August 27, 2009

My new book in Dutch


The stories on this blog (not to mention our monthly newsletter ) are delivered to you absolutely free - so I hope you won't mind if I ask for your help, in return, at this moment?

Together with my Dutch publisher, SUN, I need to drum up advance interest in the Dutch publication of my book.

"Plan B" is a substantially changed and developed version of In The Bubble which was published by MIT Press in 2005. For this new book I reduced the original text to 45,000 words - but also added five new chapters. These are on: Sustainability; Metrics; Food; Development; and Telepresence.

Here is how you can help us launch the book:

a) send me the name and co-ordinates of Dutch journalists, bloggers and thought-leaders to whom you think we should send a free review copy (john at thackara dot com). This is the priority: to identify Dutch writers who look at sustainability, resilience, design - and the notion of a green economy - with interest, but critically;

b) go to the SUN website and order copies for all your Dutch-speaking friends in The Netherlands and around the world. (The book is due out in October but they are accepting orders now);

c) are you a sustainability champion within your company, university, city, or government department?Why not order 100 or more copies from SUN, for a discount, and send copies to your colleagues?

d) announce on appropriate mailing lists that the book is available

The migration In The Bubble into new languages has been a curious affair. When it first came out, interest from foreign publishers was - er - muted, even though MIT Press has a strong foreign rights operation. But after a lull of three years it has now been published in French, Italian and Portuguese; editions in Japanese (Sibaccess Co) and Chinese (Commonwealth) are also due out this year.

I know this sounds (and is) boastful - but rule one in book publishing (where I worked for ten years) is: promote your own book, because nobody else will do so with as much energy and commitment.

In that spirit, here again is the French edition translated by Anne Despond-Barre and published by Marc Partouche for Cite du Design Editions.


Next is the Italian edition translated by Niels Betori and published by Pier Paolo Peruccio for Allemandi.


And here, below, is the Portuguese edition published by Marcelo Melo at Virgilia and available from Saraiva.


If you know of a publisher/editor in another language who might be interested, do let me know: (john at thackara dot com)

The MIT Press edition in English is still available and going stronger than ever but please buy many more copies.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:07 AM | Comments (3)

July 28, 2008

"The Day After Tomorrow" - only it's debt, not ice

One sound we may hear broadcast across the Norwegian fjells (see above) is "help!" - from UK callers at least. In that country, one in eight homeowners who took out a home loan since the start of last year is already in negative equity; according to industry figures, more than 10 per cent of all mortgage-holders could soon find themselves with homes worth less than the debt outstanding on them. That ten percent is surely an underestimate: Industry pronouncements admit to a five per cent decline in prices, but people I spoke to in London last week say that prices have fallen 30 per cent or more in their area - and London is supposed to be the least problematic market in the country.

In theory, asset deflation is a paper loss - but the loss becomes horribly real if you lose your job and can no longer make the payments. This is where the UK story starts to look really scary. Large scale job losses have not yet started in earnest - commentators still talk about the "threat" of a recesssion, and employers still talk about layoffs as a future option - so it seems that the big job losses are still to come.

As an exercise (which no UK newspaper that I have seen has done) put that prospect next to the last week's reports that more than a third UK adults would be unable to support themselves for a fortnight if they were made redundant, or found themselves unable to work. The average UK citizen, maxed up to the hilt on 100 per cent (or more) mortgages and multiple credit card debts, has enough in savings to support themselves for 52 days without an income. And that's the average citizen: 36 per cent would run out of cash in just 11 days.

Eleven days. More than a third of the population. It sounds like the economic equivalent of the instant ice age in the film The Day After Tomorrow.

The UK economic scenario is not remotely funny, but it does prompt the question: How did we get to this point? For a unique combination of downwards plunging graphs and hard-hitting cartoons to explain them, check out Global House Price Crash. Otherwise see the presentation by Margrit Kennedy that first alerted Doors of Perception to the issue; (this was at our conference in India in April 2005).

Posted by John Thackara at 04:09 PM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2008

Design per un futuro sostenible


To cap three days of high-energy conversation at Changing The Change in Torino at the weekend - it's already been very well reviewed and signposted by Mark Vanderbeeken at Core 77 - and here by David Stairs - my dynamic editor at Allemandi, Pier Paolo Peruccio, handed me the first copy of In The Bubble in Italian. The Italian edition has evolved substantially from the MIT Press one; it's shorter (154 pages) but also contains three new chapters - on Alimentazione (Food), Presenza (Presence) and Development (Sviluppo). This edition also sports a cover photograph by Andreas Gursky which I'm thrilled about because he's one of my all-time favourite photographers.

