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Blog posts tagged as 'products'

BERG x Ericsson: ‘Joyful net work’ and Murmurations

Ericsson’s UX Lab have recently been doing some important and brave work around the Internet of Things. We have been particularly intrigued by their concept of using social networks as a model to understand complex networks.

This is smart, it builds on our innate familiarity with social networks, but also acts as a provocation for us to think differently about the internet of things. It also happens to cross over with many of the BERG’s interests including Little Printer, BERGCloud and very close to the ‘Products are people too‘ concept that has been guiding much of our work.

14 March, 17.46

So over the last few months BERG and Ericsson have been working in partnership to explore some practical and poetic approaches to networks and smart products. We have been developing concepts around the rituals and rhythms of life with connected things, and creating some visualisations based on network behaviours. Phase 1 of this project is complete, and although we can’t talk about the entire project, we thought it would be good to show some of our first sketches.

You can also read more about the collaboration from Ericsson’s perspective here.

We kicked off in a product invention workshop where some really strong themes emerged.

There are huge areas of network-ness, from the infrastructure to the protocols, from the packets to the little blinking lights on our routers, that are largely ‘dark matter‘: immaterial and invisible things that are often misunderstood, mythologised or ignored.

There are a few long-term efforts to uncover the physical infrastructure of our networks. Ericsson itself has long understood the need to both explain the technology of networks and their effects.

But – we mostly feel like the network is out of our control – tools to be able to satisfyingly grasp and optimise our own networks and connected products aren’t yet available to us. Working towards products, services and visualisations that make these things more legible and tangible is good!

Joyful (net)work: Zen Garden Router

2012-03-18 | 20-31-44

Inspired by Matt Jones’ idea of a ‘Zen garden router’ this video sketch focuses on the ongoing maintenance and ‘tuning’ of a domestic ecosystem of connected products, and the networks that connect them. We have modified a standard router with a screen on its top surface, to make network activity at various scales visible and actionable at the point at which it reaches the house. We’ve used a version of the beautiful ‘Toner’ maps by our friends at Stamen in the design.

This looks to metaphors of ‘joyful work’ that we engage with already domestically – either mechanisms or rituals that we find pleasurable or playful even if they are ‘work’. Here there are feedback mechanisms that produce more affect and pleasure – for instance the feedback involved in tuning a musical instrument, sound system or a radio. Gardening also seems to be a rich area for examination – where there is frequent work, but the sensual and systemic rewards are tangible.

Network Murmurations

Different network activity has vastly different qualities. This is an experiment using projection mapping to visualise network activity in the spaces that the network actually inhabits.

When loading a web page a bunch of packets travel over WiFi in a dense flock. While playing internet video packets move in a dense stream that persists as long as the video is playing. On the other end of the scale a Bluetooth mouse or a Zigbee light switch where tiny, discrete amounts of data flow infrequently. Then there are ‘collisions’ in the network flow or ‘turbulence’ created by competing devices such as microwaves or cordless phones.

We use as inspiration a ‘murmuration‘ of starlings, a beautiful natural phenomenon. In this visualisation the ‘murmuration’ flits between devices revealing the relationships and the patterns of network traffic in the studio. Although this sketch isn’t based on actual data on network traffic, it could be, and it seems that there is great scope in bringing more network activity to our attention, giving us a sense of its flows and patterns over time.

The network is part of our everyday lives. Seeing the network is the first step to understanding the network, acting on it, and gaining an everyday literacy in it. So what should it look like? These video sketches are part of our ongoing effort to find out – a glimpse of our first phase of research, there is more work in the pipeline that we hope to be able to talk about soon.

Thanks to the Ericsson’s UX Lab for being great R&D partners.

SVK at the printers, next stop: warehouse

Last week we visited Pureprint who are brilliantly managing the complex and specialist task of printing SVK with invisible inks. We documented the comic going through the handsome machines of the printing world:

As well as being an investigation into printing and optical experimentation, SVK is a test of our own supply chain management and product launch processes. Today has been named “SVK Friday”, we are all working together on getting SVK a bit nearer to launch.

We have a whiteboard full of todos; press releases, web, blog, print and email copy, a photoshoot, a website, email templates, postal and shipping tests, managing warehousing and fulfillment, advertiser relations and customer support infrastructure.

