Missed Opportunity – A Crank on a Camera

An idiomatic miss here with this little, darling, silly little camera. First read says to me that crank+camera equals either, like..advance-the-image or, like..crank-the-moving-film through.

The Sun & Cloud is a unique and innovative lo-fi camera designed to take simple and creative images. The creator said it best: “We never wanted cameras as precision machines, rather we imagine the camera as a sort of sketchbook, something with which you easily record bits of your life.”

What strikes you immediately about the Sun & Cloud is its unusually cubic shape and the the folding hand crank and solar panel, already making this a camera not like others you have seen. Superheadz wanted to give users ultimate freedom, so they built a camera that can be charged without needing to be tethered to a wall. Even with a completely dead battery, crank the Sun & Cloud for just one minute and you’ll have enough juice for between 4 and 8 pictures. With three customizable quick access buttons, you can easily select your favorite color and B&W filters. The Sun & Cloud is philosophically pure, and the lo-fi photos it takes reflect just that.

I’d much rather that if my imaging thing is going to have a crank on it. Like a moving film camera. Or even a still image camera with a crank..that advances the film. A bit heavy with irony, but a better start at the least. There are all sorts of new practices for image making that would come from enforcing old, relevant mechanical rituals in the age of digital things.

The hug-chest-palmss-on-cheeks // isn’t it darling? sensibility of a camera that needs the sun to see makes me want to throw up forever.

I suppose the fact that this darling little thing lets me crank a bit to take a photo when, otherwise — a camera’s battery may’ve gone flat is a bit of a thing. Like, when I used to shoot with an old Nikon F2A, I always knew I could take a photo even if the meter battery went out because it’s 100% mechanical otherwise. But, still..

Continue reading Missed Opportunity – A Crank on a Camera

New Aesthetic // OOO // Future of Things

It’s very gratifying to see how the #newaesthetic discussions are popping and percolating across the networks. There’s something to it, I think. Specifically the observations that something here under the New Aesthetic rubric is worth considering, thinking-through, working-towards.

What is that *something? It is perhaps an aesthetic thing. Perhaps it is symptomatic of the whole algorithmic life thing. Perhaps quite a good bit of articulate insights and cleverly stated things by some smart fellas. Also, perhaps those fellas having the *gumption to get up and say some things in a highly entertaining way. Perhaps it’s the thing of a bit of well-deserved very vocal network meme pot-stirring. Certainly some combination of all of these and likely more, you know..things.

Giving a name to an observed phenomena to muster hunches and instincts and observations and focus the meaning-making of things helps to organize thinking around it. That’s the upside.

The downside is that the thing sort of reifies in a way that isn’t always helpful. Or, you know — when things get a bit too academic. Too yammery..less hammery.

Another downside? The art-tech wonks claiming they’ve been doing it all along — of course they have..of course they have..It’ll get worse when it gets theorized as an aesthetic. Then it’ll get all ruined. An aesthetic about the cultures we live in? How do you get to such a thing? Do you use a really tall ladder?

And there’s some linkage to the #OOO // Object-Oriented Ontology world. Ian’s book Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing points towards the inexplicable (as of yet) dark matter // God Particle // elusive ionized Bogoston particle behind it all, I suspect.

The questions that loosely link #OOO // New Aesthetic // Future of Things in my mind are still quite loose and inarticulate. THere’s something amongst them if only because they each point to “things” as having a sort of uncanny role in our networked world. They’re idiotic things, like Siri and algorithmic Cows. They’re the Long Follow Droid. They’re P.K. Dick style Dazzle Camouflage .

I’m trying to nail down the un-nail-downable. Clarity comes whilst in the middle of a night cycle when I’m utterly convinced of my lucid train of thought, which inevitably disappears into a “what? that makes *no sense” recollection after putting the bike away. But here goes..Questions that somehow wrangle these things:

* What are the ways our things of (presumably) our creation begin to express/articulate themselves in unexpected and weird ways? What is the catalyst for these differently animated, chatty things? Sensors? Networks? It’s been done before — talismans, tea leaves, idols, urns. We talk to thing and let them talk back to us, guide us from beyond. What different now? A bathroom scale that tweets your weight. Plants that yammer for water. I tried to figure this out a fistful of years ago when I wrote a short essay called Why Things Matter (The blog post was called A Manifesto for Networked Objects.) I’m not much further along in understanding why, but I think Alien Phenomenology is helping.

* What are these new things? They seem to be articulate enough to express themselves across the digital-physical barrier, in whatever way, with whatever assumptions one might make about the capabilities of the network+algorithms+human+imagination to produce collectively. When architecture expresses digital sensitivities in a physical way, should we be rolling our collective eyeballs at the irony? Or take it as a weak signal of systemic brake pads weeeing and screeching?