Please tell every Italian-speaker you know - and five who you don't - to buy two copies each; the cover price is 15 euros.

Other editions in the pipeline, mostly due for the autumn of this year, are a Chinese complex character edition (Commonwealth in Taiwan), a Japanese one from Sibaccess, France (Editions Cite du Design) and Brazil (Virgila in Brazil). The India and Asia edition was published last year. We're still looking for a German publisher.


Posted by John Thackara at 08:22 AM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2008

Wouldn't a free Dott Manual be great?


What could life in a sustainable region be like - and how can design can help us get there? Here are some more sample spreads from the Dott 07 Manual. We've got a couple of boxes of the book left over, so I will send five free copies to the person(s) who most intrigue me with the names of four other people you will send the books to when you get them. Hint: they should be people likely to make other Dott-like events happen. Email the names of your nominees, plus your full postal address, to: john at doorsofperception punt com (and please put Manual in the header). Subject to availability. Single copies are still available from Amazon

Posted by John Thackara at 07:18 AM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2008

Orange design revolution

A serious-looking book arrives from the Said Business School at Oxford University. Its title is "Designing for Services: Proceedings from the Exploratory Project on Designing for Services in Science and Technology-based Enterprises". Not a thrilling title, it's true, but I recognise many of the names on the contents page and so take the book with me to Newcastle's excellent HeiHei restaurant as my dinner-time reading. Bad move. I could not figure out what the book was about until, on page 27, I read that its focus is "the relationships between resources and capabilites that are used to operationalize the strategic intent of the organization" and (on page 35) "the shift from linear moments of truth to dynamic networks of value constellations". Feeling not much enlightened, my spirits revived when I saw the words "designs's role is a journey that has just begun - as we articulate graphically in Figure 9" - only to encounter a chart that, being printed in white on a violent orange background, was illegible. Lacking a Crime Scene Investigation crew to help me decipher their meaning, I skip the rest of the orange pages - but I plough on otherwise to the bitter end, on page 64. Here I discover that the book is the outcome of work by 31 professors and researchers, 10 'enterprise participants', 16 designers, a principal investigator and two co-investigators, a research manager, four research assistants, a research accountant, three editors, three scribers, a visual designer, a six-person web team, a ten person film team, two av people, a logo person, and a probes pack person.

I'm sorry guys, but I can't say I learned a single new thing from reading this book. Does this mean I'm never going to be a professor of design management innovation, still less a tenured navigator of value constellations? Dang.

My grief is tempered by the memory of HeiHei's spicy hot poached de-boned seabass, which was sublime.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:22 PM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2006

The birth of the transistor

Join Joel Shurkin, author of the book Broken Genius, on a tour at the Science Museum in London. He'll be in conversation with the Curator of Computing and Information, Tilly Blyth. Their topic is the birth of the transistor; its marriage to the computer was one of the key moments of the information age. Monday 13 November, 3pm, Making the Modern World gallery, ground floor, Science Museum. Free entry. Check out also these events at the museum around the Game On history of computer games.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:22 AM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2006

The power used by television

Decentralised energy - using waste heat, and encouraging individual home owners to generate electricity with solar panels and new boilers - could provide nearly 70 per cent of all Britain's electricity, and reduce emissions by as much as 60 per cent. The development of solar and and other micro generation technologies would, as a bonus, create thousands of jobs. But there's a snag. New generation televisions use far more power than the ones they replace. A friend of mine lives in a half-restored ruin up a mountain near us here in France. His water and power flows are all off-grid. But someone has given him an large Sony wide-screen plasma-screen tv which needs five times as much power to run as the cathode-ray tube model it replaces. He may need new, external power sources to run it. Can anyone from Philips or Sony tell me what your company plans to do about this?

