I'm watching Germany vs. Italy at Euro 2012. It's currently exhibiting most of the characteristics that Max Gadney wrote about in the latest issue of Domus: quixotic improvisation and extreme technical skill, cohesive teamwork and the individual brilliance of Balotelli, fluidity and structure, deep history and contemporary culture, data driven insight and unpredictable chance …
I've long been interested in football (as with sound) as a way of understanding systems, interaction, design, even architecture. I've long been interested in football full stop. Frankly, any excuse to play, watch, discuss or think about it is grasped with relish. But I do think there's something to this idea of understanding interactive, cultural or urban systems in particular. As I wrote back in 2006, during the World Cup:
"This emphasis on unpredictable, interpreted creativity being performed within formal systems actually suggests interesting parallels to me ... 'the social process of design'; of the interaction between a system of space, articulated by designers or architects, which is then interpreted and adapted by users with individual creativity and agency." [From Design, Architecture, Football]
Equally, I was fascinated by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Pareno's "Zidane" for similar reasons: the unpredictable predictable; the individual and the team; the patterns of time, space and movement.
Luckily, I'm not alone in this obsession. I asked Max, an old friend and former colleague from the BBC, to write something for the SuperNormal series I curate for Domus; about data visualisation in the context of sports broadcasting; about how the utterly everyday—watching footy on the box—was actually increasingly witness to a kind of avant-garde in data capture and visualisation; about what "the beautiful game" might tell us about working with Big Data.
We had a few chats on the phone, and then Max has only gone and wrote an absolute pearler—sorry, football language can be addictive—and then Max wrote a beautiful piece for Domus, revealing his own experience of working within that sector of the design industry, with his firm After the Flood.
Max also broadened the topic to cover US sports such as American football and baseball, where the company Sportvision has a long track record of innovating in broadcast graphics. This led to a fascinating comparison of sports that are European or American in origin, with the latter's almost Taylorist approach to specialisation, workflow and predefined plays. Whereas football (soccer) in particular has far more fluidity and range of expression.
Max discusses how data capture has become central to the practice, execution and culture of both American and "European" sports however, albeit in different ways, and how richly layered, qualitiative and quantitative, real-time and reflective approaches to data might provide a clue to the way we might handle data in other arenas, even cities and buildings, perhaps.
It's a brilliant piece by Max—many thanks!—and beautifully presented by the Domus team as ever. So read it at Domusweb and then track down the magazine as well for the full three points. (I'm excited by what's next for SuperNormal too: articles by Alexandra Lange and Dan Hon.)
After a quick discussion, Marco Ferrari decided to use a magnificent grab from "Zidane" to adorn the last pages of the piece, as well as dropping in some amazing examples of Sportvision real-time data. But I suggested it might be good to couterpoint that with a very different kind of "visualisation", from one of my most treasured possessions, actually.
"Football", by Danny Blanchflower, is compiled from a "Learn Through Strips" series for the Sunday Express newspaper which ran in the early 1970s. Blanchflower was a hugely respected Irish footballer and football manager, and though these things are usually ghost-written, I like to think the footballing intelligence in the book is his.
I acquired this book as a boy—I can't remember where or when I picked it up, but it was years after it was originally published, and probably from a jumble sale—and I can still remember much of what I read. I recall the idea of weighting your passes so as to "send a message" with the ball, as to for who and where the pass is intended. Or making a triangle with your body shape to trap the ball correctly. How shooting across the goalie from a tight angle can be thought of as "slower" than going near post. Or even spreading vaseline over your eyebrows to stop sweat dripping in your eyes! (Don't think I ever did that, actually. Clearly not working hard enough.)
That these things are apparently etched in my mind decades later says something about the obsession of youth, yes, but also the skill in these drawings and wisdom in those words.
We could only use a couple of pages from the Blanchflower book in the magazine, so here are a few more snaps—click for full size versions at Flickr.