Tape It Off The Internet

Tape It Off the Internet

Nice to see the article in the Guardian about Paul Pod‘s Tape It Off The Internet being almost ready to roll.

I worked with Paul at Razorfish and he’s been steadily doing great stuff since. TIOTI started as a spoof on Web 2.0 madness, I believe, and a cool name. Then they realised that it could actually be built and set to work. It’s been in the workshop for a while and I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens. It could be my dream of a friendly way to download via bitTorrent et al.

It’s not until you live in a foreign country do you really appreciate how rubbish territory deals are. I can’t legally watch many shows that I would happily pay something for because they’re not in Germany in English. I can’t even use my bloody Australian Playstation 2 here with European discs and it’s illegal to chip it. I don’t want to fork out for another one and so SCEE lost out on me buying more games. The same is true with TV and video content. So, what with Joost, TIOTI and maybe iTunes, I might never need to watch TV (or crap ads) again. Hurrah!

Human Computer interaction in Sci-Fi

I added the link to Michael Schmitz’s Human Computer interaction in Science Fiction Movies to my del.icio.us account a while ago when one of my students showed me the link. I then forgot to blog it.

It’s a pretty interesting account of the interaction (sorry..) between sci-fi and what actually exists or is invented as a result. But the best thing about the essay is that it digs up some really rubbish ideas and some films I had totally forgotten about too.

Johnny Mnemonic is one such criminal. Take a look at Keanu at work here:

Johnny Mnemonic in action. Twat.

But one other thing caught my eye – Schmitz goes right back to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and reminds us of the sort of ‘clock’ interface that has lights around it.

The very brilliant, Metropolis.

The worker has to move the hands to the lights when they light up all day. That’s all he does. Doesn’t it remind you of responding to all those e-mails, IMs and SMS messages all day?

Reclaiming the Role of Designers

I wrote some thoughts about the life of a creative person for my students a while ago, and recently commented on Rick Poynor’s article about the Soul of Design. But Marian Bantjes’s essay, Untitled on Speak Up is one of the best essays about the erosion of the appreciate of design and creative skills within a business environment I have read.

Teaching is a strange mix of parenting, mentoring, joy and tedious admin. Teaching creative subjects, whether that’s writing, art, design or something digital is doubly so (and the admin is even more tedious). The joy of seeing my students develop as creative individuals is often tempered by both their expectations and the expectations of the work environment they will be shortly entering.

Bantjes’s essay is all very worth reading, but here are a few choice paragraphs:

The response of most designers is to downplay the active, creative part of their work in favour of the strategic, results-oriented, business-minded part. A scan through most design websites will reveal an emphasis on “forming partnerships,” “sound business objectives,” “industry leaders,” “distilling information,” “marketing communications,” “story telling,” and a great deal more that hints at “creativity” contained in a controlled and mindful environment (i.e. the back room, out of sight). But Graphic Design’s embarrassment of its artistic roots threatens to do away with the very thing that makes it unique and valuable. In this sense, the computer becomes the perfect icon for design today, as Design begins to look a lot like what everyone else does in the vast market of business consultancy. As designers increasingly promote themselves primarily as strategists, consultants and business-people first, they do so often by sacrificing the one thing they have that separates them from their clients: the ability to think and express ideas visually. And at some point, you have to wonder: if you look like them, and act like them, and talk like them, and think like them, and use the same tools as they do … well, what the hell would they need you for?

Don’t get me wrong. I would never argue that strategy is not an important part of design—it is certainly one of the most important—or that collaboration is not desirable, or that results are not necessary. These are all things that are integral parts of the design process and which separate designers from fine artists. But when I read about the lives of designers who practiced 20 to 40 years ago, I think about their approach and the environment that they necessarily brought their clients into: an environment totally foreign to the business person, full of pencil crayons and markers and a kind of mysterious magic of the other. Clients must have been very aware that they were buying something that they themselves did not possess and would never possess. It must have been a little frightening and a little thrilling for them.


Ultimately, this is not about whether you draw, or what tools you use, but about how you think and express, and how willing you are to be forthcoming about the validity of that process—and the outcome—without trying to disguise it or hide it under layers of business rhetoric. The pencil crayons and the felt pens may be outdated as tools, but I would like to think that they are still relevant as metaphors. And I wish that designers would take back the power of the words “graphic” and “arts”, because as career definitions continue to blur, they might find it’s the most valuable asset they have.

I don’t want to get back to the cliché of the ‘precious designer/artist’, but I think Bantjes makes some powerful points worth thinking about.

[Thanks to Core77 for the link).

A new set of design principles

<img src=’http://www.polaine.com/playpen/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/sagmeister_pigmobiles.jpg’ alt=’Stefan Sagmeister’s designs for a touring protest about US spending’ />

The latest issue of Desktop is out with an article by me called A New Set of Design Principles. It’s based on interviews with Stefan Sagmeister and [Milton Glaser](http://www.miltonglaser.com] that examine the role of graphic design (and design in general) in dealing with ethics, sustainability and the general cultural shift that is happening (or needs to happen). Like it or not, designers are intimately bound up with a culture of seduction and consumption and we all need to think about how that can work positively rather than just selling toys to children made by children.

