Weekending 12062012

Nicolas: last week was quiet because of May 1st but I spent few days on different things. First, I worked on preparing a wall of game controllers with Laurent Bolli for a summer exhibit at mudac in Lausanne. Since the collection of official gamepads are already in Yverdon, we’re going to show the ones that reveal various aspect of interface evolution: personification (a pad with the shape of a game character), miniaturization (small pads), hybridization (the merging of a pad and a keyboard, etc.).

I also prepared the summer project at Art Center in Pasadena, discussing with potential interns there over Skype. The idea is to work on gestures and rituals in the 21st Century:

Teaching design ethnography and conducting various projects in this area, I am interested in how people use artifacts (digital or not). Especially given that it helps framing the design space, find some inspiration and understand people’s needs. But I am also fascinated by how exploring human practices can be a way to speculate about the future, in order to create design fictions.

This project is about gestures and digital rituals that typically emerged in the 21st Century : gestures such as recalibrating your smartphone doing an horizontal 8 sign with your hand, the swiping of wallet with RFID cards in public transports, etc. These practices can be seen as the results of a co-construction between technical/physical constraints, contextual variables, designers intents and people’s understanding. I see them as a very intriguing focus of interest to envision the future of material culture.

The aim of the project will be to envision the future of gestures and rituals based on:
1. A documentation of existing “new” gestures
2. The making of design fictions that speculate about their evolution

(“The Boat Of Love: Playing Disaster”, Franco Brambilla)

Finally, I went to Paris for a design jury at ENSCI and visited an interesting exhibit about steampunk and “yesterday’s tomorrows”.

Me? In Los Angeles? *shrug. Well – a bit of organizing of things for the Detroit Design Summit this fall. I’ve slowed down on the Ear Freshener for the time being as the Marshall Stack project’s first most refined prototype (of three different types of prototype) is completed and sent off to some folks. I wish I could say more about it — but, I will sometime later. There’s lots of good insights and experiences learned from that project.

But, on the other hand — I’ve been getting back into programming stuff, which has been torturous and fun, but mostly fun.

Also, some planning for a couple of talks and workshops coming up over the next couple of months. I want to try some workshopping techniques that Nick and I had planned for a team here — but that workshop got postponed. They are some fun but I think highly evocative approaches to designing new, disruptive things.

Here in Barcelona, we celebrated the release of Quadrigram, “The visual programming environment to gather, shape, and share living data” created in collaboration with our friends at Bestiario. The 8-months journey from shaping a software product to shipping it has been particularly gratifying. Aters years in academia and then consulting, it is a territory I wanted to discover, learning and applying new methodologies to create both from technological and user experience stand points. I will probably need to write a post-mortem to properly debrief the adventure. Expect to hear more on the subject in the upcoming weeks.

Weekending 03112012

All Nicolas has time to say is, “A quick trip to Montpellier for a workshop about locative media.” Well..maybe he’ll add more when he lands in Geneva, immediately goes to teach a class and then (tries) to get on our monthly Design Fiction teleco.

So, in the meantime, Julian will fill in:

From Austin Texas, Nicolas and Julian put together a panel for SxSW called “Mind and Consciousness as User Interface” for the interactive component of the event. What we wanted to do was show the cultural and technical trajectory and pre-history of this idea that we can control aspects of the world with our mind. But we wanted to share more than just contemporary ideas around this and definitely more than just the technology. Rather, there was an emphasis on the agelessness of this diea that one can exert one’s will to effect the world through thought. From the spiritual, to things like Reiki and Jedi Mind Tricks and global consciousness movements and human potential movements and the emphasis on the hubris of this — that *my thoughts and will can make the world change — this is a very human and somewhat desperate aspiration that we have. We did not want to under emphasize this important cultural and historial element of all the weird monkey-controls-robot-arm experiments. These are subsets of a rather troubling desire to control things. So — there’s that. And besides, Nicolas showed some fantastic imagery of brains with wires, while Julian recounted the cultural record of these things through some important science fiction films such as Brainstorm, Star Wars (“..these are not the droids you are looking for..” & “release him Vader!”), Surrogates and Black Mirror.

Scientific American had a nice little write up about the brain control panel.

Julian was in Los Angeles for a few days last week after the fun Design Fiction event in Tempe. But, while in Los Angeles, there was continuing work — ranging from slight panic, to great triumph — for the Project Audio design effort I’m calling Marshall Stack. Hardware is meant to be done by the end of *this week, which is fantastic considering its a six week project and the hardware guys started basically two weeks ago. Once we get the hardware in hand in the model shop — that’ll be a tiny little ARM-based board with a number of wires dangling off of it leading to switches and antenna — there’ll be much hand work to CNC the compliment to that hardware as proper industrial design. That’ll take another two weeks, I reckon. Handwork and all..

