Sketching in Hardware 2017

How do I even begin to explain how amazing Sketching in Hardware was?!?

Amazing 360 Photos. Oh, technology today!

Well I guess I just did. I must admit, I was a little bit geek-star-struck. Between being surrounded by the internet will do that to you. The important bits of the internet anyway. There were thankfully, absolutely no YouTube comments there ;) Sketching in Hardware, or Sketching as it’s referred to, was, as I understand it, started by Mike Kuniavsky back in 2006. Mike is the guy who literally wrote the book on Observing the User Experience and Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design. He’s been one of those people for me that I look at and think wow, not because necessarily of what he’s done or been involved with but because he has managed to communicate this in a down-to-earth way that makes sense and is applicable and valuable both to business and academics.

Exploring Detroit

Sketching in Hardware is one of those places (in my limited one time experience I say this) where you feel at home, and empowered, and immediately filled with energy and inspiration. This is thanks both to the curating and organization of the organizers, but is very much also the product of people who come, eager to share, meet, and play. I go to a lot of conferences and events and many of them are passive-one-way-communication style. You sit, watch 5 presentations, listen to someone ask a silly non-question which demonstrates that they know better than the speaker, and then go for a coffee break, exchange business cards, come back and repeat twice and leave. This is one of the reasons I’m so determined in my own events to embrace the spirit of “Participatory Engagement” wherein every activity requires participation. There are no ‘talks’ unless they are only 10 minutes long, everything is hands-on, workshops, etc. See the big conference I started in IdemoLab — Design Smart Products , our fun little gathering of nerds and demos: Bits & Beers or the ultimate test of Participation, Copenhagen Grotesque Burlesque. There, now I’ve been the jerk who says “I know better” ;) And to justify this paragraph, it’s just to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and working extensively with creating participatory events, it’s one of the main reasons I’m interested in creating opportunities for meaningful experiences. So when I say that Sketching in Hardware was well done, I really mean it.

Rather than give a whole synopsis on what happened, I’ll just leave you with my little ol’ vlog here:

3D Printed Organic Shapes
AxiDraw by EvilMadScientist
VibroVision: An On-Body Tactile Image Guide for the Blind

And interestingly enough, I actually totally forgot to vlog at all the first few days because I was so immersed in the activities. What was really special was that everyone presented. I think there must have been around 80 people there, and everyone presented. And remember my previous paragraph about participatory engagement, sitting and listening to presentations isn’t usually the best of experiences, but here it was. Here, every single presentation was relevant, interesting, useful and concise. Somehow we didn’t get that familiar ache when sitting for a long time listening to presentation after presentation, and this is a testament to the people presenting, people who are nice and doing ridiculously cool stuff. One of the main take aways that I experienced to be both bad and good was the use of Slack. We had a Slack channel up and running and I hadn’t really used Slack before but suddenly it became the tool of participatory engagement during presentations. As people presented, someone would volunteer themselves note taker and put in notes about the presentation. Others would find links about the work and post them, and others would post links such as ‘this reminds me of xyz’ and during that entire time, people were commenting and sharing, which was somehow insanely distracting but also immersive on a level I haven’t experienced before. Both listening and watching the presentation and engaging in a discussion about the presentation at the same time took some serious focus but it was well worth it. The majority of this blog post will be a rehash of the interesting points in the presentations, as experienced on the Slack channel.

So, rather than a major re-hash of everything, here’s a few quotes and thoughts from the presentations and Slack. These are in no particular order and were gathered on the trip home from Detroit, on a long bus trip from Seattle to the Canadian border, while I revisited the veryveryvery long Slack channel and found the following gems which stood out to me:

  • “Roleplay is one of the best ways we learn. Prototyping is essentially the practice of designing role-play activities for research.” — Dave Vondle

I particularly liked this quote because it fits in well with my dedication to participatory engagement, and often when doing workshops or just trying to figure out where to put things in my own house, I’m turning to role-play, it’s such a great tool.

“People tend to replace hard problems with easier ones. So “Does this tool address the problem?” gets replaced with “Do I like it?””

I unfortunately don’t remember who pointed this out but I think it’s a good point and maybe something to consider when we’re designing new things, the ‘do I like it?’ question encompasses a lot, from initially the look and feel, to the use, to the over-time use and adoption of the tool at which point we might be able to answer ‘does this tool address this problem?’ which is long after we’ve first asked the ‘do I like it?’ question.

“Why should my weather system be able to tell my heating system whether to turn on or off? Should my blinds be able to command the heating? The oven? What is the hierarchy of objects?” Question during Alasdair Allan’s talk.