Posted by John Thackara at 08:40 AM | Comments (1)

October 05, 2006

Designing Interactions

When we first did a Doors conference in 1993, the concept of interaction design was still in its infancy. Today, designers of digital technology products shape not just what the world looks like, but what it's like to use. In his eagerly awaited book Designing Interactions Bill Moggridge, designer of the first laptop computer (the GRiD Compass, 1981) and a founder of the design firm IDEO, tells us stories from an industry insider’s viewpoint. The book is based on interviews (there is also a DVD) with forty of the influential designers who shaped - and shape - our interactions with technology. Gillian Crampton Smith answers the question, “What is Interaction Design?" The original designers of The Mouse tell us why and how they did it. There are fascinating encounters with Brenda (Computers as Theatere) Laurel and Will (The Sims) Wright. Larry Page and Sergey Brin describe how they made the ultimate less-is-more interface for Google. Service designers Live|Work, Fran Samalionis, and Takeshi Natsuno describe how they derive useful purposes for all this tech. Hiroshi Ishii, Durrell Bishop, Joy Mountford and Bill Gaver describe their ongoing efforts to design multi-sensorial computing. Moggridge concludes by discussing "Alternative Nows" with Dunne and Raby, John Maeda and Jun Rekimoto. I count ten Doors alumni in the list, so don't expect this notice to be unbiased. Besides, Don Norman puts it best as usual: "This will be the book".

Posted by John Thackara at 09:19 AM | Comments (0)

August 01, 2006

Eastern Economic Edition of "In The Bubble"

Prentice Hall India have issued an Eastern Economic Edition of "In The Bubble: Designing In A Complex World". (I made a completely random selction of words from recent published reviews: "enriching" (Paola Antonelli), "excellent" (Nancy Levinson), "brilliant" (Paul Hawken), "a revelation" (J C Herz), "important" (Don Norman), "captivating" (Bruce Sterling), "insightful" (Nathan Shedroff), "surprising." (San Francisco Chronicle), “visionary” (Paul Makovsky), “alive” (Jamer Hunt). The Eastern Economic Edition enables readers in the India and South Asia market to purchase the book for 250 rupees. If you live in that area, please tell everyone about this opportunity. We want to reach college and city librarians, course tutors - and your work colleagues, and friends. To check out the book's contents list and bibliography, or to sample free extracts, go here.

Posted by John Thackara at 06:00 AM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2006

"Carry the love"

Jet Blue's new credit card slogan wins my vote for the 2006 meaningless bollocks perpetrated by a creative agency award.

Posted by John Thackara at 03:44 PM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2006

The first critic of "creative industries"

The Situationists were early critics of the creative industries. They rejected the idea that art is a specialized profession, or that its task is to produce spectacles for consumption. The only time their leaders came to London (in 1961), one of them, Guy Debord, was to speak at the Institute of Creative Arts - a place that is awash in creatives to this day. In the absence of a platform speech, an audience member stood up to ask: "What is Situationism about?". Upon which Debord replied: "We're not here to answer cuntish questions" - and the Situationists walked out. I love this childish story, but repeat it here by way of a public service announcement that a retrospective, in New York, of all of Debord’s six films is to take place on Sunday 5 March 5 at Chashama.

Posted by John Thackara at 05:00 AM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2006

"Is your skills about to expired?"

Congratulations to Deandre Diaz. She is the clear winner - and it's still January - of my "grammar violation in a spam header" award for 2006. Her mail offered me a "Genuine University Degree in 2-4 weeks".

Posted by John Thackara at 09:31 AM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2006

Bloggies and oysters

I read today that the readership of Daily Kos would rank it number five in the US, if were it a newspaper. (And far more people read this blog than read the mainstream paper-made design magazine I once edited). So I decided to spend 15 minutes at the bloggies in order to nominate some favourites for this year’s awards. (You can do the same until Tuesday, January 10). For me, the year's best technology weblog was Future Now out of Institute for the Future. The year's best topical weblog is World Changing by Alex Steffen and his crew. For me the the best new weblog is Farm Subsidy because it helps me get a reality-based grip on a vitally important but usually inpenettable subject. My nomination of culiblog as best blog of the year has nothing to do with the fact that its editor, Debra Solomon, served me a mind-blowing plate of oysters Nahm Kee whilst I was researching this story.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:20 PM | Comments (0)

December 29, 2005

In praise of poetry

Thanks to Europe's most horrible company, Wanadon't, our internet connection has again been down for days. So we have had to access our email by telephone. Your warmly-meant illustrated seasons greetings have taken literally hours to download. Next year, maybe think about sending us a poem?

Posted by John Thackara at 01:23 PM | Comments (0)

December 08, 2005

Creativity in business

Design policy is itself a globalising industry. I arrived back from Korea to be greeted by my copy of the Cox Review of Creativity in Business. This startling document has been eagerly awaited by the design industry. Many creatives in the UK (as in other industrialised countries) fondly believe that while manufacturing and call centres may emigate to cheaper countries, their brand of 'creativity’ is immune. They expected the Cox Review (it's written by Sir George Cox) to confirm this warm and cosy feeling. Instead, it will feel more like bucket of cold water. “The model of the UK becoming an all-service economy, the world’s leading repository of professional skills, is enormously appealing - and totally unrealistic” writes Cox. “The now rapidly advancing developing economies have no desire to remain as suppliers of cheap, low-skilled labour to the world. And indeed, why should they?”

