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Blog posts tagged as 'design'

New Nature: a brief to Goldsmiths Design students

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

The project we ran in the spring with the Goldsmiths Design BA course was not ‘live’ in the sense that there was a commercial client’s needs informing the project, but it was an approximation of the approach that we take in the studio when we are working with clients around new product generation and design consultancy.

It was also an evolution of a brief that we have run before at SVA in New York with Durrell Bishop – but with the luxury of having much more time to get into it.

Our brief was in two parts – representing techniques that we use in the early stages of projects.

The first half: “Death To Fiction” stems from our love for deconstructing technologies, particularly cheap everyday ones to find new opportunities.

It’s a direct influence from Durrell – and techniques he used while teaching Schulze, Joe Malia and others at the RCA – and also something that is very familiar to many craftspeople – having at least some knowledge of a lot of different materials and techniques that can then inform deeper investigation, or enable more confident leaps of invention later on in the process. It also owes a lot to our friend Matt Cottam‘s “What is a Switch?” brief that he’s run at RISD, Umea, CIID and Aho…

We asked the students to engage with everyday technology and manufactured, designed goods as if it were nature.

“The Anthropocene” has been proposed by ecologists, geologists and geographers to describe the epoch marked by the domination of human influence on the Earth’s systems – seams of plastic kettles and Tesco “Bags For Life” will be discovered in millions of years time by the distant ancestors of Tony Robinson’s Time Team.

There is no split between nature and technology in the anthropocene. So, we ask – what happens if you approach technology with the enthusiasm and curiosity of the amateur naturalist of old – the gentlemen and women who trotted the globe in the last few centuries with sturdy boots, travel trunks and butterfly nets – hunting, collecting, studying, dissecting, breeding and harnessing the nature around them?

The students did not disappoint.

Like latter-day Linneans, or a troop of post-digital Deptford Darwins – they headed off into New Cross and took the poundstretchers and discount DIY stores as their Galapagos.

After two weeks I returned to see what they had done and was blown-away.

Berg: New Nature brief

Chewing-gum, Alarm-clocks, key-finders, locks, etch-a-sketches, speakers, headphones, lighters, wind-up toys and more – had all been pulled-apart, scrutinised, labelled, diagrammed, tortured, tested, reconstructed…

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

Berg: New Nature brief

And – perhaps most importantly I had the feeling they had not only been understood, but the invention around communicating what they had learnt displayed a confidence in this ‘new nature’ that I felt would really stand them in good stead for the next part of the project, and also future projects.

Berg: New Nature brief

It was all great work, and lots of work – the smile didn’t leave my face for at least a week – but a few projects stood out for me.

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

Charlotte’s investigations of disposable cameras, Helen’s thought-provoking examination of pregnancy tests, Tom’s paper speakers (which he promised had worked!), Simon’s unholy pairings of pedometers and drills, Liboni and Adam’s thorough dissections of ultrasonic keyfinders and the brilliant effort to understand how quartz crystal regulate time by baking their own crystal, wiring it to a multimeter and whacking it with a hammer!

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

Hefin Jones’ deconstruction of the MagnaDoodle, and his (dramatic, hairdryer-centric) reconstruction of it’s workings was a particularly fine effort.

The second half of the brief asked the students to assess the insights and opportunities they had from their material exploration and begin to combine them, and place them in a product context – inventing new products, services, devices, rituals, experiences.

We’ve run this process with students before in a brief we call “Hopeful Monsters”, which begins with a kind of ‘exquisite corpse’ mixing and breeding of devices, affordances, capabilities, materials and contexts to spur invention.

We’d pinched that drawing technique way back in 2007 for Olinda from Matt Ward, head of the design course at Goldsmiths so it only seemed fitting that he would lead that activity in a workshop in the second phase of the brief.

Berg: New Nature brief

The students organised themselves in teams for this part of the brief, and produced some lovely varied work – what was particularly pleasing to me was that they appeared to remain nimble and experimental in this phase of the project, not seizing upon a big idea then dogmatically trying to build it, but allowing the process of making inform the way to achieve the goals they set themselves.

