July 2009 Archives

Mike Kuniavsky "Changing Things" (Lift09 France EN) from Lift Conference on Vimeo.

I expanded on my LIFT France presentation at this years' Sketching in Hardware gathering. The two presentations are quite similar. My core point is that the fundamental nature of making things changes as the cost of moving atoms goes up and technologies for exactly reproducing physical objects using computer-controlled tools moves into more media.

Here are some key points:

If you look at [Thomas Chippendale's] Director, it’s full of variations. Chippendale expected that each piece was made individually. By showing all of these variations, he’s essentially saying “I am defining a design space for you, each piece is a collection of parts that you can mix and match. They all work together because I’ve created a standard interface and standard components. A kind of furniture description language.” The system is Chippendale’s, but the specific pattern is up to the individual craftsman.

In fact that’s how people treated it. There’s actually little Chippendale furniture from that period that looks identical to what is in the Director. Moreover, cabinetmakers were free to add to the language, to change, improvise and then distribute their designs themselves, as many did in their own pattern books.

Why would Chippendale give away his unique secrets?

Because he was working in a Read-Write culture. He knew that he wasn’t going to sell much of his actual furniture in Boston: wood furniture is just too expensive to ship across the Atlantic and his workshop can only put out so many pieces, but by publishing the Director he would profit from the designs’ publication and his reputation would benefit because he would have a lot of influence. And he did. The Director was a big hit in both England and its colonies and an entire style of furniture, whether he designed it or not, became known as Chippendale furniture. He was the first person who wasn’t a king to have a style of furniture named after him.

The full presentation is available as an 860K PDF.

[April 3, 2010 update: added the full video]

A journalist acquaintance asked me about the relationship between journalism and product development in the context of Sketching in Hardware. I wrote him an email that (somewhat densely) summarized much of my current thinking about the relationship between cheap hardware, open standards, vernacular technology creation, social research and Sketching in Hardware (whew!). It probably makes no sense out of context, but I liked it enough that I thought documenting it on the blog would be worthwhile. Here it is:

Cheap, fast computation and increasingly open standardized interfaces encourage abstracting away from low-level operations to higher-level functional modules. This, in turn, opens the possibility for non-specialists to envision and create electronic devices, which in turn means that people who have domain-specific knowledge can now contemplate creating their own devices.

Thus, from my perspective, we're shifting from centralized, technology-centered product development to a more distributed, user-centered model. From supply-driven to demand-driven product development. As journalists--and, really, all forms of social researcher--are on the demand-side, it's a natural fit that they should play a larger role in the development of products. Sketching in Hardware becomes an approach to creating lightweight prototypes by nonspecialists so that they can better understand the role that technology can play in specific social situations.




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

  • Katherina: Information not just material. In our days it is a read more
  • tamberg.myopenid.com: Hi Mike, totally agree on building the IoT in a read more
  • Mutuelle: Man is the reflections of his thought, some name it read more
  • Amanda Carter: You obviously placed a great deal of work into that read more
  • Molly: You might find it interesting to connect with return of read more
  • George: You might want to change "Size" to "form" for terminal. read more
  • Mike: Thanks for the reminder, Robin. I'm aware of that article, read more
  • Robin: It's a slightly different argument (it predates most work in read more
  • Tim: This reminded me of the Pleo video Mark posted awhile read more
  • michael studli: i was wonting to know is the game fun to read more

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