03.17.22
Rachel Lehrer + Lee Moreau | Audio

The Futures Archive S2E1: The Disco Ball


What are the relationships between design and pleasure? And how can we design the most pleasurable experiences? On this episode of The Futures Archive Lee Moreau and Rachel Lehrer discuss the disco ball and the importance of embodied design.

With additional insights from Änne Söll, Nadine Hubbs, Gary Hunt, and David Rose.

Rachel discussed with Lee how embodied practices can bring pleasure through design:
It's not just a visual thing. It's not just a mental thing. In order for you to emotionally feel this state of pleasure, your body needs to be engaged. Being able to think about the physical relationship your body has to space and what your body is doing when you experience moments of awe and and pleasure. The magic of an environment, and the magic of spaces, has a deep connection to what your body is doing in that moment.
Lee Moreau is President of Other Tomorrows, a design and innovation consultancy based in Boston, and a Professor of Practice in Design at Northeastern University.

Rachel Lehrer works on high risk, high reward projects that span violence to pleasure and is building a company for men with the goal of increasing pleasure for women.

Änne Söll is a German art historian and professor of art history at Ruhr University Bochum whose focus is on cultural and gender studies, especially masculinity studies.

Nadine Hubbs is a professor of women’s studies and music and faculty associate in American culture, as well as director of the Lesbian-Gay-Queer Research Initiative at the University of Michigan.

Gary Hunt is a Lighting Designer and Director, who currently serves as the Lighting Designer at Good Room in Brooklyn, NY.

David Rose is a MIT lecturer, inventor, entrepreneur, and the author of SuperSight.


Subscribe to The Futures Archive on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app. And you can browse the show archive.

Kathleen Fu created the illustrations for each episode.

A big thanks to this season’s sponsor, Automattic.



Transcript

Lee Moreau
Welcome to The Futures Archive, a show about human centered design, where this season, we'll take an object, look for the human at the center and keep asking questions. I'm Lee Moreau...

Rachel Lehrer
...and I'm Rachel Lehrer.

Lee Moreau
On each episode, we're going to start with a powered object. Today that object is the disco ball. We'll look at the history of that object from our perspective as designers who've done work in human centered design, not just how it looks and feels and spins, but also the relationship between that object and the people it was designed for...

Rachel Lehrer
...and with other humans who get to bask in its glow also.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is brought to you by the design team at Automatic. Later on, we'll hear from product designer Elena Scherer.

Lee Moreau
Hi, Rachel, how are you?

Rachel Lehrer
I'm good. How are you Lee?

Lee Moreau
I'm great. So this is our first episode of season two on the disco ball. Are you ready for this?

Rachel Lehrer
I'm very, I'm applauding.

Lee Moreau
I'm excited about it. So we're starting with a disco ball and we're starting with our theme, which you are going to help shepherd us through, which is on pleasure. Why should we be talking about the topic of of pleasure in a podcast about human centered design?

Rachel Lehrer
I mean, I think when— sometimes when you ask people what they want, right, it's a difficult question for a lot of reasons. Frankly, a lot of people just don't get asked that question. But when you actually think about what it is that people want, on like the most general scale, I think, you know, it's it's happiness and pleasure. This is one of the greatest joys in life to feel and experience pleasure from someone else. We now know that there are actual like chemical and biological benefits to experiencing pleasure. So you know, when you think about like the ideal experience you can have, what you can most feel proud of helping people achieve, it's really pleasure, at least for me. I'm a— I wouldn't call myself a hedonist, but I'm I'm certainly a avid consumer of pleasure.

Lee Moreau
So you are qualified and I'm very excited to continue the conversation. Rachel, we we first met working at Continuum together , a design innovation firm, where I'm located here in Boston, and I remember you joining a few years after I started and coming in with a very unique background and and I loved collaborating with you because you had such a unique perspective. And I'm wondering if you can kind of like give our listeners an introduction and also tell us why I might think that you have a unique background for human centered design.

