Category Archives: Conferences & courses

Digital TV, audience, users and people

Having been invited to give a talk about “challenges and opportunities” of digital terrestrial TV — this month in Italy many regions will start the switch-over — I tried to draw some reflections on expressions like “audience”, “users” and “people”. I think they bring many assumptions that often go unquestioned. “Audience” is TV and media jargon, “users” are those of ICT, HCI and user research, and I guess “people” are the real individuals behind the previous categories. One great reference in this respect I think is the 2009 paper on “non use” by Satchell and Dourish (see here the PDF from Dourish publications page); some more comments on the local perspective in the Italian version of this post (click Italiano on top right).

Now, the presentation was mostly a series of visuals, so there is not much sense in sharing it here. But see below the video with which I managed to entertain the conference audience 😉 — It is a 2008 viral produced by a then successful FOX talkshow; the intent was to show how “insanely difficult” had been the switch from analog to digital TV. The conference has been held in Trento, under the auspices of the Autonomous Province of Trento and the public agency Trentino In Rete, in cooperation with Create-Net (I have already worked with them).

Vertigo on paper

One of the most interesting projects on which I have been working over the last few months is finally on paper — at least part of it (download available from the publications list). For once, there is even a better name than the usual acronym: it is “Vertigo”, from the Hitchcock 1958 movie. But the proper meaning of “the sensation of spinning or having one’s surroundings spin about them” (Wikipedia) is not irrelevant: the only difference is that the surroundings investigated by the project are the media surroundings, or a mix of media and “real world” surroundings. The main goal here is making possible a more enjoyable and interactive exploration of movies, videos, music (linear media in general) by shaping, following and sharing “media trails” or traces. As reported in the paper, this is an idea well rooted in the early history of hypertext. The work has been done in very close cooperation with Jukka Huhtamaki, researcher at the Hypermedia Lab of Tampere University of Technology, and Renata Guarneri, a former project colleague in MobiLife (with Siemens, one of the main industrial partners in the consortium led by Nokia) now Principal Technologist at CREATE-NET (I am consulting them on different initiatives), plus several people at various research organizations in Europe.Renata has just presented the paper at Digibiz 2009,

I am very grateful to Jukka, Renata, CREATE-NET and all the others for the opportunity to delve once again in the intriguing subject of bringing interactivity to screen based media and music, to the living room context in general.

Vertigo movie poster
Vertigo movie poster (from Wikipedia)

It is now about ten years since the first time I tried some serious effort on the topic by contributing to an essay on TV and interactivity (in a book edited by Laura Tettamanzi and published with the sponsorship of Italian public broadcaster RAI). Ten years is a long span of time: we have seen the dotcom boom and bust, the social media explosion, the 3G come of age etc. Yet TV and movie watching haven’t changed that much — compared to music say. It is no chance that this work started with very inspiring discussions about

CREATE-NET workshop on forthcoming EU research calls

The conference room in Bergamo (picture is mine)
The conference room in Bergamo (picture is mine)

Last week in Bergamo I had the opportunity to attend the two-days 4th technical and funding workshop promoted by CREATE-NET, a dynamic international research institute in Trento;  “the focus of CREATE-NET’s research is on the Internet of the Future, both in terms of infrastructure and service”. I was invited there because of my previous work in FP6 projects (MobiLife and SPICE, both with Neos), links with the industry (I actually extended the invitation to a major Italian publisher) and established contacts with people working there (this time I have been also introduced to CREATE-NET president, professor Imrich Chlamtac).

The workshop was very well organized and to me it has been quite satisfying to join an event like this in Italy for once (instead of Bruxelles or some capital up in the Nordic region — I love the Belgian beer and the Nordic light, but I can not rush there with my motorbike in 45 minutes 😉 (joking… but the relative rarity of these settings in Italy is an issue; I will not discuss it here anyhow).

Talking about content, I enjoyed very much the informal exchanges with a few other attendants interested in the “networked media and 3D Internet” research area of the forthcoming 2009 calls (including friends from some of my preferred examples of excellence in European ICT research like HIIT and Fraunhofer FOKUS). We started discussing after a very nice visualization example of listenings made with Vizter (created by super-brilliants Jeffrey Heer and Danah Boyd) from a Tampere Technical University Hypermedia Lab researcher; having just seen an overview of the research agenda brought forward by NEM, a prominent European and global forum on future media and network technologies, we had an initial but intense chat on possible research proposals at the intersection of media management and consumption, social network visualization and other related stuff.

“Changhing the Change” in Torino / 2

Conference board
Lots of emerging issues it seems (picture is mine)

I am just back from three days of a very good conference on design and sustainability in Torino (and a much needed Sunday break), even though I have some mixed feelings about certain sides of it. If time allows, I will try to get into the details in separate posts, but as for now I want to scribble down what comes to my mind first.

This is a quick list of likes (see dislikes in the following):

  • Amazing talks from the invited speakers, especially those coming from Africa, India, China and Japan; Bill Moggridge of IDEO did a brilliant job too (his takes on the role of designers as strategists were bold and funny).
  • The idea of including virtually all of the conference participants, be they authors, speakers or simple attendants (like me), in an open round of sessions on “emerging issues” (see one of the preparatory boards in the pic above, on the left) — one of those was the new role of designers in this changing landscape (including very practical aspects, such as “how to make money – or, say, decent living – out of it”; see agan the pic above, on the right).
  • The “call to action” (as it is called in Mark Vanderbeeken post on Core77) often raised in official presentations and informal exchanges.
  • Some concrete, real-world project cases about design and sustainability external to the academic world
  • The open, online publication of all the papers (click “Themes” and then go on; the “login” link I guess will be activated for downloading the entire proceedings in digital format for those that attended the conference).
  • The beatiful, efficient location offered by the Politecnico di Torino at the Istituto di Biotecnologie.

