Critical Artefact Methods on tour: Belgium

I will be giving a guest lecture on my use of critical artefacts within participatory design in Hasselt, Belgium on 9th February 2010. I will present examples from the projects where I have employed critical artefacts to foster innovation and discuss the rationale for my methods (the subject of my PhD research). This lecture is part of the A-Z series of lectures presented by the Z33 Centre for Contemporary Art and Design, more details on the Z33 website and the A-Z lectures website.

What’s new WordPress?

Aside from this site, I’ve set up a WordPress site for my research colleagues and I to share references, events, ideas, project progress and so on. We use a combination of posts and pages with numerous comments on each. So, we generate a lot of new content that we all need to keep on top of. I’ve installed the Subscribe 2 plug-in, which enables the site to send daily emails of updates, however it does not include amends to pages and some of our team would prefer to see a summary of the recent items on the site rather than via email (already having bulging in boxes). A search for plug-ins or widgets to display “recent updates” or similar on the WordPress site was proving fruitless and I thought the task impossible without resorting to coding my own solution, until I dug a little deeper on using RSS.

WordPress produces two RSS feeds out of the box, one for entries (‘blog posts) and one for comments (on both posts and pages). However the entries feed does not include new pages and page updates. Step forward another handy plug-in RSS Includes Pages which does exactly what it says on the tin. The team could now use their favourite RSS reader to view the feeds, including web-based tools such as Google Reader*. However it’s possible to go one step further and include the feeds on their source WordPress site itself. By adding RSS Widgets to the sidebar of the site  with the URLs of the site’s own feeds. (WordPress eats itself?)

*Google reader isn’t without its limitations. In particular it cannot read feeds from password protected websites (as ours is). No problem as another useful and free web application, Free My Feed, will generate new URLs given the feed URL and password details (which aren’t stored and are encrypted in the new feed URL).

First Nordic Service Design Conference

Last week I was back in Oslo at the first Nordic Service Design Conference (which we heard about when I was in Oslo in August). This was a great opportunity to immerse myself in an area of design that I am now more involved in – service design. The conference had a useful mix of presentations from industry and academia and the most memorable conference dinner I have ever attended. Following the theme of “co-production” we visited Oslo’s catering school and made our conference dinner. Or rather groups of 6-8 delegates were helped to cook one of the 12 tapas dishes we later ate by the able chefs of the school. There was perhaps slightly more socialising and drinking of wine than actual cooking, but the more eager delegates (self included) got to play in a professional kitchen. I even learned to make aioli properly.

Critical Artefact Methods on tour: Denmark

I’ve just spend an enjoyable two days working with the students on the IT Product Design masters course at the University of Southern Denmark in Sonderbørg. I ran a tutorial on the Critical Artefact Methods developed in my PhD, and we explored the use of critical artefacts in developing novel product ideas around the theme of indoor climate. The masters students came up with some great “crazy ideas” to stimulate debate with their groups of users and I look forward to seeing the end results of their project.

A critical artefact exploring ideas of personal and social spaces in a canteen.

Bubbles: exploring ideas of personal and social spaces in a canteen, one of the critical artefacts produced by the group

The visit also provided an opportunity to hear more about the work of the SPIRE research centre. Their focus on participatory innovation drawing is interesting, drawing as it does ideas from the Scandinavian tradition of Participatory Design and notions of innovation from business management such as Lead Users.

Thank you to the students and staff in Sonderbørg for their hospitality, enthusiasm and stimulating discussions.

Norway in a nutshell…*

A view down the Sognefjorden in Norway.


Or rather a photo set on Flickr. Two weeks after returning from a whistle-stop tour of Norway after the Nordes conference, I’ve put my photographs online.

