadways in Los Angeles? What are the consequences of switching to semi-partial manual drive mode? What happens when those Fast and Furious guys figure out how to jailbreak their vehicle’s OS and supercode the engine?

Get Your Quick Start Guide

To experience those assumptions, get the copy of your first self-driving car Quick Start Guide.

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Acknowledgments

The Quick Start Guide is a Near Future Laboratory project produced based on a workshop at IxDA 2015 in collaboration with students from the California College of the Arts and conference participants:

  • Rafi Ajl (CCA)
  • Phil Balagtas (GE Global Research)
  • Sankalp Bhatnagar (Carnegie Mellon University)
  • Julian Bleecker (Near Future Laboratory)
  • Maru Carrion-Lopez (CCA)
  • Wendy Cown (Charles Schwab & Co.)
  • Bill DeRouchey (Aviation GE)
  • Blake Engel (Nextbit)
  • Nick Foster (Near Future Laboratory)
  • Cristina Gaitan (CCA)
  • Susan Hosking (GE Global Research)
  • Shani Jayant (Intel)
  • Flemming Jessen (Designit)
  • Zhouxing Lu (Indiana University Bloomington)
  • Chris Noessel (Cooper)
  • Anna Mansour (Intel)
  • Nicolas Nova (Near Future Laboratory)
  • Angelica Rosenzweigcastillo (GE Global Research)
  • Margaret Shear (Margaret Shear | Experience Design)
  • Liam Woods (CCA)
  • Aijia Yan (Google).

Special thanks to John Sueda, Ben Fullerton and Raphael Grignani.

A fictional newspaper from 2018 that imagines possible futures of data and football

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How will the so-called beautiful game of global football be different in a world where sport itself, and the culture of the fans who love it, is altered by the rush of data, quantification, analytics and digital delivery? What might a high-stakes match of the near future be like when every move is measured, and every tactic forecast by silicon? What will the technologically savvy supporter and the lifelong fan alike experience differently when Big Data takes on the game?

Launched at the National Football Museum in Manchester last week, our latest project, Winning Formula, explores these questions and some of the more unreal features of data-driven football future.

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Winning Formula touches on more easily seen aspects of performance analytics, and new ways to depict and consume football in media, but also explores near-future possibilities hiding just below the surface, possible phenomena such as data manipulation as a kind of doping, the impacts of high-frequency sport betting, or politics related to data-based services like media, measurement and reporting. Commissioned by National Football Museum, Future Everything and CCCB, the result of our investigation takes the form of a newspaper sports section from April 2018. This hypothetical daily European tabloid called ‘Today’ is an exemplar of the way we use narrative and Design Fiction to create an engaging, thought-provoking perspective on a possible, plausible near future world that need not result in either a PowerPoint deck nor corporate white paper. The mundane form of a disposable daily newspaper, coming to you from April 2018 puts into the hands of everybody a possible day in the future when data, both large and small, alters some aspects of sports, from training to commentary, enhancements to prosthetics, rulings to viewing.

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Some implications that the newspaper highlights are:

  • New measures of player and team performances
  • Data manipulation as a form of doping
  • High-frequency betting
  • Communication (sensors, images) hacking
  • Enhanced data services (TV and games)
  • New language to describe players and their roles
  • Tactics, micro-strategies and their readability
  • A resurgence of the local, artisanal, working-class lager


When parents purchase the DNA kit that their kid’s route to athletic excellence


The Molecular Football™ algorithm automatically produces snapshots of systems and micro-tactics such as: The Born Again Christmas Tree, The Spinal Trap, Perpetual Motion, or Zugzwang

In this project we mixed foresight techniques such as horizon scanning and scenario development to capture weak signals and posit disruptions in technology and society with a design approach to create fictional narratives of the future that focus on the implications behind the signals. We applied unusual approaches to interweaving everything from raw videogame datasets to rich description of artifacts and advertising from a hypothetical future to forecasts about politics, genomics, law, finance, technology, ethics, and climate change informed our design of both narrative and visuals contained within the quotidian vessel of the newspaper frame.

Winning Fomula

The project will be exhibited at the National Football Museum in Manchester until April 3, 2014 as part of the Future Everything festival. Last Friday, it was inserted in 130,000 copies of the Manchester Evening News. It will be part of the Big Bang Data exhibition at CCCB in Barcelona from May 9 to October 26, 2014, and at Fundación Telefónica in Madrid in 2015.

Credits
Winning Formula is a Near Future Laboratory project commissioned and produced by FutureEverything, National Football Museum, Centre for Contemporary Culture Barcelona – CCCB, and Fundación Telefónica, supported by ECAS, a European Commission Culture Fund project and MEDIAPRO.

