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Posts in category 'Scenarios'

24 January 2009

βoyfriend

Boyfriend
Worldchanging published an original piece of science fiction by author Madeline Ashby. The story imagines a series of futuristic technologies (including smart tags, rapid prototyping and graphene memory) and explores ways their application might impact society and human life.

“The story is unique for its ability to tell an engaging story while intermingling technologies that we are only beginning to imagine, but that might one day become a part of our everyday lives.”

Read full story: 1 2 3 4 5

15 January 2009

People-centric sensing in the city of the near future

Flickr sensing
More on people-centric sensing, this time by LIFT’s Fabien Girardin, and it’s as if he is taking the Nokia paper I just wrote about one step further:

“In the past, sensors networks in cities has been limited to fixed sensors, embedded in particular locations, under centralised control. Now, there new application that leverage humans as sensors and their volunteer generated information. It becomes necessary to discuss their integration into the city of the “near future”, the city “produced” by the activity of its actors and inhabitants. In the scope of my research work, I particularly consider the implication of this emerging amount of data and their effect on contemporary practices in the city.”

Read article

12 December 2008

Bruce Sterling’s brixels

KashKlash
Bruce Sterling looked at the KashKlash questionnaire results and condensed it all into four narrative future scenarios. An excerpt from the last one:

But then his son — who had gone into “cloud design,” God help him — started referring to bricks as “brixels.”

A brick house was a byword for solidity. “Solid as a brick house.” For a brick house to be malleable, temporary, gaseous, was a weird, crazy, extreme idea — as crazy as a trip to the moon. But a brixel was a brick: a mobile brick. A smart brick that was also a phone. A brick built around a phonechip, phones so high tech, so cheap, that they were cheaper than bricks. So that yesterday’s crown jewels, mobile phones, because building blocks.

Brixels locked together like children’s toys, and they were picked up and dropped, not by honest union bricklayers, but by little blind robots like an iPod lashed to Roomba. It took very little machine intelligence to move “brixels” around or to stack a huge wall out of “brixels.” A wall of brixels grew overnight. It was extravagantly patterned, like a computer screensaver. It was gorgeous. It was magnificent. It was very Italian.

KashKlash is a lively platform where you can debate future scenarios for economic and cultural exchange. Besides Bruce Sterling, the initial collaborators are Régine Debatty (of we-make-money-not-art), Nicolas Nova (LIFT) and Joshua Klein (author and hacker), who have been collaborating on initiating the discussion. The public domain project is conceived and led by Heather Moore of Vodafone’s Global User Experience Team and run by Experientia, an international forward-looking user experience design company based in Turin, Italy

(Also, make a note of Bruce’s forthcoming book, The Caryatids)

9 December 2008

The Situated Technologies project

Too smart city
A year ago I wrote about Adam Greenfield’s pamphlet Urban computing and its discontents.

Adam’s pamphlet was the firsts in a nine-part series that aims to explore the implications of ubiquitous computing for architecture and urbanism: How are our experience of the city and the choices we make in it affected by mobile communications, pervasive media, ambient informatics, and other “situated” technologies? How will the ability to design increasingly responsive environments alter the ways we conceive of space? What do architects need to know about urban computing, and what do technologists need to know about cities? How are these issues themselves situated within larger social, cultural, environmental, and political concerns?

Two other pamphlets have been published meanwhile:

Urban Versioning System 1.0
by Matthew Fuller and Usman Haque
What lessons can architecture learn from software development, and more specifically, from the Free, Libre, and Open Source Software (FLOSS) movement? Written in the form of a quasi-license, Urban Versioning System 1.0 posits seven constraints that, if followed, will contribute to an open source urbanism that radically challenges the conventional ways in which cities are constructed.

Situated Advocacy
A special double issue featuring the essays “Community Wireless Networks as Situated Advocacy” by Laura Forlano and Dharma Dailey, and “Suspicious Images, Latent Interfaces” by Benjamin Bratton and Natalie Jeremijenko.

They are part of Situated Technologies, a project by Omar Khan, Trebor Scholz, and Mark Shepard, is a co-production of the Center for Virtual Architecture, The Institute for Distributed Creativity (iDC), and the Architectural League of New York.

