One of the points of starting RIG was to actually try stuff out - not just think and blog about things. Specifically - 'post-digital' things. That means doing things for ourselves, things without a client or a business model, things that are 'recently possible'. Obviously we hope some of these experiments will turn into something more, but if we were certain they would then they wouldn't be experiments would they? We've been lucky so far; TOFHWOTI turned into Newspaper Club, but who knows this time?
We've been wanting to play with 3D printers and custom manufacturer for a while, but weren't sure where to start. We'd never seen them in action, weren't sure what we could do. We thought about it idly through 2009 but then Cory Doctorow started serialising Makers and we started thinking about it harder. Various posts from Anne pushed the thinking further. And we were still thinking about it when I went to Oslo in October and set them this brief:
Inspired by that trip, we were thinking about it even more when we went to visit Ravensbourne and look at all their tools and machines:
That was inspiring too. Made it clear what was possible and what wasn't. The only problem now was what the heck to make.
We solved that on October 16th. On the back of an envelope. Look, there it is. We wanted something that materialised individual data in a way that could systematised. We wanted something designed for display and we wanted something trivial, playful and unimportant. Something we could send to our friends. So we decided to make Christmas decorations based on social network data.Obviously.
There were only two problems - we'd immediately given ourselves timing issues with Christmas not being far away, and we had no idea how to actually do it. So we found a man who did know how to do it; the extraordinarily talented Mr Andy Huntington without whom none of this would have been possible.
Our first thought was to make them all with a 3D printer, but it soon became clear that would be too expensive and too slow. So we decided to do one with the 3D printer and three with laser-cut acrylic.
This was the first one we thought of, representing monthly scrobbles on Last.fm
These represents miles travelled per month on Dopplr (initially the cloud size of the cloud was going to represent your annual carbon use but that proved to complicated)
These blue ones represent the apertures you've used over the year on flickr:
And these are the twitter snowmen. The bigger the head, the more followers you have:
(There's another datapoint hidden in there too, but no-one seems to have spotted that yet.) Getting the snowmen right was tricky. The data varied massively, from 10s of followers to 1,000s, but the heads still had to be recongnisable as heads - and not over-balance the whole object. Materialising data introduces a load of constraints on the design - you're suddenly working with the laws of physics as well as the boundaries of taste.
We realised we also needed something for when we couldn't find data, or when someone wasn't on a particular network, so we made this;
Once we got the prototypes back it started to be obvious that you could only tell what the objects 'meant' when you could see them alongside other people's. So we also made a card that showed you the context and the spread of shapes. This was the front cover:
The insides looked this:
I think that might be my favourite bit.
We then spent a bit of time spraying on glitter, attaching the nice string, putting them in boxes and sending them to people. Those in the UK (mostly) got those before Christmas. Our international friends mostly didn't. Sorry about that. I think there are some still on the way.
And then it was incredibly nice to see them popping up on flickr and twitter (which seem to be emerging as the new best ways of saying thanks.) People seem to like them - and as ever are writing smarter things about them than we could have done ourselves - Beeker, Julian, David, Anne, Iain.
And I think that's about it. It was fun. I think we learned by doing. And I think we have some interesting ideas about how to apply what we've learned. But more of that another time.
(Thanks to Russell Duncan, and various flickr friends for the pictures)