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Putting People First

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March 2008
31 March 2008

Beyond blogs: the conversation has moved into the flow

Stowe Boyd
Stowe Boyd, an internationally recognised authority on social applications and their impact on business, media, and society, published today an interesting reflection on the fact that conversation online has moved away from the blogs that once seemed the nexus:

“Basically, conversation is moving from a very static and slow form of conversation — the comments thread on blog posts — to a more dynamic and fast form of conversation: into the flow in Twitter, Friendfeed, and others. I think this directionality may be like a law of the universe: conversation moves to where is is most social.

Personally, I don’t think the genie can be put back in the bottle. Twitter et al are simply more compelling a conversational medium than blog comments. While the close relationship of blog posts and their associated comments may seem like a positive attribute, it is actually very limiting and closed. In general, people have to blunder into an interesting comment thread by moving to the post, opening the link to the comments, and manually scrolling down through them. A lot of time and effort, all based around the metaphor of wandering around in the web of pages. It’s like a trip to the library.

Twitter and other similar apps are based on the web of flow: information of interest comes to us, not the other way around. And it flows through people, through relationships: it’s not a bunch of clicks on URLs, scrolling, and so on. It’s a move away from hunting and gathering and into relationship agriculture: information grows in our flow applications instead of us spending time hunting it down.” [...]

Today’s blog technologies were not designed with flow in mind: they are based on Web 1.0 principles, and although they have helped to engender a revolution in sociality and flow, they don’t support it very well.

Read full story

Jason Kaneshiro posted a similar reflection recently.

(via Bruce Sterling)

But — just perhaps — the situation is not so clear-cut: BBC News launched a new home page today and the announcement article already has 533 comments, that is five hundred and thirty three (and it’s still increasing).

31 March 2008

Service design and experience design: Starbucks vs Le Pain Quotidien

Le Pain Quotidien
Idris Mootee, a business and innovation strategist, explores the disciplines of service design and experience design through some innovative, authenticity-inspired retail concepts (that in some ways are also reflected in the Eataly supermarket in Torino):

“17 years ago, Alain Coumont was putting a large communal table in his shop and the people sat down around it.” This is how Harry De Landtsheer recounts the original idea of the founder of Le Pain Quotidien. The baker’s plus restaurant is still there in the Rue Dansaert in Brussels. The basic idea of eating good food together has not changed either. So the combined shops and restaurants have plain furniture made of pine; the metal or glass lamps are simple and the shelving for bread and bakery goods are old style. With classical music in the background, this makes a Starbucks experience like the food court of a second tier shopping mall.

Read full story

31 March 2008

The end of consumer culture?

Toothpaste
Hugh Graham asks some serious questions about the role designers in promoting consumer culture, in a wider context of sustainability.

“Should designers work toward the end of aspirational consumer culture? Can the design industry, broadly defined, reposition and reinvent itself to provide value and sustainability while still creating desire?” [...]

“It occurs to me that there needs to be a new paradigm of consumption, one that will work for business, community, and environment. I don’t know what form this new paradigm will take, but I believe it has something to do with learning to appreciate the real value of things and their place in our world.

Designers have an opportunity to engage in this paradigm shift. Part of the story lies in creating products that have intrinsic and lasting value, products that I like to call artisanal. And part of the story lies in better communicating the value of the artisanal. I believe that designers have an ethical duty to work toward the end of disposable culture. Of course, this isn’t going to happen overnight, and it’s not going to happen in vacuum. But it is going to happen, whether we choose to be a part of the process or not. Better to engage the future rather than have it thrust upon us.”

Read full story

(via Niti Bhan on Core77)

25 March 2008

Trying to register for the World Congress of Architecture

UIA World Congress logo
In a few months, Turin will host the World Congress of Architecture, the top architecture event in the world.

They have an interesting programme, with some speakers I really like. They are called “Relatori” on their English website, which non-Italians should obviously know means “Speakers”. A small detail, of course, because they got names like Peter Eisenman, Massimiliano Fuksas, Adam Greenfield, Jeffrey Huang, Nicolas Nova, Dominique Perrault, Renzo Piano, and Hani Rashid. To name just a few.

Registration is cheap. 100 euro. So I want to go. But then the trouble starts.