The project also organised a symposium and is planning a major exhibition in September 2009.

Architecture and Situated Technologies was a 3-day symposium in October 2006 that brought together researchers and practitioners from art, architecture, technology and sociology to explore the emerging role of “situated” technologies in the design and inhabitation of the contemporary city.

Participants at the symposium featured Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Richard Coyne, Michael Fox, Karmen Franinovic, Anne Galloway, Charlie Gere, Usman Haque, Peter Hasdell, Natalie Jeremijenko, Sheila Kennedy, Eric Paulos, and Kazys Varnelis. Videos are available online.

Situated Technologies: Toward the Sentient City is a major exhibition, curated by Mark Shepard and organized by the Architectural League of New York, that will imagine alternative trajectories for how various mobile, embedded, networked, and distributed forms of media, information and communication systems might inform the architecture of urban space and/or influence our behavior within it. It will examine the broader social, cultural, environmental and political issues within which the development of urban ubiquitous/pervasive computing is itself situated.

The exhibition will combine a survey of recent work that explores a wide range of context-aware, location-based and otherwise “situated” technologies with a series of commissioned projects by multi-disciplinary teams of architects and artists, including:

  • Too Smart City by Joo Youn Paek (artist and interaction designer, artist in residence, LMCC) and David Jimison (founder Mobile Technologies Group, Georgia Tech and Honorary Fellow, Eyebeam)
  • BREAKOUT! Escape from the Office by Anthony Townsend (research director, Technology Horizons Program, Institute for the Future), Tony Bacigalupo (co-founder, CooperBricolage), Georgia Borden (associate director, DEGW), Dennis Crowley (founder dodgeball.com), Laura Forlano (Kauffman Fellow in Law, Information Society Project, Yale Law School), Sean Savage (co-founder, PariSoMa) and Dana Spiegel (executive director, NYCwireless)
  • Natural Fuse by Haque Design + Research (led by Usman Haque)
  • Trash Track by MIT’s SENSEable City Lab (led by Carlo Ratti)
  • Amphibious Architecture by David Benjamin and Soo-in Yang (architects and co-directors, Living Architecture Lab, Columbia University), and Natalie Jeremijenko (artist, director, xdesign Environmental Health Clinic, New York University)

(via Fabien Girardin)

24 November 2008

The rise of the sensor citizen

Citizen Science
The current issue of Vodafone’s Receiver magazine — on space and location — is one of the best yet. Every week the editors invite another thoughtful thinker to contribute an essay on the topic, and this week the honour goes to Anne Galloway.

Anne Galloway (blog) recently completed a PhD in sociology and anthropology at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, which involved conducting an ethnographic study of the design of mobile and pervasive technologies (download dissertation). She is interested in connections between technological, spatial and cultural practices, and her current research explores design as a social and cultural activity and asks how social and cultural relations are designed.

In her (somewhat academically written) Receiver contribution she takes a close look at community mapping and sensing projects, and points out both the opportunities and challenges for activism made possible by locative technologies.

“Community mapping and sensing projects that use commonly available consumer electronics as environmental measurement devices, enable people to collect and view a wide array of location-based data. As a form of public science, such projects stand to reinvigorate environmentally focused civic engagement. However, given public concerns around environmental risks and their connections to technological progress, I believe that this kind of active citizenship should promote more critical reflection on the values and goals of the very projects that expect to create such profound changes in these domains, and carefully consider the limits of its own power.”

Read full story

A related paper is “Mobile Publics and Issues-Based Art and Design.” To Appear in Sampling the Spectrum, edited by Barbara Crow, Michael Longford and Kim Sawchuck, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, forthcoming 2008.

29 October 2008

Network Citizens

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
The latest publication of the UK think tank Demos looks at the future of social networks and the civil implications they are bringing about:

Humans are social animals, spinning intricate webs of relationships with friends, colleagues, neighbours and enemies. These networks have always been with us, but the advance of networking technologies, changes to our interconnected economy and an altering job market have super-charged the power of networking, catapulting it to the heart of organisational thinking.

Social networks are providing tremendous opportunities for people to collaborate. But until now, thinking has focused only on how organisations can respond to and capitalise on networks. This report argues that we have to look equally at how networks use organisations for their own ends. That is where the new contours of inequality and power lie that will shape the network world. We have to face networks’ dark side, as well as their very real potential.

