0brucesterling.jpgAs 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.
(Nearly) random snippets from when i was not just listening:

Internet of things, spy chips, everyware, digital media, ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing, etc. Think about it as things, objects not networks.

Coming through the convergence of technologies, are the Spime. 6 qualities distinguishes them:
- they are conceived and designed within a network,
- they are given a unique (digital) identity distinct from the others,
- they are physically fabricated as opposed to manufactured in a factory. They are not made until they are sold,
- they can be tracked through technologies of geo-localization,
- they can be searched out through network search engines,
- they are designed for disassembling.
- then there's a 7th one: they leave an historical trace behind them, a valuable pool of metadata.


"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."

Robots were invented by Czech writer Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) which was written in 1920 - technology problem dressed up as a human being.

Augemented Reality is a dated idea.
Net is a reality not a fantasm.
The cell phone is a metamedium, it has taken the role of an answering machine, a camera, a video camera, a wallet, a fax, a dicatphone, an FM radio, an AM radio, a music player, a video player, a pedometer, GPS, a barcode reader, car-keys, etc.


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?

Never thinking about objects: that's the way it should go between objects and human beings. Design should let users obsess less about objects.

Google has started to scare me, yet it's become impossible not to use it anymore.

I want to be able to give a device (let's make it a tablet) to a four year old boy and let him tour the world. He could go to downtown New Delhi. The tablet will book the plane trip, get him through the controls at the airport, order a special meal, play games, pay the taxi from the airport, book the hotel, bring him to favourite food places, etc. The tablet can do all that for him. It has biometrics so no one but the toddler can use the tablet. The tablet would send twitter messages to his mum every 15 seconds. It's like he never left! And of course the device has geo-locative capabilities to tell her where her son is exactly. The kid doesn't have to learn how to use it, doesn't have to be careful, doesn't have to be afraid to loose his passport or wallet.

There's not many technical pieces missing! Only thing is that you don't send a toddler to New Delhi.

In Bruce Sterling's book there are some strange paragraphs, but none of them is strange enough to reflect the strangeness of our future.

No place left to hide from interactivity. Research and Developments and Science-fiction might not have the same audience, exposition nor use the same techniques but they work in the same conceptual space.

Sponsored by:

0portraitcati.jpgWhen i asked her what she does or drink to have so much energy and creativity Cati Vaucelle simply told me that she is spending the nights playing World of Warcraft. Well, i'm sorry Cati, it doesn't work for us mere mortals! Hanging around with druids and having a stroll through Dun Morogh on the back of a tiger doesn't usually results in projects that i'd want to blog. And if Cati's avatar kills monsters and completes quests as fast as she engineers new projects then she might be one of the most formidable players around. One day she's working on a touch-sensitive dress for sensory therapy, the day after she announces that she's just finished collaborating with Hayes Raffle on a rubber stamp that children can press onto the page to record sounds into their drawings.

I don't know which label i should put on Cati Vaucelle: is she a researcher? an artist? a designer? Something in between?

I am a knowledge shopper. I studied philosophy and fine arts, applied computer science, psychology, and computational linguistics starting in Paris with a B.S. in mathematics and economics. At MIT I took classes in engineering and programming, recently graduating from Harvard University in product design and architecture. Juggling among degrees triples my inspiration. I feel empowered by applying this knowledge in my research. Now I define myself as a researcher, an inventor and an artist at the same time. I collaborate frequently as I find it extremely enlightening. My work has implications for fields as diverse as HCI, architecture, fashion, learning and health care treatment.

Can you tell me something about your career: how you came to be interested in tangible interfaces, digital technology, augmented "everyday" realities?

I started to use microcontrollers to augment everyday objects back in Paris. I searched for prior inventions in the domain, and discovered the work of the MIT Media Lab. After a few years of research in physical augmentation via computer means I found that a new materiality emerged based on our physical limitations supported by digital possibilities. This new materiality was also created through the possibility to keep memorized an impossible number of data. I was fascinated by the power of computation in recalling memories. I designed a range of computational linguistic tools from toy design, storytelling systems, to performative text instruments to record stories of experiences. Gradually the six exteroceptive senses became part of my design principles. I like to engage people’s associative memory for elements in their life that can be recalled through AI tools and products.

In my sculpture work, I combine the material representation of a souvenir and its effect over time. I print a series of clothes in plaster molds and in life-sized frames. The pieces of clothing carved in the plaster come from people I care for. Their prints represent their passage in my life at a point. The mold essentially keeps the shape and the textural significance of the clothing.

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Memento Box: Outside and inside

I designed a series of kinetic and architectural installations, electronically mediated clothing, and smell collector systems in relation to my take on memories. I created the Memento Box, a kinetic installation that symbolizes a view on my relationship to souvenirs. This kinetic and electronic Box represents an attractive passage from door to personal space of souvenirs.

0breathingwallll.jpgThe Breathing Wall kinetic piece that I created with Ana Aleman consists of a wall made from thin transparent tubes that react to the public space. Made out of architectural objects that work independently or dependently of one another, it deploys and retracts soft fabric. The wall remembers the sense of the public and reacts accordingly.

In Touching Memories, I originally wanted the system to capture the memory of touch represented by its pressure and warmth. This system, later called Taptap and built with Leonardo Bonanni, Jeff Lieberman and Orit Zuckerman, supports the remembrance of a lost one, sharing physical prompts to recall a souvenir of touch for distant lovers. This work resulted in a series of prototypes: Squeeze Me, Hurt Me, Cool Me Down and Touch Me with implications for support in mental health care treatments. I continue independent research on Seamless Sensory Interventions for the treatment of mental and neurological disorders. Haptics are the key to bringing treatment into the social sphere through devices, providing new ways to mediate between the patient and the therapist both in and outside of therapy. Self-mutilation is a perfect test-case, because of the definitive “physicality? of the symptoms. However, the broader solutions that I am proposing have implications for diseases as diverse as autism, depression, and schizophrenia.

Cool Me Down

Together with Yasmine Abbas I explore the design of a touch-sensitive dress for massage and sensory therapy. The research focuses on the material - how the structure and the embedded components of the garment participate in pushing its function to become an envelope or cocoon for one's well-being. Touch·Sensitive is a haptic apparel that allows massage therapy to be diffused, customized and controlled by people on the move. It provides individuals with a sensory and alerting cocoon.

I design the Odora Storyteller, a smell collector. It encompasses the experience of the everyday collector and creates an associative memory of smells, places and objects. The first prototype is conceived for children to collect samples from their environment. The children can reveal and create associative connection between smells, textures and visual components of elements that they gather. The collected elements are then used to create and recall stories. I also envision this concept for persons suffering from Alzheimer's disease. People with Alzheimer’s could benefit from associative memory between smell and souvenirs of places.

The smell collector became a collector of everyday sensations. The collector allows a child to also collect temperatures - from the heat of the sun to the cold of the ice, invited to capture more complex temperature such as the soil.

I am designing Jewelry in the form of arial patterns of a city. My vision is to have in miniature the multitude of patterns that one can see from a distance. The research implication/discussion is now that we constantly travel by plane, use GIS, google map, satellite imagery, our vision is expanded. We now consider differently objects, we have a different representation to them. As much as the car has influenced painting and the representation of space and movement, I want to show how the use of new technologies can change our way to design objects.

Crazy toys allow children to voice out their drawing construction. Crazy toys capture the pitch and loudness of the child's voice and generates patterns on a screen. I am working on a database management of the child's pre-drawn pattern that she could decide to use for her compositions. I am currently making a generic doll whose body reacts to the sound input and generates digital drawings. I link max/msp to processing. The digital patterns from processing flow through the body of the doll as a metaphor on how digital technologies invade our everyday space and body.

