Design Ethnography poster


Here's a photo of the poster we presented two weeks ago at the European Academy of Design Conference in Paris. It's based on a research project conducted at HEAD – Genève which led to this book (we're working on a second edition). The diagrams depicts the different profiles of designers (regarding the way to carry out field research in their projects) and the set of steps they go through (from producing data to analyzing them and creating design elements out of it). This is the type of process I am using in my workshops about design ethnography, as a pedagogical tool to help participants. We're going to use it in the upcoming studio organized with Annelore Schneider at the Geneva School of Art and Design in order to explore the future of mobile photography.

The graphic design has been done by Fabienne Kilchör and Sebastien Fasel from

“Post-Western” cultures

A quick update on the Laboratory front. The Geneva bureau collaborated with Joel Vacheron and the Swiss Graphic design magazine ID Pure on their annual edition. It's focused on "Post Western" cultures and you can get a preview of this publication here. We basically helped them in the "research" phase of the project, by selecting inspiring content (Bruce Sterling, Edouard Glissant among others) for their nice booklet:

Why do I blog this? This was a good opportunity to discuss various topics and upcoming projects.

OKCon next week in Geneva

The Open Knowledge Conference (OKCon) 2013 is happening next week in Geneva, Switzerland. An event about Open data and open knowledge conference, running since 2005, it will feature a series of talks, workshops and discussions about the various dimensions of these themes. I took that as an occasion to ask few questions to Hannes Gassert, one of the co-organizer: Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 10.35.56 AM

NN: What's OKCon and what are its purposes?

HG: The Open Knowledge Conference is the global gathering of a movement that strives to open up knowledge and make it used and useful. In Geneva, the event is bringing together developers and diplomats, designers and data activists to broaden and deepen the idea of open data. At the same time OKCon marks a major milestone for Switzerland: at the event, Switzerland's own "" will be launched at

I believe that's a big step for the movement as well as for Switzerland: we don't have some president saying "I want this", but a participatory political process touching all levels of governments, and I think that data-driven transparency will eventually emerge as the natural complement to our direct democracy. But I digress.

NN: "Open" culture is here for sometime now, but I always wonder about the difficulties. What's tough when it comes to Open Knowledge and the use of Open Data?

HG: Openly releasing your pictures, your music or blog posts were personal decisions. Now, as "open" is becoming a movement and a concept as important as "green", we're getting into actual politics. When we're talking about open government data and how, properly done, they foster transparency, accountability and public sector innovation, we're talking about things we can't decide on an individual level any more - now we're talking politics, now we're talking about data, like spending or crime data for example, whose mastery means actual power.

NN: Are there any areas where open-ness is not possible or relevant? That's a curious one but it's an issue I always wonder about because it leads to discussing the pros and cons of that approach.

HG: There's a clear limit, and it's given by strict standards of individual privacy. The individual person's right to "informational self-determination" is paramount. But this is a value to be applied to people, not to corporations or countries. Those too have legitimate interests in secrecy, but they need to be constantly balanced with the public interest.

NN: Open Source and Open Data are interesting but I'm even more intrigued by "Open Knowledge" and open knowledge construction. This is why my tumblr is called "Beta Knowledge" as a way to reflect the idea that our cultural material (science, art, etc.) is always in flux. It also highlights that "releasing knowledge" can be a way to let people do something out of it that is different from the original intention of the persons who created it at first. Can you elaborate on the longer-term consequences of an "Open Knowledge" society?

HG: Open knowledge is what open data becomes when it’s useful, usable and, in the end, actually used - so I'm right with you when it comes to emphasize the empowering aspect of Open Knowledge! "Open" doesn't mean much if it's not useful, that is accessible, understandable, meaningful or helpful to solve a real problem, make a relevant point or have an impact on how we think and live. In order to make this actually happen, we will need types of skills, increased data literacy among them, and tools that help turning raw material into knowledge that people can act upon.

Additionally, I do in fact believe that the great power information elites have already today, the great power data analysts, software developers and information visualization experts means great responsibility indeed. There are large groups of highly educated experts both creative and technical that have come to see themselves mainly as "citizens of the internet". It's beginning to dawn on everybody that that's not the case, that real-world realpolitik is indeed shaping both the bits and atoms that make up our world. What we're seeing in this movement is a chance for these groups to get involved with the society they live in, it's a chance for an new political awareness. Not using big data and affecting global changes right now perhaps, but using small data, and making a difference right here.

OKCon, in any case, is where many people come together who are committed to bring about those skillsets and toolsets, who are committed to the vision of a global movement building an open knowledge ecosystem. People who want to make a difference. I recommend to come and talk to them. You might be one of them yourself.

