There are a series of posts on Forum One investigating perception strategy. The first discusses general framing such as font choice, word selection and ordering of questions. The second relates it to a design context, as well as making a note of Stephen Anderson’s Mental Notes.
Walker notes that this is peculiarly suited to New York:
I love this idea for any city, but maybe for New York in particular. I lived there for a number of years, and coming from the hinterlands it often struck me as a dream-like environment. Now I’m back just often to feel I know the place perfectly well, and to rediscover, constantly, that my memory is off. For one thing, significant parts of my New York have in fact vanished. But other details I simply recall incorrectly, or get confused about. I’m often certain there’s a subway station on this corner, or that thus-and-so restaurant is just a block away, but no: As in a dream, things aren’t where they should be. Meanwhile other city elements — multistory buildings, improbable chain retailers — seem to have emerged out of nowhere. (I’m constantly trying to remember: What used to be on this site?) So it’s still dream-like to me, but in a way that suggests instability.
Aside from the obvious Inception corollary, he also points out other sites with similar themes such as I Dream of Barack (and other related politician dreams). The creativity of this reminds me of the early data-mining project We Feel Fine, though here the specific focus on dreams makes it particularly engaging: after all, the subconscious is a scary place to be, right?
While it’s hard not to smirk at the so-called ‘slow economy’ in 2003 (you thought that was bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet!) but Virginia Postrel’s article on aesthetics becoming a business commodity is still as useful now as it was then. And it doesn’t mention Apple.
Aesthetics is not just for places. Computers, for example, all used to look pretty much the same. Now they, too, can be special.
The drive for aesthetic value is creating opportunity throughout the supply chain. “Aesthetics, or styling, has become an accepted unique selling point,” says the head of GE Plastics’ global aesthetic program.
At the GE Plastics design center in Selkirk, N.Y., customers’ industrial designers and marketers brainstorm and develop new products, ranging from razors to car bumpers, inspired by new materials. Since 1995, GE Plastics has introduced 20 new visual effects. Its heavy-duty engineered thermoplastics can now emulate metal, stone, marble, or mother-of-pearl; they can diffuse light or change colors depending on the viewer’s perspective; they can be embedded with tiny, sparkling glass fragments.
This is a short dip into what she discusses more in-depth in her book ‘The Substance of Style‘.
“Aesthetics he always understood in its original sense as sensation. To study aesthetics is not to study beauty per se, it is to study the materialities of our organs of perception. … This is one reason the lectures are on optical and not visual media. Optics is a subfield of physics; vision is a subfield of physiology, psychology, and culture. The visible spectrum is a narrow band of a huge optical spectrum. … The sense organs are signal processors, relatively weak ones at that, and Kittler rigorously refuses to take human quantities as the measure of all things; for him we cannot know our bodies and senses until they have been externalized in media.”
— John Durham Peters, “Introduction” in Friedrick Kittler’s Optical Media
They’re not about transparency at all, they’re about mystification. They forward the romance of the maker, titillate the viewer with the beautiful magic of making, evoke awe at evidence of passion, craft and skill. The appeal is emotional, and it has to be. The rational story of a thing made really means very little on its own. It matters only secondarily to the emotional story of a thing desired — and then a thing possessed.
The reason I find the genre uninteresting is that it tends to take as its subject matter objects for which I am not in the market. The only way I would care about a hand-made knife is if it happened to be my hand-made knife, and I was therefore in a position to tell you the story of its making, which on some level I would not merely be relating but in effect appropriating. Because what I would really be telling you is the story of me owning an object with an interesting creation story.
This sounds familiar. In fact, back in 1977, Alexander Cockburn (riffing of Barthes to some extent) remarked on similar things in relation to recipe books and gastro-porn:
The book is not actually a guide to practical cooking but rather a costly exercise ($20.00) in gastro-porn. Now it cannot escape attention that there are curious parallels between manuals on sexual techniques and manuals on the preparation of food; the same studious emphasis on leisurely technique, the same apostrophes to the ultimate, heavenly delights. True gastro-porn heightens the excitement and also the sense of the unattainable by proffering colored photographs of various completed recipes. The gastro-pornhound can, in the Bocuse book for example, moisten his lips over a color plate of fresh water crayfish au gratin à la Fernand Point. True, you cannot get fresh crayfish in the United States or indeed black truffles, three tablespoons of which, cut into julienne, are recommended by Bocuse. No matter. The delights offered in sexual pornography are equally unattainable.
I’m also reminded of a complaint by one of the judges at this year’s Interaction Design Awards: for all of the slick competition entry videos, the ones that actually did the job best were ‘two designers mumbling through their iPhone app and their design choices’. When it comes to designers talking to designers, we definitely want transparency, not mystification.
One of the key papers that I keep coming back to is Jeffery Bardzell’s work on interaction criticism (most recently discussed in his 2011 Interacting With Computers paper Interaction Criticism: An Introduction to the Practice). His background is in the humanities, so (along with doing a lot of cool studies on the edges of HCI), he is able to bring a understanding of people to HCI that’s also relevant more generally in design (he notes that notes that current work on HCI aesthetics pits it against mainstream aesthetics, when in fact they might feed each other.)
There’s a new luxury phone in town. No, I’m not talking a competitor to the iPhone, it’s a competitor to the Vertu. Headed up by Yves Behar no less, the difficult-to-type Æ+Y phone (presumably referencing the nationality of the Dutch founders) is low-tech, high engineering (much to the horror of Huffington Post).
Sex sells. (Yep, bring on the spambots.) And, well, you can’t avoid researching touch without at least giving a nod towards what touch is really all about (in a Freudian/biological kinda sense)….
This does look concerningly modal, but it’s a way to try and deal with a tremendous amount of data, namely future forecasts. This demo has been set up by Sciblogs along with The Institute for the Future for the upcoming Magnetic South event where people can contribute to the future of earthquake-shattered Christchurch. (While as a Kiwi the continuing earthquakes sadden me, it’s wonderful to see the creative responses coming from it).