One of your prior researches was concerned with the underlying mechanisms regarding the improvisation of narratives by children. This gave way to some pretty imaginative projects. What have you learnt from that experience with children? How much did their interaction with the objects/devices you gave them modified your perception of the subject?

I learned that tools for children need to be designed to support their evolving skills. Electronic toys, toys with AI and digital applications for children could benefit from multiple levels of learning including different layers of complexity.

As a research associate at Media Lab Europe from 2002-2004, I designed Textable Movie with Glorianna Davenport. In the framework of computational storytelling, Textable Movie promotes the idea of maker-controlled media and can be contrasted to automatic presentation systems. By improvising movie-stories created from their personal video database and by suddenly being projected into someone else’s video database during the same story, users can be surprised as they visualize video elements corresponding to a story that they would not have expected. With Textable Movie, users make their own inference about these discoveries rather than using artificial systems that make the inference for them. They can then create a personal mode of interaction with the system, e.g. mapping keywords to videos, and incorporate new video clips and sound samples to their database.

0textabemoih.jpgThe complexity, power and flexibility of Textable Movie can be seen in how novel projects presented themselves through its use. The immediate response from the system by the children made it comparable to a video game. I created Textable Game that extends the concept to the realm of video games. This application aims to engage teenagers in building their own games, e.g. action games, exploration games, mystery games, using their own video/audio footage, and allowing them to create their own rules and scenarios. The goal of Textable Game is to invite teenagers to be their own video game producers.

Evaluations with Textable Movie informed me that more fusion between creating an idea and producing it was necessary. For a revisit of Textable Movie, I wanted to couple mobile technologies to a platform that could materialize ideas and retrieve them seamlessly had to be implemented. I explored the concept of tangibility of digital data as a way for children to gather and capture data around the city for later retrieval. In this case, tangible objects become metaphors of captured elements. I conceived a device using mobile technology combined with tangible objects as metaphors called Moving Pictures: Looking Out/Looking In. This project became a team project that I developed with Diana Africano and Oskar Fjellström, both researchers at the Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden.

Moving Pictures: Looking Out/Looking In
allows children to gather outside and look around in their environment to collect visual clips, capture short videos using video cameras, and then come back inside to a video editing station where they reflect on and play with their media collection.

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Recording with the camera and uploading videos on the table

With Moving Pictures the experience for the user is transparent. The cumbersome process of capturing and editing becomes fluid in the improvisation of a story, and accessible as a way to create a final movie. I integrated different layers of complexity, from digitizing the media, performing a movie, to storyboarding a more complex narrative. Elements of design such as cards symbolizing the composition of the screen are used to offer the children the potential to become video artists, understanding and playing with the frame as they go.

Based on our evaluations with children, I found that Moving Pictures suffers from several limitations related to the problem of how to best digitally support meaningful interactions in the physical space. First the scalability of such a system at a networked and international level is flawed. I need to redesign the software technology to centralize the linked data and distribute the nodes of contained data in an organized fashion. To have the technology better assist how an individual moves about the physical space while capturing content their platform needs to be mediated by a centralized software architecture.

Second, system centralization implies new communication technology to mediate the video platforms and allow them to communicate with one another. The RFID technology in the wireless cameras could be redesigned into a pattern based technology using the video camera of any device.

Lastly, I would like to escape the hardware limitations of commercial video cameras. Users could use any phone, any camera or text based device to exchange material. The system should be designed to generalize despite different input modalities. All of these modifications shift the emphasis of the system from a simple, transparent, video platform, and into an architecture for supporting content generation that reflects the physical environment of the user through multiple information platforms.

What are the challenges, pecularities and pitfalls when working with children (compared with projects you'd develop for grown-ups)?

It is complex to work on projects for children because of our responsibility as adults. The video game world is very attractive to kids and it can also easily be allienating without any parental and environmental support. I also wish that companies could facilitate their console hacking for kids, by protecting certain parts of their market, but making it hackable for more creative projects. Kids could still use the console for its game purpose but could appropriate its design to make their own. As an example, experimented adults can hook up applications to the new Wii console using emulators, but this is not being hacked by children.

Also the Wii is an example of interesting design because it uses body motions and physical space as part of its design principles. I recently saw multiple generations, from the young child to the grand parents, play with it and everybody enjoyed it. It seems fully integrated within the family context as much as traditional board games have been in the past. In the realm of PvP video games, World of Warcraft has a nice goody for its users: they can take a break and double their experience the next time they come online but to not forget their addiction, WoW only doubles it up to two levels. This is smart, it allows users to go away from the computer screen for a few days and engage back into their addiction. However, sometimes this time is also used to create other characters…

There are also challenges for electronic toys. In 2002, a friend of mine commented beautifully on the matter:

"The most beautiful thing happened on Tuesday night. I was babysitting for Colum, Jenny's little boy, he's 5 (and three quarters!). We made up 2 new super heroes Lava Man and the other Lava Man! We were just having a really good play with lots of jumping around and shouting. Anyway, later we were just sitting down and talking more quietly. He was showing me this little dinosaur that has tiny batteries inside and when you open his mouth he roars. Colum said the batteries were wasted and I said I can get new ones for him. He said 'no, its terrible when the batteries work because every time he opens his mouth all he can do is roar, even when he tries to eat something all he can do is roar so he can’t even eat anything so lets leave him with the wasted batteries, he’s better that way'. All I could do was smile the widest smile." Andy Brady

0puppppppets3.jpgTraditional toys such as puppets and dolls encourage young children's storytelling in the form of pretend play. Unfortunately, the majority of commercial technological toys do not provide the space for children to tell their own stories; rather they tend to tell stories to them or constrain their play pattern. Children could benefit from creating stories rather than listening to them. The quote from Andy Brady is an example of how technology can be useless and, worse, annoying or constraining to the child. In this example, technology is not contributing anything to the play pattern of the child except the repetitious dinosaur roaring which apparently is not pleasing for anyone! The child voices his complaint by asking not to use this technology anymore.

In my work, I aim to add technology to prompt the child in a way that allows the child to be an active participant in story creation. When a system for authorship is well designed, the technology is not invading. In 2000 I created Dolltalk (PDF), a set of computational puppets designed for storytelling. Dolltalk captures the child's storytelling though motions made with puppetry and the voice of the child. In this work, the challenge was to combine the right balance of technology coupled with a narrative structure inspired by the toy. I have worked on business applications of this project with Mattel, Fisher Price and Lego.

Kids today grow among mobile phones, computers, sophisticated video games,... we didn't. How do you think it affects their perception of the frontier between virtual and physical world?

This current question reveals that each time there is a change, it transforms our ideal image of ourselves.

A useful historical metaphor exists in photography. At the inception of photography, the new medium was equally feared and admired. It was reduced to the status of being useful, but devoid of meaningful interpretations of reality, which was the provence of the fine arts and painting in particular. However, over time, the status of photography changed, and gained its independence from painting. Eventually, the photographic medium was accepted as having its own formal and aesthetic values. The end result was a revisitation of what painting could be, driven by the new aesthetic findings in photography, as exemplified in some of Duchamp's work, such as le nu dans l’escalier. The paradigm shift was not limited to painting, but provided social change as a new form of expression in the arts.

I gave this example to say that with photography we realized it was not an anti-art, it was another art. It is a medium. Children use these tools. It is important that we understand what they are. Digital is a revolution. It creates children's expectations of their interaction with their environment (virtual and digital) that can be different from ours (because we have not grown up in the same environment as the children of today).

When i go to tech conferences, i only see a tiny minority of women. how is it like at Harvard Design School? do you feel like you're part of a minority of geek girls? does it affect you?