SVK Friday

Setting up direct sales like this is new for us, and there are still final tests to do and kinks to iron out to make sure that an order on a website results in an comic in your hand. More news as it progresses!

Welcome Andy Huntington

So I’m terribly pleased to announce that this week we are formally joined by Andy Huntington. We’ve known Andy for many years and began working with him as “Schulze & Webb” on the Olinda project. More recently, for the last year or so, he’s been designing and prototyping products with us.

Andy Huntington

Andy’s joining us as a Hardware Producer & Designer. He’ll be shifting between the design landscape and the dark pit of component sourcing, board design and manufacture. No doubt he’ll rub shoulders with Nick too in embedded software stuff. Initially his focus will be split between physical prototyping on Chaco and internal new product development on Barringer.

I first knew Andy during our studies at college. I sat at the next desk. Much of Andy’s work is around design of sound installations and musical instruments. I can only hope that his indentured servitude here can pay back a small percentage of the psychic debt he incurred at college during the development of his tappers project.

tap tap tap……..



*solder solder*

tap tap tap…

I still wake up screaming from the taps.

He’s a great force and I can’t wait for him to punch products into the world.

Suwappu: Toys in media

Dentsu London are developing an original product called Suwappu. Suwappu are woodland creatures that swap pants, toys that come to life in augmented reality. BERG have been brought in as consultant inventors, and we’ve made this film. Have a look!

Suwappu is a range of toys, animal characters that live in little digital worlds. The physical toys are canvasses upon which we can paint worlds, through a phone (or tablet) lens we can see into the narratives, games and media in which they live.

Dentsu London says:

We think Suwappu represents a new kind of media platform, and all sorts of social, content and commercial possibilities.

Each character lives in different environments: Badger lives in a harsh and troubled world, Deer lives in a forest utopia, Fox in an urban garden, Tuna in a paddling pool of nicely rendered water. The worlds also contain other things, such as animated facial expression, dialogue pulled from traditional media and Twitter, and animated sidekick characters.

Suwappu Deer and Tuna

The first part of this film imagines and explores the Suwappu world. Here we are using film to explore how animation and behaviours can draw out character and narrative in physical toy settings. The second part is an explanation of how Suwappu products might work, from using animal patterns as markers for augmented reality, to testing out actual Augmented Reality (AR) worlds on a mobile phone.

Suwappu real-time AR tests

We wanted to picture a toy world that was part-physical, part-digital and that acts as a platform for media. We imagine toys developing as connected products, pulling from and leaking into familiar media like Twitter and Youtube. Toys already have a long and tenuous relationship with media, as film or television tie-ins and merchandise. It hasn’t been an easy relationship. AR seems like a very apt way of giving cheap, small, non-interactive plastic objects an identity and set of behaviours in new and existing media worlds.

Schulze says:

We see the media and animation content around the toys as almost episodic, like comic books. Their changing characters, behaviours and motivations played out across different media.

Toys are often related as merchandise to their screen based counterparts. Although as products toys have fantastic charm and an awesome legacy. They feel muted in comparison to their animated mirror selves on the big screens. As we worked with Dentsu on the product and brand space around the toys we speculated on animated narratives to accompany the thinking and characters developed.

In the film, one of the characters makes a reference to dreams. I love the idea that the toys in their physical form, dream their animated televised adventures in video. When they awake, into their plastic prisons, they half remember the super rendered full motion freedoms and adventures from the world of TV.

Each Suwappu character can be split into two parts, each half can be swapped with any other resulting in a new hybrid character. Each character has its own personality (governed by its top half) and ‘environment’ (dictated by its bottom half). This allows the creatures to visit each other’s worlds, and opens up for experimentation with the permutations of characters personality and the worlds that they inhabit. It’s possible to set up games and narratives based on the ways that the characters and their pants are manipulated.

Suwappu 3D registration

This is not primarily a technology demo, it’s a video exploration of how toys and media might converge through computer vision and augmented video. We’ve used video both as a communication tool and as a material exploration of toys, animation, augmented reality and 3D worlds. We had to invent ways of turning inanimate models into believable living worlds through facial animation, environmental effects, sound design and written dialogue. There are other interesting findings in the exploration, such as the way in which the physical toys ‘cut out’ or ‘occlude’ their digital environments. This is done by masking out an invisible virtual version of the toy in 3D, which makes for a much more believable and satisfying experience, and something we haven’t seen much of in previous AR implementations.