* Something is going on in the world of bespoke things, I think. Things made that capture sensibilities that are far away from what can be made en masse. What is that something-going-on? Is it an aesthetic? Is it new again? Is Kickstarter (uh..) equally #newaesthetic and #thefutureofthings an indicator that massively made is old fashioned and highly particular // nearly custom // curated is fun again?

* Things that live in the networked age and with the sensibilities and expectations we have now for what things are capable of, suggest something new is going on. Drones, wondering, autonomous, robotic vision (absent HAL-like autonomous / artificial intelligence), bots, droids, listening things. That’s weird. It’s uncanny. Unsettling and seductive all at once. Look at that droid following that dude. He can’t get away. I mean — if it’s lugging crap for me, cool, I guess. If it’s following me like a hungry, zealous, huge, disgustingly fast man-eating Possum..not so cool..

I think the #newaesthetic is best left as it is for the time being. A simmering stew of lightly curated matter scrolling by with a giant *shrug across James’ New Aesthetic Tumblr. Inexplicable, by definition. Lightly joked about. Sought out, hunted for, skinned and stuffed and mounted on the Tumblr by the rogue curious.

Please, don’t make me throw wet cabbage at you. It’s the symptom of the algorithm. It’s what comes out of the digital-political-economy of cultures that live by networks and the machinary (soft/hard/hashtag-y) that underpin it all. All this #newaesthtic #ooo #futureofproduction stuff is the excess. The unexpected, unplanned for result. It’s the things that happen without one self-consciously *going after* #newaesthetic / object-oriented ontological / future of network connected things sensibilities.

You can’t force this one. You can’t “do” New Aesthetic. It’s a Zizekian-Lacanian symptom of the networked world smushed up with overzealous design-technology and real aspirations to get things done. It’s horrifyingly beautifully unappeallingly seductive. It’s the nostril that must be picked. It’s the *shrug of bafflement upon seeing connected porn vending machines on a Lisbon Alto Barrio street corner with a screen built-in for watching right there. It’s what results from kooky, well-meaning stuff that gets connected, gets digital and gets inexplicable and comes out weird.

Design Fiction + Advanced Designing + Trust in Volume Quarterly

The most recent — now a month or two old — issue of Volume Quarterly was on the topic of The Internet of Things. And within that was a small sub-volume of essays and articles on Trust compiled by Scott Burnham who has been running a project called Trust Design for Premsela which I understand to be The Netherlands Institute for Design and Fashion.

((The Laboratory seems to be a recurring guest in Volume Quarterly. We were in one a couple of issues back — their issue on The Moon.))

Scott started his project on Trust just as we in the Advanced Projects (then Design Strategic Projects) Studio at Nokia were beginning a project with the same name and some of the same questions. One of our questions was to understand what Trust is and how Design can somehow illuminate where Trust exists and its paths and relationships. When I say “illuminate” the image that comes to mind is one of a special detective’s forensic UV light illuminating something under specific conditions that would otherwise not be seen. Or, in those weird 1950s era medical treatments in which a subject drinks some wretched fluid or is injected with something that shows the paths of digestion or the networks of arteries when shown under X-Rays or something. (Maybe it isn’t wretched, but the thought gives me the willies for some reason.)

In any case there were many facets of the Design work we did in the studio, one of which was this Alarm Clock which was meant to operate precisely in this fashion — to focus our attention on a simple interaction ritual in which we were forced to consider characteristics of Trust.

The essay far below below was my contribution to the Volume Quarterly issue.

But first..

There’s a thing or two to add as well, that have more to do with this particular way of doing Design — or Design Fiction. The process of *making these clocks — which were made out of plastic and aluminum and electronics and solder and all that — was only partially about the specifications that determined how those things would be configured. Beyond those pragmatic, specified things were the ideas we sought to force to the surface — the concepts that we wanted to make ourselves address and consider directly. The preposterousness of the interaction ritual that the alarm mechanism forces was a deliberate way of compelling us to think and talk and design for this ephemeral social bargain called Trust. There was no way around it. We couldn’t lose ourselves in the geekery of circuit design; or choosing a color for the LED numerical displays; of obsessing over compound curves in the industrial design of the thing; or fetishizing any aspect of the “Design” as it is traditionally understood — a material instantiation of an already-accepted and well-understood object. There’s not much movement these days in Alarm Clocks. They are what they are and the variations come in things like…size. Like…color. Like…brand. Like…AM/FM or longwave. Like…number of alarms. Like…style. Like…box-y or round-y. Etc. You get it.