In Paris, I studied with a majority of men. Women seemed to fear technical matters. It was clear that this was perpetuated socially. I graduated from Harvard University, Graduate School of Design (GSD), with a Master in Design, Product Design and Architecture. I had previously studied at the MIT Media Lab for a Master of Sciences. I am now back to the MIT Media Lab as research assistant and PhD candidate with Dr. Hiroshi Ishii in the Tangible Media Group. I can compare the impact of women in these environments. Women are less represented in general at the professorship level. A woman with engineering skills and with the same qualifications as a man seems to always be strangely discredited. On my side, I try to avoid this polemic and just develop my engineering work on my own. At the GSD, there are lots of women as students, but not that many as faculty members. At the Media Lab women are under represented in general. There is a mix between designers and geeky girls at the media lab, but the majority have a background in CS or electrical engineering and if not they all learn on the fly. I like working with women a lot at Media Lab, especially because I like seeing a feminine sensibility empowered with the technicality of engineering.

You're working mainly with technology: computers, rfid, even robots. Are you interested in emerging technologies like nanotechnology, biotechnology, synthetic biology? or is it too far from your own sphere (one only has 24 hours per day after all)?

These topics are fascinating and I am interested in everything that is emerging. I am a knowledge shopper after all! Maybe I will follow a degree in nanotechnology …


How do you think that digital technologies make us re-evaluate the physical world?

We are perceiving a new physicality through digital materials. This modification of our perception of the environment is developed thourgh our experience with the digital.

As an illustration of this new area consider the usual RFID tagging. RFID tags have been used throughout the physical space for cuing purposes. Beyond that, I argue that the presence of content cues throughout the space redefines our very perception of that space. Now an alternative to RFID tagging is possible, such that arbitrary physical properties of objects can be used as tags to content. One promising line of work is using mass to arbitrarily define tags. Any object can be assigned tag status by linking the mass of the object to some content that the user likes to represent from their environment. By reintroducing the appropriately weighted object to the system, the content can be recalled. Tagging serve as a means for feedback from the physical environment back to the virtual community. This line of thought is now possible by having been digital, conceptually, and subsequently discovering new design principles within the physical space. Tagging with the mass of the object uses technology to link the intrinsic physicality of the material to new conceptual possibilities regarding how we perceive physical space, content of physicality and extended virtual communities.

What did you try to achieve with "The Texture of Light"? Was it just a project you had to develop for the Smart Materials course at Harvard or do you plan to go further and exploit the idea in novel ways?

0textureoflight.jpgThe Texture of Light is a tangible system that exploits lighting principles and the exploration of life feed video metamorphosis in the public space using reflection of light on transparent materials. This project is an attempt to fight the boredom of everyday life and employs the simple use of chemistry, Plexiglas, and plastic patterns to form a visual reconstruction of reality, giving it a texture and expressive form. The tangible potential of the direct use of light on Plexiglas lenses and transparent materials presents three opportunities that are critical to this project. First is the collaboration in the public space facilitated by tangible means. The second opportunity is the improvisation and experimentation space offered by such tangible and mechanical systems. The third is the reinvestigation of the physical texture of light materialized, allowing a direct understanding of the effects of light properties on transparent materials e.g. reflection, color transformation, density, and diffraction.

I am implementing my vision of this project on a larger scale such as building-size panels the public could mechanically control using remote devices. Each panel will be pattern and transparent material specific. Two Plexiglas sheets could embed a water-fall, or viscous transparent material the user could distribute along his/her selected point of view. The software will allow media distribution among cities so that the outcomes of the public performances could be exposed on the panels of other cities.

Your work involves augmenting the physical using the digital. aren't you having nightmare of a physical object that does more bad than good because its digital "layer" is running amok?

The digital has suffered by trying to be too physical, trying to justify its existence by refining itself with physical rules. There are fundamental limits between the form and function of the digital and physical. This step was necessary to combine the digital to the physical without independence between these two modes of interaction. Now that the digital is part of our everyday life, it is the perfect moment to study how it can inform the structure of the physical and how it can drive new conceptions of the physical. The goal is to strike a balance between digital technologies and their physical components, such that despite their fundamental differences of form and use, the two can be seamlessly integrated and mutually inform one another.

I only augment the physical with the digital in certain conditions, because I also care about interdependencies between the digital and the physical. With each other they have a function. Without each other they also have a function. This differs from current considerations of physical and tangible representation by allowing the virtual and the physical to exist independently from each other, or, rather, to co-exist in a way that informs one another.

Specifically, the challenge is to augment the physical using the digital by maintaining a reason d’etre of the physical with the digital. Consider a scarf that warms up if a friend is missing. This computational scarf, even without technology, can be designed so it remains useful as a scarf, and keeps a memory of the interaction with the digital without detracting from its design as a physical object. On the other hand, the warmth generating sensor module, if removed from the scarf, can have another digital function and be integrated into a bedding to provide some warmth as well. Both the physical platform and the technology are dissociable, although the combination of the two generates the impact of the application.

My work incorporates materials that borrow rules from the digital and offer a sense of magic in the physical world. Smart materials are a reasonable platform for our desire to have the digital and physical inform one another simply due to the technical opportunities, such as scalability, computational power, and extensibility. However, in addition to having digital and technical possibilities, smart materials offer a relatively unexplored opportunity to drive new conceptions of digital and physical by adhering to intrinsically physical properties of material. Our concept of materiality can be intelligently redefined by the introduction of technical extensions to the material platform.Digital and virtual applications are changing our very conception of the physical space. A new materiality is emerging, based on our physical limitations supported by virtual possibilities. Digital has changed our perception of the physical, as in surface, light and texture, and also our body, as in its ideal representation. However, I believe that an incredible opportunity is being lost. Combined virtual and physical applications are not being designed with their independent principles of physical and virtual in mind. My research explore the fundamental differences between these worlds, and how, as the line between them blurs, we can take the lessons of the virtual space and redesign the physical space.

Merci Cati!

0takashimatsumoto.jpgI met Takashi Matsumoto in a charming village somewhere in the Swiss Alps for the Collaborative Artefacts Interactive Furniture workshop. He was presenting a very exciting object called Z-agon, a small cube which is in fact a video player. Each face of the cube is an high-res display for multi-media contents (video). I then started to follow from afar the activities of the Keio University and discovered so many nice projects that i asked him if he'd have time to answer a few questions. Somehow, between a laptop battle, his research and maybe a couple of turntable sampling he managed to find a couple of hours to unveil what he and the other designers in his laboratories are working on.

Can you tell us a few words about you? How did you get to work at Okude Lab? What is your role there?

First of all, I am really happy to get an interview for WMMNA! I am checking the feed everyday.

I am now a Ph.D. student of Keio University, Media Design Program and I belong to Okude Lab. In Shonan-Fujisawa Campus (SFC). I am designing user interfaces for network-based mobile gadgets. Those designs aim to provide simple embodied interactions for everyday objects to access web resources and to make our everyday lives more entertaining. My research interest is to produce an integrated design between hardwares, systems and business models for such devices.

My works like Z-agon and Pileus are futuristic but trying to be fit into a market right now. In my teenage years, I was living in Shibuya, a big commercial district in Tokyo. I have been watching how industries drop marketing to us, and I was aware of that there was a big chasm between product planning, marketing processes, and real user needs. So I studied marketing and intellectual properties in my undergraduate days. Then I realized we need a "design" of entire social and market systems to solve that problem. For example, Sony's Walkman and MTV were medias changed a market balance and our life styles in '80s music industry. I wanted to make such medias to change our life.

00okjh.jpgThen, I moved to Okude Lab just before I went on to master's course. Okude Lab. is an interesting laboratory researching a media design with such a wider vision. It has been developing actual works but also concerning humans and social factors. It's recent research focuses are designs of embodied interactions and social systems of communication media products. Okude lab. have a design method of ethnography and prototyping skills of assorted technologies to make concepts of works. Now It's quite a big laboratory having 50 students (incl. undergraduates and graduates). Each work is designed in a collaborative team of 3 to 5 people. My works are also developed in a team.