First you go to the website where any button “Registration” is missing. OK, you find out that it’s actually called “Participation”.
Then you have to create a personal account. Of course, I completely forgot that I had done this months ago to receive a newsletter. So I got an Italian language error message – on the English site of an international event – when I entered my normal email address.
Next step: a whole bunch of personal information. To enter your company name however, you have to hit a radio button which I of course missed. So I entered my information as an individual, and clicked “Update data”, which didn’t do much more than refresh the screen with the data I just entered.
Hmmm. What now? The left side menu has 16 clickable menu options. I click the most obvious one: “Registration and Payment”.
Wrong, of course. I arrive at a huge screen with lots of information. None of which I need.
At the bottom of that screen: “Go to subscription”. I click that.
New screen: “Add partecipants” (That’s the spelling!).
But I registered as an individual! Not as a company. I just added all my individual information and don’t want to add another “partecipant”.
This is clearly not a good choice. Next one up: “Your registered members”. Interesting! I am curious what the membership of an individual might mean. But I have no choice. So I click that.
Now the system says that I have no registered members. Strange: I just registered!
Maybe it’s a good thing. I don’t want “members” of myself anyhow. I just want to register. Please let me pay my 100 euros.
So I click on “Proceed to payment”.
Back to the huge screen with lots of information that I don’t need.

This is getting terribly irritating.

I guess the system requires me to be a “registered member” of myself. So now I have to register even more personal data, such as my identity card or passport number. I also need to select a country (not sure which one: country of citizenship or country where I live). I choose Italy. Now I also need to select which “Professional bodies of architect” (sic) I am from. It’s obligatory. But what comes up is a bit baffling: a list of Italian provinces and the word “Nessuno” which I know to mean “None”. Good luck, German or American! Perhaps, I was just stupid enough to list Italy as my country of residence.

Once I have done gone through all of that (remember that I registered as an individual), the system asks me again to “add partecipants”. Yes, I know: the spelling. I don’t want to “add partecipants” anyhow.

By now, I figured out that this stupid system requires me again to click on “Registered members” in the left menu, and discover that I am now a registered member of myself.

But how can I pay? It’s baffling. I managed to figure it out this afternoon — after 20 minutes of deep frustration. Now I tried again in order to write this post, using a different email address, but for the life of me, I can’t find the solution anymore. I CAN’T PAY. I have no clue at all anymore on how to do it.

The procedure I managed to find this afternoon has disappeared. I remembered that I somehow found a check box next to my name, which was the key to get into the actual payment system, but that’s gone now.

Guys, this is hopeless. How can you manage an international congress this way? And an interesting one at that! Your registration process is horrible. HORRIBLE! No wonder you have so few registrations. YOU HAVE TO FIX THIS IMMEDIATELY!!!

In short, I am more than just a little angry.

(And can someone now remove my duplicate pre-registration, so that I don’t get all your emails twice?).

25 March 2008

Interview with Nathan Shedroff

Nathan
Kate Rutter of Adaptive Path recently interviewed Nathan Shedroff, experience strategist, author, and the Program Chair and founder of the brand new MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts.

They spoke about the new CCA MBA program, how design and management are intersecting in business and academia, and how integrated learning and a new emphasis on design in business is impacting the field of user experience.

Read interview

23 March 2008

UK govt reveals design driven innovation strategy

Innovation nation
Last week’s Budget and two policy documents have put design firmly at the heart of the Government’s innovation strategy, reports Emily Pacey in mad.co.uk.

“In an orchestrated effort to boost innovation in public services, two Government departments published papers last week that include design – usually the preserve of culture and trade – on their agendas.The Budget’s stated commitment to support small, innovative enterprises springs from the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills’ White Paper Innovation Nation [pdf, 923 kb, 101 pages] and the Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform’s new strategy, Enterprise: Unlocking the UK’s Talent [pdf, 4.7 mb, 105 pages]“.

“BERR’s report – labelled the most salient part of the Budget by Confederation of British Industry chairman Richard Lambert – notes the strength of the design industry and acknowledges that connections between design and business are weak. However, it is Innovation Nation that puts design at its heart, detailing three Government-backed projects run by, or involving, the Design Council.” [...]

“Minister for Innovation Ian Pearson believes that design is central to innovation and that innovation is key to improving public services. ‘Building design into the services of local authorities and Government departments is going to be important for the future,’ he tells Design Week. ‘The contribution of design to innovation hasn’t been emphasised enough until now, but user-led innovation always clearly demonstrated the importance of design in developing new products, processes and new ways of working.'”

An article on Science|Business provides more background:

“Innovation is changing, and government policy needs to be updated to reflect this says the UK government in a White Paper published this week, which promises to put public procurement at the centre of innovation policy for the first time.”

“This will have an international dimension, with the government pledging to align its policies with the European Commission’s lead markets initiative.” [...]

“Each government department will be expected to draw up an Innovation Procurement Plan as part of its commercial strategy, to drive innovation through procurement and use innovative procurement practices.” [...]