You’ll get stuck with those sorts of boring variations if you think about Alarm Clocks traditionally. Rather, thinking *not about Alarm Clocks but about waking up, and the rituals around it changes one’s approach. All of a sudden, you’re mucking with tradition. You’re getting people upset. You’re not responding to the client’s brief the way they expected. You’re not just doing color and materials variations.

Pfft. So what? Well — looking at things a little sideways is, for lack of a better moniker, advancing design. Advancing it beyond the expected. Doing the Fosbury Flop for Alarm Clocks.

The other thing to say about the project is that the making of the thing — all that plastic prototyping; all that circuit design; all that figuring-out-of-colors-and-materials; all that CNC machining; all that figuring out of tool paths; all that figuring out of firmware and interaction algorithms..why was all that done? Yes, of course — to make the thing *work, in the plainest sense. But, more than that — it was all done to do the Design. The making of the thing is *also a way of doing the Design of the thing. We didn’t figure everything out and then said, “right. now we can make it!” The making was the designing. Assumptions and questions are raised. We interrogate our own ideas and create new ones, whilst making and building and handling material and trying out little scenarios. The peculiar nature of the clock was such that we had debates, one in particular was about what the display should do when the little keyfob alarm-buzzer part was removed to be given to a friend. I felt quite strongly that the display on the main clock should go off, so that you’d have to Trust completely the person who was meant to be your human alarm. Otherwise, you can wake up and check the time, which is an implicit way of not really trusting that human alarm person.

This was the bit of fiction insofar as a clock like this would be quite otherworldly. There would be a very different set of assumptions about how relationships work; about what waking up entails and what it is for (getting to a meeting on time; making sure the kids are ready for school; not missing a flight and all the weight and significance of what happens if you *don’t do these things when and what time they need to be done.)

It would be a very different world if we just *woke up when we woke up, rather than waking up to the same time nearly every day. It’s a slightly skewed universe that this clock came from, but it’s crucial to do this kind of design. Why? Well — it advances the realm of possibilities and begins one considering quite directly about creating new, more curious and sensible interaction rituals. It is also a way of advancing design — doing design differently; questioning and challenging assumptions not only of materials and colors and forms and such, which is good. But questioning the actions and rituals and behaviors of the humans, even to the point of something so seemingly absurd as waking up in different ways. This isn’t to say that people will want to wake up to other people knocking on their doors or shaking their pillows, but it forces a number of unexpected considerations and questions and new ideas that plainly wouldn’t come about if one just focused on different colors for clock displays or snooze button styles. Its a kind of advanced design that is able to engage in its topic by throwing out all base assumptions and free-fall a bit into a weird world and then *not allow the usual questions to arise. Sink into the discomfort zone and do some advanced designing.

How does the underpinnings of social relationships become a design principle? How does one design for trust? Can an intangible like trust become embedded in an object?

The principle that “theory” can be expressed in an object plays a part in this question. Substitute “Trust”, a kind of philosophical principle that is perhaps, in my mind, best expressed through exemplars that represent it, rather than the abstractions of philosophical discourse.

The topic of “Trust” presented itself in October 2008 with a tremendous force. The world rattled as global networks of “Trust” institutions collapsed on a scale that sent apcoloyptics scurrying for Old Testament passages consistent with the sequence of events witnessed across the globe. “Trust” became a keyword for these events as macro social institutions that were once “too big to fail” failed despite their size. These institutions that were once the bedrock of society cracked and dissipated and in their failure, revealed what Trust is, at its core. It is, of course – people and the networks of relationships that define what it is to be a social being.

In the Advanced Design studio at Nokia, we were curious about Trust and what it means. Trust is recognized as a core values of the Nokia brand. The worldwide events brought the topic to the fore and provided an impetus for a design-based experiment. Our question was — what is Trust and how could one design with Trust as a guiding principle? How do you embed Trust in the material of a designed object?

The project walked around the topic, building up the studio’s expertise on the topic through the Design equivalent of a “literature review”, both in the sense of readings as well as a more tangible equivalent. We collected essays and books and made things — objects. We brought in both internal to Nokia and external experts on the topic. A social psychologist talked to us about how ordinary people become extraordinary liars. We followed closely the daily events of the macro level systemic failures of insurance companies, banks, economies and entire governments.

Our goals were deceptively simple — to develop a set of principles that could become “actionable” and be “designed-to” in order that Trust could be embedded in the material of an object.

Amongst a dozen principles, one is worth highlighting and is best paraphrased and represented in one of our tangible exemplars. The principle goes something like this: facilitate the trust network — allow people to trust the people they already trust.