As my own visit last week to South Korea confirmed, what’s impressive about emerging economies is not where they stand today, but the scale of their commitment to knowledge-intensive industries, including design, in the near future. The Cox Review is admirably global in its scope, but even he underestimates the speed with which things are changing. The report refers to “a window of opportunity – perhaps five or ten years – while the new economies develop the kinds of creative skills necessary to compete across the board”. I don’t think those years exist. Pretty much the same words greeted me when I joined the Hong Kong Design Task Force in 2001: we had "ten years to move the Hong Kong design industry up the value chain", we were told. A single visit to the Pearl River Delta, and an encounter with a room full of PhDs developing acoustic software for Bose, persuaded us that the gap in capability between Hong Kong and the mainland was was nearer two years, than ten.

The story in India today is similar. Cox states that GE has 1,000 scientists doing top level research in India. But my own understanding is that the number is already nearer 3,000. The site, which is always shrouded in construction equipment, has a capacity for many more again. I have a feeling that that GE would happily base all its 7,000 researchers in India were it not for fear of the political backlash in the US. As Cox rightly emphasizes, it’s not just about cost. Yes, an Indian PhD can be hired for 10 percent of the cost of an American or British one. But GE’s Indian PhDs, I was told, have also reduced innovation processes that took 24 steps in the US to seven steps in Bangalore. They are cheaper, and better.

But back to Britain. I was an early critic of the implication that only ‘creatives’ are creative, and the Cox Review wisely eschews that approach. Its subject is creativity and innovation among thousands of small and medium sized companies (SMEs) in all sectors of the economy, including public services. It’s also refreshing that Cox does not limit creativity to the production of new (and, for me, often pointless) novelty. On the contrary: He insists, on page one, that creativity includes new ways of looking at existing problems.

Having set out to discover what stops SMEs making greater use of the country’s creative talents, and what might be done about it, Cox arrives at a series of recommendations for action. These, for the most part, strike me as well-reasoned, innovative and relatively inexpensive. (I should declare an interest at this point: the Design Council, of which Sir George is Chairman, is a client of mine). Having evaluated no fewer than 70 existing initiatives which, one way or another, have the aim of linking creativity, design and business, he recommends that one of these, a Design Council programme called Design for Business, should be developed natonally. Around 6,500 SMEs could be reached over a three year period if the right resources were mobilised and focused. Based on early testing of the programmme, Design for Business would transform the performance and prospects of around 1,800 of these firms.

The Cox Review also emphasizes public sector procurement. British public services spend around £125 billion each year (getting on for 200 billion euros) on goods and services. For Cox, "all of the major problems facing society today – such as healthcare, education, security, transport infrastructure, or sustainability – require a high degree of innovation if they are to be addressed effectively". The public sector should be an intelligent and demanding buyer of goods and services, not simply looking for long-proven products and yesterday’s solutions at the lowest prices.

These are wise words, marred by the fact that this is one of the few places in the report where the word sustainability appears. This is a missed opportunity. Sustainability is the most important driver of innovation of all. SMEs represent over 99 percent of companies, and permeate supply chains: The fact that most SMEs are far less advanced than most multinationals in their environmental policies and practices is a fantastic opportuniuty for design-led innovation.

Cox also recommends that universities should develop multidisciplinary masters programmes that would bring together different elements of creativity, technology and business. He reminds Britain’s design schools that they face new competiton from programmes such as IDBM in Finland, or Stanford’s new D-School in the US. (The latter has been funded by a reported $25 million grant from SAP, the European software firm). Cox recommends that at least one of the new UK centres of excellence should embrace service design within its curriculum.

It looks as if most of Cox's recommendations will be implemented. According to the Design Council's website the UK's chancellor, Gordon Brown, has backed its key recommendations from the Cox Review, including a design support programme for businesses, a review of the tax credit system, and a network of design centres.

The Cox Review has one weakness, which is easily remedied. This is a proposal for no fewer than six showcase buildings in different parts of the UK that would “create greater visibility for the UK’s creative capabilities” and be a hub for creative industry gatherings.These shiny edifices would enable networking between them and regional SMEs, the report argues. Running costs for a London centre alone would be “around £4.6 million”, but the centres “should become largely self-sustaining” with income from letting, retail activities, grant, and sponsorship.