Okude Lab is a member of Media Design Program of Keio University (a.k.a. KMD). KMD now has 10 laboratories and we are collaborating in a big research project named "Ubiquitous Content". I am also working as a research assistant for the Ubiquitous Content project.

What is Ubiquitous Content about? What does this expression mean? Which area does it cover exactly?

"Ubiquitous Content" is a project designated by a governmental grant of JST-CREST (Japan Science and Technology Corporation: Core Research for Evolutional Science and Technology). This is one of the biggest projects of KMD.

0fucvgbhnj.jpg"Ubiquitous Content" is an idea of a new design objective of our lives in the post-PC era. In 20th century, a notion of media contents has been meant contents like movies, music, animations, video games etc. Figuratively speaking, such contents were entities supplied in containers designed as "boxes". But now, a spread of networks and a
realization of ubiquitous computing technologies are going to change those styles of media. The container is not like a "box" any more: It will change its forms freely to give us advanced computer augmentations in a specific context and it will be sometimes invisible embedded into our environments. It is more appropriately called Ubiquitous Media and it will be a new style of media. When we design such Ubiquitous Media, we need to think about the container as our environments in which many things are cooperating rather than a single hardware, a single software or a single standard. Users will not need to be conscious of those medias, therefore such containers emerge for users as "their lives" themselves. "Ubiquitous Contents" are contents for such media. Those must be "experiences" in "their lives".

As Ubiquitous Content project focuses on our lives and experiences, all things in our everyday lives are targets of the design. The 10 Laboratories of KMD are working on this wide subject from different perspectives.

For example, recent works of Ubiquitous Contents include the following topics: Yoshiro Sugano's ShootBall (Okude Lab) implemented a new sport using a ball with a built-in sensor and goals of visual projections. Midori Shibutani's Fabcell (Wakita Lab) is developing a new fabric changing colors for cyber fashions. Projects like a LivePic (M. Katsura for imgl; video) and BiblioRoll (Okude Lab) are introducing a new interaction techniques for both environmental and mobile media. It also includes research topics like Cyber Sound Project (Iwatake Lab) and New Ambience (Hiroya Tanaka Lab). Topics of Ubiquitous Contents are very wide.

Each design and research works from 10 laboratories are working separately under the concept of Ubiquitous Content. And we are collaborating together to make its design theory and a platform for the basis of Ubiquitous Content. Several a year, we hold demonstration events of Ubiquitous Content works together.

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BiblioRoll and LivePic

Most of the projects you and your colleagues have worked on are very original. There's a magical and fairy aspect to most of them. Where do you find the inspiration? Many brainstormings? Observation of and discussions with technology users? Reading science-fiction?

The design approach of Okude Lab is based on phenomenology, which requires designers to expand their experiences and to find meanings in interactions. In particular, we go to a ethnographic fieldwork of participant observations. We participate in one activity as an apprentice finding a master of the activity in a field to find a design concept from our experiences. Then we describes a scenario to be a vision, and we iterate prototypings and its improvements. We do not do problem finding on existing designs with examinee like interviews and objective observations. The important thing is that we "designers ourselves" need to be changed in an experience in a field.
We do not start a design from a technology either. To achieve our vision for us, we will learn necessary new technologies to implement a demo. Yet we are not engineers having high-tech, we have a skill to bridge very wide technologies and know-hows between hardware, software, network technologies, form modeling, branding etc. In most of our cases, one work is implemented with numbers of programming languages, numbers of chips and hacked device modules, numbers of materials, and numbers of expression styles such as demo, video, and online.

A lodge of Okude Lab is filled with fun, free and energetic atmosphere and we are collaborating in a joyful way everyday. We don't have hierarchies and divisions of roles in a team, and all members required to be produces with responsibilities. Some members start to live in the lodge when they get into the swing of it, and we often have a meal together, plan a short trek, and sometimes get up to mischief (did you see MacSaber video of us?). We also knows what's up to members out of the lab sharing Flickr photos and blog RSS, and we creates edgy local and global buzz words in a lab. Such a relationship between members are making creative circumstance.

Do the researchers at Keio University Media Design get green light on whatever project they propose? What are the basic rules to respect? Do you have to come up with a marketable product for example?

In many cases, our research target is a development of a core concept of new media, but actually we eye the possibility of makertable products. However, many of our works are concepts for future and those will have some challenges to be marketable products now. So, each team manages project's intellectual properties (such as patents) based on their long-term strategies.

We do not always have to think up a maketable product. We also have fundamental research projects, for example a design of an ubiquitous computing platform and a development of a Bayesian network engine.

Keio University is encouraging ventures from university research. Now start-ups of small innovative team is getting easier in Japan by the New Corporation Act and a diffusion of broadband internet. We are going to bring some businesses from our design research in near future. If someone interested in global business partnership and investments, please get in touch with us. We wanna make money not art.

Our aim is to give a social solution with our design proposing a new lifestyle. And recent design challenge is to learn how to design a social system. We think businesses from Keio Media Design should be a way to make a contribution to society. This is a school philosophy of Keio since inception.

Your graduate thesis was the amazing Cubic Display Device "Z-agon". What have you learnt from this project? What were the biggest challenges of the design and construction of Z-agon?

0azagont.jpgZ-agon was the first work at Okude Lab for me. The project was started during the summer of 2002. Our team was thinking about a portable media of next generation, and we decided to design a new video player as we all agreed that our needs are shifting toward video (multi-media) contents like music clips and animations. The first inspiration was a 6-channels-TV-Cube, and it did not take time to find a target of the "Wi-Fi based video cube for social-sharing contents".

The concept is that 6 displays of a small cube get vide displays, and it is operated by physical turns of the device.

Most parts of Z-agon's design are envisions. Its goal is to provide high-res color images of movies, music, animations and games, and the 2.5 inch size was also necessary for its interaction and its element as an accessory. However it was almost impossible to realize Z-agon at the time when the 1st-gen music ipod just appeared to the market with a black and white display. When we introduced our concept to public, there are many company engineers who are really critical for it.

However, as we have had experiences feeling needs for this concept and we believed from surveys that technologies evolves to this direction in few years, we thought we should not throw off this concept. The first prototype was in a 12 inch cube that was quite big apart from the concept. And we filled in the gap making a conceptual movie with a futuristic scenario, and studying interaction research on a 2.5 inch cube. We got a patent for the basic device of the interactive cubic display. Then its design has been progressed. Z-agon has a dream that one day it has a quality of a commercial product. In that regard, our handmade prototypes are still functionally incompletion with technological difficulty. But now 5 years after the project started, it is obvious that the concept is getting more realistic, here, we already got similar devices like iPod Nano and Nintendo DS.

We already excepted that users want to share video contents on the Internet. (See the concept movie in 2002) It was because we found that needs from experiences and observations as new generation in Tokyo. Now, you see a big boom of YouTube. We hope Z-agon will be a wi-fi video player for such content sharing services. We feel this kind of predictions and envision on design were really important to drive the project.

What inspired Pileus: The Internet Umbrella (video)? What did you want to achieve with this project from the KMD Okude Lab? How will it evolve in the near future?

0flicrumbre.jpgPileus is the most exciting project for me right now. This work is designed in a team with Sho Hashimoto, who has a unique engineering skill in the lab. We started this project in a kick-off camp of a spring semester in 2006. the initial concept and the first scenario movie were completed in just 3 days of the camp.