That photo? That’s the Slavinator/Slavinbot/Slavin Head used by the New Aesthetic panel to represent Slavin..who was not in attendane but meant to be. It was weird. And so was the panel, in a weird, super-awesome, lovely-to-see-and-think-about-things-this-way sort of way. It was an *awesome anecdote to the otherwise rough, only-partially-inspiring, over-whelming, too-many-people-trying-to-give-me-free-beer-to-pitch-their-wares kind of experience. This’ll be the last time for quite some time, I suspect. I may focus on smaller, lightly curated gatherings rather than the #everyone-come-and-do-stoopid-stuff-they-think-is-creative-like-have-homeless-people-wifi-hotspots-as-if-that-could-ever-be-a-good-idea.


Continue reading Weekending 03112012

Weekending 03032012

In Switzerland, after an hectic week with Lift12, Nicolas went back to design workshops with students. Last Monday and Tuesday, he gave a course in interaction design at the Geneva University of Arts and Design and supervised the last details of the Urban Games project with Etienne Mineur and Daniel Sciboz. The workshop, which started last fall, is now completed with eight videos that are going to be shown at the Playtime exhibit. They describe different scenarios for location-based games using the city as a game board, we’ll try to show them on this blog as soon as it can be made public. Overall, this workshop was meant to explore different game mechanics at the city level and how to go beyond existing archetypes in this domain.

Also, the very same exhibit will feature the game controller collection and Nicolas and Laurent Bolli had to check the final arrangements for the pads to be shown. The piece will consist in a big cabinet with 42 joypads (41 actually since the Kinect doesn’t have anything) to describe the iterative evolution of game pads over time. This portion of the collection will be part of a section called “Bodies and Minds”:

“game pads have been the traditional interface between the player and the avatar, the thread that entangles both bodies. In recent years, though, both the video game industry and independent artists and researchers have presented new innovative ways to strengthen the role of the body in game interaction. From Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect to more experimental corporal interfaces that play with notions of control and even pain, the future of game interaction will, no doubt, involve our flesh and skin in unexpected ways.”

At the end of the week, he went to Lugano (the swiss-italian part of Switzerland) for a talk about user research in design and to discuss potential workshops in this interaction design program.

Last week Julian spent a bit of time running the Marshall Stack project, which meant lots of semi-hands-on/semi-hands-off tasks. In the studio a very lovely little film was made to help communicate the project. As these things go, it wound help helping the core DRI’s for the project as well as those who are outside of it or just coming in from the outside and have no clue as to what we were doing. This is one direct area where Design Fiction film serves an extraordinarily useful role — it helps communicate in a way that words and discussions often cannot, or can once someone has seen the experience in a little film. It’s been very useful and well-worth spending about three-quarters of a day to produce. I’m excited about the development pace of Marshall Stack. The distance between the decision to do it, actually starting it formally, and our deadline has been aggressive — especially starting and the goal line. There’s something about the project and the way it is framed and the constraints put upon it to get to the core part of the UX — to focus ruthlessly on that core — that has some lessons to be shared post-launch. As well as some general observations about the nature of working on a rapid development project with a small team, where people sit, and how the collaboration unfolds that I’m looking forward to sharing when we’ve finished this up. I’m deliberately being mindful of the activities within the project and taking lots of notes so as to better produce a story about how you do this sort of advanced designing. I think that the core of the story will be about advancing design and not only the material design things we did along the way. Marshall Stack is one of those projects that has lessons both within and outside of it. By that I mean that it is attempting to advance what an organization does, but do so by doing the advanced, unexpected, weird things — but those things are actually viable things, not just exercises or substitutes for an unknown future-disruptive thing like a Lego brick or the generic stand-in, “the widget.”


Later in the week, I went on a one-day trip to San Diego to scope out some heavy equipment for the model shop — specifically for the electronics bay. We’re looking at Pick-n-Place machines so we can rev-up the rapid in rapid prototyping. (Now, it’s a daunting task to populate boards with SMT components that like to fly away and requires hours and hours of uninterrupted time to accomplish. The hours-and-hours is the operative term and right now I’m the only electronics guy.) A pick-n-place machine could be just the thing to make that job take on the order of tens of minutes rather than many hours/entire days — even for small numbers of multiple boards. (And we got a weird book — doesn’t matter but it’s called “Shatner Rules” — signed by Mr. Shatner himself..a perk of the APEX 2012 Electronics Manufacturing Trade Show!) Now if we can just figure out where this new robot will go in the already crowded shop..

At the end of the week, Julian and Nick (not Nicolas) met in Tempe Arizona outside of Phoenix. We were there to run a workshop on Design Fiction where we aspired to make a few little vignette-y films about the near future of the corner convenience store. This of course was based on the observation that many great innovations over the course of human history find their way into your corner convenience store — fire, aspirin, for example. Our question for the Emerge event was to project that observation into the future when all great things no matter how fancy or expensive originally, wind up with the net present value of 99¢ or 3 for $1.

Up North, Fabien went to San Francisco for a talk at Strata, the O’Reilly conference about big data and “building a data-driven”. He presented several projects conducted by the Laboratory and then took off for Maui for a well-deserved break.