Design and Storytelling at AIGA Pivot

Back in 2010 at the University of Michigan Taubman School’s conference on “The Future of Technology” is where I first started thinking about the future as represented in graphs. I brought this visual graphical prop back again at the AIGA conference this last weekend in Phoenix. I guess I figured that a graphic of the future would be a good way to start a talk of the design professional society that at least started with a strong emphasis on graphic arts. (But it’s broadened itself, as I understand, which is good.)

I started with these hand drawn illustrations as a way to show that the future is contestable and malleable and one can make it and need not subscribe to the least-common denominator ideologies about what the future looks like. More than “disruption” — which has weird connotations with business, but just creating a future we imagine, not driven by forces that have typical measures of “future” that includes better battery life and larger screens and more brain-y smart devices.

I participated in a discussion on Design and Storytelling. It was a rehash of some existing material on Design Fiction and the various idioms and conventions that Design can learn from science fiction in order to do the work of design — and not just communicate design ideas, but actually *do design.

Parenthetically, I’ve only recently become a part of the AIGA and I’m still in a phase of my professionalization in design. I think it’s quite important to understand that being anything in any community means being a part of the community which means circulating oneself — ideas, conversations, listening and learning. It is a way of advancing oneself *and advancing that professional community. This is why I go to these things and why I try my best to be an active part of the conversations and discussions — contributing something in the form of a talk or a workshop. It’s not because I like to travel around. That part is actually hard on the body and the home. But it’s part of what it means to be “advanced” at whatever one does. Advanced Designers who do not Advance Design are just shift workers. And then they’ll come a time when they are obsolete because they never paid attention to the larger advances in their community and one day they’ll have befuddled looks when the generation or two “behind” them comes up and eats their lunch. It should be a formal requirement to participate at these levels, proactively. There’s a three step plan. I describe it here:

Saturday October 15 10:49

Okay. Rant on Advanced Designers who don’t Advance Design is officially over.

Going to these things is hard, fun work — but, then you also learn *new things and meet *new people! One high-note for me was this fellow who I’m sure you all already know about and I may be the last one — Jackob Trollbäck. Here is a designer who I could admire right away as he finds the curious, little weird things full of possibility for expression and experimentation. There were a number of things he showed that were just almost incongruous studies and experiments, much of which was wrapped up in sound and rhythm (also topics of great interest to the laboratory these days) as well as curious visual studies and experiments. These were informal experiments — playing with images and videos from an iPhone that turn a technical failing into an aesthetic marvel. These sorts of unexpected things are very interesting to us here.

Also! There was a little bit of a confirmation for my own personal “that’s weird” study — things that happen and one notices them repeatedly. There’s no big theory explanation here, but I notice curious alignments of numbers on clocks — digital clocks. I was capturing them quite regularly and uploading them to a Tumblr. And then I stopped because people would say — no..that’s not weird. It’s just the time. But it seems Jackob Trollbäck has done the same. So — it was a bit of an affirmation of my weird observations.

Related, here’s the talk from the University of Michigan where I first showed these hand-drawn sketches of the future. I think there’s a t-shirt in here somewheres..

Continue reading Design and Storytelling at AIGA Pivot

Science Fiction Prototyping for Technology Innovation

Saturday April 23 1994, 000000

Science-fact and science-fiction all in a productive, creative, inspirational muddle. Jurassic Park meets its science meets its facts and its fictions in a favorite Time magazine cover, April 23, 1994.

This is really exciting to me. It feels like there is serious ((i.e. people with degrees who gather at conferences and congresses and use words like R&D)) comprehension of the way that science-fiction is a kind of science-fact, and science-fact is a kind of science-fiction. In fact, the two are one and the same and the categorization is mostly useful to bookstores who need to divvy up what goes where. There’s an incredibly rich view of the creation and materialization of new ideas if you disallow the hard distinctions. Honestly. It’s not insurgent view; it’s an innovative view. Seeing these kinds of cross-overs and crosstalk and the blurring-of-lines ((as should be the case, I believe — for the good of the whole smash)) makes me want to go to something like this, even after swearing off of this sort of specialist conference.

It’s at least worth looking at this Creative Science Foundation ((big sounding puff there)) the “brain-child” of an intriguing Futurist ((how artisinal)) called Brian David Johnson which has a few links to some intriguing activities and work, including this Morrow Project that Intel ran where they got some writers to write about life in the future.