Rachel Lehrer
So my background was as a modern dancer. I was a professional dancer in New York for 10 years, but had been training to be a dancer, ballerina first, then modern dancer since I was 11 years old and came really into innovation and collaboration and design from a place of knowing how that felt in my body, right. Being able to do that, being able to improvise with people, think about an audience, coordinate with people, listen to people through my body, not just through what people said and that that had been my career, essentially breathing deeply, feeling people's energy, wearing sweat pants and old ratty t shirts and dancing around barefoot in a studio all day. And I can think of nothing more like pleasurable and like, physically gratifying then doing that, I ended up being accepted by this cast of brilliant, creative, fun, smart, rigorous group of people at the place where we work that really accepted and wanted to leverage sort of my past experience to build better products and services for the companies that were our clients.

Lee Moreau
I also am a dancer. I just have to confess. But I'm not as qualified, I'm not as polished and as well trained. But you know, if there is a dance floor at a party, I'm on the dance floor and I'm-I'm notorious at like our office parties and things like that where— I sort of walk in, hit the bar, and then I'm on the dance floor the rest of the night. So I don't think I can do what you do, but I think we're going to kind of like, work it out.

Rachel Lehrer
We can be in a duet together.

Lee Moreau
All right. So we're going to talk about pleasure and which I have to say, though I've done a lot of, you know, couple of decades of design work, I don't feel like I've done a lot of work where I felt like I was designing for pleasure. I was often designing for making improvements in people's lives or saving them time or making something easier to do. But I rarely think of framing it as pleasure. Did you have experiences where you were focused on that in your design experience?

Rachel Lehrer
No, I don't think so. I almost think it's like too pure of a thing for capitalism to sort of capture. Right? It's like people get pleasure from being in nature, from talking with other people. Or maybe it's the kind of thing that when companies do it well, they don't need consultants to come in and improve it. But no, I don't think I've ever gotten paid, certainly at the company that we were working for to create pure pleasure. What I have done though, Lee, is focused on, you know, reducing something that's the opposite of pleasure. So I've spent the past six years focusing on reducing violence in women's lives, and this is really focused in high conflict areas. So places with very little stability and high rates of what's called intimate partner violence, also known as domestic violence. And a lot of what we focus on when creating programs that prevent violence and reduce violence in women's lives is increasing the amount of connection that they had with their partners, the amount of the skills that men had that allowed them to connect with their partners. And part of that was about creating an openness and a conversation around consent and sexual pleasure. And so one of the ways that we found to really combat sexual violence against women was to have more open conversations around consent and around how women experience pleasure. So as a consultant, no, I don't think I've worked on pleasure. But as a designer who has worked to prevent violence and women's lives, yes, pleasure has been a clear part of the pathway to actually creating better relationships that have a whole host of sort of other outcomes and benefits, but in the end, also reduce violence.

Lee Moreau
Well, in this first episode, we're going to talk about the pure pleasure of the disco ball. And you know, I know we've talked about this before, but the conceit for this season and for our listeners, for all of you, this is kind of where we're going in season two is that rather than the kind of simple objects we have in season one, we're going to sort of give everything electricity. We're going to give everything a plug basically in in some sense. We're going to give everything a little bit more power. So the disco ball for me is a very simple thing, but by adding power, it kind of turns ever so slightly and that creates this magic. So we're going to hear a little bit more from some experts on the topic of the disco ball who can help us make sense of this.

Änne Söll
The first patent for something like a disco ball, it's not, you know, the disco ball as we know it now, but a rotating ball that has bits of reflecting glass stuck onto it in the United States was submitted in 1917. So that's a long history.

Lee Moreau
Professor Anne Soll is a professor of art history at Ruhr University Bochum, where her work exists at the intersection of art, and culture, and gender. She's also the author of Shine On: The Mirror Ball as Art Object.

