Weekending 03182012

In Geneva, Nicolas returned from SXSW 2012 to give an afternoon workshop with students at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne (part of their semester project)… and work on the game controller project with Laurent Bolli. There’s indeed a new opportunity to show some joypads in a design exhibit. Since the official ones are currently on display at the Swiss Museum of Science-Fiction, there’s a need to find new angles… which we worked on last Friday. Apart from that, the book about this project is moving slowly (introduction ready, chapter 1 being half-baked) and we had phone calls with potential clients about ethnographic research for new product development.

After SXSW 2012, Julian headed back to Los Angeles Julian to jump back into working on the Project Audio stuff. Hardware for Marshall Stack should be done by the end of this week. There was also some work in the model shop to find space and make a business case for a new set of machines — a pick ‘n place machine for the electronics bay which will make assembly and prototyping cycles much faster. Otherwise, there was a fun interview on usethis.com.

And Fabien returned from vacation last Sunday.

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.”

Anyway..

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.

Weekending 26022012

Over here in Geneva, the Laboratory was involved in the Lift 12 conference with various activities. Fabien attended the event and Nicolas is part of the editorial team and, as such, he took care of one third of the keynotes presentations with sessions about games, stories, mobile and near futures. He also organized three workshops, one about networked data (with Interactive Things), one about location-based games (with Mathieu Castelli) and another one about foresight methodologies (with Justin Pickard and Anab Jain from Superflux). The week was therefore very active and it was a great event overall. Lots of encounters with good people, new ideas and existing memes (it’s now time to digest all of those).

Saturday was then devoted to a sort of pilgrimage at CERN with Lift12 speakers.




Well, here in Los Angeles we mostly were working on, oh — let’s call it Marshall Stack. It’s a Project. It’s another project along with Ear Freshener that belongs to the Project Audio Suite. It was some very pragmatic, tactical bits of work that we were doing which meant corralling the team, especially the instrumental implementors — the engineers. It also meant writing up a UX specification but doing it in a non-tedious but very clear way. No boxes and arrows. It’s narrative. It’s more a story than flow chart, which I like. My hope is that it engages people in a way that a story does, rather than making people’s eyeballs glaze over and close as a flow chart or wireframe potentially can do. There was some good, very promising engagement with the technology team who come across as confident and certainly capable. But there’s always that nagging concern that comes from a twinge of engineers’ over-confidence. When idioms like “we can just smash this”, “correct me if i’m wrong — but this smells like just a weekend project” — a little bell goes off in my head that is a mix of “great! this’ll go smooth” and “hold on..but *how and which weekend are we going to smash it?”

Part of the job of creative lead in this case is, I think, to run ahead of that end of things as, at this point — it’s the known unknown. Meaning — there isn’t certainty as to how to implement this although it is definitely possible — we’re not trying to get to Mars or make a cold fusion reactor in a mayonnaise jar. This is entirely doable. It’s now time (4 weeks), enthusiasm and motivation and quite a bit of good, engaging story telling that will put a lovely frame around the experience.

I’m doing some detailed logging of the evolution of Marshall Stack because I think there are some good procedural lessons in the project. The bump and shove of a project and where things get lost and where new things get found. The evolution of things from initial aspiration to a sudden simplification; how different aspects of a project get culled in the interests of expediency. Ways of communicating and sharing and discovering new facets of a concept. Etc. We’ll see. It’ll make for a good postmortem narrative, or whatever you’d call it.
Continue reading Weekending 26022012

Week Quotes: 19022012

Heard around Calabasas

compiled by Luke Johnson

* He’ll be here as a bit of a sanity check.

* It turns out business people want sex just a much as anyone else. That’s why they go to conferences.

* There is a feature called the hot babe alert.

* It’s the kind of place that sells knock-off Haines underwear.

* The ability to lie is important socially.

* This a bicycling studio not a golf studio.

* Child-proof has become adult-proof.

– Valentine’s Day is manufactured by Hallmark anyway.
– We should have bought them.

* It’s hard to celebrate (Valentine’s Day) when you have three kids and a sister-in-law in town with a six-month old.

* There are winners and losers in traffic control.*
((Heard during a studio field trip to ATSAC, the Los Angeles Traffic Control Center))

* It’s like World War II coffee, if you’re in the trenches it’s OK.