1st Call For Papers

2nd International Workshop on Creative Science (CS’11)
– Science Fiction Prototyping for Technology Innovation –

Sponsored by Intel & Published by IOS Press

Held in conjunction with The 7th International Conference on Intelligent Environments (IE’11)

Nottingham, UK. 25th-26th of July 2011

Background and Goals: This international workshop will explore the use of science fiction as a means to motivate and direct research into new technologies and consumer products. It does this by creating science fiction stories grounded in current science and engineering research that are written for the explicit purpose of acting as prototypes for people to explore a wide variety of futures. These ‘prototypes’ can be created by scientists and engineers to stretch their work or by, for example, writers, school children and members of the public to influence the work of researchers. The outcomes of these interactions are then fed back, to shape the science research and outputs. In this way science fiction prototypes act as a way of involving the widest section of the population in determining the science research agenda, thereby making science investment, and science output more useful to everyone ranging from companies, through scientists and engineers to the public, consumers and the government that indirectly fund R&D. In this way fictional prototypes provide a powerful interdisciplinary tool to enhance the traditional practices of research, design and market research. The goals of the workshop are to act as a catalyst of this new approach by acting as a forum where researchers from differing disciplines (notably science fact and science fiction) can come together to explore how to develop this area.

Participation: You are cordially invited to participate to the workshop either as a presenter or as someone simply wishing to learn more about this topic and, perhaps, join the discussion as a member of the audience. Participation is possible either by attending the workshop in person, or by participating via the Internet. For presenters (science researchers or writers) we are looking for short imaginative fictional stories (prototypes) of no more than 12 pages (and presentations of 20 minutes) based on recent scientific publications, which would act as motivation (or discussion) or how science research might be directed. Your fictional stories (prototypes) should include a short discussion (no more than 2 pages) of your published work (and how they relate to your story, including references to your work). The fictional stories (prototypes) should conclude with a short summary (half to one page, say) that provides an overall comment on your effort to use your fictional prototype as a means to motivate your future work. References should be included at the end of the paper. All fictional stories (prototypes) accepted will be published by IOS Press.

Thanks to Intel’s generous sponsorship we will pay the workshop registration costs for the 10 best Science Fiction Prototype (SFP) stories, as judged by the reviewing committee. In addition, a Samsung P1000 Galaxy Tab (eg ARM Cortex A8 1GHz, 16GB, 7 inch TFT LCD, 3G, BT 3.0, Android 2.2) will be awarded to the writer of the best Science Fiction Prototype.

Workshop Structure: The workshop will comprise a single day event and will include:
Presentations (papers) from science and engineering researchers on their own scientific papers/projects depicting how they foresee their research might impact future worlds.
Presentations from science fiction writers depicting aspects of their stories that they feel would be feasible and useful for scientists to try to implement.

The Venue: CS’11 will run in conjunction with IE’11 at Nottingham in the heart of England and a popular tourist destination attracting an estimated 1.3 million visitors annually. Many visitors are attracted by Nottingham’s nightlife, its history, the legend of Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest and popular history-based tourist attractions including Nottingham Castle. More details are given on the IE11 web pages .

Important dates:
Paper submission: 28th March 2011 (via the CS’11 paper story submission system)
Notification of acceptance: 25th April 2011
Paper final submission (with revisions): 9th May 2011

Workshop Fees:
Before 9th May 2011
– Regular Participant or Presenter (all non-students) = £144
– Student Participant or Presenter = £120.00
After 9th May 2011
– All categories = £180

Workshop Organisers:
Brian David Johnson (Intel Labs, USA)
Victor Callaghan (University of Essex, UK)
Simon Egerton (Monash University, Malaysia)

Continue reading Science Fiction Prototyping for Technology Innovation

Future of Technology Conference University of Michigan September 24-25

Friday October 16, 15.04.18

I’ll be speaking at the Future of Technology conference at the Taubman College of Architecture, Planning and Urban Design on September 25th — the conference is on the 24th and the 25th. This courtesy of my chum John Marshall, who I visited last year to be a guest in his fantastic Heliotropic Smart Surfaces design studio which, if I remember correctly — John and Karl had no idea (in a good way!) what would happen other than that they would look into “smart” and the sun and surfaces. Brilliant guy, he is. That’s the way to run a creative studio. Optimism and enthusiasm and a tinge of creative recklessness.

