April 14, 2008

Share Festival 2008: Manufacturing Future Designs

Share Festival 2008: Manufacturing Future Designs

Event type: Conference

Date: 2008-03-15

This was a panel discussion between: Bruce Sterling (sci-fi writer, curator of the Share Festival 2008), Donald Norman (design and usability guru - wrote the excellent The Design of Everyday Things), Luca De Biase (director of Nova24-Sole24Ore, journalist and blogger) and Gino Bistagnino (professor from the Polytechnic of Torino)

Handily, and presumably because Bruce and Donald don't speak Italian, the discussion was almost entirely in English. I felt sorry for Gino Bistagnino because his English wasn't good enough to follow along, and with the added delay of the interpreter loop he ended up a little isolated from proceedings.

Apparently, before the event Donald Norman had suggested that they should try to argue as that would make a more interesting and enjoyable panel, and I think he was right. There was lots to ponder and a whole range of opinions - some of which I agreed with, others that I didn't.

The session started with Bruce reading the "Six principles of design" from Donald's latest book, and then asking if anyone was going to follow them. Donald thinks that people will, but that the big problem with such new thinking is that the people doing - those who are designing and building the devices that we'll use today and in the near future - don't read, and don't attend conferences. The new ideas only come into production when the next generation of students graduate and bring the ideas from the academics (who are the ones attending the conferences) into the workplace.

Luca tried to steer the discussion towards ethics in design, but Don was dismissive, claiming that although it was an important topic, the designers aren't the key decision makers in such matters - "Does anyone care about designers' ethics?". That was disappointing, as I think we need more discussion about ethics in designing and manufacturing (and I very much include computing in there too). As Donald said, do we need more than one type of salt cellar? How do we decide when there are enough, and move onto more useful problems.

I think that ties into the reason for the conflict in my own views on intelligent objects. One of Don Norman's favourite intelligent objects is his coffee machine - he presses a button, and gets nice coffee without having to do anything. Next to that in my notes I've scribbled "That's good apparently". I think there's a danger in the assumption that automation is progress and therefore unquestionably good. For some people, such a coffee machine is perfect, but automation loses some of the theatre and romance that I get from the ritual of making coffee with my Bialetti moka. It's not an onerous ritual, but a step-or-two above push button, get coffee. It seems I'm not alone.

A fair chunk of the discussion was taken up with Bruce Sterling in a full-on rant against word processors and Microsoft Word in particular. It's probably worth watching the video just for that. I thought Don Norman's counter-argument was excellent - basically that Bruce should stop whingeing about it and do something instead. "If you want to change the world, you must do it" He should either build or fund the creation of a word processor that works. Bruce claimed that a friend of his tried that once, and ended up going back to a fountain pen.

That spawned a sub-thread about criticism, and whether or not critics were of any use, with Bruce in the pro-critic corner and Donald arguing against. That pretty much used up the remaining time for the session (which in true Italian style had started something like twenty minutes late) and brought proceedings to a close.

  • Review from another festival-goer, Laurent Haug
  • Tags: ShareFestival2008 torino design manufacturing DonaldNorman BruceSterling

    Posted by Adrian at April 14, 2008 12:21 AM | TrackBack

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