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an exploration in the new

Category: event

Protecting privacy is all about critical living

I attended the Big Brother Award event organised by Bits of Freedom in Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam. Three prizes were announced, some bands and poets and talks by Hans de Zwart of Bits of Freedom, Aral Balkan and Edward Snowden in a Google Hangout.

Often the rhetoric in these contexts focuses on privacy. Also this night, but it was good to see that the main concept of freedom was more important after all. Privacy is ‘just’ a mean to leverage the freedom of living we need.

This freedom thinking is more and more important, and more and more linked to our own actions. Aral Balkan is able as no other to preach the ‘we are the product’-story. His focus is Google mainly, as the main representative of the tech companies that have build their business models fully on data. Data is eating the world, also in the new wave of things that are being connected, it all comes back to the data in the end. We as humans are a lab rat mainly. In all we do.

It is a well known concept Aral is telling. His hope pyramid boils down the mission: respect human values. It is definitely important. The winner of the public prize – Ivo Opstelten – showed how little respect the government has by making it into a joke.

You could debate what is more harmful, big companies building their business on data models or governments that define your rights based on making you a suspect by default. The latter probably, but the cynical thing is that governments are standing on the shoulders of big companies to gather the necessary data. That is what the Snowden affair made clear to everyone.

The price for Edward Snowden was more than well deserved. He may not be the great visionair as he says, but he is a classical hero that did what others would not do: stand up on a personal level. This was the main message of his words and also the main message of the night.

As Hans de Zwart in his talk emphasized that diversity is important. We need the space to experiment, to make mistakes. That is what freedom is for. We should strive for personal freedom and we are in the end the only ones that can start this freedom are we ourself. Building walls is not enough, we should learn to act on a critical living.

 

The challenges of simulating reality at This happened UTC

20up. This happened has become an institute on it’s own. With chapters in Amsterdam and Rotterdam now, Utrecht remains the original. I dare to admit I am a fan of the concept and the curation of speakers, and was present at a lot of the evenings (I think I only missed two). After edition 10 I wrote on the role of this happened in addressing some elements in designing interaction.

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It was of course great to have Kars Alfrink to present at this edition, he is the initiator bringing the event to the Netherlands (it originated in the UK). He showed the work of Hubbub for Shell, creating a game (Ripple Effect) that shapes an environment for learning to work together without trying to simulate reality. It is a signature project of Hubbub.

In the presentation Kars showed the way a divers team agents (that were present in room, including the product owner of the client) together with the client makes a project like this possible. It is an great overview of all kind of tools to shape a project like this.

In the questions we could experience a little bit on the conscious thinking of the design of these kind of ‘tools for change’. Kars mentioned how the use of the concept from the daily reality of the Shell workforce, the Goal Zero clock, was blocking the possibility to step out of the reality and really learn something, change behavior. A useful insight in approaching serious gaming. Making a simulation of reality is not the way to go, you need to adapt the principles and try to shape an environment to make understanding possible by taking action.

Next up was Yvonne Dröge Wendel showing a project where she made a simulation of a train coupe that helps patients with Alzheimer to relax. A beautiful project that was a bit suffering from the choice of Yvonne to go into more than one project. Proven a tricky approach with only 10 minutes of presentation, better give one project all the attention. Luckily in the question round we could dive a bit deeper and hear on the hard work to make the videos in the right manner. Shot from a low standpoint, tuning on the pace, and above all how the filtering all the unwanted visual trigger was important. To much of specific elements like a church makes the patient troubled.

It showed how she is really focussing on creating some product that fits the needs of the user. One thing that is interesting in the light of her statement that she is more of an artist than a designer and that the difference is in the way to propose a project. A designer wants to solve problems, an artist creates problems, new questions.

After the break Lilian Henze shared insights and approaches on the research of the use of the packaging of a product from KPN (InternetPlusBellen). The insights from the research lead to design changes that generated lots of reduction in costs in after care.

Real understanding how behavior works should be the beginning of all design, she thinks. Which is true of course.

An interesting chain of thoughts that flew by during the questions: user insights are hard to adopt in the complex environment and keeping them robust. It felt she is looking for a more lean approach; deliver fast, fail fast, learn a lot (oversimplification).