Why the wait? Aside from a particularly busy period running participatory design activities, it’s finding the time to process all the photographs. Image quality being a top issue for me, I shoot in RAW format rather than JPEGs. This means storing all the information from the camera’s sensor rather than letting its software decide how to process that data into a JPEG image (contrast, colour balance and saturation etc.). The upside being you’ve all the data to work with when modifying an image (some being lost in the creation of the JPEG), the downside being you need to ‘develop’ each of your images. An intensive two weekend’s work and they’re done. I’ve been using Nikon’s Capture NX 2 software to do the RAW conversions and majority of image processing and, for Nikon owners, can thoroughly recommend it.

* Anyone who’s travelled to Norway, or considered it, will probably have heard of the “Norway-in-a-nutshell” tour. A great way to get a taster of mountain and fjord scenery via train, boat and bus.

Critical Artefact Methods on tour: Norway

I ran a one-day workshop on my Critical Artefact Methods during the Nordic Design Research Conference. Seven people participated from a variety of backgrounds in both academia and industry including industrial/product design, interaction design, and ceramic art.

The aftermath of a busy workshop...

The aftermath of a busy workshop...

We had a busy day of presentations, discussions, making and role-play and debated the limitations of participatory design approaches when applied to innovation and the use of critical artefacts (and other designer-led interventions) for engaging people in creative thinking about novel product ideas.

Thank you to everyone who took part.

A better briefcase

A couple of months ago I took the plunge and moved back to using an Apple Mac computer at home after seven years using various machines running Microsoft Windows (notwithstanding a Sinclair ZX Spectrum in the 1980s, a funky blue PowerMac G3 was my first ‘proper’ home computer). In the main, this has been a positive experience and I’ve more often found myself grumbling about handy Mac features I miss when using Windows than the other way around. However one tool I’ve really missed is the Windows briefcase. My professional life is such that I’m sometime working at home, sometimes working at my University desk and sometimes working on the move. Windows briefcase allowed me to keep copies of all my work folders on a USB stick that then synchronised with folders on my home computer. But briefcase only works with Windows and there didn’t appear to be a viable Mac alternative, until I discovered an even better way of doing things. Continue reading

Critical Artefact Methods workshop at Nordes ’09

I am running a one-day workshop on my critical artefact methods at the Nordic Design Research conference in Oslo at the end of August. Through this workshop I intend to disseminate and develop the design methods I have been developing in my PhD research, and stimulate debate about the role of ‘critical artefacts’ (the products of critical design and related practices) within human-centred and participatory design processes.

The workshop will include practical exercises applying critical artefact methods in ‘mini’ design projects alongside a discussion of their underlying methodology to enable designers to explore how they could utilise similar techniques in their own practice.

Participation in the workshop is open to all conference attendees (at an additional small cost). Register for the conference first then contact me directly (s [dot] bowen [at] shu [dot] ac [dot] uk) to sign up for the workshop. Early registration discounts end on 1st August.

See the Nordic Design Research website for further details about the conference and my workshop.

We did it!

The end! A nice sit down and a cup of tea.

The end! A nice sit down and a cup of tea.

Joanna and I got ourselves around the 30 miles of the Patterdale Parish boundary in a very respectable 12 hours and 45 minutes. We had a grand day out and raised money for the local Lakeland community at the same time. Thanks to everyone who supported us, and there’s still time to donate for those that want to at our Justgiving page.

We also made the (very) local news website.

Turkey photographs online

Harem window, Topkapi palace, Istanbul

Harem window, Topkapi palace, Istanbul

I’m slowly getting through my backlog of photographs that need either scanning (for those I shot on 35mm transparency film) or RAW-conversion (for those I shot using a digital camera), then post-processing (colour balance, contrast and the odd bit of dust-removal) and keywording (for picture sales via Alamy) before making them available online. The latest images to get finished are a set I took in Turkey in April 2007. This was Joanna and my first trip to Turkey, ostensibly so I could attend the European Academy of Design conference in Izmir, but we also travelled a few days ahead so that we could explore Istanbul. We weren’t sure what to expect but Turkey was a revelation: a beautiful, vibrant country steeped in history with some stunning architecture, the friendliest of people and lip-smackingly fresh and fabulous food. Click on the image to browse the full set on Flickr.