Änne Söll
By the end of the 1920s, it's ubiquitous. It appears in films, it's in bars. It's documented as part of the decoration scheme in Berlin bars, in an American bars. So I think the people of the 1920s knew the mirrorball very well already,

Lee Moreau
But with World War Two, the mirrorball kind of disappears. We go into this, this sort of world of austerity. There's not so much play in our in our dance lives. And it really isn't until the reappearance of this ball in the 60s and 70s at discos that it becomes the norm to call the disco ball. So our mirrorball from the past is now the disco ball, and it basically creates, in some sense, the discotheque or or maybe gives it the life that we know that it has now. So, you know, when you think of disco ball, what do you what do you think of Rachel? Give us your mind's image.

Rachel Lehrer
An amazing dance party. You know, people always talk about alcohol as a social lubricant. I think of a disco ball as a social lubricant. How do you essentially dim your most dominant senses and, you know, set the vibe to do something else? It's really like dimming the lights, putting a spotlight, reflecting light, making that move. It's-it's almost it's disorienting in a way where you are forced to sort of tune in to other senses.

Lee Moreau
Rachel paint a picture of maybe the last time you were in a room with a disco ball. What was that like?

Rachel Lehrer
So it's um— I haven't had the pleasure of being in the presence of a disco ball for quite a while, COVID and children and other reasons. However, the last disco ball I was in the presence of, I have to say, was one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life, and I do not say that lightly. I have quite a high bar. I was invited by my friend Caroline Polachek, who's an amazing musician, she was cool enough to get an invitation to this party. I was not. The party was called The Loft Party. It was originally started by David Mancuso decades and decades ago, a very famous New York party. And this party it had some rules, right. Our brain is so wired for sort of like stress and getting things done that I think a prerequisite to pleasure is like creating some rules and guidelines, right, having a, you know, as we used to say in dance a structured improvization. So what was the structure? Well, it wasn't the space itself. It was like a community space in the East Village. Not fancy at all. You walk in, but you immediately notice that some things are different. There are some things that you don't do. And I think when people think about pleasure, they think about permissiveness. But this experience was actually the opposite of that.

Lee Moreau
Yeah. Imagine like bacchanalia and just excessive joy. But but that's not what you're talking about.

Rachel Lehrer
No, no. So what this was was a designed experience to give people the most connection between this amazing music and movement. Right. And so here are some of the ground rules. One is, you didn't fade in songs, right? So one song did not fade in the end. And then the sound experience was perfect and you paid respects to the song. The lights were dimmed. There was a disco ball that was reflecting light. And not only was it just amazing lighting, but it moved, right. So again, like, your predominant sense of seeing was dimmed, you could not bring drinks or food onto the dance floor. The dance floor was for dancing. It seems obvious, but when you talk about Lee, like you hit the bar and you go on the dance floor — no, no, no, no, no. You did not do that at the loft party.

Lee Moreau
I would have had trouble in this context. OK.

Rachel Lehrer
But that's what I'm saying, you would not have. But here is my favorite rule: you could only wear leather soled shoes, and that was because they put flour all over the floor so that not only were you, like, mentally set right, but your body was actually sort of like facilitated to move by the flour on the floor and the shoes that you are meant to wear. Needless to say, ended up at this party for, I don't know, it was like eight hours, we left when it was light out, and it was just the kind of experience that like the joy and the pleasure that was created in it, you just you sort of emanated it. And ever since, you know, I've been thinking that like the rules of engagement here, the rules of this party, need to be replicated in other places. So my, you know, I know we're talking to amazing guests on this show, some of whom have a space in nightlife. And I just want to put in a pitch for like everyone to have flour on their floors. I really think it's the like. If you have a disco ball, you need to throw some flour on the floor.

Lee Moreau
Well, more than that, you're making your pitch not just for flour on the floor, but also for rules that pleasure and rules are not like, mutually exclusive.

Rachel Lehrer
No, they're best friends, they're best friends.

Lee Moreau
All right, well, thank you for sharing your history. But we're going to hear a little bit more of the history of the Disco Ball from Professor Soll.

