Summer 2003

Going with the flow in Amsterdam

Doors of Perception 7

Flow: The design challenge of pervasive computing Amsterdam, 14-16 November 2002

Few design conferences in Europe excite feverish speculation from enthusiastic would-be attendees, but the bi-annual Doors of Perception, organised by John Thackara, is an exception. Doors has big ideas encapsulated in its one-word titles (‘Lightness’, ‘Play’) and attracts some of the smartest heads in designland. The Flow theme had many attendees anticipating a discussion of Chicago sociologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theories, but instead Thackara proposed a context in which ‘powerful and transformative technology is coming’. Thackara argues that we need to ‘perceive flows’ differently ‘in order to be able to do things differently’ and advocates ‘dashboards for cities and buildings’ that will allow us to experience the systems and processes on which we depend. Building on this, he argues for designing processes, not things. ‘Processes continue and so should design’, he says, adding that designers need new metaphors for what they do.

‘In what sense are flows a design issue?’ was the theme of the first day. Thackara gave speakers just twenty minutes, with a gong signalling the end. Biomimicry author Janine Benyus argued engagingly that organisms in the bio-mass face many of the same design challenges we do and that we should learn to mimic their ‘design’ solutions. At the other extreme of the design spectrum Lars Erik Holmquist, a researcher at Sweden’s Future Applications Lab, discussed the EU-funded Smart-Its project, which focuses on small, cheap radio transmitters . . .

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