Design Engaged 2005

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Buddy Henge :), originally uploaded by pachanga.

I spent the weekend with 30-or-so engaged designers of things, thoughts and theories in Berlin.

Design Engaged is a small retreat-which-isn’t-really (an Attack?) staged by Andrew “Hey” Otwell two years running now. last year was the first, in Amsterdam.

The premise is that everyone presents, performs or produces something – that there isn’t really a static audience for anything, and he introduces just enough structure for something to emerge from it.

As last year, it was fantastic, frustrating, engaging and tiring – and has dumped me like a Tamarama roller: battered, but exhilarated and re-enthused.

This year was slightly bigger I think than last year – at around 33 participants; and, our group at Nokia underwrote some of the set-up costs of the excellent venue – Spreeblick.

I didn’t present anything, as Andrew had given me an assignment already: design a game for the particpants to play through the 3 days. I’ll write about that in a separate post.

My favourite moments would take to long to filter from the whole thing, but here’s a few:

  • meeting the inspiring visualisation crimefighting duo that is Eric and Mike from Stamen
  • walking through Alexanderplatz, then storming the Bond-villain-lair aquarium of the SAS Raddison with excellent company
  • Mike K’s sterling efforts in coordinating insightful and interesting local guides for us, especially ours who didnt mind my tacky desire to go and see giant Bond-villain-lair aquariums
  • Ben’s take on Aldo Van Eyck
  • Nurri Kim’s poetic Tokyo Blues project
  • general sparring with Greenfield, Butterfield, Ward, Poisson, Chang and Schulze
  • Ti.mo’s “Graphic Language of Touch” project, and his flying fingers-style of Final Cut Pro fighting
  • “Pizza Fagin”
  • Heathcote getting all the triple word scores
  • what it felt like being the first creature with an eye – and bumping into the second
  • Malcolm McCullough and Christiane Woodley holding everyones (constant, partial) attention expertly without powerpoint
  • Gastromancer
  • the Poisson distribution
  • managing to shake hands at last with Kevin Slavin, but not managing to actually talk with him
  • Fabio Sergio’s thunderingly-thought-provoking question: “what is the material of interaction design”
  • Ulla-Maria saying “Not now”
  • Regine’s retina-scarring clothing
  • really great retina-scarring buffet food and lunches
  • really great pizza (fagin!) after huge steins of beer
  • the visual energy of Berlin
  • and, of course spending a wonderful rare weekend away with Foe.

The very best bit in terms of renergising and renewing my enthusiasm for what I do, was, as last year – the group ‘charrette’-style design exercise.

Last year, there was a bit of frustration for me at least at the start of this, as people argued over what the problem or breif should be – this year – in the spirit of Andrew’s general goals for the gathering – there was just enough structure for something to emerge, and just enough brief to have some real fun with.

We were asked ‘what is your favourite place?’ and how we would respond to what we’d seen in Berlin in terms of creating devices, designs, services or experiences that might resonate with that question in peoples minds.

Our group (Fabio, David Irwin, Ti.mo, Michelle Chang, Adam and myself) went for a walk and started talking about our favourite places in general, our favourite places on the walking tour we had done as a group, and ‘placemaking’ as a human behaviour in general.

Quickly on our return, we moved from debate and theorising to making things. Many things, which we presented back to the group under the banner of ‘Your new favourite places’.

One of my responses is pictured above, and was performed or ‘bodystormed’ by Fabio: the Gemurtlith.

We gathered words for ‘cosy’ or comfortable places in many of the languages we had represented: Dutch, Norwegian, and German, where it is ‘Gemütlich’.

As frequent readers will know, I am fond of a pun – so quickly this became The GemütLith – small ritual stones that make cosy places whereever you may be.

Jack Schulze had presented earlier in the event a prototype of a USB-connected puppet that physically represented buddylist presence/status information.

Combining this influence with the primtive figures / coptic jars from Anthony Gormley’s “Field” gave me the BuddyHenge – a ritually placed circle of GemütLiths that brings my friends to me wherever I am.

In his performance, fabio upped the shaman-technopagan content, by sprinkling a demarkating circle of arphid-smartdust around him, prior to laying down his nanotarp (a active mediasurfaced tarpaulin inspired by Nurri’s work and brought to life onscreen by Ti.Mo’s 20 minutes-flat guerilla video compositing) and arranging his GemütLiths just so…

Enormous fun. It’s left me not just looking forward to Design Engaged 2006, but also looking forward to being a designer in 2006 in general…

4 comments
  1. And I’m almost exactly as fascinated and as jealous as I was reading your report from last year’s. Sounds like great stuff. Now tell us about your game…

  2. charlie said:

    so it _was_ a pun! saw it in your flickr photos…

    regarding rituals to help you return to a favorite space, younghee has been undergoing some displacement unease and touches on these same thoughts – http://www.flickr.com/photos/younghee/63192177/

    in this fluid and dynamic and interconneced age, can physical icons help us find the ‘zone’ of being, heart, and place?

    wow, it all sound so cool. thanks for sharing.

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