Last speakers of the evening were the founders of IJsfontein (Jan Willem Huisman and Hayo Wagenaar), an agency with a long lasting reputation in designing games. As it was a bit the classic edition of This happened they brought an old laptop to be able to show the old game Meester van de Macht, a game that started off their fame in a way. It brought back some old feelings. But also shared some interesting choices, like the focus on a couple of principles, and working together with a designer and a coder to create the best and most efficient solutions. Also in animation.

The way they treat the mouse pointer as part of the interaction and communication of behavior was great in the game. It also unlocked the insight that we are losing the cursor as a concept more and more with the ubiquitous presence of touch devices.

A connection in the projects lies maybe in the that disconnection of simulations from reality. As IJsfontein showed with the bouncing ball how you can replace exact feeling with the right combination of key animation components. And as Kars showed in his approach to serious gamers within Shell. The simulation of a world outside for the Alzheimer patients is clearly an altered reality, and in that a simulation of reality, where it is proved that detailed simulation distract you from engaging with the simulated reality. An approach that could be valuable for Linze to shape the future research, getting more fundamental than detail insights as start for design work.

Thinking on the #sxsw buzz

I do not attend South by South West interactive (SxSW) this year. The conference is becoming even more popular, and will definitely something to be missed, but I will make it up later this year with some other places. Still I was thinking on what buzz we can expect. Just for the fun of it, let’s try to predict this, see what will come true. And at the same time, these are of course also some of the things I hope it will buzz. I did not dive into the program, these are just some of my feelings.

Last year we had (big) data and behavior design. And the introduction of the Glass. That is the first buzz I expect. A lot of Glasses in the wild, it will be probably the most glassed place ever.

I attended some interesting talks on machine learning and intelligent systems last year. I expected more on that this year. The internet of things will buzz SxSW with connected products galore.

Quantified self was hot too last year. More as overall theme maybe. It will be buzzing in a more mature manner, connected to health stuff for instance. On the other hand we will have a buzz on data literacy. With Snowden doing a keynote and all that has happened last year, it could not be other than that this topic will be important. Morozov believers and deniers will be both present.

I can’t remember true breaking apps or services or categories from last year. Wonder if we would get one this year. It could be very well that it is not an app but a wearable this time. The hottest interactive stuff is sensor-based today.

See what Bruce will say.

Design by storytelling at THUTC

Monday November 25 another edition of This happened Utrecht took place (THUTC), edition 18. Because of other appointments I missed the first speaker; Mapije presented her toolkit for making an adventure game of your home. Sounds like an interesting project so I will rewatch this online later.

The other three talks were amusing and interesting. In all three storytelling played an important role I think in one way or another. Or better said, the way using storytelling in the design proces.

Niels ‘t Hooft seems rather clearly connected to this storytelling; he is presenting the proces of writing a novel. He took us through his process of building characters, plotting activities. Also testing the development of the characters and the interdependencies. I think that the steps of writing he took do resemble the way I write (no novels though): 1. write down the story without bothering on style or grammar, 2. write up doing a rework, 3. a paper check, printed out story, 4. first draft. He mapped those to the chapters and those could have different speed and phases.

thutc18 niels

All in all it gave a great insight in his process of ‘designing a story’, and also the changes that occur along the way. I can recommend the book for sure, it is a real page turner.

The talk by Norah Gauw from Developlay on the iPad game for toddlers -Nott won’t sleep- to learn to sleep also have a important role for storytelling. The game is smartly constructed to make the toddlers learn rituals to go to sleep by telling a story. A short story of a couple of minutes but the build in tension is important for the effect.

She shared some learnings that brings designing an app for such young children. Like the simple fact that a request for ratings of the app (very important for the app marketing) is switched off because toddlers loose their interest than right away.

The last presentation was by architecture agency ONL on one of their projects Parametric Climbing Wall. The work of these agency is always characterised by the marriage between architecture and programming. They are able to make forms generated by code that could not exist without this design approach. This project is a wonderful example of this.

The climbing wall is made out of several pieces of wood that are all different. The volume is never bigger than a standard which makes it possible to make it for the same amount of money. The trick is that the office is connecting the design directly to the production machines (CNC) without an in between layer of technical drawings.

