John Thackara | Essays

Flow As a Design Issue [June 2002]

This free monthly newsletter starts conversations on issues to do with design for resilience — and thereby reveals opportunities for action. It also brings you news of Doors of Perception events and encounters. Back issues are now archived on Design Observer. To subscribe to future newletters by John Thackara click here.

In what sense are flows a design issue? How shall we perceive, experience, and understand flows? How should we design, in the space of flows? The first speakers to be confirmed are: Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos, UN Architects, The Netherlands; J.C. Herz, Joystick Nation, USA; Ivo Janssen, pianist, The Netherlands; Ezio Manzini, author of The Material of Invention, Italy; Aditya Dev Sood, Centre for Knowledge Societies, Bangalore; Philip Tabor, architect and writer, Italy. Doors of Perception 7 takes place 14, 15, 16 November 2002 in Amsterdam. Registration and the conference website are now open at:

Delegates to Doors 7 will be able to visit World-Information.org, an extensive exhibition and conference on state-of-the-art control and surveillance technology and what it means. The event takes place in the Oude Kerk, the earliest parish church in Amsterdam.

The rest of the new Doors website features a news and magazine section plus 423 quotes, 41 "In the bubble" texts, 272 book reviews, and 312 links to adjacent people and organisations - in domains ranging from eye candy to future watchers.

The European Parliament has voted to ban Unsolicited Bulk Email.The trouble with this 'opt-in' law is that it will not prevent sleazy elements among the world's 50 million companies mailing you illegally or via loopholes in the law. 206 billion spam messages will be sent in 2006, according to a Jupiter email marketing report of October 2001: 1,400 for each of us. And SMS spam to our mobile phones is on its way: a Wireless Marketing Association already exists in London, alongside the equally charming Email Marketing Association. We spent ten billion euros in connection costs alone going through junk emails in 2001, according to the European Commission: spammers are stealing our time and our money. Where does spam come from? Who's supporting the spammers? What are Spam Gangs, and Spam Support Services, and Spamware? The good news is that many smart and dedicated people are busy finding out, and are fighting spam on our behalf. On the principle that we should all make it our business to find out more about the subject, here are some good places to start:
The European Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email
XS4all Spam Links
Network Abuse Clearing House

The leading art critic Anna Tilroe suspects so: "Museums seem not to have the slightest idea how they should relate to the world. Most choose to bury their heads in the sand, silencing new developments to death. Others seek salvation in sensationalism; by prostrating themselves before the public; or by naively jumbling everything up together in a pandemonium of video art, video clips and TV ads. In all these cases, they lose their voice and their value."

This has to be the clunkiest conference by-line of the year:"The International and Interdisciplinary Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR)." Our friends at the International Institute of Infonomics will never get jobs as copywriters,but their next conference features heavyweight speakers: Detlef Eckert, Head of Unit for Policy Planning, European Commission, Directorate General Information Society; Bill Dutton, the recently appointed Director of the Oxford Internet Institute; Cees J. Hamelink, University of Amsterdam; and Robin Mansell, London School of Economics. Internet Research (IR) 3.0 takes place October 13-16 2002 at the University of Maastricht.

An internet sage once said that a web page that is never accessed does not really exist.Does the same logic apply to design research? If nobody 'gets it', when you present your results, has anything of value been achieved? Over recent months, John Thackara has seen years of work by talented design researchers almost wasted because, when the time came to present, they did not communicate them well or, in some cases, at all. His In the Bubble column includes stories about such near-disasters, plus some tips for design research presentations.

These two cities have announced new design initiatives so we're putting them together here. The Berkeley Institute for Design(BID) team are creating a new design institute "because the world around us is being reshaped by information technology. We are witnessing the evolution of the built environment into the interactive environment, whose design requires a new kind of designer. The challenge is to design complex behaviours for artefacts, and to integrate them into systems that provide a coherent experience for the individual."For the MA in media design at the Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam, "the computer and networks are where aesthetic, social, political, technical, spatial, linguistic, rhythmic, economic, and numerical dynamics meet and shape each other. The role of the designer is to track, sort and remix these dynamics."

