It's been a long, long time since I said anything original in a presentation. I'm mostly fed up with talking about what I actually know about (brands/adverts/all that). And I don't know enough about the things I'm becoming interested in for anyone to want me to talk about them. So I thought I'd try and cook up something newish by knocking the two together and seeing if there's a presentation in there somewhere.
So here's a start, a general blatting out in public of things that might fit together.
The general area I think might be interesting is in the collision between marketing and brands and the information drenched cities we're soon going to be living in. Technologists are busying themselves turning buildings into displays, or at least draping them with informatics (whether physically or via various forms of augmented reality.) It's all really exciting, thoughtful, stuff with tons of thrilling prototypes and sketches, it reminds me of early webiness. Because, unless I'm missing something, there's not a lot of sophisticated thinking about how this intersects with commerce, marketing and advertising. (And I'm very willing to believe I'm missing something, this is why this is a bit of a voyage of discovery. And I just noticed today that Adam Greenfield's talking about it here. ) The city is already festooned with persuasion, screens are already talking to phones and animating transport systems but it's not being done by thoughtful UI experts it's being done by poster contractors at the behest of advertising agencies.
My concern is that we'll end up blundering into cities plastered with the equivalent of flash banners and microsites. Which is bad enough when they're on our screens but will be horrible when they're everywhere we go. What happens when the urban spam geniuses get to augmenting our reality?
Which is, you know, sort of interesting, but not really helpful. Because that just gets you to the cliche sci-fi visions of Minority Report etc and I don't think the future's going to be like that. It makes movie sense but not marketing sense. And I don't think society will tolerate it, and I don't think decent brands are that stupid.Well, half of me doesn't think so, and half of me suspects we're going to end up with Blade Runner directed by the people who brought you Orangina and Cillit Bang.
I'm not quite sure where to go next with that but it seems like there's something useful to be said about how these different streams of information and different forms of persuasion could coexist in the real world. I look at Dan's wonderful vision of a personal well-tempered environment and the evil marketing devil on my left-shoulder instantly wants to know whose logo's going to go next to the big bit of data and how long we can add a roll-over with a message from the gas company. You know what I mean? It's like the way advertising ended up all over the web - it seemed a pain-free option and a way to get things paid for. But if we want to provide people with all this information all over the city do we want to do it the same way? Advertisers will pay for access to that kind of attention, but is that a deal we want to do?
I think there might be an emerging area of practise here. Because it seems like this could be managed so we create good stuff that works for everyone - civil society, business, etc. But there are a million ways it could end up really bad.
Then there seem to be little threads that might connect to the main weft somehow:
Advertising/communications people know some arcane, non-obvious but relatively proven things about capturing and directing attention. Is that a skill-set that could enhance the efforts of the informaticians?
Is there some connection to the (admittedly unformed) notion of pre-experience design? How cool would it be if the data that's draped around the city leaks back into communications, and if those communications helped to explain and contextualise that data.
And, er, actually, that's it. Not a lot yet, but this feels like a thread worth pulling. So I'm going to.
I really like how the various Interestings take on different characters because of the people involved and the places where they are. Interesting South, (there've been two now) is an evening thing, because people have better stuff to do in Sydney during the day. Interesting Amsterdam involved lots of sitting on beanbags. (There are videos here.) And now David has announced Interesting New York featuring an incredibly professional-looking website which feels very NY. Anyway, David's looking for speakers etc, you should check it out.
Whenever talk at home turns to the perfect house Anne always mentions Bag End, Bilbo's house from Lord Of The Rings. And you can see her point, it'd be snug and comfortable and probably very sustainable. In fact, if we were still living in Oregon, I can see that we might have been tempted by a place at The Shire. Or end up with somewhere like this fantastic self-built Hobbit style-accommodation in Wales. Personally, as child, I fell in love with the idea of Mole End in The Wind In The Willows:
"directly facing them was Mole's little front door, with`Mole End' painted, in Gothic lettering, over the bell-pull at the side. Mole reached down a lantern from a nail on the wail and lit it, and the Rat, looking round him, saw that they were in a sort of fore-court. A garden-seat stood on one side of the door, and on the other a roller; for the Mole, who was a tidy animal when at home, could not stand having his ground kicked up by other animals into little runs that ended in earth-heaps. On the walls hung wire baskets with ferns in them, alternating with brackets carrying plaster statuary -- Garibaldi, and the infant Samuel, and Queen Victoria, and other heroes of modern Italy. Down on one side of the forecourt ran a skittle-alley, with benches along it and little wooden tables marked with rings that hinted at beer-mugs. In the middle was a small round pond containing gold-fish and surrounded by a cockle-shell border. Out of the centre of the pond rose a fanciful erection clothed in more cockle-shells and topped by a large silvered glass ball that reflected everything all wrong and had a very pleasing effect."
(Who wouldn't want a skittle alley in the house?)
But then, at Disneyland I think I spotted my ideal home - Goofy's House in Toon Town. I know it seems like a deliberately cute, cloyingly affected thing to say, but I just love how it looks. It's captured the essence of 'house' in that unique way that cartoons can do. I know I'm supposed to want to live in some sleek, clean Bauhasy machine for living, but I don't, I want to live somewhere that looks like this, with these sort of details. I want to live somewhere with a sense of humour.
I'm always surprised more architects and designers don't make more of the appeal of these kind of dimensions and aesthetics. They seem happy to use facades and cloaking devices for ordinary interiors but resist the lure of 5/8th's scale, forced perspectives, charm and silliness. I guess the lack of straight-lines doesn't make construction easy. Ikea do some kids furniture which looks a bit like this, and used to sell feet you could add to your tables and chairs, but that's about all I've ever seen. People love Port Merion, people love Disneyland, but no-one ever builds it. Send someone to York Minster and the first things they'll look for are the rude gargoyles.
We went to see Disney's Celebration a few years back, thinking it might be like a version of Toon Town you could live in, but it was more like Poundbury with more flags and more famous architects. There was no sense of fun, nothing playful about the architecture. Very thoughtful, very serious. But surely people are prepared to pay for fun in their houses. So much of these new urban designs are 'false' anyway, fake Georgian, fake thatch, I don't mind that particularly, people like that stuff, but wouldn't they like it more if the faking was done with more charm and humour. That'd be good.