The Desktop version online is the short version. You’ll have to buy the mag for the full one or wait a few months until I can put it up here.

(Image: Stefan Sagmeister – Designs for True Majority who are trying to cut 15% of the Pentagon budget and move that money over to education.)

Reactable cacophony

Evidently Reactable has been around for a couple of years, but I hadn’t heard about it until one of my ex-students, Gabi, sent me the link.

Undoubtedly Reactable is a really great implementation of a tangible interface and it is also plugging into the whole multi-touch mania (although it’s a completely different system – it uses a camera to track the faces and orientation of the objects).

I’m just slightly disappointed to see them using it to create that kind of electronica synth noise blinky-blonk stuff again. If you create a new interface, it’s worth thinking about how it means you can do things differently to before. For me the actual audio they are producing could still be a couple of guys behind laptops on Reason or something similar.

It’s great to see the collaborative abilities of it, but again, same result. Interestingly one of the creators says in the Berlin video (the one above) that they created it from a concept rather than the technology, unlike many other technology heavy projects.

I think this is often a really good approach, especially for things that have another ‘purpose’ behind the interface (like YouTube, etc. which is about sharing content, not the interface necessarily). But sometimes, especially when trying to develop new interactive paradigms, it’s more suitable to work from the technology outwards. I don’t mean the kind of awful computer science kind of projects, which are totally cold. I mean a kind of balance in the middle where you are playing with the technologies to see what inherent properties and language it has. That way you can find out new ways of thinking and doing and interacting.

Max/MSP looks like this

Often starting from a concept means that you’re basing your concept on previous paradigms – in the case of Reactable, that’s all those Max/MSP patch style audio applications. They’ve pretty much substituted the boxes and lines for, well, real boxes and virtual lines.

Maybe they just need to play with Reactable more to work out what it can do. You can take a look at more of their videos on YouTube.

Stealing the soul of design

There’s a great piece by Rick Poynor in Icon called The Soul of Design in which he de-bunks many of the management consultant myths and misunderstanding about design. He brilliantly takes apart the over exclamation marked, Tom Peters and one of his ‘cool friends’, Virginia Postrel.

In many respects I am glad to see management and ‘business’ (an abstraction that I’ve never really come to grips with – what does that actually mean?) seeing the value of design and creative thought. If they want to frame it as the ‘creative economy’, that’s okay by me. What I do take issue with is the idea that they’ve discovered anything new and that many of the Peter’s ilk appear to not actually engage designers (and other creative professionals) in this process and discussion.

The same has been going on in education as well – many of the shifts in ideas of pedagogy have been towards process and collaboration instead of learning facts and sitting written exams. You see it in all areas from mathematics, hard sciences through to engineering and music, art and design educators can offer a wealth of experience in this area. But most of the time they’re not asked about it. The same is going on in a lot of corporate areas it seems.

It all reminds me of the dotcom boom somewhat, when all the consultancy companies (many of who are accountants and auditors) got into the whole e-Experience and digital strategy. They were talking absolute nonsense most of the time from the meetings I had to endure in those days.

There’s a real danger in having design and creative processes being claimed by those without a background in it as Poynor points out:

The more design is seen as a magic ingredient with the power to melt away customer resistance and win undying loyalty to the brand, the more it seems in danger of losing what consultants who dream of wheelbarrows laden with gold like to call its “soul”. This will have profound consequences for the way we think about design and what we expect it to do for us, and this can already be seen in the views of design promoted at an institutional level.

Poynor points out the naked emperor with regards to Ralph Ardill’s essays on experience design on the Design Council’s website. From Poynor:

This kind of baloney must go down a treat with clients. It might even sound acceptable when we are talking about other people rather than ourselves. But you only have to put yourself in the picture to see what’s wrong with it. No one with an independent point of view and an ounce of self-respect wants to hear that his or her thoughts, feelings and behaviour are being nudged and even determined by other people who have gathered in meeting rooms to research, plot and calibrate exactly those desired responses.

It’s great to see design and creativity being valued, let’s not let it become de-valued again by just being the new, new thing.

(Thanks to Niclas for the heads up on the article).

The Worst Windows Ad ever

This promo for Windows 386 is combination of a terrible product and hilariously awful creative. I suppose they thought a rap would make it all, you know, crazy and creative. Sorry about the pixellated poster frame, hit play and it will all work nicely. It’s half porn film, half revenge of the nerds, Microsoft style.

Touchscreen Magic Mirror

The Touch Magic Mirror from The Big Space

The Big Space have added an ultrasonic system from Sensitive Object to their Magic Mirror to enable it to also be a touchscreen.

Nice to see that collection of technologies coming together to create some interesting interactive experiences, though I don’t fancy being the one having to keep the mirror clean from fingerprints.

At the moment it looks as if they’re mainly using it in retail settings, but I can imagine there might be some interesting alternative applications, especially when combined with some camera-based interaction.

But will it stop me from choosing rubbish clothing combinations and make me look handsome? Perhaps I could just project George Clooney’s head over mine in the morning…