We closed the project with an afternoon of presentations at The Gopher Hole (thanks to Ossie and Beatrice for making that happen!) where the teams presented back their concepts. All the teams had documented their research for the project as they went online, and many opted to explain their inventions in short films.

Here’s a selection:

A special mention to the ‘Roads Mata’ team, who for me really went the extra-mile in creating something that was believably-buildable and desirable – to the extent that I think my main feedback to them was they should get on KickStarter

There were sparks of lovely invention throughout all the student groups – some teams had more trouble recognising them than others, but as Linus Pauling once said “To have a good idea you have to have a lot of ideas”, and that certainly wasn’t a problem.

I wonder what everyone would have come up with if we had a slightly longer second design phase to the project, or introduced a more constrained brief goal to design for. It might have enabled some of the teams to close in on something either through iteration or constraint.

Next time!

As it was I hope that the methods that the brief introduce stay with the group, and that the curiosity, energy and ability to think through making that they obviously all have grows in confidence and output through the coming years.

They will be a force to be reckoned with if so.

Suwappu in Designs Of The Year 2012

Suwappu at Designs Of The Year, Design Museum

Suwappu – the augmented-reality toy we invented with Dentsu London is a nominee this year in the Digital category of the Designs Of The Year show at London’s Design Museum.

Suwappu-20111006-004

It’s in great company – with other nominees in the category such as the Kinect, the Guardian’s iPad app (which we also consulted on, with Mark Porter and the brilliant internal team at the paper), High Arctic by UVA and others.

The Suwappu certainly get around a bit – here they are last year where they went to Pop!Tech with me to speak about toys, play and learning in a Robot-Readable World.

Suwappu at Pop!Tech

And last year they also lived for a while at MoMA, at the Talk To Me exhibit

We worked with Dentsu London from their original idea to bring them to life through model-making and animation, and then build working prototype software on the cutting-edge of what’s possible in computer-vision on smartphones.

It’s great to have partnerships like this that can rapidly get all the way from a strategic idea ‘What if toys were a media channel’ through to working, real things that can be taken to market.

That’s our favourite thing!

Of course – it’s a lovely bonus when they get recognised in a wider cultural context such as MoMA or the Design Museum.

As well as making our own products, we spend most of our time in the studio working closely in partnership with clients to create new things for them – making strategy real through research, design, making and communication.

Do get in touch if you and your company would like to work with us this way.

Guardian iPad app launched

Congratulations to all the team at The Guardian for launching their iPad app this week.

BERG played a small role at the very beginning of the process with initial product workshops, Nick contributing his experience on iOS prototyping and Jack consulting on the interaction design with Mark Porter and the team.

Andy Brockie who led the internal design team there has put together a great ‘behind-the-scenes’ gallery of the process, and newspaper design guru Mark Porter has an in-depth blog post about his involvement here.

From that post, a snippet about some of the ‘algorithmic-art-director‘ workflow the team invented:

Unlike the iPhone and Android apps, which are built on feeds from the website, this one actually recycles the already-formatted newspaper pages. A script analyses the InDesign files from the printed paper and uses various parameters (page number, physical area and position that a story occupies, headline size, image size etc) to assign a value to the story. The content is then automatically rebuilt according to those values in a new InDesign template for the app.

It’s not quite the “Robot Mark Porter” that Schulze and Jones imagined in the workshops, but it’s as close as we’re likely to see in my lifetime. Of course robots do not make good subs or designers, so at this stage some humans intervene to refine, improve and add character, particularly to the article pages. Then the InDesign data goes into a digital sausage machine to emerge at the other end as HTML.

Fascinating stuff, and perhaps a hint of the near-future of graphic design…

It was a pleasure working with the team there, and Mark especially. The final result looks fantastic, and more importantly perhaps reads beautifully and downloads extremely quickly. Well done to all involved!

And now, we can now finally exclusively reveal our prototype sketch for Robot Mark Porter…

The design behind How many really

How big really is now just over a year old, released just before I started work at BERG, and I still find myself totally engaged with the simplicity of the concept. It’s a solid, easy to digest punch of information that translates unknown quantities into something instantly recognisable. How many really is the second part of the experiment, and I was tasked with working on the design. This is a little write up of the design process.

