Curious Rituals

Curious Rituals is a project about gestures, postures and rituals people adopt when using digital technologies. It’s both a book documenting gestures we observed, and a design fiction film that speculates about their evolution

Location: Los Angeles, USA
Years: Summer 2012
Leader: Nicolas Nova
Method: Ethnography and prototyping

Curious Rituals was a research project conducted at Art Center College of Design (Pasadena) in July-August 2012 by Nicolas Nova (The Near Future Laboratory / HEAD-Genève), Katherine Miyake, Nancy Kwon and Walton Chiu from the media design program.

The project was 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 was to envision the future of gestures and rituals based on:

  1. A documentation of current digital gestures in a book format
  2. The making of a design fiction film that speculate about their evolution

“Curious Rituals” was produced as part of a research residency in the Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.

Innovation 2.0?

Thursday April 09, 15.19.14

Expectation or anticipation? In Batvik Finland?

An interesting article in the Harvard Business Review that I came across recently. It is relevant to a long-standing interest in other strategies for “innovation” particularly in commercial enterprises.

The article is called “Fewer Engineers, More Anthropologists” by Navi Radjou. It argues for, like…more anthropologists and fewer engineers while an enterprise attempts to “effectively identify[ing] and address[ing] the explicit and unmet needs of the broader consumer base in emerging markets.” (Quick translation — selling more stuff that makes sense to local people/cultures/practices in Brazil, India, South America and probably Africa, too.)

Why I find this intriguing is how ancient it sounds. If it the article was dated in 1990 I might understand. But it is quite recent, published only this month. This makes me think that something was forgotten, as is the nature of history. This is fine, except along with what was forgotten goes any lessons or insights learned.
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Recto & Verso

Here a curious corner in a typical urban strip mall. First, the ubiquitous nail salon, this one in a roughly hewn, bumpy corner of Los Angeles. Immediately adjacent, not quite recto & verso, is the Live Scan “salon”, or shop of some sort for obtaining fingerprints. One side, the finger’s nails. The other side, the finger’s prints. Opportunity for synergies, herein, if not already established. Have your nails buffed & polished with a free fingerprinting? Or free nail buff with every fingerprinting? The combinations are extensive.

Why do I blog this? An observation on an urban scout mission. I find the strip mall disorienting to the Urban Scout in many ways. They’re all basically the same, with slight variations depending on where in the city you are. They all have a nail salon. Probably a donut guy. A kiosk floating in the parking lot for the locksmith. Often enough a Pay Day loan guy. Etc. Confusing places. Micro villages.
Adam Greenfield speaks more on the semantics of these things in the context of another kind of urban block, here.
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Monuments of the Times

Sunday March 08, 09:35:02

Sunday March 08, 14:46:54

From the blog-all-curious-monuments desk, Sunday morning coming back from Lake Arrowhead California on a clear, crisp March morning, came across this on a pull-out along the bold mountain road. A monument. To one Donald S. Wieman, for his handiwork..I guess for contributing to the construction and design of this “rim on the world”. It’s quite a nice road, with a steep, boldly winding swerve up to some amazing views. This road was part of a large public works effort during the “Great Depression”. Lately we’ve been learning more about public works and their stimulus effects, with varying opinions on whether and to what degree they may work for this particular “crisis.”

Later that day, doing the hyperspace jump from the mountains to the beach with concomitant shifts in pretty much all parameters — altitude, weather, temperature, air quality.. — I found myself on a merry afternoon perambulation. I came across this bucolic portrait of modest living except — what’s that? A sporty roadster in the garage, clearly an owners favorite pet. There are racing stripe floorings and the clean, well-kept settings of a diligent mechanically-inclined individual. The contrast I saw, without any substantiation was to wonder the ratio of house value to car value. Given its location and other factors, (and personal insights from perusing the local listings) I thought it could in fact be the case that the car may in fact be worth more than the house. Probably not, but the factors are closing in on one another.

Why do I blog this? Are the goodies that many people debt-financed, or financed based on their speculation about tomorrow’s values of their house — their largest ever investment — now like a taunting by the proverbial Albatross-around-the-neck? How will people and their practices change in the coming years? The coming generations? Will their be a “Credit Crisis Generation” to go along with all the other generational monikers? This one defined by its reluctance to trust; its simple ways; its avoidance of credit financing?

Just some musing.
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Thoughtful Acts

This came up in the studio..errr…I think it was a studio BBQ. Mr Newman pondered – what about thoughtful acts?

A sign of a restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, painted backwards so motorists’ passing along on the parallel street would see it in their rear view mirror.

Thursday February 12, 15:21:20

A lost scarf thoughtfully tied to secure it from blowing away in the wind, and up high enough in a tree so that it could be seen from a distance. Toledo, Spain

The inside-the-design-world joke was a curtsey toward Jane Fulton Suri’s Thoughtful Acts, a fun little compendium of mostly observations-as-images meant to reflect upon the “thoughtless acts” people do — “those intuitive ways we adapt, exploit, and react to things in our environment; things we do without really thinking.”