* We won’t be able to wordsmith our way through this one.

* It mounts on things, not people.

* All design projects are fragile by nature.

* It’s going to be a Ramen (noodle) month.

music played
Living the Vida Loca by Ricky Martin
Plus Rien Ne M’Etonne by Tiken Jah Fakoly

books recommended
The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles, Commerce, Culture, and Coolness by Steven Levy

Weekending 18022012

This week was quite active with Nicolas visiting the laboratory in Los Angeles. The main reason for this was a workshop about locative media for Nokia Advanced Design team in Calabasas. Two days there with good discussions about current projects related to this field of application. This visit was also the occasion to give a talk about his approaches and methodologies over lunch.

Nicolas’ presence in California was also the occasion to move forward on “Convenience”: a project we (Julian, Nicolas, Nick Foster and Rhys Newman) are working on about the main objects you find in kiosks and convenience stores. The stuff you find at the check-out of your local news stand/kiosk/liquor store can be seen as representing the evolutionary curve of all fantastical things. At a certain point of time they were innovative and now they wind up as 99¢ a pop, or 3 for a $1, &c. Verifiable or not, this is a curious perspective on the evolution of things from magical rocket science to banal disposable crap.

Based on this observation, we’re doing a bit of a history of those things from *today* and printing them in a Newspaper Club newspaper. The idea was to start from a limited list of items (from AA batteries to condoms, from Bic pens to lighters), have lovely little drawing of the things, a short description of each as well as a short text about their implications for the history of innovations. This material will be used very soon in a workshop about design fiction meant to focus on the future products one can find in convenience store.

After a quick hop over North America and the Atlantic ocean, Nicolas also spent the two last days of the week on a workshop at HEAD-Geneva with Etienne Mineur and Daniel Sciboz about pervasive games. The idea was to move forward with the game concepts that has been previously prepared two months ago. These games will be presented in an upcoming exhibit at Maison d’Ailleurs (the Swiss Museum of Science-Fiction) called “Playtime. And yes, this is exactly the same venue where the game controllers’ collection is going to be shown too.

While Nicolas was flying over the Atlantic, Rhys drove and Julian and his brother Marcus flew to the desert — Oracle, Arizona to be precise. Rhys and his 18milesperhour partner Brian road an endurance race — 24 hours in the Old Pueblo. Julian took the opportunity to stay up for 36 hours and photo document the conclusion of each lap of a couple dozen of the 24 hour solo riders, of which Rhys and Brian were two of 50-some Men’s Solo and 7 Women’s Solo cyclist.

In the meantime, Fabien was left alone in Europe to contemplate the results of produced by Interactive Things from our analysis of the mobile phone network activity in Geneva. The visualizations compiled in the Ville Vivante web site are now part also part of the streetscape of the city. This week, Nicolas will lead at Lift a co-creation workshop on the implications of this kind of materialization of network data.

Fabien also gave a class on the same matter with engineers, designers and journalist who follow a postgraduate course on Information Visualization at IDEC.

Weekending 12022012

This week in Barcelona started with the pleasure of having Quadrigram making the cut of the finalist of the Strata 2012 Startup Showcase. The tool is a couple of weeks away from seeing the light and the teaser video is now online. At Strata, I will present the tool with my friends at Bestiario right after my session on Sketching with Data.

On the invitation of Claro Partners to present the lab, I took the opportunity to present my experience working with network data, particularly focusing on the methods we employ to help innovate in the domain of ‘big’ data. Have a look at the slide deck: it starts with a reference to Napoléon Bonaparte ‘Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours’, goes through the uses of sketches as part of any creative work exemplified by Le Corbusier, and concludes with Picasso and the art of sketching.

Okay. What else? In Los Angeles, we used a solder paste stencil for the first time. Impressed. Good stuff. Definitely worth $25-$50. You can tell in this video I haven’t used solder paste in awhile..I forgot to put the proper hot, hot air on so I’m basically just blowing balmy air on the board. More practice, again. I have to say, the stencil is definitely a time saver. Although, I’m still going to get a big-ass pick ‘n place machine cause that’d make it even faster to get boards done. ((That’s EarFreshener up in that video, by the way.))