It is remarkable how the approach of Oosterhuis is creating a story in the technology, the only way to be able to make this work is to understand the ‘thinking’ of the machine and build a story in code to achieve the projected results.

This happened Amsterdam on framing one’s reality

This happened Amsterdam was a pleasant experience again. For the mix of talks and nice crowd. Some reflections on the talks and topics touched.

Starting with the a project made by IJsfontein on dementia – Into D’mentia - talking on designing for emotions. Raimond wanted to push a bit to many slides into the ten minutes and had not the time for deepening on the emotion design part. The concept is interesting, letting people experience the dementia feeling by using a voice in the head. Knowing the process of dementia from nearby I know this phase is only part of the illness, but one the most nasty ones indeed. Interesting to see how to create a new reality by designing the context of experience.

A different kind of design is made by the guys of Human. The app that wants to contribute to your health by stimulating enough movements on a day (30 minutes). Paul Veugen told us a very clear story on the way their startup was shaped and how they learned the value of their service by looking into the data of the users. Creating tools for extracting those data turned out to be an important element in their design process. Also interesting is how the app is stimulating the use and transforming movement to appealing content and triggers. In the Q&A the predictable questions on startup culture and data reliabilty were covered. Luckily we could discuss another interesting aspect too: the relation with the app is for a lot of users – like me – connected to the notifications. I hardly ever open the app, and I am not alone in that behavior. Designing notifications is still a challenge for Human because of the fear to break the trust with the users when to communicate too loud. A valid strategy, an interesting element of the design.

How different is the talk of Lieven Standaert on his project Aeromodeller II. He is looking for a good way to make a hydrogen airship, and went through a lot of rough stages. He used the craftsmanship of Gaudi to model the form of the balloon, by letting fluid in upside down bags, define the form factor. Interesting also how the project in the end (now) is evolving into a project to build the wind turbine to test the balloon.

Last of the evening was a duo presentation by two designers and tinkerers of Commonspace talking on their one off (two off to be precise) Bioscope video player. It is based on a Raspberry Pi board, customized to the product. I liked the whole approach to work on framing open and abundant content in a new form factor and in that sense discussing the abundance of movie materials. The apparatus is very cute looking, which helps. The product will not be on the market, now only two are made. For investors it could be a successful product. Especially if it can be connected to online url’s as Ianus mentioned.

It did not boiled into a clear theme for me (to break the tradition). The products are transforming the reality in a way by adding some new interaction models. In Biosphere, and Into D’mentia. And in Human in a sense too by influencing your behavior. All in all in the end it was another inspiring This happened.

This happened Rotterdam and the art of interacting

To keep up the tradition I make a report on the This happened evening I visited. This time Rotterdam had it’s second edition in Worm. A nice place that was also subject of one of the talks. The talk of Césare Peeren, the architect of the interior was nicely kick-off by moderator Ianus Keller. The way of working is all on interacting with an existing building and the delivered materials. The interior is made with panels of Airbus airplanes and the old lockers of Tropicana. I also like the simple way he created a new entrance by cutting a piece from the wall and moved it to the pavement.

You can find these kind of interaction patterns also in the first talk of Jasper van Loenen. He made a kit that can turn every object – within some boundaries like weight – into a drone. The boundaries are here of course important too. A dialogue with the material that you want to use for the drone can only be relevant if the boundaries provide resistance to conquer. His work is open to use for everyone.

The third talk of Emma Heitbrink seems a bit less developed. Literally because it is just a concept and in that sense lacks it the value of boundaries. The stop-over place SolarZone is built with energy from solar tiles and can also been seen as an interaction with the material; the whole project is all about making tangible what the solar tiles are. TNO is planning to use the ideas in the development of the solar tiles, which on its own is an interesting material indeed.

The last talk was by Spark on their flying car. The car works in a manner that all lovers of scifi technology fiction get enthusiastic, with some sleek details as the rotors unfolding like a round stiletto knife. Robert Barnhoorn showed us above all how long the road for these kind of products is. He also emphasized the importance of sleek renderings to sell the product and convince all kind of stakeholders. Here too you can see the way resistance – in this sense more politics – motivates and leads to better solutions.

So interacting with resistance turns out again a great motivator for intriguing products.

