Seen in Chania, Crete. Someone there should read about cognitive load and signage.
(Albert Robida’s vision of the future in 1890)
Last june, I participated in a panel at the i-realize conference in Torino with Bruce Sterling and Geoff Manaugh. The starting point of the discussion was a short presentation I gave which resulted from a workshop I organized the day before about how people move and interact in Torino and how this may evolve over time. As one can see on the video of the panel (apart from the fact that I am a bit stressed out because my VGA adapter is screwed), Bruce picked up on the results to describe his personal interests. He mentioned how as science-fiction writer, he was into “big futuristic things”. But he also stated how as a tech journalist he fancies small details/improvements/additions/modifications in our daily life (exemplified by the booklet i did with Fabien).
He used the street example (see picture below) to describe how innovation can be very basic… like this curved sidewalk that allows people to roll up instead of having a big step.
Interestingly, reading Warren Ellis august column at Wired UK, I also find an echo to this discussion:
“The future bubbles up under the floorboards.
We spend a lot of time looking for our spaceships and jet-packs, but – and consider this bit, it gets bigger and weirder the more you think about it – in a matter of days we can genetically sequence a mutant virus that’s jumped the species gap. People try to make an ordinary thing of that. There’s a strong tendency to cast the present day, whenever that may be, as essentially banal and not what was promised. Stop looking for the loud giant stuff. The small marvels surround us.“
Why do I blog this? referencing material about the balance between big futuristic things and ordinary change, interesting quotes to be re-used in my upcoming course about how to observe the world for design purposes. This discussion about small marvels directly connects with George Perec’s notion of “Infra-ordinary“.
It’s called “Design Fiction: Using Props, Prototypes and Speculation In Design” and here’s the summary:
“This panel will present and discuss the idea of “design fiction”, a kind of design genre that expresses itself as a kind of science-fiction authoring practice. Design fiction crafts material visions of different kinds of possible worlds.
Design’s various ways of articulating ideas in material can be seen as a kind of practice close to writing fiction, creating social objects (like story props) and experiences (like predicaments or scenarios). In this way, design fiction may be a practice for thinking about and constructing and shaping possible near future contexts in which design-led experiences are created that are different from the canonical better-faster-cheaper visions owned by corporate futures.
This panel will share design fiction projects and discuss the implications for design, strategy and technology innovation. In particular, how can design fiction bolster bolster the communication of new design concepts by emphasizing rich, people-focused storytelling rather than functionality? How can design fiction become part of a process for exploring speculative near futures in the interests of design innovation? What part can be played in imagining alternative histories to explore what “today” may have become as a way to underscore that there are no inevitabilities — and that the future is made from will and imagination, not determined by an “up-and-to-the-right” graph of better-faster-cheaper technologies.“
If this all happens Julian will be joined by people such as Sascha Pohflepp (http://www.pohflepp.com/), Jake Dunagan (http://www.iftf.org/user/958). Bruce Sterling (http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/), Stuart Candy (http://futuryst.blogspot.com/) or myself.
What struck as fascinating was that Rams was, at first, hired to design stuff but with a different mission that led him to nail down design process:
“One of my first jobs in the design department was to harmonise the relationship between the designers and the technicians and so build up trust. There was certainly no form to the design process; for example, as yet there were no briefings. Later on we created teams consisting of designers, marketing people and technicians who, from the start, all worked together on a product. Such a framework does have a huge effect on the design process. The design projects then followed the tasks set by each of the individual areas – whether it be hi-fi, body care, health care etc. There was a business director who was at the same level as the technical director and the design director.“
He also tackles relevant aspects in terms of marketing issues:
“[reacting to the marketing take-over at Braun]This always had to do with the ever-increasing quantities that had to be produced. And with the fact that more complex production technology also necessitated huge investments in toolmaking and production facilities. Marketing gained in importance at the end of the seventies as it was responsible for ensuring competitiveness and a return on investment.
the reason for the actual problem may be that no one wants to admit that at some point they have reached the end of the line. Yet you can’t always be making a new shaver or a new coffee machine unless you come up with a real innovation – and here I’m not talking about tinkering with the shape or the colour. And then people think that this will increase sales a bit more. They’re dreaming! Yet for all this it seems as if most managers still believe that just having a sheer mass of products on the market achieves something. Right now, that is the problem with the car industry. They have been shoving more and more cars onto the market yet it is obvious that the markets have long been saturated. And yet these are precisely the development programme targets being set by the design divisions of larger companies. But I still maintain that the way is to produce less, but better. “
Why do I blog this? curiosity towards Ram’s approach and thinking.
