Pretty Maps – 20×200 Editions

Some of you may have noticed, mostly probably not — but the Laboratory has expanded its ranks. It’s starting to feel like a proper design collective in here. One of the lovely attributes of the people in the Lab are the broad sectors of activity they cover that doesn’t make it seem like they do a zillion different things, but do many things to work though a relatively core set of interests.

Take Aaron Staup Cope. He writes algorithms that tell computers what to do. He makes maps out of paper. He makes maps out of algorithms. He makes you think about the ways that algorithms can do things evocative of map-ness..on paper.

Etc.

What I’ve learned from all of Aaron’s exploits in Dopplr-land, Open Street Maps-land, Walking Maps-land is that maps are dynamic, living things that should never be fixed in their format, style, purpose. They should never be taken for granted — even if the Google Map-ification of the world is doing just this. They should come in a bunch of sizes and shapes and colors and purposes. Etc.

Check out Aaron’s 20×200 Editions of his Pretty Maps. Get yours. I did. LA’ll go on one side of the wall. NYC will go on t’other.

Here’s what they say about Aaron over on 20×200.

For now, let’s set our eyes West, on L.A. County. Like prettymaps (sfba), prettymaps (la) is derived from all sorts of information, from all over the internet. Its translucent layers illuminate information we’re used to relying on maps for–the green lines are OSM roads and paths, and orange marks urban areas as defined by Natural Earth. They also highlight what’s often not seen–the white areas show where people on Flickr have taken pictures. It’s an inverse of a kind of memory-making–a record of where people were looking from instead of what they were looking at, as they sought to remember a specific place and time.

Interaction Awards 2012: Drift Deck for People's Choice

Drift Deck is up for the IxDA Interaction Awards in the “People’s Choice” category. Which isn’t the “Jury’s Choice” but — whatev. It’s the People, so we’re hustling to make you, the People, aware of this chance for you to choose what is the Choice of the People. For Interaction Design Awards.

Please give it a vote.

What makes Drift Deck chooseable? Well — it does something different and provocative in the world of interaction design for the things we do when we’re going/finding. The canon of interaction design for what were once fondly called “maps” is pretty stuck in the mud. Nothing extraordinary going on there that you wouldn’t expect from the next generation of mapping things.

What we did with Drift Deck was look at the world a little sideways and imagine a world in which the map was a bit dynamic and the act of going/finding was a bit less, you know — purposeful in a tedious, dogmatic sort of way.

It’s an otherworldly map app, if you will. Drift Deck is meant partly to be pragmatic for those times I find myself somewhere and have no idea what to do if I have an hour to wander about. (Sometimes we all need a bit of a start, or a script to follow.) And of course, it’s playful in it’s nod to the Situationists and their experiments with re-imagining urban space.

The principles led directly from the Drift Deck: Analog Edition that you can find here and more here.

These are the kinds of projects we do here. They’re not “Conceptual.” That cheapens the hard work that goes into them. We write code. We do illustrations of things that get properly printed on big Heidelberg presses. We put together electrical components and have printed circuit boards made and populated with parts to create new sorts of interaction rituals, new sorts of devices — new things that are different from the old things. These are ways of evolving the ordinary to make possibily otherworldly, extraordinary things. They come from ideas that we then evolve into material form so that the ideas can be held and dropped and switched up, on and off to be understood properly.

So, just to be clear — Drift Deck isn’t a conceptual bit of wankery. It’s a thing that got made. Ideas turned into lines of code turned into compiled bytecode. Oh, look! It’s running on my iPhone! Doesn’t feel very concept-y to me.
Continue reading Interaction Awards 2012: Drift Deck for People's Choice

Sound Should Just Come Out Of It

I think going forward I should do a better job of talking around what we’re working on from a technical point of view, until such time as it’s okay to talk about what we’re doing from a principles, rituals and practices point of view. And, also — sometimes in the thick of a design-making-schematic-and-hot-air-baking fire-fight, I do something that I”ll likely have to do again, but without a good, thorough practice of writing things down to remember I, like..forget.

Here’s the thing. I’m making a little tiny audio device. It’s tiny and meant to be simple to use. Like Russell taught me — the thing about audio? You should be able to just turn it on and sound comes out.

I like that rule. That’s what radios used to do before all the knobs, settings, configuration preferences, long vertical scrollable lists and Internet connections fucked things up. You turn the little serrated rotary dial and *click* — radio sound. At worse? Static. But sound started. No swipes. No multi-finger gestures. No tyranny of the 10,000 hours of music & sound in the palm of your hand..and no idea what you want to hear.

There’s something lovely about that that is just pragmatic from an IxD and UX design point of view. I’m not being nostalgic.

