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Eerie Trees

The Funambulist has rescued this week an impressive piece of architecture without architects from last year. The monsoon flood of July 2010 left 2,000 casualties in Sindh region, Pakistan, and forced more than 20 million people out from their homes. One-fifth of the country’s total area was under water (the equivalent to the whole size of England). Spiders could not find any other way to survive, but to climb up on trees. The extreme concentration of arachnids at these points turned those trees into completely cocooned structures, with endlessly overlapping spider webs. The fact of being surrounded by a vast area of stagnant waters provided them with more than enough succulent mosquitoes, and thereby reducing the risk of a malaria epidemic; locals reported fewer mosquitoes than it would have been expected after such a disaster. Photographer Russell Watkins captured in these swamped areas webs which were sometimes even stretching from tree to tree. As he witnessed: <It was an extraordinary sight, really quite spooky and surreal. Seemingly endless lakes of mill-pond-calm water, with cotton-candy trees reflected like mirrors. It was both beautiful and disturbing. As we talked to local people, dozens of tiny spiders were dropping out of the trees, onto our heads, over the camera. I think they were white crab spiders, just a few millimeters long, and not harmful – almost imperceptible.>

A lack of sunlight killed most trees, since multiple webs acted as an opaque veil over them. When the waters began to recede, displaced villagers tried to resettle their communities. The scarce amount of remaining trees led nonetheless to a lack of natural sun shelters against scorching temperatures.

Despite the shiver that they might provoke on the viewer at first sight, these images only show an  spatial consequence of the much larger extent of an still on-going tragedy.

via: deconcrete



Wayfinding using Lenticular Film

Can you control a crowd with nothing more than an optical illusion? A group of researchers at Tokyo’s University of Electro-Communications think so. They are developing a lenticular lens sidewalk that would keep people moving in both directions on their own side of the walkway.

(all images via: DigInfo)

Lenticular lenses use a type of optical illusion involving a curved edge and an underlying image to simulate movement – just like those “moving” Valentines and stickers many of us played with as children. The theoretical walkways would use simple images of stripes moving toward the right to keep people on the right-hand side of the walkway.

How would moving stripes control a crowd? It’s simple: most of us use visual cues to keep us balanced while we walk. As we see the stripes subtly moving to the right, we naturally follow the movement with our eyes and then our bodies. Pedestrians may not even be aware that they are being sneakily guided.

The walkways would also be a great benefit even if people were aware of them and knew how they worked since they could be used as a sort of low-tech guidance system. In a crowded situation where people are disoriented, the moving stripes would act as a simple way to guide them in the right direction. The display uses no electricity so it would be relatively simple and low-cost.

Since lenticular lenses have not been used in this way before, it is not yet clear how well they would hold up to continued pedestrian traffic. Research into the crowd control capabilities of this intriguing idea is ongoing; don’t be surprised if you see a “moving” sidewalk like this in your city one day soon.

The Battle for Control of Smart Cities

Will tech-powered cities revolutionize the way we live or hand corporations the keys to our privacy? A new study by the Rockefeller Foundation offers conclusions.

Who will own the brains of smart cities–citizens or corporations? At stake is an impending massive trove of data, not to mention issues of privacy, services, and inclusion. The battle may be fought in the streets between bands of Jane Jacobs-inspired hacktivists pushing for self-serve governance and a latter-day Robert Moses carving out monopolies for IBM or Cisco instead of the Triborough Bridge Authority. Without a delicate balance between the scale of big companies and the DIY spirit of “gov 2.0” champions, the urban poor could be the biggest losers. Achieving that balance falls to smarter cities’ mayors, who must keep the tech heavyweights in check and “frame an agenda of openness, transparency and inclusivness.”