It is international, transdisciplinary effort that involved futurists, technologists, designers, and writers stretching from Europe, South America to the US, and is an example of a number of small practices and studios working in close collaboration. The project was conceived and directed by Fabien Girardin of Near Future Laboratory, and developed in tight collaboration with futurists Scott Smith of Changeist and Philippe Gargov of Seeklup. It was designed with Bestiario and includes the writing of Natalie Kane, Margot Baldassi, Christophe Kuchly and Valéry Mba Aboghe, and the translations of Eva Fernández García, Raphael Cosmidis with the help of Fanny Negre.

Untitled

Contribution to Ethnography Matters

I have recently contributed to the April edition of Ethnography Matters on Ethnomining and the combination of qualitative & quantitative data. My story describes the overall process of our work with sensor data at the Louvre Museum in Paris. I particularly focus on the importance of mixed-methods when its comes to give full answers about behaviors and people usage of technology.

Here is the full text: Insights from network data analysis that yield field observations.

Ethnomining

A Few Things The Laboratory Did In 2012

As the year ends, tradition calls for a review of the several initiatives we engaged in during 2012. The exercise entails looking back in time with the support social network activities and more personal logs to keep track of gratifying rencontres and significant milestones at the Near Future Laboratory.

BARCELONA

In Barcelona we spent the year “sketching with data”, an approach to innovate with data we presented in various conferences and institutions from the high-tech cabarets such as Strata in San Francisco; or Red Innova in Madrid to the more cozy settings of the IAAC architecture school in Barcelona. These speaking engagements were part of a polishing phase that reports on the our evolving practice fed by the accumulated experiences in producing services with data. For instance, we discussed our investigation on the roles of a retail bank in the ‘smart’ city of the near future. Our client had fairly good ideas of the potentials of a real-time information platform. This is the kind of service a bank is extremely familiar with. However, they had limited knowledge on the specific information that could feed and emerge from this kind of platform. As part of our consulting work, we regularly sketched advanced dashboard for participants of the project to explore and interrogate their data with fresh perspectives. The use of the prototypes helped the the different stakeholders in the project craft and tune indicators that qualify commercial activities. This experience still feeds the development of the client’s future services and products based on data.

Another gratifying outcome of the work around “sketching with data” was the release in June and November of the alpha and beta versions of Quadirgram (see Unveiling Quadrigram). The product resulted from a collaboration with our friends at Bestiario and responds to the increasing demand of clients to think (e.g. sketch) freely with data. The tool is meant to diffuse the power of information visualization within organizations and eventually reach the hands of people with knowledge and ideas of what data mean. We had the opportunity to influence many aspects of the product development and release process (engineering, user-experience, go to market strategy, client/investor/provider meetings) and now Fabien proudly sits in the advisory board of the company.

7513631392_f4fa8d162f_bOther fruitful collaborations took place along the year, each of them bringing their unique set of experiences. I am particularly grateful to have joined forces with Urbanscale, Claro Partners, Interactive Things, Lift, Data Side and Pop-up Urbain. While a good share of the work stayed within confidential settings, we reserved efforts for self-started initiatives such as:

  • Ville Vivante: an ‘urban demo’ that took the form of a visual animation and eight posters deployed at the Geneva central station (project led by Lift Conference, in collaboration with Interactive Things).
  • Footoscope: a deciphering tool for football amateurs developed in collaboration with Philippe Gargov of Pop-up Urbain. Its interface provides a perspective on the morphology and tactics of a football team according to raw data on its passing game transformed into indicators and visualizations.

Finally, we kept some quiet moments to contribute to academia with reviews for Sensors, CHI, CSCW and Just-In-Time Sociology, teach a postgraduate course on the design of ‘data services’ and published of the paper New tools for studying visitor behaviors in museums: a case study at the Louvre co-authored with Yuji Yoshimura, UPF and MIT on a follow-up investigation of our hyper-congestion study at the Louvre.

GENEVA

At the Swiss bureau, things were geographically a bit more complicated since part of this year has been spent in Los Angeles, CA for a visiting researchers’ stay at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

Overall, 2012 was split between four types of activities:

  1. Design fiction projects that aimed at proposing various near future worlds along with a reflection on technological usage. More specifically, we worked on three projects: Corner Convenience (the near future of corner convenience stores as an exploration of technological trajectories), Curious Rituals (about gesture carried out with digital technologies), To Be Designed (a design workshop that aimed at producing a catalogue of near future objects). What we learned in these projects is basically how futures research can take different shapes, how design can be an original language to rebuild a sense of the future and how certain objects can be brought to the table as “conversation-enablers”.
  2. Client projects: three (big) field studies in the US, Switzerland and France, a series of co-creation workshops, and contributing to the production of three conference proved to be very fruitful and satisfying.
  3. Teaching in different institutions: HEAD-Geneva (where I also obtained a research grant for a project about design and ethnography), ENSCI-Les Ateliers (for a workshop with Raphael Grignani), Les Gobelins Annecy, SUPSI Lugano, University of Montpellier.
  4. Book writing: the game controller book will be released in French in the coming days and Laurent Bolli and myself are working on the English edition.

