People-less services


Let’s start with an anecdote:

I spent Friday on the go on a mad one-day trip to Amsterdam and then Eindhoven and back to London. Not as mad as you’d think, it was a totally self-indulgent decision I took at the last minute and ended up meeting old friends and new ones. Just lovely to be in the Netherlands as well. One my way back I didn’t have enough time to stop in town to had to settle for the sad choices at Schipol airport. I ended up getting a pannini at Per Tutti, some dodgy italian food chain. The waitress handed me a thick plastic-cased coaster and asked if I knew what this way for? I cleary looked like I didn’t so she went on to explain that when my sandwich will be ready, this coaster will ring and blink and I can come and get it at the counter. At first I thought: wow the future we’ve been talking about is getting nearer by the day, but wasn’t entirely thrilled either. The coaster reversed the role of the waitress and got clients off their backs, this also limited the reliance of the company on good and friendly staff as the interaction with the customer was limited, even more than usual. This felt like an efficient service definitely, but also one that made you feel even more like a number.

A few days later during the course of a conversation with Janne the larger implications dawned on me. The question for service design in the future isn’t only how will services be made more ubiquitous, engage people in different ways and get people to use things, but it’s also going to be: how are we going to be designing services that still involve people altogether?

Will our idea of progress eradicate the need for people to occupy a role in the service industry because we’ve designed them out?
In countries like China and India where population is a big issue, they are turning to solutions that see the problem in an opposite way. Each service must be broken down so as to involve (and pay) as many people as possible.

Does that mean that in the future, dealing with people in services will be seen as a less-productive method of obtaining something? Surely that’s not why so many of us complain about feeling unimportant and like a number when we interact with banking services. So it’s interesting to see that approach in the food industry which perhaps points the way to future changes.

Desirable techno-jects

(Another set of random ideas about the Internet of things)

Matt likes to show off to me his latest games and Portal got my attention.

If you don’t know the game, pictured above is the “Weighted Companion Cube” that you have to save and move as the game progresses and “take care of”.

It’s really interesting to me that a relationship is encouraged with this virtual object that is in essence, not classically attractive. Building this online relationship of course meant that now there are rumors that the cube will be available in plush for this Xmas.

It’s now becoming apparent that relationships of desire towards “objects” can be first established online, through experience of a game, to then lead to an offline sale and expansion of that relationship in the real world through a very different experience.

Life of a designer in 2030

I’ve been privileged in the past few months to help out Tom Klinkowstein on his Day in the life of a designer and her smart things in 2030 project which is launching in a few weeks in Singapore… He’ll be previewing the project at Pratt next week, so if you’re in NY, go check it out and send me pictures!

Update: Official info:

Tom Klinkowstein, President, Media A, LLC (New York), Associate Professor of New Media at Hofstra University and Adjunct Professor of Digital Design at Pratt Institute, will exhibit a large “diagrammatic narrative” about a fictional designer’s day in the year 2030, at the Singapore International Design Festival, Temasek Polytechnic, December 4-7.

A preview of the project is at Pratt Institute’s Manhattan location (Pratt Graduate Communications Design 7th Floor Gallery 144 W. 14 St., New York City) on Friday, November 16 from 6-8pm, as part of a presentation on Experience Design.

In this fictional day, the environment, transportation, objects and people around the designer are embedded with sensors, communication capabilities and intelligence, forming a dense web of interactions and possibilities.
To quote the introduction to the diagram, “The smart objects she surrounds herself with act according to a well-balanced ecology of action/reaction. They are agents of change, challenge, and ease, capturing data, engaging in dialogues among themselves and with the designer, feeding data, compiling and documenting it, and influencing and effecting actions without direct supervision. Reliable, helpful, and supportive of her daily activities, the smart things ingratiate themselves into every niche of her life without imposition. They are the quiet technology we crave.”
Also working on the project were Irene Pereyra (design), Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (text), Carolyn Lloyd (editor) and Amarides Montgomery (text).

The internet of things doesn't have any users

I’m catching up on a week of madness and found7 steps to a green product and Bruce Sterling’s Anatomy of a spime diagram that Matt Jones commented on.

Funnily enough both speak about similar things. The Metropolis article highlights a methodology when designing a product: the right materials, clean and green production, etc. Bruce’s diagram highlights technologies used for a “spime”: tracking, fabbing, etc…

Both of these relate to technologies and production techniques. Neither of them includes the user!

