Continuing my notes from the recent Research Through Design conference in Newcastle [see opening keynote]. This is the first of the sessions I attended on Day 1. Each session was held in a small room that sat about 30 people, all around a large conference table, and featured talks by 3 or 4 of the participants who had each submitted some kind of artefact to the event. Each artefact was presented, then plenty of time was left for discussion amongst the presenters and audience, not that it felt like there was a division between the two. Each session was tied thematically, with the following talks all being connected through the “Doing” of design research.
Bio-mineralization – process through which organisms produce hard tissue, e.g. bones.
Controlling density results in material properties including strength, finish etc.
Avalon Shells – like bone but different structures on different layers. Hardness on the outside. Softness on the inside.
Artefacts developed using Synth Morph – a design environment through which shape can be evolved based on cellular growth. Dictating a density pattern for the cells results in particular patterns of growth.
Artefacts represent a catalogue of shapes based on the design language that emerged from this tool. These are Material Proxies – assemblages. E,g, In artefact 1 the attractor system is placed at the centre of the object. In the second round, 3 attractor systems are placed in the artefact. Long way to go from these early objects to the complexity of a shell.
Show how different disciplines come together in one piece of work.
Social science looking for "texture" – small number of people in a longitudinal study.
Sian’s work (represented through a recreation of her whiteboard of notes) – trying to find an authentic attachment to her participants, rather than find a convenient representation. Uses space – looking for outliers etc. Not aesthetic. Looking for something that is actionable by other disciplines.
Tim’s code. Notions of failure in different disciplines is not the same.
Bob’s sketchbook. Very concerned with people. Jumps between high level and detail.
Fashion academic at Northumbria now looking more at soft product development.
Health and safety driven product development and certification process – e.g. baby sling.
Up-cycling – promoting responsible design practice in the lingerie industry. Trying to change people’s view on materials for new uses.
Swimwear project – show industry that is quite conservative new processes and old techniques.
New technologies/new fabrics. Nano-tech etc. Quite fascinating, but construction really matters. What can you MAKE out of these new technologies. Marrying old techniques with new tech. Making a glove the way they would have in Tudor times.
Set a brief of design for future space travel. Space gloves. Both have to be long-lived, and also part of a long journey where people will need stuff to do.
Looking back at vintage astronaut wear they were clearly influenced by fashion of the time, not just the technology.
Using a glove to test tailoring during the project. A Microcosm of the human body – how it bends and moves. A starting point from where new tailoring and joining tech could be applied.
Not much information in general about gloves. So prototyped based on V&A original. Old gloves don’t have the gussets between the fingers etc. Hadn’t been invented yet. Had to experiment with pattern cutting to get it to really fit the hand. A specific hand.
Eventually honed a pattern that helped teach how a hand works.
Tailors and plastic surgeons DO meet because tailors have such a good understanding of how to cut for the body.
Mike Shorter | The Invite: Adding Value to Paper with Paper Electronics
Artefact: Paper invitation printed in conductive ink that links to a device for playing musically.
Paper invented in 105AD.
We’re born, we graduate, we die – we get a piece of paper for each. We keep on using it. Paper consumption continues to grow.
Paper electronics – conductive inks + components. Can use traditional processes – hand painting, screen printing. Just draw a circuit diagram.
Donald Schön, 2003. Reflective practice.
Reflective practice is "the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning",
Work still feels rooted in online graphics and interfaces. Trying to find paper-equivalents of electronic things.
3 versions of the invitation from literal to abstract, set to challenge the visitor to think about the electronics.
Examples of thickening from Social Science – how sometimes visiting Facebook is like glancing out of a window.
Objects are at different scale. Harder to get an overview from the printout of the program.
How do we make code readable by real people (Jon Rogers). Tim disagrees. Such a gulf between the way the technology works and what it does. Discussion about whether Raspberry Pi is good or not. Can visual programming languages (e.g. Max) scale to big problems.
Is Sian a psychologist? Now much more ethnographic end of sociology.
What was the starting material for these things? 3d Printing – powder and glue.
Is the goal a design tool for creating objects? Changes in the microscopic level can create effects in the macroscopic. In design we have intent and have to tweak materials to get what we want. With this project the process of design is part of the material because its alive. The seed.
Background in architecture – how do you collaborate with other disciplines. The more you get into a science the more you see the specialization. Different language between a microbiologist and a developmental biologist.
Issues of scale. Material proxies because the things we’re looking at occur at small scales, but are being explored at larger scales.
How does the fact that this is research change the kind of things you’re doing. Doing research makes you analyse things that you would have taken for granted. Being asked to engage in research, but we’re design practitioners.
Aim is to do something interesting about the future, but couldn’t move on without looking at the past.
How do the shoes you’re wearing affect the noise? The earthing process is affected by the soles.
Is the black box necessary? Could have the electronics locally.
The digital version is available for free, or you can buy a printed version if you want (they’re really nicely printed, but done print-on-demand so are a little pricey – we don’t make any money from them).
This issue is a summary of the SDS “Beyond Search” theme, focussing on Sian’s “5 Web Modes”, and showcasing various projects that have come out of the work, including Seeds, Cards and our work with Aalto University on “Domesticating Search”. I’m pretty proud of this magazine series, and this is another great issue for us to give out both internally and externally, to showcase what we do.
As a reminder, there are now three issues of the magazine, on Communication, Memory and Search. All of them are available from the here.
The exhibition opened in April, but I only just had a chance to see it in August when I travelled North to Yorkshire for a spot of camping. It’s a great exhibition, with a lot of old bits of technology leading to more contemporary content. A timeline made of glass, embedded in the floor, runs all the way through the gallery, counting off the years next to examples of technology of the time. At the end of the timeline is a glass exhibition case, with our prototypes in them under the banner “Into the Future”. Really nice to see them put to good use.
