Human-Crafted Design

Today I learned that mankind is incredible.

“Human-Centered Design,” a process coined by IDEO, takes into account the needs of the human at all points of the design process. This is a great approach in comparison to the oh-so-common “cubicle designer” that creates objects without considering the user. I was thinking about “Human-Centered Design” today while I was on the toilet. Lucky enough, I looked to my right only to stumble upon an epiphany.

The bathroom stall I frequent is extremely awkward due to the lack of privacy the large, 3-inch, gap between the wall and the door consists of. Every morning and late afternoon, I walk into the bathroom and stumble upon the same thing. A make-shift  gap-filler that is made out of a long piece of toilet paper tied to the top of the stall. Every morning I enter, and this piece of Human-Crafted Design has been taken down (by the janitors), but by mid afternoon, BAM, there it is again. I hypothesize that it is not replaced every afternoon by the same frequenter of this particular potty but instead by multiple “humans.” This proves that we are all born with the ability to understand our own needs as well as the needs of others, and are more than capable of improvising a design artifact to accommodate the issue at hand.

I think as designers we should consider not only designing for humans, but instead attempt to design with humans. Inspiration can come from a lot of places, and very often it is not within the walls of a design studio. Instead, perhaps, it can be found in the stall of a bathroom.



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What is a Social Entrepreneur?

I was recently asked to define “Socail Entrepreneur.” This is a term that is often miss-understood, or given a strange glance when mentioned to outsiders. The following is my definition of the practice.

A social entrepreneur is a designer of business whose intentions are not in capital gain, but instead in the advancement of the greater good of society. A social enterprise is one that thinks and operates as a non-profit organization would, but has interesting design in it’s planning so as to be able to sustain itself and actually create a profit as opposed to relying on government funding and funding from donors.

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The Spectacularization of Information

What does Benjamin Bratton mean by the “spectacularization of the information,” and how do you think it should be addressed?

It’s funny you ask – according to my spell check, “spectacularization” is not considered a word! My software, upon right-clicking, actually states “no guesses found.” But none-the-less, I will proceed to define the concept in this brief essay that will resultantly consist of a lot of misspellings.

Let me start by saying that a lot of the issues that have been bubbling and cooking in the last ten, fifteen, twenty, even fifty years around ambient computation are seemingly all coming to a head; they are mainstreaming very quickly. You could say the future happened this year for pervasive computing.

You can’t walk through a design graduate program anywhere in the first world, whether in architecture, interaction design, or media arts, without seeing at least half a dozen beautiful “data smog” projects modeling ambient urban-environmental information in one way or another. A lot of the best projects of this type are being published very quickly and put directly into museums upon final file export.

There is something great about this, but also something troubling. The danger is that in their spectacularization of information, they in fact distance people—now “audiences” for data—even further from their abilities and responsibilities to understand relationships between the multiple ecologies in which they live, and the possibilities for action that they have.

They look like interfaces, but they are not interfaces. They are diagrams or maps at best. They appear to be interfaces and in this appearance they imply there must be an expert—an expert system—somewhere making use of this information in a way that is somehow having some effect. But mostly there is none. Outside of hanging on a museum wall or being blogged about, I’m not sure what they do.

-Benjamin Bratton in Situated Technologies Pamphlet 3

The notion of “spectacularizing information,” or what I might refer to instead as “data fetichism” is a new evolution in our daily visual culture and lives. Pie charts and bar diagrams have now become extinct methods of information visualization, and have paved the way for new, more explosive and decorative methods. This is not solely the result of a reaction to new forms of computer graphics, but is also the result of the obsessive collection of data in our society. Pie charts were great, but they simply can not hold enough information and accommodate our cultural hoarding of numbers and colors. This obsession, arguably a result of the synonymous growth of technological and paranoiac advancement, has lead to an abundance of information. We are now at a point in our culture in which the embedding of sensors in every open gap or crevice is a standard. These sensors respond back with information we have never known, and data that we previously could not comprehend resulting in an abundance of new methods for representing this data. This new abundance is what has created the “spectacularization of information,” or the obsessive compulsive desire to visualize and collect as much data as technologically possible while simultaneously innovating new technologies to collect more. Obviously a question that can arise from this considerable relevant topic is: just because we can, should we?

How do we respond to these innovations? Technology is an amazing phenomenon because of it’s ability to consistently evolve and teach us, as users, new things about the world. Thanks to these innovations, we are able to predict the next “super-storm,” the popularity of a new album, and the trends of our own economy. Technology, on the other hand, has had quite a negative effect on our culture for all of the same reasons it has had a positive one – we know too much. The average joe can now log on to webMD and know more about themselves than a doctor can, they can predict when the world will be invaded by aliens, they can find out that their next-door neighbor raped a 4 year old girl. This is all great, and extremely liberating to have access to all of this information, but at the same time – should we? There will never be a line drawn on what gets collected and how much of it is visualized because we have evolved into a species that requires to know more and more. My concern is that we will grow afraid of everything that is around us, and that we will become an obsessive compulsive nation which will lead to a lack of social skills, efficiency, health, and creativity.

