post-digital media design, an introduction · 2010-03-20 03:59

I think our panel at SXSW went well on Tuesday – I was expecting light attendance, as many people had already left – but those around for the panel seemed to enjoy it. A huge thank you to James, Mike, Ben and Molly, for being awesome and interesting.

go team

Also, thanks to Newspaper Club (Ben again, Tom, Russell) and all the contributors to the newspaper they printed on Monday night to hand out at the panel. It was a huge effort, and the sound of quietly rustling newspapers made it all worth it.

the papers

I’m unused to panels, especially ones that worked well, and I think a combination of us all having different takes on the topic, plus real examples of things we’ve made, led to somewhere interesting. There’s still a lot more to say on all this, though, and lots of other interesting people doing interesting things.

Here’s my short talk introducing the topic:

alchemy and transmogrification

The title of the panel came from things that two groups I know were talking about – design studio BERG talking about media design, and RIG talking about post-digital.

This is how BERG talk about media design – the space between media, convergence and new formats and experiences.

Russell Davies uses the term post-digital to talk about moving on screen experiences into the real world – screens are inherently boring and mundane, and people are now growing up in a world where digital is natural, and not special.

This comes at a time when we – you, me, anybody – can play and create with things
previously unimaginable. Maps, books, newspapers, but also textiles, electronics, servers.
They’re at least cheap enough and good enough to try things and prototype. We also think about the nearly recently possible, using smoke and mirrors to build design near-fictions – often videos (such as BERG’s Mag+ magazine reader).
Today, we’ll mainly be talking about the brave new world of paper.

So what’s hard with using these media? Well, they’re normally made by companies unused to dealing with individuals and tinkerers. So you need companies to act as arbiters between the inquisitive and the machines – such as Newspaper Club. And this is going to keep happening – taking next, maybe, the ad market online, giving individuals access to urban screens and marketing in real, public space.

Printers, banks, Paypal, Royal Mail / USPS, envelope manufacturers … these are all platforms for us. So are cheap electronics platforms such as Arduino and invisible services such as Pachube.

Then we stick them together in different combinations to make interesting things.

It lets us sketch – as we’re used to doing on the web – to try things and see what works, what feels right, and what doesn’t work.

And we can flex information into other forms – if a newspaper isn’t right, maybe a book. Maybe a website. Maybe a talking Internet rabbit.

And, if they’re good, we can easily try to sell them. At any scale, it’s easier to get people to buy something physical that a nebulous invisible service.

And that lets us keep exploring. Creating experiments with the things we’re passionate about.

My hobby (or hobbyhorse) is about these three things – curation, criticism and craft. They’re things that I can’t see Google being able to replicate just with a crowd. But – the Internet does give individuals, amateurs, hobbyists the power to create audiences around these things.

(Sorry, your profession just got rolled over onto by a crowd of “fleshy gauze”. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt, as long as you don’t wriggle too much.)

So I’ll show a few of my experiments.
@localondon is a service curating London art exhibitions and events. Not automatic – hand picked, curated, and then using Hootsuite and Twitter to deliver in a perfectly timely fashion, so you know about and don’t miss interesting things. A web service without a website.

As It Is To-Day. – a newspaper liberating awesomeness from 200 years of books – travel guides, restaurant reviews, maps, photographs, adverts. It was originally going to be a weblog – and still probably will be – but it’s easier to design and print a newspaper than create the website I want. Also easier to read.

And (of course) it’s for sale.
What’s next? More issues of As It Is To-day … images from Google Books and the Internet Archive aren’t always good enough for print. So I’ll be building a book scanner and scanning more of my own library.
Also modern travel guides – currently walking the Thames Path in London to make a guide about that, city guides … books? websites?
Thanks.

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