We all remember making up stories with our toys when we were young, or our favourite childhood TV cartoon series where our toys seemed to have impossible, brilliant lives of their own. Now that we have the technology to have toys soak in media, what tales will they tell?


I’m very enamoured of Cadbury’s “Spots Vs Stripes” chocolate bars.

Spots Vs Stripes

There’s all sorts of adverts around London, covering every bus-stop, little loops on urban-screens, giving them a big push – and a fancy website full of the latest social-casual-game-flash-o-rama. But, the purity and brilliance of the chocolate bar itself is what really stands out.

You unwrap it (carefully… this was a bit of a point-of-failure with my first one…) and you discover three chunks of chocolate: one with spots on it, one with stripes on – and one labelled ‘winner’.

Spots Vs Stripes

Inside the wrapper is a challenge – to share with a friend – each of you adopting the side of spots or stripes. The winner, naturally gets the ‘winner’ chunk at the end.


To see play and small-group-sharing designed into something everyday like this is inspirational. Amusingly, Cadburys appear to have been awarded the role of ‘Official Treat Provider’ by the London 2010 Olympics.

Spots Vs Stripes

The treat of Spots Vs Stripes is the play it affords, as much as the chocolate…

Hopeful Monsters and the Trough Of Disillusionment

Last Saturday, Matt Webb and I hosted a short session at O’Reilly FooCamp 2010, in Sebastopol, California.

The title was “Mining the Trough of Disillusionment”, referring to the place in the Gartner “Hype Cycle” that we find inspiration in – where technologies languish that have become recently mundane, cheap and widely-available but are no longer seen as exciting ‘bullet-points’ on the side of products.

For instance, RFID was down in the trough when Jack and Timo did their ‘Nearness’ and ‘Immaterials’ work, and many of the components of Availabot are trough-dwellers, enabling them to be cheap and widely-available for both experimentation and production.

While not presenting the Gartner reports as ‘science’ – they do offer an interesting perspective of the socio-technical ‘weather’ that surrounds us and condenses into the products and services we use.

In the session we examined the last five years of the hype cycle reports they have published – it’s kind of fascinating – there are some very strange decisions as to what is included, excluded and how buzzwords morph over time.

After that we brainstormed with the group which technologies they thought had fallen, perhaps irrevocably, into the trough. It was fun to get so many ‘alpha geeks’ thinking about gamma things…

Having done so – we had a discussion about how they might breed or be re-contextualised in order to create interesting new products.

These “hopeful monsters” often sound ridiculous on first hearing, but when you pick at them they illustrate ways in which a forgotten or unfashionable technology can serve a need or create desire.

Or they can expose a previously unexploited affordance or feature of the technology – that was not brought to the fore by the original manufacturers or hype that surrounded it. By creating a chimera, you can indulge in some material exploration.

The list we generated is below, if you’d like to join in…

It was a really fun session, that threw up some promising avenues – and some new products ideas for us… Thanks to all who attended and participated!

"Trough of disillusionment" session, Foo10

  • Mobsploitation (a.k.a. Crowdsourcing…)
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • <512mb thumbdrives
  • Blinking Lights (esp. in shoes)
  • Singing Chips (esp. in greetings cards)
  • Desktop Web Apps
  • Cameras
  • Accelerometers
  • MS Office Apps
  • Physical Keyboards
  • Mice
  • Cords & Wires in general
  • Non-Smart Phones
  • RSS
  • Semantic Web
  • Offline…
  • Compact Discs
  • Landline Phones
  • Command Lines & Text UIs
  • Privacy
  • P2P
  • MUDs & MOOs
  • Robot Webcams & Sousveillance
  • Google Wave
  • Adobe Flash
  • Kiosks
  • Municipal Wifi
  • QR Codes
  • Pager/Cellphone Vibrator motors
  • Temporary Autonomous Zones

My Weekend On Series 40

Taking my iPhone to a music festival didn’t really seem like the most sensible idea: a capacitive touchscreen in a potentially muddy field? A battery that only just lasts a day? It’s not exactly suited to the wilderness, not to mention a little fragile.