2012 was also spent on the road with talks and lectures spent here and there, some highlights:

LOS ANGELES

* TBD/DTW
The bulk of the year from a Los Angeles perspective was spent conceiving, organizing and producing the To Be Designed / Detroit event. This was sort of a big deal for us. It counts as the start of a series of workshops that the Laboratory facilitates to both discover the material, designed, fictional props that are conversation starters for thinking about different kinds of futures.

While we are still working on the post-event production of a catalog from the future, the overall structure and concept was a significant goal of the event. What we wanted to do was create an environment where a group could “do” design fiction.

The theme of TBD/DTW was on the role of everyday, quotidian things that surround us. Without being normative about it — just the crap that sits in and amongst the significant infrastructure of life. Batteries, pens, knives, pool floats, outerwear, etc. These are the things that, for TBD/DTW, we focused on. In the near future we’ll cohere the workshop’s results in a catalog of these things. We’re still sorting out the precise production and publication.

DF-WK-tumblr_manyb3K5OT1r3ntzxo12_r1_1280

To go along with this goal of creating a workshop environment to do design fiction, we created a work kit composed of a some more everyday objects — a deck of custom designed playing cards, dice, note cards, a resource book, etc. The kit was meant to prompt the creation of unexpected future things through the combination and objects, attributes and design actions. Much like “Mad Libs”, but for objects. This was a theme generally last year — the creation of tools for the imagination. Resources that help prompt discussions and ideation. In the coming year, we’ll work on refining the work kit and testing it in other contexts.

Informing the workshop was the “Corner Convenience” newspaper and Corner Convenience film that we made for Emerge 2012. Rhys was the prime mover for the concept — to reflect upon the exceptional innovation that lives around us, even in the corner Quick-E-Mart or neighborhood bodega. We take for granted the things that are now 0.99¢ or 3 for $1. But many of those things embody incredible technical, scientific, logistical and manufacturing innovations that would drop the jaws of someone who travled forward from even half a century ago. For the film at Emerge, Nick and I looked forward to imagine what the convenience store of the near future would hold.

There were a couple of workshops and conferences. There was the Gaming the Game event at UC Davis in Davis California. And a fun workshop at the Walker Art Center on design fiction. Actually — that’s where I first tried this strategy of thinking through the ordinary evolution of things like garden hoses and digital cameras.

Also, did a workshop at the Anderson Ranch with Casey Reas on digital photography and Processing. That was fun. A good re-entry into the world of programming, which I’m continuing cause if everything goes to heck, it’s good to still be able to dig ditches.

Speaking of which, we’re continuing to develop the “Humans” app in the evenings. This is a way of getting back into programming but also with something I’d like, which is a way to get more of a Windows 8 style view onto my friends by aggregating their service “updates” and “status” and “photos” in one place, rather than having to go to services (which aren’t Human) first.

Year-Ending 2012

As the year ends, tradition calls for a review of the several initiatives I engaged in during 2012. The exercise entails looking back in time with the support social network activities and more personal logs (e.g. ical, emails) to keep track of gratifying rencontres and significant milestones at the Near Future Laboratory (see last year’s A Few Things the Laboratory did in 2011).

If this year had a mantra it would be: “sketching with data”, an approach to innovate with data I presented in various conferences and institutions from the high-tech cabarets such as Strata in San Francisco; or Red Innova in Madrid to the more cozy settings of the IAAC architecture school in Barcelona. These speaking engagements were part of a polishing phase that reports on the my evolving practice fed by the accumulated experiences on the ground. For instance, I discussed our investigation on the roles of a retail bank in the ‘smart’ city of the near future. Our client had fairly good ideas of the potentials of a real-time information platform. This is the kind of service a bank is extremely familiar with. However, they had limited knowledge on the specific information that could feed and emerge from this kind of platform. As part of our consulting work, we regularly sketched advanced dashboard for participants of the project to explore and interrogate their data with fresh perspectives. The use of the prototypes helped the client craft and tune indicators that qualify commercial activities. This experience still feeds the future bank services and products based on data.