So — translating this principle and making it active and not just a sweet, essentialist sounding statement into the guts of the things we’re making, I spent most of yesterday pondering how to make Ear Freshener exhibit and embody and be an exemplar of this design rule. Even to the point of saying, okay..no on-off switch.

Huh?

Yeah, well — the Ear Freshener has the advantage of being a plug-y thing. No speaker. It’s an intimate audio headphone thing. You’d only expect sound out of it when you plug in your headphones. Otherwise — it’s just a little thing that’s quite opaque. There’s only the tell-tale 3.5mm hole that indicates — audio/sound/plug-in-y-ness.

So — simple enough. I decided that plugging-in should equal sound-coming-out. That means that the plug action should turn the actual electronics on. In the world of audio connectors, CUI, Inc. is the go-to operation — along with what I’m sure is a thriving, teeming “ecosystem” of knock-off competitors who may even produce a superior product. They make all sorts of audio connectors for the world of audio devices. There’s a collection of them that have more than the three connectors that are necessary for a Tip Ring Sleeve style stereo audio signal, including the SJ-43614 which is a 3.5mm plug with four signals. The extra one switches from floating (not connected to anything) to ground (or the “sleeve” of the connector, which is normally connected to ground) when you plug a plug into it.

Brilliant. Something changes when you plug the plug into the SJ-43614. One of those signals on that connector gets shorted to the GND rail of the circuit.

Now..what to do with that state change in order to turn the whole circuit on and make sound come out of it with no fuss, no muss.

I pondered and scritched and screwed my face and looked for the answer somewhere on the ceiling over there. I thought of lots of overly-complicated things (as it turns out..in hindsight..) like using a low-power comparator to activate the chip-enable pin of the little 200mA step-up switching regulator I’m using so I can run the circuit off a single 1.5V battery cell.

In that over-designed scenario the NCP1402 step-up regulator is effectively the power supply for the circuit, which wants at least 3.0 volts to operate properly (and draws about 40mA). I can get an NCP1402 hard-wired to output 3.3v, although I may get the 5v version to have a bit more headroom with volume. In any case, this chip is fab cause you can take a little 1.5v cell and it’ll tune up the voltage. Of course, it’s not 100% efficient. Nominally, it’s about 80-ish% efficient at 40mA. So..you lose a little, but you can’t get something (5v) for nothing (1.5v) without giving up something in the trade.

NCP1402SN50T1 efficiency versus output current


So, I have a 1.5v battery of some sort which sits behind the NCP1402. The NCP1402 has an active high chip-enable (CE) pin that turns the chip on — effectively powering the rest of the Ear Freshener circuit. In my overly-complicated scenario, I figured I could use a comparator to sense when the 3.5mm plug had been plugged-into because that one switched pin would go from floating to ground. If I had a simple little 10k resistor between the positive 1.5v side of the battery, the comparator inputs could go on either side of that resistor, with the IN- of the comparator on the side of the resistor that would get shorted to ground when the plug is plugged in. And then the IN+ of the comparator would go on the side of the resistor that is connected directly to the positive side of the 1.5v battery. When the plug goes in, the IN- of the comparator goes to GND, the 10k resistor has a little, negligible-y minuscule current draw and the voltage difference between IN- and IN+ causes the output of the comparator to saturate to pretty close to IN+, or +1.5v. The NCP1402 chip enable would trigger (specs say anthing about 0.8v means “enable” and anything below 0.3v means “disable”) and the whole thing would turn on.

Click the image to expand it and make it easier to read. This is the lousy, over-designed circuit.


How convolutedly and moronically clever is that, especially when you stop to think (as I did, after proudly building the schematic) that you could just use that pin from the plug shorting to ground as a way to close the GND rail of the whole circuit. I mean..if you disconnect the NCP1402 from GND, it should turn off. Basically, it’d have no complete, closed, power supply circuit. It’s as if you pulled the battery out — or half of the battery out. Or ripped out the ground wire.

Anyway. It was clever to get all busy with a comparator and stuff. Simple’s better, though.

This is the simple, no-brainer one that eliminates the need for several additional components.


That’s it. I like the principle and I like even better the fact that I can translate a lovely little design principle into action — materialize it in a circuit that exhibits a fun little unassuming behavior. I can imagine this’d be a bit like wondering if the light stays on in the fridge after closing the door, you know?

So sound stops coming out, the circuit powers down and you no longer need an on-off switch. Stop listening? Turn off. So much nicer than long-press, id’nt it?

Why do I blog this? Cause I need to capture a bit more about the production of this little Ear Freshener-y gem.

