Design

IX.4 July 2002
Page: 19
Digital Citation

Multiples x 1


Authors:


 

Impromptu Multiples

 

On May 3 and 4 a memorable event took place in Cambridge,
  Mass. About 70 people gathered, practically impromptu, at the
  IBM/Lotus Rogers Auditorium to participate in the
  reincarnated Ninth Annual Living Surfaces miniconference
  Multiples of 1.

 

A longer version of this program was scheduled for a full
  three-day conference in Chicago, with 24
  speakers—including keynote speaker Karim
  Rashid—as part of the American Center for Design’s
  (ACD) ongoing programs. Two weeks earlier, the ACD sadly
  announced the closing of the 75-year-old organization. The
  timing couldn’t have been worse for Living Surfaces, once a
  popular forum exploring the intersection of technology and
  design.

 

Just two weeks before the opening, though, the speakers
  were practically ready. The program was set and anticipation
  was building. The news came as a shock.

 

Exactly a week before the conference was to open, and
  while dropping off my children at school, I ran into some
  friends, with whom I shared the event’s predicament. Later,
  one of them called me to brainstorm. The following day we
  went to see some other colleagues in Cambridge to discuss the
  situation.

 

That evening, three friends called me separately and each
  suggested almost simultaneously that we have a local version
  of Living Surfaces, to "preserve the spirit of Multiples
  of 1." As if to confirm this symbolic sentiment, one of
  them heroically moved the conference information from the now
  defunct ACD Web site to his own personal site.

 

Whirlwind

 

What is remarkable was the ensuing whirlwind of
  collaboration, support, and generosity. Frantic calls and
  e-mails between the Boston AIGA Experience Design group,
  Harvard Design School’s Center for Design Informatics, Viant,
  IBM/Lotus, friends, family, and colleagues.

 

Sudden flurry of activity and positive energy reincarnated
  the program and event with nine local speakers, as our new ad
  hoc organizing team put together the event in less than five
  days. Suddenly, rather than a swan song for the nine-year-old
  tradition, Living Surfaces was alive and kicking in
  Boston.

 

Multiple Themes

 

The conference explored the benefits and pitfalls of
  collaboration, playfully named "Multiples of 1"
  around three themes and six subthemes (see sidebar on page
  21). Recognizing that most designers abhor design by
  committee, I asked the attendees to think about what it means
  to work "within the network" and the implications
  for productive collaboration.

 

As individuals working together within a network, we need
  to explore at least three challenges: identity, or coping
  with an inevitable identity crisis; production, or learning
  to improve on product design and profit margins; and
  reception, or managing information in multiple channels and
  modalities.

 

Each speaker addressed one of two aspects of the themes
  (Identity: Double and Defy; Production: Reap and Reproduce;
  and Reception: Interpret and Invade).

 

Double, Defy + Double

 

Stating that "identity is the first casualty of
  consensus," I introduced Anthony Fabian’s short film
  Jean, an enigmatic "psychological thriller, a
  puzzle that must be resolved by the viewer." With this
  film, the young London-based filmmaker asks, where
  "everything seems to be concerned with a duality, an
  inversion, some kind of binary structure. Isn’t that just
  very human?"

 

Next came Judith Donath, who directs the Sociable Media
  research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  (MIT), where research focuses on intuitive visualizations of
  social interactions. Judith spoke about making sense,
  personifying, and making visible others in the network,
  stating that "categorization, like collaboration, can be
  both a bad and a good thing."

 

David Tames, a local filmmaker, media technologist, and
  experience designer, showed his two-minute gem
  Destiny, "a classic New York love story of two
  people who are perfect for each other, yet never meet."
  In the discussion afterward Tames wistfully commented,
  "as designers of virtual communities we are challenged
  with creating a sense of place in virtual space."

 

Reap + Reproduce

 

Kate Ehrlich opened a session claiming that the
  exponential value of Reed’s Law lies in the social dimension,
  not just the numerical, observing that the value of having
  more people connected only comes when there is interaction
  between people. But "there is no guarantee that everyone
  will talk to each other all the time even though they
  could."

 

Addressing the proposition that products today require
  sensual differentiation, Hiroshi Ishii, founder and director
  of MIT’s Tangible Media Group, presented "Tangible Bits:
  Towards Seamless Interface between People, Bits, and
  Atoms." Ishii showed a compelling range of remarkable
  objects, including the Curlybot (see Figure
  1
), arguing that today’s products can provide
  "physical embodiment, tactile feedback, and physical
  persistence of a digital connection."

 

Karen Donoghue, founder and principal of HumanLogic and
  author of the recently released Built for Use, shared
  with us her delight that executives have recently begun to
  understand the value of experience architects and the role of
  user-centered design as something on equal footing with
  marketing and product development.

 

Interpret + Invade

 

David Rose, founder and president of Ambient Devices,
  opened the third session by sharing his father’s age-old
  fascination with barometric devices, which led Rose to the
  invention of new networked products—some displaying
  weather in innovative ways. Rose observed that
  "information artifacts have the potential to make
  information easy to know and also may invade surface in our
  lives."

 

Figure. Themes and subthemes of Multiples of
  1.

 

Glorianna Davenport, a founding member of the MIT Media
  Lab, and Aisling Kelliher, a PhD candidate in the Interactive
  Cinema Group, presented "Observation and Constructed
  Realities: Growing a Shared Story Perspective." They
  proposed that "all cultures are built on a foundation of
  shared stories." While discussing the challenges of
  co-creation, Davenport argued that "the structure of
  expression is shaped by culture and technology," and
  Kelliher observed that trends such as video blogs are making
  us more public and less shameless about our most intimate
  thoughts.

 

For Invade, Jeffrey Huang discussed his adventures working
  in the zone where the virtual and real meet, where the
  Internet has played a pivotal role in changing our
  experiences. (See "Internet and Architecture,"
  which exemplifies two of the themes in this issue.)

 

Enthusiasm

 

Despite its rather rapid reincarnation, the miniconference
  drew about 70 people. It provided a much-needed forum for
  discussing pertinent social realities and applying them to
  design and technology. Attendees spent much of their time
  debating, sharing, and enthusing about the provocative ideas
  proposed by the presenters and panels. Many people,
  especially those who hung around long after the ventilation
  systems shut down, are already expressing their support for
  holding a similar event in the future. Who knows, perhaps
  we’ll do it again next year? Stay tuned.

 

Author

 

Hani Asfour

  Viant

  89 South St

  Boston MA 02111

 

Design Column Editors

 

Kate Ehrlich

  Viant

  89 South St, 2nd Floor

  Boston MA 02111

  (617) 531-3700

  kehrlich@viant.com

 

Austin Henderson

  Rivendel Consulting & Design, Inc.

  P.O. Box 334

  8115 La Honda Rd. (for courier services)

  La Honda, CA 94020 USA

  +1-650-747-9201

  fax: +1-650-747-0467

  henderson@rivcons.com

  www.rivcons.com

 

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