This is a really interesting discussion, what is the hierarchy of objects? This is being debated on, for example the Internet of Things Podcast with Stacey Higginbotham and in other domains and how can it be answered when new products and protocols are constantly being released? A discussion for another post but definitely interesting when designing for meaningfulness as we need to not only figure out the hierarchy of objects, but also where do people fit in?

Just an interesting link from one of the presentations: Haptic Feedback guidelines in iOS:

Leave it to headless chickens to rule the day. One of the most surprising presentations simply due to hilarity and absolute perfect timing in the IoT madness, is Withervanes: “John Marshall’s latest project (with rootoftwo) is a weather vane built for the 21st Century: a headless chicken that tracks and responds to Internet “fear levels”” Check them out here. They’ve played upon the directional information of weather vanes and replaced N-E-S-W with “Our Whithervanes are a Neurotic-Early-Worrying-System that questions where we are going, since collectively we seem to be running around like headless chickens.” I mean, it’s just hilarious and genius. I love it.

Ah, the internet’s age old question,

“How do you articulate to someone at a distance how texture works?” was asked by Aaron Blendowski

and it’s interesting. Remember the “Virtual Lemonade” from the TEI 2017 conference, how do you articulate to someone at a distance how something tastes? It’s the same type of problem. Perception is hard to replicate. And it’s hard to design for. Hence the problem with trying to design any kind of meaningful experience, it’s up to the eye of the beholder. Also from Aaron’s commentary during the round robin session was

“We create technology because we always want what’s next and we hate maintaining what used to be next”

and I think this is a complicated (or not?) statement. We do want the newest thing, we want to improve, to charge forwards, to become, to evolve, and since we’re always looking forward it is hard to maintain that which we’ve created. Can we say that the act of creation is exciting and the act of maintenance is not? It’s a fairly universal statement I think, not just for technology for anything that humans create. A very common example might be that new relationships are exciting when they are new, and take work to maintain as a partnership or marriage.

Bunnie (Andrew “bunnie” Huang) and Jie Qi presented their work on Circuit Stickers which is a part of their work, Chibitronics which you can see in my vlog, above.

They asked, “if we change the ingredients of electronics, can we change the culture around it?” and I love this.

Certainly, Lilypad changed the culture of how we relate to textiles, opening a whole new world of interest and intrigue. I never before would have been in any way interested in sewing or yarn or thread until I learned about what was possible when those ingredients could be mixed into electronics and the things it could create. So I think the answer is absolutely a resounding YES and Chibitronics is a great way to start this.

A beautiful project, Omata, caught my attention.

a cycling computer which is so absolutely gorgeous and well thought out. It really resonated with the thoughts I’ve been having about tangible, everyday objects. Omata writes on their website “We’re building a modern sports instrument. This requires a ruthless attention to detail, material, colour and proportion. We have pursued beauty through reductive simplicity, with an ambition to create an instrument for your ride — an instrument that shows what matters most while you’re in motion.” This is very much in line with what I’ve been speaking about lately, only showing what you need to know and not referring to an app constantly to get the data you need. Omata continues, “We’ve designed the OMATA One to be completely stand-alone (no app-cessory here.) But we love data about our rides. The OMATA One tracks and records FIT file format so all your ride data is compatible with activity tracking services, such as Strava.” This is so good. Give what you need when you need it and give all the nerdy details later. Vanessa approved — if that means anything yet ;)

A shoutout to the Knight Foundation who made much of Sketching in Hardware possible. I had a great chat with Chris Barr from the Knight Foundation and learned about some of the incredible opportunities they have there, definitely check them out.

Everyone cried a tiny bit during Haiyan Zhang’s presentation, just go see it here and a huge applause to Haiyan and her team for making important tech and making a difference in people’s lives. For me this is a great example of designing for meaningfulness. It’s not about curing anything, it’s about enabling and empowering people. Yay!

And from Haiyan’s talk and from Slack, a couple of great quotes:

“I remember when @nicvillar and I saw the Hololens Minecraft demo for the first time — all those perfectly smooth, clean, rendered little cubes. afterwards reality just seemed to be a bitter joke”
“Initially I tried to make prototypes as close to the product as possible, but you want to match the fidelity of the prototype to the fidelity of the feedback you’re looking for.”
“Prototypes are _questions_ embodied”

And while I cannot remember who posted this: “This simulation if you haven’t seen it shows what life would be like with AR built into our brains… give it 20 years..

Then Nate from Sparkfun came on the scene. Nate is the founder of Sparkfun and just started their own “xLab” called SparkX where he’s been creating some ridiculously cool and useful new tech, see it here. He had just come from Vegas, where he was demonstrating his safe cracker at DefCon, and I’ll just leave it to Wired to explain that.

