OK, I can't resist it:
"Sadly, the field of stoner architecture is usually dismissed by conventional architects, who insist on clinging to such tired, ossified notions as functionality, coherence, and basic structural integrity," Gordon said. "Someone like Donovan can go a long way toward dispelling the myth that stoner architecture is all just arrested adolescents scribbling whacked-out bullshit in dimly lit basements while turgid '70s prog-rock plays in the background. I mean, sure, it definitely is that, but it's also so much more."
Gordon then lost his train of thought.
At age 22, Donovan earned his first taste of notoriety when, inspired by a quarter ounce of Mexicali Gold and a night of listening to the indie noise-rock combo Royal Trux, he spent nine consecutive hours "drawing up a plan for a city filled with 10,000 crooked stairs."
Pure Onion Genius.
The Onion: Stoner Architect Drafts All-Foyer Mansion
Special Architecture double-bill!!!
The Onion: Price of Penis-Shaped Swimming Pool Negotiated
"Form follows function. That's what I always tell people."
Adam Greenfield posts a gently stimulating piece around inspiration in design. He notes how his excitement about his forthcoming paper "As free as the air" (sounds fascinating - more details Adam?) for Ubicomp2002 was somewhat tainted by the trailer to Minority Report, thinking that the interface visualisations therein might actually steal his thunder. Something I'm sure any practising 'designer' can empathise with - happens all the time.
However, I reckon if Adam goes to see Minority Report (leave 10 mins before the end fer chrissake), he'll realise his ideas are likely to be a few years ahead after all. Sure the film has an utterly beautiful evocation of an advanced gestural interface ... but, for a start, it still uses disks! What, they don't have a network in 2050? Never mind wifi. There are numerous other technical and logical inconsistencies with the film ... but anyway. That interface sure is pretty. Reminded me of many 'ubiquitous/pervasive computing' presentations I saw at DIS2002 (again), and watching (buff heterosexual) Cruise manipulate the thing like a prima-donna conductor seemed to provide further proof for my conjecture that interface operation could develop into a performance art/olympic sport.
Adam's post was influenced by reports that MIT research for the DoD draws inspiration from comics. Not before time, I'd suggest. They should certainly keep an eye on The Spiders [via Matt Jones, Boing Boing]. A visit to the Game On exhibition currently at the Barbican in London reminds how long the military have been using video games too.
Adam suggests that not only does 'receiving ideas' in some senses rely on today's incredibly rich shared cultural experiences, but that inspiration within design (as a practice) is almost impossible to conceive of without those shared experiences. That ideas always come from somewhere, subconscious or no, and as often as not emanate from the infosphere that we're constantly bathing in.
"(W)e now (and once again?) live in a milieu where those who dream technologies, those who fund them, and those that comment on them have all been exposed to the same myths." [Adam Greenfield, at v-2.org]
Interesting, as there's creative potential both within expanding and extrapolating commonly-shared myths and genres (such as The Spiders, or the riffs in smarter comic books playing with superhero myths) and there's potential amidst the difference too. In those who haven't experienced what the majority has, and in experiences outside of the global popular culture.
"First a confession. I dont have a cellphone and I have no plans to get one. Does this make me completely unqualified to comment on a book about mobile phones? I dont think so."
Well, actually Rick, I think it does.
Poynor's one of our finest writers about design, and as founder of 'Eye', instrumental in one of design's finest publications. And yet here seems hampered by his lack of experience. It's not that experience is all. I don't have to play the saxophone to recognise good and bad saxophone playing. On the whole. However, the accessibility of mobile phones (cellphones to our cousins across the pond) and their relative ease of use is somewhat different to spending 15 years learning the sax.
"At the present time, Wi-Fi connection is free. But prices of around 50 for a month's access and 7 per hour will be introduced shortly."
7 an hour! 50 a month Are they mad? How does this compare to the US? Also, forgive my ignorance on this, but what's to stop you standing outside (within range) and using the bandwidth (once you have their details)?
Just found out about WE LOVE NEW YORK: Mapping Manhattan with Artists and Activists after it finished. Oh well.
[via Matt Jones]
My question to you is: Why is everyone in UK 'new media' called Matt?
