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Doors of Perception. Flow
By Human Beans

Flow Conference Pilot by Remon Tijssen

Doors of Perception 7: Flow took place in Amsterdam in November. Resided over by First Perceptron John Thackara (that means he’s in charge, and no, unfortunately he didn’t have the Gandalf-like outfit you’d expect from such a title) the conference investigated the design challenge of pervasive computing.

John Thackara opened the conference with a series of key questions, the first, to what question is pervasive computing an answer? To illustrate the problem he told us of a visit to the toilet. On putting his favourite bag on the washbasin whilst washing his hands an automatic tap misinterpreted it as a person and promptly filled it with water. Why, he asked, do we need things to be smart? Who has the responsibility to look after smart objects, and what will be the social cosequences of a smart and connected world?

He challenged designers to take time to anticipate the world we want to live in, before colonising it with pervasive and smart technologies. How, he asked, do we redesign the design process? How should we find new ways to perceive flows? How will we move to a continuous model of design as systems and processes never stop changing? What new metaphors are required to describe what designers will do? And what will we do Monday morning to do it?…….Still following?

Read John Thackara's full introduction

Great questions, and had the speakers answered them or a even just a handful of them we would all be actively designing a better world now (and probably with different job titles.) However design for complex systems is not, as you would expect, straightforward, over the three days the speakers took a meandering yet (mostly) fascinating path through the topic and questions. Below we pick out the highlights and the best of the rest.

Janine Benyus. Image from Doors of Perception: www.doorspfperception.com

The case for Biomimicry
Biomimicry can mean more than making a phone look like a shell. Janine Benyus puts forward a compelling case for biomimicry, mimicking nature, as a significant tool in the designers' toolkit. Man and Nature share the same resources for building and living and often have to solve similar problems, why doesn’t Man learn from nature and in turn designers from biologists. Mimicking not only natural form but process and ecosystem, nature after all is a complex system that manges to function without any 'bad blocks'.

Janine Benyus presentation
Book: Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature

Bruce Sterling

Dystopian Visions
Bruce Sterling, (his ibook still sporting a Core 77 sticker from his Offsite), likes to 'look at the underside first', and presented two melancholy scenarios for ubicomp futures (ubiquitous computing). The scenarios of Punish.net and Military Ubicomp will be familiar to anyone who attended the Offsite or read the write up. The scenarios made us think of the value of dystopias in visioning the future. Too often we see shiny things from the future that say, '…and it could be this good!' Yeah, but show me how badly could it go wrong and I’ll understand the potential impact and importance.

Bruce Sterling's presentation online
Best of the rest:
For more distopias see Altavistas by Ben Hooker and Shona Kitchen, winner of the Open Doors 'Beast' prize for ugliest project.

Loome a Livework service

Personal information Broker
As well as setting up the service design module at Interaction Ivrea Lavrans Lovlie and Chris Downs are directors at Livework a new (and they claim first) London based service design consultancy. They presented Loome a concept for brokering personal information. That is selling your bank statements, store card details to the highest biding corporation. A provocative concept allowing individuals to cash in on the million dollar personal information industry.

Other recommended Open Doors projects:
Body Mnemonics by Jussi Angesleva: Winner
Living Surfaces by Casey Reas: Winner of the 'Beauty' prize
Hardspace/Softspace by Pletts Haque
Amsterdam RealtimeEsther Polak, Aske Hopman, Waag Society

Enzio Manzini (left) responding to a question from John Thackara

Sustainable Networks
Renound Italian scholar and man of all things sustainable Enzio Manzini presented on the final day of the conference. He asked designers to consider the ecology of networks. We often talk about flows in networks as large and fast - however the space between large and fast flows,he warned, is in danger of becoming desertified. Citing examples of Italian slow food and agri-tourism he said we should take time to renew the close and slow. Close, small, slow networks that combine the local and global at a pace which allows quality to develop.

Read Enzio Manzini's presentation

An animated Markus Antisaar of Nokia

The future of Nokia?
Though surely not giving anything away, Marko Ahtisaar of Insight and Foresight Nokia, gave a glimpse of future directions for the company. Echoing Manzini, Marko's work concerns the slow and close. With an overall theme of proximity (from 1cm to room size) Nokia are considering People and Places - digital sharing in proximity, eg across a table. My things with me - the emotional relationships we have with our digital information, photographs, or names in our phone book. Enhanced Spaces - digital content that is site-specific and Safe Usage - how to replicate the implicit security of a face to face exchange in a technology such as Bluetooth.

Read more about Marko Antisaar
Best of the rest from the phone people:
Marco Susani, Motorola -A (poetic and visually beautiful) language developed to describe the way we communicate with mobile phones based on auras.

Doors of Perception is a '..website, knowledge network, and cultural accelerator…which sets new agendas for design - in particular, the design agenda for information and communication technologies.'

Flow Conference site

Moodstats by Michael Schmidt and Toke Nygaard. Image from Doors of Perception: www.doorspofperception.com

The rest of the rest of the best:
Speed dating - organised by Jason Tester and Chris Noessel of Interaction Ivrea
Aibo hacking - from Natalie Jeremijenko’s talk on Feral Robots
Moodstats -a daily dashboard for your emotions, by Michael Schmidt and Toke Nygrad
The work of Joshua Davis and his 'space bar technology'

Human Beans live, design and write from their home base of London.

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