Another gratifying outcome of the work around “sketching with data” was the release in June and November of the alpha and beta versions of Quadirgram (see Unveiling Quadrigram). The product resulted from a collaboration with my friends at Bestiario and responds to the increasing demand of clients to think (e.g. sketch) freely with data. The tool is meant to diffuse the power of information visualization within organizations and eventually reach the hands of people with knowledge and ideas of what data mean. I had the unique opportunity to influence many aspects of the product development and release process (engineering, user-experience, go to market strategy, client/investor/provider meetings) and now proudly sit in the advisory board of the company.

Other fruitful collaborations took place along the year, each of them bringing their unique set of experiences. I am particularly grateful to have joined forces with Urbanscale, Claro Partners, Interactive Things, Lift, Data Side and Pop-up Urbain. While a good share of the work stayed within confidential settings, I reserved efforts for self-started initiatives such as:

  • Ville Vivante: an ‘urban demo’ that took the form of a visual animation and eight posters deployed at the Geneva central station (project led by Lift Conference, in collaboration with Interactive Things).
  • Footoscope: a deciphering tool for football amateurs developed in collaboration with Philippe Gargov of Pop-up Urbain. Its interface provides a perspective on the morphology and tactics of a football team according to raw data on its passing game transformed into indicators and visualizations.

Finally, I kept some quiet moments to contribute to academia with reviews for Sensors, CHI, CSCW and Just-In-Time Sociology, teach a postgraduate course on the design of ‘data services’ and published of the paper New tools for studying visitor behaviors in museums: a case study at the Louvre co-authored with Yuji Yoshimura, UPF and MIT on a follow-up investigation of our hyper-congestion study at the Louvre.

Footoscope: a deciphering tool for football amateurs

Footoscope

Sports have always kept a tight relationship with data to measure performances. It has been particularly the case to improve athletes capabilities with motion analysis or objectify team sports that are easily fragmented into single events (e.g. Sabermetics). With new means of producing statistics through video and sensor technologies, other sports have started the search for objective knowledge. In the domain of football (i.e. soccer) companies such as Prozone and Opta Sports have led the innovation in data collection. In parallel, some academics have been exploring this new terrain to apply their statistics-led methodology (see A network theory analysis of football strategies). Similarly, designers have also started to transform these new measures (often in real-time) into sophisticated visualization to augment the spectator’s experience (see In-screen sports graphics).

At Near Future Laboratory, we regularly investigate the implications of the emerging presence of data particularly in the domain of the city and its services. Our work requires the joint understanding of space (e.g. a territory, its rules, cultures, history), of the networks that compose the space (both physical infrastructures and digital activities) and the human behaviors manifasted in that space. As part of our self-started initiatives, we enjoy employing these prisms to explore other intriguing domains such as football. In this ‘pet project’, we collaborated with the prospective consultant Philippe Gargov of [pop-up] urbain, connoisseur and writer on the use of statistics in football (see Passer aux stats supérieures) to augment his knowledge of football and tactics with prototyped visualizations that revealed the layout of teams through the average position of players, the key players in the passing game and the orientation each player gives to the game. We called this experiment Footoscope.

Footoscope provides a perspective on the morphology and tactics of a football team according to raw data on its passing game (e.g. passes between players, positions of the players when receiving the ball, playing time) transformed into indicators (e.g. “betweenness”) and visualizations (e.g. flows in the passing game, orientation of the propagation of the ball, layout of the team). We prototyped it with Quadrigram in order to share the tools with amateurs who want to become ‘footoscopists’ and decipher data on team they know or want to explore. We tested to tool with Philippe Gargov based on the raw statistics of the World Cup in South African accessible on the FIFA web site. Philippe did a great job in mixing his knowledge on the competition with the use of Footoscope. The results (in French) discuss, for instance, the key role of Bastian Schweinsteiger in Germany’s midfield that other players such as Stankovic or An Yong Ha failed to reproduce; or the incapacity for Switzerland to manage the distances between its lines. Read more (in French) on the Footoscope web site.

World Cup 2010 - Schweinsteiger
The key role of Bastian Schweinsteiger in Germany’s midfield, perfectly centered and well-connecter. More on Footoscope.

World Cup 2010 - Switzerland
The incapacity for Switzerland to manage the distances between its lines, with its defense and strikers compacted at a short distance. This contrasts with a more balance team that takes a greater advantage of spaces such as Chile below. More on Footoscope.
World Cup 2010 - Chile

Why do I blog this: Our pet projects are meant to explore new domains and ideas. Like other domains (e.g. cities, organizations) the analysis of football request the understanding of space, networks (data) and behaviors (observations). The collaboration with Philippe Gargov revealed some early insights on generating the dialogue between statistics and amateur knowledge of the terrain to produce a new apprehension of the game.