Änne Söll
You know, there were images of gay bars and illegal clubs in the 70s that have huge disco balls, and the way they were used then, were as part of a communal dance experiencee, right, so these little dots of light give you this universal feeling of being together, dancing in this universe, sort of forming a community, subcultural community of dance,

Lee Moreau
Subcultural community of dance. This sounds like it sounds like your kind of thing, Rachel.

Rachel Lehrer
Yeah, absolutely. It's a lot of what you're doing in this space is learning how to sort of trust each other, listen to each other, and create a dynamic in which you are sort of free to explore with another person. This is rarely something that you do alone, right? That whether it's dancing with someone else or whether it's having an audience, this is the kind of thing — or at least in my experience, when it comes to movement, this is the thing that you want other people around to experience. I think there's so much in our dominant culture that's about language and communication, right. When you talk about creating and understanding, it's like, well just talk about it. But the work that I've done in places like Uganda, it's like, no, you want to create understanding, but you don't want to do it through talking about it. That's absolutely not what's culturally of interest or appropriate. And I find that same tendency in myself. I want to create understanding through movement, through communicating with my body. And that's really something that, you know, as as they say, and I'm not a fan of aphorisms, but it takes two to tango. And I think in this situation like being able to connect with people through something other than words through really our bodies and the energy we can transmit through that and through touch, you know, that is a deep source of pleasure.

Lee Moreau
Well, we're going to talk more about sort of building a space for trust and accountability, which also creates pleasure. And we'll talk about that a little bit later. But first, I want to focus on what really is the disco ball like, what is a disco ball as an object—

Änne Söll
It's a simple structure, right. It's this ball. It's a round structure, but it has square mirrors stuck onto it. So it's basically a combination of a round thing and a square thing. It's completely unnatural. It's not a cut stone. That's very important, right. It's a completely artificial structure imitating something precious. It's cheap. It affords glamor for everybody. It's cheap thrill, right. So you have this cheap structure that you can rotate and put light on, and it immediately transforms the room you're in into something different because it moves light, it gives light movement. So in the way it moves, the light and the light is moved by it. So the person or the people in the room are also moved through the light. And that's that's basically the magic of it. You know, this is-this and it kind of has the ability to produce a unifying sense of togetherness through this all encompassing effect.

Lee Moreau
But disco balls, as Professor Soll as is starting to talk about it is more than just this physical appearance. It's about the spaces that they create. And you know, when we were talking earlier about this, you describe that the light quality is being like, not something that you would think would be desirable.

Rachel Lehrer
Yeah, look, it's almost I hate to keep making that parallel to like some kind of intoxication, but I think one of the things I think that a mirrorball a disco ball does is it gives you that sense of disorientation that allows you to touch into an altered sensory state, a little bit of like a sensory bliss where you were saying: Hey, how can I— you know, it's- I keep thinking of like face filters, right? Like, how do you just like fuzz the edges of things? I think a mere disco ball essentially buzzes the edges of things so that you can experience different senses.

Lee Moreau
I mean, we are not asked to create disorienting spaces very often. You know, that's not a typical design brief like, Oh hey, just mess with people, and we'll pay you to come up with ways of messing with people. This is not typically what we're asked to do. But as I say it, you know, as we talk about it, I'm thinking, I want more of that in my life.

Rachel Lehrer
You know what we do get asked to do as designers Lee is to create delight. But I think that is really, as Professor Soll says, a cheap thrill. I think that is a cheap piece of pleasure, right? Delight is like: Oh, this momentary transactional thing, thank you for making this so convenient, I really love the way this vibrates my teeth, you know. I think what we are talking about is something deeper and richer that actually takes a little bit of a shift in the way we think and experience things.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is brought to you by the design team at Automattic, which is building a new web and a new workplace all around the world.

Elena Scherer
My name is Elena Scherer. I am a product designer at Automattic. I'm working on the Tumblr product design team and I'm based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Lee Moreau
At Automattic, Elena's work is led by her values.