THUTC17 Scope as design material

Monday September 9 I visited This happened Utrecht, the 17th edition. It was a solid edition with a nice variety of talks. My short observations.

Manuel Kerssemakers told us about the making of Reus, one of the few god-games made in the Netherlands. He showed in a very This happened-manner how the game grow from idea to realisation. Interesting to see how the focus for creating a game like this means a lot in organising a company next to all the creativity and coding needed. And finding the right boundaries to make a project to complete.

Marrije Schaake did quite the opposite with her side project Onzelootjes, in size of the project. But even in small project it can learn how to balance scope and inspiration by making it fun to work on a project.

Mieke Meijer had a kind of atypical project. Although she worked on a dashboard of a car - which is all about interaction – her work was about designing and fabricating a new material (Kranthout) that did not relate at all to the dash, pure to the image of the concept car. There seems no interaction between the car design and the material whatsoever.

She took us with her into the craftsmanship of creating a new material. Interesting that she would not use it in her own work because of its impractical behavior. So the value is in the story not in the function.

Last speaker was Rick Companje on his Doodle3D app that makes drawing for a 3D printed object easy, and learns you at the same time how the printing process works, an aspect I like the most. The value of his app evaluated more to the hub he created to connect the printer directly to a tablet. It could be in that case a strong way to make 3D printing accessible. Next up he should partner with Ultimaker in making a low budget suitable printer.
Writing this down it seems that scope has a role in all projects in some kind of way. Scope in sizing a company to produce a game, in sizing a project to keep it fun, and scope in choosing the material that fits a cause. And at last scoping an process down as the feature set of a product. Scope as design material, it is an interesting thought indeed.

This happened on stakeholder design

Edition 16 already. This happened Utrecht has become an institute on its own. This edition was due to some other event in the location set back to the smaller room. Which is not bad at all; this is the intimacy that fits the format so well.

So just as always four talks, four times 10 minutes talking on what happened, and 10 minutes discussing this with the audience. This edition had an interesting mix of topics. From installation like art project Victory Boogie Woogie, to very business driven user service of Appie.

The evening started with the work of Q42 on the Hue project. They contributed for a seemingly small part to the project by making the web frontend adding the system with lamps, bridge and app. Nevertheless it is an important part in getting the project more into the open space creating a product that is – almost un-Philips-like – good. It is remarkable how the product benefits from the connection to the service If This Then That, making it possible to create nice smart relations between services.

Second talk was on a game called Slag om Dondervoort. Aiming to learn children about the life in Fortress Cities. Mixing virtual and real-life game principles; it is nice how it connects the social fabrics in a school class to the game and transform it to a experience in the virtual game, back to activities in the real city. Managing the second order effects in the game to achieve the goals seems a bit of a challenge. And so is the developing technology that makes the game now hard to play in current device setups. Hope they can get another round of funding for an update.

In the project of the algorithmic Victory Boogie Woogie it was not completely clear how Mondriaan get into the game, it was a brainwave as often happens in projects I guess. The idea is quite sweet; challenge coders with something they do quite naturally; making squares with code, and use that for remaking that intriguing painting by algorithms. With the second order effect to let non coders experience what an algorithm is in the end. Something they definitely accomplished judging the attention on national television.

The last presentation was of a different order; a bit predictable presentation on the service of Appie made by Icemobile. Working in the same field the agile approach and way to present felt very familiar. She discussed some nice aspects. Maybe not the fact that you need a central mission to inspire the project (Beating The Pen), but more in the way the user is making part of the app development, and strategies to really drive the usage. Like the easter egg gimmicks. For an outsider it seems clear that AH is building functionalities around the idea to collect as much data on the products, by stimulating the use of official product names with the scanning functions and deep integration with the recipes. That is also the stimulans for the user to use the app in an AH store. In that sense it is most logical that the service is focused on value for the end user. All to stimulate use. This was not really addressed in the talk though.

This Appie project shares however a theme of the evening in the way it tries to stimulate adoption in the organisation. Just like Hue did by putting the innovation center apart from the rest. And as the Slag om Dondervoort learned the makers that it is more on tuning associations with the client than achieving the direct goals to make the project stand out. And funny enough, even the Victory Boogie Woogie project resulted in conclusions on the adaption of the project with the stakeholders.