I don’t buy the value proposition, and am suspicious of the business model supplied to Cox by consultants. Cox is right that networking among SME’s, and with designers, can foster innovation – but you don’t need shiny and expensive buildings do it in. On the contrary: the most intense and creative encounters I experience usually occur in edgy, derelict, un-shiny old industrial buildings, or in tents, or in Starbucks. New institutions to foster networking are a good idea – but what’s needed are support and connecting organisations – and small ones at that - not great big edifices.

If if the prominence given to glossy photographs of the project is any guide, Cox's team was unduly impressed by Singapore’s £158 million Fusionopolis creative centre. Fusionopolis, which is due to open in June 2007, is a massive development - dedicated, says its brochure, to “fostering knowledge transfer and providing a vibrant work-live-work-play environment”. For me, at the end of the day, Fusionopolis is a government-subsidised real-estate project. Fusionopolis is the latest in a series of grandiose Singapore projects (others include Biopolis (biotech) and a Technopolis) that have been backed by billions of dollars of government money. They look futuristic, but these projects are based on an old-fashioned, technology-focused, and therefore unsustainable, understanding of innovation. Singapore bureaucrats are now promoting “Global Entrepolis”, the concept of Singapore as an entire city-state dedicated to, and filled with, high-tech entrepreneurs. This last brainwave, said one local critic, “confirms Singapore’s position as a ‘Polis State’ “.

Innovation needs to be situated in reality - not segregated from it. Projects like Fusionopolis (and New Songdo that I learned about in Korea last week) are gated communities for subsidised scientists. So much development money is sloshing around in them that their inmates are fated to become inward looking and self-referential. And that's when the innovation stops. Look what happened at Interval Research in the US: it burned through $100 million of Paul Allen’s money but, being isolated behind smoky mirrors up a Palo Alto hill, it so lacked interaction with the real world that it produced no innovations that the world wanted.

A simple win-win solution is available: Redirect the money earmarked in the Cox Review for showcase design buildings, to the greening of SMEs.

Posted by John Thackara at 04:58 AM | Comments (5)

December 07, 2005

Santa, strategy, and gifting

Do you need to send a memorable gift to your 25 most valued clients and friends? Of course you do. The good news is you don't have to think about what to buy: Howard Rheingold in Strategy+Business magazine has included In The Bubble in his list of Best Business Books for 2005. And there's a great little company where you can buy-and-ship copies here. Do it now!

Posted by John Thackara at 07:24 PM | Comments (0)

November 28, 2005

New Doors of Perception adventure

Doors of Perception is to be part of a year-long festival of social innovation and service design, in the UK, called Designs of the Time, or Dott. Throughout 2007, the whole North East region of the UK will explore ways we can carry out familiar, daily-life activities in new ways. Dott, an initiative of the Design Council and the region's development agency, One North East (ONE) is about how an entire region might accelerate its transition to a less-stuff-more-people world. Software systems to help us share resources, and collaborate, will play an important part in this transition, but objects and technology will play a supporting role in Dott. And new principles - above all, sustainability - will inform the ways products and systems are designed, made, used, and looked after.
As programme director of Dott (since a couple of weeks ago) my task is to help communities throughout the North East region select, shape and run public commissions. The region, I have already discovered, is bursting with creative, radical and innovative grassroots projects. Dott will link these people and projects together, and thereby help the whole region emerge as a situated and distributed design school and lab.
Helped by the BBC (radio, tv and websites) and local newspapers, and working with grassroots networks, we will engage with communities throughout the North East to determine what issues and projects are most important for them.This process will feed into the Dott programme as it takes final shape during the spring of 2006.
This is one way the Doors of Perception network will be involved. We need connect projects in Dott with other projects in different parts of the world, and your help on this will be crucial. The climax of Dott will be an event in October 2007 called "The Creative Community Awards" (or "The Commies") at which all the year's projects will come together to show what they achieved and to discuss what they learned. Doors will play a substantial role in that. At the same time, we will continue to develop plans for Doors of Perception 9, also in 2007, which will once again be a co-production in India with our friends at Centre for Knowledge Societies. And the Doors of Perception Report (this newsletter) and the Doors website/blog will continue as usual.
Designs of the time is not about telling people in the North East of England how to live. On the contrary: its purpose is to enable local people- interacting with inspiring and visionary guests from around the world - to develop their own visions and scenarios for a sustainable region. In that sense, Dott is in the acorns business. Its most valuable legacy will be the people who stay behind, the projects they have started, and the design producer networks that develop as a result of its impetus.
A brochure website for Dott is online now. Sign up there for a free newsletter. A new Dott website will be launched in the new year.