Elena Scherer
My experience at Automattic so far has been, there is such a high degree of trust and autonomy. The first project I worked on was the year in review for Tumblr. It was a delightful thing that was fun to work on and fun for people to use. And so being given the trust and autonomy to say: I realize that maybe this is a little bit less direct impact that we can see on some of the metrics that might bring us more money, but it's something that users will love and users will use — that can be hard to find sometimes in a company, especially a tech company.

Lee Moreau
For Elena, design at Automattic is for everyone.

Elena Scherer
Design at Automattic is pervasive. It's open, it's everywhere.

Lee Moreau
Designing a better web. Join us at Automattic dot com slash design. That's Automm-M-A-double T-I-C dot com slash design.

Lee Moreau
OK, so we move past the light we're moving into, like, hey, we're actually designing pleasure. And once we actually achieve that, there are new communities and new environments of people and new social contexts that are created because of the effect of the disco ball.

Nadine Hubbs
So I saw disco as a space in the margins. And what is really cool is to see how this alternate reality was created by marginalized people.

Lee Moreau
Nadine Hubbs is a professor of women's studies and music and faculty associate in American culture, as well as the director of the Lesbian Gay Queer Research Initiative at the University of Michigan.

Nadine Hubbs
What were the tools, what were the materials that they used to create not only queer social space, but social space of black and Latino queers, social space that felt more welcoming to a lot of women? The materials included the music, an endless beat. You never have to leave the dance floor. And what's on the dance floor—beauty. Of bodies, style, fashion. And then there was the disco ball, and this mirrored ball enhanced the creation of this special reality, this alternate space apart from the real world out of time, a world of intensity, of intense embodiment.

Lee Moreau
I love listening to Nadine talk and kind of paint that picture. It's beautiful. Rachel, this is literally the work that you do, right? You're basically fuzing embodied interaction in spaces with design.

Rachel Lehrer
Yeah. I mean, I think a lot about how spaces affect our movement. And so part of, I think what my experience has been and why I'm a really a designer who thinks about embody designers, I really question the way space and objects impact our body. And I don't take it for granted that our body is supposed to be in certain positions or be, you know, stable in a particular way.

Lee Moreau
When we change the space that we're in, we also change the way that people use their bodies within those spaces. And I know you've done some work within this in the past. Can you talk about a project where you kind of made adaptations that influenced human behavior?

Rachel Lehrer
Absolutely. So I can talk about a couple different examples. One example is about hand hygiene. So this was a project where ...

Lee Moreau
... that's kind of a big deal right now. Did you know that?

Rachel Lehrer
It is! And actually, it's been for a long time. And I think in 2012, the policy changed about hospital acquired infection. So all of a sudden the government started forcing hospitals to pay if patients got sicker hospitals. So all of a sudden, epidemiologists across hospitals were a little freaked out, and they said: Oh, we really need to deal with this like hand-washing thing, right, we need to get our employees to wash their hands. I came in and I said, I know a little bit something about how spaces and bodies interact. So I went through the hospital and tried to understand what physical interventions could be set up within the hospital that would impact people's willingness to essentially do a choreography, right? Hand-washing you can think of as movement choreography to essentially do choreography, specific choreography, in highly prescribed regulated spaces. And so a lot of this had to do with— for example, if you want people to develop a physical habit, you have to create the opportunity for repetitive movement. And so every time you walk into a room, if you open the door with your right hand, you should have a Purell dispenser that your left hand can immediately go to. So how do you create reliable movement that someone can then build a pattern around?

Lee Moreau
I wish our audience could have just seen you do that because you opened the door with your right hand on on Zoom here and then you kind of Purell-ed with your left hand as if you'd done it a hundred thousand times.