“The EU’s lead market initiative has picked out electronic healthcare systems, protective textiles, sustainable buildings, recycling, bio-based products and renewable energy, as areas where Europe’s spending power can drive innovation. It plans to help by improving legislation, applying public procurement and developing standards.” [...]

“The UK government has ditched the simplistic view of innovation as a disengaged process of investment in fundamental research leading to commercialisation by industry. Now it recognises that innovation draws on a wide variety of sources and is driven as much by demand as by supply.” [...]

“Switching the focus to the demand side will drive innovation by encouraging innovators to meet new, advanced needs. “Early users, whether they be individuals, businesses or government itself, shape innovations in their most important phase of development and provide critical early revenue,” says the White Paper.”

(via Niti Bhan on Core77)

22 March 2008

What does climate change do to our heads?

Caroona
One of the statements that stuck with me at the recent Disruptive Thinking event in Barcelona, organised by the Art Center College of Design, was by author Sara Wheeler. She said: “Climate change is now part of the human experience, what it means to be human.

Now Sanjay Khanna provides some more insight on this on Worldchanging and interviews environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht:

A small yet growing body of evidence suggests that how people think and feel is being influenced strongly by ecosystem transformation related to climate change and industry-related displacement from the land. These powerful stressors are occurring more frequently around the world.

A case in point: When researchers from the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health at the University of Newcastle in Australia conducted interviews in drought-affected communities in New South Wales in 2005, the responses suggested some of their subjects may have been suffering from a recently described psychological condition called solastalgia (pronounced so-la-stal-juh).

Solastalgia describes a palpable sense of dislocation and loss that people feel when they perceive changes to their local environment as harmful. It’s a neologism that Glenn Albrecht, an environmental philosopher at the University of Newcastle’s School of Environmental and Life Sciences, created in 2003.

What does it mean for the field of experience design, if the nature of human experience is changing because of climate change?

Read full story

Note too that the same topic was recently also discussed in Wired Magazine.

22 March 2008

What does your city say about you?

Cities
Newsweek’s Katie Paul interviews Richard Florida to find out how new ‘creative classes’ are changing cities around the world and what our chosen cities say about us.

Here is the introduction:

Is it just a cultural quirk that the New York women in “Sex and the City” are constantly kvetching about their love lives? Not according to “urban expert” Richard Florida, a business professor at the University of Toronto who studies how place affects lifestyle. In a new book out this week, “Who’s Your City?,” Florida says the world is far from flat, as New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has argued. In fact, it’s spiky, with money, innovation, and distinct personality types increasingly clustering in the world’s major metropolises. Using data collected from satellites and census surveys, Florida describes how a “creative class” of people is changing the economic landscape by congregating in a shrinking set of cities located farther and wider than ever before. What’s more, different types of these creative innovators are sticking with their own kind, molding each city’s distinct demographics, job markets, and mating markets (or dating scenes). So despite the gadgets that now allow us to work from anywhere, says Florida, choosing where to live is more important than ever before. And as to all the frustrations expressed in “Sex & the City”? Well, just blame the 210,820 more single women than men living in the New York metropolitan area.

Read interview

22 March 2008

The human side of Moore’s Law

Robert X. Cringely
Robert X. Cringely, the pen name of technology journalist Mark Stephens, who is the host and writer of the hit PBS-TV miniseries “Electric Money”, has penned a polemic piece about culture and technology:

“There is a technology war coming. Actually it is already here but most of us haven’t yet notice. It is a war not about technology but because of technology, a war over how we as a culture embrace technology. It is a war that threatens venerable institutions and, to a certain extent, threatens what many people think of as their very way of life. It is a war that will ultimately and inevitably change us all, no going back. The early battles are being fought in our schools. And I already know who the winners will be.

This is a war over how we as a culture and a society respond to Moore’s Law.”

And a bit down in the piece comes his most key statement:

“We’ve reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools.”

Read full story

21 March 2008

Adam Greenfield to be Nokia’s new Head of Design Direction

Adam Greenfield
Adam Greenfield, author of Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, will be moving to Helsinki in August and begin his new role as “Head of Design Direction with Nokia’s design staff, with a remit for the service and user interface domain.”

Says Greenfield: ” I’ll be working on some terribly exciting and important problems, with people for whom I have a tremendous amount of admiration (and in many cases personal fondness of long standing), in a context where our efforts together might actually make a difference.”

Congratulations, Adam!

