Back to reality at dConstruct 2011

September 2 happened another edition of dConstruct. A conference I visited before in 2008 and always follow because of the interesting mix of makers culture and design thinking. This edition was interesting again. The struggle with reality turned out a big thing, if you can consider these talks as the barometer for the times ahead.

The closing talk of Kevin Slavin was one of the most clear in that sense probably. I saw his talk earlier this year at Momo in Amsterdam, where his plea against AR was even more subtle and direct at the same time because of the presence of the people of Layar, one of the subjects of his talk. He pinpoints that we don’t need a augmented reality to live a better life, even worse; it makes our life poorer. As the example of heads-up display in cars illustrates; the tool is for a jetstream pilot the complete reality because of the lack of notion of the outer context, in a car it is the other way around; focusing on the augmented knowledge in the head-up display limit your view on the world.

notes on the talk by Boon Chew

The vision of Slavin is great and very true. The question though is interesting how it works the other way around; can we enrich our established digital lives by connecting reality? That is something most of the other talks where about in direct of more distinct way. In several talks reality is connected to the aspect of time. In the sense that we want to connect memories to things, a theme that was very present also at FutureEverything earlier this year. If we can add memories in the context of a service or product, this product will be more real.

Frank Chimero was talking on these memories; the web has a past now. We need an architecture of arrangement to create value. Take a step back to find the value. Start is the difference between digital and analog. Where the digital world is invisible, not visible; and the digital world we forget, not remember as the analog things. And where we find stuff in the analog world while we search in the digital context. In this comparison you find this hunger for realness by pointing out what we miss. With three rules for design decisions for revisiting. How we sort. thinking of LATCH (location, alphabet, time, category and hierarchy), and 2nd: how we move throught time; think of the postponed experiences Instapaper offer us. And third: what media is supported. Culmination. Biblion of New York.

Notes by Boon Chew

Matthew Sheret used another angle. Our digital self translated to a pocket scale. A pocket scale that is bigger on the inside. He was talking also on the object that carry memories. We are not creating mass personalisation but real personalisation transforming our data trails with different meaning. The difference between the ‘old products’ containing lots of visible stories, like a set of keys. Compared to an Oyster card that hides it past in the data.
We need intimate, meaningful objects that humanise networks make time travel a bit more fun. His self-made remote control beam made his points very tangible. Hacking as way to personalize things.

Notes by Boon Chew

Those memories are the way to connect the realtity to the digital products, and that is the important thing as it seems this day. Don Norman started the morning by calling for a focus on designing for memories in stead of experiences. Designing with time as material and with good and bad experiences to create memorable stories, turns out to be present in a lot of talks.

The quest for this reality check in our digital life was challenged the most by Kars Alfrink. In his highly engaged talk he tried to find explanations for the riots in England of last times. He compared the alienation between the classes, and the conscious avoiding of interactions in these neighbourhoods where rioters were let alone with other inhabitants. Like in the brilliant novel of The City & The City and showed in practice with the example of schizophrenic town of Baarle. You can say that our moving into a digital life accelerates those gap with reality, and is especially the provider of a system for avoiding each other. He argues to use gaming to reconnect, like the game of Nomic where defining the rules of the game is part of the game. This talk turned out the ultimate urge for getting the reality back into our digital life’s and create a new elan in self governing.

Notes made by Boon Chew

Without any doubt I think this focus on reality connected to our digital life will be a big theme the coming times. Conceptual by creating new contexts of time and memories, and literally by using the possibilities of the Internet of Things to enhance our digital services with tangible qualities. It will be interesting next year to have also designers of psychical products share their existing knowledge and build some new bridges.

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I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

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