‘Curious Rituals’ in Milan for the Design Week 2013

Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 6.39.40 PM

Quick update: “Curious Rituals: gestural interactions in the digital everyday”, the book and our short film, was shown few weeks ago in the Logotel’s (In)visible Design – 100 Stories from the Future and Beyond, an exhibition for Milano Design Week 2013. Thanks again Stefano Mattei and Francesca Rizzo!

Some general pictures of the exhibit from their Flickr Gallery and recap document:

Besides, it’s now possible to buy the book on lulu.

10 years!

I just realized this the tenth year of Pasta and Vinegar! What started as a PhD student notepad is still around. There’s less blogging than it used to be but I still intend to keep this blog running. Weak signals and links are generally posted on beta knowledge, but P&V will still feature longer posts, slide decks and other updates.

What’s up here!?

Sorry for the silence here but the last few weeks have been super hectic because of various projects. So, as a quick summary of what I’m up to:

  • I just finished writing the French manuscript of a book about the history of game controllers. It’s called “Joypads! Le design des manettes” and it’s going to be published in January 2013 by Les Moutons Electriques (The Electric Sheeps), a Lyon-based editor. The book is a joint project with Laurent Bolli from Bread and Butter/OZWE in Lausanne.
  • With the laboratory, we organized a workshop in Detroit called “To Be Designed” that focused on “ the hands-on, pragmatic ways in which one can imagine and then create things from and for the near future.” It was a great event and I still have to publish my notes.
  • The Print-On-Demand version of the “Curious Rituals: Gestural Interaction in the Digital Everyday” book is almost ready. We had to spent some time fine-tuning the last bits.
  • The school year resumed and I’m currently preparing different courses at the Geneva University of Arts and Design. There’s going to be a workshop at the end of the month about design and ethnography, in which we’ll focus on urban animals. There’s another class at EPFL about design process, and a seminar class about the history of interaction design. On top of that, I have 6 masters students for whom I’m a masters thesis tutor.
  • At the design school here in Geneva (where I work part-time), I just received a research grant for a study about the relationship between ethnography and interaction design. More about this later.
  • Raphael Grignani and I are working on a week-long workshop at ENSCI-Les Ateliers in Paris.
  • For a client, as a follow-up to last summer’s field study about car-sharing in the US, I’m going to do a series of interviews and observations in Switzerland. For another client in Madrid, there’s also going to be a workshop about digital data in November.
  • There are several talks lined up in the near future (UX Paris, a game-related conference in Hamburg, a design lecture in Edinburgh, the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston) but I’m accepting less and less of these. Mostly because my schedule is a mess and also because it’s hard to be productive (or relaxed) when always on the road.
  • After organizing half of the program at Lift France, I’m taking care of three sessions at Lift 13 and will do a workshop there about urban bricolage.

Phew… and that’s why there’s less time to blog.

Outcomes of Curious Ritual project

Time for presenting summer project outcomes! In July and August, I spent two months in the Media Design Program department at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. As I mentioned few weeks ago, the project was called CURIOUS RITUALS: Gestural Interaction in the Digital Everyday and focused on the postures, gestures and habits related to digital devices such as laptops, cell phones, remote-controls, sensors or robots.

Along with Katherine Miyake, Nancy Kwon and Walton Chiu, we produced two things: (1) A book (.PDF, 3.1Mb) documenting current digital gestures (based on a preleminary field study in European cities and in Southern California, with essays from Dan Hill and Julian Bleecker), (2) A design fiction film that speculate about their evolution in the near future.

I’ll post more material about the project in the next few weeks (approach, rationale, findings).

Summer project: Curious Gestures

So, as I mentioned the other day, I’m in Los Angeles this summer, being a visiting researcher at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The project I’m working on there is called “CURIOUS RITUALS: Gestural Interaction in the Digital Everyday” and we’ve just set up a blog about it.

It’s actually a 7-weeks project conducted by Katherine Miyake, Nancy Kwon, Walton Chiu from the media design program and myself.

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

The aim of the project is to envision the future of gestures and rituals like the one above based on:

  1. A documentation of current digital gestures
  2. The making of design fiction films that speculate about their evolution

Summer in Los Angeles

… oh and btw, I’ve been quiet here because I’ve been busy on different fronts:
- relocating to California for the summer, doing a “visiting researcher” residence at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, working on a project about gesture (that I’ll blog about as soon as there is something to show)
- writing the game controller book which is going to be published in French in January 2013. Called “Joypads! Le design des manettes” and written with Laurent Bolli, it’s going to be an overview of the evolution of video game console controllers over time. We’re of course looking for an English/American edition if anyone here has en idea about how to proceed
- near future laboratory projects (a short project about car culture, a design workshop that Julian mentioned few weeks ago, planning Lift13 and Lift France 12)
- experimenting what it’s like staying in one city for two months (and avoiding travels)