James Bridle’s Working shop

On Friday me and few of the GDS design team went to the Ampersand conference in Brighton.

At lunch time we popped over to the Lighthouse where fellow RIG partner James Bridle is currently a technologist in residence for the Happenstance project.

All last week James ran a Working shop in the reception of Lighthouse. As James explains, “I’m going to take over the reception area in Lighthouse and code in public. I’m going to code things to make code more visible, I’m going to print it out, project it, talk about it and interrogate it.”

James Bridle's Working Shop

The idea comes from this thought of James’s, “For a while now, I’ve been growing more conscious of the gap between traditional ideas of work and craft, and modern technologies. It’s not a new observation, but with the increasing fetishisation of the one-off, the authentic, the artisanal and the hand-made—not least by technologists—it seems worth worrying at.”

Last year I made this ‘poster’ after this tweet from Jones. It’s become ridiculously popular on Tumblr.

Less Typing More Drawing

At the bottom of the debate Phil wades in with an extremely wise comment, “Maybe you’re doing the wrong kind of typing?”. He is, of course, right.

Jones and I meant the email kind of typing. Phil was referring to the coding kind of typing. This highlights one of the dilemas James mentions, “If you go into a carpentry workshop, you’ll see sawdust on the floor. Work is being done here. You may not understand the work, that’s OK, you’re not a carpenter and you don’t have to be, but you get the sense that something is being done, a skill is being exercised, a craft is being performed. And at the end of the process, which is occurring, in part because of the visibility of the craft, you appreciate the value of a chair or table, not because you can make one yourself, not because you have any specialised knowledge, but you understand that work, time and skill went into this thing.

This is a problem when we come to contemporary, technological skills. It is a problem for the workers, because their work, their skill, their craft (and we will need to parse these words carefully), are not valued and appreciated in the way traditional work is, leading to both exploitation and argument on the one hand (‘why should I pay that?’, ‘why isn’t it finished yet?’), and a technological quasi-priesthood on the other, which does nobody any good. And it’s a problem for everyone else too: a barrier to communication and realisation of shared projects, and in the extreme case, a kind of technological determinism, with all the decisions made by the priesthood.”

Part of the reasoning behind that poster is that drawing looks more like craft than typing does. This is one of the issues James is exploring.

James Bridle's Working Shop

For me this builds on Jones’s thinking about seams. Beautiful seams. “Beautiful seams attract us to the legible surfaces of a thing, and allow our imagination in – so that we start to build a model in our minds (and appreciate the craft at work, the values of the thing, the values of those that made it, and how we might adapt it to our values – but that’s another topic)”

And there’s something in a post-wikileaks, post-Levenson world where nothing is private anymore. Something advantageous in running towards transparency and exposing your work in this way. Github and things are one way, simply printing your work out and sticking it on walls is another.

Maybe, for us at GDS this is even more important when your work is ‘owned’ by everyone in the UK.

James, as ever, is ahead of everyone in this thinking. And, as ever, he’s not just thinking about it, he’s actually doing something about it. Something you can see and point at, something you can go and visit.

Good.

RIG away day

It’s sometimes a thing to get a corporate “away day” which usually involves some awkward team building exercise, too much to drink and inappropriate comments. At RIG we do things differently and met over a late brekkie and long lunch on a Friday. Mostly just to catch up really as we don’t often see each other in a big group. It was sunny so I took pictures as I commuted to our meeting point, the lovely Counter Café in Hackney Wick. So close to the Olympics, it must be Tech City.

Oh and I took notes of course.

HistoryTag

We’ve just launched a new thing, HistoryTag. It’s not a finished thing, but it might be the start of a thing.

As Russell put it on the HistoryTag blog:

“HistoryTag’s a simple way for people who make things, and people who love them, to keep and share the histories of those things.”

HistoryTag screenshot

We’ve launched with our friends at Hiut Denim, who have just started making jeans in Cardigan in Wales. Every pair of their jeans comes with a secret HistoryTag code which lets their new owner see photos of their jeans being made, and then continue to tell the story with photos and tweets. Here are Russell’s jeans and here are Ben’s, Tom’s and Phil’s.

To be honest, there’s not much else to see on the site at the moment, and we’re not sure where it will go from here. But we think there’s something in the ability to easily give physical objects a digital life. Spimes and all that, you know.

For now, we need to see how HistoryTag feels and work out what would be fun and interesting to do with it. What kind of products deserve to have their life stories recorded? If you make those kind of products, or have any thoughts, do get in touch.

