April 10, 2008

Worship those worms

Readers of this blog will need no introduction to the Estonian bio-semiotician Jakob von Uexkull (1864-1944). Oh, you do? Go to the back of the class. Well, Tallinn Jake saw mind, body and context as inseparable, for all animals (including human ones) and he coined the word umwelt to describe the unity of an organism's physical life-support system and the subjective network of relationships that give its world meaning. Umwelt (literally, 'around world') usefully explains our visceral attachment to cars, despite the damage they do to the public domain and the biosphere. I learned about umwelt whilst reading Elizabeth Farrelly's entertaining new book Blubberland: the dangers of happiness. Umweltness (my word) seems to feed two primal urges - for speed, and for safety - and thereby "puts us in danger of destroying our minds, our bodies, our cities, and our planet" says the author. She's also tough on the boom in Australian versions of MacMansion houses; between 1990 and 2003, the average New South Wales house grew by 60 per cent - even as family size shrunk by 40 per cent, and plot size roughly halved. "Indulgent?" asks Farrelly. "Sure, but governments and markets alike smile on this behaviour since it renders us fat and infantile and keeps the dummy firmly stuck in our collective mouth". Farrelly's prose is trenchant like this throughout, but somewhat archly so at times; I was left with a hunger for more reporting from real-life situations such as the un-modernised suburb of Redfern that she mentions in passing. But the final chaper is well-done as Farrelly describes an imagined future shaped by new belief systems: "The new religion makes heavenly disciples of sun and rain, worshipful shrines of fertility, and compost and sacred objects of water tanks and work farms"

Posted by John Thackara at 11:31 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)

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)

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 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)

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: editor@doorsofperception.com

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: info@art-ants.nl 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 govcom.org 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)

November 12, 2001

Why is interaction design important?

I was on the launch team that helped develop teaching and research programmes for Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. One outcome was the following statement, which was written collaboratively with Gillian Crampton Smith’s team in Ivrea.

* Interaction design determines how people interact with computers and communications. This is an issue of profound economic and cultural importance.
* Interaction design determines the value of a communication service to its users, and the quality of experience they have when using it.
* Computers and networks are transforming every aspect of our lives. As networks converge, almost everything we use, or do, involves some kind of interaction. There are interactions between us and the system, or between one object and another. Interaction design shapes the kind of experience we have when this takes place.
* The world is already filled with twelve computer chips for every man, woman and child on the planet. By the time today’s five-year-olds leave school, their world will contain thousands of chips for every human being alive. In a world of such complexity, interaction design will influence the kind of life she lives.
* Compared to physical products, communication services are experiences, not things. Interaction design deals with immaterial processes, and with services that adapt to an individual’s needs and preferences. This is a completely new kind of design.
* Interaction design also reveals the new business models that are needed to deliver these services and experiences.
* Very few universities and design schools in the whole world specialise in this vital subject. Interaction Ivrea is in a position to drive innovation, and shape the agenda, for this key question of our age.

We also put these slogans all around the building for its opening in 2000:
* Collaborative innovation: shaping technology with the people who use it.
* From the era of devices, to the era of service and flow
* Interacting with all our senses - at home, at work, on the move.
* Between an airport, and a monastery - a hub as well as a hive
* A connected community - linking people, places and ideas.
* A new approach to innovation
* For the convergence of culture, technology and business
* Stimulate debate. Provoke reaction. Change agendas.
* Combining the depths of the old economy, with the energy of the new.
* In the tradition of Olivetti, with the strengths of Italy

Communication services of tomorrow
Designing new ways to connect – with family, friends, lovers, and colleagues. Adding new qualities to the communication services we know today. Creating new value through richer and more variedforms of interaction.

Interaction qualities
Interactions when you hear, and taste, and see, and touch, and feel. Interactions when smart technology is everywhere – but not in your face. Interactions that are playful, intuitive, and moving, surprising, and fun. Interactions of quality.

People and their culture
From the worship of technology, to a culture of community and communication. From a fetish for devices, to an aesthetic of service and flow. From a focus on needs, to services that delight and inspire. That are closer to poetry, than to plumbing.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:11 PM | Comments (0)