Our tangible prototype was, of all things — an alarm clock. We called it the Trust Alarm Clock. The design brief was simply to make an alarm clock that embodied the principle — an alarm clock that highlighted the idea that trust is a relationship between people. At the same time, it was a platform that allowed us to experiment with this simple principle. As you will see, it is an almost absurd object. But it was the response to the brief that we made, without questioning our motivations, but rather following our curiosity on the topic of Trust.

The clock is best described directly. It consists of two components. The main component is not unlike a conventional bedside alarm clock. The second sits nearly where one would expect the canonical “snooze” button of a conventional alarm clock. This second piece is a small, removable “fob”. When one sets the desired time to wake up, the fob is programmed with a digital count down timer. The alarm setting ritual starts when one sets the wake-up time using a dial on the back of the clock. While doing this, the fob timer is configured so that its count down would expire and the fob would “alarm” when the alarm clock setter would like to wake up. The ritual is completed when the fob is removed from the main component and given to a most trusted friend. In that ritual of handing over the fob, the network of trust is established and embodied. The “handshake” of the passing represents the creation, or the invigoration of trust in its most elemental form. Handing over the fob signals that there is Trust amongst this small, two-person social network. If one wants to wake up — or be woken up — one must first consider a number of things. Primarily — who do I trust to wake me up? Who would I want to be woken up by? To whom do I want to convey that I do indeed trust them?

Short animation of an interaction ritual.

We did not suppose that a bedside alarm clock like this has mass-market appeal. It’s a theory object — a way of questioning and probing and exploring the idea of Trust as made into this provocative material exemplar. In a way it is a bit of fiction, only not written, rather made as a physical object that compels one to think of the stories and “user experiences” that may surround it. The fiction is established through a provocation created through design practices.

Theory objects are like material instantiations of ideas — perhaps even our hopes and our imagination. Theory objects refract some social practice in a peculiar and hopefully thought-provoking way. They are “theory objects” in this sense, ways of shaping refining, refracting and altering social practice hopefully in a way that creates more habitable worlds.

The theory object is a way to think about “technology” as something that does more than utilitarian or instrumental. It is an embodiment of some sort of practice that is not outside of the realm of social action. In other words, the theory object is a social object — one that can shape and mutate social practice. Technologies are mutable. They can be what we need them to be, and shape how we experience the world and in that way, are social. What we are doing here is over-emphasizing this point by skirting around the usual assumptions about technology in order to make this point about their social nature more evident and obvious and provocative.

Why should we care enough to make this point that technologies are embodiments of social practice? Because we need to reveal the human hand in their creation and their possibility. Once we can see that people put these things together (and show this process plainly, through images and descriptions without secrets) it becomes possible to talk about how they could be different, or obey different laws and assumptions — possibly become more environmentally conscientious, or help us find playful ways to be more compassionate to mean people, or find ways to be kind to strangers (whatever..need some concrete examples, perhaps anticipating the projects.)

In the case of the Trust Alarm Clock, we were confronted with a rather exciting and unconventional direction for ways of waking up, which everyone does, with the regrettable exceptions, of course. The question evolves beyond *who do I want to wake me up, and who do I trust the most to, say — make sure I get up to make an unusually early meeting or airplane departure. Rather, through this theory object we were drawn into thinking about other *things one may wake up to besides the time of day. What sort of alarm clock might the near future bring that represents a trusted evolution of the waking-up ritual. Perhaps an alarm clock that allows someone in my networked social graph to wake me up. Or — are there things that I trust more than people in these circumstances? Somethings that are beyond the rather mechanistic and mundane ritual of waking to the time, which, after all — is not particularly exciting. Might the things that are more relevant or consistent with our connected age be what wakes us in the near future? In the near future, might we trust more an alarm clock that wakes us up when other people start waking up in order to facilitate that sense of being amongst a larger group of people who are also starting their day. Who are we to say that the now common ritual of waking to a specific time become as antique as luggage without wheels.

Nonobject Short Notes


Just some short notes for myself on this book NONOBJECT by Branko Lukic with words by Barry Katz and a foreword by Bill Moggridge. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Nonobject, a book that reveals quite a number of speculative objects — that are described as experience-centric design research that push the boundaries of possibility. The objects themselves do innovation through design beyond physical boundaries. As the New York Times describes it — the objects are about freeing form from function.

What I appreciate about the objects are the way they take a theme and then stretch it to extremes along a particular experience axis. For example, this set of flatware that has these very long impossibly thin handles to them — made of the impossible, whimsical material “Thinium.”


The book is chockfull of luscious renderings, gooey wordy designer-y descriptions of beautiful CAD models. There are beautiful human models serenely poised over expertly rendered CAD objects. The pages are thick and smooth, like pulled sugar-y ribbon candy. You want to lick the pages and their CAD models to see if they will have an impossibly rich, whimsical taste as well.

