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interaction design

Umeå

I got invited to northern Sweden by the lovely folks at Umeå Institute of Design and Tellart.

Umeå Design School

It was a fantastic couple of days, where ideas were swapped, things were made and fine fun was had late into the sub-artic evening…

Umeå

It was their first (and hopefully not the last) Spring Summit at the Umeå Institute of Design, entitled “Sensing and sensuality”.

Umeå Institute of Design Spring Summit, "Sensing and Sensuality"

I tried to come up with something on that theme, mainly of half-formed thoughts that I hope I can explore some more here and elsewhere in the coming months.

It’s called “Data as seductive material” and the presentation with notes is on slideshare, although I’ve been told that there will be video available of the entire day here with great talks from friends old and new.

Thank you so much to the faculty and students of Umeå Institute of Design, and mighty Matt Cottam of Tellart for the invitation to a wonderful event.

RCA Tribes tutorial day

Last year, I took my first, terrifying steps into teaching. Last November I was happily invited back to work with the students on the Design Interactions course at the RCA on another short project.

This time it was all 1st years from the course, and in collaboration with Vodafone, with Ian Curson and others from their User-Experience group helping set the brief and getting involved with workshops set by the students.

The brief was deliberately wide and intended to steer us all from thinking about mobile phones. It was entitled “Tribal Futures”, and asked the group to:

“…focus in on the mundane and the extremes of our behaviour in groups and propose design interventions to support, subvert and celebrate our tribal connections. We encourage you to extrapolate the current trends in mobile, social and other technologies in terms of their failures as well as successes, and examine what technologies intended and unintended consequences might be.”

I quoted Clay Shirky later on in the brief:

“Groups are a run-time effect. You cannot specify in advance what the group will do, and so you can’t substantiate in software everything you expect to have happen”

Clay made time on a trip to London to give a talk to the group and answer their questions, early on in the project. Enormously grateful to him for that!

Clay talking to RCA Design Interactions

It was a short project, just 4 weeks – and the wide brief inspired a wide range of responses, from  Andy Friend’s “Nuisance Machines”: playful devices for creating incidental groups…

…to some that found a theme of flocking and swarming in group dynamics such asHiromi Ozaki’s swarming, archigram-inspired tribal search engine…

And Louise O’Connor’s lovely The Singing Flock which I really hope gets pursued into a larger project.

 

Louise OConnors Singing Flock

 

 

There were projects that encompassed the poetic, the playful and the semi-practical: like Derv Heaney’s “Constructive Hold Space” – part audio-architecture and part social network for those stuck on hold for call centres…

…to the pure poetic-playful –  like Helge Fischer’s Ceremonies for Agnostics

21st Century Festivals

Despite the punishing time-scale of the project, a few of the students managed to get out and do some design research in the field, including Oliver Goodhall’s investigation of Jaywick

…and Alison Thomson’s fantastic Waltz of the Orange Men – she actually got certified as a member of the local council waste disposal crew she spent time with! Dedication!

All of the projects can be found at http://beta.interaction.rca.ac.uk/ft/ and we’ve kept the project blog that the group used for research and work-in-progress live (but with comments closed) at http://beta.interaction.rca.ac.uk/futuretribes/ to show some of the process along the way.

And, talking of which, the Design Interactions course is having it’s annual Work-In-Progress show this week, along with the Animation, Architecture and Industrial Design Engineering courses  (sorry, can’t find a better link), where both the 1st and 2nd years will be showing off their work so far. Looking forward to it.

Now it’s all going to get a bit Kate Winslet.

Many thanks to Anthony Dunne, Onkar Kular, Noam Toran and Nina Pope from Design Interactions for the invitation, the support and the great conversations about the Jason Bourne movies; Ian Curson and his group at Vodafone for all their support, Clay Shirky, Will Davies and Richard Pope for being great speakers to kick-off the project with – and of course, the students for both putting up with me and creating such great work and surprises along the way.

