Ash at CIID

Ashwin Rajan's blog while at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.

Archive for the ‘Paradigms and Frameworks’ Category

Ezio Manzini on The New Design – 危机: crisis (危: danger; “机: chance)

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Leading design thinker Ezio Manzini spoke at CIID on the theme ‘Next Design – Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability’ in March this year. This is a snippet of his talk from the Service Design Synposium held in Copenhagen in 2008.

I found his views so interesting that I’ve added a full description of his March 2009 talk from the CIID website here, for the benefit of readers as well as my own future reference.

Ezio Manzini is a designer, engineer, architect, educator and author – he is one of the most important thinkers in design today.

危机: crisis (危: danger; “机: chance). In Chinese, as in several other languages, the term “crisis” has the double meaning of “danger and “chance”. Without doubt, we can say that today we are facing a worldwide, deep crisis. Many people are talking about the risks. But it is necessary and timely to talk about opportunities too. This is particularly true if we want to discuss the present and future role of design: by its nature, design has to consider opportunities and to become their active promoter.

However, facing the present crisis, to play this role, design itself must change. A change that could happen if the design community takes at least the following three steps:

  • To adopt an adequate economic model (the emerging idea of social economy)
  • To extend the definition of design (the central role of service design)
  • To generate a new design knowledge (visions, proposals and collaborative tools).

Manzini will present these three steps and introduce the concepts of next economy and next design.

The next economy is, mainly, a service-oriented, social economy. It “produces” services, knowledge and networks of meaningful interactions. Its main fields of action are the ecological re-orientation of the production system, the social production of a new generation of services, and regional eco-development programs: a cluster of activities that, considered as a whole, will be “the industry of the XXI century”.

The next design is, mainly, a design for social innovations and sustainability. It adopts design skills and capabilities to co-create original solutions for the next economy. That is, for the emerging social economy. It refers to socio-technical systems innovation, adopts a service-oriented approach and conceives and develops visions and solutions endowed with sustainable qualities.

Today design for social innovations is still at its early phase. But, around us, in all the region of the contemporary globalised world, the possibility to develop it moves in parallel with the growing wave of social innovation. To link design with social innovation is the main opportunity that we have to give design the role it could play in the transition towards the next economy. That is, also, towards a viable sustainable society.


Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 16, 2009 at 12:13 pm

The Oil We Eat

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Connected to my last post on strategies to redesign the global food production, distribution and consumption system, here’s a link to a landmark essay which goes right to the heart of the matter in lucid and frightening fashion.

The Oil We Eat by Richard Manning. PDF available. Author of the critically acclaimed Against the Grain.

Nice video of Manning discussing his fundamental premise below.

The story from the Indian perspective:

Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 16, 2009 at 8:45 am

The Vertical Farm Project

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The first phase of working on the CIID-Intel industry project was exploring current and future thinking around sustainable energy management technologies and concepts.

One of the prototypal projects I have been very kicked about for some years now is the Vertical Farm Project. I guess my background interest in this comes from understanding something of the terrible consequences of large-scale commercial farming in India: where the benefits of farming necessarily need to first impact the immediate local, small-scale community, and sustain the local economy. The unconditional dependence of the small farmer on the big market (read urban consumption) distributors is a sad tale which I won’t go into here. The central need is ‘local’. Extending the idea that small farmers need to grow food in order to first feed and sustain their immediate community, a ‘urban farm’ located within close proximity or within a city neighborhood to supply the needs of the surrounding community sounds like a good one. And apparently the concept is being discussed quite actively; here is a description and some videos + links on this fascinating concept.

A description from “An entirely new approach to indoor farming must be invented, employing cutting edge technologies. The Vertical Farm must be efficient (cheap to construct and safe to operate). Vertical farms, many stories high, will be situated in the heart of the world’s urban centers. If successfully implemented, they offer the promise of urban renewal, sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply (year-round crop production), and the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming.”

Inside the vertical farm. From

Inside the vertical farm. From

This page with rich designs for the concept continues to grow!

A New York times article discussing viability and costs associated with the project.

A slideshow of pictures from the New York times.

Sources for this blog post:

Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 16, 2009 at 8:05 am

Smart and Clever – from Kicker Studio

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A new presentation from Dan Saffer’s Kicker Studio. I always like Dan’s practical, no-nonsense advice on just getting the job done right. And this one is one of the best. I look forward to applying these ideas and rules-of-thumb in my practical work.

Written by Ashwin Rajan

May 2, 2009 at 11:26 am

Intel Project – The Social Collective as an Agent of Behavioral Change

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Working with Intel design researcher Jay Mellican (of Intel’s Digital Home group) and CIID faculty Vinay Venkatraman, we explored the role of the social collective in achieving sustainable behaviors towards the effective management of energy.  Here I will discuss the context of the project, and go into our process and solutions in future posts.

The focus for Intel was the emerging “smart grid” – the efforts promoted by many governments and utilities to modernize, from the bottom up, the integrated system by which energy is collected and distributed. In bringing the energy grids of yesteryear into the digital age, many of the technologies and standards that will make up the “smart grid” are yet to be defined, and the implications they will have on our patterns of daily living, as well as their likely success, will depend heavily on how they are defined.

