May 2007 Archives

A couple of months back, receiver magazine, Vodaphone's magazine about art, society and technology, asked me to write a short piece for them. I decided to write about the evolution of appliances. As with many of my recent articles, it starts with the history of post-WWII American society and how the values, technologies and social structures of that time created the basic framework that allows for ubiquitous computing to appear. Here's an excerpt:

1947 was a big year. That year, Bell Labs invented the transistor and Levittown, New York, the first modern American suburb and the model for most others to come, opened for business. 1947 was not only the beginning of the Baby Boom, but of a whole new lifestyle of electronic home appliances.


With [semiconductor] prices so low, including information processing in a product becomes less an exotic research project and more a competitive calculation akin to selecting plastic over rubber or aluminum over steel. Manufacturers will likely soon begin to use information from the domestic environment in an effort to make appliances more effective and more attractive to buyers. Some will even succeed.


This means that our everyday domestic devices will soon change. Hybrid devices, "smart things", have already begun to appear and will continue to do so, blurring the lines between furniture, tool, computer and robot.


You can find the whole article on the receiver site. I also highly recommend the rest of the magazine, which features articles by danah boyd, Louise Barkhuus and John Seely Brown talking about technology and the home.

Also, Tamara Adlin has posted an interview with me on her UX Pioneers site. I'm flattered and grateful to be in such distinguished company. It's probably the most coherent explanation of my career and motivations, ever. THANK YOU, Tamara!

Given my interests, it's probably not surprising that I collect interesting examples of mobile and domestic UI design. Much to Liz's chagrin, I have several boxes of mobile phones, laptops, electronic toys and other devices. Things I choose not to buy, I photograph:

IMGP5880IMGP5870IMGP5869IMGP5867IMGP5866IMGP5865IMGP6658.JPGIMGP7597.JPGIMGP7792.JPGIMGP7832.JPGIMGP7831.JPGA Picture Share!

Today, a particularly amusing addition arrived in the mail (courtesy of Ebay). I had ordered several first generation Blackberrys and thought nothing of it when the seller was from Texas. Then the Blackberry arrived:


Now, I know it's romantic speculation, but like the old adage of "if only walls could talk," what about electronic devices? Of the other Blackberrys in this lot that had messages on them the messages were from April to November 2001, the exact period of the company's downward spiral. The previous owner of this one wiped all of the messages from it, but I can only assume that this one was from the same period. If Blackberrys could talk...

I had the great privilege of speaking at the Taste3 conference on wine, food and art in Napa today. This is a terrific conference that's run as a kind of "TED for food" by many of the folks who organized TED years ago, and with the same ultra-high quality of experience design and attendees. I've had a number of great conversations with really smart, successful and fun people.

My talk today was a somewhat speculative presentation tracing some of the history of appliance design and how ubiquitous computing may change that. In the talk, I present the history of blender controls as an example of the encapsulation of knowledge into our tools. I then show several examples of how networked kitchen devices may (or may not) present a fundamental shift in the nature of how we relate to our kitchen tools:

Imagine that every time you used this [networked, barcode-reading microwave], it quietly told a database somewhere--say, in your iPod--how many calories you just ate. Then your iPod could query your shoes about how much you had run the previous day. The next time you went for a run, your iPod would pick songs with a different tempo to encourage you burn off that Mac and Cheese. Now that’s starting to get interesting. It is now possible for our tools to automatically encapsulate knowledge and share it with each other.

The full presentation is available here (360K PPT).

Steve sent me a link to the Interactivos? workshop at Media Lab Madrid. I'm sad I wasn't able to propose for it and won't be able to attend. The theme is "Magic and Technology" (which everyone knows I'm a big fan of ;-). Their introduction reads:

Magic and illusion have always gone hand in hand with technology; from mechanical illusions, optical and mirror tricks, through the incorporation of electricity and the filmed image, to digital technology: augmented reality, reactive objects, reality hacking and immersive spaces.

This new edition of Interactivos? in Medialab Madrid is inspired by the strategies of magic and illusion, in order to harness some of the old and new technological resources to collectively build software pieces and interactive installations which can propose a rethinking of the usual scenario in magic tricks, marked by a very clear separation between the wizard and the spectators.


The call is focused on projects of digital and sound art, critical design, educational applications, etc., which, inspired in magic and illusionism techniques, propose experiments on perception and attention, behaviour and interaction generated by social relations. The call is also focused on projects inscribed within the open hardware and software philosophy.

I'm happy to see that they're taking the social perspective and talking about breaking down the barriers between spectator and performer, owners and observers, adapts and novices.

I also really like their focus on "artists, wizards, engineers, musicians, programmers, designers, architects, and hackers." Explicitly crossing the barriers of designers, programmers and artists is critical right now as the field is maturing. In the beginning of film theater magicians were major drivers of innovation. This was not because they were magicians, but because they were applied creative professionals who had an immediate financial stake in the innovations--this differentiated them from scientists or artists, and makes them closer in terms of motivation to today's designers.




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

Recent Photos (from Flickr)

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

Recent Comments

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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