Design Observer Twenty Years 2003-2023

John Thackara | Essays

Local Knowledge [September 2002]

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 is organising a "working party" in Bangalore, India, on 11 and 12 December, to celebrate its tenth birthday. DoorsEast is a cluster of events on the theme:"Local knowledge: design and innovation of tomorrow's services." The main event in December is a two-day international encounter on 11 and 12 December.

Susantha Goonatilake thinks it might. The author of a fascinating book called "Mining Civilizational Knowledge" says that a fertile seed bed of ideas and metaphors exists in the South Asian tradition.“Buddhism encompasses many conceptions of time, and powerful metaphors for thinking about systems” says Goonatilake.”The concept of samsara, the flow of life across time is one such. In Buddhist thought, change and process are considered the essence of life."

Ezio Manzini hopes India can jump directly to advanced and therefore sustainable systems of consumption and production. And that the rest of us will follow. He calls this the leapfrog hypothesis. "The frog will leap in both geographical directions" says Manzini, "North>South, and South>North." He recently led leapfrog workshops in Beijing, Canton, Giangsha, Hong Kong and Tokyo; these led to the establishment of a Design for Sustainability Network in China.

DoorsEast is about “how?” as well as “why?” design questions. Our creative team in Bangalore now includes Jogchem Niemands-Verdriet, winner of this year's Webby for best personal website. He is joined by Marcel van der Drift, maker of the popular five-minute videos at the last Doors conference in Amsterdam. Wearable computing and body mneumonics expert Jussi Angelseva, winner of Open Doors last November, will meet designers at NIFT, India’s remarkable network of fashion institutes. And food designer Debra Solomon explores notions of fast and slow food.

DoorsEast is a meetings of minds and bodies, but mobile phones will play an important part. Jan Chipchase,a Senior Scientist for Nokia in Tokyo, is coming, as is Adam Greenfield, organiser of the world’s first moblogging conference, also in Tokyo, six weeks ago.Their theme: what would it mean to design moblogging into situations and places proactively?

Our partner in DoorsEast, the National Institute of Design, is also staging the second India Design Summit a week later, in Mumbai. India's Minister of industry and commerce opens the summit, which also features include Darlie Koshy from NID. Ezio Manzini connects the two events with a keynote on design for sustainability. 16 & 17 December, Hyatt Regency, Mumbai.

For Charles Leadbeater, our invitation to DoorsEast was "probably the most interesting invitation I've had in ten years." The influential writer and thinker is the author of Living on Thin Air and Up the Down Escalator: Why the Global Pessimists are Wrong.

Do not delay: we strongly advise you to book your travel to India as soon as possible. Flights to India sell out, especially towards Christmas time. Some travel agents will tell you flights are already full - but persevere: what happens is that agents block-book tons of seats. We recommend that you book your trip for DoorsEast 2 via: Imperial Interserve Travels Pvt Ltd, contact name: Rumi e-mail: [email protected]. To keep up to date subscribe to our mailing list by sending an email to: [email protected].

“Connecting on a spiritual level with one's deity or deities of choice can be difficult and time-consuming. That is, unless you're a subscriber to BPL Mobile, in which case you can send an SMS puja (prayer) to your provider and have prayers recited for you at a popular Bombay temple during the annual Ganesh Chaturthi festival”. Ashlee Vance of The Standard reports “that for just 51 rupees ($1.10) subscribers can avoid the hassle and aggravation of temple queues and text Ganesh instead. More than 5,000 devotees of Ganesh have tapped into the service”.


Fans of politics, technology and black tea shirts will be pleased that Amsterdam's street-media event returns for the first time in four years.Next Five Minutes brings together art, campaigns, and experiments in media technology. The four themes this year are "deep local", and what happens when global media interact with local contexts; the disappearance of the public; the tactics of appropriation; and the politics of media technology. The four-day event takes place at deBalie, Paradiso, and Melkweg. 11-14 September, Amsterdam.