We started off by following a workshop Webb & Jones had run with the BBC to kick off the initial concept of examining quantity. Myself, James Darling & Matt Brown spent a week whiteboarding, sketching and iterating, to try and nail down some initial ideas.

The first thought was the variables with which we could use to convey changes in quantity. Time, movement, zoom & scale were all identified as being potentially useful.

We started to construct sentences that could tell a story, and break down into portions to allow new stories to slot in.

Looking at splitting grids into sections to show different variables.

We thought a bit about avatars, and how to use them in visual representations of data, in this case combining them with friends’ names and stories.

Looking at combining avatars with ‘bodies’. Bird suits, vehicles, polaroids.

An early narrative concept, setting up the story early on and sending you through a process of experience. We thought about pushing bits of stories to devices in real time.

After a bit more crunching and sketching, we broke everything down into two routes:

  • Scale – influenced by Powers of 10, used to compare your networks to increasing sizes of numbers,
  • Grouping / snapping – used to take your contacts and run them through a set of statistics, applying them personally to historical events and comparing them against similar events in different times.


What became clear after the sketching was the need to show a breadcrumb trail of information, to give the user a real sense of their scale compared to the numbers we were looking at. Eames’ Powers of 10 video achieves this – a set of steps, with consistent visual comparisons between each step.

Perfect for showing the relevance of one thing in relation to the next, or a larger collective group. But the variation in the stories we’d be showing meant that we didn’t want bespoke graphics for each individual scenario. We tested out a quick mockup in illustrator using relatively sized, solid colour squares.

Despite the lack of rich textures and no visual indicators of your current position in the story, the impact was there. We added Facebook / Twitter avatars for signed in states, and worked on a colour palette that would sit well with BBC branding.

The next problem was dealing with non-signed in states. How many really was always designed to work with social networks, but we wanted it to be just as relevant with no Facebook or Twitter credentials – for classrooms, for example. We took a trip to the V&A to view the Isotype exhibition that was on at the time.

 

That’s 85 year old iconography and infographic design that looks as relevant today as it did back then. A real sense of quantity through simple pictograms. Completely fantastic. We set about designing a stack of isotype influenced icons to work with the site when users weren’t signed into their social networks.

And the icons in context…

We used a bit of Isotype inspiration for the organisation of the grouping stories – evenly spaced grids of icons or avatars.

The rest of the site was intended to stay consistent with How big really. We used photography in place of bespoke graphics for the story panels, as the graphical output varies for each user.

How many really is an entirely different beast to How big really. Rather than each dimension being a solid, one shot hit, the value is in backing up simple visuals with interesting narratives. We spent almost as much time on the written aspect of stories as we did on the aesthetics and interaction. I hope it gives a little context to numbers and figures we often take for granted. Please do have a browse around!

Ditto

We’re a design studio, so we like going to the degree shows that pop up around London this time of year — London has a number of extremely strong design courses, and seeing what the students are up to is always an inspiration. A couple of weeks ago it was the Goldsmiths Design 2011 Show, and my personal favourite there was Ditto by Matt House. This is what he says:

Copying is fundamental to development and social interaction, yet it is viewed negatively in education and creative fields. With new media, reproduction is engrained in culture allowing us to embrace this phenomenon. How do individuals respond when you reiterate, reprocess and reclaim their property? We are the generation that remix, parody and re-enact. Go henceforth and copy.

(He says it twice, naturally.)

So what did he do? At the core of his show piece was a performance: he sat opposite you wearing a bowler hat (like a Magritte), and copied exactly everything you did, while you were doing it. What you spoke, how you moved, what you drew, your expressions.

I have never felt anything so uncanny. You lose yourself in the mirror-feeling, and it gets confused in your head where free will comes from.

His work speaks directly to the nature of novelty and invention, culture and the individual, and to the creative act — particularly now, in the 21st century, where everything is copy-and-pastable, the whole world is a palette to be dabbed and painted using our new brushes. It’s a wonderful feeling, to be forced to encounter this insight so abruptly!