Nicolas came to town on Saturday and Sunday we went to the crazy flea market at the Pasadena Coliseum, home of the Rose Bowl. We found weird things and Nicolas found a fantastic mint-condition Polaroid in its crushed red velvet case. Lucky old salt. Prior to that, his week was focused on both phone call with Lift12 speakers and the final presentation for the head-mounted display project, which went fairly well. Results from this field study are kind of secrets so far but there will eventually be a publication about that.

Week Quotes: 13022012

Heard around Calabasas

You know I was just joking. I do read your emails.

Duncan’s not here, everyone take the week off.

I’ll be working with Jessica on hazardous waste.

Didn’t Hannibal Lector work in anagrams?

Every man goes through a beer making stage.

Germans are used to dubbing.

Do you believe there is an opportunity?
I always believe there is an opportunity. That’s why we are here.

Our target audience is effervescent, young, appreciates design, hyper connected, and pre-family. If you have a child that sticks you over the edge.

Did he come in with Victoria?
Pre-Victoria.

That’s not overly inspirational but that’s reality.

There is no good way for a man to ask another man if they want to go get yogurt.

What is the value to people? What problem are we solving?

There’s a scene in Batman and Robin where they cover their stomaches in buttermilk…

It’s so quiet. It’s like everybody took the day off.

Music Heard in the Studio
Wayward Angel by Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters
Baby One More Time by Britney Spears
Somebody That I Used to Know (feat. Kimbra) by Gotye

Week Quotes: 06022012

A new feature. I’m going to share the week’s quotes heard around the Advanced Design team studio here in Los Angeles. These come via the man with the ears for quotes, Luke Johnson who publishes them internally — or has been for the last few weeks now. They’re telling things, without telling things like — wooooo — secrets..And, they’re too good to let evaporate in the email-ether forever.

It’s a a yes week.

If I see something like a cake that’s not cut straight, I need to correct it.

Why can’t there be a Chief Emotional Officer?

I just laser cut leather, so if you smell burnt flesh…

(In snowboarding) It’s always, you should have been here yesterday…classic.

The night before a race I used to have a quiet moment with my bike. Now it’s on a hook.

8 hours, no tricks.

You look like a stylish young accountant.

That’s like the founding fathers saying “My signature looks bad, let’s start over.”

It’s funny, MP3 seems to be a dirty word now.

I am still having trouble understanding why we are interested in music and place.

Boring can be beautiful.

Tweaks are hard to value, especially in a big group.

This picture was taken in Scandinavia, in the summer, obviously.

The big picture will come by designing.

I don’t think there’s any real value in opening up kimonos yet.

I don’t read Luke’s email.

Weekending 05022012

In Geneva, where the cold winter is striking back, the week had been, for once!, very quiet with data analysis (head-mounted display project) and book writing (game controllers!). We’re also preparing two workshops for the upcoming Lift12 conference. The first one is about location-based games organized with Mathieu Castelli, who used to be the founder of New Game, a pionneer in this domain (they released Mogi, one of the first commercial LBG). The session will consist in a series of group activity based on Meatspace Invasion, a location-based game recently developed by C4M and Mekensleep. After a quick introduction about these, we will form groups who will test different combinations of game parameters. We will then go on the field in Geneva to test these scenarios and regroup after the game session to debrief the outcomes. The second workshop is organized with the friends from Superflux (Anab Jain and Justin Pickard). It’s called “Foresight suprise” and as the name indicates, I won’t tell much about it except that it’s going to be about futures and futurescaping.

Hi. It’s Julian. In Los Angeles last week we got back the PCBs for Ear Freshener. One thing that was wrong is I mucked up the holes for the little audio card that plops onto the controller card. It won’t go all the way through, but it’s fine for testing. I’ll also be trying out these PCB stencils for the solder paste process The entire week was devoted to audio design and prototyping and team wrangling, I’d say. Nick Foster was in the studio for the last few days of the week so we had time for planning the project, eating tacos, working on the future of the whoopie cushion and the like.