Rachel Lehrer
Oh, I have definitely done that a lot of times, but yeah, it's it's about recognizing how sort of the tacit abilities and desires of our bodies and how space can essentially create affordances to do those things. But you know, it's a little bit about how do you speak to bodies without having to speak to your brain first. The second example I'll give is there's a program really an experience for couples that I worked on in collaboration with a lot of brilliant people that is now being implemented through the Church of Uganda, which has 11 million members, and this program is about reducing intimate partner violence. And one of the things that we learned when we were first implementing this and this was in northern Uganda, an area called Gulu, where the Acholi tribe is very predominant, and traditionally women sit separately from men and they sit on mats and on the floor and men sit in chairs. And one of the things that we did, we didn't want to explicitly say men and women should sit sort of at the same level because that was traditionally not what they did. And who are we to come in to say this is this is what you should now do, this is the western way of doing things, and we think this will help prevent violence in your homes. But of course, we wanted people to have access to the same information, and there was a book that we created for couples. And what we did is we said: Here's a book. You need to look at it together. You need to do these sort of like things together. And all of a sudden people started sitting in chairs next to each other and for the first time, people were in a public setting as a couple and they were sitting at the same level. And so it was a way of using an object to create physical equality, but without having to explicitly say it again to use objects and bodies to create an experience that you knew would, or behavior, that you knew would have impact, but not having to use words to do that.

Lee Moreau
And that story is the same as what our disco ball does in our discotheques of the 70s and the 80s, right? It creates— like that simple object creates a space that allows certain behavior to happen, and it almost just is automatic.

Gary Hunt
It is magical, and I often think to myself that I'm very lucky to be doing what I'm doing because I get to create this environment for people along with the DJ.

Lee Moreau
Gary Hunt is a lighting designer and director. He currently works in a club in Brooklyn called Good Room. We talked to Gary because we wanted to see how the disco ball functioned today, not just in history. Let's go and meet some of Gary's disco balls.

Gary Hunt
I like to name most of my disco balls because I think that they have personalities. So the disco ball named Bertha, was at Santos Party House. Another club called Good Unit I had Charlie and the gang because it was about five disco balls. Verboten with fire will be my most famous disco ball and her name is Jessica. And I had a smaller disco ball connected to Jessica at the bottom, which was named Jeffrey. And currently now at Good Room the disco ball is named that old bitch, it's just such an old venue that I just thought that was appropriate name.

Lee Moreau
I love that those the personalities are with the names, and you can imagine different vibes, different like environments and conditions being set out by, you know, Bertha over here, and then Jessica and Jeffrey and that old bitch are there— they're going to create very different environments. And yet it's just like mirrors on a little motorized styrofoam ball probably.

Rachel Lehrer
I mean, I want to dance with Charlie and the gang. I would consider them very much my dance partners. And the vibe managers of the space.

Lee Moreau
But what we're really talking about when we're talking with a disco ball is that we're kind of like designing magic or at least magical spaces. And you know, we talked about how nobody calls us up to like design for pleasure, for pure pleasure. They sometimes, though, do want delight, as you said, and they definitely sometimes would like us to design magic. But how do we go about doing that?

Rachel Lehrer
I mean, step one, get a disco ball. Yeah, I don't, you know, creating magical spaces. I think it really — part of what it feels magical is something that is different and out of the ordinary. I think there are magical experiences that are sort of like lesser versions, but really the disco ball, you know, if you want to think about it, that's like the apex — apex magic.

David Rose
Yeah. Well, I think for me, disco balls represent kind of this yearning to kind of push and pull reality.

Lee Moreau
David Rose is an MIT lecturer and entrepreneur, a writer and the author of the recent book SuperSight.

David Rose
The future that I'm focused on is kind of what are the capabilities that augmented reality and kind of painting the world with information permit?

Lee Moreau
So Rachel, if the disco ball can create a sort of magical alternative space in spite of the fact that is like a completely dumb, I don't know, circular ball maybe made of Styrofoam with a bunch of little mirrors on it, then what can we do with new technology? And I'm kind of excited about where this could go. So I've been playing with the HTC Vive, the the Oculus, and it's so crazy, immersive. I don't know if you have if you've been messing around with this stuff and exploring this realm.