Friday October 16, 11.34.47

Anyway. That’s where I’ll be. In Ann-Arbor.
Continue reading Future of Technology Conference University of Michigan September 24-25

The Week Ahead: SxSW 2010 — Design Fiction Panel

Pervasive Electronic Games Panel

SXSW in 2007. A panel I organized called Pervasive Electronic Games with heroes Dennis Crowley (*Dodgeball!/*Google!?), Aaron Meyers (Mobzombies mad-man), and ultra-hero fron the other planet, Kevin Slavin (Area/Code). That was fun.

So, early heads-up and there’ll be more — if you’re heading to SxSW this year, I’ve organized a panel under the rubric of *Design Fiction. The full title is Design Fiction: Props, Prototypes, Predicaments Communicating New Ideas, and I feel prescient with that title because it captures much of what’s been going on in the studio over the last, like..3 months.

It’s going to be good. It’ll be Jake Dunagan from the Institute for the Future; Sascha Pohflepp from Supercalifornia (whatwha?!), Stuart Candy from The Long Now Foundation and Jennifer Leonard from IDEO, with perhaps a special delta-net guest operator to flash-bang this one all to hell and gone. We’ve actually done planning and have had *skype conference chats to discuss what we’ve been thinking on this one.

Add this to your conference schedule..and see you with a plate of dry rub in front of me.

Design Fiction: Props, Prototypes, Predicaments Communicating New Ideas

BBQ @ Salt Lick

Continue reading The Week Ahead: SxSW 2010 — Design Fiction Panel

Art History of Games

A short note to draw the attention of the two of you to this event that pal Ian Bogost and related/sundry other chums are putting on: Art History of Games to be held February 4th, 5th and 6th right there in Atlanta. Sounds delightful — wish I could make such things as this. I’m fond of these sorts of thoughtful considerations and probing lenses upon things that are often mistakenly trivialized — Art History and Games. Fantastic. Seems like they’ve commissioned a few games, including one involving enormous game pieces and what sounds like a cunning form of bribery.

Check out the schedule and weep with me in sorrow for not being able to attend..

Continue reading Art History of Games

6th Swiss Design Network Conference – "Negotiating futures. Design fiction."


From the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition at MoMA (NYC) in 2008.

negotiating futures. design fiction.
6th Swiss Design Network Conference
October 28 – 30 2010 in Basel, Switzerland

It’s super far off (but not the calls for stuff), but this upcoming event next year looks intriguing!

Designers see the world not simply as it is, but rather as it could be. In this perspective, the world is a laboratory to explore the contingency of the existing and the thinking in options. Imaginations of the contra factual are a key source for the creation of alternative political, technological, social, or economic constellations of artefacts, interfaces, signs, actors, and spaces. At the same time, strategies of materialization are pivotal to shift the boundary between the fictional and the real and to finally bring possible new realities into being. The conference addresses the questions of how fictions are designed and how the multiplicity of possible new futures is negotiated and realized.

Important dates 2010

March 08th – Call for papers
April 18th – Deadline paper abstracts
June 3rd – Notification of acceptance
July 18th – Deadline papers
July 18th – Call for workshops
September 27th – Registration
Oktober 28th – Conference opens

Continue reading 6th Swiss Design Network Conference – "Negotiating futures. Design fiction."

Lift Asia 09 Jeju Korea, Sept 17-18

Lift Asia 09, Jeju Korea, Sept 17-18 2009

Just a short note about the Lift Asia 09 conference in a month, September 17-18 2009. I’ll be speaking on something to do with either minor undesired paternity notoriety or, perhaps more likely — building your own world to get the future you deserve.

Either way, I am looking forward to once again sluicing into a Lift conference. Parenthetically, the last Lift Asia I went (I guess this is only the 3rd one) way too long ago was in Seoul and was the inaugural “Asia” edition of Lift and I had a terrific time, although through a fantastic bit of misunderstanding, I thought the conference was two days, rather than two hours.

Get the flash player here:

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Sorry displaced atmospheric molecules for traveling so far for a two hour event. Ah, but the time to connect face-to-face with friends was well worth the time. And, I forbade myself from too many epic trips for a good bit this year, despite the temptation for such.

Continue reading Lift Asia 09 Jeju Korea, Sept 17-18

Overlap 09

Saturday July 25, 15.08.18

Saturday July 25, 11.12.59

This weekend, I was at this un-conference, event, workshop called The Overlap in the misty Pacific Grove along the coast of California near Monterey. It’s a mix of designers and self-described business types and some who were both, mixing it up with a variety of loosely structured “technologies” to explore, test, probe and be human.