Bringing together in-depth case studies of six organisations, Network Citizens maps the key fault-lines that people and organisations will have to address in the future world of work. Not doing so puts at risk the very qualities we had invested in them: openness, innovation, collaboration and meritocracy. Since networks can act for good or ill, incubating the talents and ideas of the many, or promoting the interests of the few, the need for a new set of responsibilities is growing. If we are network members, we must be network citizens, too.

Download publication

21 October 2008

Science fiction and HCI/interaction design

Star Wars
Nicolas Nova has posted some quick pointers about the relationships between science-fiction and HCI/interaction design on his blog:

Human Computer Interaction in Science Fiction Movies by Michael Schmitz surveys the different kind of interaction design sci-fi movies envisioned during the past decade. It also interestingly describes how the film technicians made prototype possible and legible.

Make It So: What Interaction Designers can Learn from Science Fiction Interfaces by Nathan Shedroff and Chris Noessel is a nice presentation from SxSW08 that looked at sci-fi material as well as industry future films to show design influences sci-fi and vice versa.

The upcoming paper by Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell entitled ““Resistance is Futile”: Reading Science Fiction Alongside Ubiquitous Computing that investigates how ubiquitous computing is imagined and brought into alignment with science-fiction culture.

Julian Bleecker’s presentation from Design Engaged and SHiFt 2008 also addressed that topic.

Personally I would add Bruce Sterling’s work in general, as a major direct and indirect inspiration for interaction designers all over the world.

8 September 2008

Intel navigating future moneyscapes

Jo
Digital technology is changing the everyday forms and experience of money. Cheryl Miller reports on the Research@Intel blog how field research by Intel’s People & Practices Research team identified key themes and opportunities for technological innovation.

The researchers presented their findings at the Day Zero press event for the Fall IDF conference.

They also created Navigating Future Moneyscapes, a comic-like scenario and personas to help convey their findings about the emerging global landscape digital money.

One size does not fit all

  • Monetary literacies: There is no single or “best” practice with which to locate money in daily life, and the changing financial landscape requires on-going reassessment and skill development.
  • Currency wrangling: People juggle public and private money forms (cash, credit and debit cards, loyalty points, airline miles, etc.) and create their own earmarked subdivisions.

People use money socially

  • Relational banking: People consume financial services, but also produce them in the form of loans, donations, and partnerships with family, friends, and valued groups.
  • Expressive consumption: Not just what we buy, but how we buy it, is an important part of constructing our individual, cultural, regional, and political identities.

The project seems to be quite related to another Intel initiative, with MA students in the Design Interactions Department at the Royal College of Art exploring the future of money when it disappears as a physical currency.

13 July 2008

Changing the Change – a call to action

Changing the Change
I just wrote a long article on Core77 on the international three-day Changing the Change conference “on the role and potential of design research in the transition towards sustainability”, which just ended here in Turin, Italy.
9 July 2008

Polite, pertinent and… pretty

Polite, pertinent and... pretty
Polite, pertinent and… pretty: designing for the new wave of personal informatics” was the title of a talk given by Matt Jones (Dopplr) and Tom Coates (Yahoo! Brickhouse) at the recent Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.

Summarising their talk is not an easy thing to do, but I will give it a try. In any case the 81 slides with speaker notes are available on SlideShare.

Jones and Coates start from the premise that information is now becoming so pervasive, omni-present, localised and personalised that we can not only increase our awareness but also constantly use it to our advantage. These data come from big databases, but also from our own behaviours. Our own devices sense, record and sample data, and share these with other devices and with us and other people. They call this “personal informatics”. But this poses a huge user experience challenge, which requires a sophisticated design solution:

“The discipline of informatics is based on the recognition that the design of this technology is not solely a technical matter, but must focus on the relationship between the technology and the use in real-world settings.”

“That is, informatics designs solutions in context, and takes into account the social, cultural and organisational settings in which computing and information technology will be used.”

But what does that mean concretely? How should we design? Jones and Coates propose “three pegs to hang some thoughts off” and they all start with a P.

