By Martin Ljungstrøm Nielsen
At day one of the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival of Rotterdam, the first participative workshop took place at the top floor of Het Nieuwe Instituut.
The workshop was planned as a 8 hour wholeday event, and the developers were sitting at the table explaining their plans of this workshop. The participants were introduced and explained to a work-in-progress boardgame developed to better visualize conceptual idéamaking in groups. The game sectioned up in 3 parts, an initial concept, swapping positions to change others’ idéas, and lastly combining the concepts together on the board.
The participants were split up in smaller groups to form those initial concepts. Then the idéas were formally explained around the table after each section. Basically there were three cards with its own changeable uses: the environment, the artifact and the sensing body cards. Along with that, there were combination triangles where technology were pointed out, explaining for example how a certain device would be implemented with a certain part of the human body. The participants were invited to write their thoughts both temporarely (with post-it notes) and permanently on the cards. As the game proceed changes and improvements were made in order to proceed with the game, as the participants got to understand the complexity of their own collaborated and playful thinking visualed on a the board in front of them.
At second section, the groups were assigned to improve or change another groups concept-in-progress, and in the end, all the different idéas were soldered together as one common and final concept. That is where the beauty of the Extended Senses boardgame unfolded: critical opinions started discussions, and through the different cards they were able to go back and forth in the different idéas, to collaborately agree to a potential prototype.
In order to get some critical answers, as to the relation of the Extended Senses game-in-progress, a short interview was made with Tomasz Jaskiewicz, the man behind this workshop:
Q: How does this game and what we have been doing today reflect on the theme of this festival The Progress Trap?
Tomasz: Fundamentally The Progress Trap is all about warning us about not just following technology to control our lives and society. We can take control of it by being inspired by technology only, and not being led into a trap only to develop new things only to develop new things without enough critical reflection, without enough need for it, without the real meaning being research, and so forth.
So in principle, this setup (of the Extended Senses Lab game) is a critique towards Hackaton* and towards the Maker Events**, which are great as an inspiration, but are really often missing the reflection on the content and missing the critical approach on what technologies are being engaged and developed. They are also missing the framework where finding can be shared and discussed. The flow of this workshop was an intent to develop this framework. Instead of making things prematurely, there is more focus on the content and exchange of the ideas.
*Hackaton: An event in whichcomputer programmers and others involved insoftware development, includinggraphic designers,interface designers andproject managers, collaborate intensively onsoftware projects.
Q: Yes, we saw that while playing this game you presented here at this workshop, that after developing these gadgets, people participating started being more critical towards the function and meaning behind our conceptual ideas. Was that the expected outcome of testing this game?
Tomasz: Actually we tried out a part of our game that has not been playtested yet with external participants. It requires an amount of focus and hours for participants, so this part we left out as a test for this workshop. Going to this scale, this game suddenly makes people realise relevant critique and start raising questions. There is maybe also something relevant to the Maker** Community. Once you take the technology from the scale of a singular person, a single product with a single interaction, to the scale where all the sudden a lot of people are at stake, a lot of inventions becomes issues that comes up front. All of the sudden we start realising that we have to be careful, and that in fact there are more dangers than opportunities. It was clear that there was still a lot of fascination amongst the participants when presenting their ideas to each others, and the technologies that were “on the table”. But all the sudden we went away from just this incredible optimism that you have when developing these ideas, and proceed to a critical stance where you actually look at all the risks involved. And I think that was would be great to explore further, would be the link back from this critical question down to the individual design-ideas. This critical attitude would be able to further develop meaningful products.
Q: So summing up today, do you believe that these kind of topics and ideas we developed today were realistic enough?
Tomasz: I think that, in the end, all the problems we discussed, and all the opportunities and the product ideas, they were realisable. Some of them were over the top, that would not become a product but would rather fit in an artistic installation. But from a technical perspective, they were realisable. And I think also, that the final ideas and critique towards it, even though being pessimistic at some point, also seems like a very valid insight.
Tomasz is an architect, interaction designer, academic researcher and educator. Assistant professor of interactive design prototyping at the Industrial Design Engineering faculty of TU Delft. It was Tomasz Jaskiewicz who came up with the setup of the Extended Senses Lab Workshop for this years DEAF.