Archive for the 'interaction design' Category


Design won’t save the world single-handedly

Below is a letter that was published in May 7th’s Design Week in reaction to an Audi Foundation award article.

I was filled with both hope and despair after reading about the Audi Foundation’s latest venture into the trendy waters of social innovation and service design (Design Week, 16.4.09).

I was hopeful that this project might mean more designers channelling their fresh thinking into challenges that matter, rather than just looking to fill their portfolio with work for sexy brands. Any initiative that encourages responsible design can only be a good thing, can’t it?

However, the article frustrated me intensely as it delivered yet another message about how designers alone can change the world, further inflating old school egos and potentially misleading naive and malleable young minds too.

I share the belief that design can help make a difference, but when you take on challenges like new financial models, healthcare and crime, you have to respect the fact that a large number of talented individuals are already working on these challenges every day. Not only do they work in these industries, they specialise in fields other than design and already make change in these areas happen. They are scientists, civil servants, sociologists, doctors, engineers and politicians to name but a few. Positioning design as the solution to social problems is very dangerous and potentially extends our remit a little too far.

Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe designers will have the initiative to get out into the world and observe these people, engage with the experts, understand the barriers, see what’s been tried before, see why alternatives failed and listen intently. Collaboration has to be key. Then they can visualise the problem, and translate ideas into illustrations, potential products or services. That’s where design really helps – after all a problem well understood is one almost solved. Let’s hope that this is what happens.


Possible design debate/writing themes

I have been getting involved with a few people eager to have some design debates this year. Part of the reason for this is that we feel that designers don’t debate enough. Partly due to their introspective nature I reckon, but what do you think?

Anyway, here are a few themes that I’d like to write/debate about in the coming months (NB, they are supposed to be contentious). Intention is to write here, on my company blog, in some press, but also do some debates at London Design Festival and the Battle of Ideas conference. Let me know which ones sound interesting to you:

  • Know your limitations –  why designers should scale back their ambitions for transformational change  and just stick to their relevant crafts and produce great solutions to the smaller problems in life
  • Ego vs empathy –  why the balance has to be sought, the move away from expertise in design to collaboration and user-centred techniques, originator vs facilitator.
  • Service design – emperor’s new clothes: why service design is no different from ucd (or good design even), why people are jumping on the band wagon (bad wagon!)
  • The move from product to service and servicable – hire or rent of appliances, fix yourself, get someone to fix, why we need to avoid replacement of our products
  • A world transformed by digital –  more power, self-organising, more participation, more flexibility create, less time, too much information – how digital thinking is coming into our analogue world
  • Function, form, fit – how the three fs must play together to create quality products and services 
  • Change through action not spoken ideas –  the power of the designer to provoke debate with artifacts and tangible representations of what could be, and why we need to get our ideas out there more in this way
  • Snoozability – why stressing usuability is so passé, it needs to be part of the mix so we can all move on and focus on informing the right solution in the first place
  • Brand Britain – A nation of naysayers: how the pessamistic default attitude limits our happiness, our progression and our well being in this nation
  • Should politics be in or outside design? – why designers should stick to their craft and not worry about issues and matters they can’t comprehend

Monome – first steps

I have had a Tenori-on for well over a year now, and have been intrigued about the differences between it and a monome ever since. Having put myself down on the monome waiting list, and 6/7 months later getting notified that I could get one if I said yes immediately, I recently made the plunge.

Gorgeous screen printed box, a bit of paper inside to keep it snug, and then the object itself.Beautifully screenprinted little Monome cardboard box
Rich and dark Mahogancy case, beautifully handcrafted and sturdy as hell, but with a really light weight to it. Weirdly, it felt cool to the touch (probably because it’s been freezing in London recently). Lovely little led-lit push padsNice stainless steel (or aluminium – who am I to know these days?) faceplate and 128 dinky little buttons. This is a thing of real beauty – an old school case with new school flashing Led push pads. I think I prefer it to the Tenori-on’s space age, curved corner thing with rattly buttons – but I did find use for Tenori-on’s form factor in use, so maybe monome will lose out here.
Monome (with 50p)Then came the setup… Oh dear, no instructions. Open source at work here. I had to go to the website and follow a variety of steps, downloading and installing a driver, restarting, installing a monomeserial app which apparently has to run every time with any other app. Then a monomebase set of apps which supposedly helps you to test out the box. Hmmm… not much working at this stage – is it broken? Is it bad that I am using UK 240v on a 115v power supply? Have i just wasted over £700 of my hard earned cash?

