Friday, March 30, 2012

Step Four - Killing Your Darling

A lot has happened since the last post and things are happening really fast but let's start from where I left you.

During the conversation with my friend who reminded me of we discussed different approaches for the project and shared ideas for our respective projects. We discussed subjects such as Gamification [from which the Fun Teory derives], Affordance by Donald Norman [who wrote the book The Design of Everyday Things], costumer journeys, the definition of interaction - how would I define interaction in my project, the bad part of the good experience - you need to know "bad" to see why something is better, edutainment and so on. As I mentioned previously (in the First Hand In - Initial Project Description post) I was considering using the Fun Theory and the Flow theory for the decision making in the project to explain why I do one thing and not another. I'm still using gut feel but with the use of theory the decisions rest on a solid foundation of research and approved method.

I met with my supervisor to discuss the idea of the steam punk device that would act as a facilitator for conversation. I was pointed to theory by Edward S. Reed and his book The Necessity of experience. I was also lent a book about Danish street art and pointed in the direction of several people that it would be interesting to take contact to.

As I explained in the last post I had settled on making: 
"a steam punk inspired device that will take you on exploration in your own life by the hand of conversation. By making it fun and playful it is possible that the "game" will give you excitement, let you be fascinated about something or make you curious. You will be told what to do or in other ways guided by the conversation, the thoughts it gives or the person you have the conversation with (known to you or a stranger). A conversation is immediate and the device can be used whenever and whereever (nationally or globally). The act of conversation is old school, non electronic fun, that will possibly make a difference in your life."

I went home. Read. And then watched a lot of talks from TED - ideas worth spreading to get an overview over subjects, people, ideas, inspiration and so on. Among the talks was a one by a French artist called JR. He was talking about his projects and I would like to quote him for the following: 

"In some way art can change the world - I mean - art is not supposed to change the world/to change practical things but to change the perceptions. Art can change the way we see the world, create a narrative. Actually the fact that art cannot change things makes it the neutral place for exchanges and excursions and then enables it to change the world" - Link to JR's talk on TED 

It reminded me that art have the ability to highlight, to draw attention, be provoking and question anything that is given, normal, logic and practical. It can be be teasing, create bridges, associations and connections, create curiosity and/or motivation for people to do things. 

I was searching for inspiration for the looks of the devise when I thought about a question that I had been asked by my supervisor:

"Why steam punk?" 

At the meeting I explained that it was a fascination I had obtained from my study abroad semester and that it held interesting qualities for a narrative. But why would I use "imaginative old stuff" when I could be using real retro/old objects? Using something that is already known means that people probably will know how to use it. Further more it would possibly bring memories, a feel of familiarity and good times. And as I discussed with my supervisor (at the next meeting) - sometimes an object in it self can start a conversation. 
This lead to the creation of an origami paper toy. Back then when I was a child we called it a "Flip Flap". (Photo from

The idea was to turn it into a switch. It would be lined with copper patches and when pressed together a circuit would be created. The signal would then go to a CUI-Mega board and to a computer that would display a variety of different choices like games, questions or something similar. I got in contact with our technician and got started on a prototype. The little creation however already had various challenges ahead - such as issues on durability, its overall functionality, simple implementation, usability and the supporting narrative. It would be possible but difficult to create and probably with a tiny chance of success. 

But then things changed...

An open call for PlayForm Mobile Exhibition ticked in and I decided to apply for it with my bachelor project. The deadline was close so I had to pitch my idea very fast. If accepted to the PlayForm Exhibition I would be given a certain amount of money to create the project for. Getting funding would open the possibility of building the pod I described in the last post.
However there were certain criteria in the open call that I had to take into consideration. Criteria in regards to size, weight, usability, power consumption, noise limits and interactivity. It meant that I would have to make the pod into something portable - more like a secret lair. It could be filled up with comfy pillows and then I could let the Flip Flap control something that would make people talk and share an experience together. Maybe something like the Communitas Project. 

But I simply didn't like that I would possibly be using an idea that wasn't my own. "My idea" would just be "the same project" "but with a twist". And that did not appeal to me. I want to be original! 
As I was working on pitching the idea for PlayForm I became aware that the supporting narrative for the Flip Flap was vague. I tried to make it stronger by finding answers to the questions: "What should people share inside the pod? Should I tell them what to do or should they tell each other what to do? I would like what-ever-would-be-inside-the-pod to inspire people - how to do that. I would like them to do something - what would that be. Maybe people can construct something together. Share something. Maybe the Flip Flap could tell them to go get a cup of coffee and invite a stranger to join.
The best thing would be to research on it by using body storming, testing, rapid prototyping and then talking to a lot of people. But I would not have time. Further more the construction of the Flip Flap would simply be too complex and possibly not be finished before the deadline. I ended up being utterly frustrated and annoyed and turned to my bed to take a break. 

As I was lying there I fiddled with the idea of letting the pillows inside the lair control something - maybe react to presence. I could use conductive fabric, pressure sensors or tracking to control "something" inside the lair. Maybe they could control something in combination with the Flip Flap. Then one person could have the Flip Flap and another a pillow. Originally the Flip Flap had a display inside but that was not possible due to technical limitations but what if there was a display in the pillows. Or maybe little buttons. What if the pillows could tell if someone was sitting on them or hitting them. What if you were fighting with pillows and the pillow could count every time you would hit your opponent. 
That could be fun...
And it would be simple...
And it would fit with the values of: 
keeping it simple, having a solid narrative, having fun in your surroundings, the project being original, using known objects, the first hand experience and bringing people together. Something that is extremely interesting at the moment is the discussion about real life vc. virtual life/technology in our everyday. The inspirational part of the project could be something like images or inspirational writing on the pillows... Here are some recent examples from the real life/technology battlefield:

The Holstee Manifesto - Video

The Holstee Manifesto - Poster

Puma Social

Good customs when it comes to mobile phones:

The consequences of technology: 

And here is what I wrote to PlayForm Mobile Exhibition:

The Project - The Reason Why

Technology is enabling us to do things we did not think possible 50 years ago. It helps us keep in contact with people allover the world but it is also distancing us from the people we should be close to. We are experiencing life through second hand experiences (human to computer to human) by using social networks. But texting and chatting are only simulations in life and leaves out immediate emotional response, touch and intimacy. The real experiences - the first hand experiences - seems to have become second rate.

The Focus of the Project 
Art cannot change the world nor the fact that real experiences are being replaced by second handed. But people can. And art can inspire people. It can comment on subjects, give ideas, draw attention to subjects and matters and create thoughts.  With my bachelor project in Art & Technology I would like to give people a first hand experience and inspiration. The project deals with recognition, memories and familiarity - which means that you will immediately know how to use it. 

What I came up with will be described in the next post. But it is not a steam punk device any more ;) 

/Anne Sofie

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