So far we have learned the ins-and-outs of story telling, had an opportunity to share something — mostly some idea we are or would like to explore further. Some of these were propositions for new kinds of services that might exist in the world of things on the line. Others were larger social experiments, such as discovering ways to replace paper cups with something else, which I found to be quite an intriguing problem, especially because it may not be another cup made of some other sort of material, but perhaps a behavior and “practices” shift. (Thinking about design as something that does not necessarily result in an object or material is of course not entirely new, but giving this challenge some specificity in this regard was fun.)

Saturday July 25, 17.19.00

Body Storming to discover in a rapid prototyping fashion (15 minutes to explore, discover, present) what the new news might be.

Social Patterns In Cards, Christian Crumlish's Prototypes

Some prototype cards by Christian Crumlish brought for exploration. These describe some design patterns for social behaviors seen often in online contexts. Much more here. Great stuff.

We devised a technology for ourselves during a lunch break that consisted of a challenge — having a conversation with someone in which you asked no questions. This sounds weird, and it is, which means that it zips you out of your comfort zone and forces you to do more listening and consideration of what you say and ultimately puts conversations onto new trajectories. So, rather than saying half-thought things — “how did you like that?”, “what did that mean to you?”, “where did you study?” — or all the other things that force conversations along typical paths. No where near a proven tactic for provoking and probing and seeing things a little differently or discovering curious vantage points, but an intriguing exercise nonetheless.

The final exercise I participated in with was around the broad range of ideas that might be poorly pigeon holed under “innovation design” or something — strategies and tactics and practices for encouraging new thinking and creating new, non-incremental things/processes/thoughts. It is not surprising that there were some people interested in this area. Most of our activities were around discussions about this, anecdotes, common problems and issues — but, we were challenged to find a mechanism for embodiment of the challenge, or a “technology” of some sort.

Sunday July 26, 15.03.27

Sunday July 26, 16.00.48

What ended up happening was the creation of a prototype children’s story — a story you would want to tell a child who you hoped would become an innovator. Well — we had about 15 minutes but described such a story and dramatized it when we presented. The beats of it were around a restless young girl who keeps being told “no” to the curious things she wants to do — put pickles on her ice cream; play with the man on the moon; paint the carpet purple. Finally when she asks to give the family cat a bath in the toilet, her mom tells her fine — give the cat a bath in the toilet, of course not expecting that such could happen, or in exasperation. The young girl proceeds to do such, succeeding ultimately through clever use of the fact that the bowl prevents the cat from escaping, a sponge-on-a-rope that becomes a distracting toy, liquid soap, and a flusher that provides a suitable rinse. The moral is to reflect on the way filters impede the expression of our imagination based on convention, conformity and all the other things that discipline us as adults. And, this “technology” is worth exploring — the design challenge of writing a children’s story to convey a design principle or as an expression of a design brief.

Besides the story, and whatever you may think of it I was quite intrigued by two things. First, how we moved from the “meta” talk on the subject to an expression in the form of this simple story. We had been talking over lunch and then with another participant who it turns out (quite unexpectedly for me) had been a Navy SEAL. He dropped a few nuggets on us related to the thinking and training that goes into such things which are related — initiative, following ones own compass, improvisation, continuing in the face of exceptionally withering fatigue, the differences between warriors and soldiers, and these sorts of things. Another point that came up was Michael Dila’s description of Innovation Parkour, and a previous exercise at another event in which the challenge was (in a limited time) to convince a group of people to try buttermilk, which is particularly nasty stuff if you’re not already used to it. It became known as the “Buttermilk Insurgency” in which one team managed, in the 15 or 20 minutes allocated, to convince a kitchen staff across the way to make buttermilk pancakes, thus shifting the assumption around forcing someone to drink a towering glass of the stuff. So we discussed this challenge of reframing things and some how that lead to a short discussion of parenting — getting kids to try things that they don’t want and disallowing them from doing things they shouldn’t. This point came up directly — “yeah, and they’ll say — can I wash the cat in the toilet?” Somehow this started the story, where we ourselves reversed our assumptions and looked at it from the positive side. How do you encourage unconventional, presumably preposterous things and not assume failed results?

Like, for example, my current favorite — imagine what someone would say a year ago if you told them that Middle East politics would be inflected by people yammering in 140 character messages. Or, even more plainly — against all the odds of thick, broad, rich forms of networked, digital communication — something like Twitter happens. Which is not a statement about it efficacy or its importance or its permanence — just that things happen, and assuming failure, or saying “it’ll never happen. move onto something else” probably says more about the person who utters this than it does about the discussion they interrupt.

