Design Observer Twenty Years 2003-2023

John Thackara | Essays

Skunk Space and Time [December 2004]

This free monthly newsletter starts conversations on issues to do with design for resilience — and thereby reveals opportunities for action. It also brings you news of Doors of Perception events and encounters. Back issues are now archived on Design Observer. To subscribe to future newletters by John Thackara click here.

Registration is now open for Doors of Perception 8. It's on the theme "Infra" and runs from 21-26 March in New Delhi. What infrastructures are needed to enable bottom-up, edge-in social innovation - and how do we design them? The weeklong event features a conference; project clinics; exhibits of Indian media artefacts; a bazaar of social innovation; visits in and around the city; Bhang Brunch and Holi Party in Asola. The latest list of participants, a registration form, and the conference blog, are at:

We are not printing posters or conference brochures for Doors 8. Please help us get the word out in a lighter way. Print our A5 announcement, post copies of it on notice boards where you work, or send this URL to people who might be interested:

The results of our Project Leaders' Round Table, which was about success factors in design research projects, are now online. Presentations include "touching the state", milk distribution chains in Latvia, bar code triggered videos in hospitals, high speed train scenarios, and service design in health systems. A text called Conclusions contains more questions than answers, but includes a call for "skunk space and time". We will apply the lessons of this event to the Project Clinics, which will be a focus of Doors 8 in New Delhi.

One reason the IT boom has flattened out is that the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for information systems has been found to be far higher than customers at first realized. Rishab Gosh, in a paper for First Monday, quotes these TCO numbers:
- License fees 5-10%
- Hardware and software costs 15-40%:
- Maintenance, integration, support and training 60-85%
If we had a better grasp of the TCO for design projects, would we take them all on? One of the lessons to emerge from our Round Table was that co-ordination, which has many facets, is a critical success factor: if it's not done properly, or is treated as an extra, projects (and the people involved) usually suffer.

You move round a city from street vendor to street vendor: dumplings, noodles, and vodka martinis. One of the pre-Doors 8 field projects we're supporting is Debra Solomon's ongoing quest to enable "nomadic banquets". We are keen to hear about locative media projects that involve food, ratings, mobile phones, GIS and so on, that we can learn from and maybe connect with. Check out Debra Solomon's Culiblog - and then tell us about lo-food projects we need to know about. Thanks.

The Chinese government intends to build 1,000 new museums across the country by 2015. A scary piece by Elizabeth Casale in The Platform, an e-zine on cultural policy, says that China's "place-based cultural strategy" is leading to a glut of buildings meant to symbolize cultural sophistication. Meanwhile stories are circulating about the Shanghai Grand Theatre often half-empty for lack of interesting programming, or of state-of-the-art equipment that few employees know how to use.

Do you believe in the power of radically distributed algorithms? The European Commission's Future and Emerging Technologies group is promoting "a radical paradigm shift towards a self-organising, self-managing and context-aware autonomous network". This, they say, is the only adequate response to the increasing complexity of demands now being placed on the Internet. A budget of 20 Million euros is available for collaborative projects to do with autonomic communications. Be warned, though that Networks of Excellence (NOEs) need to contain hordes of PhDs to be eligible. A launch meeting takes place in Brussels on 8 December.

Next year's Nordic Design Research Conference (the first) is about "In the Making". It's for anyone who shares an interest in how people shape and make sense of things in an increasingly man-made world. The team includes Thomas Binder, Center for Design Research; Peter Gall Krogh, Aarhus School of Architecture; and Johan Redström, Interactive Institute, Göteborg. 29 - 31 May 2005, Copenhagen, Denmark

This event only happens every ten years. "Critical computing: between sense and sensibility" is a multi-disciplinary conference in participatory design, interaction design, computer supported collaborative work, social computing, digital art and entertainment. 21-25 August 2005, Aarhus, Denmark.

A condition called "endocolonization" features in the new edition of Acoustic Space, a publication from the Riga Center for New Media Culture (RIXC). The magazine is not about endoscopes running amok, but about "locative media and tactical cartography". It includes texts by Richard Barbrook, Brank Curcic, Beatriz Da Costa, Cory Doctorow, Josh On, Bruce Sterling, and Valdis Krebs. To obtain your copy, email: agnese at

Bean counters from Berenschot, a consulting firm, have advised the Dutch government to stop funding (after 2005) 150 "support organizations" (including Doors of Perception) and focus all its cultural funding on "production". The result will be to squeeze out space for critical reflection, dumb down the cultural domain, and drive the most interesting connector organizations out of the country. Our bags are packed: any offers?

A conference on the Trans-Siberian train from Moscow via Novosibirsk to Beijing is 'cosmological': researchers, philosophers, artists and others will "try to cross fixed boundariesŠ and be open to the contaminating influences of the continents we will be passing through during our journey". 10-20 September 2005.

If you can't make the train trip, go by asphalt instead. The site features mobile gaming beyond gadgets, city as gameboard, street action as gameplay, and collectively mapping a new portrait of New York.

Some wonderful artists and some amazing work feature on this immaculate website. (It accompanies an event in 2003 that we only just found out about).

How might businesses use design to explore emerging opportunities, solve complex problems, and achieve lasting strategic advantage? Speakers include Josephine Green, Philips Design; Jim Hackett, CEO, Steelcase; Sam Lucente, Director of Brand, Design and Experience for Hewlett-Packard; David Nagel, CEO, PalmSource; and Don Norman, Principal, Nielsen-Norman Group. Here's a challenge for them: Eighty thousand bikes are stolen every year in Amsterdam - that's 219 pieces of scumbaggery a day. How to stop it? May 18-19, 2005, Chicago, Illinois.

Eternally Yours - which, paradoxically, is winding itself up - is publishing a new book. The launch party is in Artis, the oldest zoo in the Netherlands. 12 December, Amsterdam. Places are limited, so please contact the organizers in advance.

This week-long tech camp is for NGO technology support professionals in South and South East Asia to learn new skills, exchange tips, and share experiences, in the use of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). Asia Source will be held in a small artists' community on the outskirts of Bangalore. It is organized by (Bangalore) and the Tactical Technology Collective (Amsterdam). January 2 to February 4, Bangalore, India.

Jobs | September 30