Milk Salon in Rotterdam


I met Sietske Klooster last year, during the inauguration workshop of Caroline Hummels in TU/e; I was intrigued by the way she described herself: Design Choreographer. And it wasn’t about dancing per se, but more about understanding how our body, its movements, impact design – and impacted by design in turn.

I later also managed to come to one of the first Milk Salon, organized by Sietske during the Dutch Design Week’12 – but I am afraid I wrote nothing about these events back then, struggling with one of the ‘dark pages’ in my blogging history. 

Then I somehow lost contact with her at all, and was very happy to receive an invitation to the next edition of her Milk Salon, this time in Rotterdam. The event was held last Saturday, and it was a very informal and cozy gathering, but with special atmosphere, in some way very intensive and devoted.

I would’t even call it a ‘workshop’: judging by the experience it resembled more a cult meeting, an ecclesia of some sort.  And the ‘cult’ was not so much about milk (although milk did play an important role in it), but more about re-thinking the way we treat milk, how we drink and perceive, what do we know about its production, distribution, sales etc, and what role can design play in transforming our current attitude to this precious product. 

Sietske has designed a marvelous set of… vessels? they resembled oyster shells rather than glasses… out of which we try to drink milk, of various types, and reflect on our experiences.
I don’t have any pictures of the drinking itself (I was too busy with it myself :), may be Sietske could share them with us later.  And I didn’t take too many pictures this time anyway, I was busy with the conversations. 
I also prepared a few slides, not about milk, but about kumys, fermented horse milk, popular in Kazakhstan (and in Central Asian in general) – the slideshow can be seen in full here.   These slides are more about the ‘design’ aspects, even more specifically, about interface and interaction design of drinking kumys, but inevitably cover broader social and historical issues too.
Few more pictures from the event, including a few images of these ‘milk vessels’:

Brainport as a new learning ecosystem


The slide is in Russian, and for a reason – last Friday I made another presentation for a delegation from Russia, this time of the representatives from corporate universities and training centers of the large Russian companies and organizations (e.g., RosAtom, or the Russian Railways). This group was again brought to Eindhoven by MAKO, the Russian association of corporate educational centers; I already worked with this organization last year, when I made another presentation in Russian, about design and innovation in Philips (the previous one was my first in Russian in the Netherlands, quite a surreal experience, to be hones, but this time I was already prepared :)

This time my story was less focussed on innovation per se; I talked more about new and emerging patterns of education and learning in the region (which are strongly overlapping with ‘innovation’, of course). To explain these new development, I had to also shortly introduce the history of the region, and specifically the role of Philips (and Philips Research, and TU/e etc) in it. This also helped (I hope) to understand both current developments and some tensions with (and within) the design industry, with the design organizaitons and design/creative events in the area.

The visit to Eindhoven was only a part of a large study trip arranged by MAKO of this group, who also visited Cologne, Luxemburg before and aimed at Paris after (they planned to come to Utrecht as well). But even a day in Eindhoven was filled not only with the presentations and lectures, the team also visited ROC, the Regional Training Center in Eindhoven, and listened to a presentation by MeduProof-S.

It was a very intensive day for the team, but I hope it also brought new insights and ideas. In case of the interest, here are my slides in Russian and in English.

World Design Forum in Eindhoven

I was lucky enough to get to the World Design Forum, already a traditional prelude to the Dutch Design Week. It was third time this year, and this time was held in a very peculiar settings, a circular semi-transparent installation, capable to fit 200 people easily and surround them with light and sound. I think it’s officially called ‘Behind the Curtain’, but I am not sure. It was all pretty impressive (though also very challenging  photography-wise, half of my pictures went completely wrong).


Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven

Last week was traditionally a very busy one in Eindhoven. The city hosted the 11th edition of the Dutch Design Week, an annual forum of design industry (well beyond Dutch one by now).  They counted more than 200,000 visitors during nine days who collectively visited 300+ projects in presented in 80+ locations by 1,500+ designers and design collectives. But these are just cold figures, in reality it was an emotional flow, a bit carnivalesque even.