Anyway, Matt House recently put a new video online, where he literally puts my words and the words of Matt Jones in his own mouth.

He’s taken bits of our public talks and patched them into his own movements. It makes me think: where does character come from? Ideas? He is deliberately being a blank slate, and this accentuates the individuality of Jones, me, and him.

This is weirder for me than for you, I’m sure, but I love it, and here it is:

berg copy from Matt House on Vimeo.

Friday links: Comics, Space & Rizzle Kicks

Another Friday, another round-up of the various things that have been flying around the office mailing list this week.

Core 77 are running a feature on visualisations of The Metropolis in comics. Part 1 is all about the night:

Simon sent this around – a video from the camera mounted on each of space shuttle Endeavour’s rocket boosters:

Timo sent around the trailer for producer Amon Tobin’s live tour:

Matt Jones sent around Olafur Eliasson‘s latest exhibition ‘Your rainbow panorama‘ – a 360 degree viewing platform ‘suspended between the city and the sky’, which looks incredible.

Denise pointed us to this (via @antimega), a wonderful video of dust devils lifting plastic sheets from strawberry fields:

Finally, as the sun’s out here in London and music features fairly high on our agenda at 6pm on a beautiful Friday evening, Matt Webb sent around this video from Brighton based duo Rizzle Kicks – a superbly produced video, and quite a nice track as well. Enjoy!

Icon’s “Rethink”: turning receipts into ‘paper apps’

Icon magazine asked us to contribute to their monthly “Rethink” feature, where current and commonplace objects are re-imagined.

Icon #97 Rethink: redesigning the receipt

We continued some of the thinking from our “Media Surfaces” work with Dentsu, around how retail receipts could make the most of the information systems that modern point-of-sales machines are plugged into…

Icon #97 Rethink: redesigning the receipt

A little quote from our piece:

We’ve added semi-useful info-visualisation of the foods ordered based on “what the till knows” – sparklines, trends – and low-tech personalisation of information that might be useful to regulars. Customers can select events or news stories they are interested in by ticking a check box.

We think the humble receipt could be something like a paper “app” and be valuable in small and playful ways.

Icon #97 Rethink: redesigning the receipt

Read all about it in this month’s Icon #97, available at all good newsagents!

Sensor-Vernacular

Consider this a little bit of a call-and-response to our friends through the plasterboard, specifically James’ excellent ‘moodboard for unknown products’ on the RIG-blog (although I’m not sure I could ever get ‘frustrated with the NASA extropianism space-future’).

There are some lovely images there – I’m a sucker for the computer-vision dazzle pattern as referenced in William Gibson’s ‘Zero History’ as the ‘world’s ugliest t-shirt‘.

The splinter-camo planes are incredible. I think this is my favourite that James picked out though…

Although – to me – it’s a little bit 80′s-Elton-John-video-seen-through-the-eyes-of-a-’Cheekbone‘-stylist-too-young to-have-lived-through-certain-horrors.

I guess – like NASA imagery – it doesn’t acquire that whiff-of-nostalgia-for-a-lost-future if you don’t remember it from the first time round. For a while, anyway.

Anyway. We’ll come back to that.

The main thing, is that James’ writing galvanised me to expand upon a scrawl I made during an all-day crit with the RCA Design Interactions course back in February.

‘Sensor-Vernacular’ is a current placeholder/bucket I’ve been scrawling for a few things.

The work that Emily Hayes, Veronica Ranner and Marguerite Humeau in RCA DI Year 2 presented all had a touch of ‘sensor-vernacular’. It’s an aesthetic born of the grain of seeing/computation.

Of computer-vision, of 3d-printing; of optimised, algorithmic sensor sweeps and compression artefacts.

Of LIDAR and laser-speckle.

Of the gaze of another nature on ours.

There’s something in the kinect-hacked photography of NYC’s subways that we’ve linked to here before, that smacks of the viewpoint of that other next nature, the robot-readable world.