Posted by John Thackara at 03:36 PM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2005

'In the bubble' hall of fame

My request that readers send me any errors they have spotted in my book 'In The Bubble' (which is to be reprinted) worked a treat. Thank you, thank you: Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Gale Moore, Larry Bouthillier, Christian Gänshirt, Ido Bruno, Michael Hohl, Peter Martin, and Victor Bayon. These eagle-eyed persons sent me corrections (which I emphasize were the result of my errors, not MIT Press's excellent editors). The reprint is now on the presses so no more corrections are needed at this time.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:55 AM | Comments (0)

September 05, 2005

The Internet of Oz

What might the Internet be like in 2010? Darren Sharp, whom some of you met at Doors 8 in Delhi, is co-author of a hefty new Australian report called Smart Internet 2010. An executive summary is here. The 2010 Report provides, in narrative form, a range of expert opinion on future possibilities for Australia in Open Source and social network technologies, e-health, digital games, voice applications and mobiles. Old-paradigm language - lots of 'end users' and 'consumers' - permeates the introductory remarks of Senator Coonan; but she would not be the first politician to pay for a report and yet not read it. For the report itself draws on sound advice from wise souls such as Cory Doctorow and Howard Rheingold. It concludes that 'the Smart Internet of 2010 is likely to become the platform for personal connectedness'. My own take is that culture and institutions change far more slowly than most futurists would have us believe; the best way to find out what things will be like in 2010 is by going out the door and seeing what they're like now.

Posted by John Thackara at 12:11 PM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2005

Now hearing at the Odeo

Creating and distributing podcasts doesn't sound easy. As a potential producer, I'm hesitating. But Evan Williams (who started Blogger and therefore, presumably, helped start blogging) has co-founded Odeo as a one-stop site where non-technical people like me can find and subscribe to podcasts, and create new podcasts of their own. It's still in beta, so now is a good time for you to check it out. Please let me know if it works for you. A background story is here in Business Week

Posted by John Thackara at 08:11 AM | Comments (0)

July 23, 2005

Podcast heaven

It's so thrilling to be modern. My interview with Moira Gunn on the US radio show Tech Nation is now online and thereby downloadable as a podcast. The idea of podcasting Doors-type conversations is attractive, and I'd be interested to hear your response to the idea. (The complete Tech Nation archives are online if you need a wider sample). Gunn's show was not a low-tech business. My interview took place in a professional recording studio (rented from a Seattle broadcasting company) complete with sound-proofing, expensive-looking microphones and equipment, and at least one professional sound engineer.

Posted by John Thackara at 11:29 AM | Comments (1)

July 16, 2005

Spring cleaning

We're making made a number of changes and improvements to this site. (By "we" I mean Paul and Nique at Webtic in Amsterdam, and Kristi in France). Most of the changes are in the plumbing and designed to make existing stuff (we have a lot of stuff) easier to find. We're going live with the changes today and will spend the next couple of weeks cleaning up various dusty old rooms that nobody's been in for ages. If you run into an out-of-date text lying in a corner, let us know and we'll fix it:

Posted by John Thackara at 08:28 AM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2005

India-bound Bubble

Indians are the world's biggest bookworms, reading on average 10.7 hours a week, twice as long as Americans, according to a new survey. This is welcome news for me because I just heard that an 'eastern economic edition' of In The Bubble is to be published later this summer in India.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:04 AM | Comments (2)

June 13, 2005

Paul Ricoeur

One of the reasons I decided to live in France was attending a lecture by the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who has just died at the age of 92. It was a rainy Monday evening five years ago, in February, in Montpellier - and yet more than 600 people crammed into the lecture hall to hear Ricoeur debate "moral man and neuronal man" with a science writer, Jean-Pierre Changeux. The crowd was remarkably mixed; every age and background seemed to be present. Ricoeur was the foremost living phenomenologist - an approach to philosophy that studies how a person's reality is shaped by their perception of events in the world. It's a field of study highly relevant to the ways designers shape our interactions with technology. I can't pretend to have understood all of that evening's three hour discussion - it was about the ethical implications of neuroscience - but it was the spirit of the evening that impressed me hugely at the time. Ricoeur was widely regarded as a giant of philosophy - but rather than try to show off, or score academic points, as would be normal in most academic contexts I have encountered, Ricoeur's questioners were respectful but not smarmy, well-informed but not opinionated, lively but thoughtful. The event exemplified the dialogue and respect for others for which that Ricoeur argued all his life - and practised until its end.