There are some curious things in here that tip into the realm of design fiction where the design actually brings me to the point of confusion, where I am unwittingly compelled to suspend my disbelief such as when one sees something and wonders if it isn’t actually real, already on Engadget. These are things that are just on the cusp of believability because they are consistent with the ways that ideas and their materialization evolve. Like — you could believe that a couple of future-forward thinking venture capitalists pooled $5 million to finance the design, tooling and short-tun manufacture of some especially curious bit of digital product concept work.



Most of the things in Nonobject deflect away from design fiction — at least the sort that closes the gap between idea and its possibility. They are truly more like speculative knowledge objects. Things to ponder over and go — hmmmm..curious. Nonobjects don’t make you want to do a google search to find out when the thing is going to be released, or search the leaked items on Gizmodo or something, or place a pre-order. For the Laboratory’s Bureau of Design Provocations, this sort of diegetic prototype is much closer to being there, in the world — than a gooey CAD render could ever be. Evolved visual literacy in this day and age does not CAD renders as much more than what is created by the designer, sitting with their modeling software, satisfying their primal designers’ urges to dream about a world in which everything looks like it should be moving very fast, or have organic, hand-made pebble-like forms, &c.

Some of the nonobjects tip into the realm of plausible. The “Behind the Scenes” camera tips into that sort of thing. A camera that captures what’s in front of the lens in a traditionally way — but also what’s behind. This is intriguing design fiction in that it seems quite possible, despite not existing. And it gets one thinking about the experience for people in the world, not just the form and un-functionality of a spectacular dinette set. But — even this makes one stop for a moment. Wouldn’t there be lots of photos of half of the photographer’s head? As soon as you start down that path, you *sigh and slump..just a concept.

Now, I’m not saying that concept-ing and vision-ing and all that does not serve a useful purpose in advancing design. It raises questions and provides material to ponder priorities and principles. It points to unusual things that help those less versed in the possibilities of design to see more broadly as to what the capabilities of this craft might be. It allows free exploration without material constraints. It’s far-fiction, unabashed dreaming and pondering. It distances itself from the material world, the world of tangible needs, constraints and exists almost exclusively in the imagination.


“All products serve, in one way or another, to protect us from the elements, but by separating ourselves from nature we become separated from ourselves. Take the humble umbrella. It shelters us from the rain, but this implies that the rain is our enemy, a hostile force from which we need to be protected. Kisha brings us into a different kind of relationship with nature. Its upturned, windproof form reaches up like a flower to capture the falling rain, and its hollow handle directs it where it needs to go. The rain nourishes the flower, reminding us that we need nourishing too.”


At some point this sort of concept-ing and vision-ing tips into the obscure poetry of design that is for designers themselves and really misses the opportunity to translate ideas into the material of the world in which humans live and die. Umbrellas have potential and possibility for being better and different, of course. I have to say though — this particular near future umbrella just confuses the bejezus outta me. This would be curious and even a good design-joke if it said less about watering a lone flower than the rhythms of cheap $5 umbrellas that you get on the corner that end up failing and turning inside out. I mean — a design fiction umbrella that could turn inside out if a torrent of wind decided to do so and *still remained functional as an umbrella..now, that’d be something much more legible and perhaps even tip into the category of “wheels-on-luggage” — like..someday we’d say to ourselves: “what took Totes so long to make the wind-accomodator umbrella?” If Totes cooked the Nonobject “Kisha” I’d get very French and *pffft with a *shrug.

This is sort of where I lost a bit of enthusiasm. While I like the direction and motivation here, this did not feel like the sort of design fiction that I lust after. It seemed very designer-ywith a heavy emphasis on the perfect render. Good design fiction in my mind tends more towards believable, pushing towards the suspension of disbelief as a core tenent — because then you enter into that middle space of confusion tending towards possibility, rather than the dead-giveawy of an expert CAD render in Keyshot or Hypershot or Rhino or whatever.