Saturday July 25, 13.36.17

Why are you here?

Saturday July 25, 10.23.33

Testing Ideas.

Anyway, there was much more, but those were some highlights that stuck in my mind. Oh, also the great opportunity to “test” some of the ideas and principles around a few projects that I ended up lumping under the rubric “Epistemological Monkeywrenching.” If nothing else, it forced me to find and articulate the relationships between several projects that compete for my attention. And I think I found the linkages, at least the outlines of the relationships. So, thanks. Thanks to all those 49 people who I met for the first time, and thanks to Dave Gray of XPLANE for the invitation.

Why do I blog this? To capture a few notes before the escape the brain and remind myself why I spent the weekend in the beach woods of Pacific Grove. Overlap 2009. 50 attendees. Meeting 49 new people who I never met before. And the word “design” was part of the material. And I got to ask questions to continue my exploration and design apprenticeship. Notes to self:

See Starfire Director’s Cut (via Erin Liman)

Read more about Paul Rand (via Chris Finlay)

Discover who Chris Conley is (via Chris Finlay)

Asilomar Conference Center is also where quite recently, as reported in the NYT a top secret invite-only event was held by artificial intelligence experts who are now worrying that robots may outsmart humans. (I mean…clearly these scientists NEVER watch ANY sci-fi. Hello? Skynet? BSG? Pfft. Buffoons. Spend a weekend at the Bleecker household with MY DVD collection of nervous Sci-Fi and you’ll be convinced you should become a wood sculpter.)

This is also where “ 1975, the world’s leading biologists also met at Asilomar to discuss the new ability to reshape life by swapping genetic material among organisms. Concerned about possible biohazards and ethical questions, scientists had halted certain experiments. The conference led to guidelines for recombinant DNA research, enabling experimentation to continue.”

And then, also — the Jackson Family had their enormous family reunion here this weekend. And someone had their 80th birthday celebration, as well. So, like — it all matters.

Overlap 09 Lazy Susan from Julian Bleecker on Vimeo.

Continue reading Overlap 09

Upcoming Travels and Talk: Design Connexity

From April 1 until the 3rd I’ll be at the Design Connexity conference as part of Eighth International Conference of the European Academy of Design. On Friday the 3rd I’ll give a talk, probably on Design Fiction or Prototypes and Special Effects, rehashing and rethinking some material from my dissertation.

But, seriously. Check out the conference themes.

Design Boundaries

In a post-modern digital age we can witness attempts to combine art and technology crossing the boundaries in what was originally described by C.P. Snow (1959) as the ‘two cultures’. Snow’s fundamentally convergent position sought to expose the cultural divisions between art/humanities and science/technology. New design courses are being developed that embrace the concept of transdisciplinarity, moving beyond traditional subject boundaries. This theme invites papers that explore the boundaries between disciplines and professional practices, for example between design and architecture, design and craft or design and fine art.

Responsible Design

Designers are often cited as being major contributors to the ever-growing problem of waste as landfill sites fill up with discarded products that were designed without any consideration for recycling or reuse. Responsible designing makes it imperative that new products are designed with ‘cradle to cradle’ vision. This theme invites papers that explore the issue of responsible design, developing new strategies and insights into how this may be achieved.

And the favorite of the Near Future Laboratory Theme Evaluation Division:


The Ad Busters web site states that: “We are a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century”. Is this the beginning of anti-design, a reaction against our material culture? This theme invites papers that challenge our notion of the role of design in the 21st century.

Continue reading Upcoming Travels and Talk: Design Connexity

Lift 2009

Well, I’ll be sad to miss Lift in Geneva this year. Really sad. But, you shouldn’t be, so I suggest you go if you can, especially if you’re close by anyway, to mitigate large carbon foot stomps. It’ll be a great line up as always, with some great workshops, including this one with Vlad Trifa and Alexandra Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (from!) and Dominique Guinard. They will be running a day-long workshop called “Internet of Things: Next Steps and Visions of the Future. Whoa. I’ll be looking for their observations and conclusions to that one. Dang.

Go here to register and go have a good time. It’s the best conference going that covers technology, culture new weird human social practices and goes along without prattling advertisements disguised as presentations. Plus lots of opportunities to interact with presenters, meet new people and have epic amounts of fondue.
Continue reading Lift 2009