Photo credit: obvious_jim

The fascination we have with how bees see flowers, revealing animal link between senses and motives. That our environment is shared with things that see with motives we have intentionally or unintentionally programmed them with.

As Kevin Slavin puts it – the things we have written that we can no longer read.

Nick’s being playing this week with http://code.google.com/p/structured-light/, and made this quick (like, in a spare minute he had) sketch of me…

The technique has been used for some pretty lovely pieces, such as this music video for Broken Social Scene.

In particular, for me, there is something in the loop of 3d-scanning to 3d-printing to 3d-scanning to 3d-printing which fascinates.

Rapid Form by Flora Parrot

It’s the lossy-ness that reveals the grain of the material and process. A photocopy of a photocopy of a fax. But atoms. Like the 80′s fanzines, or old Wonder Stuff 7″ single cover art. Or Vaughn Oliver, David Carson.

It is – perhaps – at once a fascination with the raw possibility of a technology, and – a disinterest, in a way, of anything but the qualities of its output. Perhaps it happens when new technology becomes cheap and mundane enough to experiment with, and break – when it becomes semi-domesticated but still a little significantly-other.

When it becomes a working material not a technology.

We can look back to the 80s, again, for an early digital-analogue: what one might term ‘Video-Vernacular’.

Talking Heads’ cover art for their album “Remain In Light” remains a favourite. It’s video grain / raw quantel as aesthetic has a heck of a punch still.

I found this fascinating from it’s wikipedia entry:

“The cover art was conceived by Weymouth and Frantz with the help of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Walter Bender and his MIT Media Lab team.

Weymouth attended MIT regularly during the summer of 1980 and worked with Bender’s assistant, Scott Fisher, on the computer renditions of the ideas. The process was tortuous because computer power was limited in the early 1980s and the mainframe alone took up several rooms. Weymouth and Fisher shared a passion for masks and used the concept to experiment with the portraits. The faces were blotted out with blocks of red colour.

The final mass-produced version of Remain in Light boasted one of the first computer-designed record jackets in the history of music.”

Growing up in the 1980s, my life was saturated by Quantel.

Quantel were the company in the UK most associated with computer graphics and video effects. And even though their machines were absurdly expensive, even in the few years since Weymouth and Fisher harnessed a room full of computing to make an album cover, moore’s law meant that a quantel box was about the size of a fridge as I remember.

Their brand name comes from ‘Quantized Television’.

Awesome.

As a kid I wanted nothing more than to play with a Quantel machine.

Every so often there would be a ‘behind-the-scenes’ feature on how telly was made, and I wanted to be the person in the dark illuminated by screens changing what people saw. Quantizing television and changing it before it arrived in people homes. Photocopying the photocopy.

Alongside that, one started to see BBC Model B graphics overlaid on video and TV. This was a machine we had in school, and even some of my posher friends had at home! It was a video-vernacular emerging from the balance point between new/novel/cheap/breakable/technology/fashion.

Kinects and Makerbots are there now. Sensor-vernacular is in the hands of fashion and technology now.

In some of the other examples James cites, one might even see ‘Sensor-Deco’ arriving…

Lo-Rez Shoe by United Nude

James certainly has an eye for it. I’m going to enjoy following his exploration of it. I hope he writes more about it, the deeper structure of it. He’ll probably do better than I am.

Maybe my response to it is in some ways as nostalgic as my response to NASA imagery.

Maybe it’s the hauntology of moments in the 80s when the domestication of video, computing and business machinery made things new, cheap and bright to me.

But for now, let me finish with this.

There’s both a nowness and nextness to Sensor-Vernacular.

I think my attraction to it – what ever it is – is that these signals are hints that the hangover of 10 years of ‘war-on-terror’ funding into defense and surveillance technology (where after all the advances in computer vision and relative-cheapness of devices like the Kinect came from) might get turned into an exuberant party.

Dancing in front of the eye of a retired-surveillance machine, scanning and printing and mixing and changing. Fashion from fear. Quantizing and surprising. Imperfections and mutations amplifying through it.