RIGnotes

We don’t update this very often do we? Well, to make up for that, here’s some recent news:

SxSW and the New Aesthetic

faces

Last week, James, Ben and Russell went to Austin to do a panel on the New Aesthetic. Only James really understands the New Aesthetic but Ben and Russell managed to cobble enough together for the talk. It seemed to go well. Bruce Sterling thought it rocked. You can read about all the talks via here.

The best bit – we got to hang out with Joanne, George, Aaron and The Drone.

drone pool

Pepys Road

James and Phil have been working with Matt and the Storythings crew imagining and building Pepys Road. That launched the other week. Seemed to go well. It’s a lovely thing.

Newspaper Club embeds

Newspaper Club is going from strength to strength. Sales are good, customers seem happy and, just the other day Tom built and launched Embedded Newspapers. It looks nice, it works well, it could be the most significant advance in the newspaper business since bingo.

Look – for instance – here’s a newspaper about truffles:

Good Night Lamps

Alex’s splendid Good Night Lamps got their own website last week. Easily the best Internet of Things project you’ll see anytime soon. She’s currently in the murky world of investor speed dating. Send money!

Making Magazines

Newspaper Club at #makemags

Russell went to talk at a lovely conference called Making Magazines – ably assisted by Ben who livetweeted during his talk but based it on stuff that Russell wasn’t saying. That seemed to go well and attracted lots of positive feedback so we’ll probably do that again.

New York?

We’re not really sure what Gareth has been doing except he’s been to New York a lot recently and he’s trying to hire a design company.

And, finally, in picture news, here are the latest things on everyone’s flickr streams.

View of the Palace from DFID

Ben’s been visiting DFID.

The Messe Fairground (Messegelände Hannover)

Alex has looked at architecture in Hanover.

First, take your bandicoot... (Grandma's Mrs Beeton, Australian edition of 1937.)

James has been reading Mrs Beeton.

Tom’s been down the allotment.

Future Barbican cinemas

Phil’s keeping an eye on the Barbican.

sjc

And Russell found a space squid.

Introducing FRSTEE

In late 2009, RIG experimented with post-digital products. Datadecs was born as a short run of laser-cut Christmas decorations and a rapid-prototyped plastic snowman for 50 of our friends.

Two years later, the frenzy around rapid prototyping (as demonstrated by the latest V&A exhibition The Power of Making) and a sort of general comfort around laser-cutting led us to focus our efforts into making the rapid-prototyped snowman come to life into something everyone could enjoy.

After months of work, finding the right partners, building the information flow, we’re very proud to announce the launch of FRSTEE today.

FRSTEE is a Christmas decoration rendered from your Twitter data.

You enter a Twitter username and your data is turned into a unique 3D design file. The snowman’s head gets bigger with your number of followers, and the buttons down the front represent the number of years you’ve been using the service. Your Twitter username also appears at the bottom of the snowman. The 3D file is generated (thanks to Andy Huntington) and is sent for printing to our friends at Inition. We then ship it to you. Simple! You can use anyone’s Twitter handle, making it the perfect Christmas gift.

Turning an experiment into a micro-business in the world of post-digital is always an interesting challenge and we hope you’ll give it a go!

Making meaning with our hands

We were invited by Ogilvy last month to run a “Future Making” workshop in Berlin for their annual planner’s conference. Future Making is a word I like to use to describe working with a mixture of highly technical tools and no-tech tools. We had Arduinos of course (and a crew of Tom, Cefn, Adrian, Nick and Andy) and some very simple tools like scissors, Play-Doh, card, plastic eyes etc. We got people to learn the basics of coding, electronics, product design and web design in 4 hours. Unbeknownst to them they were building prototypes of “internet of things”-type products.

After 5 years of running these types of workshops, I’m interested in the cognitive process we go through of understanding technology through making something with our hands. It’s not about the end product, but about the process of understanding the limitations involved in the making, in understanding what the components are capable of, how they bend, how they break, what makes them tick.