In defining the concept of politeness (to be thought of as the “softer ying to the hard yang of ‘privacy’), they lean on such thinkers as Adam Greenfield (and in particular his recent book “Everyware“), Mimi Ito, Leisa Reichelt, Matthew Chalmers, Anne Galloway and of course their own practice.

Pertinence is about “disclosing information that is timely and as ‘in context’ as possible”. To define this better, they refer to the ‘movement’ metaphor that Matt Webb of Schulze & Webb recently described in a talk. Webb posits that we are moving from a web of ‘places’ to “something more like a web of organisms or engines connecting and fuelling each other”.

So the issue here is to show small pieces of information in the right context at the right time, “delivered in increasingly pertinent ways, depending on our habits and contexts”.

And finally there is prettiness:

“The vast quantities of information that personal informatics generate need not only to be clear and understandable to create legibility and literacy in this new world, but I’d argue in this first wave also seductive, in order to encourage play, trial and adoption”.

So what is the future of personal informatics? Aren’t we creating our own “participatory panopticon” (Jamais Cascio)? Or are we moving to a world filled with “spimes” (Bruce Sterling)? At the moment it’s often artists who are exploring the boundaries of this unknown future.

In a long post, Alex Steffen of Worldchanging presents his own – excellent – summary of the Jones/Coates talk, but takes their analysis a step further by connecting it with sustainability and adding a fourth P (“Protection”):

“Ubiquity and sustainability could turbocharge each other. Ubiquity enables revealed backstories, observed flows and shared services, making it easier to live well at a minimum of expense and ecological impact. Sustainability, particularly in the form of compact urbanism with bright green innovation, concentrates human interactions with each other and networked systems, making it easier to suffuse daily life with the sort of intelligence that allows data to be gathered, shared and connected. The Net and the public square, as Castells wrote, are symbiants.” [...]

“PSS [product-service systems] offer enormous potential sustainability benefts. Indeed, I’d argue that it will be impossible to deliver sustainable prosperity without the widespread adoption of shared/sharing systems. But they can also have a real downside, for PSS rely on a more intimate connection with their users, and where that intimacy is not backed by protected relationships, real disaster can result.” [...]

“So, I would add a fourth P, “Protection.”

If we are going to interact with companies in intimate ways — in ways that impact our deepest life choices — those interactions ought not only to be held to a higher standard of transparency and public accountability; they ought to be safe-guarded in formal ways as well by having corporate decision-making structures that protect the user rights of the people involved.”

Steffen keeps on surprising me by the depth of his thinking.

5 June 2008

One month to go to the World Congress of Architecture

UIA World Congress of Architecture
In a month’s time Turin, Italy will host the XXIII edition of the World Congress of Architecture, promoted by the UIA (International Union of Architects).

More than 4000 participants have registered already. There are over 70 sessions with more than 360 speakers.

The topic chosen for the 2008 congress is “Transmitting Architecture“, or as the organisers say “the strength and ability architecture has of expressing and communicating values, feelings and diverse cultures through time.”

For Leopoldo Freyrie, General Speaker of the Torino 2008 UIA congress, this also indicates the desire and will to bring architecture out of a sort of isolation in which buildings and even gorgeous solutions are designed without any real connection to surrounding reality.

In fact during the press conference today Freyrie was quite adamant about the social and ethical role of the congress, which according to him had a duty to confront the major environmental, social, demographic, economic and migration challenges our planet is facing and that are often so concentrated in its urban environments.

We concur.

The three days dedicated to the congress themes are planned to include the following contents:

  • June 30th 2008, CULTURE, the project’s culture, talent and training, history and the Past, the transmission and protection of the architectural heritage, restoration.
  • July 1st 2008, DEMOCRACY, the construction of an urban democracy in the Present, participation, the decision-making process, the territory’s transformation, communication and mediation.
  • July 2nd 2008, HOPE, environmental sustainability and safeguard as ethical duty of architects, the search for a Future with a still inhabitable world, technological innovation.

One session will be of particular interest to readers of this blog: on 2 July Nicolas Nova (LIFT lab) will be moderator of a session entitled “From ubiquitous technology to human context – Technology applied to architecture and design: does it solve problems or create needs?”. Invited speakers are Adam Greenfield (Nokia), Jeffrey Huang (Media and Design Laboratory, EPFL, Switzerland) and Younghee Jung (Nokia).