“ Digital Cityscapes: Merging Digital and Urban Playspaces ” a book edited by Adriana de Souza e Silva and Daniel Sutko that deal with location-based games and urban informatics:
“The convergence of smartphones, GPS, the Internet, and social networks has given rise to a playful, educational, and social media known as location-based and hybrid reality games. The essays in this book investigate this new phenomenon and provide a broad overview of the emerging field of location-aware mobile games, highlighting critical, social scientific, and design approaches to these types of games, and drawing attention to the social and cultural implications of mobile technologies in contemporary society. With a comprehensive approach that includes theory, design, and education, this edited volume is one of the first scholarly works to engage the emerging area of multi-user location-based mobile games and hybrid reality games.“
The book features a chapter called “Framing the Issues for the Design of Location-Based Games
” written by Fabien and myself (at the time I was still at the Media and Design Lab at EPFL). It basically describes an
overview of the three main design issues we tackled in CatchBob!: the role played by physical features (physical world structure, staircases, etc), the importance of the technological infrastructure (namely, WiFi) and finally the user experience of mutual location-awareness.
Why do I blog this? this is the final paper about the CatchBob! project which occupied Fabien and I from 2004. A big part of the project was about the socio-cognitive influence of mutual location-awareness (which has been done when we were at CRAFT but the one described in this chapter has benefited from my stay at the Media and Design Lab. The discussion we had at the time (2007-2008) were more geared towards architecture and design and certainly shaped some ideas that we discuss.
On a different note, although the chapter and the book are about games, there is a lot to draw out of this specific domain. Urban informatics as a whole could benefit from the elements discussed there.
Several occurrences of adaptive street interface encountered in Geneva this summer. The street fountains has been accommodated with either a little table (above) or both a little table and a bench (below) with a bright orange color. I assume it’s meant to encourage the street life/gathering around fountains.
Another example below: a street garden device made out of wood
Why do I blog this? interest towards how the existing (hard) infrastructure can be complemented by other add-on devices that can enable new behavior (gardening) or facilitate existing ones (gathering). It’s interesting to think about how to start from existing elements and not go directly for a new artifact.
Besides, I also like the temporarily aspect of it: the orange steel devices seem to be limited for summer use. Different seasons, different objects.
Went to Zurich last wednesday, for the robot exhibit at the Design Museum. Called “Robots – From Motion to Emotion?”, it is meant to give an overview of robotic research, with a presentation of robot highlights (ASIMO, nanorobots or the robotic jockey) as well as addressing issues such as: why robots are accepted or rejected and what characteristics determine the relationship of people to machines.
It’s actually a “staged mess” that may be supposed to show how robot design is grounded into specific references (books, picture, newspaper clipping), artifacts (computers, electronic and electric tools) and prototypes. Unfortunately, this part was documented. I was thus left out with my own musing when examining it. If you look at the books in the picture below, you can see that the references that has been chosen ranges from “The Buddha in the robot” to “Y2K or “Action perception” and Charles Stross’s “Singularity”. Don’t know what lead to this choice but there were also different pieces by Asimov that I haven’t captured. Obviously the bible for robot designers/fans (that said, I am often mesmerized by the preponderance of Asimov in this field, there might be a lot to do in terms of Non-Asimovian robot design, as Frederic highlighted already)
The office floor interestingly features cat food and a cat food dispenser, which may account for the importance of animal proximity in the robot design process. Perhaps some sort of hint to tell us to what extent creating a bot needs a metaphor from living beings:
Why do I blog this? the whole exhibit gives and interesting overview of the robot scene but I was a bit disappointed by the design/art part since there’s a lot going on this field. For that matter, it was a bit conservative. And as usual with robots, there is always a strong emphasis on locomotion as opposed to other characteristics of robots that I would find more intriguing to explore (agency, learning from the history of interactions, networked capabilities, etc.).
Been stuck into Pacman maps and cartographic representations lately, as the one above (that represents the “strawberry and first Orange” levels. I found the one above at this Unified Resource Locator when practicing random combinations of keywords on the Google (an activity I often carry out with a keen interest).
I do not really know why but they seems highly peculiar and remarkable, perhaps as a seminal depiction of video game levels; in other words, one of the most important (and early) representation of a digital environment based on a metaphorical grid (Not to mention the 256th “split screen” special).
Beyond this map metaphor, what is also intriguing is the solution possibilities, which are based on the fact that Pacman works on a deterministic but not random. What I mean here is that the opponents you have to escape from have very specific kinds of behavior. Each ghost has a specific role (chaser, ambusher, fickle and stupid). As explained on the Wikipedia:
“enabling experienced players to devise precise sequences of movements for each level (termed “patterns”) that allow them to complete the levels without ever being caught. A later revision of the game code altered the ghosts’ behavior, but new patterns were soon developed for that behavior as well. Players have also learned how to exploit other flaws in the ghosts’ behavior, including finding places where they can hide indefinitely without moving, and a code bug occasionally allows Pac-Man to pass through a non-blue ghost unharmed. Several patterns have been developed to exploit this bug. The bug arises from the fact that the game logic performs collision detection based on ghost / Pac-Man occupancy of grid squares, where the grid squares are large relative to the size of the characters. A character occupies (for collision detection purposes) only one grid square (“tile”) at at time, despite its graphic depiction overflowing to another tile. If a ghost and Pac-Man switch tiles with each other simultaneously (which is not a rare phenomenon, because the tiles granularity is large), a collision isn’t detected“
The solution is about finding patterns about the grid and artifacts’ behavior, which is something some players understand and some others never get. At least, some who did, took some time to get it or were told to spot a pattern.
