“Artists have used mechanical means of perception for a long time now. One doesn’t have to apologize for this nowadays, in the way Baudelaire used to wring his hands over daguerrotype cameras. That fight’s over. Everybody’s got hardware. People who can’t read have hardware. Every ivory tower we possess is saturated with hardware.” One of the best things I’ve read in a long time, on a topic I’ve got more than a passing interest in.
This week at Almighty, we’ve been exploring what members of our team are reading. Today was, it seems, my turn.
We look at utilities like water as a service - and there’s a regulated market that’s constructed to provide equally to all consumers within that market. Housing has never been in such a category in America. The American real estate system looks at houses as investments. […] So I can understand the benefit of thinking about housing as if it were conceived of as a service, but it’s hard to imagine the system that we live in undergoing such a transformation.
Architect Carol Burns on Buckminster Fuller’s notion of housing as a service, as quoted in Bruce Mau’s Massive Change. I wonder changes in perception about the idea of home as investment since the housing crash in 2008, along with events like Bank of America’s entry into the rental market, might effect some level of the transformation to which Burns refers.
I really like the thinking of Robin Sloan’s post here - essentially taking an idea gleaned from a dry, technical explanation of the manner in which YouTube manages content caching and extrapolating it to other mediums. There’s lots of food for thought in this concept of (manufactured) randomness.
via Ben Bashford comes what I think is a remarkably intriguing idea from Japan in the form of the Babyloid - designed as a rather upmarket companion for an aging population frequently separated from an extended family.
Beyond the laugh out loud absurdity of what has been likened in some corners as a Webkinz for seniors, it strikes me that the Babyloid reflects at least two insights that bear consideration, namely:
1. That in societies in which family and community have long been inextricably-linked, the appeal of something like the Babyloid is significant in part because we prefer an inanimate presence to an animate absence.
2. That the 100 or so sounds/cues/behaviors programmed into Babyloid present an interesting litmus test. I’d be very curious to see how few of these behaviors are truly required for the doll to function as a suppository for family. My guess is relatively few.
I’ve been doing a good bit of reading lately on issues relating to path dependence - this weekend, in particular, related to the economic perils of this dependence as outlined by Nassim Taleb. This made it all the more interesting that Nicolas Nova would post yesterday on the Dvorak Keyboard as a brilliant illustration of the concept.
I spotted this sticker adhered to a table in a client’s design studio recently. Significantly, the table was custom-built by the design team, using an in-house workshop constructed specifically (and permanently) for studio build-out.
Statements of internal expectation raise the bar for everyone, including partners (like us). These are good times.
There’s a tendency to explore the design of systems and experiences (as opposed to the design of objects) in a way that’s ultimately context and location specific (I’m on a bit of a kick on context v. location, after yesterday’s link to Whitney Hess’ post). There are certainly a number of good reasons for this - chief among them that designing experiences that are replicable and work anywhere requires an enormous number of variables and physical challenges. It’s for this reason, I think, that I’m drawn to the AWOL project from Dan Cottrell - designed specifically for those who aim to get lost (while still finding their way home, eventually) - that I tripped over on Nicolas Nova’s brilliant Delicious feed this morning. Dan has managed to put some really terrific design thinking around the process of losing one’s way.
You won’t know exactly where you are going on these walks but will always return to your starting point, so you can enjoy the new surroundings and experiences without the anxiety that often comes with being lost.
It’s a rather novel, and well-thought-through, concept that has some really interesting applications - some of which Dan explores within the project documentation. Dan did a great job of documenting the design and development process of the project, as well, if you’re so-inclined.
There’s an especially-intriguing post over on Whitney Hess’ blog today, in which she explores the idea that device-specific use maps more directly to what she’s referring to as ‘intentional context’ than it does to location.
This year I have learned to see devices as location agnostic and instead associate them with purpose—I want to check (mobile), I want to manage (desktop), I want to immerse (tablet). This shift away from objective context toward subjective context will reshape the way we design experiences across and between devices, to better support user goals and ultimately mimic analog tools woven into our physical spaces.