Can the aesthetics of traditional societies shape the form of modern computing tools? Ranjit Makkuni's fascinating project - The Crossing: Living, Dying and Transformation in Banaras - is about alternative paradigms of information access, and the integration of gesture and other body-friendly and mythology-friendly modes of computer-based communication and learning. Countless myths, symbolic meanings, philosophical interpretations, and patterns of collective memory, have accrued around the city of Banaras, or Kashi - the oldest living city in the world. Interfaces and products in The Crossing allows people to explore the sacred knowledge of Banaras in multiple ways. June 11 to August 18, 2002. Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue, New York.

Downtown from The Crossing a new gallery, Bitforms, features 'reactive sculpture'. Some of the work is undeniably beautiful - check out pieces here from Golan Levin, Casey Reas and Martin Wattenberg - although we're not sure yet what it means. Bitforms Gallery 529 west 20th New York NY 10011

Prefab houses have done a lot to earn their reputation for being cheap and ugly, but exceptions to the rule have been designed by Le Corbusier, Buckminster Fuller, the Eameses, and Philippe Starck.A new book on pre-fab by Allison Arieff and Bryan Burkhart aims to change the way architects, builders, developers and financial institutions approach housing. Dwell, 99 Osgood Place, San Francisco, CA 94133. Meanwhile the Vitra Design Museum in Basle, Switzerland, features a show called Living in Motion - Design and Architecture for Flexible Living. It's about transportable architecture - foldable, inflatable or modular furnishings, flexible walls, screens and spaces that can be re-configured as tents, campers, temporary shelters for the homeless, containers and others.
Later this year, in Hands-on Architecture, the Deutsche Architektur Museum in Frankfurt stages exhibition about the Mercedes of door handles company, door handle company FSB. 4 October 2002 to 5 January 2003. Finally, the lightly re-named Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Smithsonian Institute in New York (gasp) has put on a show of products, architectures and digital media that "shed light on the meaning of the skin and surface."

Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco Systems, NASA and others have teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University to make software more reliable, secure and less buggy.The Sustainable Computing Consortium(SCC) brings together academic researchers, government agencies, technology companies, and businesses that use software. Funded with an initial $30 million, the group aims to create effective business practices for creating software--and tools that can test its dependability and security. "Our standards have inappropriately been lowered by our daily experience," under-stated Ken Jacobs, Oracle's vice president of product strategy, at the launch."We have to bring software engineering the kind of maturity we have in building bridges and buildings.We don't expect buildings to fall down every day." This is true - but it might be worth it if the people responsible for MSWord were inside at the time.

A new online magazine, Pervasive Computing, has been launched as a catalyst for realising the vision of pervasive (or ubiquitous) computing described by Mark Weiser nearly a decade ago. "The essence of this vision is the creation of environments saturated with computing and wireless communication, yet gracefully integrated with human users." Hum: we shall see. If Ambient Intelligence (the European word for pervasive computing ) behaves like MSWord, we'll all be in loony bins by the decade's end.

The Zero-Game Studio of The Interactive Institute in Sweden, located within the game cluster of Visby, is an advanced applied research laboratory specializing in - well, games.The central objective of the studio, says its director Emma Westecott, is "to evolve the nature of the gaming experience, show the potential of creative explorations of game form, and carry out world class research in game development that connects the art, science and business of games."

Our friends at Ecoplan in Paris have revamped their website, The Commons. Ecoplan are a driving force behind the World Car Free Day movement, and host the excellent Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice which often calls for less mobility,not more.

Two months ago we asked you who invented this suddenly fashionable (in California) new concept - and we quoted Ivan Illich using the words at Doors 5 on Speed in 1996. Bill Gillies now writes to remind us that Don Tapscott, who is indeed a wise person, discussed the real-time enterprise in his 1992 book Paradigm Shift, and further developed the idea of a real-time economy in The Digital Economy. http://www.dontapscott.com. A technically-inclined reader reminded us that computer scientists have been researching the subject, not just talking about it, for ages: http://cs-www.bu.edu/pub/ieee-rts/Home.html Tony Graham, Director of the Unicorn Theatre in London, then told us that John Cage and the Fluxus artists of talked of little else but real-time during the 1960s.We checked, and then found several references to real-time in the polemics of the Italian futurist Marinetti - and that was in 1910. Any advance (or retreat) on 1910?

Jobs | May 26