Update


Here’s my update on the power circuit. I hope it works. I added two transistors in place of the comparator. The idea here is that the transistor on the right would switch the CE of the step-up switching regulator. When the base goes low — i.e. when the 3.5mm plug is plugged in — the switch opens and CE gets switched to roughly VBATT and enables the step-up regulator. For the transistor on the left, plugging in opens the transistor and VBATT gets connected to the step-up regulator and it, like..steps-up VBATT to VCC. When the plug gets pulled out and floats at VBATT, the two transistors saturate and are on. So on the right, CE is at Vce or effectively ground and shuts the step-up regulator off. The transistor on the left does similar and VBATT drops over R6 and VBATT_SWITCHED is at GND and there’s no longer any supply to step-up, even if the step-up regulator were enabled.

That’s the idea.

We’ll see. I haven’t computed the values for the discretes around the transistors as of yet.

Related — I’ve just sent off the PCB to get fabricated. It’ll be a 2-off prototype. I’m using AP Circuits for the first time because my usual go-to guys Gold Phoenix are off for the Chinese New Year and I need to get this done for some building & testing next week.


But I think I mucked up the CAM data files I sent them, which appear to be slightly different from Gold Phoenix. They want other stuff, like the NC Tool list which I’ve never sent to Gold Phoenix. I guess we’ll see what they say.
Continue reading Sound Should Just Come Out Of It

A Few Things The Laboratory Did In 2011

LOS ANGELES

Projects
* It was a year of mostly audio creations ahead and around of Project Audio for Nokia. Some very exciting little bits of design, fiction and design, fact. These will continue into 2012 with some more public than others, necessarily. The over-arching theme of creating a renaissance of Audio UX across the board and to say — listen, we’ve been very screen-y over the last, what? 50 years. Our screens a nagging jealous things. What about our ears? Has design fallen short in this regard and actually is design incomplete insofar as it relies so heavily on what we see and what we touch, sit in and so forth without regard to the studied appreciation and elevation of what and how we hear? Effectively, sound is an under-appreciated and, from within the canon of even just UX and Interaction Design — basically ignominiously ignored.
* Made a couple of little electronic hardware things, but not as much as I would’ve liked. An incomplete portable audio mixer; an incomplete portable Ear Freshener. Those’ll go into the 2012 pile.
* We worked on a bit of Radio Design Fiction for Project Audio at Nokia. The conceit was to work with and understand radio as something that possibly everyone did and had — rather than centralized broadcasting, such as big commercial radio stations — everyone had a radio and possibly radio was a viable and successful alternative to personal communication such that point-to-point communication (e.g. cell phones) never took off because a bunch of powerful men met in a high-desert compound in New Mexico and conspired to make Zenith and RCA the largest corporations in the world. Cellular never takes off and AT&T becomes a little lump of spent coal in the global economic smelter.

Presentations & Workshops
* At the beginning of the year was the Microsoft Social Computing Symposium. I went, and mostly listened. I think I got happily wrangled into facilitating something.
* There was the 4S conference where I presented on a panel to discuss the relationship between science, fact and fiction. David Kirby was on the panel, so that was tons of fun. Discovered this book: Science Fiction and Computing: Essays on Interlinked Domains, but then realized I had it already.
* I participated in a fun panel discussion for the V2__ Design Fiction Workshop in Rotterdam
* I went to The Overlap un-conference outside of Santa Cruz
* I went to Interaction 11 to see about the world of interaction design.
* Australian Broadcast Corporation interview on Design Fiction — Transcript and here’s the actual audio and stuff.
* Interview on Vice – Talking to the future humans with Kevin Holmes.
* Interview on Steve Portigal’s The Omni Project
* UX Week 2011 Design Fiction Workshop
* Fabulous Project Audio workshop in London with the fine folks at Really Interesting Group.
* And there was Thrilling Wonder Stories event at the Architectural Association in London in October.

That’s all the stuff that I can remember right now. I’ll add to it for the Laboratory log as things return to my memory.

BARCELONA

Projects
Our main investigation line on network data (byproducts of digital activity) brought us in direct contact with the different actors of the urban environment (e.g. city authorities, service providers, space managers, citizens) jointly exploring the opportunities in exploiting this new type of living material. Our projects strategically split into self-supported initiatives initiatives and client works with a common objective to provide new tools to qualify the built environment and produce new insights for its actors. We experimented complementary approaches with observations and prototyping mutually informing our practice. For instance, along our investigations we like to employ fast-prototyped solutions (see Sketching with Data) to provoke and uncover unexpected trails and share insights with tangible elements such as interactive visualizations and animation. We found it to be an essential mean to engage the often heterogeneous teams that deal with network data around a shared language. Practically, we teamed up with:

* A real-time traffic information provider to produce innovative indicators and interactive visualizations that profile the traffic on key road segments.

* A multinational retail bank to co-create its role in the networked city of the near future with a mix of workshops and tangible results on how bank data are sources of novel services

* A large exhibition and convention center to perform audits based on sensor data to rethink the way they manage and sells their spaces.