Good article in Cre@te Online (why do I feel the overwhelming desire to add the word 'shock' there? I'll resist). It's an interview with Bill Moggridge of IDEO, the genuine design legend, and the man who coined the phrase 'interaction design'. Although he doesn't mention it, he seems excited by a lot of what he heard at DIS2002 (as I was), particularly the Dunne & Raby and Tom Moran talks I mentioned earlier (full Moran notes here). After Dunne & Raby's talk on their Placebo Project (prototype 'furniture' containing embedded devices interacting with various aspects of the electromagnetic spectrum), Moggridge made the observation that the aesthetics of the furniture (a chair, low and high tables) had receded to an über-minimalism —they looked almost like abstract representations of chairs, tables, etc.
Moggridge noted that the aesthetics recede as behaviour becomes more important—that behaviour is the aspect people actually engage with. According to my notes, Dunne replied that "we reduced the aesthetic dimension to the bare necessity, as we're more interested in what surrounds them" (in terms of environment or behaviour). That this "abstract, simple design" (which was also beautifully-realised) means that the adoptees focused on behaviour. In the Cre@te Online article, Moggridge elucidated a little further, talking of a New Rationalism (which almost sounds like a manifesto opportunity).
"It moves back in a way that Naoto Fukasawa, who runs our Tokyo office, describes as design dissolving in behaviour. So you find that the design is actually looking, as a physical object, very elegant, laid back, recessive. But inside, there's some exciting thing happening where the engagement, the entertainment value, the thing that makes you say, 'Aha!' is more driven by the behaviour of the thing."
I love Fukasawa's phrase "design dissolving in behaviour" (See also Without Thought profiled here), and as I mentioned, this seems like it would relate to what Dunne & Raby had discovered with their product design too. Moggridge gives examples of what he means in the latest iBook and Titanium Powerbooks from Apple (surely the iPod is another good example), the Audi TT, the Handspring Visor Edge, and many Muji products (some of which were developed in conjunction with IDEO Japan, such as Muji's brilliant wall-mounted pull-cord CD player).
In terms of ubiquitous computing (e.g. Moggridge makes the point that digital cameras are 'invisibly' developing into computers), this recessive approach is surely key. But as our web-based products become smarter and tend towards exhibiting behaviour, or allowing user-behaviour to drive the product, perhaps a recessive elegance should be foremost?
This doesn't just mean aping the faux-Swiss School, or Bauhaus-lite, movements of recent years—where bold san-serifs dominate sweeping vectored landscapes of grey and process colours, effectively just for the sake of it—but really thinking about interaction design (and its aesthetics) providing platforms or environments for user or system behaviour. Providing the simplicity of operation found in Muji, Audi, and Apple products; establishing that the action of the content and the user is the most important aspect of the system (i.e. the behaviour) rather than a surface sheen of attractiveness - and not least using these approaches to create a seductive aesthetic too, as, say, Jonathan Ive's team has (their key philosophy? "Do it better, simpler, and more elegantly").
So, as precursors, we've got Ive's team, spiced with essence-of-Moggridge-and-Fukasawa blended with Tom Moran's ideas around Adaptive Design, which implicitly puts behaviour at the forefront of the design system. Not least by Moran's reminders that design is a humble trade; that we've shortchanged usefulness in our design goals; the importance of studying social networks and social process; design itself as social process based around negotiating open standards; that usability is mainly a problem because we've made it one, by not allowing systems to be truly adapted by users.
Maybe a New Rationalism is one possible future methodology for design after the kind of intensely behaviour-oriented challenges posed by recent developments around the Semantic Web?
Here's my (long overdue, and just plain long) notes on Tom Moran's plenary from DIS2002. My comments are in grey - apologies for bad spelling, grammar, and prose(!). I've added emphasis and links where possible - Moran's PowerPoint slides are available too - read in conjunction?
The final plenary session at DIS2002, by Tom Moran, was a hugely important presentation, imho, linked to several memes around the disappearing interface, or interfaces based around behaviour rather than aesthetics; open source collaboration; flexibility and modularity; pattern-based design; the importance of social process, communication and networks etc.