Now, this is a bias. I’m a design fiction guy, a design fiction-y designer. I believe that a design that tells stories about how the world could be, or what it may come to be is one that serves a purpose in a deep, ideological way to make things better. And, in the two or so years that we here have been exploring and producing design fictions we’ve found that they should be props that live in the corners so that the attention they draw to themselves in only a secondary or tertiary fashion. Fetishize them too much and the magic falls apart. Ancillary things aren’t highly rendered on white backgrounds. So — maybe nonobjects are just something entirely different. They aren’t convincing they way I think a good bit of near future science fiction can become a motivator to create (or avoid) the world it describes. In an important way, design fiction is more than fantasy renderings of impossible worlds and their contents. Design fiction is motivated to bring about change; to make things a bit better. Speculating and fantasizing is fine — an important function. But it leaves one wanting for a set of more tangible objectives, goals, principles or scripts to getting from here to a “there” that’s better than what we have now. It motivated by a loose philosophy that underscores the fact that real, material, hand work *can bring about change. When I see CAD renders, that’s only a small step towards that because our visual culture has adopted and become quite sophisticated — when something is rendered, we can tell. And that erodes the important illusion of possibility, the illusion that closes the gap and makes one wonder if this thing is real, or is this story I’m being told journalism? Or fiction?

These are perfectly captured, fantasy objects. For me, they look too fast, too impossible, too much like the Industrial Designer’s dreams rather than props reflecting the complexity of a fraught, much-less than perfect world. It’s singular — one person in charge of everything, which may indeed be the Industrial Design fantasy par excellence.
Continue reading Nonobject Short Notes

Art Center Summer Residency: Learning and the New Ecology of Things

Saturday November 28 12:06

Seems Art Center’s Media Design Program has extended its deadline for applicants for a summer residency — learning and pervasive/ubiquitous/thing-y computing.


Learning and the New Ecology of Things

We are particularly interested in projects that explore learning in a context of pervasive computing, including mobile technologies, social networking, online systems and digital media. We will consider projects for all learning situations but are most interested in post-secondary art and design education, as an extension of our New Ecology of Things initiative.

This unique context is best for research that incorporates design and prototyping as a mode of inquiry. Outcomes may include working prototypes, speculative visions, new pedagogical models and new learning contexts.

The project may consider the full spectrum of pervasive computing’s role, from additions to the traditional studio classroom, to supplemental learning outside of the classroom, to distance learning with a teacher, to completely self-directed learning.

Since the project is focused on pervasive computing, traditional browser-based online learning systems should not be central to the project.

* How do the tangible interactions enabled by pervasive computing change the potentials of eLearning for art and design students who are learning how to make physical artifacts?

* How might art/design critique be affected by the use of pervasive computing?

* What role might tablets, smart phones, sensors, or actuators play in learning?

* What role might social networking play in new learning systems integrated with ubiquitous computing?

* How might contemporary educational practices such as project-based learning and collaborative learning change in a context of pervasive computing?

* What role might tangible interaction play in education for non-artifact-based design such as that for experiences, plans, and systems?

Continue reading Art Center Summer Residency: Learning and the New Ecology of Things

When Not To Use Doorknobs

3D Magazines

A familiar challenge is to translate the seemingly unyielding demand to put a specific technology into something because it is expected, or because the name of the technology is the new great thing. It doesn’t matter what it is in particular — I use “doorknob” as a stand-in for whatever the latest “doorknob” of the day might be.

For example — we’re going through an Augmented Reality “doorknob” phase presently, as most of you know. As evidenced by the recent issue of “The Skateboard Mag (78)”, we’re also continuing to go through another, another 3D “doorknob” phase. Which is fine, I guess. 3D is fun when the impact is light, like a magazine.

What do I mean by doorknob? Doorknobs are things that rarely mean anything at all to normal human beings but they mean everything in the world to doorknob enthusiasts who spend most of their time trying to put doorknobs onto everything they possibly can — coffee tables, lampposts, patio chaises, kid’s t-shirts, wrist watches, fancy cameras, car dashboards, toasters, clock radios, keychains, tea kettles, baseball hats.. I could go on, but I’ll let the “doorknob” enthusiasts go crazy themselves.

Rarely, on occasion — someone puts a doorknob on a door because, perhaps, they lead their thinking and ideas and making with principles that focus on people and their practices before they just think of shoving doorknobs on kitten collars or broom handles.

Rather than specifying design first based on technology and engineering-based *parts, fashion small, short stories around the people-based principles that might, in the end, specify that a doorknob be used. But, only at the tail end of things. If you start to feel like you’re bolting doorknobs onto stuff cause some guy in a yellow tie and blue shirt had a graph that suggests that competition is going to start using Baroque, mother-of-pearl encrusted doorknobs on their 2013 saw horses — then obviously something is backwards with the design process. Increasingly — or maybe at this point completely — my own opinion is that, for the near future at least, design can play a much larger role in fashioning and specifying and coordinating the activities between all the other participants in the making of things. Amongst engineering, marketing, operations, production, sourcing and so on. Not that all that is fun at all — but it may be crucial and necessary for creating a legible, sensible “output” at the end of a lot of hard work. Something that communicates and represents value in a people-centered way. It’s incredible how much kruft comes out at the end of markets-led decisions — it’s simply unsustainable, and often done just to keep a foot in the door and so that conversations (good or bad) continue to float around.