I’m really delighted to be able to announce that I’ve written a book, entitled The future of looking back and published by Microsoft Press, which deals with the topic of digital legacy, technology heirlooms and other themes close to my heart. It covers a lot of the work that we’ve been doing in Cambridge around memory, reminiscing and so on, as well as including a lot of references to research and design work that I’ve come across that points to new and interesting directions.
The book was announced on the 27th of September as part of Microsoft Research’s 20th Anniversary celebration, and is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and O’Reilly. I’m expecting it to be physically released in just a week (Amazon says the 4th of October).
The book is broken down into three broad parts (there’s a pretty extensive preview of the content on Amazon). First, in “Stuff and Sentimentality” I talk about the difference in nature of physical things versus digital things, and the impact that our transition from the world of real to the world of the virtual might have on the way we preserve and pass on our content. In “A Digital Life” I talk generally about lifespans, and key life events (including bereavement), focusing on the role that technology is starting to play in each, particularly with regard to the creation of personal and sentimental digital artefacts. Finally, in “New Sentimental Things” I speculate more on the future and trends in technology and the impact that new directions may have in the way we record, remember and reflect on our past.
My book is the launch title for “ The Microsoft Research Series”, newly announced by Microsoft Press, which kicks off a regular release cycle of books that will focus on making the work of the Microsoft Research Division more accessible. You can read more about the series, as well as a Q&A with me on some of the topics in my book, up on the announcement page for Microsoft Press.
A massive thanks to Devon Musgrave at Microsoft Press for pushing me to write this title, as well as to colleagues and family for their support and encouragement.
Christan Svanes video of objects and their history is a simple piece of work that reminds me of Berg’s visualizations or the great experiments and ideas from the Oslo School of Architecture and Designs “Touch” project (particularly this one). This idea that objects can hold their history, and through that keep us in touch with out past, is one that I find really compelling, and is obviously related to my interest in digital heirlooms. It’s also being explored through projects like “Tales of Things”, using RFID tags to connect objects to their data.
A lot of the written material that we produce in the research team that I’m a part of is directed very much at an academic audience. Through conferences like CHI and CSCW we build on the research work of others and find out about new efforts going on in our domain of human-computer interaction. That’s as it should be for research.
We’ve been trying to think of some ways to make our work more accessible, though. Partially this is because the busy people who work for Microsoft in the US, building products that we want to help influence, don’t have a great deal of time to read a 10 page academic treatise. They need something a little more…succinct, and to the point. In addition to a focus on Microsoft, we think the subject of our research work is generally and genuinely interesting to a broad audience. We deal with the way people live their lives, and try and gain some understanding of the appropriate way in which technology should play a part. We look for the “human values” that motivate people, particularly in their personal relationships and in the places in which they spend time, then we ask how technology can enhance, rather than undermine, them.
So as part of this effort to make our work more approachable we’ve started a magazine called “Things we’ve learnt about…”, which will focus on succinctly summarizing what we’ve learnt around a particular theme, to provide simple insights into how we think people tick. You can download read about, and download the magazine from our site at:
Feel free to print it any way you want, if you want a hard copy. We’ve also made the magazine available through MagCloud, which is another alternative for getting a printed version. They can do a great, glossy print on demand version for you at cost.
The first issue deals with human-to-human communication. We’ve tried to wrap up over 5 years of research and design work in this area to talk about why people communicate. A lot of the focus on communication technologies is on the substance of the message – getting some “data” if you like, from person A to person B. A lot of this issue of the magazine deals with the reasons and methods through which people communicate that have little to do with the message. Sometimes people send message to remind other people that they care about them, for example. The content of the message matters less than the fact that the sender thought about sending it. The magazine is full of little insights like that, that are about the subtle underpinnings that make communication important.
Anyway, hope you like it. Let us know what you think in the comments below. And look for future issues on different themes.
It’s not common for a team at Microsoft Research, a division involved in the academic exploration of all things computer science-like, to have much of a connection to the discipline of design. There are quite a few teams in addition to mine that have designers in them, though, and who take design practice seriously as part of the process of developing and exploring ideas.
So it’s great to get a little recognition from the design community, rather than from the academic one. I’m pleased to say that the Technology Heirlooms work that we’re doing in Cambridge, and which I’ve talked about a lot on this site, just got itself a prestigious design award.
My very talented ex-intern Camille Moussette was at the Tangible, Embedded and Embedded Interactions (TEI) conference in Madeira last week, and presented and demoed the work he did with us last year in Cambridge. He’s written up his experiences. He did some very cool thinking, and built some great examples, of how to allow product designers to sketch haptic experiences (so things that buzz, shake, rattle etc). See the paper he wrote here.
As promised a while ago, when I posted the videos of the Backup Box and Digital Slide Viewer, I’ve finally put together something that shows the Timecard device (see video below). This is a timeline viewer, meant to represent someone’s life, that we imagine might be the digital equivalent of a photo album or baby book. We’d like to think that it might become a precious object for a family, forming a new class of digital heirloom.
More explanation of these devices (including Timecard) here and of our ideas behind Technology Heirlooms here.
This year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are titled “Size Matters”. Presented by Dr Mark Miodownik, they’re an exploration of materials science looking at facts like “How can hamsters survive falling from an airplane? How can hair keep you warm in the cold and cool in the heat?” and so on. Aimed at kids from 11 to 17, they’ll be broadcast on BB4 on the 28th, 29th and 30th of December from 8pm. Definitely one to watch for the budding scientist. Good for adults, too, actually. And something I’m very happy to see us sponsor.