The idea of the “smart grid” is a really interesting one. Here is a really nice video that covers the main aspects of the concept well:

Its hard to discuss the “smart grid” for long today without running into GE’s efforts in that space. As part of GE’s ecomagination campaign, the company has created this engaging augmented reality web object, as shown in the video below:

The virtual energy farm object can be accessed here. Nice website too.

Amongst others, Google has been working to bring visibility of energy use to the notice of individual customers; check out its Power Meter tool.

Given all that, in trying to envision scenarios and solutions for behavioral change for this emerging and very complex space, my team (classmate Mimi and I) quickly realized that the problem of visibility of use was a crucial one. According to the Environment Change Institute, for instance, “most householders have only a vague idea of how much energy they are using for different purposes, hence the importance of making energy flows more visible and controllable. There is a lot of interest in the potential for better feedback using improved (‘smart’) metering, more informative billing and direct display panels.”

As my team’s interest was in understanding the behaviors and influence of the “social collective” – networks of people connected by social technologies – in the context of smart energy use, we decided to explore the space beyond the use of individual control devices such as energy meters, and look at “visibility of use” aspects for groups of people. More on our contextual research and enquiry in posts to come.

“Welcome to the cloud, Ash! How are you feeling?”

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I have been using Ubiquity from Mozilla Labs for just a few days now, and I must say I was an avowed fan from the word go! But to run Ubiquity I had to choose to dedicate my web browsing to the Firefox browser – so Layer one: download and install firefox. Layer two: install the Ubiquity extension for Firefox. I have been enjoying the nifty little tool’s limited by truly special capabilities for some days post Layer two. The ‘highlight and translate text’ is only one of those spot-on features for me (the country I live in and a lot of the web content I get interested in doesn’t use English.) And so this morning I tried something new on Ubiquity – I pressed Control A, highlighting all the content on a (German?) web page I had reached, and hit ‘translate’. This is the message I got:

Ubiquity error

A transparent message? Hmmm… Nope I don’t get it, but I am looking up ‘Growl!’ now (whatever that is), to see what it can do. That’s Layer 3.

Message on the Growl! home page:

What does Growl do?
Growl lets Mac OS X applications unintrusively tell you when things happen. To see it in action, see our About page.

“Unintrusively tell you when things happen” – I have no idea what that means, but I like they way they put it!

Point being, the more we want to get done, the deeper we go into the ‘cloud’: utilities that work with other, nested, utilities, which in turn connect and bounce off and run on the rails of still more utilities. With Level three and beyond, the deep interconnectedness of these nebulous objects offers pointed implications for both the potentials and the perils of being in the cloud.

The term ‘Cloud computing’, by the way, it turns out, refers to the IT infrastructural aspect of the thing.

Oh, and it doesn’t look like Growl! has anything to do with fixing the initial bug on Ubiquity. Of course, the problem was I chose all content on a page (text, images, links everything) at one go and hit ‘translate’ – a nonsense action for the types of content selected. But the response was – get Growl! I wonder why it said that? Go figure …

Written by Ashwin Rajan

December 22, 2008 at 11:46 am

Fabio Sergio at CIID

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Fabio Sergio of Frog Design gave an open lecture at CIID a couple of weeks back. He was emphatic right at the start about not categorizing ‘interaction design’ as anything different (whether in terms of approaches, skills, or industry) from ‘design’ as such; and from this hub discussed the state of design and the three major waves in design thinking since the industrial revolution.

Form follows function: the craftsman’s aesthetic; phrase coined by Louis Sullivan. The guts and internal workings of an artifact are reflected in its exterior ‘form’. Pure, direct, beautiful, functional, sometimes confusing at the level of ‘interface’, not very communicative of ‘state’, poor at providing feedback. A ‘how it works’, not ‘how it looks’ approach. Yet, I don’t see how some things can be better designed.

Spindle from 1815 in my friend's home in Copenhagen - alive, well and even today runs as smooth as silk.

Form follows emotion: The second major shift – a reaction to the cold wave of industrial mass production, a response to the inhuman montony characteristic of the machine – whose influences included developments in areas like branding, measurement and logic of interacting with aritfacts, GUI, usability, cognitive pyschology, ‘satisfaction’ of user. Don Norman’s ‘Emotional Design’ with Philippe Starck’s juicer on its cover was one of the landmark books that presented the approach to a wide audience. Powerful, and for me, always relevant.

Philippe Stark's Juicer - take me home?
Form follows meaning: The New Shift. The Now. The Tomorrow. The Connected. The Conversation. As digital and physical realms collide and specific, tangible artifacts merge, mingle and morph into others, boundaries are dimmed and designing for people’s values and value systems becomes paramount. Curious and bizarre terms such as mirror-worlds, everyware, spime, mass-customization come into currency. I am presently dipping into ‘Shaping Things’ by Bruce Sterling every now and then, and quickly coming back up for air!
An Internet of Things is here.

An Internet of Things is here.

Written by Ashwin Rajan

December 21, 2008 at 10:57 pm