At the same time: it’s exactly the place that connectivity comes in handy, for finding lost friends. And so I decided to take a spare. Unfortunately, all my old phones are locked to the wrong network, so it was time to make a trip to a phone shop and buy a cheap pay-as-you-go phone.


I ended up with the Nokia 2760, otherwise known as the “second cheapest Nokia in the shop”, which seemed like a safe bet. The clamshell form factor was another layer of protection from the elements (when I wasn’t sure what the weather would be like), and perhaps more importantly, meant that the keypad buttons were much larger than on equivalent candybar-shaped devices. That was a distinct advantage given the potential for drunk, clumsy texting when in the vicinity of the Somerset Cider bus.

I spent a weekend away from pervasive connectivity, from GPS, from Twitteriffic, from thousands of apps, and instead just took the state-of-the-art when it comes to really cheap, no-frills phones.

And, you know, it was absolutely fine. The phone does everything you’d expect it to: it makes calls, it sends texts, it has a simple camera, and it has an alarm clock. I still have the muscle memory for Nokia’s T9 implementation. I could have installed Opera Mini on it (far better than the built-in browser) primarily for using Twitter, but really, I wouldn’t mess with it in any other way. And, of course, the hardware is great, as you’d expect from a firm with the industrial design experience of Nokia: it’s pleasant to hold in the hand, and it certainly doesn’t feel cheap. Also, it’s small; smartphones really have made me forget how tiny phones had got at one point, and the 2760 is a reminder that much smaller packages still exist.

Using the Nokia over the long weekend also reminded me that my usage of mobile phones has actually changed very little in the past decade. When it comes to the functionality of a phone, there’s almost no difference between my iPhone and the Nokia: they call, they make texts, they have a few useful features. Most of the change in my use comes down to the “smart” half of the smartphone: all the features that have converged from other devices. I no longer carry an iPod around with me; I no longer need an A to Z on me; I write my to-do lists into Things rather than my notebook; I can get on the web without complicated Bluetooth rituals.


But none of it is necessarily unique – or vital – to my experience of the phone-as-mobile-communicator. I enjoyed the practicality and immediacy of the Nokia. I often find the wall of phones you see in shops tiring now – a series of black slabs, all identical in appearance thanks to the ubiquitous touchscreen, all to be distinguished by the software they run (which is usually never demonstrated in shops). The 2760 wears its phone-ness on its sleeve.

The magic of mobile phones is, first and foremost, that they are wireless communicators. You can talk, to other people, anywhere in the world, without wires. Everything else – all the magic in your convergence device – is something else. What phones have become, but perhaps they’ve transcended that description of phone-ness. All that is nice to have, for sure, and I’m very glad to have my iPhone back, but I was not once inconvenienced.

And here’s the big takeaway for me: it was fascinating to realise just how good the low-end products on the mass market today are. It’s easy to talk excitedly about innovation, and the new possibilities brought by every-more-advanced technology. It’s not much harder to be excited by products for emerging and developing markets, finding ingenious ways to bring costs right down and, potentially, change lives that have never experienced new kinds of technology. But it’s a lot harder to be excited the territory that lies between those two: refinement for the mass market of the developed world; products so unashamedly not new, but instead a continuation of past innovation, often doing nothing more than bringing that technology to a wider market at a lower price.

That’s as much part of design as new and shiny, and we don’t talk about it enough. The design community talks a lot about products like the iPod, but never the $20 MP3 players you find in the Sears catalogues. We talk about Chumbys and Pleos, but never the hundreds of items on shelves in Toys R Us right now, that are selling, and played with, and distill (sometimes well, sometimes terribly) so many of the ideas we, as a design community, talk about, into a $30 toy.

We shouldn’t stop talking about the iPods and the Roombas, either, but it’s worth remembering there is a world outside the five or six ubiquitous examples that do the rounds in conference season. And that’s what I learned when I bought a cheap mobile phone to take to a field.

Infinite Zoom into Milk

In 1977 Charles and Ray Eames made a documentary film called Powers of Ten. The second half of the film includes a slow zoom into a man’s hand, right the way through cells and molecules all the way down to an atomic structure. It’s extraordinarily engaging, beginning at a familiar human context, and visualising something desperately distant and unknowable.