We have many rain in Japan. So the umbrella is one of the closest article of everyday use, but it is also a bulky article in such a climate. Traditionally we have been feeling many kinds of air and mood in a rainy day, and we wanted to expand that feeling to be more fun and vivid with the re-design of an umbrella. From that perspective, we came up with the idea of umbrella to take photo-logs and to browse internet contents in a rain. Me and Sho already took notice of that we can provide many kinds of services in a real world with Web2.0, and also had a technological vista to mash-up those with a mobile hardware. Additionally, it was another target that this can be the first example of a hardware mash-up to indicate a new economic solution for mobile gadgets joining into an economy of Web 2.0. We do not want a small "Cellphones" (Smartphones, whatever) squashing up many functions inside, but we re-designed an object of everyday use from scratch to be mashed-up with web services.

At the end of last year, we founded a spined-off LLC for the project, and we are thinking how it will go a business exit.

As the ideology of the design of Pileus, we would like to show that design is not about its shape any more; an apt assortment of modules and interactions are more important factors for the design. So, our prototype is showing off the circuits to see how modules are combined rather than covering it. Some people suggest us to give a beautiful surfaces for it as a "design", but that is not what we want to do now, we are meticulous about the interaction of information visualizations on the screen though. Fortunately, this rugged look is loved by many audiences at demo sites.

As an exclusive info, we have builded a new version of Pileus with GPS. A new function with GPS is geo-tagging of photos taken by Pileus. It will help to users to check and share records of their walks in the rain. Another function is a map display of an area. This will be used for a big-screen navigation in an umbrella, and it will be able to show local pictures and local ads are loaded on the umbrella. Of course, this function is also realized by a mash-up technique. Now we are using Yahoo! Maps API, but we may switch it to Google Maps API because Japanese map on Yahoo! maps has bad scale ratio. We are going to go an experiment in a city in a rain, however, unfortunately we have had few rainy days this year yet.

Can you tell us a few words about Post-Bit: Multimedia E-paper Stickies? (video 1 and 2)

I have participated in an internship at FX Palo Alto Laboratory Inc. (FXPAL) in Silicon Valley in 2004. Post-bit was an e-paper device designed at the intern. As you will see, it is a small e-paper memo and It is named after 3M's "post-it".

When I studied a working space, I found paper post-its are still heavily used in a office although PC and digital gadgets are diffused. As FXPAL and the Xerox group has a technology of e-paper, I thought about a design of tiny memos of e-paper. I imagined making paper prototypes that encrusting multimedia contents on tiny papers in a physical workplace must be be useful and kawaii.

The design theme was to integrate the advantage of tangibility of papers and the advantage of dynamic usages of digital data. There, I invented "drop-beyond-drag" which is a exchange system between GUI and TUI. It enables users to directly drag-and-drop a file from GUI desktop to an e-paper putting on the display flame, and reversely user can just squeeze the memo to splash a content onto the GUI desktop from a memo on the flame. I made a prototype and a concept video with helps of Maribeth Back and Tony Dunnigan, and the video was introduced on a video track of ACM multimedia 2005.

0ipodjkk9.jpgAre you an ipodj?

Haha, Yes, that was a funny trial with my high school friends. This idea is still popular. As we got busy for our primary jobs, the project has been stopping after the creation of tiny DJ mixer for ipods, though.

I do DJ sometimes at my friend's home parties and parties in the lab with analog turntables. I like scratching on it. By the way, to do mash-up on a design is really similar feeling to do sampling on turntables, you know...

Thanks Takashi!

More images.

1adamgreenfield2.jpgI first met writer and critical futurist Adam Greenfield a couple of years ago in Berlin where he both scared and fascinated us with a talk about, between others, the global oil production. Last year i heard him talk on two very different occasions, to two very different types of audience. The first time it was at conflux, an art festival about psychogeography. The second time was at Ci'num, a conference that gathers what the organizers calls the "shapers of the future." Each time his talk met with the same success.

His latest book, Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing tells about what we can read in all the tech mags: computing without computers, everywhere, all the time and whithout us noticing it. For the first time however, someone who has observed the "ubicomp'd" life on several continents has put into a social, spatial, design and human context the consequences of this recent technology. I should also add that the book translates the working, meanings and implications of ubicomp into a very accessible language.

I still had a series of questions for Adam though. To be sure that i wouldn't leave too many stones unturned, i asked Nicolas Nova to come to my rescue. Well... that's the best excuse i could find to convince the guy who writes the only blog i would bring to a desert island to come and use wmmna space. Nicolas and i have both published the interview yet you'll have to read the both of them to get the full picture: i posted some of his questions but not all of them and god knows what he's done with mine ;-)

RD: I was used to reading about ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing, tangible computing, etc. So why Everyware? What does the concept brings that the other terms do not cover?

AG: I like to think it brings a certain accessibility. The book is, in large part, intended to help non-technically-oriented people wrap their heads around this domain - to grasp what the irruption of information processing into everyday life implies for them. And something of which my work in user experience had already convinced me is that offering people a single, well-chosen word will frequently allow the insights and recognitions they've already had to crystallize around it.

The problem with all those other terms, to my mind, is twofold. Firstly, each is a mouthful, there's nothing euphonious about them. But more seriously, each only describes a single facet or aspect of the situation at hand. I think there are important commonalities - deeper resonances - between the ways people experience all of these non- or post-PC interaction modalities.

A multi-touch interface may be offered on an otherwise ordinary desktop device, the human interface with an embedded sensor grid may be entirely conventional, a touchless transit pass may seem to have little in common with an ambient information display, but to my mind they're all symptomatic of an underlying unity: one having to do with the disappearance of obviously technical paraphernalia beneath the threshold of perception. It's that conceptual unity that people will be experiencing, and it's that which I had hoped to capture with the word "everyware."

0everywaaaar.jpgNN: To me, Everyware sounds like a more evocative and user-centered metaphor, that expresses an alternative vision to terms like UC,\TC, less defined by laboratories and rather by a designer's view. Do you agree with this intrepretation?

AG: That's certainly pretty gratifying if that's what you've gotten from it, yes. Language is also a domain of user experience. Shouldn't the words we use to describe a tool be as carefully crafted as the tool itself?

RD: Which type of readers did you have in mind when you wrote the book? The engineer? The man on the street who has some vague interest in what tomorrow will bring? Someone in between those two?

AG: The two primary audiences I had in mind were, on the one hand, the people who will be designing interactions with ubiquitous systems, and on the other the much larger group of smart generalists whose lives will be in some way affected by the deployment of these technologies, and want to better understand them.

Obviously these two groups of people are going to want different things from a book on the subject. The great challenge of writing Everyware was in trying to ensure that it'd be rigorous enough to satisfy the former, but accessible enough to reach the latter.

NN: When I've read your book, I was wondering why you haven't described, or discussed the ideas and concepts raised by art projects about, those questions. I know you cannot refer to everything but...since you're well versed into that domain... Was there a reason for that?

AG: Not referring to art projects was an explicit decision, based in part on my desire to limit the discussion to ways in which information processing would be showing up in everyday life. And almost by definition, however trenchant or clever the point of view embedded in them may be, art objects are simply not going to be relevant to that consideration.

With occasional exceptions - Natalie Jeremijenko's Dangling String comes to mind - there's a clearer evolutionary pathway between even the more abstract exercises in corporate "visioning" and everyday experience than there is between art objects and that experience. So that's where I thought it would make more sense to focus, in a context where I did have very real limits on what I could get into in any depth. As it is, the book is so close to its absolute limit on page count that the publishers wouldn't let me include a bibliography.

NN: It's been a while that the book has been released. After those few months, when you look back and think about the reactions and the debate it had fostered, what are the main issues that emerged? Where there unexpected discussions? If you had to add new parts in that book, what would it be about?

AG: Oh, god. I'd probably write a completely different book now. It's not so much a question of new material, although there's inevitably a wealth of more up-to-date information that we could profitably discuss, as what I'd want to leave out. The thesis on mash-ups, for example, which is the surviving third of a much longer argument about the decentralization of technological development, and doesn't make all that much sense in its shorter version.

