Sunday, June 1, 2008

Networks of Design

Networks of Design

3-6 September, 2008
University College Falmouth
Cornwall UK

Networks of Design "responds to recent academic interest in the fields of design history, technology and the social sciences in the ‘networks’ of interactions that inform knowledge formation and design. Studying networks foregrounds infrastructure, negotiations, processes, strategies of interconnection, and the heterogeneous relationships between people and things."

Thematic Strands

Networks of Texts: including images, documents & databases
Networks of Ideas: including theories, disciplines & concepts (among them ANT)
Networks of Technology: including mechanical & virtual technologies
Networks of Things: including material & technological artefacts
Networks of People: including collectives & individuals

If I could choose one conference to attend this year, this would be it, and if their website were better designed I'd be able to link directly to the completely amazing line-up of people and papers.

(I also hope to one day finally see an academic conference website that at least publishes abstracts, if not full papers, as well as author contact information. Apparently the irony of excluding these is lost on them.)

In any case, keynote speakers include Bruno Latour and my friends Matt Ward and Alex Wilkie will be presenting "Made in Criticalland: Designing Matters of Concern." Right on.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Social sciences and design: managing complexity and mediating expectations

For reasons of pedagogy and social responsibility, Tony Dunne is one of my favourite designers and I'm particularly taken by his ideas about designing for debate. In setting briefs for students in Design Interactions at the RCA, he says "design proposals should pose questions rather than provide answers, making complex issues tangible, and therefore debatable." To purposely intervene in an issue without trying to solve a problem is a difficult activity, but one with extraordinary possibility if done well. Plus, the archaeologist in me knows the ability of material culture to make "tangible, and therefore debatable" things that are complex, fragmented and strangely ephemeral.

For details on how to design for debate check out this talk from last year's Innovationsforum Interaktionsdesign event in Potsdam:


Now, the idea that design can play a productive role in managing complexity is hardly new, but I do see a lot of potential in designing and using objects (things) to engage publics around particular issues, or matters of concern. Pushing this connection between sociology, anthropology and design, I see this kind of work as another way to facilitate public understandings of emerging technologies, or to mediate public science and the co-production of scientific knowledge--but there's no reason to limit its application to the realm of technoscience as it is equally well-suited to intervening in many aspects of everyday life. (Proboscis' Feral Robots and Snout projects also demonstrate a lovely combination of technoscience and everyday life.)

Paola Antonelli writes in Seed Magazine about curating MoMA's Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition:

"Fundamental to this emerging dialogue between design and science is the appreciation of the role of scale in contemporary life. Today, many designers have turned on their heads several late 20th-century infatuations, for instance with speed, dematerialization, miniaturization, and a romantic and exaggerated formal expression of complexity ... The focus now is on ways to break the temporal rhythms imposed by society in order to customize and personalize them. If design is to help enable us to live to the fullest while taking advantage of all the possibilities provided by contemporary science and technology, designers need to make both people and objects perfectly elastic ... These new principles embody the great responsibility that comes with design's new power of giving form and meaning to the degrees of freedom opened by the progress of science and technology."

It's certainly nice to see designers seriously take on something other than the creation of consumer products, but I'm not sure design has that much power to change the world. Still, this general perspective ties in with some interesting theoretical and methodological issues in contemporary social and cultural studies that are worth exploring further. (In fact, Goldsmith's Centre for the Study of Invention and Social Process ran an interesting seminar series this year on design and social sciences, featuring friends and colleagues including Matt Ward, Alex Wilkie, Tobie Kerridge and Nina Wakeford. I also see that Mike Michael and Bill Gaver have been working more on the intersections of sociology and design, so that should also be interesting to follow.)

My dissertation deals quite a bit with the expectations that surround urban computing and locative media, or the ways that particular technosocial visions serve to shape relations in the present and delineate future scenarios that include some things and bracket out others. While this may appear to be of purely sociological or anthropological interest, by acknowledging the role that design plays in these processes, design can also reflexively and responsibly intervene again through the creation of objects that mediate these expectations. Such activities also bring issues of scale and temporality to the forefront, arguably better enabling a wider range of people to act in situations that affect them. But in order to get a sense of how these activities can also limit what we can do, check out this assessment of UK think tank Demos' Mobilisation document and the enactment of future users (pdf).

In any case, as soon as I've got the dissertation defended (stay tuned for news on that!) I'd like to do more work in this area. There's just so much to think, and do and make...

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

August is for writing

After a couple of weeks of weather in the mid 30s (celsius) I'm mostly used to it, but the humidity here is killing me. It makes everything more difficult to move through. Plus, I'm having one of those slightly shocking mornings when I realise that I've way more work to do than I anticipated.

I'd like to write a short essay about my single greatest challenge during the BNMI residency: understanding how "research" is differently defined and practiced by social scientists and artists. I think this has interesting implications for collaborative work, and for how we approach creative interventions and technological innovations.

In other news, I'm teaching a new 2nd year undergrad course this year: "Power & Everyday Life." I'm currently working on the syllabus and deciding whether or not to assign textbooks or compile a reader myself. And it runs full-year so I have to plan twice as many lectures and seminars and workshops and assignments as I have in the past.

I've got two journal papers due by end of August: one for a special issue on software and space and the other for a special issue on wireless technologies and mobile practices. That's 14000-18000 words currently unorganised and/or unwritten and/or lost in dissertation.

Which reminds me I've also got a dissertation to submit. Because as we all know: "A good thesis is a thesis that is done."

So all things considered, I'm really glad that I'll be home for awhile. I want to make it back to Oslo and London in the fall, and there's the 4S Meeting in Montréal in October, but that's all the travelling I've got planned and it's quite enough. I'm also hoping to have friends (you know who you are!) come visit.

But thankfully summer's not over yet. There are still flowers to smell, dinners to cook, cats to take naps with, novels to read, walks and bike rides to take, and garlic festivals to attend! You know what they say about all work and no play...

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