Design Observer Twenty Years 2003-2023

John Thackara | Essays

Presence and Embodiment [December 2003]

This free monthly newsletter starts conversations on issues to do with design for resilience — and thereby reveals opportunities for action. It also brings you news of Doors of Perception events and encounters. Back issues are now archived on Design Observer. To subscribe to future newletters by John Thackara click here.

How best should we design the presence of the other when connecting from different spaces? With one week to go, late-confirming speakers for DoorsEast include Ashok Jhunjhunwala, director of TeNet; Caroline Nevejan, director of research at Amsterdam University of Professional Education; Geetha Narayanan, director of Srishti; Arun M, Free Software Foundation; Sean Blair, project leader of a next-generation design school being developed in the UK by Spirit of Creation (and Doors); Jouke Kleerebezem, professor at Jan van Eyck Academie; and dancer and media artist Jayachandran. A press briefing in Bangalore was attended by The Economic Times, Business Line, The Hindu, Deccan Herald, Times of India,, and Cyber Media. Infosys will sponsor a wearables show-and-tell at the National Institute for Fashion Technology.

A rremarkable new book will be presented in Bangalore: "Sustainable Everyday: Scenarios for Urban Life" by Ezio Manzini and Francois Jegou. This "catalogue of promising solutions" addresses questions that most of us confront: how to take care of people, work, study, move around, find food, eat, and share equipment. The book focuses on "planning activities whose objective is a system" says Manzini, "tools for design in a resource-limited, complex, and fluid world". Sustainable Everyday includes the results of design workshops in ten countries, including Brazil, China, India, and Japan. One aim of DoorsEast (see story above) is to launch a new series of such workshops spanning South Asia and Europe, and to develop a Project Observatory so that results can be shared quickly and effectively among design researchers. The publisher's website is in Italian, but the book is also available in English. If in doubt, email [email protected]

What kinds of value reside in a locality? When traditional forms of work and daily life disappear from a community, what is to take their place? In Spark!, multi-disciplinary design teams from five countries, together with local officials and citizens, conducted design scenario workshops in diverse locations: Narva-Jõesuu in Estonia; Cray Valley in London; Forssa in Finland; Valdambra in Italy; Nex in Denmark. An open space conference in May will review the outcomes of these experiences, discuss lessons learned about the innovation process in localities, and consider next steps in this rich new field of design research. Spark! is a project of Cumulus, Europe's Association of Art, Design and Media Universities, together with Doors of Perception. The conference, which is hosted by the Oslo School of Architecture, is on 5 and 6 May, 2004, in Oslo.

"Please consult us before adding ironic comments about ubiquitous computing" concludes a nervous email from Designing Interactive Systems. Why are they edgy? Ubiquitous computing is a sublime technology that will bring only goodness and light to the world (see next story).The conference theme is 'Across the Spectrum'. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1-4 August 2004.

Crispy young white people, their gorgeous bodies wrapped in micro-circuitry, adorn the website of Wearables for Health, a forthcoming conference. This vision of the future features perfect people who don't look as if they need implantable health systems. Creepy words give the game away: these wearables are "to manage people with risk factors and prevent diseases through health status monitoring and life style management". Control freaks will also enjoy a US Army session on "Interactive Textiles for Warrior Systems Applications" and what we take to be new-style straightjackets which feature "Functional Electrical Muscle Stimulation with Smart Textile Electrodes". Wearable Systems for Health, 12-14 December, Pisa, Italy.

Chess playing robopets, display curtains for "surround sight", home animation machines, amulet projectors, a working 3D film shop, sound-making software, and howling footware (sic), feature in a "trendshop" called Next organised by Nordic Interactive and Innovation Lab. Wednesday December 17, Copenhagen. 
The website was down when we tried it (thrice); if it still is, and you want to go to anyway, email: [email protected]

Transmediale in Berlin includes installations, software and internet projects. The Maria am Ufer club features avant-garde of electronic music and video art from the Warsaw Electronic Music Festival. Among the interaction design and software projects are Shilpa Gupta's "Your Kidney Supermarket", which deals with the global trade in human organs; and "walk" by (Netherlands), a situationist software project for public spaces. Doors is participating in Transmediale (although we don't know how, yet). Berlin, 30 January - 2 February.


Science Foundation Ireland will fund visiting fellowships from a month to a full year. The deadline for applications is December 15. Search under Walton at:

The quantity and flow of information is exploding at an impressive rate according to a new study. the amount of new information stored on paper, film, magnetic and optical media has roughly doubled in the last three years. The School of Information Management and Systems at University of California-Berkeley calculates that five exabytes of new information - roughly five billion gigabytes - was created in 2002 alone. Five exabytes is like half a million libraries as big as the Library of Congress print collections. Almost 800 MB of recorded information is produced per person, per year: if stored on paper, that would take up about ten metres (30 feet) of books. Luckily for trees, most new information is stored on magnetic media, not on paper.

Our bodies and brains have not evolved much since shepherd boys sat under olive trees in Biblical times - and watched goats eat grass. They saw more than we do.

thoughtful essay by John Wood on ëthroughput' - the ways that designers increase the net flow of materials, energy, and products through our world - leads the new online issue of Design Philosophy Papers. Wolfgang Jonas threatens to tell us all about "German sociological systems theory" - but goes on to write insightfully that "design activities change the world, without being able to predict anything". Tony Fry develops this theme with a call for "defuturing". (Intelligent writing in this online journal is often scarred by appalling crimes against the English language).

The anatomical drawings of Vesalius in the 15th Century were an early example of patient information design. More recent examples are discussed by Krzysztof Lenk in his keynote speech on the "Measuring of Man" at a meeting in Coventry. There's also an exhibition on "Information design: a journey from print to personal messaging'". Coventry, UK, 11 December 2003.

An email reaches us about a conference on Document Design. It proudly announces the venue: "Tilburg University, United Kingdom".

What happens when the social sciences and economics collaborate with the computer and natural sciences? "Econophysics" and "Socionics", that's what happens. This challenging winter school on the "physics of socio-economic systems" includes a session on "social multi-agent systems and decision dynamics". If you know what it all means you - or your agent - will be able to decide whether to go.16 -20 February 2004, Konstanz, Germany.

Jobs | October 02