Those are some of the conclusions of “The Future of Cities, Information, and Inclusion,” a 10-year forecast commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation and published this morning by the Institute for the Future. “Without this catalyst for cooperation,” the authors conclude, “we may repeat the devastating urban conflicts of the 20th century that pitted central planners like Robert Moses against community activists like Jane Jacobs.” Befitting the Foundation’s focus on the world’s poorest and what it calls “smart globalization,” the report’s emphasis is on smartening up cities in the developing world–cities that lack both data about their swelling populations and the tools needed to make sense of it. The roster of expert contributors comprises a who’s who of ubiquitous computing and gov 2.0 types, including MIT Senseable City Lab director Carlo Ratti, Everyware author Adam Greenfield, the Santa Fe Institute’s Nathan Eagle, Intel Labs Director Genevieve Bell, Microsoft Research’s Jonathan Donner, and San Francisco CIO Chris Vein.

Together, they highlight five “technologies that matter” for cities in 2020: mobile broadband; smart personal devices, whether they’re dirt-cheap phones or tablets; government-sponsored cloud computing (modeled on the U.K.’s national “G-cloud” initiative); open-source public databases to promote grassroots innovation, and “public interfaces.” Instead of Internet cafés, imagine an outdoor LED screen and hacked Kinect box allowing literally anyone to access the Net using only gestures.

The report’s centerpiece is a map depicting how these technologies might be applied across 13 scenarios, from something as simple as on-demand census counting (to track the influx of urban immigration) to crowdsourced public services (best exemplified in the U.S. bySeeClickFix, the subject of a profile in the December/January issue of Fast Company) to high-resolution, real-time models of urban processes.

None of these developments are unambiguously good, stresses Anthony Townsend, director of technology development at IFTF and the report’s lead author. Data-rich models might offer residents a chance to see how congestion pricing might effect the volume of traffic on their street, or they might be harnessed by technocrats in places like China or Singapore to further tighten their grip on how cities function. Crowdsourcing carries its own complications, adds Townsend. “It’s cooperation versus offloading: cities shoveling off service delivery onto citizen groups” in a social media successor to business improvement districts, “while in the developing world, you’re going to have governments that never provided services to begin with” leaving the crowd to fend for themselves in the name of empowerment.

“Those tensions come up in every discussion,” Townsend says, whether it’s privacy versus the public good, collecting data versus parsing it, and guaranteeing access to all citizens versus carving out virtual gated communities and corporate enclaves. “You could imagine a world with a lot of preventative measures to stop smoking or stop obesity from spreading through social networks–which we know to be true,” he says. “Or you could use this information to deny them health insurance or even access to parts of the city. There are ways all of these can play out as either dystopia or utopia.”

In that regard, “The Future of Cities, Information, and Inclusion” is the highest-profile critique to date of the bright green rhetoric from companies like IBM, Siemens or Cisco, which have seized the chance to pad their top lines with government sales while corporate IT customers stockpile mountains of cash. In what the report calls the “Battle for the Smart City:”

Global technology companies are offering “smart city in a box” solutions. Governments are responding to their pitch: a smarter, cleaner, safer city. But there is no guarantee that technology solutions developed in one city can be transplanted elsewhere. As firms compete to corner the government market, cities will benefit from innovation. But if one company comes out on top, cities could see infrastructure end up in the control of a monopoly whose interests are not aligned with the city or its residents.

But cities need them, too. Government officials just need to avoid being sold a bill of goods. “You could say the residents of Caracas elect their leaders, and those leaders should be imposing their agenda on any company they do business with,” Townsend says. “But at the end of the day, these company want to solve problems, and they have a lot of resources to bring to bear. What’s going on right now at the grassroots level isn’t scalable or sustainable yet, and that’s what these corporate campaigns bring to the table. The map is a call-to-arms for leaders at any level–they need to become better customers of the IT industry.”

Via: FastCompany

The Visual Thinker

sketchnotes_matali.jpgsketchnotes by Craighton Berman, click for full-sized images!

This post is the first in a new “sketchnotes channel” on Core77 ( that will explore the application of visual thinking tools in the worlds of design and creative thinking.