She’s got a terrific, simple graphic to go with it - I’d strongly encourage you to read both the post and what is already shaping up to be a good content thread. I think there’s a lot of good to be found in this line of thinking - certainly, there is plenty of merit to a migration away from thinking of devices purely through the lens of location and a strictly objective context. That said, I’m cognizant of both the truth that I’m increasingly using mobile devices to ‘manage’, and that certain devices and views - while not dependent on location - are certainly restricted by them. Certainly, her argument is an excellent basis for framing our discussion around the kinds of experiences and content we’re crafting for devices.
Two really interesting posts this week, ostensibly about the nature of e-readers, but more-fundamentally about implications of experience (and product) design. Nicholas Carr penned an excellent piece expanding on the well-tread notion of typographical fixity espoused by Elizabeth Eisenstein in The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, in which she writes that:
Copernicus’ life spanned the very decades when a great many changes, now barely visible to modern eyes, were transforming “the data available” to all book-readers…Successive generations could build on the work left by sixteenth-century polymaths instead of trying to retrieve scattered fragments of it.…the great tomes, charts, and maps that are now seen as “milestones” might have proved insubstantial had not the preservative powers of print also been called into play. Typographical fixity is a basic prerequisite for the rapid advancement of learning.
Carr outlines four traits of the fixity/stability of the bound book, namely: the stable integrity of the printed page, the integrity of the edition, the (semi)-permanence of the book itself, and the completion inherent in the printed and bound work. It’s a fantastic read, as you’d expect from Carr. By way of response, a post last week from Kevin Kelly made a really well-articulated case for the inherent fluidity of the e-reader. I don’t have a strong feeling about the nature, or for that matter the future, of books. I tend to think that bound volume or e-reader is something of a false choice, but it’s not something I spend a great deal of time considering. I do think, though, that the relative merits of fixity and fluidity bear a great deal of thought - and not strictly in an academic sense.
I ran across a thoughtful and well-reasoned post this evening from Allan Ecker over on the Thingiverse blog, in which he delineates between individual mindsets towards open source and the positions commonly taken by organizations and institutions:
Winning with Sharing in these cases is a heck of a lot more challenging than if you’re working in a field where what you sell goes directly to individuals, because where individuals are eager to form brand loyalty to the more open provider, institutions in this climate are broadly sharing-averse.
It’s difficult to argue with this premise - I wouldn’t attempt to, anyhow. What I will add is that my experiences in developing original IP increasingly involve broadly-assembled, loosely-connected teams comprised of agencies, freelance developers, artists, researchers - each of whom brings not only a unique set of intellectual capital to the table, but also wildly different economic incentives (and legal representation). As we incorporate increasingly complicated team structures into those things we make, these entanglements are magnified. I point this out to highlight not that the problem of creating collaborative, asymmetrically-crafted open-source works is complicated, but rather that the problem transcends the client relationship(s) and increasingly informs the structure(s) of the team that creates the output, as well.
In a summary of Anthony Dunne’s keynote address at IxDA Interaction 12for the Core 77 blog, Ciara Taylor poses a question framed by a series of case studies and exhibits that comprised Dunne’s presentation, namely:
I am not sure the attendees at Interaction12 were expecting such an abstract and experimental concept of “interaction design” or in this case “designing interactions.” So, I leave you with the question… are interaction design and designing interactions the same concept?
That’s a question more readily-suited to a better-schooled UX designer or design theorist than it is to me, though it immediately recalled a quote from Zach Lieberman of Openframeworks that I’d seen this weekend on Ben Bashford’s tumblr:
“As we move away from interaction via screens and into physical space, we have the potential to make the world significantly more magical. We can make the everyday into the any day, especially if we focus on communication and understanding.”
I very much like the idea of ‘making the world significantly more magical’, and the notion that we begin to approach this as we migrate away from screens an into experiences that live within the confines of our routines. This video, documenting an output from the Pachube Hack Day by Bashford, Dan Williams and Tim Burrell-Saward is a great example of that magic, albeit on a small scale. DisplayCabinet from Tim Burrell-Saward on Vimeo. It seems to me that, as we migrate interactions and experiences away from screens and bound displays and into the physical universe with more regularity, we create astounding new potential to explore the kinds of abstractions that Dunne was citing and, to Taylor’s point, play a greater role in designing interactions themselves.