It was actually a bit of an existential week for the audio project insofar as I had to figure out what the fuck was up with a bit of anxiety I felt during the previous weekend’s bike ride. I don’t like anxiety on bike rides. It was best summed up as a consideration as to new team configurations and advanced design team best practices. The conclusion? In this particular Advanced Design team a few things happen. First, we are asked to put eyes on an existing project and help make it better than it would’ve been were it not possible to have an experienced team of thoughtful designers who are comfortable working in an unstructured. We are asked to work on new, emerging things that are being done in a traditional structured way. And we are expected to come up with new things. I’ve come to the conclusion that we treat the “asks” — the things that come from outside — with more urgency than the latter projects — the things where we’re expected to come up with new things. It seems that we respond to the “battle stations” klaxon as if it matters more than the things we believe in first. Those things disappear into the closet and desk drawers. Which felt a bit like self-loathing in a really horrid way. Like — when someone *else says jump, we jump. When we believe in something enough to jump, we sorta *shrug. Or put it to the side when a “client” asks for something from us, *even *when *we *don’t *believe in it.

(Although, have to say — not believing in something someone else is doing is often a great opportunity to collaborate to make it better and believable. Not to be too normative about it, but there are plenty of things that seem like lovely fancy door knobs with awesome new mechanics and latching technologies that someone will bring to us and basically ask — what sorta house do you think this should go on? And the problem is that the door knob was thought of without really thinking about either the house..or the people who might have to use the door knob and, pray — live in the house. That’s the curse of the technologists and accountants/business people and the opportunity for more collaboration with design from the get-go.)

I hope to correct this through the audio project because otherwise — what’s the point?

So, I’m treating this quite as if someone from somewhere else came down and “made” the team get to work. Which effectively they did. The team will consist of folks who can commit the majority of their time to the project — it’ll run short and sharp and be quite deliberate. Sorta no nonsense; no whining. Polite..but ruthless.

This week in Barcelona has been almost exclusively dedicated to Quadrigram performing some interface polishing and documentation tweaking with the help of Tim Stutts and Brava Büro. In the backstage, the pipes and wires are gently coming into place with some mind blowing resulting reaching the frontiers ‘Quine computing‘. All this will make sense in the near future.

I also took some time to step back and order my thoughts for an upcoming talk at Strata that will focus on our approaches and tools to work with network data. This week, I will test and rehearse a first iteration responding to the invitation to our friends at Claro Partners.

I will use our study hyper-congestion at the Louvre as one case study. A work that was actually featured yesterday in the newspaper El Periodico as a consequence of Yuji presenting some results in Sweden last week.

Finally, our measures of mobile phone network activity in Geneva have led to some beautiful visualizations and animations produced by Interactive Things. Keep your eyes wide open if you happen to stroll around the Geneva main train station during Lift12.

Weekending 28012012

Here in Barcelona, we continue fine tuning Quadrigram, with now a meticulous work on the coherence of pre-programmed modules the tool will provide to access, manipulate and visualize data flows. It also means some backstage cleaning and improvements of the engine that supports the visual programming language.

We have also been busy joining forces with our new friends at the user experience & data visualization studio Interactive Things. They have been mandated to produce visualization mobile phone network traffic and we do our best to provide the cleanest and more meaningful pieces of data. Their magic will be presented at Lift 12.

In the meantime, Yuji Yoshimura traveled to Helsingborg, Sweden to present at ENTER2012 a study of the visiting experiences at the Louvre Museum. His paper New tools for studying visitor behaviors in museums: a case study at the Louvre is the result of a collaboration between Universitat Pompeu Fabra, MIT SENSEable City Lab and us. It builds on the data we collected in 2010 to measure hyper-congestion phenomena in the busiest areas of the Louvre.

In Geneva, the week was focused on various projects. It was the last week of teaching at HEAD-Geneva this semester. Last Monday, I gave a course about innovation and usages and another one about design ethnography (which was actually made of students presentation). Tuesday was devoted to meetings in Saint Etienne (France) at Cité du Design, a quite big Design Center located in an old and beautiful manufacture. Then I (Nicolas) gave a presentation there about human-robots interaction (slides are on Slideshare). The rest of the week was spent in meetings with Lift speakers, students (time to discuss their masters thesis!) and watching video material for the current field study about head-mounted displays. The end of this project is pretty soon and we are currently working on the final presentation for the client.

In Los Angeles, Julian was a busy-bee trying to get PCB’s fabricated for the Ear Freshener’s