Thoughtless Act? Or Thoughtful Improvisation? Taxi driver arranges his bluetooth ear piece and his phone within reach in San Francisco, California

Thursday February 12, 08:38:49

A smart vest, lost late into the boozy night before, more than likely. Picked up and hung on a sort of street baluster to be found, hopefully, by its rightful owner in Madrid, Spain

Thoughtless acts happen as a matter of course, unconscious in some instances, or done without deep consideration. It might be tying the string to a tea bag around the handle of your mug to keep the string and tag from falling into the hot water. Or turning the claw of a hammer into an improvised door jamb. That sort of thing.

For the fun of it, and to think through curious observations — what might a thoughtful act be? One that does favor to other people? That shows the heart and humanity of a social microcosm? I dunno. Perhaps something that shows deliberation and ingenuity with a raw sense of simplicity and just-get-it-done-edness.

Why do I blog this? Observations turned to conclusions and insights. How do you make sense of anonymous acts of generosity and consideration? Or simple indicators that suggest that design is always a conversation with things getting redone with purpose.

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Short Code

Saturday January 17 19:48

Shorthand code, accepted by convention and practice. Minivan. For sale. Call this number to discuss. Oftentimes a price will appear in grease pencil like this, along with the number. Here, just a dollar sign, as if written in haste and without consideration as to price.

Why do I blog this? Observation of the use of this curious short code relying on conventions for owner sold vehicles. Not necessarily true, but what struck me as well was the possible correlation between selling a minivan and the current credit crisis or whatever the heck is going on. Aren’t minivans the kind of thing you get when your second kid comes along and the one thing you basically keep for quite some time?
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Monday January 19 11:06

Photographic recollection of an accident that happened a few minutes before I cleaned it up. In the studio, morning — reaching to my left, I knocked over my coffee which did a fairly good job of soaking a couple of things. No biggie, except that what surprised me most was the failure of my peripheral vision and proprioception, which are both usually reasonably well-tuned. It all led to a discussion about how both of this bio capabilities may be losing their resolution with all the cone-of-activity work that ends up happening amongst people like me who tend to focus their attention into small cones of activity — at screens, both big and small, but mostly fairly small, from the cell phone display up to 24 inch LCD monitors. Andrew says we should tune to see our toes whilst looking straight ahead. Watching a West Wing rerun from season one, a Secret Service agent laments not being able to recall a crucial detail seen out of her periphery after President Bartlett and his entourage are shot at. In a recent episode of The Unit, an operator torments himself nearly to death after coming to the shock-induced, near-death realization that he missed the tell-tale miniscule details of a sniper stealthily getting into position at a high window.

Why do I blog this? Observations about how we observe and intriguing possible roles that our habits play in altering capabilities. Good, bad — not really interested. Just wondering, where do our observational abilities shift toward? Do we become like the bottom, steam-vent dwelling creatures that go around blind, sensing with touch, gesture interfaces finely tuned through millennia of playing with iPhones and game controllers?
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Practice Observed: Secure Improvisations


Improvisation enacted to overcome a secured door that is probably the most often used in the studio, sitting near to the kitchen and coffee machines (and the sadly defunct espresso machine..) A stapler used to keep a door open helps one poor sould evades the secure RFID lock. Likely, their secure card was left on their desk or some such and the stapler provides them a momentary work-around to returning to their desk, retrieving the card and then getting back to the necessary business of fueling up on the morning caffeine.

Why do I blog this? Observing small but actions, especially around improvisation. I am curious about the way objects become practice-based activations and serve as beacons and indications of evolving materials and materialized social practices. All this and the entanglements within the many layers (morning rituals, security, barriers, identification, access, RFID, office supplies, etc.) and the entanglements amongst humans and non-human hybrids.

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Mobile Defense and Chinatown Cobbler


Curious strategy for preventing bumper dings — a bumper for the bumper, you might say. It’s the Mobile De-fender. (Get it? De Fender?) You will see material like this for preventing a lower category of bump, such as a “light tap” from negotiating a tricky parallel parking job, or even the deliberate tap to inch a car up a bit to fit better in the spot. As I was the victim of an a**hole who just steady backed up way more then he had to, willfully unaware that we were behind him, lights on and about 5 meters clear of him, steaming his ridiculous enormous 80’s Cadillac while we were waiting for him to vacate his spot, probably tipsy from a pitcher of beer at the Pizzaria we were going for family dinner, I can empathize with the necessity of additional rubberized armaments to prevent these kinds of minor dings. Fortunately, there was no noticeable damage — I think bumpers are pretty well designed these days to take a 3-5 mile per hour kiss.

Related somehow is this cobbler seen in Chinatown in New York City, working on fixing some woman’s busted heel or something. How is it related to the rubber bumper bumper? I noticed his materials — recycled rubber from a full tire (on the left, along the wall running into the frame) and a scrap of rubber from a tire on the right bottom. A resourceful, resource-reusing cobbler here. Bravo, I guess.

Why do I blog this? Observations of curious human improvisational practices for preventing abuse and renewing the use of their various mobile artifacts.
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A Story In Fragments

There’s a story here. The bottle smashed on the ground is a lovely blue-green glass with a Sake label of some sort on it, probably from the pocket-sized Sake specialty store 10 meters or so back down the block. I don’t know if the smashed bottle, and the janky protective garbage bag over the driver’s side window here have anything to do with one another, but I wonder..

Why do I blog this?Thinking about how fragments of past experiences leave lingering traces to be interpreted and pondered over. Nothing forensic. Just materialized historic traces.
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