As often happens, I didn’t managed to write about all that in real time (aside of some Twitter and Facebook postings); I did manage to write a coupe of story for Demotix (about the opening, and then about the World Design Forum, a prelude for the DDW).  But all these platforms allow only factual reporting, and for me it’s more important to write about thoughts and associations (which may not necessarily appear at the moment of seeing a concept, or talking to a designer. I therefore foresee a long ‘tail’ of the follow-up stories and reminiscences.

But sometimes it will be also ‘just pictures’, like this one. Welcome to this blog, DDW’12!

The future of design is designless

Genrich Altshuller, the author of the TRIZ approach to innovation, once gave a definition of ‘ideal solution’ of any problem. He wrote that “the ideal solution should solve the initial problem, but has to ceased to exist itself [thus avoiding creation of the subsequent problems"]. He also gave an example of such ‘ideal solution’: the door that opens when someone approaches it, let him go through, but then becomes a wall again, ‘ceasing to exist’ as a door. The picture above, of the hanging threads, may be a good approximation of such an ‘ideal door’ (although not a precise model of it, of course).

Psychotherapists are often seen as a ‘solution providers’ by their clients; wrongly, I think, because a psychotherapist should not provide a ‘solution’ to the patient’s problem (he doesn’t ‘have’ it in a first place); instead, what he can hope to do is to create the conditions, space and enablers that would help people to find the solutions for themselves. Whether the therapist is seen as a direct agent of change or a facilitator only, the memory about the act of therapy is an interesting topic to consider. If the patient remembers a ‘helping hand’ of the therapist, was it a successful therapy?

My mentor was often saying the first accidental after-therapy encounter with the client is a good indicator of its success: “If we meet on a street some time after we finished our sessions, and my former client runs to me with the words of gratitude and applications, I always feel it’s my failure as a therapist. I would much prefer they wouldn’t notice me, wouldn’t even recognize me, as if we didn’t have our sessions at all”.

The therapy would work in this case, but the therapeutic agent ceased to exist, at least it is erased from the memory. (By the way, I often compare the work we do at Summ()n with psychotherapy, a futuretherapy of some sort; we don’t bring the ‘future solutions” to our clients, instead we help them to change their way of thinking about the future so that they could produce their own new ideas and ‘possible futures’).

I’ve recently encountered a very interesting book, Effortless Action: Wu-wei As Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China. The author, Edward Slingerland, argues that the usual understanding the famous Daoist concept of wu-wei as ‘non-action’ is not very accurate, and that we instead have to read it as ‘effortless action’. The action happens, the result is achieved, and yet somehow no special energy/effort/device was needed.

He writes on how important, and omnipresent was this concept in the early Chinese thought, and how difficult it is to grasp this ideas for the Western way of thinking, focussed on the tool/technique, and on the author/hero (and now, the designer).

Where do all these three above snippets point to? In the spirit of this posting, and also following my own pi-approach to the story-telling, I won’t tell you, but rather invite you to explore the void of this conceptual donut yourself :-)

ps: I can only add that I am writing this posting on the very day of the Dutch Design Week‘s opening in Eindhoven, with the largest program ever, that also includes the first wdf, “World Design Forum“. I can’t imagine they will be promoting ‘designless design‘ there :-)

Creating Creative Spaces

Speaking of Creative Spaces, I had actually been in such one recently; or rather, it was a place where people discussed how to create creative spaces”: a symposium on this topic was held the Utrecht University. If the picture above does not convey the feeling of ‘creativity’, I can show another one, of a completely psychedelic carpet in this very auditorium that created a strikingly creative contrast with the ash-grey chairs :)