A very nice gesture is the low-cost registration: 100 euros for professionals and 50 for students.

- Read today’s press release (Word document)
- Consult the programme

13 April 2008

Videos online of Share Festival 2008 conferences

Share Festival
All videos of the conferences at the Bruce Sterling curated Share Festival that recently took place in Turin, Italy, are now online.

Aside from Bruce Sterling, exhilarating discussants were Massimo Banzi, Julian Bleecker, Donald Norman and Marcos Novak, to name just a few.

Manufacturing: From Digital to Digifab
- Bruce Sterling, Share Festival guest curator, writer
- Stefano Boeri, architect, publishing director of Abitare magazine
Share Festival conferences start – Sterling and Boeri discuss about digital manufacturing. As Bruce Sterling says “on the map there’s more than on the territory”, but it is certainly true that “in materiality i feel confortable as never before”.

Manufacturing Cultural Projects
- Montse Arbelo and Joseba Franco, artists
- Katina Sostmann, researcher
- Kees de Groot and Viola van Alphen, GogBot Festival direction
The development of digital technologies have led to new themes for art and design. Three different European projects present their production processes concerning digital art and design: ArtTechMedia, project to promote digital art, digifab activity of university department of design at Akademie der Kunste Berlin, GogBot Festival, Ducth event focused on creative applications on Robots.

Manufacturing the Streets
- Gianni Corino, researcher at Plymouth University
- Hugo Derijke, artist
- Chiara Boeri, artist
How can artists contribute to design public space and re-define the social sphere? Being part of the shared social network system, art and digital communication are the driving forces behind urban transformation, especially in public areas as museum, galleries, squares and shopping centres.

Dramatic Manufacturing
- Motor, artist
- Mauro Lupone, sound designer
- Andrea Balzola, media theorist and play writer
- Anne Nigten, managing director V2_Lab
Presentation of theatre and research projects concerning the post dramatic patterns of digital storytelling. The theatre is conceived as stage machinery where the actor is the performer and technologies play as characters.
Patching Zone: Manufacturing Interdisciplinary Collaborations
The researcher from V2, Rotterdam, shows us the way electronic art is integrating electronic art studio as a meeting table to enter into new agreements among different subjects.

Manufacturing Intelligence
- Luigi Pagliarini, artist and neuropsychologist
- Franco Torriani, critic
- Pier Luigi Capucci, university professor Università di Bologna
- Gordana Novakovic, artist
- Video by Stelarc, artist
Which is the physical, intellective and emotional relationship between man and machine? A new definition of “mind” that is finally able to be free from the prejudice that intelligence is exclusively belonging to human being, or more generally biological beings, thus assessing that artefacts can take part in this new procedure.

Manufacturing Robots
- Stefano Carabelli, university professor Politecnico di Torino
- Pietro Terna, university professor Università di Torino
- Owen Holland, university professor University of Essex
- Giampiero Masera, Turin Chamber of Commerce
The synthesis is in the title of panel, with “manufacturing robots”, looking at robots, from industrial intelligent machines to androids and to mobile applications of artificial intelligence techniques, as expression of industry, creativity, innovation and art. A perspective perfectly represented by the creative idea of the “Marinetti’s Orchestra“, as a key visiting card for the future of our area.

Manufacturing FIAT 500
- Roberto Giolito (Advanced Design Fiat)
Roberto Giolito, designer of the FIAT 500, tells how is borned the design of this vehicle symbol of the italian industrial manifacture.

A Manifesto for Networked Objects
- Julian Bleecker, professor at University of Southern California
Now objects are on-line too – blogjects , blogging objects. Once “things” are connected to the Internet, they immediately become part of the relational system, thus improving and boosting the connections in the social network, and they finally define a new relationship between presence and mobility in the physical world. With a pervading Internet network objects are now “citizens” of our space, with the possibility to communicate and interact with them.

Manufacturing Digital Art
- Massimo Banzi, Arduino co-founder
- Fabio Franchino and Giorgio Olivero, artists
In the 90s digital art was referring to immateriality, now the society has a more natural relationship with technologies, thus letting what is immaterial to become real, and experimenting new interaction processes between man and machine, that has completely become part of everyday life in the meantime. Manufacturing is also referring to digital art, where such equipment as Arduino and the explosive advent of 3D printers and devices for digital manufacturing led to integrate what is digital into what is real.

