September 2004 Archives

Carbon fiber, miracle fiber from the 70s, seems to be making inroads into the furniture industry. I think it's potentially an interesting metric of how quickly this industry can absorb new technology, or maybe it's just that carbon fiber has only recently gotten to be cost-effective enough to profitably mass-produce furniture (though I find that hard to believe, since the markup on furniture has to be at least that on motorcycle mufflers, and those have had carbon fiber on 'em for years).

In the past 6 months I have seen 3 carbon fiber chairs appear:

What does this mean for smart furniture? I think it means that at least someone thinks that there's a sizable market for non-designer furniture that's made in nontraditional ways. A lot of innovative stuff, like in any early adopter situation, is bought purely because it's made in some wacky way or out of some wacky material; it's when things are bought for what the wacky does, rather than for what it is, that things take off.

I feel that information is a kind of material that is manipulated by technological tools and projected into the world as objects, so the opening of the market to new materials is good news. It's an interesting datapoint.

And here's an interesting carbon fiber/kevlar twill material that could be even cooler.

From boingboing by way of Cassidy, the gravity lamp from Front Design in Stockholm. It has a sensor and some very basic "robotics" in it (I think it pulls some wires and the rods straighten like tentpoles), but it's cute. This is the same group that did a memorable non-tech conceptual furniture piece I saw in Milan: it looks like the vase version of Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase" (to see it, go to their site, click on Projects, then Design By, then Motion). They've also done some other clever technology-based design, including a robotic table that figures out how to stand, and an amusing 3D version of the glitchcore music philosophy (that's the one where the byproducts of digital recording are used as the basis of new music--Matmos and Oval are probably the ones who do it best) in the form of a candle holder, as misrendered by a rapid prototyping machine.

Cool stuff.

I'm proud that an article I wrote on group personas has appeared in Boxes and Arrows, the excellent IA and UE journal.

Entertainment, education, and collaboration software is often used by two or more people simultaneously. Each of these groups has a different set of needs and expectations, and each can be modeled as a group persona, rather than as individual users.

Thanks to all of the B&A folks for guiding and editing it (and running the Star Trek quote: I can't believe it!) and to the workshop participants for providing the excellent experience that inspired it.

Slashdot brings a link to a fake window made of LCD panels. Superficially, this is another wacky outgrowth of the casemod world, judging by the presentation of the how the thing was put together (it's classic casemod style, complete with random anime babe desktop pattern), but I think it's also an interesting interaction between the casemod world and the ambient display world. He could easily adapt it to be like the now-classic Ljungblad and Holmquist Mondrian Ambient Weather Display and present literal content, leveraging the domestic context.

OK, that's starting to sound convoluted. I guess what I mean is that it fits into a tritely domestic setting much more easily than the minimal Modernism of a lot of ambient display, and that makes it much more likely to be accepted by the large group of people who find even IKEA Modernism too cold. Familiarity is important when designing objects for the mass home market, and this feels very familiar, even if it's actually a pretty profoundly weird thing, the inverse of the old bricked-up window.

The following paragraph caught my eye (really, the eye of Google's news alert) in this story on Apple's new G5 iMac design:

"Sony has another desktop, the W series, whose overall design feels more like the iMac. It feels more like modern furniture design than a consumer electronics product. In fact, we have one in our living room. People are always commenting on what a beautiful design it is. When the keyboard is folded up it doesn't really look like a computer."

It's a minor point, but telling. Some thoughts:

  • It doesn't look like like a computer, and that's considered good.
  • It does look like modernist furniture, and that's also considered good.
  • The problems with the iMac are about tangled cables and instability--things that identify it as machine-like.

What this points to me is a recognition that technology's role is continuing to fade into the background and people are starting to desire technology that doesn't advertise itself as such. Not that that's a big revelation, but it's interesting to see how these ideas are appearing as desires.

Sorry to beat this dead horse, but several people have recenly asked me for the version of the Smart Furniture Manifesto that was published in Metropolis Magazine in June. It's one of the articles from that issue that they didn't put online, so I can't just point to it. It's philosophically similar to what I wrote last year, but it expands and clarifies the ideas somewhat.

The Wall Street Journal had a piece on circuit bending in yesterday's paper.

It's interesting to me to see this surface, but it only makes sense: technology is getting more pervasive, it's cheaper, so there's less risk in breaking it and the DIY esthetic is being encouraged through all of the TV shows about making and modifying stuff.

I wonder if there's a relationship between cultural penetration of a technology, the power of the technology and affluence to people's interest in modifying it for purely their own pleasure? I mean, it was about 50 years after the introduction of the automobile that hotrodding took off, but only after America was pretty rich and the 454 Chevy big block became commonplace. Now it's about 50 years after the beginning of computers and we're an affluent what's the current tech equivalent of the 454?




A device studio that lives at the intersections of ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, industrial design and materials science.

The Smart Furniture Manifesto

Giant poster, suitable for framing! (300K PDF)
Full text and explanation

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Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design

By me!
ISBN: 0123748992
Published in September 2010
Available from Amazon

Observing the User Experience: a practitioner's guide to user research

By me!
ISBN: 1558609237
Published April 2003
Available from Amazon

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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