I visited only the last day of the three-day event, and I know that the first two days, of the field-trips and practical workshops, had been voted by the participates as ‘simply amazing. But the last day, of more reflective presentations and debates, was of great value as well. I’ve learned quite a lot, and also met a whole range of new and interesting people. The day was kicked off by Remko van der Lugt, from the HU (whom I know for many years already) and who shared a few theoretical frameworks and some practical examples of what can be defined as ‘creative space’:

There was a cascade of interesting presentation after that (too pity that some of them were run in parallel, so you couldn’t follow them all without creative cloning): I won’t tell about all, but will mentioned the one by Jaap Warmenhoven, from the Twynstra & Gudde consultancy; apparently they’ve built a special space (-s even, since Jaap told us that they’ve just completed the second one). The last ‘creative room’ they was developed in collaboration with theater designers, and is a very interactive and reconfigurable space; I am keen to learn more about this case, and will try to visit these rooms at some point.

The gem of the day was a presentation by David Kirsh, cognitive psychologist from UC San Diego; I remember listening to his presentation some years ago, at the TU/e, when he talked about his theory of ‘cognition distributed in space’. I remember a mixed feeling of profound insightfulness and ‘what’s new here?’ after his lecture. Familiar with the schools of psychology by Vygotosky, Luria and Leontiev, I can’t be really surprised by the very idea that our thinking is mediated by the externalized physical artifacts (=’tools’ how they will be defined by these folks.) Yet David also provided a plethora of very nuanced observations and conclusions, situated in a variety of contexts, and was a real intellectual pleasure to listen to him.

That was the case in Utrecht again; the presentation was long, rich, insightful and brilliantly performed; situated learning was happening right here-and-now, and when talking about cognitive costs of interruptions he was brilliantly interrupted, and.. what was the topic I was going to tell?

Oh, yeah! Both David’s site and a wikipedia page are full of resources – papers, presentations etc, really worth visiting and reading. I tried to capture as many slides as I could, and most likely will compile them into one set, with my comments etc, and will place it here too. But David was also showing a lot of interesting examples from his work with a dance troop, with the videos. That was more difficult to record, I only have a few photos of that; I hope that the organizers will found a way to share it with us all somehow.

There were many more interesting stories too, of course; all in all, it was a very informative day, and very reassuring. It confirmed that many things we try to achieve with Summ()n, namely our experiential exploration of possible futures (which by definition involves spatial aspects) resonates very well with people. I amy only regret a bit that we didn’t know about such an event in advance, otherwise we would contributed into it more actively, for example, by presenting one of our spatial installations (e.g., Walking Backward to the Future).

Human Cities Festival in Brussels

Last Friday, May 7, I went to Brussels to participate in a symposium called Human Cities, on both researching and designing public spaces. The event, held in the Bozar art & media center, was at the same time an opening of the first festival with the same name, Human Cities: Celebrating Public Spaces. The festival is a large event, which will be hosted by the city for ten days, from May 6 till 16, and include multiple performances, urban installations, art exhibitions etc, etc.

The symposium gathered a very interesting crowd of practitioners – designers, social scientists, artists – who shared their ideas and projects related to ‘public spaces’. What is a public space today? Can any non-private space in the city de defined as ‘public’? Or it should have certain embedded characteristics to claim such a status? And who’s defining those?

Tim Fendley from London-based AIG, Applied Information Group, presented a new way-finding system they developed for London. This was based on a very careful analysis of the existing (messy) of city navigation, confusing millions of the guests and dwellers alike. The new system affords a more efficient and less stressful navigation through the city, and also takes into account different ‘modes’, or motivations people may have while moving across the city.

Bas Raijmakers, a founder of a recently opened research and design practices STBY, told about a very interesting project they’ve done in England. The goal was to find a ‘new future’ for the old abandoned industrial complex in East England, which is an interesting and noble goal itself etc. But what’s interesting is how they’ve approached it: I knew before that Bas & Co are very keen on video-ethnography, and always heavily ground their design on in-depth contextual research. But this time Bas also told about their people-involvement strategies, including involving people in co-designing and eventually co-creating possible futures, and and the range of interesting tools STBY uses for these purposes. We agreed to catch-up in the future to discuss possible collaboration.