Moran, of the IBM Almaden Research Center - is from an architecture background originally, but then was quickly part of developing the practice of design in computer science. Hence he draws on Christopher Alexander, Jane Jacobs and Stewart Brand throughout the talk, as well as Bernard Rudolfsky [a new name for me to track down]. Moran prefaced this talk on Adaptive Design by suggesting that perhaps we can design Design. As in, what do we want Design to be? A proactive attitude ...
A brilliantly information-rich speaker, ploughing through his Powerpoint at a rate of knots, Moran began by rattling off a brief history of changing design perspectives relating to changes in computing systems i.e.
Batch systems -> Cognitive perspective
Interactive systems -> Usability perspective
Personal -> GUI
Networked -> Socio-technical
etc. ending with
Embedded -> Experience
Which was hugely useful, reminding us of how early notions like usability and socio-technical network analysis hit the practice of HCI (Human-Computer Interaction, often CHI) within the discipline of computer science. [It also pleased me, being a comp sci grad in the early 90s and now a designer (rather than from a graphic design background, say), in that it further helps me explain to people that design is/was the key element within the displine of computer science].
Then a serious investigation into design itself, and designers.
Design lives everywhere, in all of us. Specifically in "the users", who everyday commit little acts of design by adapting systems to their needs. Important to note that adapting is not bad (as implicitly, designers often try to prevent this, nowhere more obviously than on the web perhaps) but good. And it's about continuity rather than change. This means that perhaps we should tend to specify rather than build? This is a fundamentally social process.
What is the goal of design? For Moran, design artifacts that become suitably and intimately enmeshed in people's lives. Fundamentally, it's "a humble field" - not about producing objects of admiration. We can think about 4 facets: Usefulness; Reliability; Usability; Delight. These can be correlated with Vitruvius. Usefulness is the hardest and most important - perhaps we've short-changed it?
It's more evolutionary than revolutionary; More service than product.
Moran sees a life-cycle of development, where design is a set of distributed activities, of different kids, by different people, at different times - a continuum of Design, Build, Adapt (a logarithmic rather than linear relationship, hinting that time is the best designer!) Moran described the limitations inherent with the practice of Professional Design (can't predict usefulness; can't truly advocate the users; an inward-looking community: not least the "pull" of over-designing.)
In Generic Design, where, as Herb Simon noted, "everyone designs", designing is a type of cognitive activity, an approach (as opposed to, say, diagnosis or clearer decision making) where design problems are ill-defined and ill-structured. Designing here is specifying, stealing (or rather, reusing domain knowledge!).
It can include the design of a service, where integration is the hardest part of design. For example, Moran delineated the UX of a cellphone (from research by Palen & Salzman), across various devices, arenas, modes.
So design is a social process based around collaboration, negotiation and user participation - in fact, not a profession but a community. And that, concluded Moran, was enough interrogation of design itself, clearly impatient to get away from the naval-gazing and onto the good stuff.
Onto Everyday Design, where Strickland noted, "Everybody is a designer in everyday life. Yet we share no common vocabulary for describing everyday design practice ... design is not limited to the province of specialists who have formal training ... rather, design behaviour is a fundamental element of our species' adaption."
Strickland's work includes a "Portable Effects" exhibit, or "glimpses into human mobile nature" i.e. studying use of mobile equipment (bags, wallets etc.). Notes the way that purses (Moran's example from Strickland's work was "Esther's purse"), are organised by their 'users'; to their organisation - might appear muddled to others, but utterly workable to their owner; varying in context, it fulfils many different roles. This Everyday Design is supremely authentic. It's a "continuous process of adaptation"; it's specific yet "free-flowing"; it has a tight fit to the situation. Moran praises this "informal, pragmatic, ... offhand ingenuity".
Then Moran quickly sidestepped into examples of Adaptive Design from Vernacular Architecture, noting Rudofsky (Architecture Without Architects, or non-pedigreed architecture), Alexander (unselfconscious design), Jacobs (vitality of the street from its diversity and density), Brand (the low road), Venturi (theory of the ordinary and the ugly). [A low-power warning light goes off in my head here, about confusing heavy use of something with popularity i.e. because something is heavily used, doesn't necessarily mean it is enjoyed/valued e.g. the Arndale Centre shopping mall in Manchester fr'instance. Of course, this kind of survival-of-the-fittest approach to usage - in Brand's words (from memory so probably not exactly), "function reforms form, perpetually" - does mean that these examples must be useful, which is where we came in. The arch-modernist in me is screaming though - luckily I can ignore it, or at least reversion it as part of some kind of dialectic process. It's summed up in Moran's point that design is, or should be, a profoundly humble practice.]