In an age of the ubiquitous “user-centered design”, it seems a mistake to put a user’s behavior aside especially when talking about sustainability. Most of the sustainability issues we will have to deal with relate directly to our behavior and our choices: the number of places we fly to, the %age of household waste we recycle, where we shop at etc…

None of these issues relate to either of these systems and maybe a next step in the thinking around the Internet of things is the integration of that crucial parameter.

Let me put it this way: even if a chair has been fabbed, tagged and can be easily and instantly replaced by the same model, in this day and age, noone wants to keep the same chair for their entire lives.

Consumerism is a broader behavior that technology alone cannot resolve or change.

Do you live in a house or a home?

(or random thoughts about the Internet of Things)

Is our idea of home at odds with the idea of ubicomp?

Are we ready to be a “user” all the time?

You don’t need to “interact” with a chair or should the technology be smart enough to know when to intervene or not?

Should we be learning to let go of a notion of control that makes an interaction become “work” (ie switching something on/off)

We see technology become smaller and smaller, are we ready for it to be bulky and physical again, or does that go against a notion of progress associated with miniaturisation?

Are we ready to accept some agency on the part of our technology?

When does intelligence become spooky?

Are we ready to give up privacy for better experiences?

On the psychological use of technology

“There is a sense in which this minimal gestural system is essential, for without it all this abstract power would become meaningless.
Man has to be reassured about his power by some sense of participation, albeit a merely formal one.
So the gestural system of control must be deemed indispensable- not to make the system work technically- for more advanced technology could (and no doubt will) make it unnecessary. but rather, to make that system work psychologically”

The system of Objects is definitely a great read for all designers, especially when you consider it was written in 1968!

There’s something here of a commentary about future-casting. This well respected activity often associates itself with what I call the “convergence wet-dream”. In the future, everything should flow, every part of our life, objects, services, information is intricately linked, responsive and autonomous, tending to our every need on a sub atomic level of understanding. No more work, all play: homo ludens.

But of course everything so far leads us to think that will not be the case. Inconsistent systems, platforms that don’t speak to one another, variations in systems across countries, etc…

Beyond technology however, the biggest roadblock to this dream is man himself, because of this need for gestural control, this physical “ok” linked to our understanding of the world around us. Is that bad? I don’t think it is. It will make sure the future keeps being “human”, with everything that entails.

(Made me think of this, if you’ve seen the movie, you know what happens next)

Bluebook praise

Garrick Jones brought to my attention that the Bluebook project by Manolis Kelaidis, (a project I had spotted at last year’s RCA show) got the only known standing ovation at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change. Well done! It’s about time these folks started to expand their thinking beyond the screen.

There’s the usual “However, it looks like that mass-production could take some time so the next stage is likely to be a short-run, specific-application implementation of the technology” but maybe that’s a good project for

Kindred spirits: Pecha Kucha in Montreal.

I had the pleasure of meeting very briefly Boris Anthony at Xtech in Paris. He’s an interaction designer working and living in Montreal and these days is organising the local edition of Pecha Kucha. I think he feels, like me that there must be more to design that what we are made to believe or to see.

I hope I get a chance to speak to him more about this soon. In anycase I’ll be there, presenting the Good Night Lamp project which is slowly but surely, being put together. Hope to see you there!


I’m sitting here in Schipol airport, majorly delayed, so I thought I’d do something constructive and write about a few projects from Sacral design a great exhibition put together at the Designmai festival in Berlin. I think it’s interesting to look at a body of work that addresses the presence / absence of belief in our everyday connected lives especially after Godtube made it to the Guardian.

The Way of the cross by Jens Wunderling is a project that enables the actor to relive parts of the last days of Christ according to the Bible.

“the traditional way of the cross which normally appears in the form of 14 images in a church or 14 stations along a pilgrims’ path is transformed into a sound installation. Its core element is a large wooden cross which is carried along a path marked by 14 prtable stations.

At each Station, the cross comes to life and from inside the wood news articles, read by a computer voice, become audible.”

The other project, which isn’t documented on the site for some reason, adressed the idea of anonymously connecting with your fellow believers. Using Bluetooth networks, the little trinkets , symbolically shaped like fish, will vibrate if they find other holders of the fish within a 15 meter radius. It’s interesting to see this project replace church going with the connectedness of urban space.

There’s something to be said for the systems we are designing now that create a sense of community in urban space now that we are culturally estranged from the use of traditional architectural communal places like a piazza, a library, a church.