Over on the KK CoolTools site this week, Kevin makes a terrific argumentfor the value of readily-available, online owner’s manuals, and outlines the role that they play in his purchasing process:
Equally important as finding the operating instructions and basic specs, is to get hold of the installation instructions. There are few sites that aggregate manuals and specs of major lines, but often I would wind up at the manufacturer’s site. There I would download the PDF and read it carefully. That’s where you find out its precise dimensions, its actual power needs, its exact connections, its real compatibility. I lost count of the number of inappropriate bad purchases I avoided by studying the manual and specs first.
Lost in much of the discussion of late around the notion of content strategy - which invariably centers on either content curation or original content creation - is that there exists a substantial gap between content that is important to brands and content that is important to users (which frequently turns on the hinge of storytelling v. utility). What I think Kevin’s post so-clearly articulates is that even the most mundane content can be of tremendous value to the end user in informing purchase and use, despite its’ relatively low value to brand managers and the agencies charged with original content development. That, as Kevin suggests, it has the power to directly shape purchasing behaviors, is reason to consider a fresh approach to publishing and promoting the dry stuff.
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work around high school sport — and specifically around the idea of benchmarking and understanding one’s (measured) place in the universe. High schools are full of totems that tell the stories of individual and team athletic accomplishments: record boards, gymnasium banners, trophy cases. Each of these plays a role in helping to self-assess (and in the formation of hierarchies, for better or worse).
This morning, I found these hash marks — almost certainly measures of long/broad jumps, diligently marked in chalk and initialed by a teacher — on the playground behind a preschool. I love these as an example of the same sorts of measures inherent to varsity athletics (or education, for that matter) — albeit an inherently and necessarily fleeting one.
Note: this was originally posted to the Almighty blog and is cross-posted here.
I had a brief exchange on Twitter this morning with Bit.ly Chief Scientist Hilary Mason in response to a profile piece - published yesterday in Fast Company – highlighting some of the many ways in which Bit.ly’s massive volume of data about our sharing habits could be brought to bear. The piece focuses – as is the nature of Fast Company – on benefits to brands of products like predictive algorithms that spot trending topics and conversations.
While I think there’s a lot of value in products of that nature (and as Erik points out, Bit.ly’s gotta get paid), I don’t think that they’re particularly unique to Bit.ly – Twitter and Facebook are both making moves that will corner pieces of this market for themselves. Frankly, I think that there are more interesting ways for Bit.ly to create products for the marketplace that leverage the unique nature of the data that people are creating with their tool – be it via the bit.ly website, a plugin or a 3rd party application.
Hilary, to her credit, asked what I’d like to see from Bit.ly (also to her credit is her terrific blog). Here, then, are a few thoughts:
1. Publishers are racing to customize the delivery of content to users, while struggling to build the foundations of community that will allow them to generate the kind of affinity and usage data that will inform that level of customization. Facebook affords publishers one approach to that level of customization, but bit.ly data creates an altogether different model for customization in which registered bit.ly users could be served content in which they are not only interested, but also have a propensity to share based upon past behaviors (certainly a valuable interest for all manner of publishers). As significantly, this can be delivered at scale.
2. There are plenty of good reasons to share a link, and any number of people willing to school you on the voodoo of how and when to share information. The fallacy at the core of most of this conventional wisdom is the notion that each of our networks are static (or similar). Bit.ly, though, (with enough data in hand) can tell me when the links I share to my blog posts are most-likely to find traction within my networks, and suggest the best times for sharing my new favorite pop-up Tumblr (as well as the platforms most likely to care). I’d like to see Bit.ly data used to tell me when a link has already made the rounds and I’m late to the party. As a voracious consumer and sharer of information, I’d pay for these kinds of insights – and I suspect that many of my peers would, as well.
3. Finally, I think that there’s a very real extent to which the data that Bit.ly is capturing is, itself, content. As conversations continue to migrate off of publishing platforms leaving message threads to the vehement and the loyal, the links that are being shared on social platforms comprise a valuable (if less-obvious) piece of the stories to which they are related. The trending links to archival Steve Jobs profiles and interviews were as much a part of our collective remembrance of him as his obituaries. The roll out of links to small pieces of content around the #occupyWallStreet movement are integral to understanding of the way that this has become something much larger. The ability to license this information – this data we create – to other content creators and publishers would seem an exciting, real-time opportunity for Bit.ly (and one I would think that they’ve already been pursuing).