* A mobile phone operator and a city council to measure the pulse at different parts of the city from its cellphone network activity and extract value for both city governance and new services for citizens and mobile customers.

* elephant path is a pet project to explore the actual implementation of a social navigation service based on social network data. Would love to develop it more, automate it and port it to mobile. It won the 2nd price at the MiniMax Mapping contest.

Product
The second part of the year was also dedicated to collaborating with our friends at Bestiario to land a product that provides tools for individuals and organizations to explore and communicated with (big) data. Our role consists in supporting Bestiario in matching market demand with product specifications, orchestrating the design of the user experience and steering the technical developments. Quadrigram has integrated now our data science toolbox.

Presentations
* After staying out of the stage for most of the year (expect a lecture at ENSCI in Paris), I entered the polishing phase on the work with data with a talk at the Smart City World Congress.

Publications
* Our friends at Groupe Chronos kindly invited us to participate to an issue of the Revue Urbanism. We contributed with a piece on the ‘domestication’ of the digital city. I also wrote a text for Manual Lima’s recent book Visual Complexity. The text was not published eventually, but I appreciated the opportunity to write about my domain for a new audience.

We have been actively collaborating with academic entities such as:

* Yuji Yoshimura at UPF on a follow-up investigation of our study of hyper-congestion at the Louvre. The first fruit of this collaboration that also involved Carlo Ratti at MIT has been published in the ENTER2012 conference proceedings: New tools for studying visitor behaviours in museums: a case study at the Louvre
* Jennifer Dunnam at MIT for which we collected Flick data used in her Matching Markets project.
* Francisco Pereira at MIT for the article Crowdsensing in the web: analyzing the citizen experience in the urban space published in the book From Social Butterfly to Engaged Citizen.
* Boris Beaude at EPFL who helped us run a the co-creation workshop on open municipal data at Lift11
* Bernd Resch at University of Osnabrueck who spent endless hours developing and run models for our specific needs for spatial data analysis

and studios and individuals:
* Urbanscale for their effective and beautifully crafted maps
* Olivier Plante who designed Elephant Path
* Bestiario, the team behind Quadrigram
* Brava, our german graphic designers

GENEVA

Projects
* Three field studies about the appropriation of various digital technologies: Shadow Cities (a location-based game), 3D interfaces on mobile displays, the use of head-mounted displays in public settings. While the first one has been conducted internally (and will result in a presentation at the pre-ICA conference), the two others have been conducted for a French laboratory in Grenoble. Although field research about this has been conducted in 2011, it’s quite sure that the insights we collected in these 3 projects will be turned into various deliverables (speech, articles, report…).
* Interestingly, the Geneva bureau has more and more request for projects out of the digital sphere. This year we worked with a cooking appliance manufacturer, a coffee machine company and a electricity utility on various things ranging from new product development (the near future of …) to co-creation workshops or training the R&D team to deploy design research approaches (based on ethnography).
* I also took part to the “Streets of BBVA” project with Fabien, contribution to the workshop series about the use of networked data for a spanish bank.
* My second book, about the recurring failure of digital products, has been released in French. It eventually leads to various interviews and speeches (See below).
* For Imaginove, a cluster of new media companies in France, I organized a series of lectures and workshops about digital technologies.
* The game controller project is slowly moving forward (discussion with editors, writing, drawings…). Laurent Bolli and myself not only work on the book but there will be also an exhibit at the Swiss Museum of Science Fiction (planned for March 2012).
* I wrote a research grant with Boris Beaude (Choros, EPFL) about the role of networked data in social sciences. It’s a quite big project (3 years long!) and we’ll have the answer by April 2011.

Various speeches and workshops
* Des usages au design: comprendre les utilisateurs pour améliorer les produits, Talent Days, December 1, Lyon, France.
* Panelist at Swiss Design Network Symposium 2011, November 25, Geneva.
* Mobile and location-based serious games? At Serious Game Expo, November 22, Lyon, France.
* Les flops technologiques, ENSCI, PAris, November 17.
* My interaction with “interactions” in interaction design, ixda Paris, November 16.
* User-Centered Design in Video Games: Investigating Gestural Interfaces Appropriation, World Usability Day, Geneva, November 10, 2011.
* Fail fast. Learn. Move on, Netzzunft, Zürich, October 27.
* Wrong is the new right, NEXT 2011, Aarhus, Denmark, August 31.
* Robot fictions: entertainment cultures and engineering research entanglements, Secret Robot House event, Hatfield,, UK June 16.
* Tracing the past of interfaces to envision their future, Yverdon, June 9.
* Traces and hybridization University of the Arts, London, June 19.
* PostGUI: upcoming territories for interaction design, Festival Siana, Evry, May 12.
* The evolution of social software, April 7, Lyon, France.
* De l’ethnographie au game design, Brownbag Tecfa, April 15, Geneva
* interfaces & interactions for the future” Creative Center, April 8, Montreux.
“The evolution of social software”, April 7, Lyon, France. Gamification Lift@home, March 3, Lyon.
* Smart Cities workshop with Vlad Trifa and Fabien Girardin, Lift11, Geneva, Switzerland
* Culture et numérique : la nécessité du design, L’Atelier Français, January 27, Paris, France.