And a couple or so of dislikes (the first is pretty big, the last is very minor):

  • The lack of contrasting views in the overall conference debate, despite the themes under discussion can be regarded as highly controversial (I actually share pretty much of the leading visions there, but it looks like that many others in the world are not exactly of the same opinion… so e.g. why not to invite a very traditional product designer to give a talk? or a scientist with different views on climate change? etc.
  • A large majority of the attendants were from the academic environment — all right, a special kinds of academics perhaps, with a commendable concern for some of the most urgent issues out there and not only for their papers and titles; but the risk of turning the design research debate into yet another “academic industry” was voiced even by Nigel Cross in the conference opening (Nigel Cross represented officially the Design Research Society at the event).
  • The only remark I can made on the otherwise excellent organization: yes, it was possible to connect and recharge your notebook at the library, but the conference rooms had locked power plugs and no wi-fi; very possibly it has been planned like this for various reasons (e.g. is a setting like that not very sustainable?) but still…

Then, quite often I had the impression that speakers were not so eager to make explicit, articulated references to the epistemogical, ethical, political, philosophical assumptions underpinning this or this other position, analysis or proposal (on the contrary, e.g. Roberto Bartholo has recalled Richard Rorty, just to name one case). Of course, I guess that they are all in the papers; anyway, I would have liked having presenters more engaged and systematic on the principles and fundamentals level.

Some good questions about money (picture is mine)
Some good questions about money (picture is mine)

“Changing the change” in Torino / 1

Decided to attend the “Changing the change” conference to be held in Torino next month, from 10th to the 12th. Among others, one good point from the event presentation, with regard to the necessity of rethinking change concept and practices in the face of the sustainability challenge:

If indeed design wants to be “part of the solution” it must, perhaps first and foremost, develop a new research culture and new research practices: open research, sensitive to present contexts, that leads to a better understanding of the great changes underway; that offers designers tools to facilitate movement within them; and that enable designers to be promoters of a radical way of changing the direction of these great changes.

The event is part of the broader Torino World Design Capital, but actually I found it after having affiliated myself with the Design Research Society, which supports it too.

User generated services

Drawing explicitly from UCG intended as User Generated Content, the idea of UGS-User Generated Services put more emphasis on the role of the user as the one being able to create and manage services; in other words, this is about offering users appropriate (i.e. easy to use, enjoyable etc.) technical means not only to produce, publish and share content, but services as well. Among others, the SPICE project (where we at Neos are partner) supports the workshop on UGS to be held in Madrid next July on the initiative of the OPUCE project.

The full program is already available (see it on Scribd) and attendance is free to registered participants.

New Media Art Education & Research workshop

Set up by the M-Node of Planetary Collegium and NABA Media Design program to discuss the perspectives of new media art educational and research work, with special regard to the forthcoming fine arts academies reform (in Italy).

I have been invited to present the paper on my Design Methodology course accepted at HCIed 2008 and co-chair the sessions with Francesco Monico, event curator.

The worshop took place at Centro Forma (Milano exhibition centre devoted to photography). Richard Avedon pictures made a fascinating (and disquieting) background.

Attended CHI 2008 in Firenze

Conference bags
“Preparing the conference bags” by Andrea Wiggins a.k.a. anikarenina on Flickr CC license

Right after HCIed 2008 in Roma, I moved to Firenze for CHI 2008. Five days of good, dense stuff, very interesting papers presentations (including a nicely critical set at alt.chi and a panel on “harmful evaluations” with Saul Greenberg and others), design theater performances and the closing plenary with Bill Buxton, plus the course on “Mobile Interaction Principles” from Matt Jones and Gary Marsden (authors of “Mobile Interaction Design”), and the second half of the course on HCI and CHI history from Jonathan Grudin. Among others, nice chats with Finnish friends and former MobiLife project colleagues Esko Kurvinen (now at Elisa, was HIIT) and Petteri Nurmi (HIIT), but also with Luca Chittaro (Università di Udine) and Fabio Paternò (CNR). I was there with Neos colleague Dario Melpignano (and we did take note on research results very much in line with Neos mobc3 design approach).

Paper on Design Methodology course & panel discussion at HCIed 2008 in Roma

HCIEd 2008 logo
HCIEd 2008 logo – slightly scary isn’t it? 😉

Presented a short paper at HCIed 2008 about my undergraduate course on Design Methodology and Philosophy of Design, now running for the fourth year at NABA. HCIed is the annual international conference of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) educators.

The paper title is “Unfreezing thoughts. Philosophy, design studies and role playing games in a foundational undergraduate course” (download from publications page). Then, the conference organizers invited me to join a panel called to discuss the paper contributed by Russell Beale (University of Birmingham, BCS), “Architects or builders; scaffholding or duck tape?”, regarding the role of HCI education in University level courses (I proposed to educate “builders with a conscience” — download). Since Russell could not make it to Roma, the panel was chaired by the conference keynote speaker, Harold Timbleby (Swansea University; his fifth book, “Press on”, has received an important award); panelists included Tatjana Leblanc (University of Montreal) and Lars Oestreicher (Uppsala University); both of them presented at the conference interesting contributions on HCI, design, complexity and education implications.

Among others, I had very nice talks with Carlo Giovannella (Università di Roma Tor Vergata-Scuola IaD, event hoster), Tatjana Leblanc, William Wong (organizing committee) and Toni Granollers (Universitat de Lleida).
HCIed 2008 has been held at the central premises of CNR in Roma (the building facade is quite an example of the 30s Italy official architectural taste, to say so… The building has been inaugurated in 1937).

CNR premises in Rome
CNR premises in Rome – it looks like Italian 20s-30s architecture…