(via IntoMobile)

20 March 2008

Book: Here Comes Everybody

Here Comes Everybody
Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organising without Organisations by Clay Shirky is an “examination of how the wildfirelike spread of new forms of social interaction enabled by technology is changing the way humans form groups and exist within them, with profound long-term economic and social effects-for good and for ill.”
One of the culture’s wisest observers of the transformational power of the new forms of tech-enabled social interaction is Clay Shirky, and Here Comes Everybody is his marvelous reckoning with the ramifications of all this on what we do and who we are. Like Lawrence Lessig on the effect of new technology on regimes of cultural creation, Shirky’s assessment of the impact of new technology on the nature and use of groups is marvelously broad minded, lucid, and penetrating; it integrates the views of a number of other thinkers across a broad range of disciplines with his own pioneering work to provide a holistic framework for understanding the opportunities and the threats to the existing order that these new, spontaneous networks of social interaction represent. Wikinomics, yes, but also wikigovernment, wikiculture, wikievery imaginable interest group, including the far from savory. A revolution in social organization has commenced, and Clay Shirky is its brilliant chronicler.

- Book pagebook excerpt (Penguin)
Book site
Review by Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing
Review by Helen Walters and Matt Vella in Business Week
Interview with author by The Guardian newspaper
Audio podcast on Business Week>

20 March 2008

Home technology out of control

Home tech
A new Logitech study concludes that a quarter of European homes only have one person who can work everything.

European households are full of expensive gadgetry that most people do not know how to control, according to a recent study.

The research commissioned by Logitech claims that, in a quarter of homes, there is only one person who knows how to operate all the technology. It calculates that Europeans have at around €362bn worth of TVs, hi-fis, speakers, video and DVD players, digital recorders and satellite boxes in their homes. This leads on to 49 per cent of households having five or more remote controls and 87 per cent having three or more.

Read full story

(via UsabilityNews)

19 March 2008

The experts vs. the amateurs: a tug of war over the future of media

Crowds
Knowledge@Wharton reports on a hot controversy:

“A tug of war over the future of media may be brewing between so-called user-generated content — including amateurs who produce blogs, video and audio for public consumption — and professional journalists, movie makers and record labels, along with the deep-pocketed companies that back them. The likely outcome: a hybrid approach built around entirely new business models, say experts at Wharton.”

A range of Wharton professors give their assessment of what is currently going on.

Read full story

18 March 2008

A short interview on identity

Trendbuero
The people from the German consultancy Trendbüro published a short interview with Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken on the topic of identity.

It is part of their strategy to publicise their forthcoming Trend Day, which has the theme: “Identity Management – Recognition replaces attention”.

Mark is in very good company: they have also published interviews with Richard Florida, Willem Velthoven of Mediamatic, Hartmut Esslinger of frog design, and Dick Hardt of identity 2.0.

Read interview

14 March 2008

When Users “Do” the Ubicomp

Present-day ubicomp
When Users “Do” the Ubicomp is the great sounding title of an article by Finnish researcher Antti Oulasvirta in the March-April issue of Interactions Magazine.

Abstract: Computers have become ubiquitous, but in a different way than envisioned in the 1990s. To master the present-day ubicomp-a multi-layered agglomeration of connections and data, distributed physically and digitally, and operating under no recognizable guiding principles-the user must exhibit foresight, cunning and perseverance. Preoccupation with Weiserian visions of ubicomp may have diverted research toward problems that do not meet the day-to-day needs of developers.

The article builds on the work done by Genevieve Bell and Paul Dourish, and in particular their article Yesterday’s Tomorrows. Like them, Oulasvirta argues that there are two ubicomps: the idealised one presented at conferences and the “real ubicomp”, described as “a massive noncentralized agglomeration of the devices, connectivity and electricity means, applications, services, and interfaces, as well as material objects such as cables and meeting rooms and support surfaces that have emerged almost anarchistically, without a recognized set of guiding principles.”. This infrastructure is therefore “not homogenous or seamless, but fragmented into several techniques that the user has to study and use.”

He then takes his analysis a step further and actually shows “the many ways in which it is the users who have to ‘do’ ubicomp; that is, actively create the resources for using an application in a heterogeneous, multicomputer environment.”

Oulasvirta concludes with “a laundry list of approaches to improving ubicomp infrastructures:”

1) minimizing overheads that create temporal seams between activities;
2) making remote but important resources, such as connectivity or cables, better transparent locally and digitally;
3) propagating metadata on migration of data from device to device;
4) supporting ad hoc uses of proximate devices’ resources like projectors, keyboards, and displays;
5) triggering digital events like synchronization of predetermined documents with physical gestures; and
6) supporting appropriation of material properties for support surfaces“

To read the entire article, you need an ACM Digital Library subscription.