And considering my absolute love of using Wall-E in my presentations on why we need to design tangible, non-screen devices, this great little quote came up during Jan Borchers’ talk “If you think about what autonomous car means, it’s dangerously close to the Wall-E situation. Ebikes provide a different situation. And on that note, the future of cars came up a few times, most noteably in Wendy Ju’s talk, and I came to start thinking (again) about haptics in car seats. All of which can be summed up by the MYFB Principle described by Dave-Vondle — the move your fucking body principle. I need to start using this in my presentations too. Thanks Dave.

Yay for Eagle Design Blocks!

David Ledo coined “Soul-Body prototyping” with his work with his work on Pineal, which “exploits mobile sensing and output, and automatically generates 3D printed form-factors for rich, interactive, objects.”

Just two questions from Noam Zomerfeld,

“What can we do to help companies make better things?” and “How do you define what better means?”.

I’ve already written about Better Thin.gs and I’m excited to be working on the ‘meaningfulness’ aspect of this endeavour.

A random quote considering all the tech and future talk, but an important one that we often forget: “make implicit responsibility explicit” — Mike Kuniavsky.

Amon Millner: Asst Prof at Olin College outside Boston embraces multidisciplinary work, and tries to make sure that their engineering students get as many interfaces to other disciplines and communities as possible, making future tool designers go out into the world and encounter people from all walks of life. Find Amon here.

Words of wisdom from the founder of CrashSpace LA, Carlyn Maw: “If you’re worried about starting a community, don’t be, just start one”.

Kipp Bradford , while talking about…everything and the future of programming languages said:

“We change ourselves in response to how we exist in our environment and that becomes part of what it means to be human.” and also asks “when we have unlimited computational power and cameras, what will a programming language look like?”

Leonara Edman’s (from EvilMadScientist) answer? “Fridge Magnet Programming”.

Somewhere along the way, this article popped into the conversation, and is rather thought provoking “Computational thinking become a buzzword (sadly), let’s have a conversation to clear up the rhetoric and get to deeper meaning. To me, as a computational scientist, the essence is what we can do while interacting with computers, as extensions of our mind, to create and discover. That’s not the popular message today.”

And one more link: Public Lab is a DIY environmental science community, an open community which collaboratively develops accessible, open source, Do-It-Yourself technologies for investigating local environmental health and justice issues.

/end gems of presentations and Slack.

So those, and many other presentations were quite insightful and inspiring and all of this happened in a very particular context, the largest Masonic temple in the USA, with what was it, 1014 different rooms? It was massive and intriguing and our tour guide was amazing (again, see vlog). Spending time there, sharing the secrets of our trade, felt very special. Amidst dinners at home-style Polish restaurants and somehow feeding delicious food to 20 people for just over $100 at a Lebanese restaurant (I’m still not sure how we managed that), and bowling and taking very, very expensive LYFT rides (Note, the LYFT app is designed to trick you with obviousness — it says clearly “LUX” but all I could see was ‘6 people car’ and ignored the word LUX, probably because I am just not expecting things to be LUX and suddenly a $25 ride becomes $95 and 6 highly educated engineers cannot sort out who owes what to whom…), and many drinks on the rooftop of the hotel, we ended the presentation days and went on to experience the Henry Ford Museum and the Design Charrette. The Henry Ford Museum was interesting, with, as expected, many cars, but also many, many references to inventions including a replica of Edison’s lab in the Greenfield Village, and generally a homage to Edison with only whispered utterances to Tesla. The Design Charrette was fascinating, with our challenge being first to solve a Scavenger hunt, where my team decided to answer every challenge with a selfie .

And followed by a design challenge, imagining technology 10 years in the future, that we are looking back on, 20 years from now. Our group went through a loooot of scenarios and ended up in biometric identification as our topic. It was super interesting, with so many facets and unfortunately I had to leave before day 3 of the Charrette so I’m not sure where they ended up, but what a fascinating conversation we had!

What a privilege to be invited to this community. It’s already changed my perspective, I’ve met some incredible people, taken leaps of faith and jumped on to projects, and am eager to connect further with everyone I met and especially with those I didn’t get a chance yet to meet. Thank you again to Mike and Leah for your crazy behind-the-scenes organization, it was well worth it.

Finally, to gather some of the energy from Sketching, I asked everyone at the Design Charrette if they’d like to say something about how Sketching is meaningful for them, or what a meaningful moment was. Here are their answers.

In the Masonic Temple
Presenting at the Masonic Temple
The Porcupine workshop at Tech Town
Visiting Greenfield Village
Black was not the only colour you could choose for a Ford
Edison’s Lab
Evenings with Turkish Treats and Good People

Originally published at Meaningful Devices.