There were many more interesting presentation, and I placed a large set of pictures I took to my set at Flickr (Human Cities Symposium, Brussels 2010); some of the presentations can be easily reconstructed from these images (such as the one by Miodrag Mitrasinovich, from Parsons School of Design.

The one I took less pictures of was a talk by Ezio Manzinin, from Milano Politecnico, who talked about – not even design, but rather social construction of public spaces, using creative communities (his hobby-horse for years) as a vehicle.

But I tool less pictures only because I made more videos – in fact, I recorded a larger chunk of his talk, and managed to place it to my Vimeo (except the last part, which is yet to be uploaded there).

The very first image is of the book published in conjunction with this symposium; it is in fact both a theoretical work, redefining the very concept of public spaces and the way they should be created (or rather co-created), and a very rich collection of the cases, various projects and initiatives related to public spaces, including the new tools and methods. A great addition to any library, and a delicious food for thought.

Doing future lecturing – in Moscow

Ok, this is not a result of my passionate involvement – it’s merely a reflection of the fact then when one does read a lecture, it is usually somebody else who takes the pictures :)
And it was indeed another lecture about possible futures, and how design can help in exploring them. This time I was invited by the Department of Design of the Moscow Academy of Finance, and personally by Ekaterina Khramkova, a founder of the Russian design research agency Lumiknows and since recently a head of the faculty at the Department.

Lecture was also announced in various web-channels for professionals, but also the students of the Academy had been invited, so the audience was in the area of 80 people, and pretty diverse. The content was very similar to the one I presented in St.Petersburg, may be a bit shorter. Here again the audience was very attentive, the questions relevant, and an overall experience great ( I mention that because that was not always the case, I remember talking about similar issues a few years ago, and the level of understanding and appreciate was a way lesser).

Doing future lecturing – in St.Petersburg

I wrote earlier, albeit very briefly, that I am working on the presentation for the Russian Union of Designers. Well, yesterday came the day when I had to present what I prepared :)

The whole idea of this lecture was quite a surprise for me, it emerged after another presentation I gave at the CreArt forum in Brussels in February. There was a member of the Russian Design Association at this event too, Yelena Yurchenko, who later wrote a very good piece about the event.

At some point I learned that I will have to go to opening of my exhibition in Moscow, and will most likely stop in St. Petersburg as well. Then came an invitation for ‘a small meeting with the peers’; then the meeting with the peers was extended to a meeting with peers AND some students (“about 30-40 people“, they said).

Well, at the end it was public lecture (!) announced on all major web-forums (see the picture above which was used as ad banner for the event; it says, in Russian, ‘Design for the Possible Future’). The union even printed the cards for the event, using the pictures from the different projects I sent them, shaped as a letter F (F is for the Future):

The most dramatic part was the venue: the lecture had to happen in the Museum of Communication, a very old historical building one block away from the colossal Isaac Cathedral. I didn’t take the pictures of the hall where the lecture took place, but on their own brochure it looks like that:

It was, I guess, the most pompous hall I’ve ever presented in :) And – it was freezingly cold there, people had been asked not to take their jackets and coats off during the lecture. Which itself went pretty well, almost four (4!) hours in total, with a lot of questions and discussions after.

Content-wise it was a sheer panorama of the cases of ‘future designs’, or the various projects and programs aimed at exploring possible futures with design, by design, and for design, over 150 slides in total. It started from Poeme electronique of the 1950s and ended with the latest cases from the Next Simplicity and Design Probes; I deliberately limited the scope with the cases only from Philips/Philips design, partly because I know them most, but also because they provide a clear enough framework of analysis of this design genre.