12 March 2008

The People’s Phone

People's Phone
The International Herald Tribune reports on a new very cheap mobile phone for emerging markets:

It looks a bit like a child’s toy, a walkie-talkie circa 1975, a cheap plastic throwback to the good old days when telephones were made for talking.

But to Spice Ltd., a telecommunications company in the world’s fastest-growing phone market, this new product embodies the latest, greatest innovation in cellphone technology today: a handset priced at less than $20.

Spice, which is based in Noida, India, unveiled what it is branding “the People’s Phone” at a wireless industry conference in Barcelona last month. The handset is an anomaly among mobile phones today: The number keys are big and bold. It is chunky and has no color screen – in fact, it has no screen at all. Nothing about it flips, folds or slides. It is, as Spice’s chairman, Bhupendra Kumar Modi, described it, “just a phone.” [...]

And Spice, which is listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange, is not the only company looking at cheap handsets. In Barcelona, Nokia also introduced new “emerging market” models, and LG Electronics and Samsung are moving strongly into the low end as well. Some analysts argue that the most ferocious market share battles this year will take place not among the high-end “smart phone” category but down in the entry-level devices.

No screen? Comments Niti Bhan: “So the poor don’t want to send SMS or check the time?”.

Read full story

12 March 2008

Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy

Creative Britain
The UK government is aiming to make the country a global leader in the arts, media and advertising through initiatives including the creation of thousands of new apprenticeships and the launch of a Davos-style world creative business conference.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the culture secretary, Andy Burnham, unveiled the action plan, Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy, in what the government is labelling the first-ever comprehensive, state-supported plan to move the creative industries from the “margins to the mainstream of economic and policy thinking” in the UK.

The action plan [which was welcomed by the design industry] outlines 26 commitments for both government and the creative industries to nurture talent, create jobs and to drive the UK’s international competitiveness.

One of the initiatives is to develop a new annual World Creative Business Conference that will act as the “centrepiece” of an international push to make the UK the “world’s creative hub”.

Read full story [The Guardian]
Download action plan (pdf, 1.2 mb, 81 pages)

(via Richard Florida)

12 March 2008

Art Center College opening up a global debate

Global Dialogues
The world of design and innovation has greatly changed in the last decade. The challenges are more complex, more intricate, and more systemic, and therefore require an increasingly holistic and multidisciplinary approach, especially in education.

Or in the words of Richard Koshalek, president of the Art Center College of Design:

“The educational requirements of complex fields such as design, coupled with advances in technology and communications, demand that colleges and universities deliver knowledge and experience at a global level.”

Design schools are engaged in various explorations on how to best address this new context. Some bring in new people on their faculty, others start off industry or public sector collaborations; some collaborate with other institutions, others even merge with them (as Helsinki’s art and design school is planning to do).

The renowned Art Center College of Design has done many of the above things as well, but is now going for something much more ambitious – it is breaking out of its own physical spaces (be them the Art Center itself, California or the USA in general), and are creating a series of what I would call “open innovation forums” on a global scale, all with the aim of “developing people”.

Last week Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken was invited (thank you, Rudy) to attend one of them: the Disruptive Thinking event in Barcelona.

Disclosure: Art Center paid for the trip and stay, on the condition that we would write an article. They didn’t say anything more, so we feel free to write what we think.

The Barcelona event, organised in collaboration with the prestigious ESADE business school, is the first in a series of global dialogues that Art Center is scheduling in a number of continents, as well as online. It is also the beginning of a wider initiative towards this European design city: the Art Center Barcelona Project.

The Art Center Barcelona Project is a joint platform between Art Center and ESADE for postgraduate education, research and business networking in the field of innovation and design. This time the emphasis is on content-based international collaborations, rather than conventional bricks-and mortar “branches” overseas (as Art Center tried unsuccessfully for ten years starting in 1986 in Vevey, Switzerland).

The benefits are of course obvious: a local partner has local knowledge, local networks, local staff and local facilities. The foreign partner brings in expertise and insights that will proof to be valuable to the local partner. And the investment for the Art Center is no where in the range of building a new school. Aside from that, there are also the brand implications and opportunities for recruitment and student admissions. In short, a win-win for both.

But there is more… 
 

A social engagement

Art Center has an initiative I really like: designmatters. Launched in December 2001, Designmatters at Art Center explores the social and humanitarian benefits of design and responsible business.

“We believe that design, responsibly conceived and applied, can contribute to solving such contemporary challenges as sustainable development and providing for basic needs and services, including adequate public health, safety, education, housing and transportation.”