Some politicians love the idea of self-organising systems, but for bad reasons. If systems are able to organise themselves, their thinking goes, human organisers - who cost money - won't be needed. In practice, the design of collaborative work is hard: it takes time, energy, and money. Case studies and concepts will be worked on at the European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (ECSCW). Topics span systems development and design, theory and practice, and the relation between the social and the technical. 14-18 September, Helsinki.

“Extreme” urban projects compete for your attention with big-ticket developments at this conference in Amsterdam. Speakers include Niall Kirkwood, Dean at the Harvard Design School; Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class; Pablo Otaola, director of Ria 2000, the organisation that changed the face of Bilbao; Alexandre Chemetoff, winner of the Grand Prix d'Úrbanisme; Gerd Seltmann of IBA Emscherpark, on the innovation of the Ruhr Region. Your reporter, John Thackara, chips in with a piece on "the post spectacular city." If all this creativity talk gets too much, you can picnic in the city’s brand new Westerpark.25 and 26 September at Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam.

Mobile phones, email and chat rooms can help strengthen relationships and give people unprecedented access to communities of interest. But what will be the effect on face-to-face relationships at neighbourhood level? If the technologies stimulate connections between people who have something in common, does this imply fewer serendipitous encounters, less diversity, and less social capital? Or do these new technologies provide new opportunities for the creation of links at the local level? This one-day conference explores such issues in a policy context. 2 October, Oxford Internet Institute.

Graffiti in Brooklyn say, "our city is a school." Glasgow, too, wants to be a learning city, so it's organising a seminar series to compare best-in-class examples. The first Urban Learning Spaces event features Tom Bentley from Demos, James Bradburne of the Next Generation Foundation, and Philip Flynn from Dublin's Digital Hub. Venue is The Lighthouse, Scotland's design and architecture centre. 6,7 October, Glasgow.

Digital work employs thousands of us, but what kind of work is it? New Yorker Steve Baldwin is co-founder of Net Slaves, an "electronic union hall for 21st century info-plumbers." He joins Paris-based sociologist Maurizio Lazaretto, and Belgian cyber feminist Laurence Rassel, at Digital Work, a seminar organised by V2 in Rotterdam, on October 11. email: [email protected]

The crass ignorance of intelligent computer scientists never ceases to amaze us. Those ubicomp boys (the developers of ubiquitous computing) have made ubiquitous commerce and pervasive retail the theme of their get-together in Seattle. Professor Roussos, Ubicomp2003's co-chair, writes that "there are several areas of contestation that must interact to produce the conditions for the successful implementation of ubiquitous commerce." You bet there are: we'll fight this gruesome prospect as best we can. We’ll spell it out: ‘pervasive retail’ is spam, a new form of semiotic pollution. Elective locational retail may, just, be allowable, but you have to ask us first. 12 October Seattle

In the spring of 2001 Michael Landy set out to catalogue, and then destroy, all his 7,227 belongings. Why? And how do you install "fluid time" on your mobile phone? Find out at the 24-hour Time In Design Event (TIDE) in Eindhoven. Organised by the Eternally Yours Foundation, (and supported by Doors) TIDE brings together the worlds of science, art, design, and sustainability. The red eyes of Brian Eno, Jurgen Bey, Ezio Manzini, Ed van Hinte, Michael Floyd, Hans Achterhuis, Michael Kieslinger and Joep van Lieshout will be blinking round the clock.Time In Design 24 Hour Conference, 16/17 October, Eindhoven.

Time in design is just one in an impressive series of events in the Design Week being organised by the city of Eindhoven which, because it has to, is really trying hard. 10-19 October.

Janine (Biomicry) Benyus, Paul (Natural Capitalism) Hawken and Ben (Ben and Jerry's) Cohen, feature in the line-up of speakers at the Bioneers conference in San Rafael, California. Devoted to "visionary and practical solutions to restoring the earth", Bioneers equips participants with models, resources and networks. Ideas for environmental and social change range from wild farms and socially responsible businesses, to eco-architecture and green design. There are also workshops on activism, shamanism, and political performance art. October 17-19.