Rachel Lehrer
I have a little bit. So my experience was if you're going to strap something to my head, that's going to make me want to move my head in like every possible fluid direction. But then you're going to tether me with a cable, it's going to be really frustrating. And this was granted several years ago, the last time I put one of these on. I don't think they had the experience quite right. And frankly, like being tethered to a cable meant that the freedom that it was asking of your body in terms of movement was actually not given. It was like, it felt like a little bit of a false promise. I'm super excited about it, though, because I think in the end, like a lot of our technology today, puts your body into very specific positions. And so once you have technology that actually not only allows for different kinds of movement, but enables it and sort of requires it, then I think we're in a really interesting space. The challenge is, you know, it becomes very prescriptive in terms of the kind of sensory experience you have, right? You have headphones on, your eyes are covered up. And so do I want someone to design my sensory experience? Yes, in the case of a disco ball and a club, do I want a technologist to do it? I'm a little hesitant.

Lee Moreau
Maybe not so much.

Rachel Lehrer
You know?

Lee Moreau
Yes.

Rachel Lehrer
Gary Hunt, yes. Others, I don't know.

Lee Moreau
Yeah, no. I, you know, I think we're closer. I think with where Oculus is now, I think we've gotten rid of the tether, but you definitely still have boundaries. And so I'm imagining you in a room here, like as a dancer being like, OK, great. Well, you've got rid of the tether, but I still have things that I don't want to bump into and things like that. So I don't know if we're truly in the magical zone yet with these technologies. But I think the potential of mixed reality to be like a place where we can experiment is really interesting. I wonder if augmented reality and virtual reality will allow us to create these sort of magical alternative spaces like the disco ball affords in-in a in the discotheque.

Rachel Lehrer
Absolutely. And recognizing that this is like a very new experience for us and our bodies, right? It's that sensory deprivation. But this is someone being very much in control of your senses in a way that is very new. And so I think we need to be really gentle with the kind of things that we offer to people as a first step in and really an entree into this world.

Lee Moreau
Well, let's hear more from David in the way that he's using some of these technologies in his work.

David Rose
A lot of people are afraid of the augmented reality future because they feel like it's just going to be saturated with advertisements. And I'm really optimistic about it because I feel like it will give us this new vision to see in a new way. What a disco ball does for you is it gives you a diminished reality. It takes away information to make you feel a certain way and to make you feel comfortable in a certain way. And I think there needs to be more of us kind of designing diminished realities because we already have some very information saturated places in the world and those places kind of want to be diminished in terms of the information saturation rather than augmented.

Lee Moreau
And this idea of diminished reality is exactly what you're talking about at the top of this conversation, right? Kind of taking out a lot of the the stimulus from your world.

Rachel Lehrer
Yeah, it's look, we have a firehose of information and experiences every day. You know, we we disconnect, right? We close our windows, we turn music on to cover up sounds. And so I think if that is designed well, it can serve us and give us new experiences. If it is designed poorly, it just floods us so that we are overstimulated.

Lee Moreau
My biggest fear really is that, you know, as we move into this space of, you know, Ar and VR that these become more singular experiences. So maybe, you know, through the device, you encounter other people and other such activities. But physically, we are very much isolated. And I— what I love about the disco ball is it it is a spatial idea in real, our actual world, and it brings people together and it changes the way that they interact. No question AR and VR are going to change the way we interact, but I'm not sure we're going to be able to bring people together with that.

Rachel Lehrer
Yeah. And look, there, we have to acknowledge that there are different levels of togetherness, right? I am so grateful Lee that I get to like, hear your voice and talk to you and and see your face over Zoom as we have this conversation. But it would be a million times better if we were in person, right. That that, in fact, is again like that, that is what we want to achieve as humans to be able to have physical contact, to be able to feel the energy and the passion for conversation and to get responses from one another that will then change the course of conversation. And so it does. It feels risky to me to say, let's create all these alternative streams of connecting that might psychologically give us a sense of satisfaction. But that will never replicate the experience of being in a dark room, together with flour on the floor where we are sweating on each other. Do you know what I mean? Like that to me is, if we do too many things that are intermediate steps that we might then decide to stay in and watch Succession on Netflix instead of going out. And I think that will create a sense of the pleasure in our life being like one or two tones lower than it possibly could be. But we will be satisfied enough.

