Archigram get architecture’s highest acolade

What heartening news. The awesome Archigram take their place in the architecture hall of fame, if they hadn’t already, by being recognised with the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal.

Reading the following quote about the creative act of “dare” from the citation mind me to mind of a few current digital design threads around the place. Oh, And if you go over to heyotwell.com you’ll see that Andrew has spotted this nodal point too, and has summed it up eloquently in a post about “designer responsibility”.

“What Peter Cook has called “The Archigram Effect” is that of “dare” and of watching how other architects are sometimes encouraged to find it possible to innovate, to turn a programme on its side, to fly in the face of local traditions or inhibitions. The effect has been to instil a mood of optimism, so that, however it turns out, a piece of work will not actually worry too much about justification.”

» Judges’ Citation for the 2002 RIBA Royal Gold Medal Winner

The art of conversation

[Attention conservation notice: long self-induldgent post composed late at night while tired discussing things I don’t know enough about. The usual then.]

Matt Webb’s at it again. Read about his experiments with conversational interfaces.

I think he’s spot-on with his points about the failings of Activebuddy, and the avoidance of trying to build a better penknife. I have a couple of complementary ideas around this area – but keep having doubts to the mainstream application of conversational interfaces.

These are tempered however when I think of the resurgence of popularity of what amounts to the command-line interface, especially amongst younger people, due to SMS and instant messenging.

Talked about this before. Dare me to think. Dare me play with language, symbols, understanding. Actually I’ll invent my own thanks. Stop mediating my experiences – I’d rather have them myself and then share them with peers, not watch them played back to me by you.I like it in here. Let’s play. Maybe it’s a revolution in the making.

The next passage where the is from Neal Stephenson’s “In the beginning was the command-line” – it’s very hard to quote out of context, so maybe better to go and read the whole thing here. It’s incredibly rewarding and aside from the interesting dissection of operating systems and culture, the points he makes on geopolitical and cultural issues are pretty thought-provoking too, right now.

“Contemporary culture is a two-tiered system, like the Morlocks and the Eloi in H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, except that it’s been turned upside down. In The Time Machine the Eloi were an effete upper class, supported by lots of subterranean Morlocks who kept the technological wheels turning. But in our world it’s the other way round.

The Morlocks are in the minority, and they are running the show, because they understand how everything works. The much more numerous Eloi learn everything they know from being steeped from birth in electronic media directed and controlled by book-reading Morlocks. So many ignorant people could be dangerous if they got pointed in the wrong direction, and so we’ve evolved a popular culture that is (a) almost unbelievably infectious and (b) neuters every person who gets infected by it, by rendering them unwilling to make judgments and incapable of taking stands.

Morlocks, who have the energy and intelligence to comprehend details, go out and master complex subjects and produce Disney-like Sensorial Interfaces so that Eloi can get the gist without having to strain their minds or endure boredom. Those Morlocks will go to India and tediously explore a hundred ruins, then come home and built sanitary bug-free versions: highlight films, as it were. This costs a lot, because Morlocks insist on good coffee and first-class airline tickets, but that’s no problem because Eloi like to be dazzled and will gladly pay for it all.”

Take a look at http://www.de-construct.com/ (careful – It’s Flash-only and it spawns a browser window that fills your whole screen) It got a great debate on the LondonUsability email group started, with the majority of correspondents slating the interface, and a vocal few defending it for trying something different.

I was one of those who gave a qualified defence, as IMHO, the site does try the right thing at the wrong time… >ahem< wrongly… Using a command-line as a primary interface to a marketing site seems a little daft, and the experience of using it can be frustrating, as the feedback mechanism operates on a controlled list of questions you can ask based upon the first let you type. Kind of like the worst exesses of predictive text features on cell-phones (something I don’t have time to write about, but is definately closely-knit with this thread of throught)

However, a small bouquet with all the brickbats to them for TRYING it. Does anyone know of more considered applications of this sort of way-new command-line-interface anywhere? If not, then why not. Information scientists and Info-science-focussed-IAs (!) with their knowledge of creating controlled vocabularies could really contribute to a new generation of easy and fun to use command-line interfaces…

Vive le retro-revolution!

Do the iteration shuffle

Two week redesign. Three user-tests in two weeks. Two days design between each test. Conference with team at end of everyday – producer, coders, developers, library scientists – everyone.

I’m the designer. I’m going crazy and loosing sleep already. I have another week to go.

It was my idea. Shoot me if I suggest it again.

Which I may.

‘Cos it’s kind of fun.

It’s a robot eat robot world

As described on BBC Radio 4‘s normal staid and highbrow Today program as the spectacle of “living robots sucking each other’s brains”, the Magna centre in South Yorkshire is staging an experiment in emergent, evolutionary behaviour in a simple robot ‘ecosystem’.

“The autonomous robots at CRUM (Creative Robotics Unit at Magna) have been designed live together in their own environment and operate without human intervention. The robot colony is divided into two distinct species: Predator & Prey.

To maintain their energy levels ie to stay alive – the Prey ‘graze’ under brilliant white light trees which they must first seek out using their solar sensors. Their batteries charge by positioning their solar panels in exactly the correct place. The Predators, on the other hand, need to hunt down the grazing prey to maintain their energy levels. The Predators have to capture the prey, immobilise them, and then extract their battery power with an energy-sucking fang that is stuck deep into the middle of the Prey.”

The Predators must feed to survive and they are constantly scanning their surroundings for unsuspecting Prey, while the Prey, constantly looking for their next energy boost must dodge the hungry Predators. The two are locked into a perpetual cat-and-mouse game to stay alive.”

» Magna: New from Easter 2002, Living Robot shows!

“A great British tradition”

Hugh Pearman gets to try out the now-hopefully-fixed millennium bridge, and muses on the British approach to iterative design…

“We departed, happy in the knowledge that we had participated in a great British tradition. That’s the tradition that dictates that you’ve got to have a good idea, get it wrong first time out, then cook up an ingenious, Heath Robinson solution.”

» Gabion: Wobbly no more: testing Foster’s Millennium Bridge.