Boris Müller from Interface Design of the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam (DE) just announced me that the videos from the Innovationsforum are finally available online. Innovationsforum, which took place last year, invited a stellar cast of interaction design thinkers and practitioners to discuss the many aspects of interface and interaction design: mobile telephone and media interfaces, problem solutions and product visions, web pages and virtual worlds, art and commerce, business and science.
Now this is getting embarrassing. I'm posting something about Fiona Raby & Tony Dunne nearly every month, linking to their magical shrinking website or reporting from their students's shows. However, it would be odd to blog every single talk of the Innovationsforum Interaktionsdesign but not his. Especially as it was so good. I shooted a video of Dunne's talk but the sound is really awful. So here's some notes again.
His talk focussed on Design for debate and in particular about the shift from thinking about design for application to exploring the implications of technology. It's not about making technologies more useful and beautiful but about trying to understand the social, cultural or ethical effects of these technologies. The technologies are not limited to the electronic and digital ones. Biotechnology, nanotechnology have also to be taken into account. What will happen when they will start to move out of laboratories? We'll probably face some rather complicated situations.
Potential of design to help facilitate a debate about the kind of future we want and the kind of products and technologies we want. How are new technologies going to affect the way we live?
To engage with this, i guess design will have to evolve in different ways: new roles, new uses for design and also new methods to deal with that.
It's not about trying to predict the future and get into forecasting but simply about trying to move upstream and not waiting for science to become technology and then products and then design at that level. It's about trying to think about new possibilities while we are still at a scientific stage and design in a way that might facilitate a public discussion about what we want.
Those concepts were illustrated by a mix of projects from his students and Design Interactions (RCA, London) and those he developed with his partner Fiona Raby in their practice.
The course is basically a course of interaction design but the technological scope is wider. They are also not only dealing with electronic and digital technologies but are also wondering how designers can engage with bio or nanotechnologies. When you start to connect with those fields the usual prototype phase is not always possible, unless you're working with a scientist or an engineer. So those projects are more about ethics and what happens when you start dealing with different materials and growing products and stuff like that. But how do we deal with the future without floating into a fantasy space? How can we position ideas in the next 10, 15 to 20 years in a meaningful way?
First a handful projects from 1st years students:
In class, students do a project called Complicated Needs, the goal is to try to think of us not as users and consumers but go beyond that and acknowledge peoples’ complexities, contradictions, and irrationality. And the students are asked to find a phobia or an anxiety and not to design a solution to cure that anxiety but to design a placebo.
First example is Peer Pressure, by Alice Wang. It's about the need to conform. Alice investigated whether products could be designed to help you create the perfect secondary personality to maximize your chance to fit in a new working environment.
The popular mobile beeps at regular intervals to pretend you've just received another SMS. The fast typing keyboard is a software designed to produce the sound of a multitude of letters typed at high speed even if you're only touching one or two keys. The positive printer filters your email inbox and prints out invitation to exclusive parties, requests from the press or producers who fell in love with your new projects, etc. The double sided headphones are for people who like "embarrassing" music. It plays one track inwards and one track outwards simultaneously.
Susanna Hertrich's Chrono_Shredder is part of a series called Me, Only Better that investigates biotechnology. This product belongs to a future society in which human hibernation is used commonly as a way to slow down the natural ageing process. If we sleep for a month for example, how would we feel when we wake up?
Suzanne has managed to ground in a product a topic which seems so difficult and abstract. The Chrono_Shredder features the 365 days of the year on a paper-roll which is led through a shredder. The shredding-device is programmed to use exactly 24 hours to shred one "day". When you wake up the amount of time you have lost is clearly visualized.
Third project is dealing with nanotechnology. Nanotechnologies might give us trousers that don't smell, new ranges of sun creams and cosmetics and other extremely banal applications. Then we read all the time about grey goo and self-assembling machines. The Design Interactions department wanted to find a space in between these extremes. Christopher Woebken got interested in organic material and processes and started to think of nanotechnology not in terms of services or products or chemical treatments but as medium. How would nanotechnology suggest new interactions with our environment? Christopher's New Sensual Interfaces project wonders how we would interact with organic & grown electronics and how this would affect our lives and work. What would be the new possibilities for more pleasurable interface experiences? Prosposal of an answer in the video!
Such project is not about telling what the world will be like in 20 years time but it highlights the way nanotechnology will change our environment, what will happen to our computer screens when it's there.
In second year, the students develop more substantial projects. The space is quite open and this year about one third of the students is working on concepts related to nano and biotechnologies and 2/3 work on digital technology.