Lee Moreau
The risk is we lower the baseline of engagement our lives to the point where you can't even achieve special anymore. The kind of effects and and kind of vibe that you can create with a disco ball may just not be something that we can handle.

Rachel Lehrer
I think we will always be able to handle it. But will we be motivated enough to go the extra mile to experience it?

Lee Moreau
I like the idea that this is getting really messy. You know, so like, we're going to have this like fusion of technology enabled real life that messes with our relatively singular technological experiences that we have right now. Like Oculus it's just like — you put it on, you're totally immersed. It is what it is. But as we get into AR we might start to be able to enter into different spaces and interactions that are really confusing and weird. But I don't think we have the rules that we've been talking about establishd for how to manage those things yet. And some of the rules that we need are going to be to make things more inclusive and then others will be whether we like it or not, probably making things exclusive and managing that as designers, I think is going to be really challenging. You know, as a designer, I think one of the challenges doing a show like this is you have to like, challenge yourself to think: Well, how would I approach designing for pleasure in a way that would be better than the object that we're looking at, right? So you see limitations in something and you're like: How could you do it better? But I'm I'm thinking that the way you talked about the disco ball as like almost like the perfect designed object that sustained a hundred years of almost uninterrupted like it has not changed at all, it's remarkable. Like, don't mess with that thing. You just need a room.

Rachel Lehrer
Yeah. You know, David Mancuso got it pretty right. I think there are a lot of people who spend their lives trying to give people like joyful, pleasurable, sensory experiences — whether it's musician dancers, you know, they experience these things and designers should really be looking to them to say: How do we bring these things together? How do we bring like visuals, sound story, narrative, all that stuff together? But in-in a setting where I also get to dance, like, let's let's work on that.

Lee Moreau
Rachel, so, you know, I know you've listened to some of the episodes from season one and in season one, we did assignments, little exercises that were inspired by the episode and the topic that we were talking about, but also helped to kind of push people in different directions and see the design experience in their own world and in their own life. And I'm wondering if you can think of an assignment that we might be able to assign our listeners inspired by the disco ball in this conversation about pleasure that might allow them to experience this in their own lives?

Rachel Lehrer
Absolutely. So taking inspiration from David Mancuso and his rule based party, which was the greatest one I've ever been to, I would like for those listening to think of three rules that they will enforce for the next guests coming over to their house. Not randomly, this isn't the delivery lady dropping off your takeout. But if you are having guests over to hang out, what are three rules you will enforce that will give people a different experience?

Lee Moreau
Well, I love that assignment. I'd love it if the outcome of this or the kind of goal of it was to create a more pleasurable experience and maybe one with this sort of diminished reality that David was talking about, right where the rules are meant to kind of soften the edges, I think that was a phrase that you used a little bit earlier, soften the edges of the experience to almost tune in the environment in a particular way. So for all of you listening, give that a shot the next time you're inviting people over, which for many of us, it's been a while, and I hope you're starting to invite people over more and more frequently as we move forward. But Rachel, thank you so much.

Rachel Lehrer
Oh, it was my pleasure Lee. Thank you.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is a podcast from Design Observer to keep up with the show, go to TFA Dot Design Observer, dot com or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you like what you heard today, please make sure to rate and reviews and share it with your friends.

Rachel Lehrer
And make sure you following me, Rachel Lehrer that's L-E-H-R-E-R on LinkedIn.

Lee Moreau
Thanks again also to Anne Soll, Nadine Hubbs, Gary Hun,t and David Rose for talking to The Futures Archive. You can find out more about them at our show notes at TFA dot Design Observer dot com along with a full transcript of our show. Our producer is Adina Karp. Owen Agnew edits the show. Thanks, as always, to Design Observer founder Jessica Helfand and to Design Observer executive producer Betsy Vardell.


Posted in: Arts + Culture, Product Design, The Futures Archive



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