What are the design consequences of hybrid architecture? What design criteria are needed for the fusion of physical space, virtual space, and networks? Hani Rashid, principal of Asymptote, discusses these questions with Marleen Stikker, former 'Mayor' of Amsterdam's Digital City, and Derrick de Kerckhove, Director of the Mc Luhan Programme in Culture and Technology. 18 October, Netherlands Architecture Institute, Rotterdam. A second seminar, on 22 November, features Lev Manovich, and Lars Spuybroek of NOX Architects, with critic Hans Ibelings as moderator. [email protected]

Bodily functions, clever clothing, and new forms of physical communication, are the focus of E-Culture Fair in Amsterdam.This two-day digital bazaar showcases new media research projects from culture, industry, science, and education. There ere prototype tools for learning, wearables, mobile applications; and content management. Scentient Beings, by Jenny Tillotson, is clothes that activate not just the eye, but also the nose. In RemoteHome, people stay in touch with loved ones via physical objects.(A phone?). Virtual Platform, organiser of the fair, is a network connecting De Balie, Doors of Perception, Nederlands Instituut voor Mediakunst, Montevideo/ Time Based Arts, Paradiso, STEIM, Submarine, V2, and Waag. 23 and 24 October 2003, De Balie, Melkweg, and Paradiso, Amsterdam.

If you agree with us that matter still matters, head for Material Vision in Frankfurt. Organised by the German Design Council, this trade fair and seminar is for materials scientists, designers, product developers, and engineers. An interesting line-up of speakers includes Julian Vincent, an excellent professor from the UK; industrial designer Konstantin Grcic (pronounced Grcic); matter maestros from Audi, Nokia, and Airbus Industrie; and bobsleigh pilot André Lange. 30,31October, Frankfurt.

"The transition towards sustainability is a social learning process" says the programme; "shared visions can act as forces for innovation." A new social role for designers, and for schools of design, will be discussed at a conference in Milan on 28 November. Speakers include Wolfgang Sachs, Bas de Leeuw, Fumikazo Matsuda, Jogi Panghaal, Benny Leong, Francois Jegou, John Thackara and Ezio Manzini. The event is sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and coincides with the exhibition Sustainable Everyday: Scenarios of Urban Living, which runs from 22 September to 21 December 2003 at the Milan Triennale. Deadline for paper and poster proposals is 1 October. Email: [email protected]

When the internet boom began, some of us flirted with the idea that virtual reality would be a better place to hang out than the here and now. But it turned out that the information age has been added to the industrial one - it is not its replacement.This lesson was well understood by a great design critic, the late Peter Dormer. Malcolm McCullough, author of Abstracting Craft and the about-to-be-published On Digital Ground, gives this year's Peter Dormer Lecture in London on Monday December 1. Enquiries: Royal College of Art. +44 20 7590 4261 or email [email protected]

Lucy Kimbell imagines a world in which people, not just corporations and governments, collate and publish their own data and performance indices. In her Personal Indices (Pindices) research project, she has designed a web-based tool for people to invent and publish their own personal indices and create an Open Source data set. She asks us to "measure what matters to you." Feedback and suggestions to Lucy please.

What is the relationship between art biennales and their host cities? A meeting in Amsterdam last week brought together many of art world's international powerbrokers to discuss "Hosting." But a point-to-mass mentality dominated: the talk was all about 'viewers' and 'audiences' and 'publics'. Art, it transpired, now appeals most to the very interests it once mocked and ridiculed. The tourism industry loves art because its events and museums are 'attractions'. Property developers love art because a bijou little gallery lends allure to their otherwise egregious projects. For city marketers, an art biennale bestows spurious glamour and intelligence on a city. "Our shows are not summer camps" pleaded Franco Bonami, director of the Venice Biennale, who invited more than 500 artists to this year's event. Bonami did not mention a word about what, if anything, his 500 friends had to say, or why the rest of us should even care. The meeting felt like a board meeting for Saga Holidays.

Few figures in world literature anticipated the philosophical questions surrounding cyberspace quite as intensely as Jorge Luis Borges. His Library of Babel is an archetypical metaphor for cyberspace. A new site contains a vast array of links, news stories and commentary on the nature of knowledge, memory and reality. Thanks to Martin Hadis for putting it all together.

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Jobs | September 30