Designmatters, which engages Art Center students, faculty and staff, focuses on four major themes: public policy, global healthcare, human sustainable development, and social entrepreneurship. In the last years Art Center has become quite active in developing countries, and thanks to its designmatters initiative, has become the first school to be designated a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) by the United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). It also is a member of the Organization of American States (OAS) as a civil society organisation.

Designmatters is crucially part and parcel of the Barcelona Project: collaborations with educational, civic and cultural institutions particularly on social and humanitarian issues are a key focus, which is part of the reason why there was such a strong emphasis on broader social and humanitarian issues during the Disruptive Thinking event that I attended.

One of the themes the Barcelona project particularly wants to address is the role of design in cities, which “must be redefined according to wider principles of sustainability — not only in relation to the environment, but also in terms of energy production and consumption, economic prosperity, social justice and cultural development.” And that’s how it should be.
 

Trying to think disruptively

Thinking in a disruptive way is not an easy thing to do, it requires good ideas and the power to make them stick so that they can actually become disruptive, otherwise they don’t make much impact. The overall themes of the Disruptive Thinking event — climate change, geopolitics, business, science, belief, and design, have of course a history of lots of disruptive thinking.

The organisers were courageous: they sought out “‘disruptive’ thinkers and practitioners who — despite the many risks involved — bring vital energy to bear on these issues and push them in new and productive directions for society.”

The one-day event was chaired by British journalist Richard Addis, who selected primarily British or UK-based presenters (with the exception of the ESADE dean) to be in charge of each of the six sessions. These six presenters in turn selected one to three guests each, which were of course also primarily from the US (insofar they were not at SXSW) or the UK. There wasn’t much of a presence from the rest of Europe or the world (besides the one courageous Ugandan journalist), and that was frankly a serious gap. Although the guests were very insightful and by times really funny (as only Brits can be), I really wanted more diverse viewpoints than the conference in the end was able to offer.

Josh Nakaya, an Art Center product design student did a truly excellent job at blogging the conference, and later upgraded them with responses. Also the video streams are now available. So I will refer to these summaries and videos in my comments below. There is also a webpage with the full line-up of speakers.

So let me start with tackling the sessions one-by-one.
 

Climate Change [summary - response - video]

In this first session, Harry Eyers of the Financial Times conversed with Peter Head of ARUP and Sara Wheeler, an environmental writer.

Harry Eyres started by asking the panellists if rediscovering our creativity could be a key to addressing climate change, or more specifically: “Can the threat and reality of climate change be an inspiration to redesign the way we live?” And that’s what they talked about, sort of. The panellists described the current status of climate change and tried their very best on imagining strategies — such as China’s eco-cities, the importance of systemic thinking, a different culture about how we relate to nature, a better land use policy, better leadership, or a renewed attention to the spiritual dimension — that could drastically reduce the total ecological impact we have on the planet.

In the end though I didn’t hear much new nor disruptive, whereas climate change itself is such a hugely disruptive development. I was expecting more insight (why not get WWF’s climate change specialist for instance?) and more innovative ways of thinking through the problem. Sara Wheeler made one strong statement that I really liked though: “Climate change is now part of the human experience, what it is to be human. That really needs to be thought about.” It also definitely set the right tone to start off the conference with this major environmental issue.
 

Geopolitics [summary - response - video]

Richard Addis chaired the session on geopolitics. His selection of guests was unusual but highly defendable: Ron Haviv who is a war photo journalist (with a website worth checking out), and Bernard Tabaire, who is the courageous, thoughtful and highly articulate editor of the Ugandan newspaper The Monitor, and keeps on getting in trouble with the Ugandan authorities. I liked the idea of talking about geopolitics with people who are living the effects of these choices in their daily lives.

Both Ron and Bernard are in the business of creating awareness and holding people responsible for their actions. Yet we need leaders, and although Richard started off with the right statement (“politics is about leadership”), the discussion quickly degraded into rather (perhaps disruptive but definitely) unrealistic ideas for change, such as abolishing armies or abolishing politicians, underlined by sharp criticisms of government behaviour.

Reflecting back on it, I agree entirely with what Josh Nakaya wrote in his response, of which I quote the conclusion:

“Again, the core questions were not really addressed: Are there any political ideas so radically disruptive that they could redesign for the better the way the great powers run the world? Can political ideas solve anything? Or are we doomed to a permanent state of violent flux? I believe the answers to these are yes, yes, and no. Mr. Tabaire presented the seed of a radical idea that was left untouched: developed countries, on the whole, face less life-threatening situations than undeveloped ones. Development starts with education. What then, of any army whose primary strategy is preemptive action and whose primary tactic is education?”

