On Monday, April 29 my classmates and I presented our thesis work at North Carolina State University. The thesis at NC State takes two forms: a 15-minute public presentation followed by a question and answer session, and a written document that includes a justification, literature review, description of methods and process and findings. I've broken the video of my presentation in two parts, following the form of the presentation itself.
The first is a provocation—to myself as well as my fellow designers—to design different experiences (more affective and intimate) for young women to interact with their closest ties. The provocations include design mandates for sm(heart)er interfaces and experiences as well as examples of possible "solutions." The proposals are speculative and rhetorical.
The second portion contextualizes the provocations with references to the literature, my research and design process. It details some of my findings from a survey I conducted about cherishing digital objects in Facebook.
The presentation covers only three of seven provocations delivered in the thesis document and touches upon the design, writing and research activities I engaged in over the past year. The full scope of the project can be experienced through the thesis document.
Extending and Enhancing Meaningful Conversation by Erin Hauber
This thesis inquires into today’s social networking experiences from a critical perspective with a hypothesis that closeness may be represented more substantially in these spaces as people engage in meaningful conversation. The proposals in this thesis are not apps for conversation. Instead, they are value fictions that introduce different ways for young women to engage with each other, as well as with the content of conversations they already share, to foster feelings of closeness. The proposals rely on social psychologists’ findings that feeling close escalates intimacy and results in more meaningful conversation (Aron, Aron, and Smollan 1992).
The proposals are rhetorical. They question the means by which we connect and converse today, and provide mandates to design more affective networked experiences. The speculative proposals are presented as pages from a pamphlet with Sm<3 Phone Mandates that any designer may choose to follow. The mandates focus on the activities of constant talk, the gradient of “here” and methods for cherishing conversation. And while technology-augmented conversation may always be at odds with the “real thing,” opportunities exist to design alternative experiences for young women, interfaces and functions that create conditions where meaningful conversation is more likely to occur.
What are the possibilities to extend and enhance meaningful conversation in interfaces and experiences designed for networked young women?
affective design; cherishable digital object; closeness; conversation; design fiction; design for emotion; ICT; interaction design; interface design; meaningful conversation; mobile phone; networked technology; smart phone; social networks; social presence; speculative design; user experience; value fiction
Here are some detail images I shot while at MOCA’s Art in the Streets exhibition this weekend. My photographs are limited in number because within the first 20 minutes of my visit I went into visual overload mode, unable to make sense of what I was seeing while also documenting. Yet, there was plenty of familiar work. For instance, in 2005 I saw Barry McGee’s solo show One More Thing at Deitch Projects which had a similar feel to the "Street" section of MOCA's show, and much of the other work—or similar—I've seen on the blogosphere or in books.
Strange then, that that familiarity still didn’t make the show easy to digest.
A highlight, however, is Swoon’s The Ice Queen. The interaction of light, shadow, fabric and form engages with the gallery space rather than ignores it. And, even though the piece is clearly not from the street, there is a clear relationship between the piece and her work there.
I also enjoyed the conversations the show prompted with my Otis colleagues. We touched on many topics as we stood in the gallery watching people of all ages and ethnicities wander through, including: the definition of “street art” and if context is inherent to the form, corporate involvement in public museums, and whether “style” is content or if the best street art today should also carry a message. One of those colleagues referred me to Doug Harvey’s smart review which says more than I could about what to make of “Art in the Streets”.
Finally, adding to the museum-as-theme-park vibe was seeing Shepard Fairey guide comedian Russell Brand through the exhibition with a stop at Fairey’s controversial Obama “Hope” poster. It was certainly one of those “Only in Los Angeles” moments.
On Wednesday night, I attended Big City Forum’s “Making a Case for the Book in the Digital Age” at ARTBOOK in Hollywood. Big City Forum is a project spearheaded by Leonardo Bravo. I admire the monthly dialogues and panels of creative minds from a variety of fields—urban planning, economic development, education, architecture, art and design, and community activism—Bravo assembles in spaces throughout Los Angeles. The thought-provoking events highlight this city’s potential to be a leading creative community.
This month’s offering was billed as “a lively conversation with David Ulin, book critic for the Los Angeles Times and author of The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Are So Important in a Distracted Time; Lisa Pearson, publisher of Siglio Press, and Lorraine Wild, renowned book designer and founder of Green Dragon Office....Ulin, Pearson and Wild will discuss books as physical artifacts, and the inherent qualities that cannot be replicated in other media.” Although this description is neutral in tone, I expected the evening would surely involve some “The sky is falling! Print is dead, all hail the iPad!” moments.
However, while Ulin attempted to frame Pearson’s and Wild’s presentations with the digital alternatives to books in mind, his introduction also had, for better or worse, the effect of neutralizing the “threat” of the iPad. Ulin level-headedly reminded us, “Writing books was always the product of technological revolution. We are living through a Gutenberg-ian moment and it is up to us to decide what we do with it.”
I was slightly bewildered. With the menace of “The Death of the ‘Physical Book’” preemptively slain, I wondered what remained to be presented and questioned. Then, Pearson began her thoughtful presentation about her practice and her commitment to publishing “uncommon books at the intersection of art and culture”.
Pearson methodically made the case for the “physical book” without explicitly mentioning the alternative. Instead, she walked the audience through several of Siglio’s titles and the curatorial and design decisions contributing to each. In doing so, one could not imagine a world without the book.
As she described her role as a publisher and editor, I saw parallels between her work, as experience maker and meaning framer, and a curator’s. In her words, her purpose is to be able to “embrace the book as possibility—a space for creating time, a space for convergence of form.”
“I’m interested in what the form can do,” she continued, “how all the elements contribute to the experience of the book.”
Pearson’s interest in the form was most apparent when looking at three of her titles: Sprawl by Danielle Dutton, Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas by Denis Wood, and It is Almost That edited by Pearson.
Sprawl, recently nominated for The Believer Book Award, is Siglio Press’s first work of fiction. Pearson’s description of the novel as one long paragraph, as well as her assertion that other publishers might have shied away from executing Dutton’s vision because it was too expensive and used too much paper was intriguing. I wish she had shown interior spreads, rather than just the novel’s cover, because I had trouble visualizing the outcome.
Thankfully, Pearson did show the interiors of Everything Sings which she described as “disrupting the boundaries of cartography,” and It is Almost That, an anthology of work by women artists and writers. In doing so, it became much easier to grasp what she meant when she said she wants her work “to create a different kind of space, so you can see something new.” The images of It is Almost That worked best to illustrate how she uses each book’s structure—from its sequencing to the design of single spreads—to merge text and image and create new connections between artists’ work.
As I wrote at the start of this post, this evening did not set out to question whether “physical books” have a future in our digital world. For Ulin, Pearson and Wild, that issue was never on the table. Nonetheless, of the three panelists, Pearson did the bulk of the work in making the case for the book in the digital age. In presenting work that defies translation to the screen, she confirmed my belief that well-designed objects become living texts asking to be reread, speaking to readers in different ways at different moments in time.