This isn’t new of course, that’s how we’ve always learnt but in these times of tippy tapping on iPhones and shiny surfaces as the new baby sitters, it’s good to remember the advantages of the tangible, using the whole of the hand and detailed work. We’re surrounded by incredibly forgiving interfaces that don’t require us to be particularly good at details. I wonder how this might affect us or even our expectations of the physical world. I wonder if there’s something about gestural interfaces that sort of is an extrapolation of the keyboard in a way that’s not useful. Sortof like the desktop metaphor of the 90s and how we still use a floppy disk as an icon for saving. Will we look back on the iPhone experience in 20 years and find it dated because we’re using our hands in different ways? Will Wii-like interfaces that focus away from the hand and towards the whole body take over, or Google voice make hands also unecessary? Dystopian futures of atrophied hands or strong thumbs and indexes? A generation of pointers.

As Marshall McLuhan famously said: We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.

Whisky Pancakes from stml on Vimeo.

Time will eat us eventually: the Reminder UI

Matt J of the BERG has written a really wonderful response to my post last week on the New Aesthetic:

It’s the lossy-ness that reveals the grain of the material and process. A photocopy of a photocopy of a fax. But atoms. Like the 80′s fanzines, or old Wonder Stuff 7″ single cover art. Or Vaughn Oliver, David Carson.

It is – perhaps – at once a fascination with the raw possibility of a technology, and – a disinterest, in a way, of anything but the qualities of its output. Perhaps it happens when new technology becomes cheap and mundane enough to experiment with, and break – when it becomes semi-domesticated but still a little significantly-other.

When it becomes a working material not a technology.

Go and read Sensor-Vernacular. Also, if you missed it, I’m continuing the exploration at new-aesthetic.tumblr.com.

This week, I want to talk about time-based interfaces. Or Reminder UIs. Or: another thing I don’t have a name for but I shall make by showing.

Photojojo’s wonderful Time Capsule sends you your Flickr photos from a year ago. You hadn’t forgotten them, you just hadn’t thought about them for a while. They will make you bittersweet happysad, but mostly happy, and you will be glad you outsourced your brain to a machine that has the capacity to remind you to feel this way.

There’s an extra, semi-hidden feature in Time Capsule that most people haven’t noticed: Talk to the Future. At the bottom of every email you can send a message to your future self, which will be included in your reminder in a years time. (This is pretty close to Slowpoke, which is, er, still in Beta, but I will finish it, I promise, if someone tells me a really easy way to send 1 off postcards programatically, and pay for them.)

The thing that I am thinking of isn’t just reminder services, but here are a few more.

James Wheare‘s TwitShift (which he promises to bring back up eventually is back up) retweets you from a few years back (you can choose 1, 2 or 3). Sometimes this is good, or interesting, or revealing (see above). Sometimes less so: I think I had more fun in March at SxSW last year than I did staying in London this year. I had to turn it off for a while. But still. In an age, socially and technologically, when history seems to be flattening out, it is good to have tools to remind us that it has texture.

Foursquare And Seven Years Ago (awesome name) does a similar thing for places you went to. The data cloud is our memories. They may be Soylent Green; they might also be cryptosam, our own emissions that reveal in hindsight deeper truths. Every man his own stylo.

Also: Rob T is messing with me.

Finally, Amazon does something rather nice with the Kindle when you log in online:

Kindle stores all the bookmarks you make in books and while it would be even better if it allowed you to share them properly, it’s nice that it gives you this little bump when you log in. I’ve got hundreds of dog-eared books and I never revisit them: there’s a little link to jump back to something – a mark, an action, a moment – I made over a year ago.

There is more to the time interface than the reminder, and it’s different to a simple timeline, which is just red dot fever in history, but. But but but. There is something there. I was just in Manchester. I’d never been there before, but one of the strongest cultural influences of my life took place there: it echoed in the stones, it was around me. I could feel my hopeful 18yo self trembling at my shoulder. Time is a working material: we can cut and shape it.

Have a lovely weekend. See you a year ago, next year.

UPDATE! Totally forgot to mention that I was prompted to post this by reading Paul Ford’s Time’s Inverted Index, which you should read too, and everything Paul writes.

The beauty under the beast: a tour of silicon roundabout

We were invited by the Danish Centre for Digital Urban Living to show some 20 Danish journalists and editors around East London. Every year, the centre organises trips to so-called “digital cities” and they’d been to Seoul and Tokyo before so this was quite a challenge.

Beyond the obvious Silicon Roundabout malarky, one of the things that makes East London special is the combination of creativity and cheap real estate. We invited some of our friends from the immediate area and beyond to come and do quick pecha kucha-like presentations of their latest work. We also walked around to visit some studios so that our guests could understand the advantages of living a 10 minute walk away from some rather special people. Beyond the hip graffiti outside #shitoffice (also known as our former office space around the corner) the area is not particularly pretty. It was a surprise for our guests to see beautiful insides to the grubby outsides and I thought I’d keep track of them.