Manufacturing Future Designs
- Donald Norman, Director of the Institute for Cognitive Science
- Bruce Sterling, writer
- Luca De Biase, publishing director of Nova24- Sole24Ore magazine
- Gino Bistagnino, university professor Politecnico di Torino
Donald Norman presents his latest book, “Design of Future Things”, where objects, agents of an operating macrosystem, are inter-connected within a pervasive network where relation is more important than function. Relation must be focused on sustainability as well, since a harmful element can infect the whole system.

Manufacturing Consent
- Janez Jansa, artist
- Paolo Cirio, artist
- Antonio Caronia, theorist
Recent facts in contemporary society, dazzled by consumer offers and information pollution – people can experience forms of collective hypnosis, created by a communication system whose cultural machines are turning alienation and difference into agreement, thanks to “emotional” strategies that can mould people’s consciousness: where does communication finish and propaganda start?

From Land Art to Bioart
- Ivana Mulatero, critic
- Gianluca Cosmacini, architect
- Franco Torriani, critic
Presentation of the book “From Land Art to Bioart”, edited by Hopefulmonster Press, by Ivana Mulatero.

Is Life Manufacturable?
- Franco Torriani, critic
- Luis Bec, artist
- Nicole C. Karafyllis, biologist and philosopher
Life is now part of the manufacturing process that may produce hybrid examples widely including the two different aspects: natural living entities and technical products. Biofacts, Zootechnosemiotics, Nanotechnology: a new “parallel biology” is rising, where artificial organisms can count on some living beings’ peculiarities?

Two Architectures: Atoms and Bits
- Marcos Novak, architect
- Bruce Sterling, writer
The architecture theorist Marcos Novak and Bruce Sterling discuss about Novak’s concepts such as “trans-vergence”, “trans-architecture”, “trans-modernity”, “liquid architecture”, “navigable music”, “habitable cinema”, “archimusic”. Architectonic explorations into expanded, mixed and alternative virtual reality.

Share Prize Ceremony
The jury:
- Bruce Sterling
- Anne Nigten
- Stefano Mirti
Winner: Delicate Boundaries by Christine Sugrue

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.

2 December 2007

Dott 07 Manual: 1 (Perfect Paperback)

Dott Manual
Dott 07 was a year of community design projects in North East England that explored what life in a sustainable region could be like – and how design can help us get there. It is called a manual (rather than a book, or catalogue) because it’s about practical ways for people either to join Dott projects themselves, or do something similar where they live. At 100 pages, and fully-illustrated in colour with real people, the Dott Manual is wildly under-priced on Amazon.

You can also read the manual online on Worldchanging.com, which is publishing its contents in a series of instalments. The first and second one are already available.

3 November 2007

Simplicity tomorrow

The Simplicity Event
Last week Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken attended the Philips Simplicity Event in London. It was a mixture of a vision presentation, a prototype exhibition, a networking event, and a marketing opportunity. The prototypes on show were conceptual designs for social care environments five years into the future. Developed by Philips Design, they represent the direction of the company’s thinking for future product development.

Everything was driven by a vision worded by Stefano Marzano, CEO of Philips Design, as follows: “There is no good design that is not based on the understanding of people”.

From the Philips press release:

“At the three-day event, Philips [showcased] to a select group of customers, business partners, healthcare professionals and public sector representatives its vision of how in five years the clever use of technology married with intuitive, personalized design can lead to unexpected approaches to caring for people’s well-being at home, in the hospital and on the move.

Philips approaches caring for people’s wellness from three perspectives – caring for guests, caring for families and caring for patients – a focus that reflects Philips drive and commitment to creating concepts and products that are designed around people. [...]

The theme at the 2007 Simplicity Event of “caring for people’s well-being” builds on ongoing societal trends that Philips has been tracking closely: populations are getting older, healthcare is increasingly consumer-driven and business travel is now more extensive and hectic. In light of these trends, Philips employed the creativity and expertise of anthropologists, sociologists, designers, engineers and business leaders to come up with design concepts that address these converging trends. The result: concepts that take a holistic approach to healthcare, in which health and wellbeing touch on all aspects of a person’s daily life. Focusing on relaxing, healing and providing enjoyment, design concepts at the show explore the role of simplicity in Philips three core businesses – healthcare, lighting and consumer lifestyle.”