The recent rise of the “visual thinking” movement in business borrows from the natural ways designers work—using sketches to explore and express ideas, manipulating complex systems of thoughts on sticky notes, and using rough visuals to make sense of the world. Humans are, of course, wired to be visual thinkers from birth, so it’s only natural that people are attracted to these tools, and the power they have to help solve problems and explore opportunities.

In the long list of tools one could use for visual thinking, sketchnotes are one of the most exciting. Simply put, sketchnotes are visual notes that are drawn in real time. Through the use of images, text, and diagrams, these notes take advantage of the “visual thinker” mind’s penchant for make sense of—and understanding—information with pictures. Often these notes come out of lectures or conferences, and have gained a lot of attention and interest in the past few years when people post scans of their sketchbooks from events like SXSW or various design conferences for the whole internet to see.

sketchnotes-lotta.jpgSketchnotes by Eva-Lotta Lamm

This kind of note taking has an obvious appeal for both the coverage of the event as well as the aesthetic quality of getting a peek inside someone’s sketchbook—but good sketchnotes are actually much more than a set of beautiful doodles.

Sketchnoters aren’t reporters, information designers, or illustrators. They’re actually all three at once. This form of rapid visualization forces you to listen to the lecture, synthesize what’s being expressed, and visualize a composition that captures the idea—all in real time. A musicians’ “circular breathing” for the Moleskine crowd.


Instead of recording what’s being said verbatim, good sketchnotes capture the meaningful bits as text and drawings. Better sketchnotes use composition and hierarchy to give structure the content, and bring clarity to the overall narrative of the lecture. The best sketchnotes express a unique personal style and add editorial comments on the content—entertaining and informing all at once.

Sketchnotes by Austin Kleon

Sketchnotes serve a few purposes:

They’re PERSONAL: They act as a visual journaling tool so when you attend a lecture, you can remember the bits of information and images that have meaning for you. Sketchnotes are also a great way to record your ideas and observations—these aren’t reporter’s notes, they’re your thoughts and interpretation of the subject matter as well.

They’re PUBLIC: Great sketchnotes create a “map” of the presentation that provides a visual summary for others to read and explore. More and more sketchnotes are shared online, giving people views into both the content that was being presented, as well as the point-of-view of the sketchnoter.

They’re PRACTICE: Sketchnoting hones your skills in observation & listening, distilling and structuring information, creating narratives, and—of course—rapid sketching.

sketchnotes-rohde.jpgSketchnotes by Mike Rohde

Consider sketchnotes to be the antidote for the age where lecture attendees only partially engage in the speaker’s presentation while they Tweet the last quotable quip and check their RSS reader for the latest update on Engadget. The sketchnoter is focused, singularly engaged in what’s being said, and is fully engaging their mind to shape something from that content on the blank page in front of them.

Via: Core77

Interaction ’11 Keynotes

February of this year saw the IxDA’s fourth Interaction conference, held in Boulder, Colorado. And a couple of months back, the IxDA published the recordings from the conference, including all seven keynote presentations.

If you couldn’t make it to the conference itself, these videos give a great flavor of the event. They give us a chance to take a step back from the day-to-day reality of what it is that we do, and to immerse ourselves in some different big-picture perspectives. They provide plenty of food for thought, and not a little inspiration. So for your enjoyment, here they are.

Bill Verplank—Opening Keynote

Bill Verplank is one of the fathers of interaction design. He worked at Xerox PARC on the first desktop interfaces and went on to do interaction design at IDEO, and at Interval Research, he worked on haptics and innovative design methods. More recently he has been lecturing in human factors, UI design, and new music controllers.

In this talk (the entire duration of which he sketches what he is talking about), Bill covers a lot of ground, and gives us several ways of looking at and thinking about things. For example:

  • Asking “How do you…?” questions (do, feel, know)
  • Should a control be a button or a handle?
  • Should an interface be more like a path or more like a map?
  • Different types of thinking: enactive (doing), iconic (seeing), and symbolic (knowing)
  • Is software a tool, a medium, or a vehicle?
  • Machines as part of evolution

Erik Hersman

In the West, there is a general perception of Africa as a basket-case continent—poor, corrupt, backward, and perhaps doomed to remain so. Erik Hersman paints a very different picture. His is a new Africa, an Africa of entrepreneurship- and technology-fuelled hope and optimism.