Alternatively is the translation of the *doorknob into something else. Doorknobs can be props that stand in for something else that is more people and experience-centric — say, access. A way in. Even an ornamental way in that suggests something wonderful lies beyond. Translating that experience could make a doorknob more than an inappropriate proboscis on something it has no business being part of, I suppose. That feels like a middle ground compromise, as opposed to starting with experiences that are legible to whomever you are hoping to make something for — making those experiences the best they can be (or even just a little better than they already are.)


Okay. Back to it, then.

Why do I blog this? Honestly, don’t read much into this or try to interpret what might *really be going on. I’m just capturing some caffeine-fueled notes on a thorough-going set of questions about how to effectively lead “innovation” or the making of things with design principles and design practices that then themselves specify “the parts.” How can design lead with the respect and authority that engineering and business and marketing-type activities have already? And do so without the hubris of “John H. Doe Design Agency” sort of stuff. If engineering and “research” start with, say — doorknobs that operate without touching them and business and marketing start by assessing what sort of doorknob ornamentation will the market expect down the road what is the way for design to contribute a perspective and translates that language in such a way that, perhaps — doorknobs themselves are questioned and new propositions appear that aren’t specifications based on what is available, but specifications based on what should be, that based on principles more thoroughly considered than “just ’cause.”
Continue reading When Not To Use Doorknobs

And the time it takes to make them is the time taken to mean it.

Monday February 09

[Martin Puryear’s] sculptures look the way they do because they need to in order to mean what they do. The labor that is compressed into them allows them to work over time, and the time it takes to make them is the time taken to mean it. That they so often employ specialized tradesmen’s skills in their making allows them to work at the edges of utility—vessels that might be dwellings in the shapes of bodies—and in that fertile seam between representation and abstraction.

A quote from “From Head to Hand: Art and the Manual” by David Levi Strauss.

Why do I blog this? I like the way that time is emphasized here rather than the outcome. The emphasis is on the practice and process, which have so much to say about the sculpture. This distinction comes up often while materializing ideas. So often we can throw away ideas but once the idea becomes material, we’re less inclined to consider getting rid of it, likely because of the commitment of time and the costs of tangible materials. Some material things are still prototypes of an idea and not yet the right expression of an original idea, or stated intent. This means that it’s okay to put them aside as an expression of an idea because it doesn’t feel complete or does not “mean” what they are fully or satisfyingly. The gap between ideas and their materialization perhaps too often is a commitment rather than a looped path for refinement.

Continue reading And the time it takes to make them is the time taken to mean it.

Weekending 07112010

Destroy The Future

Good lord. What happened just then?

Well — I missed a weeknote last week, but I’m not going to do penance. It happens.

I’ve been working — mostly in my head, with a swirl of notes — on two casual commissions for writing, both on the topic of Design Fiction. One is for a forthcoming volume for this journal called, like…Volume. It looks quite curious — reminds me of a cerebral Cabinet Magazine. I think that’ll be a trimmed-of-excess version of the already existing essay, but perhaps without out the Meringue. Along those lines, I continue to catalog these *genre conventions. I’m not entirely sure why, except that they are like the stylings and contours of what makes — in my mind — good Design Fiction, leastways as represented in visual stories.

The second commission is from the Swiss Design Network for their annual proceedings. I’ll be going to their conference in the Fall.

So..those things need to be tied up in short order.

I’ve also spent idle moments pondering a response to the Six Questions posed by the fine friends at Kicker Studios for their forthcoming Device Design Day next month. I think I’ll share some thoughts on the industrial design of Star Trek as a way to talk about the explication/explicitation actions of objects. How objects “speak” or incite/compel/describe actions and social-actions. And as to the Six Questions — I mean..I’m not sure how deliberate I should be in answering them, or thinking of them as some kind historic remarks or anything like that. But they are good ones and they get me thinking — Jack’s are my favorite, still. Criminy his a thoughtfully-funny guy.

Crimminy — and unless the activity of true southern california skateboarding suddenly vanishes without a trace, the going-will-be-slow on the Man Lodge in the back, which is meant to be the Laboratory’s studio. ((The ladder and table saw have spent more time staring at each other and less time being climbed on and/or rip-sawing timbers.))

Sunday July 11 16:16

Daniel Cuervo, Frontside Japan Air. Me? Underneath paying close attention to where he might land.

Why do I blog this? A few notes to remind myself of what I have done but, this week — more to remind myself of what I should perhaps be doing more, or things I should be doing just a little bit less.