Teaching
* At HEAD-Geneva, at masters level, I taught a semester-long class about user-centered design (how to apply field research in a design project) for two semesters. This fall, I also taught interaction design and acted as tutor for 9 masters students (which is obviously time-consuming!).
* At ENSCI, I conducted two week-long workshops/courses: one about reading in public places, one about the use of rental bikes with Raphael Grignani (from Method).
* At Zurich school of design, I gave a day-long course and workshop about locative media last June.
* At Gobelins Annecy, I gave a three day course about innovation and foresight, last June.
* At HEG Geneva, I also gave 3 lectures about innovation and foresight last fall.

Weekending 25122011

It was Christmas Day when the week ended here in Los Angeles.

The week before, lots of fun stuff happened, mostly these two interviews.

One was with Steve Portigal for his Omni Project, called Creating Wily Subversions. Nicolas did an interview with Steve a little while ago: http://www.portigal.com/blog/nicolas-nova-scanning-for-signals/

There was also an interview I did with Kevin Holmes for month or so ago that I just found here: http://www.vice.com/read/talking-to-the-future-humans-julian-bleecker

Oh yeah — there was some general thinking about what goes on the project list for 2012.

Continue reading Weekending 25122011

Weekending 19122011

On the Swiss front of the laboratory (Nicolas), there is progress on the game controller project. Laurent and myself indeed met with scenographers in Lausanne to discuss the upcoming presence of the joypad collection at the Swiss Museum of Science-Fiction (yes, there is such thing as a Swiss Museum of Science-Fiction) in 2012. We chatted about the way the controllers will be presented, a chapter I wrote for the catalogue of the exhibit and also a new visual representation to be displayed as a complement to the devices. It’s the diagram that you can see at the beginning of this blogpost, designed by Laurent Bolli. What started as a book project is now slightly more complex with various artifacts like these. It seems that we’ll also sell the poster with postcards. We have the outline ready and part of the book is already written but the design approach we favored lead to intriguing bifurcations: it seems that every opportunity we get to discuss the joypad history lead to some new viewpoint that we try to express visually. And this representation then enables us to get a different perspective on the topic per se. Hopefully, I’ll write during the Christmas vacation!

Apart from that, the week was also devoted to a day of lectures at the Geneva University of Arts and Design. Monday was about interviewing techniques in field research and the afternoon about user participation in interaction design (from user-generated content to designing “hackability”.) This fostered an interesting discussion about repurposing and hacking. Students argued whether designing something so that people can create new features/functionalities is different than letting extreme users hack a system. What we agreed on at the end of the course was simply that those are different kind of possibilities along a certain spectrum… which allowed me to highlight the work of Michel de Certeau and the importance of observing peculiar ways to repurpose things in the environment (food for thoughts for designs).

And finally, I spend the end of the week conducting a field study in the train between Geneva and Zürich. The point of this project is to explore the use of (light) head-mounted displays used in conjunction with cell-phones. I can’t talk much about this but we’ll make things public at some point, perhaps an academic publication if time allows it.

At the Los Angeles Station (Julian) most of the last week was focused on a workshop at the Nokia Advanced Design Bureau where we had a wonderfully intense two day Project Audio workshop with our friends Tom Taylor and Phil Gyford from RIG. That was great good fun and engaging. Working with friends from outside the bubble of Advanced Design provides a bit of a checksum on the work. That’s to say — facing inward and not nearly as public about what we do and how we do it as we should be (and could be), bringing in trusted, thoughtful, engaged partners helps validate or repudiate the design we may *assume is fab, but may or may not be. With them alongside, we were able to move from some axioms and principles that came out of our first workshop in London a month or so ago to quite tactical plans as to how Project Audio moves forward in the 2012. Some more thinking, lots more making and some things that are very fast moving and involve multiple other participants who should be engaged in the design and making work. In between those two workshops we managed to find a way to work across eight timezones — and realized that the tools for doing so are a bit broken.

In other news, questions still abound in the Executive Floor as to when and why to make things become real produced things and when things are best as props and prompts to help shift and advance what design does.

