Design Observer Twenty Years 2003-2023

John Thackara | Essays

Open Welfare [October 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.

Doors of Perception 8 will take place in New Delhi, India, during the week 21-26 March 2005. Our theme is "infra: Platforms for social innovation and how to design them'. Details and the conference blog are at:

Hilary Cottam, leader of a new project named Red at the Design Council in London, plans to join us at Doors 8 New Delhi. Cottam, who recently persuaded the UK government to build a prototype new prison, is also writing (with Charles Leadbeater) a paper on "open welfare".

In a study to identify five "key dimensions of patient experience", Britainís National Health Service found that time is the most important one. The top two issues are first, waiting times for appointments, and access to services; and second, time given to discuss health/medical problems face-to-face with health care professionals. The findings represent an enormous opportunity for time-based service design.

"We will build a global mind. We will design evolution. We will eradicate poverty". No ifs and no buts are discernable in Bruce Mau's new exhibition, Massive Change, which opened last week in Vancouver. The website boasts that "few things remain beyond the reach of our fantastically augmented vision" - but it's nonetheless hard to see from a distance whether such proclamations are meant ironically. The masculine, can-do, rhetorical style of Massive Change seems on first encounter to be a conversation stopper rather than starter. That said, the book promises a "cautious look at our limitations" as well. To January 3 2005, Vancouver Art Gallery.

At any one point in time the U.S. only has demand for about 75% of its generating capacity, and yet there are plans to spend $450 billion to build new power plants over the next twenty years. A project called Gridwise sets out to develop an intelligent energy system that enables more effective use of the U.S. Electric System. Buildings consume roughly 50% of the worldís energy, so will be networked together.

As our buildings link, so will our clothes. According to the Smart Textiles Network, applications for smart clothing will include healthcare and telemedicine; military, police and emergency service equipment; entertainment, sports and leisure; and fashion wear.

A two day symposium at this yearís Dutch Electronic Art Festival (DEAF) features biologist Tijs Goldschmidt, economist Loretta Napoleoni, historian Mike Davis, and artist Christa Sommerer. The festival as a whole is about "Affective Turbulence: The Art of Open Systems". DEAF is worth going to just to enjoy its venue: the Van Nelle Factory is one of the countryís most spectacular modernist buildings. 9 - 21 November 2004, Rotterdam.

This year's International Design Biennial in Saint-Étienne features designers and groups from continental Africa. November 6-14, Saint-Etienne, France.

We await with bated breath the arrival of Scents of the City. Ruedi Baur and Isabelle Naegele's book is about "a city the flavor of which is so difficult to describe with words."

A man called Ryan Armbruster from the Mayo Clinic is a keynote speaker in this forum to share methods for understanding people. At first we thought his name was Armbuster, which would have described a novel approach to the task. Topics like "Building a Brand Language Toolbox" make the heart sink, but several US design industry heavyweights are also taking part. October 22 and 23, Chicago.

"A flood is upon us" says the site of the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam 2005 whose theme is "Water/The Flood". Sea level is rising and climate change is expected to cause cause more and more flooding. "What will our version of The Ark look like? And above all, how can we welcome this Flood as a chance to reinvent ourselves - and re-design the land we live on?" The biennale is directed by Adriaan Geuze. Rotterdam, 26 May to 19 June 2005.

is our buzzword of the month. When an IVR/Speech (Interactive Voice Recognition) system does not meet a customerís expectations, they become frustrated and hang up or ìzero outî to a live agent. According to Forrester Research, customer satisfaction levels with IVR systems fall in the 10 percent range, compared with a satisfaction rate of approximately 80 percent for face-to-face interactions. What a surprise. According to industry expert Tal Cohen, companies continue to foist their rotten automated services onto us because if you or I talk to a human being, it costs the company $10 per call handled.

Pedestrian over-crowding produces 'pedlock' in New York's Times Square. The area is so popular with film makers that electric cables are another persistent hazard. Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance, told the New Design Cities conference in Montreal about a lively project to re-imagine the areaís pedestrian environment. A series of Design Trust workshops has produced proposals that steer a workable course 'between choreography and chaos'. The website is light on its feet, too.

In the seventeenth century it was customary for public autopsies to be performed in public. Today we have Presidential debates.Our friends at the Waag (Weigh House) in Amsterdam are updating this jolly custom with a presentation called ìAn Anatomical Collection of Curiositiesî. Itís part of Museum Night - a highlight on 6 November of Amsterdamís cultural year.

'Fear' is the theme pavilion at this yearís FutureDesignDays in Stockholm. Once youíve done fear, the programme promises a "So Stockholm Design Party, at Kharma". 15-16 November, Stockholm.

Have you noticed how much the recent ads of tech companies draw on the look-and-feel of computer games? IBM and British Telecom have both released commercials that feature young professionals floating, gravity-free, in abstract urban spaces.Puerile ads like this typify the kind of high altitude, low-bandwidth thinking that give the industry a bad name.

Sometimes spam can be sublime.ìBecome a legally ordained minister within 48 hours! As a minister, you will be authorized to perform the rites and ceremonies of the church! Perform Weddings, Funerals, Baptisms, Forgiveness of Sins! Visit Correctional Facilities. Want to start your own church? For only $29.95 you will receive an 8-Inch By 10-Inch Proof Of Minister Certification In Your Name In Color, With Gold Seal Professionally Printed By An Ink Press.

Architects frequently complain that the models they have to make for competitions cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thatís curious, because a single one-tenth scale model of a ìperson, standingî can be purchased for 75 cents ñ far less than the $5 it costs to buy a model car at the same scale.

Although web technology enables access to the full text of online versions of scientific journals, many publishers have opted for paid subscription models - thereby restricting access to their contents. Now, perhaps inspired by MITís Open Course Ware project, both the British Medical Journal and Science are supporting a new site, Free Medical Journals, that aspires to provide free access to 1,380 medical publications.

Our most impressive find on a recent trip to Montreal was the Daniel Langlois Foundation. The Foundation, which is located in a new media complex on Saint Laurent, is funded by an endowment from the founder of Softimage. An archive contains a rich and well-organized collection that covers major trends and practices in electronic and media arts from the 1960s to today. Many of the collectionís books, documents and media are documented on its excellent website.

I bought this book, which is about the nineteenth century Victorian city in England, in order to mug up on the history of infrastructure. How, I wanted to to know, did those amazing civic buildings ñ not to mention the sewers and underground railways - come to be built? Some things seem to have been the same then as now. Crowds then were "hurrying this way and that, their footsteps brisk, their looks preoccupied, and their appearance sombre and harsh". Critics who today lambast shopping malls, complained then that railway termini and hotels received more investment than monasteries and cathedrals. Tourism was already a blight on urban culture. "Italy has been ruined by tourism; Rome is pestilent with the English" complained Lord Byron - and that was in 1817. The most striking difference between then and now is their strong belief in sociability, in human contact as a vital part of human nature. "An isolated human being is merely a shadow" one writer in 1847 is quoted, "but a man connected, associated, cooperating with others, is a force to be reckoned with. The great commercial city of Tyre fell because it failed to grasp the importance of association - the power of combination, that power by which man exercises the strength of community". The cen- but their impetus came from a non-conformist civic culture. Tristram Hunt. Building Jerusalem: The Rise And Fall Of the Victorian City. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2004

Jobs | September 22