Moran picked out quotes from Rudofsky in particular [clearly a touchstone], based around fitting buildings to their surroundings rather than trying to conquer. Moran illustrates with images of Pakistani wind scoops and Victorian houses in San Francisco, the latter indicating a flexibility of architectural space to enable hugely varying formats, still used 100 years later. Also Stewart Brand - the architecture of "the low road", with its mobile homes, ranch houses and petrol stations - a vulgar but oft-used vernacular. Aside on Jacobs quote: "old ideas need new buildings, new ideas use old buildings" [e.g warehouse space in deindustrialised areas; this links to my MA thesis on fringe zones within post-industrial cities, where cultural industries invariably initially thrive].
So to interactive systems, and Adaptive Design in that arena. Moran lists various customization techniques (scripting languages and macros, rules, features, parameters, skins and rearrangement, and so on). He notes though that this is essentially a "limiting view" of adaption. The essence here is the difference between thinking about User vs. Adapter. The User assumes the system is ready for a purpose, and merely puts that into action; hence the usability is the designer's problem. The Adapter makes the system suitable for a purpose, thus usefulness is the adapter's problem; they make the system their own. [What an insight. Usability is a self-defining problem for the design, due to the initial, fundamental approach to design, not the effectiveness of a particular design. If the design was less prescriptive, and more adaptive, usability issues could diminish significantly]
Examples of Systems for Adaptive Design include wikis and blogs; spreadsheets; email (which gets used for various tasks as well as sending/receiving); messaging (unforseen use of SMS); cellphones (when used for rendesvous); the freeform space of the desktop, adorned with post-its. Moran related various studies to do with Adaptive Design (incidentally, it was refreshing and enlightening how often Moran referred to recent research as the basis of this thoughts) such as:
Moran compares Professional and Adaptive Design - a useful separation of mindsets: formal vs. informal; anticipated vs. situated; ill-defined vs. concrete; reflect vs. act; specify vs. build; program vs. arrange; adventurous vs. conservative; make it right vs. make do. In terms of actually Designing for Adaptive Design [which we'd all been waiting for]:
As to what systemic trends are supporting these ideas, Moran pointed to open standards, web architecture, "portalization" and "freeform technologies". In terms of interaction design, which Moran noted was still fundamental, we're talking lightweight, flexible, looser less crammed, and interchangeable/interconnectable. Behaviourally, we need to think about the time to adopt, about maintainging vs. changing habits, about amenity and function vs. style, reflection vs. on-the-fly action, about engendering the desire/ability to experiment, and where the threshold is in terms of local control - when do we inhibit adaptability? [Obviously context varies this last greatly]
Moran concluded with an excellent list of research material (check the last pages of the ppt), directly relevant to the examples of Adaptive Design he'd mentioned. And then the summary:
"Adaptive design runs rampant! It is vital, creative and messy"
And we - the design community - have a choice. We can dismiss it as vulgar, try to clean it up; embrace it; or design to support it and improve it. Naturally Moran's talk was heading in the direction of the latter two, but he was smart enough (again) to pose it as a question; to make us think about actually taking action on the choice, rather than sinking back comfortably into the auditorium's seats.
The talk had been so rapid-fire, information-dense and, well, brilliant, that the delegates seemed slightly shell-shocked (in a good way!) - thus the Q&A was something of an anti-climax. Moran noted a few more research angles (Alan McClean's work - "Buttons" (citations here) and reiterated a few key points (adaptabilty as a social process, "sharing layers", "specification as a dialogue" [link to XP?].
Update: Many of the ideas triggered by Moran's talk ended up in my Adaptive Design presentation to AIGA Experience Design London. Similarly, my Adaptive Design category here collects further thinking around these themes.