About a year ago James King brought a book to my attention from a series called Analysis of the Massproduct Design by Japanese product designer Taku Sato.

Analysis of the Massproduct Design is just like the Eames Powers of Ten video but for everyday products.

Taku Sato book covers

Each book takes a manufactured product and breaks down the content, graphics, construction and packaging page by page. The books are like infinite zooms into fabrication and history.

There are four, in turn looking at Xylitol Lime Mint chewing gum, a Fujifilm disposable camera, ‘Licca the fashion dress up doll by Takara Co.’ and a litre of milk from the Meiji Dairies Corporation. The blurb reads:

…we will take up and focus on one mass-produced product seen everywhere in our daily life without special attention paid to and from the point of view of design we try to take a closer look at and analytically examine it to find what kinds of ideas, efforts, ingenuities have been put in to it.

Each book begins with an overview and in some cases a history. This is from the book on the Fujifilm disposable camera.

Fujifilm overview

As the book progresses, spreads examine the product in greater and greater detail. Near the end of the Fujifilm book, there’s a photographic one micrometer cross section of the film stock.

fujifilm book film detail

One of my favourites spreads is from the book examining Xylitol chewing gum and is titled ‘The Feeling on the Teeth When Chewed.’ It’s about the material qualities of tablets versus sticks of gum. A quote:

The firmness of a chewing gum changes gradually with the passing of the time of its being chewed. In order to make this change of the chewing feeling close to an ideal one, the elements that should make up of the chewing gum are controlled… The figure shows the strength of the chewing exerted in the mouth measured with an analyzing device called RheoMeter. These graphs will tell you how different the chewing feelings are between ordinary sheet-type chewing gum and sugar coated chewing gum.

An ideal chewing feeling! A RheoMeter! They’ve got a machine for testing the chewiness of gum.

chewiness spread

I think Taku Sato actually designed the packaging for the milk carton he analyses. One of the spreads shows what each of the indents on the base of the cartons are for. Ambiguity in the translation adds to the mystery in some cases:

…(image a) is a little dented. This is for securing the stability of the carton when placed straight on a table… The number (image c) is the filling machine’s column index. The embossed information works for cause of the trouble to be clarified when it happens.

Taku Sato milk base

The books feel like imaginary manuals. They offer the seductive illusion that with this book the object can be completely known, all secrets unravelled. They somehow imply that if all was lost, objects like these could be reconstructed with this knowledge alone.

A while back I came across the term ‘Spime’ in Bruce Sterling‘s book Shaping Things. He uses the word to characterise smart objects which talk about their histories, how they were made, where they were sourced, where they’ve been, etc. Spimes might be a cars which announce their locations, or a packaged beef steak which shows the cow it comes from and where that cow was raised.

Sato’s books are raw Spime porn. Objects showing off their shiny interiors, construction and their ancestors. The celebrity biographies of mass produced objects.

Olinda interface drawings

Last week, Tristan Ferne who leads the R&D team in BBC Audio & Music Interactive gave a talk at Radio at the Edge (written up in Radio Today). As a part of his talk he discussed progress on Olinda.

Most of the design and conceptual work for the radio is finished now. We are dealing with the remaining technicalities of bringing the radio into the world. To aid Tristan’s presentation we drew up some slides outlining how we expect the core functionality to work when the radio manifests.

Social module

Social Module sequence

This animated sequence shows how the social module is expected to work. The radio begins tuned to BBC Radio 2. A light corresponding to Matt’s radio lights up on the social module. When the lit button is pressed, the top screen reveals Matt is listening to Radio 6 Music, which is selected and the radio retunes to that station.


Tuning drawing

This detail shows how the list management will work. The radio has a dual rotary dial for tuning between the different DAB stations. The outer dial cycles through the full list of all the stations the radio has successfully scanned for. The inner dial filters the list down and cycles through the top five most listened to stations. We’ll write more on why we’ve made these choices when the radio is finished.

BBC Olinda digital radio: Social hardware

If you asked me to pick the two cards Schulze & Webb play with abandon in the consultancy game, they’d be Product and Experience.