Design concepts were demonstrated in “real-life” scenarios. One trend Philips is exploring is the growing prevalence for couples to start families later in life. In the “Celebrating Pregnancy” design concept, Philips showcased how through advanced technology and a creative approach to design, prospective parents can experience “the wonder of a view inside the womb”.

Ambient Healing Space“, offering patients the ability to make their hospital stay more comfortable while allowing hospital staff a method of involving patients in their own care and “Daylight“, a hotel scenario suggesting that travel to different time
zones can be refreshing rather than exhausting.

- Press release | Background information
- More information about the concept collection
- Press release: Philips introduces simplicity to the hotel experience
- Videos: Simplicity Event | The Making Of | Megawhat.TV coverage

Several other sites have written about the London event, including AV Review, Design Taxi, Engadget, Geeks Are Sexy, I4U News, Pocket Lint (Wellness concepts, Hospital concepts, Daylight window, and Megawhat live), Tech.co.uk, and Trusted Reviews (Part One, Part Two, Showcase)

Some older concepts can be seen on the Simplicity Event website.

2 October 2007

BT futurologist on new needs hierarchy and feminisation of work

Ian Pearson
BT’s futurologist Ian Pearson sets out some interesting ideas on the future at a recent conference in Rome, as reported by Bruno Giussani.

He suggests a different reading of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs , saying that the value is now in the top layers (self-actualisation, esteem, social – see image on Giussani site). “Tech helps people to do more, interact more, have more fun, be more, and feel better about themselves”.

We can produce in 15 years’ time a virtual world that’s so realistic that you can’t tell if you’re in real life or in that world. Link nervous system, record a handshake or an orgasm and replay it. Education via time travel (any time period, any weather, no tourists, no erosion — take your kids back to Stonehenge; full sensory environments will allow even more).

Duality, a whole new market, where the virtual world and everything you can do on the internet are overlayed into the real world. People and buildings can emit an interactive digital aura (wireless LAN). Artificial intelligence and productivity: today: human big, machine small; tomorrow: we can make machines up to a million times smarter than a human being. Information economy will largely move into the machine world. People will have access to machine enhancements of their creativity. Most of the “male” jobs of today will be automated, taken over by artificial intelligence. In the “care age”, that will follow the “information age”, this will lead to a feminisation of work.

16 September 2007

Background report on Danish “Concept Design” study

Concept Design
Last week, I wrote about how Fora, the R&D division of the Danish Authority for Enterprise and Construction, had just published “Concept Design – How to solve the complex challenges of our time“, which presents a new type of company – the concept design company.

Now they also published a background report to that study.

The purpose of this background report is to map the growth potential of the Danish design industry. Is there a particular type of growth-oriented companies working with the combination of innovation and design? And if so what characterises this type of company?

The analysis shows that the design industry’s potential goes far beyond the traditional focus on product design. Design is an important discipline to concretise innovation and to create new products and services – this implies that the companies’ increased focus on innovation has opened new opportunities for the design industry.

It should be stressed that design cannot drive company innovation on its own. Other industries including advertising and consulting use disciplines that are important to the development of innovative solutions. Companies assisting other companies with innovation must therefore work with tools from various professional disciplines. These are the companies referred to as concept design companies throughout this study.

Chapter 1 highlights the general structure, size and importance of the Danish design industry and maps the Danish concept design companies. The chapter also introduces a point system for ranking individual companies in terms of their ability to carry out concept design.

Chapter 2 maps and describes internationally leading concept design regions and compares results from the Danish survey with the results from the international mapping. In continuation thereof the chapter compares the identified companies based on the system introduced in Chapter 1.

Chapter 3 describes a range of trends that impact concept design companies and their potential for growth. These trends include choice of business strategy, how to combine concept design competences and finally how large industrial companies are moving into concept design.

