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Designing Interactive Systems 2004, Cambridge, MA

"Designing Interactive Systems" took place at the Marriott Hotel, Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA –just across the street from MIT Media Lab.

Doctoral consortium

For nine colleagues and me DIS began a day earlier with the doctoral consortium chaired by Peter Wright (University of York), David Benyon (Napier University, Edinburgh), Lars Erik Holmquist (Viktoria Institute, Göteborg) and Jodi Forlizzi (Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh). I guess for all of us students it was a helpful event seeing what other researchers from neighbouring field are involved in, and understanding their methods and methodologies. Again the projects came from a wide range of different backgrounds and ranged from rather technical research to very hands-on community projects involving the web.
I like presentations. Every time it is necessary to rethink and re-articulate what one is „actually“ involved in - is reframing the whole. As I explain – I actually better understand what I am doing.

Currently i would describe that as „understanding certain aspects of telepresence (or effects of „presence“) to build an interactive environment that uses geographically distributed data to create experiences of „interconnectedness“, „global awareness“ and “holistic overview” for participants without being overwhelming - instead encouraging a critical distance.”

During this trip i had the chance to look at a few projects at the MIT Media Lab, to visit research labs and companies near the venue (among them David Small Design and Invivia) and i went to two places in Boston: the "Mapparium" and David Smalls installation "Hall of Ideas" both at the "The Mary Baker Eddy Library".

DIS conference

The keynote was given by the architecture professor William J. Mitchell. He spoke about “rethinking campus design”, and, (referring to his book “city of bits”) described that WIFI and laptops were transforming the campus into a “digital learning space”. The same space could also be a “rental space”, “custom space”, “learning space” and many others. That the “classroom” was in fact its function, the community - and that you wanted also to act as a community, and encourage to participate in a discourse.

He described how WIFI and laptops was changing his style of teaching, as students were live googling while he was giving his lecure. He concluded that functions weren’t separated as modernists described it – that there was more a Japanese notion of space, where the same space serves different functions.

All right until then, unfortunately he then started showing images of the new MIT architectures, some of them still in planning- others already inhabited by students. Full of irregular staircases, awkwardly shaped and wasted spaces in my opinion. I don’t want to go into depth here, but me impression is, that what he spoke about, and the visuals he was showing were two different things. The architectures were in my opinion the typical vain examples of “what is technically possible” not thinking of the “users” at all. A typical example of “architecture” were the architect considers himself an artist, and doesn’t prioritize a “building” that is flexible, can adapt to the users, and change over time (as Building 20 did, an example for "low density use of a high value site" Mitchell). (I wasn’t surprised overhearing a conversation of students which were saying that it was raining in at some spots.1)

These new architectures still have to prove that they can age in dignity and adapt over time to multiple uses, (as Building 20 did).
There are some images of the architectures at flickr, at the "DIS 2004" group:

Jefferson, who is the architect of the University of Virginia campus had travelled extensively through Europe, studying the architecture there, even measuring bricks of archways – taking back all these ideas to create this campus of the first University in the US. He even had the bricks made himself. I am afraid, as antiquated as these buildings appear, people would prefer them in the long term to those new architectures.
There is more about the architectural ideas of Thomas Jefferson here:
and William J. Mitchells' page is at

(I appreciate their couragous decissions to actually build these architectures. But i don't approve of the style.)


Elizabeth Churchill of FX Palo Alto Laboratory presented their plasma poster, a “community bulletin board” in the reception area of their lab. People can leave notes for each other, images or links. It has a web interface, people can send emails to it, and select & move directly on the touchscreen. A real world, hands on project that would make sense at many places. I did’nt quite understand if the lab in Japan shares this board – or if they have their own.

As papers can be read in the proceedings I joined mostly panels, though missed the “design for hackability” one.
The session about fashion raised many questions. "Digital Peacocktails" was the title and of the projects presented some were excentric and entertaining – but also produced interesting research results. I liked the "sirene shoes", which forced their wearer to never have both feet at the ground at the same time - otherwise they would produce an annoying noise. Obviously these contraints were enjoyed by the person wearing them. They reported that the person experienced something like a personality change through this intrusive gadget as they broke down after a long days use in the early morning hours. It looks as if "constraints" are a realy exciting area for further exploration. Sirene Shoes:

Random notes from the fashion panel, by whomever:
"The more simple an idea is - the more people project into it."
"People want to communicate, objects don't have meening themselves."
"Beauty is not friendly - it is pain and sacrifice."
"We wear clothes for self expression and magic - not because cold and warm."
"Digital technology will change our garments."