On the one hand, making a “real” thing can be quite viscerally satisfying. You can say — “Look! I *made that thing hanging there on that rack in that box. I *made something that is real!” I understand that motivation. And oftentimes making that sort of real thing in that sort of real world is necessary because that, ultimately is how you make money to buy bread, if you work at a place where revenue is made through paying consumers. That’s good. And maybe along the way you’ve helped make people think differently about what can be in the world because many people? Well..many people consider least common-denominator crap like Color Changing Digital Alarm Clock Cubes is as good as it gets. And all good advanced designers aspire to advance that assumption and do things like set new high-water marks in the realm of little things that make the world just a little bit better.

On the other hand, making theory objects, props, prototypes and MacGuffin’s have the effect of poking and provoking the practice rather than the consumer — they are effective as ways of changing design in a wider sense because designers are the audience. They are potentially infectious and pedagogical. Of course, it is guaranteed they are incomplete almost by definition — you’ll never get the thoroughness and inevitable compromise that comes with tooling for manufacturing or constructively arguing with “The Business” about what this is and who it is for. The design priorities are sanctioned by the priorities of getting something that goes to the larger marketplace and you end up with a diluted thing that does/teaches nothing. I guess my point is that the prop can teach and the “real” (eech) thing has the potential to be a sad, diluted thing that eats time and money.

Continue reading Weekending 19122011

Weekending 12102011

On my side (Nicolas), the week was split between consulting (a workshop about social gaming in France) and different teaching gigs. One of them, at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), is a year-long course about designer’ approaches and tactics for engineers. We address various methods ranging from user research to prototyping. Given that the course lasts 3 hours per week and that we have not access to any studio facility, we have to do things in a pretty low-fi way. It’s challenging but very intriguing at the same time. This week the course was about mock-ups in interaction design and the role paper could play in this. Inspired by the Post-it phone approach developed by Matt Cottam at CIID, the students had to produce a quick and dirty mock-up of their project. The idea was that they had to rely on the results of the previous courses (field research, brainstorming session).

It was actually the first time I ever tried this approach and it went rather good. Using paper like this was both fun and engaging, especially because I asked students to act out the use of the device; one student being the computer (making audio sounds to mimick the interface), another being the user. This role-play was important as it enabled a “critique” phase afterwards during which anyone of us had to write down the pros and cons of the proposed system and present this to the user and its “computer”. Back to the laboratory, this ideas got me into listing a whole set of workshop activities and tactics that we can deploy on projects.

Over on this side of the world (Julian) most of the work was focused on getting some bits of technology to play together for the Ear Freshener concept for Project Audio. There are some fiddily bits that mostly had to do with not having played with Atmel 8-bit microcontrollers for a long while and their AVR Studio 5 having gone to edition 5 from 4, which meant upgrading it, which meant upgrading the other thing, which meant upgrading that other thing, which meant upgrading that one other thing, which meant upgrading Windows, which meant upgrading the thing that one other thing that didn’t want to upgrade itself, which meant planting my face in both palms and cursing lots of things. I’m also using this new debugger device — the AVR JTAGICE 3 — which as best as I can tell is a smaller thing than the huge AVR JTAGICE that came before it but otherwise the same. That’s finicky, too — but the single wire debugWIRE protocol for debugging is quite nice, although it can get you stuck in debugWIRE unless you know about the one little buried menu item to force the DWEN fuse to reset. That was another thing. I’ll have to do a little action-item post about the process of working with these new tools, for the tool-y people out there.

The result? Thursday night we had a functioning Ear Freshener (or should I say — EarFreshener?) in prototype mode, which you see above. It has a proper continuous adjustment knob that you might think is volume, but you’d be wrong. We went with the microcontroller to control the audio channel selection rather than writing code for the other device, which we’re definitely less familiar with. The extra chip and such won’t make a difference in scale or fitting or anything like that. The goal for this week is to produce some more audio and get Ted or Nick or someone to sit alongside and think about more of the IxD for the thing.

That was good progress by Thursday evening so I gave myself the rest of the week off and went to the Salton Sea for the afternoon.

That’s it.

Continue reading Weekending 12102011

Portals

 

I love the magically mundane virtual real world of Google Streetview, and like others I’ve longed for my 15 frames of blurry low-res Street View fame. So I’ve been wondering, how can I get into Street View without having to stalk the car and chase it down? Actually, I don’t just want to appear in Street View, I want to play in it and add things to it too. And I want to be able to invite my friends to join me on the street. I want to use Street View for more than looking at a random piece of the past. I want to use Street View as a place to make alternative presents and possible futures.

To help me fulfill this desire (and part of my thesis project), I’ve been prototyping magical portals to get into Google Street View.

I’ve also decided to launch a Kickstarter project to help take the prototype to the next level and see if other people might be interested in exploring this and other related ideas with me.