Maybe we don’t need to know how many diseases are on a bug on a leaf in a park in a city in a town in a country on earth?

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Augmented [poker] Reality

What if the restrictions that take place in virtual game play existed in physical game play? This weekend I held a poker tournament. This was not a normal poker tournament. The rules, based off of the popular iPad app, “Pokerist,” implemented modern censorship techniques used in virtual worlds as a restriction in conversation and augmentation in game play. The hope from this experiment was to do a sort of “people-knowing” test that would highlight the complexities of self expression in virtual worlds and raise questions on the validity of certain forms of censorship in these realms.


The players were presented with the above gifts as well as the set of rules below, on the Joker card. As the rules below state, the players were not allowed to speak during the course of the game. Doing so would result in expulsion from the table (and a bit of lost poker money).


In order to speak to the table, the participants had to send a text message to the moderator (me). I would then go through the same process in real time as the Internet Chat Relay System, selectively censoring what I please. To speak to individuals, participants were asked to exchange gifts that were placed under each player’s chair. To clarify – none of these players were familiarized with any other information before hand, and none had ever played the Pokerist app, thus the act of gift giving was an entirely new restriction on the game of poker for these players.


The experiment resulted in the above image (click image for full size please) which serves as a still shot into the game play that took place, providing a mixed reality (pokerist iPad app meets the physical world) that explores censorship as a method for creative writing restriction. From this experiment I have concluded that adding a separation from the one-on-one communication methods we use in our daily lives actually give the players a similar “confidence” in their acts of insult. This experiment works on the threshold of fantasy and reality in order to explore the potential connections between the two worlds, and author critical media around the discourse of censorship and it’s validity.

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YPORTNE: a business plan fiction

close up of YPORTNE products: 1 bowl of Pasta for a world of reversed Entropy

YPORTNE is a piece of business plan fiction, exploring design fiction, but more specifically fictional entrepreneurship as a catalyst for discussion about conglomeration, it’s flaws, and it’s potentials. The YPORTNE story is told within the framework of a business plan, using revisions and time itself as individual characters in the story. YPORTNE is inspired by Steven Hawking’s concept that, as our world reaches indefinite expansion, it will begin to contract, resulting in a world with reversed entropy. How would a business handle this? Would a perfect world be able to produce products that make our daily lives efficient despite the restrictions of nature? Download business plan (PDF)

spread from YPORTNE business plan

“YPORTNE aims to provide the world with products that can help make our world of reversed entropy more livable. This new natural creation of order from all disorder will lead to the conclusion to all world wars resulting in world peace, and the impossibility of destruction to our household possessions. This reversal of time will change the way in which our customers perceive the world, turning death into birth, and birth into death, and creating a world that is, by definition, flawless. However, with flawlessness comes an entirely new set of previously unforeseen flaws. This is where YPORTNE comes in. YPORTNE exists to lead the business world as a new type of conglomerate, one that will take leadership over 100% of the global market, their products, and their employees, making every product and service possible in response to the inevitable reversal of entropy.”

spread from YPORTNE business plan

Fictional Entrepreneurship is the use of design fiction to imagine businesses in order to discover what could be, creating things that are not impossible, but possible, derived from utopian, theoretical, and philosophical principles. Fictional entrepreneurship aims to author critical media through the creation of enterprises (imaginary, and real).

Image of a product beginning the transformation: Particles > Product

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The Utopian Designer Society

The Utopian Designer Society (UDS) is a Fictional “club” of sorts that dedicates their lives to creating art-works that rely on process, not final outcome. Every year, the UDS meets to complete a project in which each member of the society designs a perfect world. Upon completing the project, each member is to immediately destroy their creation. This manifesto serves as a representation of a concept of mine – the idea that utopia is not a place, but a destination. I believe that the act of lookign for utopia is, in it of itself, utopia. If we were to ever discover utopia, I believe that the entire world would immediately re-set, similar to a “big-bang.” Similarly, I find that my ideal future would be one that is not rid of all of it’s problems, but instead one that believes it can be. Always be in the pursuit of the donut! Forget the hole.

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Weather Lore

What would The Weather Channel be like if it Paganism was the leading theology today, and the scientific revolution never happened? Weather Lore is a brief exploration of what life may be like if these turning points in our nation’s history were to have never happened. By overlaying samples of ancient weather lore beliefs on found weather channel footage, I am exploring the position a large network such as the Weather Channel may take in a down-graded scientific and technological context.

“Weather Lore” aims to critically analyze the importance of technology, specifically weather forecasting, within our society, and imagine a world without the ability to check our laptops or television sets before we decided on wearing a sweater or a tank-top. My project uses weather forecasting as a catalyst for a larger discussion on tradition, its importance, and society’s reliance on technological advancement, in every aspect of our lives. Will a perfect future involve technology?

Medium: Stills from Weather Channel overlay.

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