Laptops & Looms 2014, notes.

Here are the things I wrote down at Laptops & Looms 2 — direct quotes and indirect notes. Sadly, I missed the third day with no-doubt excellent thoughts and demos of things from Lou, Adrian, Tom A, other good brains:

Lars & Theo (Skrekkøgle):
– communicating finish
– international quality control
– changing scale from prototype to product: α to ß
– falling between hobby level and big industrial quantities

Mosse Sjaastad:
“learning through the skin”
– change perception of 5 minutes; old and new understandings

“a cuckoo clock for short-term memory.”

Nick Hand:
“when setting type, you think about it more”
– process of thinking – engaging with negative space
“A mobile career” – identifying skills through appearances

John Willshire:
“Design for one problem”
– Pictures are a common language
“Make with what is at hand” » design for necessity
– the making is the narrative is the product
– you can’t patent a story

Louise Downe:
“the internet is regional”

Alice Bartlett:
“it doesn’t mean anything if a computer can smell things.”

Henry Cooke:
– an interest in things that are replacing analog things
– ephemerality of timelines – breaking the loops of things; disappears into the ether
– JUDGES NOTABILITY and creates a memento
– Tying you to a time in a way that just scrolling doesn’t
– Vague enough to allow people to fill in the gaps

Brett MacFarlane:
– Fix the basics
– Lateralism / Diversity / Monoculture

George Oates:
– Cultural heritage design and service
– making archives more accessible » think about the archives first
“How many things do you have?”
– metadata for the physical objects
– mindful of how you describe digital materials
– ADDITIONAL CONTEXTS and multiple voices

George also spoke about an exciting project that at the moment is her “tiny, tiny fantasy” and can’t be mentioned. 

The two days felt like we have started to pass through the retrospective fetishism of object/print for object/print sake. People are now creating/making webthings as a point of purpose because those things fulfil a need, rather than a want or empty shelf where the George Foreman grill once was. It may be that we are leaving the gimmicky web behind and maturing.  

There were other things said — that I didn’t write those down is no indication of how much I valued them — around flow, focus, purpose, service, respect, problems/solving, the network and conducting. Smarter people will elaborate on those, I hope.

Of course, the main part of the thing took place amongst the trams, cable cars, Swedish knives, the fish, the chips, the ice creams. Many ice creams. Thanks to all that came, and particularly Matt and Russell for wanting to make people leave London for some traditional shambles in the East Midlands. 


In terms of User Experience Design, the web can learn a lot from the restaurant world —

For me, service is how people look at you, talk to you, engage you as human beings. It’s not about how fast they pick up the crumbs on your table or even fill up your water glass.

Christian Puglisi (Relæ) in Cutting it Down to the Bone, Eater

Later, he talks about giving the right amount of information to diners, ensuring that each person’s need is appropriately met —

I don’t like the idea of waiters pulling off monologues, especially when the people might not understand or want to hear it. So, better to spend time with the person who really wants to know about the weird wine they are being served or something like that.

These seem like really obvious things — do what you should do, not what you can do; treat users like humans; give them the right amount of information for what they want — but they’re often the first failure points in any user experience.

Ugle: The Networked Owl.

Einar and Jørn from Voy have finally made a video to explain and demonstrate Ugle: the networked owl.

In their own words:

Ugle is a wooden owl that can be controlled over the internet with an iPhone application. It lets you send colour-messages from your phone to your home. When you change the position of the colors on the owl on the screen, the physical owl turns its head to the chosen color. It is a decorative personal message system where the household has to decide what the colours mean.

— Hoot hoot! A new Ugle film, Voy

I bring up Ugle quite a lot, in talks, in conversation, in day-to-day life. It’s the perfect example of the kind of products that people should be designing for the home — networked but not screaming network, undemanding, ambiently conveying meaning. The meaning is constructed between the people that use it, rather than being dictated by the object.

It is designed for natural tendencies, casual observation, rather than trying to create a new behaviour.

Too many products that come out of the Internet of Things end up putting utility above beauty, whereas it can be both. Ugle demonstrates that it’s possible to have a domestic, networked object that is functional and pleasing to look at (see also the Good Night Lamp by Alex D-S).

Ugle is calm, ambient, networked and beautiful, and that’s what our homes need.




Cockroach at the typewriter.

At the bottom of the road, there is a shopspace that keeps changing hands into faddy niche shops. Most recently it was a pop-up shop selling antique French furniture, a venture that lasted marginally longer than the Garra Rufa fish pedicurist that had recently vacated the space. Before that, a variety of hairdressers turned over.

It’s recently been occupied by a long-running bookshop not 100-yards away, Books On The Park. I’d been to Books On The Park before, it was supremely cramped and a bit surly. Still, indie bookshops are a dying breed and must be supported, so we went into the new space.

Beyond all the pristine folios — a superb cloth covered collection of Chekhov’s short stories and Norse histories priced just outside of mid-month whimsy — were  perfectly kept books of all topics. This is fairly novel, as these kind of shops tend to have a bit of a jumble sale approach to quality. There were boxes of books earmarked for charity shops that had not made the standard.

I’m a terrible hoarder, with a bad habit for picking up books I will have no time to read, but the allure of excellent covers is always too great to resist. Some people are suckers for classic Penguin cover designs, and they’re right to be, but I have a huge soft-spot for Faber & Faber. Very under-rated, and wilfully modernist a lot of the time, they are stark and beautiful. I picked up a couple of paperback editions of Beckett plays (editions I haven’t got already), and ended up in the poetry section. Scanning the spines, I pulled out a brilliant yellow book collecting poems by Don Marquis, called archy and mehitabel.


I’ve never heard of Don Marquis, but I opened it up and it reminded me of two favourite things: ee cummings and George Herriman’s Krazy Kat & Ignatz.

Like Krazy Kat, archy & mehitabel features a cast of animals — the text is written ‘by’ a cockroach called archy, and featuring a lot of animals that have previously been humans: mehitabel, the cat; warty bliggens, the toad; freddy, the rat.

In punctuation-absent, faux-broken free verse, Marquis creates rich characters filled with back-story, warmth and humour. There’s an irreverent play with language that pokes fun at its formal absurdity whilst defining clear accents, lexicons and personalities of its characters. mehitabel’s refrain of “wotthehell” here is a great example:

i have had my ups and downs
but wotthehell wotthehell
yesterday sceptres and crowns
fried oysters and velvet gowns
and today i herd with bums
but wotthehell wotthehell
i wake the world from sleep
as i caper and sing and leap
when i sing my wild free tune
wotthehell wotthehell
under the blear eyed moon
i am pelted with cast off shoon
but wotthehell wotthehell

the song of mehitabel (extract), Don Marquis

There’s a depth to the words and use of language that raises it above a pretend naïvety; the use of animal characters is to offer the ability to indulge a different perspective and gently poke fun at the human world from a differently privileged position.

A little research showed that there is a clear link between archy and mehitabel and Krazy Kat and Ignatz: George Herriman illustrated the original newspaper publications of Marquis’ columns, in his typically brilliant way:

Which makes me very happy, and reminds me of the wonderful purpose of physical bookshops, particularly second-hand ones: accidental discovery, judging books by their covers and trusting your own hunches. Love live indie.

One day they’ll pass, and we’ll say “wotthehell wotthehell”.

Analogue glances.

There’s a decent amount of talk going on about “glance-able information” in the form of dashboards and second-screens. The central idea is to use digital to be ambiently aware of information, or add commentary to your experience. They augment what you are currently doing. Not in an AR kind of way, just casually. backchannel