 

It turns out, making portals is also happens to be a good way to think about a lot of other things as well. For instance, why does the screen still feel like a glass wall between me an an interface? And how could I get around this wall in a fun and fluid way?

Lately, people have been really into using touch screens (pictures under glass) and gestures (lick a stamp!). But as cool as these things are, they still keep us on one side of the screen and the interface on the other. Not that I think we need to get rid of screens entirely and just have holograms in dark rooms every where. Screens are actually quite magical and we can take advantage of them. But what would happen if we could just make a little space for the real world between the screen and the interface?

Also, what other ways can we think about being co-present with people? There’s the completely CG virtual worlds, full of anonymity and low polygon fantasies. We also have plenty of banal desktop sharing and collaborative white boarding applications. Then there’s standard video conferencing which keeps people in their own separate boxes awkwardly avoiding eye-camera contact. And of course there’s always Real Life, but that’s bound by the rules of space and time. What if we could take a little from all these things and combine them into something that is both more real and more magical?

These are some of the things that I’ve been researching through making these portals. I’m not sure what other questions might come up as I move forward, but it’s a starting point for now.

If you’re interested in helping me explore these ideas while making these Portals, check out the Kickstarter project!

Continue reading Portals

Introducing Jayne Vidheecharoen

The Near Future Laboratory is going through a revamping and an expansion of sorts. There’ll be some changes for #2012 — new people, new projects, new initiatives, new strategies for global domination in the realm of thought-provoking unprofitable improbable unbuildable designed things.

First, we are all pleased to welcome Jayne Vidheecharoen to our little design laboratory. I had the pleasure of helping Ben Hooker teach a class Jayne was in at Art Center College of Design’s Media Design Program last Spring. Then we had Jayne as one of our summer interns at the Advanced Projects Studio at Nokia, which was tons of fun. She’s a really thoughtful playful designer now in her last moments of grad school at Art Center.

I’d like to say we sat down to chat cause we’re in the same city. But, as it turns out — we’re on opposite sides of the 5 freeway so we just did a little introduction Q&A by electronic mail.

> Q: Hello?
Hi!

> Q: Where’s home for you?
It was St. Louis. Then Seattle. Now it’s LA.

> Q: Describe your creative background? Where did you go to school? Do you consider yourself a designer? An artist? A maker-of-things?

I got my BFA in Visual Communication Design from the University of Washington, but then I also got into motion graphics after I graduated. And now I’m in the process of getting an MFA in Media Design from Art Center. So I like to consider myself a designer-illustrator-animator-maker-speculator, but maybe when I graduate I can just consolidate and call myself a Media Designer.

> Q: What’s the last book you read?
The last book I actually finished was “Hackers & Painters” by Paul Graham. But right now I’m in the middle of Jane McGonigal’s “Reality Is Broken

> Q: What’s the last “thing” you read?

Does checking my Facebook feed count? Otherwise, probably The Fox is Black blog, although I mostly just look at the pictures 🙂

> Q: Screen or sketch book?

Definitely sketchbook for thinking. (I’ve been using these sketchbooks for about 10 years and have gone though almost 30 of them so far..)

> Q: Who’s the last creative-type you creatively or intellectually fawned after?

Jonathan Harris! This summer, I got to spend an amazing week with him at his workshop in Colorado. After that I decided he’s my official creative and philosophical guru.

> Q: If you had a favorite color that would also be an ice cream flavor if you asked for an ice cream by color..what would it be?

Mmm. Tastes like magenta.

> Q: There’s a strong undercurrent of wry humor in your work. Where does this come from? Is it a conscious creative influence or way of addressing complicated, sometimes formative terse topics? Or does it help with the nervousness many people have with the subjects that you seem to deal with — life, technology, community, interactions with things and people?

I just like to make things that make me happy, and try not to take world too seriously. I also think a lot of the things we just accept as normal in life are pretty absurd or full of alternate potential. So sometimes just tweaking something exposes our expectations and ends up being kind of funny as a side effect. Plus, I think being a little silly makes these ideas a bit more approachable.

> Q: What do you imagine yourself as when you finish school?

Hopefully after school I’ll still be making fun things. I’d love to work with at a start up for a while, and maybe start something new with some other people eventually.

> Q: Is there a person who you consider a creative influence?

Everyone I meet influences me!

> Q: Do you have an influence that isn’t a person?

The Internet. I love the internet. Probably too much.

> Q: Is there a model for doing creative work that you like to think of while you’re doing, you know…creative work? Can you describe how you go from an idea to its materialization?

Sketch some things. Pick whatever idea won’t leave me alone. Prototype it. See what I think. Be sort of underwhelmed. Find an interesting nugget to save. Put the thing aside. Talk to some people. Look at some interesting things. Repeat as necessary until I’ve collected enough interesting nuggets to make something else from those nuggets.

