Hermeneutics for designers

When we think about our work as designers, we imagine ourselves with our head in the future, surrounded by the latest ideas of how things will be: the natural user interface, the internet of things and self-driving cars. Within this world it’s easy to forget that the future is made entirely out of ideas of the past. Everything we can imagine comes from this past and has been shaped by thousands of years of human history.

The past is often dismissed as a collection of outdated technologies and failed business models, and we derive great pleasure from reminiscing on how far we’ve come. This, however, only works if we look at the past through the limited frame of technological and economical progress. If we expand our vision and add society and culture to our view, we can see the past as a rich landscape of ideas, artefacts and people, all telling us something about what it means to be human.

How might we expand our vision and learn from the past?

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The futures of the city

Why do we talk about the future in the singular, when at any moment in time there are many futures to consider?

At the London IxDA April meet-up I shared some of the things I learned at the Urban IxD summer school, a workshop event where we worked on various scenarios for the futures of cities.

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LSE Urban Data conference – a review

Adam Greenfield’s LSE symposium ‘Urban data: From fetish object to social object’ set out, as Greenfield stated, to “problematise the area of urban data”. An aim it easily achieved: by the end of the day I collected way more questions than answers. It turns out that once you stop fetishising data and start using it as a social object what you get are keen insights into the functioning of local politics.

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Design of Understanding 2014 – a reflection

The Design of Understanding asks the question: what does it mean to understand in a postmodern world? An age where Truth with capital T has disappeared, where the big narrative has been replaced by 140 character sound bites and where systems of flow have become the preferred model of understanding the world. And where, on top of all this, digital technology provides us with a maelstrom of data but where tools to play and make sense of these facts are still few and far apart.

To think in systems means to focus on the relations between nodes. We can see the world, for example, as a flow of people (or smaller groups like consumers, managers and service providers), of money, of information, of goods, of regulations and even of ideas. To choose which relations to map depends on our question and our expected outcome.

Even when we use adaptive systems as a model of understanding the world, we still haven’t escaped our age-old problem: no matter how hard we try, no matter how much data we collect, we must choose what to put in and what to leave out. By picking one flow over another, we remain haunted by the feeling that there could be another, a better way of understanding the world just beyond our reach.

To design for understanding is then to create tools and methods that can be used to work one’s way through the world, to enable people to find that brief moment of clarity they need to take the next step.

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Designing with time in mind

This is the write-up of my talk at EuroIA 2013 containing my thoughts for the presentation and a set of additional resources that I found useful whilst writing my talk.

When you observe the recent rise of mobile companies such as Instagram, Twitter and SnapChat you can spot similarities in the way they approach time. They show you what happened in the last day, hour or second and they are brilliant at it. At conferences, restaurants, buses, at work or even in bed, everywhere you find people endlessly refreshing their feed, forever sucked into the eternal now.

We’re great at building tools for the now; we can design products that hypnotise people in forever refreshing. But surely we shouldn’t stop there. Digital technology can be so much more than just entertainment. What about the future? Can we build tools for the long now?

he question I want to explore is: what are the ingredients that allow us to successfully design for the organisation of time? Not just in second and nanoseconds but also years and decades. I will discuss this in three parts: first, time artefacts, such as clocks and calendars, we’ve developed to make sense of time. Second, the way our mind works with time, and finally, how we can apply this knowledge in the digital world.

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The continuous workshop of future-making: reflections on the UrbanIxD summer school

If the 19th century was about discovery and the 20th century about obtaining efficiency, then the 21st century will be about living with complexity. Complex adaptive systems are so big and interconnected that any interference with their workings causes unpredictable side effects. In these systems (such as a city) you are almost always dealing with situations that need to be addressed and rarely with problems that can be solved. For this new way of working, where every step forwards needs to be taken with caution, we need a new method, a new language and a new approach. The finding and fine-tuning of this way of working with the world was what for me the UrbanIxD summer school was about.

The challenges for cities are many: what should they expect from technology? How will the networked computer change the way we work? What are the possibilities and limits of urban change in a democratic framework? What about our environment and resources, and how can we include other people, legislations and resources in this challenge?

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