At that, I guess the thing that's surprised me most in terms of the response is how consistently readers have said, essentially, "OK, you've convinced me that this stuff is going to happen, is happening. You don't need all this material in here laying out this argument in detail. I buy the premise." So what I'm hearing is that I probably could have trimmed out long stretches of Section 6, parts of which are the most technical in the book, the most rapidly obsolescing and the weakest in terms of their contribution to the overall argument.

As to that argument, it's gotten a warm response from people in the field; in particular, the reception I got when I presented on the Everyware material at PARC itself was extremely gratifying. There have been exceptions, of course. Anne Galloway has expressed very clearly her distrust of all a priori design guidelines, or of anything that tends to universalize or genericize, and to some degree I think that's fair comment; Victoria Bellotti at PARC, if I understood her correctly, seemed to feel that the sorts of graphic identifiers for information gathering activities called for in the book would likely be dangerously reductive or misleadingly incomplete, worse than no notification at all.

And as to the reactions of those not in the field? I still can't tell. Even after ten months in the wild, I don't think it's found its audience.

RD: Adam, you're a designer, why did you feel that the field of everyware couldn't be left in the sole hands of ubicomp specialists? What does the reflection of a designer bring to the discourse?

0sign00.jpgAG: It may simply be a reflection of the stage this particular class of technologies is at in terms of mass adoption, but the persistent sense I've had when I consider the ubiquitous systems I've seen over the last few years is one of "design by engineers, for engineers." That is, important specifications of these systems, their functionality and feature sets are oriented toward the predilections, interests and abilities of the highly technically skilled.

And we get into trouble here, because by definition the broadest possible cohort of users are exposed to everyware: not just people who like and are comfortable around technology, even to the extent that a mobile phone is "technology," but to all intents and purposes, everyone in contemporary developed-world society.

If ubiquitous systems, products, and services are developed in the absence of careful, sensitive interaction design they fail. And they fail in a way that poses particular challenges and risks to the user's sense of calm and equanimity, because by and large the interaction landscape of everyday life is very robust, very well-assimilated. We simply don't expect the constituents of everyday experience to crash, lock up, or perform perversely or incoherently the way digital information technologies manifestly do.

There's also the question of the terrain on which these dramas will play out, the stage we understand as ordinary life. I saw a comment recently, in a book on pictograph design, that summed up the kind of perceptual imagination necessary to good ubiquitous design: the authors were discussing the specifications of the familiar universal emergency exit sign, and their point was that these had to be large and graphically "chunky," because recreational drug and alcohol use frequently impair perception.

And they had a blurry, indistinct picture of an exit sign right there on the page, and you maybe thought back to one or two occasions on which you might have been so impaired yourself, for whatever reason, and you saw exactly what they meant. That struck me as a very good - very wise and empirical - understanding of the real-world context for design, and that's exactly what I think good interaction designers can bring to the conversation.

So. Someone with a commitment to the human being at the focus of these technologies, who's been trained to weigh that person's prerogatives heavily in the design of transactions, who has the experience to recognize and account for not merely this single system but the entire context in which it's operating - that's the person you want to include on your team if you expect your intervention to succeed. I can't imagine why anybody serious about satisfying their users and customers would want it any other way.

NN: Since Everyware will pervades the environment, how will designers create means to make people aware of the presence of such systems? Or about the way they work and their potential dangers? Lots of people advocate for system transparency, what would that look like in an Everyware world?

AG: I think it has to be a defense in depth, as it were. You've got to simultaneously build into the system itself an appropriate accounting of its capabilities, ownership and extent of operation; devise external, graphic, and non-technical means to convey the same information to people who don't have the technical wherewithal to avail themselves of it otherwise; and acculturate people to understand what's technically possible and what they are likely to encounter in their world as we move forward.

And ideally, you do this all in such a way as to preserve the sense of "encalming as well as informing," so that you're not wrapping people up in a web of restrictions, or subjecting them to a continuous barrage of scary-sounding warnings. It's clearly a nontrivial challenge - I mean, there are entire careers embedded in the preceding paragraph.

RD: I'd like to discuss the icons you designed to make the presence of ubiquitous computing more visible. Did you design them from scratch or did you find examples of icons that already existed and could be improved? How much, in general, can a designer rely on references from the past when dealing with ubicomp?

0sign11.jpgAG: Well, of course there's a rich precedent in the ISO symbol set, in the Olympic pictograms and so forth. And you're familiar with Timo Arnall's work on a "graphic language for touch," which was a major touchstone for us. Beyond that, though, Nurri and I pretty much whipped them up ourselves. I think it was Andrew Otwell's wonderful suggestion to play off the stock expression "black box" for the icon "this object has imperceptible qualities."

I think in general that it's very appropriate for the would-be designer of everyware to build on metaphors, correspondences and interaction-design conventions that have proven their worth in the past. Language, especially, is prone to a certain wonderful parsimoniousness: at least here in the States, we still speak in terms of people "with a golden Rolodex," or a "little black book," and it's only recently that higher-tech metaphors like "having someone on speed-dial" or "pinging a friend" have appeared in daily use.

So why not work with that tendency? You just have to extraordinarily careful that in doing so, you're not implying anything untrue about the system's actual capabilities or functionality.

RD: You have travelled extensively and therefore can compare the way ubiquitous computing is being deployed in several parts of the world (US, Korea, Japan and Europe). Are we all welcoming the arrival of everyware or did you notice some resistance here and there?

AG: My perception has been that East Asian decision elites, particularly, are far more receptive to the value propositions implied by everyware than their counterparts in the West; Korea, Singapore and Japan, for example, all have ubiquitous initiatives at the national level.

Sometimes - and again, I need to emphasize that this is purely my own take - this extends to a general propensity in the society to accept the claims of technology advocates at face value, where North Americans and Western Europeans in the broad aggregate tend to be more cynical. But sometimes it does turn out that the average Korean, say, is far wiser, more nuanced in her understanding, and more critical of the ostensible benisons of ubiquitous informatics than Samsung and LG would like her to be.

In the long run, of course, the factors that govern whether or not a particular society embraces everyware are much more complicated than a simple binary pro- or anti- stance. We can see how everyware invokes and engages attitudes toward some really rich and only rarely made-explicit values - privacy, personal space and bodily distance, time, social status - and these are going to differ from region to region and from subculture to subculture even within a given society. So to my mind, it's not so much a question of resistance, as to whether or not the designers of a particular ubiquitous system have invested the time and effort in understanding their target audience at a level of resolution sufficient to secure acceptance.

RD: New Songdo City is a "ubiquitous computing city" built from scratch in South Korea. How difficult do you think it would be/it is for existing cities to become totally everyware'd?

0newsongdoh.jpgAG: That's a really good question, because for everyone living in some bootstrapped Pearl River Delta newtown there'll be a hundred of us living in the "installed base" of existing, legacy cities. And presumably some of us will want to play too.

And to tell you the truth, I don't know. I simply don't know the answer. I can't quite tell yet whether everyware, in this regard, is more like the telegraph or the subway or the safety elevator or the internal combustion engine. I suppose that's because it's not one monolithic technology, but a cluster of associated ideas, only some of which may find adoption in any given milieu.

All of the above reshaped cities, but only some so colonized and overwrote the urban architectonic that it was essentially incapable of being reverted; it's hard to imagine Los Angeles, for example, without its exoskeleton of structures and services dedicated to individual automobility. My best guess, at the moment, is that everyware won't be like that. It'll be bolt-on, depositional, incremental, retrofittable, plug-and-play, and synergistic. (Heh.)