To me, it was a dialogue full of promise that somehow never made the cut of impactful debate. 
 

Business [summary - response - video]

This dialogue was the smallest of all: Lynda Sale, a partner of Sale Owen, a marketing consultant and artist discussed disruptive thinking in business with Alfons Sauquet, dean of the ESADE business school.

Sauquet was very much the wise academic who brought structure to it all, e.g. by his distinction between incremental and transformational innovation. He was also strong at pointing out how conservative businesses really are, and why they are often antithetical to innovation and that this also can also hamper recruitment. ESADE is doing some work for a French cosmetics company that came to realise that they couldn’t attract the best and the brightest anymore because what they were offering didn’t seem to be relevant anymore to these young people. So how would business need to change to address such a challenge? And how should businesses change to address the challenges of climate change or geopolitics?

In essence, Sauquet argues, companies need to rethink themselves so that they will provide an environment that attracts the best people so that innovation can take place. 
 

Science [summary - response - video]

This was definitely the best session, and if there is one video you should watch it is this one. I very much enjoyed when theoretical physicist Fotini Markopoulou told a baffled audience, after a brief but sharp introduction, that she had come to the conclusion that “space is not really a valid concept, it doesn’t exist”. She paused to give the audience the time to digest this highly disruptive idea, and then continued with an explanation of her thinking, concluding “If you believe space exists, it leads to all kinds of problems.”

Other “experts in what we don’t understand” on this panel, chaired by science writer Robert Matthews, were astronomer David Hughes and mathematician David Orell.

Aside from some more disruptive thoughts (why shouldn’t there be a conference on disruptive thinking on a planet 400 light years away from us?), the three scientists each underlined how much less they know now than they thought they knew at the beginning of their careers. This of course implies, as astronomer David Hughes said, a deep sense of humility, which is a lesson not just for scientists.
 

Belief [summary - response - video]

Bigna Pfenninger, founding editor of The Drawbridge, invited academic scientist Charles Pasternak and the endearing egyptologist Joann Fletcher.

Three main lines of thought came through from this discursive session: spirituality cannot just be pushed aside as a delusion; it’s impossible to understand large parts of our world and our history without understanding or appreciating belief systems; and belief – whether you think it is a placebo or not – is so powerful that it can affect circumstances.

The dialogue didn’t develop much, sometimes there wasn’t even much of a dialogue. My take back of it all was Joann Fletcher’s statement at the end: “I think globally there should be more respect for the individual. People should be respected for their own individual opinions within any of these ‘fundamentalist’ groups. I have every right to say what I think regardless of the religious set-up in my country. Individual voices need to be heard”.

Looking back, while I agree with Josh Nakaya’s comments on this session, I would also like to add that belief here was quite narrowly interpreted as religious belief or spirituality. Yet, we all have beliefs, convictions, assumptions, which are not justified by facts. We construct beliefs in order to manage our world. But our world often changes more rapidly than these belief systems do, which leads to all kinds of frictions, with people fighting the battles of the past, or politicians making decisions about the future with belief systems that in essence were defined by facts and experiences that go several decennia back in time. 
 

Design [summary - response - video]

Finally, Stephen Bayley, who is a design commentator and founder of the Design Museum, had three guests: Blaise Agüera y Arcas, an architect at Microsoft Live Labs, architect of Seadragon, and the co-creator of Photosynth, Chris Lefteri, a materials expert and product designer, and Thom Mayne, architect and founder of Morphosis.

A lot of time was spent on the discussion of abstract concepts like beauty or permanence, whereas other ideas — the relevance of ecosystem thinking for design, concepts such as engagement or mystery, and how we are nowadays increasingly driven by the experience of the interaction — were touched upon but not further developed. In the words of Josh Nakaya:

“I felt like design—as the final dialogue and the core focus of the organization sponsoring the dialogues—should have been the capstone of the whole event. However, the dialogue was scattered, focusing primarily on whether or not beauty exists, and whether permanence or impermanence should be a focus of designers’ work. The coming disruptions in industrial design, architecture, and planning and how they would affect our lives were to be discussed, but this question was never even recognized, much less addressed.”

Stephen Bayley was apparently strongly guided by an aesthetic, product-oriented concept of design: beauty and permanence are concepts that are to some extent relevant within this context. But design has moved on, so — quit naturally — the participants built on these concepts to make their own points, which often diverged strongly from the question at the outset.

In short

The event as it happened was not ideal: some of the presenters were not leading their sessions very well, not everyone had valuable ideas to contribute, the match between the theme of disruptive thinking and what was actually being discussed was absent by times, and there was not always a clear sense of direction.