At the "Designing the Future" panel students from "Art Center College of Design" presented some of their projects. One of them was the "2-degrees network" a platform that can be accessed via pda or web and connects you to people you choose. It has forums and semi-private areas and its general benefit is that it uses devices we already own and know how to use: Computers, PDAs and mobiles.

Philip van Allen presented his newsreader, a flash-demo, i think, that enables you to compare the content of news websites. Excellent idea - but does it work yet?

Random notes by whomever:
"The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. Its never good for yourself."
Oscar Wilde
Experience designs' focus is on: high sensation - low meaning, low intent.
High consumption a main goal.
Is it beauty? Beauty is only skin-deep.
"Social software wants to overtake reality."
This session was all about stuff - and less about methodologies and background.

One afternoon we visited a couple of companies close to the venue. Among them the David Small's Small Design Firm, Ambient Devices and Invivia. (some images at bottom of page)

David Small, graduate of the Media Lab is creating interactive installations since a couple of years. "Stream of consciousness" was shown at Ars Electronica some years ago. "Hall of Ideas" can be seen in Boston.

Ambient Devices are a spin-off of the Media Labs' "tangible media group" and create "ambient displays" that communicate stock values or the weather at a remote place one feels attached to. Their idea is that the display has to be unobtrusive like a clock on the wall. It is there and you can choose to look at it. (Not like our new toaster, that produces an offending, defening alarm when a slice of toast is ready.)

Invivia seem to work with Networks, Narratives and Space. In their foyer they have a beautiful installation piece where little cocktail umbrellas open and close gracefully actuated by Nytenol memory-metal coils. I hope they will turn this into an installation piece. Very elegant.

Flickr DIS 2004 photo pool


Jodi Forlizzi spoke about her idea of experience design. She speaks of the "dimensions of experience" as "the ongoing moment", "an event" (beginning & end) and "shared experience, when we talk about a (past) experience. Her talk and conclusions were very interesting, and i am trying to figure out how they relate to my research interests. Hers are very product related aproaches. Her framework contains three items as well: fluent (tools, bricks), cognitive (materials that are there) and the "expressive" (relationships, stories, customised appearance).
"fluent" items require our undived attention.
"cognitive" would include eating with chopsticks for the first time. It is unfamiliar, but we will master it.
"expressive" derives from relationships.
Jodis' URL:

Peter Wright claimed that emotion and experience where tied together and that it is not advisable to seperate them. Experience can be understood as "experience" (or absence thereof), "an experience", "co-experience" (conversations). Key was to understand the emotional and collaborative nature of experiences.

Random quotes:
"people are social even when they are alone"
"emotions are contagious"
"the device formerly known as cellphone"
"get qualities of the everyday world into digital life."
"car-sharing is design"
"Its not about stuff - its about people"

One of the colleagues at the media lab mentioned that they where developing something for the "William Forsythe company". I don't know more details, but this sounds very promising. I have allways wondered why Forsythe, who is so fond of great effects, music and media in his pieces has never made use of interactive media. Looks as if the waiting will soon be over.

I enjoyed the event as a whole, and felt very much “at home” there considering the projects and the different methodological approaches. Other conferences I go to are more art-focussed where participants may even discuss the constraints of Photoshop filters upon their artistic expressiveness – others are heavily HCI related and people can get completely lost in small, technical details. So this was a good mix, overall quite practical – with many good leads to continue. Jonah has been a bit more critical, take a look yourself:

Note: images below are David Small, Small Design Firm, MIT Media Lab, INVIVIA, Mapparium, Orange Research, Kendall Square Pythagoras Installation, Ambient Devices and Context Photography.

1) The MIT finally sued the architects in 2007 for leaks, cracks and were "responsible for construction and design failures." Article in Boston news

Some snapshots from the conference:
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last update: 8/11/02013 22:26

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