Going back to The Meat of Tomorrow, a project that James King presented last year at the RCA show. The project is inspired by Tissue Culture & Art Project's Disembodied Cuisine which Dunne saw in Nantes, France in the exhibition L'Art Biotech a few years ago. The artists grew frog skeletal muscle over biopolymer into a steak. The frog was still alive and well and the inhabitants of Nantes were invited to taste it over a feast. Researchers are developing such "victimless meat". In the future would we go to a restaurant and take part to some "eat yourselves parties"? What happens if we put this scientific research into a more messy, commercial space?
King imagined a near future where animals are not used for food anymore. Mobile animal MRI [Magnetic Resonance Imaging] unit scours the countryside looking for the most perfect examples of cows, pigs, chickens and other livestock. The creatures would be scanned to create accurate cross-sectional images of their inner organs. The most aesthetically pleasing examples of anatomy would be used as templates to create moulds for the in-vitro meat. Thus these totally artificial pieces meats would get a connection back to the animals and maybe become more acceptable.
James used plastic representations of these pieces of food as props to facilitate a discussion with ordinary people about what they felt about this potential future of food. So it's not about coming up with a clever application of a technology or a really good commercial exploitation. Whereas the artistic project of Oron Catts was more disgusting, in the design project you see something more aesthetic.
A few projects by Dunne&Raby:
Evidence Dolls, commissioned by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, were created to provoke discussion amongst a group of single women about the impact of genetic technology on their lifestyle. The dolls are used to store genetic materials as a form of insurance policy in the dating game. Women would collect nail clippings, dental floss, etc and keep them in the penis-drawer. At no point did the designers think that it was a great idea to commercialize but used it to facilitate a discussion with a group of women in their 20s and early 30s about genetic identitites and how it could affect their ideas of love, etc. Science is developed outside of the public realm that's why it is important to get a debate about important issue that will shape our future life. Before it is too late. The designers had many plastic dolls manufactured to give the feeling that they were tangible, real objects. They used them to ground a conversation on a rather abstract subject. Women received blank dolls that they could customize to make them reflect the way their lover looked or was like.
The last project was developed for Designing Design Interaction exhibition at Z33 in Belgium. D&R got very interested in robots. The idea was that there are different kinds of robots today: the companions for the home, the monofunctional robots used in industries and the invisible robots that surround us, in the car for example. So the designers figured out that there might be space for a new "breed" of robots that have become part of the domestic landscape. It's the next step, and it's reached when having robots is no big deal anymore.
Tony talked about these robots in the interview i made of him a few weeks ago and now these notes of his talk are just getting too long, i wanna go to bed and i bet no one is reading me anymore so i'll just link to the interview and add a few images (by Per Tingleff) to make the post pretty.
As Innovationsforum Interaktionsdesign was trying to reflect the whole spectrum of interaction design and innovation, they needed the voice of a visionary. Who else than Bruce Sterling, author of Shaping Things, could fit the bill?
Now when Bruce Sterling talks, you just shut up, listen and enjoy. You don't f... do like me: you don't try to take notes.
Internet of things, spy chips, everyware, digital media, ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing, etc. Think about it as things, objects not networks.
"A computer interface for everything in the world: that doesn't sound realistic but that's because i'm a visionary, it's not my job to be realistic! Something like that is going to happen. It's going to be difficult but you're going to do it. And you will be getting a lot of money when you succeed in doing a part of it."
Do i want to interact with my toothbrush? What's the toothbrush of the future? A toothbrush that advertises that if you upgrade it you'll get 20% more of the plaque removed. Nah! That's boring. How about the new Apple iBrush? It takes pictures of the holes in my teeth and sends the images online. Do we want toothbloggers?
There's not many technical pieces missing! Only thing is that you don't send a toddler to New Delhi.
Patrick Kochlik and Dennis Paul live in Berlin, work at ART+COM, and love to tell stories with technology. They hold workshops all over Germany and sometimes even further a field. Dennis Paul teaches at the University of the Arts Berlin in the Digital Class.
They introduced the work of ART+COM, a pioneer in the area of interaction design in Germany. The company develops interactive architecture, interactive installations, interactive environments and interactive screen applications.
The first example they gave is The Jew of Malta, a project developed by Joachim Sauter for a theatre stage extended/augmented by generative media. The main protagonist can control the projections on three gigantic screens. The virtual architecture is connected to his movements: when he moves turns or forwards, the architecture does the same.
The virtual architecture was, for the most part, generated on the basis of plant growing algorithms in real time. A process was also developed to project the costumes onto the actors.
Developed for the Deutsch Technik Museum Berlin, Die Segelanweisung is a Location Based installation which provides an impression of 16th Century sail traffic instructions based on regulations recorded in 1558 by Cornelis Anthonisz.
Standing in front of a 180°–projection visitors follow the instructions of the captain, bringing the virtual ship upstream to Hamburg. Steering is done by means of the tiller, a mechanism common to the rudders of 16th and 17th Century ships. The tiller responds to the movements of ship and current through physical force feedback and gives the visitor a realistic sensation of steering a ship.