We invited friends from OpenIDEO, Moving Brands, Poke, W+K, Darq, Wired UK, Pachube, The Cities Institute and more. It was grand and we had fun. We ended the day with a drink around the corner and dinner on Kingsland road of course. It’s about the little things.

The New Aesthetic

For a while now, I’ve been collecting images and things that seem to approach a new aesthetic of the future, which sounds more portentous than I mean. What I mean is that we’ve got frustrated with the NASA extropianism space-future, the failure of jetpacks, and we need to see the technologies we actually have with a new wonder. Consider this a mood-board for unknown products.

(Some of these things might have appeared here, or nearby, before. They are not necessarily new new, but I want to put them together.)

For so long we’ve stared up at space in wonder, but with cheap satellite imagery and cameras on kites and RC helicopters, we’re looking at the ground with new eyes, to see structures and infrastructures:

Guardian gallery of agricultural landscapes from space.

Updates on Bin Laden’s Death, New York Times

Tracking iPhone locations with iPhoneTracker, from Ben on Flickr

The map fragments, visible at different resolutions, accepting of differing hierarchies of objects.

→ Tracking iPhone locations (Ongoing personal project)

→ Landscape Permutation 2 (2010), David Semeniuk

Views of the landscape are superimposed on one another. Time itself dilates.

→ Three screens (for London 2010)

→ FER IN 1970 & 2010, Buenos Aires, Back to the Future Series, Irina Werning

Luminant Point Arrays, by Stephan Tillmans

Representations of people and of technology begin to break down, to come apart not at the seams, but at the pixels.

Diptych 1 on Flickr (ongoing personal project)

CV Dazzle by Adam Harvey

Megabytes of Spring, Reed+Rader for vmagazine.com.

(I could put a whole load more animated gif stuff in here like this and this and this and this. But I won’t. Except to say: animated gifs are the first artform of the internet, and they are in some way the future.)

→ German Tornado fighter with splinter camouflage.

→ Low resolution Lamborghini Countach, by United Nude

Lo Res Shoe, by United Nude

Fabricate Yourself, Karl D.D. Lewis

Telehouse West, by YRM Architects

The rough, pixelated, low-resolution edges of the screen are becoming in the world.

→ Robert Hodgin’s Kinect Fatsuit

NYC Street Art, photographed by Benjamin Norman

Minecraft

Embryo Firearms by Cornelia Parker

→→→→→→→→→→ And so on and so forth.

UPDATE: continuing the exploration at new-aesthetic.tumblr.com – submissions welcome.

Weeklinks: Robots, dignity & 70s utopia

I’ve been spending most of the months of March & April traveling for what I can only describe as “bird perched looking down with curiosity” work with Lirec. It’s unbelievable fun working with people who have a totally different vocabulary for what can be put as “intelligent product design”. Went to Lyon first for Innorobo a mostly french trade show on robotics which Russell covered very well with this lovely video.

InnoRobo from russelldavies on Vimeo.

Nicolas Nova had invited me to speak at RoboLIFT which was running parallel to the trade show. I thought the best things there was the scary presentation from Noel Sharkey about drones and unmanned vehicles in the army across the world, and Patrizia Marti’s work in looking at the impact of Paro, the robot seal, in patients with Alzheimers and dementia. There was something incredible about the opposing roles of those robots in our society, one for efficient killing, the other for creating conversations where they had dissapeared. I’m also reading about “engenderneering” at the moment, but that’s boring.

Also this is strange but entertaining (seen at a tradeshow in Västerås at the EU Robotics Forum 2011) . I’m sure it should be a toy and nothing to do with the Army. They’d probably make more money from it.

Finally I spent my Friday afternoon in a cold but sunny Stockholm roaming the absolutely brilliant meta- exhibition of the Moma’s 1972 exhibition on modern living in Italy at the Architecture museum. It made me think of the domestic space as a place of constant creativity and flux in architecture in the 60s and 70s that seemed to have stayed there. I see more statements about smartness in cities than I see about homes in the little architectural projects I follow. Maybe there’s no money to be made in homes, but I think there’s tons of interesting things to be designed that are beautiful and practical and not only utopian. One of the studios showcased was Superstudio’s work and here’s something they made once for the Milan Furniture Fair (which is on this week incidentally).