Beyonce’s bright-green chromakey socks might be the first, positive step into the real aesthetic of the early 21st century, out of the shadows of how it begun.

Let’s hope so.

John’s Phone

johnsphone-1.jpg

I mentioned the John’s Phone on the studio mailing list last week. We ended up getting one to look at in the studio; it arrived this week, and I spent some time exploring it.

The John’s Phone is a simple mobile phone made by Dutch design firm John Doe. The phone came about as an attempt to take the ultra-simplicity of their From The Supermarket to a mobile phone. To quote their blogpost on the subject:

We’ve always wondered why most affordable phone looks so dull and boring. All cell phones are great high-tech product we like to use every day. Why not spend more time in designing. It’s the things we don’t see that are the most essential to creating a great design. A great design is a present. Why not make yourself happy with a present everyday in your pocket.

johnsphone-2.jpg

It’s a really immediate product: the entire front face is devoted to the keypad and physical interface. The top of the phone has an LCD display, positioned much like an old-fashioned pager; the side of the phone, which you can just see in the pictures above, has a rocker switch for volume, a SIM card slot, a switch for the ringer volume, and a power switch.

The phone makes its intention clear: the immediacy of use and that interface is more important to it than any screen or display-based interaction. It’s all about phone calls and phone numbers.

The John’s Phone is almost exactly the same size as an iPhone 4 – but its keypad takes up as much space as the touch screen does on the iPhone. The touchscreen has become a focal point of the design of smartphones, the hardware being designed around that bright rectangle. The John’s Phone is equally designed around its interface (or, at least, the “input” element of that interface) – it just happens to be a physical keypad.

johnsphone-3.jpg

There are delightful, surprising touches. There’s a biro hidden down the side, where you might expect a stylus on an old touchscreen phone. You can use it to write in the addressbook hidden in the back of the phone.

But that paper addressbook sums up some of the problems with a phone this simple. Is that simplicity for the purpose of simplification, or to support an aesthetic of simplicity?

The website for the phone claims that it’s “the world’s simplest cellphone“. That’s true – if you agree with their idea of what a cellphone is.

For instance, if you believe text messaging to be a fundamental feature of a cellphone, then the John’s Phone doesn’t even live up to your expectations of what a mobile phone is. But if all you want your mobile phone to do nothing but send and receive calls – which is true of many phone owners – then it really is a simple, satisfying expression of that goal. Satisfaction with the device comes down to what your expectations – or requirements of it – are when you first pick it up.

That aesthetic of simplicity is at times complicated by the technology the phone runs on. Whilst John Doe promote the paper addressbook as the best way to store your phone numbers, reading the manual reveals that there is a ten-number memory built into the phone.

How do you put numbers into that memory? By typing **1*01234567890# (to put “01234 567890″ into slot “1″).

Doesn’t that, as an interface, feel totally at odds with the aesthetic the physical device is cultivating?

(Of course, “reading the manual” seems like an activity also at odds with a device already so explicit in its physical form; had I not done so, I’d have been perfectly happy not knowing about that feature.)

button-closeup.jpg

At first, the character-design on the “hello” and “goodbye” buttons seems at odds with the restrained, minimal physical exterior.

As you use the phone, though, you’ll get to see a lot more of that character. He’s called Fony, and he appears throughout the phone’s operation. He’ll wave hello and goodbye to you when you turn the phone on and off.

fony-asleep.jpg

When the phone’s asleep, you might see him tucked up in bed.

fony-electrocuted.jpg

When you charge the phone, he gets electrocuted from time to time (which seems curel to a character I’d imagine I was supposed to be sympathetic towards).

I can appreciate the care and attention in the realisation of Fony. He’s charming and never intrusive on the phone’s screen, often explaining what the phone’s currently doing through his appearance (rather than through text, which there’s very little space for). John Doe say (in their explanation of his design) that “Fony makes John’s a friendly phone“. I think he’s part of that friendliness – but not nearly as much as the much more immediate friendliness of the clear, simply designed hardware.