Hopefully I’ll get to do it again…

Jessica Helfand of Design Observer on Iron Man’s user-interfaces as part of the dramatis personae:

“…in Iron Man, vision becomes reality through the subtlest of physical gestures: interfaces swirl and lights flash, keyboards are projected into the air, and two-dimensional ideas are instantaneously rendered as three and even four-dimensional realities. Such brilliant optical trickery is made all the more fantastic because it all moves so quickly and effortlessly across the screen. As robotic renderings gravitate from points of light in space into a tangible, physical presence, the overall effect merges screen-based, visual language with a deftly woven kind of theatrical illusion.”

Made me think back to a post I wrote here about three years ago, on “invisible computing” in Joss Wheedon’s “Firefly”.

Firefly touch table

“…one notices that the UI doesn’t get in the way of the action, the flow of the interactions between the bad guy and the captain. Also, there is a general improvement in the quality of the space it seems ? when there are no obtrusive vertical screens in line-of-sight to sap the attention of those within it.”

Firefly touch table

Instead of the Iron Man/Minority Report approach of making the gestural UI the star of the sequence, this is more interesting – a natural computing interface supports the storytelling – perhaps reminding the audience where the action is…

As Jessica points out in her post, it took us some years for email to move from 3D-rendered winged envelopes, to things that audiences had common experience and expectations of.

Three years on from Firefly, most of the audience watching scifi and action movies or tv will have seen or experienced a Nintendo Wii or an iPhone, and so some of the work of moving technology from star to set-dressing is done – no more outlandish or exotic as a setting for exposition than a whiteboard or map-table.

Having said that – we’re still in tangible UIs transition to the mainstream.

A fleeting shot from the new Bond trailer seems to indicate there’s still work for the conceptual UI artist, but surely this now is the sort of thing that really has a procurement number in the MI6 office supplies intranet…

Bond Touch table

And – it’s good to see Wheedon still pursuing tangible, gestural interfaces in his work…

Will Wright from his now legendary Long Now talk with Eno, as quoted by Jim Rossignol in his excellent book “This Gaming Life” (my emphasis below)

“When we do these computer models, those aren’t the real models; the real models are in the gamer’s head. The computer game is just a compiler for that mental model in the player. We have this ability as humans to build these fairly elaborate models in our imaginations, and the process of play is the process of pushing against reality, building a model, refining a model by looking at the results of looking at interacting with things.

Yep.

That’s still the mission plan.

To which you could add ‘tardy’: a shameful two months after the event the slides and notes from the talk are now up online here. Sorry to everyone who asked for them – and thanks for your patience!

It was a presentation by Tom Coates and myself on an area that fascinates us both – the coming age of practical ubicomp/spimes/everyware.

Although hopefully grounded in some of the design ideas explored in our respective current projects, it was a whistlestop tour around the ideas and conversations of many.

The title slide shows Timo Arnall‘s everyware symbols and obviously, Adam Greenfield‘s and Bruce Sterling‘s books loom large, as well as the work of Dan Hill, Matthew Chalmers, Anne Galloway, Schulze and Webb, Christian Nold and many others who I’ve been fortunate to meet, mail or read around this subject.

There’s certainly some scenius going on. As if to underline this, Nicholas Nova’s posted his slides from what sounds like a fascinating talk today: “Digital Yet Invisible: Making Ambient Informatics More Explicit to People”.

Looking forward to a summer of more digital/physical brainfood…

At the end of last year I had the pleasure of working on a project with the first and second year Design Interaction students at the RCA. It was sponsored by Intel’s People and Practices Group, extending and examining their work on the future of money.

The brief we put together had this question at it’s core:

“As the technology of e-money and currency advances, how will that effect the social and psychological dimensions associated with those technologies? What new behaviours, new dangers, new rituals, and new pleasures could emerge?”

RFID force-feedback transactions from chriswoebken on Vimeo.

It was a great experience, and very satisifying to now see all the finished work up on the web, and looking great. Amazing to see what they did with a very abstract brief, not much time and the handicap of a first-timer as one of the tutors…

Core77’s already written about it, and I’m hoping to see some some of the pieces in the RCA Final Show shortly.

Congratulations to all there on the work so far, and good luck for the final push!