I do think, though, that you'll be able to tell - probably from orbit - the difference between an everyware city and one not so enhanced. I think it'll stand out like a white phosphorus round in the large-scale patterns of human association and the habitual ways people move around and use the city.

RD: What are your next projects? Do you plan to keep on exploring the concept of everyware or would you rather turn your attention to other issues?

AG: Thanks for asking! I'd very much like to get beyond this kind of banal idea that there will be such-and-such a class of technologies, and focus on some particular domains of their application. As you've picked up on, my own personal interest is in the rough expanse between architecture and urbanism, and that's where I'm spending most of my time just now, looking at both the urban architectonic and the nature of metropolitan experience as they evolve under the condition of ambient informatics.

This is something I'm exploring both in a class I'm co-teaching with area/code's Kevin Slavin, at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, and in my next book, which will be called The City Is Here For You To Use and which will hopefully come out sometime before the Arctic melts entirely. My sense is that there's enough in there to keep me going for quite awhile.

Thanks Adam!

nordichi(4).jpgI've been writing about Lalya Gaye's work over and over again ever since i started to blog. She's one of those few people who seem to swim effortlessly in both the artistic and the purely scientific waters.

She's an engineer and PhD graduate working in multidisciplinary projects that search to explore new territories of personal expression and creativity enabled by ubiquitous computing. Her research focuses on mobile media for urban space and on computational repurposing of everyday objects. In 2002, she started working on various research projects at Future Applications Lab, Viktoria Institute in Göteborg, Sweden. But she still manages to find some time to develop smaller new media projects with friends and to get involved in the mobile music and New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME) communities.

Your biography says that you are an engineer working in "research projects exploring the convergence of art, technology, and design." Do you feel that your work is welcomed with the same interest in a technological context as in an artistic or design one?

The Viktoria Institute is an innovation-oriented research institute in applied IT that is closely related to the IT-University in Göteborg, Sweden (which is a collaboration between Göteborg University and Chalmers University of Technology). Viktoria consists of several groups with different research focus: telematics (IT and cars), IT for firemen, etc. The group I work in is called Future Applications Lab and was founded by Lars Erik Holmquist in 2002. It focuses mainly on ubicomp applications for everyday life, with a human-computer interaction perspective to it. Basically, we look at what new meanings new technologies can bring to people’s everyday life by developing prototypes for rich social and aesthetic interactions.

We are a multidisciplinary group with backgrounds in cognition psychology, design, engineering physics, language technology, physics, computer science etc and the projects we have worked on span across a variety of fields: ubiquitous computing, new interfaces for musical expression, robotics, information visualisation, mobile and locative media, interaction design. We all work on several projects at the same time, either with other group members or within collaborations with other research groups, artists or master students. What projects we are able to work on depend on available funding because the institute’s only financing comes from project funding, but our group leader seeks those that meet our research interests so that we get funding for what we want to research about. So we are quite free within a certain frame.

Right now the main themes we research on are mobile media, and robotic applications for everyday life. Marketing potential is not on top of our group’s list, we would rather prioritise relevant and interesting findings from a research perspective. However, it does not hurt if something we do has some commercial potentials. A couple of years ago for example, Johan Sanneblad made a computer graphics platform (Gapidraw) and an ad hoc networking platform (OpenTrek) both for handhelds that became a very successful company (Develant), besides enabling a series of projects we have worked on in the group. I have heard they have become a standard for mobile gaming on hand-helds.

0sonicnic3.jpg 0sonicnic90.jpg
Sonic City

A couple of years ago, you developed a concept of music creation that has always made me dream: Sonic City. Where is that project now? are you still working on it? do you still believe in its relevance today?

Sonic City was my first project when I joined Viktoria in 2002. It was a collaboration among Ramia Mazé and Margot Jacobs at PLAY, Interactive Institute, and a very talented Swedish sound artist called Daniel Skoglund who used to be in the group 8Tunnel2. We ended the project in 2004 after having completed a final user study, so I am not working on it anymore. However, most of the projects I have worked on since then take further some of the concepts we explored in Sonic City: embodied uses of the everyday (everyday activities such as walking, everyday environments such as the street…) as a resource for aesthetic practices (music, photography, etc).

Although this project is now quite old, I think that what it touched upon is still very relevant today. The same way a lot of projects you write about in your blog do, it looked at how ubicomp can enrich our everyday life, help us appropriate public space and provide us with new means of being creative. And there is a growing community of people working with mobile music technology nowadays, which I am very excited about!

What are the new frontiers of mobile music? Do you think that the industry has understood how to fully exploit its possibilities?

It is hard to say what big mobilephone companies have in mind because they are very secret. They could be developing loads of new mobile music applications as we speak, I have no idea. But on the art-design-research side and in smaller companies such as SSEYO, there is definitely a lot going on. I have been organising a series of annual workshops about mobile music technology (together with Frauke Behrendt from Univ. Sussex, Lars Erik Holmquist, Atau Tanaka and Drew Hemment from Futuresonic) to get people who are active in this field to meet, discuss what they do and learn from each other. The workshops are getting bigger each year! By the way, the next one will be in Amsterdam this spring at STEIM and De Waag Society.

Mobile music workshop

What I find interesting with mobile music is that it democratises the use of music technology and takes it to the streets. The field develops very quickly so it can take various directions at the moment: mobile music is by nature multi-disciplinary, at the crossing between interactive music, mobile computing, locative media and consumer audio, so it benefits from all the current developments in all of these fields. Therefore it is since long ago going way beyond ringtones and mp3 players. More towards ad hoc collective actions such as networked music making and sharing for example. These developments do not seem to reflect enough on the products available on the market so far but hopefully in the near future it will.

You often seem to collaborate with people from various backgrounds: how does the collaboration happen? Do you understand each other right from the start? are there periods of adjustement?

0lashoe1.jpgIndeed, I just love collaborating with people! I find it much more fun and enriching than working by myself and also depending on what you work on you might not have all the necessary skills to complete a project all by yourself. Yes, I especially enjoy working with people from different backgrounds, you really learn a lot and the projects get richer that way, more nuanced.

Usually I work with colleagues from Viktoria or from other research groups, or with people I met at festivals/conferences with similar interests in art and technology. Sometimes simply with friends when we have idea we want to explore together. There is no standard way in which the projects happen, it depends: one might have a project idea and search for the right people to contribute to it, sometimes an idea just pops up from casual discussions, sometimes one works in an assigned project with people that have been assigned as well. But in most cases, you need funding to be able to fulfil the projects, except for projects with friends such as Tap-n-Bass where we typically have no budget whatsoever.

But it is a hard process as well. In the beginning, it is a matter of understanding what background people come from and use a common language. The word “design? for example might mean different things depending on if you are an computer engineer or a product designer for example. People are not necessarily interested in developing the same things in a project either but it is all good, you just need to accept it and embrace it. It is all a learning process, and that is what makes it fun.

What can an artistic approach bring to the development of ubicomp technologies?

I guess it could be perspectives on the usefulness and meaning of the technology? Art questions common assumptions of what technology is for and what it achieves. Ubicomp is meant to become a pervasive presence in people’s lives and with this come issues of personal integrity, democracy, etc. Therefore it is important to question what form and impact this presence could have. Not everything has to be about work or making people safer, more productive, more socially engaged either… But in my research I am more interested in the opposite actually, what ubicomp can bring to the arts.

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Track and Tejp

Your finishing (?have finished?) your PHD this year. can you talk about what it is about? do you already have plans for the post-PHD life?

Well, finishing this year was the initial plan but it is taking more time than expected so I will probably be done by spring 2007. I am searching for post-docs or researcher positions for after my hopefully very long holidays, but I have not seriously started looking. I would like to continue collaborating with people with various backgrounds in art/tech/hci/design projects. So if you are reading this and have a position available somewhere: call me!