After a few app downloads and some playing around, I finally got it working. First app, mlr. This is a beat slicing and automatic looping app that allows you to drag a loop into it, and trigger it off at various points within a loop. Hard to explain, but this is the one that most people seem to be using in all the Vimeo and YouTube videos (like this one or this one). Unluckily for me, I had no loops ready, so I had to go on to the interent and download me some old skool drum + bass breaks. A little bit of apache, and there we go – a nice looping breakbeat. 

Then onto a few others, which seem a bit rubbish at first. And then, there it is, Polygnome – a weird pattern arpeggiator triggerer thing. So hard to explain, so much fun to fiddle with. I am going to have to master this one some more, when I get my head around how it all works – 70% there I reckon at the moment.

Anyway, I aim to post some videos when I get my video recording setup sorted, and then a pure monome played tune, but for now here’s my first impressions on Monome vs.Tenori-On:

  • Build Quality – Monome 1: Tenori-On 1 – both feel quite sturdy, although the rattle of the Tenori-on buttons did almost make it a loser
  • Aesthetics – Monome 1: Tenori-On 0 –  I think monome wins here for me. I prefer the retro wood styling to the spacey Tenori-on spaceship style
  • Ease of setup – Monome 0: Tenori-On 1 – Monome was a nightmare to setup, I am fairly computer literate but struggled. Tenori-on could pretty much play out of box.
  • Ease of music creation – Monome 0: Tenori-On – Monome requires you to run separate little apps (it seems) and each by themselves make it hard to compose a tune. Tenori-On on the other hand can do it all out of the box with its in-built sounds and straight forwward Midi implementation
  • Portability – Monome 0: Tenori-On 1 – Tenori-On runs on batteries and has its own sound bank. Monome 128 requires separate power and a usb cable to connect it to computer with sounds in it.
  • Flexibility – Monome 1: Tenori-On – I feel like the Tenori-On needs some extensions to its firmware or something. Since launch, there;’s been nothing new around it, whereas with Monome, people are developing stuff all the time, and there’s always something new to play with. I can see the appeal being long lasting

Check out the following links if you want to find out more:


I feel london

I quite like the idea of this little site. It allows people to tag places to go on a Google map, according to how they feel, whether romantic, hungover, energetic, chilled or sophisticated. 

and there’s one for New York too


Korg nano controllers

I am really feeling these new little Korg midi controllers.

Korg nanoSeries controllers

There’s a pad control type one, a little velocity sensitive keyboard one, and a fader one. I spoke to someone at London International Music Show who reckoned they could be as cheap as £35. I’d get one of each. They were only non-working prototype models, so I think they are a long way off actually being released, but watch this space.

Read more here.


Tenori-On – cooler than an iPhone?


I attended the Tenori-On launch last night and after about 10 minutes of complete confusion as I played with it before finally glancing at the quick start guide on the many listening posts, I soon fell in lust with this playful delight of an object – I had to get me one of those magical flashing boxes. Hearing that there might only be 50 on sale on opening night, I rushed upstairs and got the second to last one before the crowds flooded in.

Luckily the record dude held on to it while I found out more about how it worked and waited in anticipation for Toshio Iwai’s (the product’s designer) presentation.

Wow! What a presentation.

Not because of its delivery, not because of any effects but purely because of the story that he told and the design processes he went through. You could see how this visual artist was heavily influenced by an old Japanese music box using a roll of paper with ‘Happy Birthday’ marked out in an interesting hole arrangement. You were fascinated as he just turned the paper round and played an inverse of the tune just by turning the paper round and feeding it in.

You could see his years of experimentation with old school graphics, games etc. all around the same theme of note and time display. How it was all about play and generation of nice sounds with minimal musical ability.

You then saw his determination as he finally launched a product that he has been refining with Yamaha for 6 years.

This guy had spent over a decade developing this thing. No matter what perceived usability flaws I find, I will know there are very good reasons for the product being built this way, and I would be devoted for conveying any marketing out to the lucrative market ahead. I have to respect his commitment and passion for his idea.

I’m not going to go into the features and the way it works here (save that for some future postings) but I have to say I was fascinated by his last feature explanation. Apparently, the Tenori-On allows you to record all the things that you do (instrument experimentations, arrangement changes, melody modifications) etc, and then share this whole process with a peer, so that you can relive how they came up with the end tune.

Can you imagine that? Just imagine your favourite artist sharing with you all the duff notes they hit, all the wrong turns they made and all the happy accidents that occurred on the way to them delivering your favourite song. Fascinating stuff there – bizarrely correlating with some rather conceptual ideas for financial traders the Health & Wealth EAs were coming up with earlier in the day.