For an exhibition which took place in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, and which traced the changing face of Austrian history and artistic developments during the 20th century, ART+COM developed The New Austria.
A central element of the exhibition was the "flag trail", a 250 metre long banner which passed through all the exhibition rooms. As well as conveying information, it also acted as an interface for audiovisual media and enabled visitors to take an active part in the exhibition: they could view slides through a lens, press the keys of a computer quiz to take part in a history quiz game, use an ear trumpet to actually listen in on history or expand key terms by means of touch-sensitive interfaces.
For the The Science of Aliens at the London Science Museum, ART+COM created an interactive room where visitors can get in touch directly with aliens. The creatures move through virtual landscapes and are generated in real time. Visitors can not only watch the aliens but also influence their behaviour and actions. That's what interested the designers most: how generative systems can create narratives.
Floating Numbers was the starting point of their exploration of sensitive interfaces. Rules programmed into the system created a space of possibilities that were always evolving. The installation was "well-behaved" in the sense that it didn't create any frustration when used by visitors. But something they haden't expected happened: people were scooping the letters in their hands.
Dennis and Patrick then took a closer look at behavior and explained what they meant by "well-behaved".
Several digital artefacts imply some of these mechanisms:
Conclusion: Digital artefacts "behave". Even if you don't think about it, it might happen by accident. We don't need simple interaction design, we need interesting interaction design and that's the real challenge. Design ambiguous artefacts and let the negociation take place between the object and the user. Leave space for imagination so that things can happen beyond what can be expected.
Images from Dennis and Patrick's talk.
Gillian Crampton Smith is regarded as one of the pioneers of interaction design. In 1989, she established the Computer Related Design Department at the Royal College of Art in London. In 2001 she set up the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Italy, a graduate school and research institution sponsored by Telecom Italia and Olivetti which gained wide recognition as a leading centre for interaction design research and education. She is also the Chair of Convivio EU Network.
She is now developing together with Philip Tabor a graduate programme of interaction design in the faculty of design of the IUAV University in Venice.
The craft of Interaction Design has developed through experience without thinking too much about rationalizing it. Like Bauhaus' work in the '20s, the new grammar of film making developed by Eisenstein, it can be a platform from which those coming after us can build upon. Many designers work in a very intuitive way. So far any attempt to systematize design has proved inconsistent. The only way to research design is by doing design.
Design as research.
Argument 2. All design is research. Each design problem is unique. Design progresses through exemplars. Design repertoires.
Argument 3. Includes the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances and artefacts, including design, where these lead to substantially improved insights.
Looking for 3 types of insight:
What is possible to do with technology? How can we communicate it in implicit and explicit ways?
Each cardboard box can do one simple input or output thing. Each box knows where it is, the time and where the other boxes are. Interactions can take place anywhere in the world; for example, a box in Ivrea can have a switch that turns on a light in Tokyo-all done via the Internet.
Gilian Crampton-Smith then showed several projects from Strangley Familiar, a series of explorations into physical computing by ex-students of Ivrea. The first rule the students were given was "No button."
Message Table, for example, is an answering machine that forces you to have a clear desk.
The cord connecting each of the Tug Tug telephone to its base is a shared interactive object, allowing each person to affect the distant phone physically by pulling the cord. If you pull the cord, the receiver at the other end falls of the hook.
Need to make a difference: after some 20 years of interaction design, we still spend a tremendous amount of time staring at a screen and typing with two fingers. Good ideas need to be sustainable, understandable and not just implementable.
Aequilibrium is an interactive environment developed for the Rialto fish market in Venice. The project shows how to use a technology without loosing the quality that makes the city so special. The fish in Aequilibrium react to your presence: they get scared and avoid your arrival but they become your friends when you are quiet. Four columns on the sides show predictions and pollution. The prediction can change accoring to your behaviour, by interacting with Aequilibrium you get a sense of how your actions can influence nature
Bad pictures of the slides.
They explained in extensive details a project they worked on 3 years ago: the website of travel agency STA Travel. The company sells travels to a young audience but at the time their website presence didn't reflect that. Their IT system was obsolete.
Very long strategy phase for this project. STA Travels has headquarters in 30 countries, each of them have customers which have their own needs and requirements. Therefore the website had to be a unified structure of flows of information as well as a very flexible platform suitable for each country. The outside aspect of the website stays identical whatever the country, all the flexibility is inside.
Users access the website not only for booking but also to get information about their destination, to create and form a community of travellers with like-minded interests and who will profit from each other's experiences. They made a mash-up of several information providers that they integrated in the platform as one. Along with the booking machine, some content elements are provided by Lonely Planet travel guide publishers and by What's On When (particular events in town at the exact time of your travel).
They also provided the agencies with a style guide that allows them to develop their own content.