In that sense it was a slightly different This happened with less focus on the usual design decisions. It makes more clear than ever that service and strategic design is an crucial part of the competence field of the designer of today.

This happened AMS getting into the core

I have to be honest; I was not well prepared for this edition of This happened AMS #6 last Monday in the Brakke Grond. Also, my expectations were lower because the last couple of editions in this town had some weaker talks. This edition however turned out to one of the best I think, fitting all the elements that makes this series of talks great. A mixture of experience and new talent, all interesting projects and one that has a special level. Oh, and there was even an hidden – but well played out – theme.

To begin with that theme. I think that the talk of Ubi de Feo on his project From 0 to C. He is learning you to master code by understanding the fundamentals. And by mastering the this fundamentals emerges great results. Apart from the nice execution of his method – like a great art director would do (…) – also a key concept in the evening.

The whole principle of mastering the core of coding emerging in a kind of new nature was what made the project Deleting Borders of We Work We Play so nice. The presentation dealt for a great part on the way the commissioned work and workers in a bartering system, the graphics that resulted from the analyses on the system is as beautiful in behaviour as in visual experience.

Dries Depoorter is a still very young interactive visualizer. Works in Processing a lot and was very true in the analysis of his own work and what happened. It was very powerful in its simplicity, in also getting to the core of making an interactive experience. Both the translator as the light scan he explained with a touch for the essence. The beauty of plant scan is in the way it brings the scan alive, making it into a living thing even.

And that links to the great work Fearless Symmetry of Ruairi Glynn, who is that much more experienced that he can create the same living machine on purpose, by designing not by coincidence. He masters the process, he showed in the answers to the questions and the sidelines on the researched choices he made for his installation in the Tate Modern hos mastership. At the same time it was an iconic This happened talk that show how hard work it is to accomplish a great work, something you don’t understand by itself looking at the work or the sleek movies.

His story and his work including all the things he could not tell even, it showed how understanding the core of machines is part of making things that really have meaning. And how the route to mastering is an almost necessary part.

Check also the story in tweets.

The DIY of life in Singularity

Last Tuesday evening I attended the first open edition of the Singularity University event in the Netherlands. It was my second after the debut event in the beginning of 2012. I’m not a uncritically believer in the singularity per se, but I have a positive feeling on technology and the benefits. It is not the healer of all, it changes the context of the way we things do and gradually improves certain things, at the same time overall values will balance out in new forms. The closing talk of Bruce Sterling at SXSW is in that sense a good antidote of the hailing stories on technology abundance.

But that is not something I wanted to elaborate on now, maybe sometime in the future. For me the reason to attend the sessions is the positive vibe and inspiration you can harvest from the utopians. Adding your own context make it valuable for thinking on the future, also the near one. And that is also something that is strongly present in these events. It gives good insights in the bigger changes in our world. And one that was very heavenly part of this event was the moving to a DIY world. You can say that singularity equals self-made-manship. We are in control of our own life expectation is the bigger picture, for the now we see a strong shift to DIY services and behaviour.

Yuri van Geest kicked of which a pile of examples, and Maarten den Braber added those from the quantified self culture. DIY health is of course important as shown in the talk on SynBio. And the two startups did pinpoint this as well; the 3D Hubs to make 3D printing even more accessible. And Poikos that scan your body as the starting point for all kind of self reflection. Jack Andraka showed how DIY science can lead to stunning results.

Harald Neidhardt of MLove gave probably the broadest reflections in his talk. The iPhones 8 to 20 are always good metaphors for thinking, however those will maybe not ever exist. Interesting of the story of the disappearing phone is the way he sketched how human and tech is really morphing. Everything is software as Andreessen stated a couple years ago. He meant all stuff we use, all services. That leads to disruptive models and experiences. Imagine what happens as we humans are completely compatible to the computed world. We are not living in the cloud, we are the cloud.

You can think we have this total DIY context in a couple years, and we can manipulate and control everything ourselves. I think we will see that the model of producer and consumer and regulator will find a new balance. Just like the future will not come to us as a big bang, will technology not change all of the characteristics of human behaviour. With the DIY culture we may refer back to some models we used to have in the craftsmanship-ages. As Sterling made clear; the future is not one-dimensional.

animated future

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