Download background report (pdf, 990 kb, 75 pages)

13 September 2007

Bruce Sterling lecture in Torino, Italy

Shaping_things
Bruce Sterling will be speaking on his recent book “Shaping Things” in Torino, Italy on Thursday 27 September at 6pm. The event will take place at the “Circolo dei Lettori” [Readers Club].

Sterling [wikipedia - blog] is an American science fiction writer and highly acclaimed futurist thinker and design critic.

He will be living in Torino for the next eight months, “helping out” with the Torino SHARE festival, do his customary blogging and novel writing, cover the design scene for the US press, and also write some contributions (we hope) for the Torino 2008 World Design Capital website.

His book “Shaping Things” [now also available in Italian as "La Forma del Futuro"] introduced the term “spimes” for future manufactured objects with informational support so extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system.

At the event there will also be interventions by Andrea Bairati (Piedmont Regional Government Deputy for Universities, Research, Innovation and International Relations), Luca de Biase (director of the NOVA supplement of the Sole 24 Ore newspaper), and Claudio Germak (Polytechnic University of Torino and Torino World Design Capital). It will be moderated by Chiara Garibaldi and Simona Lodi, who are in charge of the Piedmont Share Festival.

11 September 2007

Josephine Green of Philips on the need for social innovation

Democratizing the Future
The presentation on “social innovation” by Josephine Green, senior director of trends and strategy at Philips Design, at the IIT Institute of Design’s Strategy Conference is now also available as a printed booklet and a pdf: “Democratizing the future. Towards a new era of creativity and growth“.

Though very focused on promoting Philips Design and its projects, it contains some valuable new concepts and ideas.

Here is the abstract:

Major corporations are often restricted by a too-limited view of the future. This view is based on the western belief that time is linear and that the future is merely an empty space that can be ‘colonized’ to the present and filled with ever more technology and consumer goods. However, this technology and consumer determinism now threatens to compromise our wellbeing and prosperity.

This paper argues that we need different ways of thinking, being and doing if we are to live well, prosper and safeguard the future. Primarily we need to go beyond the straightjacket of consumer needs and a consumer approach, and also encompass social needs and a social approach. By doing so, we can drive a new era of creativity and growth.

Working with this emerging social space therefore becomes both an opportunity and a necessity. However, we must not only re-invent our social industries, but also our lifestyles and even the very growth models upon which they are based. To achieve this, the new technologies enable more radical innovation through the delivery of more context-based customized services and systems. Such place embedded systems have the potential to deliver sustainable solutions for the 21st century.

Shifting our emphasis from consumption to services and systems, and combining a consumer-led and socially-led approach, means that how we think about and interact with the future will change. This paper explores these changes and examines how we might open up and engage with the future differently, in terms of going beyond:

  • a market-led approach, based on consumer research and innovation, to a socially-led approach based on social research and social innovation.
  • the act of researching the future to directly engaging with the future through people who are already creating it today.
  • closed research and innovation to open co-creation with stakeholders, especially users.
  • a linear interpretation of time and the future towards new conceptual models that allow a more imaginative and creative interaction with the future.

In short, we need to shift the emphasis away from technology and the market and more towards people and responsibility through ownership. It is time to democratize the future.

Doug Meacham of Experience Matters, LLC reports on the presentation itself.

Download publication (pdf, 800 kb, 35 pages)

8 September 2007

Living Tomorrow

Living Tomorrow
Living Tomorrow is a company originally from Belgium, but currently also active in Amsterdam and San Jose, that presents every day life (banking, shops, cars, aviation, energy, health etc.) of the future based on a people-oriented innovation focus.

“Living Tomorrow is a meeting place for innovative companies to introduce visitors to products and services that can improve the quality of living and working in the near future.

Social, economic and technological developments are observed and are converted into realistic and recognisable applications in the complex. 80% of the displayed solutions are ready for the market, while 20% are future-oriented visions.

Living Tomorrow selects carefully leading-edge companies, each prominent in their field of expertise. Together they integrate their products, services and technologies in a future oriented way.

Living Tomorrow is a research oriented company that is continuously in search of synergies between, and feedback from the participating companies and its (future) customers.

The Living Tomorrow website also contains five interesting case study downloads (on laudry and mirror tv, and on the companies Gispen, Philips and Jaga). You can find them under “Participants” > “Cases”.