> Q: How does your imagination work?

Mix cartoons I grew up with, videogames I use to love, and a dash of feminism.

> Q: Are you working on a curious project now?

I’m figuring out what to do for my thesis project so I’m sort of just quickly experimenting with a lot of different things. I’m still collecting nuggets so I can’t exactly describe it. Lately, I’ve been playing around with some of the amazingly boring things we take for granted every day: like email, presentations, google street view, and shared docs. I’m trying to liberate them from their “jobs” and see what other things they could be used for and what type of values I can promote through them. I think every experience we have online (even a really banal one) has the potential to be a “magic circle” and make our lives more enjoyable.

> Q: Tell me about Souvenirs From The Internet — those fantastic commemorative plates and pillows and stuff you did? Where’d that idea come from?

To be honest, I’m pretty sure the seed was planted several years ago after watching Harry Potter. Dolores Umbridge’s office walls were covered in plates with moving cats. And I remember thinking how amazing it would be to have my favorite internet-famous lol cats on plates like that. Fast forward to this spring where I started working on a project about the current excitement about 3D printing. I’m fascinated with it but at the same time it’s like we’re just getting excited about being able to make more plastic junk faster. But the fact that these printers are connected to the internet means they could print anything, which opens up a whole realm of possibility.

At first I imagined people would use it to print spam, like a 3D fax machine. Or, since every print is machine made and the craftsman’s mark is completely removed, maybe printed objects would be dated and valued by the type of internet junk embedded in them. Maybe not junk but actual internet memories. Maybe these objects could help us remember that time we went to the internet and saw that really interesting thing. And even though we all saw the same thing at different times and from different places, it’s like we were all there together. And that seemed significant enough to put on a plate, by commemorative plate standards at least.

> Q: Tell me about this Customer Service Romance project? How’d the idea come about?
It probably stems from my own relationship with my phone. I had a “dumb” phone at the time and I didn’t particularly care about it much. I would leave it at home all the time, rarely answer it, and forget to charge it. I sort of felt a little bad, like it might have felt like I didn’t love it. At the same time I was reading about Attachment Theory and how ambivalence could result in especially needy behavior from other people. I imagined my phone would probably come off as being pretty needy if it could communicate to me. And it seemed like the only way phones are really able to communicate to us is through the phone tree. But phone trees weren’t typically used to convey emotions and personal problems. So I thought, what if it was?

> Q: When you did Customer Service Romance, did you know you were basically prototyping what will happen when Apple’s Siri begins to suffer ennui?

I like that Siri is already pretty cheeky, I’d love to see what the “I’m too good for this job” Siri is like.

> Cool. Thanks Jayne. Welcome to the Laboratory.

Continue reading Introducing Jayne Vidheecharoen

Weekending 10232011

Okay. Maybe we will get back into the swing of the weekending note. This one won’t be comprehensive, but a note nonetheless to note a few things.

First, something I found while flipping through the Internet that got me thinking about using creative tension and inversion in the design fiction process and also connected to this Anthem Group, which has curious dispatches related to object-oriented ontology (which I barely understand) and Bruno Latour: this was an interesting post on the reason for having “intellectual fiends”. It helps me understand why, when I was studying Science and Technology Studies and just, you know…academic-y “theory” broadly, there was always this impulse to set ideas or discussions in opposition. To find ways to be critical of anything. Which gets annoying and I’m sure is the reason for general pissy-ness in the academic world.

It turns out it has its usefulness, if you stay optimistic and hopeful. It can be a way to move discussions always in some direction rather than allowing them to sit still and suffer the tyranny of undisputed acceptance. Of course, these things would always get quite squirrely — debates and the perpetual state of “crisis” over some theoretical position. That all becomes quite tiresome and you wind up with folks who are never, ever satisfied and always finding an argument to be had.

But, related to present work, it provides a logic for designing by inversion — taking the initial instinct or common assumption and then turning it on its head. I guess things like making physical, “embedded”, full-electronic prototypes rather than “apps” is one way of seeing this. Or doing the creative-opposite of something to really get into the *why of the natural, assumed, expected thing.

For example, when we made the social/trust alarm clock it was a way to invert commonly held assumptions about about the rituals of waking up in the morning. They don’t get inverted because we think the world should be hung upside down by its shoes — at least not routinely. But one can put “the normal” in relief by looking at things from the downside looking back up. Looking sideways. And it’s not until you actually *look at things through an unusual lens and make the assumption that the abnormal is actually “normal” — then you start seeing new curious opportunities and stories to explore that can then evolve and cause creative — rather than typical — disruptions that hopefully make the normal more engaging, fun, creative and curious.

Continue reading Weekending 10232011