Whatever happens, I will continue to be involved in the NIME and mobile music communities. There is also a book coming up about mobile music, authored by myself and a few others.

How would you describe the situation on the Swedish scene for art forms that use technology as a medium?

I love it. Initially, I was going to be in Sweden for about a year before moving to Paris, now I have been here for almost 7. I just cannot get enough of it.

It is a mixture of very high-tech mobile projects, Scandinavian interaction design, street-art interventions and DIY cut-n-paste works with hacked electronics. There is a number of small local scenes in different cities with a lot of very good pieces in world class that should definitely get more exposure (and funding). In Göteborg where I live, there is an excellent electronic music scene with local artists making music with electrified vegetables or cracked tape-recorders, and booking agencies such as Koloni, sync24 and iDEAL who bring us international underground acts. Add to this high-quality interaction design such as the interaction design collegium at Chalmers for example, a vibrant local culture scene (TSiG, Dance & Theatre festival, Big Love, Röda Sten, etc) and a growing network of international artists staying a couple of years in Göteborg to work or study. There is for instance a Master programme in Art & Technology at the IT-University that attracts super talented art students from the whole world every year. At the risk of sounding like a tourist information office, I would say that there is a good momentum going on here that makes the city very exciting in spite of its very small size. Actually the small size can be a good thing sometimes because it becomes easier for people to come in contact with each other and work together. There is a lot going on in Malmö, Umeå and Stockholm as well. A new research centre called Mobile Life will open in Stockholm next year for example. Stockholm has a dorkbot as well, and a long tradition of electronic music (Fylkingen and EMS), music technology research (TMH) and digital arts.

Can you recommend us some Swedish artists that you think should get more attention from the public?

Absolutely! There are too many great Sweden-based artists, designers and researchers to name them all, but I could recommend Alex Berman aka Nim, Daniel Skoglund, New Beginnings, mixnbrew, Richard Widerberg (now based in Helsinki). Also in interaction design and research: my colleagues at FAL of course, Hanna Landin and Morten Fjeld from Chalmers, Liselott Brunnberg at the Interactive Institute and Kia Höök at SICS. I would like to name a few former Art&Technology students, even though they are not all Swedish and not all of them still based in Sweden: Sue Huang and Brian House (aka knifeandfork), David McCallum, Dylan Tinlun Chan, Alberto Frigo, etc. So many people!!!

That's it and thanks again Lalya!

I came back from Ci'Num yesterday. The event, held in Margaux (very very small French town too far away from the shopping spree i had planned to make in Bordeaux), is a collective and open strategic foresight process that aims to create a worldwide community of thinkers and stakeholders, working together in order to identify opportunities and challenges for the future of civilizations confronted with (at least) to main transformations: globalization and digitization.

Nicolas has more on the seminar: CNIUM2006: Facts from today's seminar and CNIUM2006: surface subways, prabsence and the “why? question.

0adamgreenfield.jpgAdam Greenfield gave a brilliant speech on Friday at Ci'Num. Greenfield has written a book i'd recommend everyone to read ASAP (and if you don't trust my judgement...): Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing (on Amazon: USA and UK), it deals with ubiquitous computing and its implications for society, for business, for the way we design spaces and cities - even for the way we relate to each other.

My notes from his talk, Here, There and Everywhere: Issues in Cross-Cultural Ubiquitous Computing.
Circa 1990, Mark Weiser at Xerox PARC coined the term ubiquitous computing or "ubicomp", he said that information would be invisible, "in the woodwork everywhere around us."
Characteristics of ubicomp? Embedded, communicates wirelessly, imperceptible, multiple services and devices, post-GUI (Graphical User Interface), information processing dissolving in behaviour.

First example of Ubicomp. In Hong Kong, there's an RFID touchless payment system called Octopus. First designed for public transport, the system has now pervaded the whole city. It works by tapping a smartcard on a reader. But the range is so good that a new behaviour has emerged: women leave their card in the bottom of their bag, when passing the reader they merely swing their handbag over it, they never break the pace. This complex payment has thus been reduced to a very simple gesture that was discovered through everyday use and has spread organically. We'll see more of this kind of unforeseen behaviour.

Information processing is showing up in new places. Korean door lock that features 3 types of keys, a mobile phone-activated one, an rfid one and a biometric one.

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The Galleria department store in Seoul (designed by UNstudio - more images): the lights on its facade respond to the conditions inside the building.

A class of system that tends to colonize everyday life.
Panopticon effect, we redefine the need to feel that we might be observed all the time. Example: the "intelligent rest room" system which integrates into the bathroom monitors your family's vital statistics (urine sugar levels, blood pressure, body fat percentages and weight). The results can immediately be checked on a screen on the bathroom wall and are uploaded to the family computer where a health care software can advise on diet, exercise, etc.

0everywarere.jpgTo anyone that says that such examples are sci-fi-esque, Greenfield reminds that:
The Octopus system has been launched in 1997. By 2004, 95% of the population in Hong Kong aged between 16 and 65 was using this RFID-based system to access private space, pay for a can of Coke or their phone bill. There are more daily transactions than residents in the city.

In New Songdo City, a "ubiquitous city" being built in South Korea, all major information systems share data, and computers are to be built into the houses, streets and office buildings. The project has been launched in 2004 and is backed by ABN Amro, Kookmin Bank and Woori Bank.

Such projects are not just an "Asian affair". Mastercard PayPass, launched last year in the US, is also RFID-embedded and works in a way very similar to the Octopus card.

Greenfield's principles of ubiquitous computing:

1. Default to Harmlessness - in a world where it is possible for a device to broadcast your most intimate details, user's safety (physical, psychic and financial) must be ensured.

2. Be Self-Disclosing - ubiquitous systems should be technically and graphically self-disclosing, so that users encountering them are empowered to make informed decisions. Adam and his wife, Nurri Kim, worked on a few icons (PDF) that could inform the viewer about the type of device they are interacting with and what information about them will be shared.

3. Be Conservative of Face - ubiquitous systems must not unnecessarily embarass, humiliate, or shame their users.

4. Be Conservative of Time - Ubiquitous systems must not introduce undue complications into ordinary operations and should ba respectful of our time.

5. Be Deniable - Ubiquitous systems must offer users the ability to opt out, always and at any point.

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Of course, things gets a little more complicated when one thinks that each community, each culture comes with its own problems. Everyware presents itself as universal and neutral, while our values are different. For example, risk and safety are constructed very differently from society to society.

The US are very concerned by their own safety. Playgrounds would typically be surrounded by fence and carry warnings. That would be insane in German context where it is believed that childhood implies risks and play involves the idea of danger. In Japan (which on several aspects can be regarded as a "nanny state") escalator chimes in warnings upon approach ("the entrance to the escalator is here, take care upon alighting on the escalator"), upon approach to the top ("the escalator will be slowing down", then "the escalator is slowing down"), etc.

Similarly the desire to connectedness is constructed differently from society to society: US citizen are unwilling to get any intrusion into their privacy; whereas Koreans and Japanese want to be connected all the time.

Social status is differentially explicit. In the US, the notion of hard-coded markers of society is not accepted, US citizens like to think they live in a class-less society. In Japan and Korea, social status tend to be much stronger: which school you attended matters for example.

Levels of public investment in infrastructure diverge widely (wifi in subway in Japan).

Adam's point is not to judge but to note these differences.

How do we get to design systems that are robustly ubiquitous and that respond to the differences in people's experiences?

Old fashioned idea: consciousness-rising; improved methodology foregrounding, ethnography and user insight; a role for standard bodies; regulatory community to protect people's prerogatives.

More about Greenfield and his latest book, Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing: Designing for everyware: An interview with Adam Greenfield, Ethics and RFIDs - video of Adam "Everyware" Greenfield.

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