Continue reading Weekending 07112010

Five Advantages of The Concept of "Design"

((Via Unhappy Hipsters. The photo caption is: It was far more satisfying to relive their romance via iPhoto slideshow.))

The Unhappy Hipster site has the tag line “It’s Lonely In The Modern World” dryly shifting design toward self-mocking irony. Perhaps a kind of denaturing of the sublime intoxication home/interior/architectural design was once able to effect. Seasoning this with Latour, we might wonder if there ever was a modern world and if there were not — have we ever been lonely?))

I read — closely, but not obsessively — this essay by Bruno Latour that was delivered as a keynote at the Networks of Design meeting of the Design History Society in 2008. I pretty much read whatever Latour writes, and listen to whatever he discusses in lectures where available. Mostly because he can be insightful while also being funny, and there aren’t too many philosophers who can make that claim. But also because I find his work mostly relevant, or I make it relevant to this ongoing project of understanding design and comprehend how design is a way to circulate and create knowledge through the materialization of ideas. ((The bedrock of this project is a bit of science-technology studies, which is how I came across Latour some decade or so ago, a hobbled appreciation of actor-network theory, and my infantile understanding of the questions surrounding this “object-oriented ontology” thing.))

So, when Latour has an essay that proposes *a few steps toward a philosophy of design, I figure I should give it a look-see.

Continue reading Five Advantages of The Concept of "Design"

Really the Fake: Derived, Diacritic'd, Differenced Things

Thursday February 04, 07.00.26

A Wii Mote and a Wii ‘KLIK-on’ Candy Dispenser which uses the ‘B’ trigger control to dispense little candy pills.

Wednesday February 03 13:42

Something Tom Clancy — the guy who writes worlds he wishes he inhabited, which is always a good motivation for a riveting tale — and something written by someone who can write like Tom Clancy, but doesn’t have the surname value share but can participate in the *Branded story world owned/possessed by Tom Clancy…all signaled by the diacritic there — the apostrophe.

Thursday February 04, 06.57.14

The enormously popular video game Call of Duty 4…and a DVD about the *real-world sticky situations the kinds of people — Delta, SEALS, mercenaries, Blackwater/Xe, Rangers, Special Ops guys — Call of Duty 4 simulates, all done up in a DVD case that clearly signals in its visual design the simulation game.

A trio of things found over time that came together in their pattern of derived associations. I’m sure these were done in a pragmatic fit of trying to get some uptake by resonating with existing things/objects/markets and so on. Pretty standard stuff, with the Wii and the Call of Duty thing being the more dodgy instances. The apostrophe’d Tom Clancy business was certainly a planned business franchising effort, along with all the other *Tom Clancy Presents sort of derivatives, like video games and bomber pilot jackets and aviator style sunglasses, all designed to inhabit the personas and worlds authored by Tom Clancy’s genre of mil-intel-tech fiction. (And probably inhabited by those least likely to actually have the extra bit of *umph to *actually participate in such worlds.)

Why do I blog this? These patterns of reproduction, derivation and so on are intriguing. Perhaps less so from the pragmatic, business perspective — like, the cringe I sometimes feel when one thing is clearly done so as to participate in the swirl of interest that a canonical, market-making product/idea/service/new-interaction-ritual. Which comes first, what does this kind of priority really matter or even mean? When does *doing it right trump *doing it first? And, anyway — what are the measures of *doing it right? Most sales? Most uptake? Beautiful to use? I’m thinking of things other than candy dispensers, story franchises and FPS’s, of course.

You know, like — *touch quite clearly forced everyone to talk/make/market *touch devices in such a knee-jerk way it was embarrassing to watch (and participate in, I suppose) quite frankly. The same thing is happening with *Moleskine-sized pad/slate/tablet things. There will be lots of things that signal a new kind of computing (*casual, *livingroom, *sofa) and we’ll call them (with a rueful, dubious look in the direction of the naming guys) *Pad’s, which will be like calling a box of generic brand tissues you buy from your corner drugstore — Kleenex.

The point here but the ways in which variants, originals, mix-matched and mismatched continuations of *something circulate, imbricate, overlap and so on — this I find intriguing. I guess it’s less about what is real, original, fake or a morph — more about these physical, material metaphor of continuity and perpetuation and derivation.

At the end of the end of the day, does it matter *who put the wheels on luggage? Or does it matter, in a make-the-world-a-more-habitable-place kind of way — that someone mustered the resources/people/alliances to put the damn wheels on there and save us all from having crooked backs and Popeye-big forearms? Mixed opinions here at the Laboratory on how and in what way the *original matters.
Continue reading Really the Fake: Derived, Diacritic'd, Differenced Things