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an exploration in the new

Category: event

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

How the traditional hotel can survive Airbnb

This Saturday I joined a tour in Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam. One of the initiators and artistic director Suzanne Oxenaar herself did the tour. A very joyful and interesting experience. Suzanne was passionate both on the hotel as the artistic collection she managed to curate in the hotel. I have been earlier on a tour and visited a few rooms of the hotel. The nice thing of the concept of the hotel is that every room is different, from 1 to 5 stars. And different artists have designed the rooms. Some of them are for special purposes as the room for a band, with one huge bed that can transform in a stage.

The tour was part of the 24HOost program, 24 hours of activities in the east of Amsterdam. The second edition of this event to let inhabitants of Amsterdam and other experience the city. Noord, West, and Zuid will follow.

The whole philosophy of the Lloyd hotel is to provide guests with experiences. Unexpected ones. And to create serendipity, by mixing the different types of rooms and providing places to discover, by taking away classes, on the outside of the rooms can not be seen if it one or five star room.

Functions of rooms can change, from meeting place to sleeping room. It demands a flexible workforce that is able to self organise. All staff gets cross training in the beginning, experience all roles in the hotel. A true example of self organising teams so it seems.

Suzanne is an open but strong character. So much is clear from the way she lead the group. The group was too big for the tour if you look objectively, but she managed to keep everyone together, and trust all people to be responsible for themselves. This worked well, and you can feel that this is the same for the hotel as a whole.

Her passion lies mainly in the artistic quality of the hotel, in the art pieces or high quality design that is ubiquitous, but also mingled with less predictable vintage. With this approach the hotel gets its very own signature and are all rooms a experience on its own. In that sense this hotel offers the same excitement as an Airbnb-apartment can have, with the personal touch.

So this experience of the tour showed a couple of things. The recipe of a strong vision combined with a very open execution can create beautiful things. Making a personal experience in a hotel is the only way to deal with the growing popularity of services like Airbnb.

Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 1.00.02 AM

Looking back at this years SxSW

It is now some two days ago I landed back from Austin, back from my second visit to SxSW Interactive (my maiden one was 2011). I did post daily on my experiences on, but it is also good to look back with some distance and ask yourself what the main learnings were.

The conference grows bigger and bigger each year, now almost 25.000 people attending the interactive conference, with more than 1000 talks and panels to chose from. No surprise it is hard to boil it down to one overall theme. You could have a complete different experience from another by choosing your talks. In five days of conference I attended 23 talks, see the overview at the bottom.

In general I found it remarkable that there was clearly less loud promotion of new apps all over the convention area. We had Leap Motion and the talking shoes of Google, but on average I found the focus less on products than on stories. Sign of the times. Of course there were enough startups promoting stuff, and there were start up sessions, and I saw some in the talks (Trap!t, Ditto, Desti). One of the few that were heavily promoting was Levelup, a new payment system. I made an account and paid different food at the convention center.

Looking back I am thinking on a couple of themes, connected to eachother:

  • Startups becoming the artists. The role of startups seems a bit in flux. The lean startup approach is hard with the complexity in big data and artificial intelligence. Startups becoming more serious in business. On the other hand startup-culture is still valued for their disruptive thinking, but then more distinct from real world developments. More like artists doing research by doing.
  • Embodied interfaces. We see it also on the introduction of the new Samsung s4 telephone just after SxSW, we will experience a move to embodied interactions. With real products, enhanced (enchanted) with digital and sensor. With gesture interfaces like the Leap, with digital-physical connections like the Makerbot Digitizer ultimo. But also new interfaces with a digital ubiquitous layer as Glass.
  • Big data and tiny services. Good to see how my mantra is also recognizable in the talks on big data and artificial intelligence. Making services based on human values using big data is the way to go. Using bots and drones for human focused services.
  • Quantified self is ubiquitous. Not only at the conference, but also in the daily life of the American judging all devices already available in the shops. Self-tracking as mean for self-healing is not far away for the self made culture of the US.
  • eHealth is becoming big. A lot of startups in this field, a lot of talks on healthier life by better behaviour. Connected to the quantified self.
  • Behaviour design is the big resolution to cope with big data and eHealth, the combining factor of it all. You could fill a whole program with behavior design talks on this SxSW.

Looking to these overall trends, I think you can easily connect those together to a bigger theme; the way we are going to let our life be ruled by data and use the data to create a healthier life. This could be something we are ruled by, or that we rule ourself.

In this context of big and personal data is behavior design the medicine for a creating a better life. I think we will see this profession flourish even more with the growing number of personal devices.

screens 2008 2013
Source: Business Insider

Our world has changed dramatically the last years, as this photo of the announcement of the pope proves. We all have become cyberpunks now, as Bruce Sterling noted. The next level is really the way all these touch-points of (sensor) data will integrate in our life. The post digital world we have moved in – as I discussed on a lot the last year – has became fully integrated, so much is proven by this years SxSW.

An overview. All the talks I followed:

I try to make keep up with live reporting via Twitter, here you can find all tweets here.

And as I said, I made 5 day reports:
Day 1: copying the real world
Day 2: tiny habits and big dreams
Day 3: designing behaviour and serendipity
Day 4: making sense of robotics
Day 5: closing the betterama future

See you next year!


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