Designing resonance

When I first started to think about this space it was called ubicomp, pervasive computing or ambient intelligence. These terms denote the move to the interface and design of systems as they get close and closer to humans in everyday living environments. In the text Mapping territory (July 2003) I started with Dreams of a Final Theory, where Steven Weinberg speaks of the “spooky ability of mathematicians to anticipate structures that are relevant to the real world”.

This text I said, “is about the spooky ability of designers to do just that, to anticipate structures that are relevant  to the real world, however spooky the real world might become. Rereading this a decade ago, I think I can safely say that those questions are still highly relevant:

How hard it is to write about a world becoming strange, or new, or spooky, after the dotcom crash, after the high hopes of increasing productivity through IT, of readers and writers becoming publishers both , of liberty finally around the corner: a product to be played out in all kinds of gender, racial and cultural roles, a process to drive decision-making transparency in both offline and online processes.  Only to have woken up to the actual realization of a highly synergized performance of search engines and backend database  driven visual interfaces. Postmodern theory, open source coding and multimedia channeling promised the production of a new, hybrid space, only to deliver the content convergence of media channels.

And yet, I claim that we are in the progress of witnessing the realization of such a new space. In places where computational processes disappear into the background – into everyday objects – both my reality and me as subject become contested in concrete daily situations and activities. Buildings, cars, consumer products, and people become information spaces by transmitting all kinds of data through Radio Frequency Tags that are rapidly replacing the barcode. We are entering a land where the environment  has become  the interface, where we must learn anew how to make sense.

The design challenge we are facing now is reading the flowing reality of our surface. How to store real-time information flows? How to chart them? Which are our seismographs? How do we match real-time processes with the signified that they are supposed to signify? How to find ways of deciding what is data and what is not data in the space of flows?

Every new set of techniques brings forth its own literacy:, the deliberate attempt of a technology to disappear as technology, implies that designers not only produce new products but also the process procedures that gave birth to these products in these first place.

The main question from a design educational point of view then concerns the kind of skills and kind of literacies that a designer needs to function. And these turn out to be those that are most foreign to an educational practice today, as this new situation needs designers that can assess emergent literacies, unforeseen uses, unintended use, and resonance – not interaction – as the key producer of causalities. For such a designer the default position is one of uncertainty, of being able to cope with a continuous delaying of the act of closure, of an ‘end’.

As the environment becomes the interface, where is the company dashboard, the familiar readers of situation, actions, scenarios? What becomes the toplevel skill in this environment? Serendipity used to be an interpretative tool, the skill to lay bare hidden connections. Now the ability to read data as data has become the top level skill. How else are you going to make sense of the serendipity that is scripted into your profiling strategies? How do you differentiate between content and context is your content is inherently contextualized?

In a ubicomp environment,  architecture will become once again the core unit of design. For something has fundamentally changed; the very nature of information itself, no longer analogue, no longer digital, and not hybrid neither: buildings, cars and people can now be defined as information spaces.”

I am therefore very happy to announce the IoT-A book: Enabling Things to Talk: Designing IoT solutions with the IoT Architectural Reference Model. This book, an open access book so free for download (see below), is the first comprehensive overview of the European Architecture Reference Model (ARM) for the Internet of Things. It includes both a reference manual and numerous best practices and tips for implementing the ARM and is written in cooperation by leading software and solution providers (Alcatel-Lucent, IBM , Ericsson, NEC, NXP, SAP, Siemens) and top-level research institutions.

The Architectural Reference Model (ARM), presented in this book by the members of the IoT-A project team driving this harmonization effort, makes it possible to connect vertically closed systems, architectures and application areas so as to create open interoperable systems and integrated environments and platforms. It constitutes a foundation from which software companies can capitalize on the benefits of developing consumer-oriented platforms including hardware, software and services.

For the past two years I have been engaged as Stakeholder Coordinator for IoT-A and have been familiarising myself with the way how software architects aim to model real world environments infused with IT (or the other way around). I have founded Council in 2009 in order to build a news and events site (Council as a knowledge partner) that gives an inclusive view of the IoT space. As an engineer you see items from different domains such as design, usability and societal aspects not as the ‘other’ but as equally necessary building blocks in the architecture of ‘smart’ worlds and ‘smart cities’. As a designer and artist you might begin to realise that there are potential frameworks in which your skills and expertise can work together with others in order to help build a fully transparent world that is able to face Climate Change as it monitors in full traceability, corruption and greed (as everything comes to light), and facilitate an internet of neighbourhoods and communities that produce hardware and infrastructure locally like in so many centuries before us.

Read more in:

Towards Designerly Agency in a Ubicomp World, In: Tales of the  Disappearing Computer, Kameas A., Streitz, N. (eds), CTI Press, 2003,  pp. 119-127.

Enabling Things to Talk: Designing IoT solutions with the IoT Architectural Reference Model Bassi, A.; Bauer, M.; Fiedler, M.; Kramp, T.; Kranenburg, R.; Lange, S.; Meissner, S. (Eds.) 2013, X, 349 p. 131 illus., 116 illus. in color.
ISBN 978-3-642-40402-3