Products should be what toy companies call shelf-demonstrable–even sitting in a box in shop, a product can explain itself to the customer (or at least tell its simplest story in a matter of seconds). Organisationally, understanding a website or component of a mobile service as a product means being able to describe it in a single sentence, means understanding the audience, means focusing on a single thing well, means having ‘this is what we are here for’ as a mantra for the team, and it means being able to (formally or informally) have metrics and goals. Here’s it in a nutshell: You know it’s a product when it has an ethos–when the customers and the team know pretty much what the product would do in any given circumstance.

Then we play Experience. The experiential approach is how you and the product live together and interact. The atoms are cognitive (psychology and perception), while the day-to-day is it’s own world: Play, sociality, cultural resonance, and more. Each of these is an area of experience to be individual understood in terms of how it can be used. The third level of experience we deal with is context: How the product is approached (physically and mentally), and how it fits in with other products, people and expectations.

We can go a long way, and make decent recommendations of directions and concrete features, with those two cards.

And now we’re making a radio. As much as we’ve said these approaches apply across media, services and (physical, consumer) product, working with physical products has recently been only in our own research. Hey, until now. Until now!

Olinda is a digital radio prototype for the BBC

For the past month we’ve been working on the feasibility of Olinda, a DAB digital radio prototype for the BBC (for non-UK readers: DAB is the local digital radio standard, getting traction globally). That stage is almost over now – oh and yes, it’s feasible – so now’s a good time to talk.

Olinda puts three ideas into practice:

  • Radios can look better than the regular ‘kitchen radio’ devices. Radios can have novel interfaces that make the whole life-cycle of listening easier. At short runs, wood is more economic as plastic, so we’re using a strong bamboo ply. And forget preset buttons: Olinda monitors your listening habits so switching between two stations is the simplest possible action, with no configuration step.
  • This can be radio for the Facebook generation. Built-in wifi connects to the internet and uses a social ‘now listening’ site the BBC already have built. Now a small number of your friends are represented on the device: A light comes on, your friend is listening; press a button and you tune in to listen to the same programme.
  • If an API works to make websites adaptive, participative with the developer community, and have more appropriate interfaces, a hardware API should work just as well. Modular hardware is achievable, so the friends functionality will be its own component operating through a documented, open, hardware API running over serial.

What Olinda isn’t is a far-future concept piece or a smoke-and-mirrors prototype. There’s no hidden Mac Mini–it’s a standalone, fully operational, social, digital radio.

The intention with Olinda is that it’s maximum 9 months out: It’s built around the same embedded DAB and wifi modules the manufacturers use. And it has to be immediately understandable and appealing for the mass market. Shelf-demonstrable is the way to go.

The BBC should be able to take it to industry partners, and for those partners to see it as free, ready-made R&D for the next product cycle. We have a communications strategy ready around this activity.

So that’s why I’m proud to say that, when complete, the BBC will put the IPR of Olinda under an attribution license–the equivalent of a BSD or Creative Commons Attribution. If a manufacturer or some person wants to make use of the ideas and design of the device, they’re free to do so without even checking with the BBC, so long as they put the BBC attribution and copyright for the IPR that’s been used on the bottom.

More later

The feasibility wraps up in the next week or so, as I budget the build phase. When build starts, we have an intern starting–perhaps two (yes, we got a great response to putting those feelers out). But that deserves its own post.

And there’s a lot to talk about. For start, what Olinda will look like (we have drawings and form experiments). And how the Product and Experience approaches will manifest.

That’s for later. In the meantime, here’s the Frontier Silicon Venice 5 module operating on a breadboard:

Venice 5

The DAB module is wrapped in insulation tape, and you can make out the stereo socket (it’s blurry because it’s standing out of the focal plane) and the antenna. Running from the breadboard is a serial cable to my computer which is assembling and decoding messages for tuning, playing, receiving radio text messages and so on.

Thanks to Tristan Ferne, Amy Taylor and John Ousby and their teams at BBC Audio & Music Interactive for making this happen.

(Incidentally: Olinda, the name of this project, is aspirational, chosen from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (Olinda is transcribed at the bottom of that page). We could do worse that help along the radio industry in the same way Calvino’s city grows.)

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