Why do I blog this? Pure curiosity towards this historical piece of culture. There must be something to nail down here about Pacman’s grid (and players’ behavior) as a metaphor/vehicle for discussions nowadays about the advent of augmented maps. We all know the cartographic representations updated in real-time (or in a more asynchronous way) and based on the aggregation of digital traces. Mapping the use of cell-phones for instance to highlight urban activities with a platform such as Citysense.
To what extent the “instant maps” based on the collecting of digital traces will require users to perform the same pattern analysis than Pacman maps? Should it be like them? different? How can we formulate the difference and help users to spot patterns?
But wait. What is pattern anyway and why do we need to reveal them to people in the first place?
Physical encounter with a “error” signage coming from the digital world during an urban scouting venture in Chania, Crete.
Generally, I do not read so much of business books but I wanted to have a glance at “Competing for the Future” (Gary Hamel, C. K. Prahalad) because it deals with issues I am interested in: futures and the importance of foresight research. Although the vocabulary is idiosyncratic and turned to a certain category of people (“managers”, “leader”), there are some interesting parts.
More specifically, I was of course curious about how the authors dealt with “failures”, a research topic I came to cherish for a while. Some dog-eared pages excepts below.
First about what constitutes a failure, p.267:
“Verdicts of new product failure rarely distinguish between arrows aimed at the wrong target and arrows that simply fell short of the right target. And because failure is personalized – if the new product or service doesn’t live up to internal expectations it must be somebody’s fault – there is more often a search for culprits than for lessons when initial goals are not reached. Even worse, when some salient new facts comes to light as a result of market experience, the manager in charge is deemed guilty of not knowing it in advance. With risk so often personalized, it is not surprising that when failure does occur, there is often a race to get the body to the morgue before anyone can do an autopsy. The result is a missed opportunity to learn.
Not surprisingly, if the personal price of experimentation is high, managers will retreat to the safety of test-it-to-death, follow-the-leader, do-only-what-the customer-asks-for conservatism. Such conservatism often leads to much grander, though less visible failures.
Failures is typically, and we believe wrongly measured exclusively in terms of dollars lost rather than dollars foregone. In which traditional US computer company, for example, has a senior officer lost his or her job, corner office, or promotion for surrendering leadership in the laptop computer business to others? Managers seldom get punished for not trying, but they often get punished for trying and coming up short. This is what promotes the obsession with hit rate, rather than the number of hits actually generated.“
And further out, p.268:
“Failure is often the child of unrealistic expectations as it is of managerial incompetence. (…) IBM0s ill-fated first attempt, in the late 1983, to enter the home computer market with PC jr. Widely criticized for having a toylike keyboard and for being priced too high, the PC jr. was regarded by both insiders and outsiders as a failure. Yet at the time, it would have been difficult for anyone to predict exactly what product would appeal to home users whose computer experience to date withe home computing was likely to be playing video-game on an Atari or Commodore. The real failure was not that IBM’s first product missed the mark, but that IBM overhyped its entry and was thus unable to find a quiet refuge from whence it could relaunch a calibrated product. (…) The point is not that the ambitions of IBM were too grand, but rather that what constitutes failure depends on management’s initial assumptions about how quickly and easily success should come.“
Interestingly, given that the book has been written in the 90s, there are some striking examples that are brought under scrutiny… and which eventually makes a lot of sense today. See for instance the iphone/newton resurgence:
“If the opportunity is oversold and risks under-managed, failure and premature abandonment of the opportunity are preordained. Overhyping damaged Apple’s early experiment with handwriting recognition in the form of the Newton Message Page. While the Newton was a failure in terms of Apple’s optimistic predictions, it may not be a failure in the longer-run battle to create a market for personal digital assistants (…) this is partly the price of being a pioneer. (…) Thus one can’t judge success or failure on the basis of a single product launch“
And, of course, there’s a short part about how to spot one’s failure on p.270:
“it is, though, a mandate to learn when inevitable setbacks occur. When a product aimed at a new market goes astray, management must ask several important questions. First, did we manage the risks appropriately or barge in like a bull in a china shop? Second, did we possess reasonable expectations about the rate at which the market will develop? Third, did we learn anything that will improve our chances on the next attempt? Fourth, how quickly can we recalibrate and try again? Fifth, do we believe that the opportunity is still for real and does its size warrant another attempt? And sixth, if we don’t try again, have we just taught our competitors a valuable lesson that they will use to get to the future ahead of us? Failures should be declared only if the answer to all these questions is no.“
Why do I blog this? working on the outline of the next book leads me to collect material about failures and their importance in foresight/design. These excerpts come from a very business/management sciences angle but they bring interesting aspects to the table that I will quote and re-use.