Posted by John Thackara at 12:49 PM | Comments (1)

May 20, 2005

Avian bird flu viral marketing breakthrough

I surmise that the W Hotel in Seattle, where I am staying, has designed its lighting to foster chance encounters: everything is bathed in (but not much illuminated by) weak blue light. Seattle seems to be obsessed by social networks and biological models of economic activity. My driver today waxed eloquent about the necessity for marketing to "emulate avian bird flu" and enable "product memes" to "jump from one species to another". The last time I was here, my cab driver was a Polish (ex-) brain surgeon - so I can't decide if this town is in good shape or not. But the driver made me anxious; how do we get the book to make the jump from our species, to the next one? Preoccupied by this conundrum, I probably overdid the Tipping Point - because he seemed rather pleased. Answers (to the conundrum) in person please to: Friday 20 May: 7:00pm, University Bookstore, 4326 University Way SE Seattle, Washington 98195. 206 634-3400

Posted by John Thackara at 05:11 AM | Comments (1)

April 28, 2005

Darwinian innovation

My book isn't even out yet (the US publication date is on Friday; UK/Europe is at the end of May) and already someone has raised a sneaky question about its basic argument.Fast Company have a section in their book reviews called "Things We Didn''t Like" and they say: "Many a garage inventor would argue that poorly designed, superfluous products are necessary by-products of the innovation process, not fundamental flaws in our design philosophy. Thackara deems it foolhardy, but maybe it's Darwinian". This is a fair point: it won't be easy to combine trial-and-error innovation, on the one hand, with consideration of the consequences of design actions before we take them, on the other. My short answer to this dilemma right now? a) life wasn't meant to be easy; and b) yes this is a hard question, but we can't go on treating the planet, our only home, as a glorified crash-test rig.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:35 AM | Comments (1)

April 04, 2005

It arrived!

Four years since I started work on it (not counting the ten years of Doors events it draws on) I received the first printed copy of my book. You won't beleve what a relief it is that it's finally done. Thanks a million to the many people who helped make it happen.

Posted by John Thackara at 11:28 AM | Comments (2)

February 11, 2005

Fight this injustice!

A kindly-looking gent called Jack Welch has drawn the short straw to beat all short straws. His new book 'Winning' has been selected by Fast Company to compete against 'In The Bubble' for that magazine's book of the month selection. It's cruel and outrageous that such an underdog - the ex-CEO of the world's richest company, and a man voted manager of the year on countless occasions - should be asked to compete in an unwinnable competition. Fight this injustice! Vote for the underdog.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:50 PM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2005

More for your book list

Zaid Hassan writes with the polite suggestion, concerning our list of recommended books (see button on the right) that "perhaps a couple of Indian/Sub-Continent authors wouldn't go amiss?". Mea culpa:my first list is indeed horribly occicentric. Here are Zaid's recommendations:
- Igniting Minds" by PJ Abdul Kalam (President of India).
- The City of Djinns - William Dalrymple (non-fiction - about Delhi)
- The Idea of India - Sunil Khilnani (non-fiction)
- The Autobiography of an Unknown India - Nirad C Chaudhuri (non-fiction)
- Indian: A Mosaic - Ed Robert Silver & Barbara Epstein (collection of essays)
- Anything by R K Narayan (The English Teacher, Malgudi Days, The Financial Expert...) (Fiction)
- Last Train to Pakistan - Kushwant Singh (Fiction - about the Partition)
- Ice Candy Man - Bapsi Sidwha (Fiction - about the Partition)

Posted by John Thackara at 10:40 PM | Comments (0)

Man vs nature

What happened to the people who built the ruined temples of Angkor Wat, the long-abandoned statues of Easter Island, and the crumbling Maya pyramids of the Yucatan? In his new book Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed Jared Diamond suggests that the environmental crises which saw these civilisations collapse were self-induced. I have mixed feelings about Diamond's generally optimistic concluding chapter. He uses the analogy of 'the world as a polder' to describe how we might choose to succeed. For Diamond, the Dutch 'polder model' is an example of how the co-existence of the man-made, and nature, has already been shown to work in practice. And he's right: pervasive collaboration is essential if we are to secure a sustainable future. The reason I'm uneasy is that the polder model is right now under attack by the government now running the country; it presumably came to power after Diamond wrote his book.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:44 PM | Comments (0)