It was clear that the sessions were underrehearsed, if rehearsed at all. Too often people went off on their own tangent, with a presenter unable or unwilling to pull them back on a clear path.

I also wondered afterwards to what extent I actually had heard new things, or whether the things I had heard I couldn’t just as easily have picked up in a book or a good magazine.

The answer is probably yes. But books and magazines are monologues by their nature. This was in concept and execution a series of dialogues. In the beginning of this article I described how this Barcelona event fits into a wider strategy of open collaboration, open communications and social engagement. This is not just a valuable and laudable approach, but also one which is highly relevant and timely in contemporary society. We need more of these initiatives, not less. They have to be fine-tuned and improved, no doubt, but in essence we need dialogues and collaboration between disciplines, between different parts of society, between different regions in the world. The world has become too complex for each of us to figure things out by themselves.

And that is what to me these Global Dialogues are really about.

I also hope that Art Center will deliver on its commitment to continue the conversation online, to have a continuous dialogue. The event blog is now basically dead, and there have been no comments whatsoever on any of the posts that I could find. So probably this is not the right tool – a new one needs to be developed. 
 

What about the US?

The Art Center is an American school, its students are based in California. How can they participate in the global dialogues? In fact, many of the Art Center events are also taking place in California: the recent two-day summit on Systems, Cities & Sustainable Mobility (proceedings are already available – the next summit is in February 2009), and the upcoming Serious Play conference.

11 March 2008

The 37signals vs Donald Norman controversy

37signals
There is an interesting controversy going on between 37signals and Donald Norman.

It all started with a four-page article in the March 2008 issue of Wired Magazine about 37signals, the company that helped develop much of the software that has enabled Web 2.0, including Ruby on Rails, that was used to create podcasting service Odeo and microblogging phenomenon Twitter. [Check also 37signals' own reaction to the article]

Norman, who was quoted in the article arguing that simplicity is highly overrated, used his blog to react to the Wired piece, pointing out that, although he has always admired the company, he has also tried their products and they have never quite met his needs. After reading the article, Norman says he understands why: “the developers are arrogant and completely unsympathetic to the people who use their products.” Norman is particularly taken aback by one key quote of David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals: “I’m not designing software for other people, I’m designing it for me.”

Jason Fried, the other founder of 37signals, a company known according to the Wired article for a lack of modesty, disagreed very respectfully:

First off, let me say I respect Norman. His book The Design of Everyday Things is a classic. I’ve always admired him and think he’s spot on most of the time.

That said, I think he’s looking at this the wrong way. In fact, most of what he says about us in his piece misses the point.

Read his post, it is very senseable, and touches upon some of the major controversies within user-centred design as a whole, as also demonstrated by the number of comments.

7 March 2008

A conversation about Torino with Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling
Today Torino World Design Capital published an interview Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken recently conducted with Bruce Sterling. This time not about spimes, ubiquitous computing or digital fabrication, but about his experience with the city where he lived for the last six months.

Bruce likes Torino and in this interview he gives quite a few reasons why. He goes into much detail about why “Turin is really a 21st Century” and how “it has somehow managed to deal with problems that many, many other cities, regions, cultures and nations have not yet faced up to.”

“Turin,” he says, “is one of those places that appeal to my temperament. If I were an Italian person, I would likely have been a Turinese.”

He also shares with us a content of a new story he has been writing:

“Yes, it’s a fantasy story set in Turin. The protagonist is a FIAT executive, but he’s also a necromancer. The story is set in an esoteric Turin where all the magical things that are said about Turin by New Agers are factually true.

There’s a chunk of the New Cross here and the Holy Grail is here. The Shroud of Turin really is drenched in the blood of Jesus Christ himself; there are all these ley-lines and axes of mystical power. Our hero who is an R&D investment guy at FIAT, is called into hell by Gianni Agnelli, who is dead, yet still upset about urban development issues in Torino. So he calls this former chairman down to hell to have a board meeting.

My hero, the necromancer, is accompanied by his spiritual advisor, an Egyptian mummy from the Museo Egizio whom he raised from the dead. This mummy accompanies him now and gives him good advice. It’s like the “Lone Ranger and Tonto” thing – him and his mummy. It’s a comical story, exaggerated and satirical, a fable about Turin and its issues. I could never have written it without being here.”

Bruce is now in the last days of preparation of the Share Festival that he has been curating. Come and see it if you can.

The interview is suffering a bit from poor layout and it is not so easy to see what my questions are, for instance. All the links have also magically disappeared.

Read interview