Better late than never, here’s my write-up from my last day at Eyeo. It feels little more patchy than the other days, but perhaps that’s because of the juggling around that happened towards the end of the day because of some changes in speaker line up.
Lauren McCarthy – You, Me and My Computer
I’m not really aware of Lauren’s work, although she’s clearly a fixture in the Eyeo circuit. She came across as delightfully self-effacing, which makes sense, since much of her work focuses on what she sees as her own social awkwardness. She’s produced a wide body of research and design probes and prototypes which are consistently engaging, and are often pushing her to examine her own capacity for engaging with others.
The Happiness Hat, for example, jabs her in the back of the head with a sharp pointy thing if she isn’t smiling:
This table she designed allows participants in a conversation to use a foot pedal, mounted under the table, to rate the discussion as it takes place. Aggregated feedback from participants is displayed in the tables surface, which lights up more brightly the “better” the everyone thinks things are going.
While an object like this is strange, it also invites comparison with Facebook and Twitter status updates, which are similarly used to provide rapid feedback on feelings in the public stage.
The Conversacube provides prompts for the socially awkward, giving advice that theoretically helps a discussion become more fluid or engaging. Participants are prompted by the box to “lean in” at certain points, or to complement or agree with their partner. The promise of the box is “never another awkward conversation”, but it also acts to offload responsibility from its users, giving them an excuse and license to do what they want.
Laren draws heavily on the work of Dunne and Raby and others, producing objects that seem odd, but then look normal when compared to many of the systems we take for granted today. Like the Conversacube, this video-conferencing based system gives live updates of each participants engagement, and provides prompts if one another are, for example, being too negative, or talking too much:
Crowdsourced Relationships allows individuals going on a blind date to bring along a big crowd of remote observers, who provide feedback and advice as the evening progresses. Again, this kind of system blurs the line between reality and critique, and in this case resulted in a lot of negative press when released:
Eric Rodenback – And Then There Were Twelve
Eric is founder of Stamen, one of the first design consultancies focussing on design with data. He seems to be one of the Elder Statesmen of the Eyeo community. Much of his talk focused on the community itself, which he considers to have reached a point of maturation which will focus it to be less “indie” than it has been. Design with data is now mainstream and commercial, which means this community of tinkerers needs to find new ways to survive.
Eric talked a lot abut his lessons in running Stamen, issues of ownership, the difficulties of firing your friends, the transition away from coding to management. He also talked a little about the impact of the tech industry on his community in San Francisco as houses are torn down to build new condos.
One interesting observation he made that was directly relevant in terms of data was the idea of “mapping through incidentals”. He gave a couple of examples in which data could be derived from pre-existing infrastructure, meaning that we don’t need new networks of sensors and devices if we’re smart about exploiting what we already have. The performance of cell towers, for example, is dependent on the level of moisture in the air. This could be exploited to give us real-time, localized weather updates. Similarly, optical cables that run down the side of highways to pass data to road signs have their performance altered by passing traffic,. Using this as a positive attribute, they could be used to map road conditions.
Jessica Hagy – Tiny Data
This talk was an oddity. Again, I’d never heard of Jessica but her talk sounded intriguing. I’d thought maybe “Tiny Data” would be a critique of concepts of “Big Data”, or might be simply a discussion of Sparklines. Instead I was treated to an excellent comic performance as Jessica talked us through the humorous charts she creates by hand on small index cards, each of which uses simple graphs to examine and expose some little observation on life and the strangeness of people.
Leah Buechley – Thinking About Making
I know Leah both from a CHI workshop I attended a few years ago on “making” and from some time she spent with us in the Cambridge lab. She’s been an important contributor in the space of technology+craft, producing work with her group at MIT that plays with textiles, conductive materials and much more.
Leah has recently left MIT and moved into the New Mexico desert with her family. It’s given her a chance to look more broadly at the community that she has been a part of for years. Her talk was primarily an examination of Make Magazine, a publication that has grown out of, and been widely credited for nurturing, the maker movement, a grassroots community effort that encourages people to get their hands dirty building things with technology.
Leah’s main observation, and her disappointment was palpable, was that Make magazine has done a very poor job in representing what is a diverse community. 85% of covers of the magazine feature men, none of them from ethnicities that are not Caucasian or Asian. The magazine has a similar balance in its editorial staff, and indeed for its readership.
Leah’s issue here is not that a magazine shouldn’t have a focus on a particular demographic for its readership. of course it should. Her worry it is that Maker espouses a narrative that is very inclusive and egalitarian, about getting the whole world making, and indeed is funded heavily by the US government on this basis to take making into the classroom. This rhetoric isn’t supported by its publication, which seems to tell the story that only white guys can get involved.
She’s urging the magazine to take a broader perspective, to draw on the work of women and minorities in this space, and to get away from the cars, rockets and robots that make up the bulk of its articles. Some of suggestions are included in the references below.
Various – All-Stars Line Up
Thanks to a bit of a shuffle in the schedule,with one keynoter dropping out, the last session I attended ended up being a rapid-fire set of presentations by key players in the community who stepped up at the last minute to share recent work and fill in a lost block of time. Lucky for us.
Up first was Jer Thorp who talked about his recent experiences riding in the Alvin Submersible, a deep dive vessel that was used, for example, to find the Titanic. He’s producing a cool looking data visualization, which flashed by, that shows the history, depth and significance of the many dives the vehicle has made.
Aaron Koblin, who was at Resonate earlier in the year, presented some of the recent work he also talked about at that event – his laser train and his TED sculpture.
Sarah Williams returned (see Day 2) to talk in more detail about her work visualizing the movements of members of the fashion industry in New York in order to support the fight against the relocation of the garment district out of Manhattan.
Wes Grubbs presented the data and map that he created in response to a survey sent out to Eyeo attendess before the event.
Stefanie Posavec (seee workshop) talked in more detail about work she’d alluded to during our workshop. She was invited to be a resident artist at Facebook, and as a result of her time there produced a series of dance steps, mounted on the floor using vinyl transfers, that showed the interrelation between a couples Facebook updates, as the overlapped or didn’t.
Michael Chang gave us some insight into the nightmare of community engagement while building and releasing his game, Blade Symphony, during which he clearly suffered a lot from griefers.
Finally, Kyle Macdonald presented his tongue-in-cheek guide to having a viral hit. Having a good “click-bait” title and targeting Kanye West seem pretty central to any strategy.
I was surprised there wasn’t more overlap with Resonate, and that’s probably a good thing. While Resonate feels like a stunning series of portfolio reviews which can sometimes seem to lack depth or self-reflection, Eyeo’s presentations seem to emphasize something more thoughtful, sometimes at the expense of simply seeing things that are cool.
I guess, then, I’ll simply have to keep going to both.