January 20, 2005

Time in design

A gorgeous 500 page gold brick of a book has arrived. Time In Design is based on a 24-hour conference by that name that took place last year in Rotterdam. But the conference proceedings (printed on gold paper) are just a start. The book ranges widely over what the editors call 'cultural lifespan extension - ways of designing and planning products so that their value is sustained and they can be lept in use for a longer time'. The secret of sustainability, the book proposes, is 'being prepared to let go, not to try and and define each and every property and quality of a product in advance'. Time In Design is edited by Ed van Hinte, designed by Thonik and Sander Boon, produced by the Eternally Yours Foundation, 2004, and published by 010 Publishers at euros 34.50 + postage. It's available from 010 or from: or if you telephone +31 70 362 0577

Posted by John Thackara at 12:50 AM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2005

Don't they look young!

For much of 2004, the Doors of Pereception conference archive was inaccessible to the majority of our visitors. (The archive was built over a ten year period for browsers that became too clever and advanced to access material which we hadn't touched....). Well, we've quick-fixed a new architecture and most of you should now be able to re-visit classic moments in our history such as ... well, you tell me which bits you're glad to re-visit!

Posted by John Thackara at 01:55 PM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2005

Web collision space

In his new book 'Information Politics on the Web' Richard Rogers says that the Web can be a collision space for official and unofficial accounts of reality and, as such, an excellent arena for 'unsettling the official'. Tools developed by Rogers, such as the celebrated issue tracker, can be used in a new information politics involving competition between the official, the non-governmental, and the underground. For Jodi Dean, Rogers’ book is 'light-years ahead of other research', and Bruno Latour celebrates the fact that 'Finally, someone investigates the Web's ability to express, renew, and disrupt the age-old tools of political expression'. Rogers is Director of in Amsterdam.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:54 AM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2004

Heard the one about averting catastrophe?

Never mind about tarmac-covered land and the fate of the planet - what about sales of my book? I've been jolted awake by a reference in Future Now to a research paper that describes the use of an "Epidemics-Type Aftershock Sequence model to track how information about a book travels through social networks". The researcher, Didier Sornette, a specialist in the scientific prediction of catastrophes in a wide range of complex systems, said his model for analyzing peaks and falls in book sales is very similar to one he uses to understand earthquakes."Sales are typically greater when a book benefits from an endogenous shock which progressively accelerates over time, and is illustrated in the book business by favorable word-of-mouth". Fine, excellent, well-done Didier. But what do I do with this information to avert the catastrophe of the above-mentioned artefact not selling well?

Posted by John Thackara at 09:39 AM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2004

How not to be a sad person

If you plan to travel overland to Doors 8, take these on-the-edge-of-design books with you to read on the trip. If you are a sad person, and have decided not to come, give them to a friend and feel better. Put your better suggestions in Comments.

1. Barba, Eugenio .The Paper Canoe: A Guide to Theatre Anthropology. London: Routledge, 1995

2. Benyus, Janine. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. New York: Morrow, 1997.

3. Fernandez-Galiano, Luis. Fire and Memory: On Architecture and Energy. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. 2000

4. Calvino, Italo. Six Memos for the Next Millenium. London: Cape, 1992

5. Elbek, Uffe, ed. KaosPilot A–Z. Aarhus, Denmark, 2004

6. Gombrich, E. H. The Sense of Order. London: Phaidon, 1979

7. Gray, John. Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Animals. London: Granta, 2002.

8. Holloway, Richard. Looking in the Distance: The Human Search for Meaning. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2004

9. Hussey, Andrew. The Game of War: The Life and Death of Guy Debord. London: Cape, 2001

10. Levine, Robert. A Geography of Time: The Temporal Misadventures of a Social Psychologist. New York: Basic Books. 1997

Posted by John Thackara at 09:48 PM | Comments (0)

October 31, 2004

Adpocalypse Now

Gloom-and-doom mongering can be self-indulgent for the mongerers, and de-motivating for the mongereed. All credit therefore to Adbusters for breaking that pattern with a brilliant come-back issue. It's about "The Day The World Ends", and contains some great writing. ""The collapse was only a problem so long as we thought it could be reversed. As soon as everyone gave up, things got better". "Well, you finally got mass participation in 'Buy Nothing Day ".

Posted by John Thackara at 04:31 PM | Comments (0)