It’s important to factor the price of the product into any discussion of it. The John’s Phone costs €70 – about £50. That puts it in line with fairly cheap pay-as-you-go phones. (And: the John’s Phone is sold unlocked from any carrier, so that’s £50 without any carrier-subsidy).

Price changes the the relationship to a product. At £150, this would be a premium product designed for a wealthy few as a provocative statement – but likely a “second phone”.

At the current price, it’s a much more relevant purchase for a wider audience. If that price were even lower, new – and larger – audiences become available.

johnsphone-4.jpg

It’s only fair, in the end, to criticise the John’s Phone in light of that initial quotation from John Doe, which serves as a kind of design brief:

A great design is a present. Why not make yourself happy with a present everyday in your pocket.

A device that makes you happy; a device that is a delight every time you pick it up. By those criteria, the John’s Phone is clearly a success. Everyone who’s seen ours wants to pick it up and take a look; everyone who picks it up smiles, and plays with it, explores its secrets; everyone wants to answer the question “is it really a phone”?

Yes, it is. And it’s not just an ultra-simple phone; it’s an affordable ultra-simple phone, that you can buy right now. All credit to John Doe for taking their vision of what a mobile phone could be, and making it real, at the right price.

Media Surfaces: The Journey

Following iPad light painting, we’ve made two films of alternative futures for media. These continue our collaboration with Dentsu London and Timo Arnall. We look at the near future, a universe next door in which media travels freely onto surfaces in everyday life. A world of media that speaks more often, and more quietly.

“The Journey” is the second ‘video sketch’ in the pair with ‘Incidental Media’ – this time looking at the panoply of screens and media surfaces in a train station, and the opportunities that could come from looking at them slightly differently.

The Journey

The other film can be seen here.

There’s no real new technology at play in any of these ideas, just different connections and flows of information being made in the background – quietly, gradually changing how screens, bits of print ephemera such as train tickets, and objects in the world can inter-relate to make someone’s journey that bit less stressful, that bit more delightful.

There’s a lot in there – so I wanted to unpack a few of the moments in the film in this (rather long!) blog post and examine them a bit.

The film can be divided into two halves – our time in the station, and our time on the train.

The train journey itself is of course the thing at the centre of it all – and we’re examining how what we know about the journey – and the train itself, in some cases – can pervade the media surfaces involved in ways that are at once a little less ‘utilitarian’ and a little more, well, ‘useful’…

The first group of interventions could be characterised as the station wrapping around you, helping you get to your seat, on your train, for your journey, with the least stress.

Let’s start at the ticket machine.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: ticket vending

The screen supposes two things – that it knows where it is (it doesn’t move around much) and it knows where your train (in this case, “Arthur” – trains are people too!) is leaving from, and when. So why not do a simple bit of reassurance here? It’s twenty minutes to Arthur’s departure and it’s a 3 minute walk.

You’ve got 17 minutes to play with! Get a sandwich? A coffee? Or go and find your seat…

Before we do that I just want to point our something about the ticket machine itself…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: ticket machines that calm down the queue

There’s the screen we’ve been interacting with to get our ticket, but there’s also a LED scroller above that.

As you can see in the concept sketch below, we’ve supposed that the scroller could give reassurance to the people in the queue behind you – maybe displaying the average turn-around-time of serving tickets to travellers, so if there is a queue, you’ll know how quickly it might move.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Screens for the queue & you

I think when I was drawing this I had in mind the awesome-but-as-yet-unrealised scheme by Lisa Strausfeld and Pentagram NYC for a videowall in Penn Station.

I think I first saw this presented by Lisa Strausfeld at a conference some 8 or so years ago now, but it’s still wonderful. The large video wall has loads of different layers of information kind of interpolated and displayed all at once, at different ‘resolutions’.

So that if you’re approaching the station from down the street you read some overall information about the running of the station that day, and the time, and as you get closer you see news and stock prices, then closer again and you actually see the train times when you get close enough to crane your neck up at them.

Really clever, and a huge influence on us. The notion of several ‘reads’ of the information being presented on the same surface – if handled well, as in the Pentagram proposal – can be very powerful.