He talks about some of the innovative projects that he is involved in, including Ushahidi, an open-source web application created to map the reported incidents of violence happening during Kenya’s post-election crisis, and subsequently used for election monitoring and to support disaster relief efforts around the world.

Lisa Strausfeld

Pentagram’s Lisa Strausfeld works at the intersection of the physical and the virtual, where the navigation of information and the navigation of buildings come together in a unified experience. In this talk, she showcases many of the inspiring projects she has worked on.

Richard Buchanan

Richard Buchanan is a huge name in our field, arguably best known for inaugurating the postgraduate interaction design programs at Carnegie Mellon. His talk runs the gamut—from design’s subject matter (“Design has no subject matter … We MAKE our subject matter.”) through defining interaction design and through his four orders of design (which define the types of interaction that we design) to the importance of knowing the history of the field.

Brenda Laurel

Brenda Laurel has had a long and distinguished career in the design field. Through the lens of the innovations that she helped conceive, she illustrates a number of important “hinges”—turning points if you like—that were important enablers of subsequent innovations. This talk reminded me of what author Steven Johnson calls “the adjacent possible”, whereby all new ideas are new combinations of existing ideas.

Jason Bruges

Jason Bruges shows off some of the brilliant installations (pun intended) that his studio has created. I can’t help but think that this stuff is a bit frivolous. But on the other hand, if they make people think and help to make our cities nicer places, what’s wrong with that?

Bruce Sterling: Closing Keynote

This is the icing on the cake. Bruce Sterling delivers the smackdown. But he does it with such humor and empathy that we can’t help being taken in. And he really does give us some meaty stuff to chew on. Morality in design, user Stockholm Syndrome, and so much more that I can’t begin to go into here. Expect to see the themes he brought up being discussed a lot in the near future.

Via: JohnnyHolland

Blue City of Chefchaoen, Morocco

Morocco is renowned for its colors, with its cities awash in vivid shades of red, purple, green and gold. But things are a little different in Chefchaoen, a town in the northwest nestled among the Rif Mountains. Take a stroll through Chefchaoen’s streets and you’ll be hard-pressed to find something that isn’t painted a particular shade of blue.

(images via: fishki.netreibeihesdes)

Chefchaoen, founded in 1471, was once a refuge of Jews and converted Christians of Muslim heritage. They sought refuge in the safety of these mountains after the Spanish Reconquista in medieval times, a period in which Christian kingdoms retook Muslim-controlled areas of the Iberian peninsula. The town was painted the powder-blue of tekhelel, a natural dye made of shellfish. In the bible, Israelites are commanded to use this dye to color one of the threads of their prayer shawl.

(images via: reibeishadowplay, yotutbrian tomlinson)

Though tekhelel is no longer available and the city’s population of Jews has diminished, the tradition has carried on through the centuries. Blue pigment is sold in pots and bags throughout the city, and residents faithfully refresh the paint on their homes, flower pots, balcony railings, doors and practically everywhere else in the community. Even the interiors of many of these buildings are painted blue.

(images via: ana p. bosque, bachmontdave_b_)

The pigments may vary in color now, ranging from periwinkle to aqua, but the effect is no less spectacular, providing a monochromatic stage from which every other color dazzles, particularly the merchandise hung on walls outside of markets and shops.

Of course, Chefchaouen is known for more than just its unique paint job. The city offers handicrafts that aren’t available in other areas of Morocco, such as wool garments and blankets, and is also one of the main producers of cannabis in the nation. It is often sold in great abundance at stands alongside fruits and vegetables. On holidays Chefchaouen is filled with tourists, especially the Spanish. Perhaps they’re making up for lost time, as the city was closed to European visitors until 1920.

Via Weburbanist

Reinventing Design by Chris Bernard, Microsoft