We’ve taken a much less high-tech approach, using the multitude of existing screens in the station, but staging the information they present intelligently in a similar way as you approach the platform and your train itself.

For instance, little messages on concourse screens about how busy the station is overall that morning…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Stations that talk to you

As we get to our platform we get the message that the train is going to pretty full but the station systems know where the bulk of reserved seats are, and can give us a little timely advice about where to hunt for a free place to sit…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Platforms that talk to you

We’ve hinted in this image at a little bit of nice speculative quiet new technology that could be placed by the station workers: magnetically-backed e-ink signs – again displaying reassuring information about where the busy portions of the train will be.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Expectation-Setting

These little inventions have hopefully got you to your train (Arthur, remember?) on time, and in a more of a relaxed state of mind. So, as we board the train we might have time to note that this is Arthur’s favourite route…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Arthur's favourite journey

If not, it doesn’t matter. It’s not a functional improvement to your journey but these touches lead to an appreciation of the service’s scale or reach and, if you are a regular traveller, inject a bit of recognition and delight into the otherwise routine.

Once onboard, we continue to explore opportunities for these incidental, different reads of information to both inform and delight.

In the first film ‘Incidental Media’, we introduce the concept of “Print can be quick” – looking at all the printed ephemera around us and how it can be treated as a media surface for more personalised, contextualised or rapidly-updated information.

After all, most of the printed matter associated with a train journey is truly print-on-demand: your tickets, your receipts and, as in this example, the printed reservation stub placed on the seat by the train attendants.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Can I sit here?

Here we wanted to look to the reassurances and reads that one takes of the reservation stubs as you move down the carriage – either with a reserved seat to find, or perhaps without a reservation on a busy train, opportunistically looking for an unoccupied seat that might be reserved for a latter portion of the train’s total journey.

In one of our concept sketches below we’re exploring that first case – could your ticket be the missing jigsaw piece to the reservation stub?

A bit Willy Wonka magic ticket!

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Reservations sketch

Privacy would be preserved by just using your first initial – printed large with salutations, attracting your eye easily to zero in on your seat as perhaps you struggle down the aisle with your baggage.

The final version used in the film takes this on board, but balances it a little more with the second use-case, that of the opportunistic search for a free seat by someone without a reservation. To answer that case, the portion of the journey that the seat is occupied for is clearly legible, whereas the initials of the traveller are only visible on scrutiny.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Reservations sketch

If it is indeed your reserved seat, on closer scrutiny you’ll also notice the weather forecast for your destination…

Again – worth noting brilliant past work in this area that’s an influence on this idea. Our friend Brian Suda’s redesign of an airline boarding pass that uses typographical hierarchy of the printed object to reassure and delight.

Here you can see that the time of your flight is clearly visible even if your boarding pass is on the floor.

Lovely stuff.

Finally, some pure whimsy!

We wanted again to examine the idea that print can be nimble and quick and delightful – creating new forms of post-digital ephemera for collecting or talking about.

First of all, using the ticket to introduce you again to Arthur, your train, and perhaps extending that to recognising the last time you travelled together.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Train factoids

But let’s go further.

We know that we’re going to be passing certain places at certain times, to some accuracy, during our journey.

The burgeoning amount of geo-located data about our environment means we could look to provide snippets from Wikipedia perhaps, with timings based on how they intersect with your predicted journey time – alerting you to interesting sights just as they pass by your window.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: paper-based AR

These tiny, personalised, collectable paper-spimes provide a kind of papernet augmented-reality – giving a routine journey an extra layer of wonder and interest.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: paper-based AR

As with “Incidental Media”, we’ve tried in “The Journey” to illustrate ‘polite media’ tightly bound to and complimenting one’s context. Media that lives and thrives usefully in the interstices and intervals of everyday routine and technology – indeed ‘making future magic’ instead of the attention arms race that the near-future of urban screens and media could potentially devolve into.

The Journey is brought to you by Dentsu London and BERG. Beeker has written about the films here.

Thank you to Beeker Northam (Dentsu London), and Timo Arnall, Campbell Orme, Matt Brown, and Jack Schulze!

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