12 Sep

dConstruct 2015

“The first guy made me want to build robots. The last guy made me want to change the world.”

Ashley Nye dConstruct 2015

That’s what I said when we left dConstruct 2015, the absolutely amazing conference on designing the future held at the Brighton Dome yesterday. I always come away from Brighton Digital events feeling inspired. Passion, enthusiasm and excitement is contagious, and we’re very lucky to have such a great community of coders, designers, makers, and doers.

I got to listen to a whole bunch of really great people talk about things they love, things I love, raise questions, highlight opportunities and best of all, make me think.

Also I got to play with lasers, a giant 3D pac-man, send a postcard to my future self 5 years from now, try and fail to make an origami llama/unicorn, and meet some really cool minds.

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So here’s a brief overview of the talks:

  1. Brian David Johnson made me want to build robots. I want a robot I can teach to walk and wave at me because his robot, Jimmy, was just too exciting for words. He made it clear we can DO this stuff. All of us. Why aren’t we building more robots? Why isn’t that part of arts and crafts time at school? I want it to be right up there with playing in the sand pit, learning the times table, and building a robot. Mine would be called Dawn001, and yes, she would wear a cape because “every robot should have a cape”. And her skill and purpose would be to play frisbee, because everyone needs a cape-wearing, frisbee-playing robot.Dawn001 Ashley Nye robot illustrationThe technology is all there, our imagination is the limit. We just need to “change the story people tell themselves about the future they will live in”.
  2. Matt Novak, lover of The Jetsons and the comic Closer than we think! showed us by looking lovingly at past futuristic visions that the future won’t come all at once, and won’t come in the form we imagined.
  3. John Willshire gave an mind-boggling presentation about Metadesign, some really interesting card-sorting style techniques to create rapidly evolving ideas and the advantages of mapping.
  4. Josh Clark showed us why Harry Potter is magical (and even demonstrated some ‘magic’ himself). There is “one goal: the computer disappears into the environment” (Alan Kay) and that is what Clark envisages. A world with a simpler design and a more natural interaction with technology. This would be infinitely more satisfying, more social, and bring us back into the world again. He says we should use “phones to caption our lives rather than frame them”. This is music to my ears. I can’t wait for a world where we can have a conversation in a restaurant again…
  5. Chris Noessel took us through some very BIG problems with the user interfaces in popular sci-fi movies. I laughed, I was entertained, but essentially he’s ruined Iron Man and Star Wars for me. Thanks Chris – the designer in me is enlightened but I still want to believe that Tony Stark is as cool as we are led to believe and not just about to destroy everything around him.
  6. Nick Foster gave a talk on the mundane which was actually very interesting. The word ‘mundane’ used to mean ordinary, normal, even dull to me. Now I realise that ‘mundane’ also denotes ‘of the world’ and that there’s a real benefit to framing your designs in the context of the ordinary world. New products will be placed into an already existing environment. How will it fit in/interact with that? Also, I learnt from Nick the importance of planning for breakages. The thing you design will go wrong. How will you handle that?
  7. Carla Diana showed us some amazing examples of a storybook she designed, with characters that can be 3D printed by the reader. This is just one example of a use for the technology we have to create things to interact with.
  8. Ingrid Burrington made me think. She gave a wonderful talk about resistance, leading onto a whole manner of topics to think about, all framed nicely by the Terminator series.
  9. Dan Hill talked about the major changes taking place because of technology. Technology changes. It changes whole cities, and the way we design. There’s some very interesting developments in the way of transport, in particular train stations and buses driven by demand.
  10. Mark Stevenson spoke passionately about the need to change. There are so many opportunities for change now if only we would do something about it. Everyone needs to listen to this talk. He made me want to change the world. And yes, I’ll offset my carbon emissions because it’s the right thing to do.

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You can listen to all the dConstruct talks at http://archive.dconstruct.org.

Thanks to Clearleft for organising such a brilliant event.

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11 Mar

When tech ruins film

I love watching films. I love being sucked into a great plot. Believability is key. There’s nothing quite as disappointing as watching a great piece of cinema, only to be pulled right out of that experience quicker than you can say ‘yeah, right’.

I’m talking about the way technology is portrayed in Hollywood. Some great films, mainly set in the future, maintain the illusion because who’s to say that we won’t have that in another hundred years? Minority Report springs to mind as one of those films that just get it right. The Matrix, Fifth Element and the amazing Star Wars of course, draw you into the story. Their use of technology only enhances the experience. Time machines and aliens aside, it’s still believable within the context of the world they are displayed in.

My hate, and I ALWAYS complain to anyone who will listen, is when technology is used in film or television that isn’t supposed to be unreal. Yet they have ‘experts’  that hack passwords with 2 clicks of the mouse, and people that type as if they are having a muscle spasm on the keyboard.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this though. See the video below, The Worst Hacking Scenes in Movies by College Humor, and have a little chuckle to yourself.

Come on guys, this is NOT how it works…

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16 Feb

Airbrushing: an app for impossible beauty

There has been much controversy surrounding airbrushing over the last few years. I read a very interesting article on BBC News describing the effects on an adult, fully aware of the practice. The psychological effects on impressionable children and teenagers will be, of course, decidedly worse. Since technology has been making it easier and easier for anyone to edit out imperfections in photos, I decided to try it on myself.

I am a Photoshop… err… professional, but I didn’t want to show what an expert can do. We’ve all seen the evidence in fashion and gossip magazines; women with flawless skin and absolutely no flab practically 2 hours after giving birth. I wanted to show how technology has made this impossible beauty available to everyone. I downloaded the app Perfect365 on my iPhone (also available on Android) and set to work on one of my pictures.

First off, I chose a photograph that I was already quite happy with. I think I looked alright in it, until I started to change things.

I smoothed out my skin, I even got rid of some of my moles (which, lets face it, make me who I am). I even made my face slimmer, eyes whiter and larger. I may have gotten a little bit obsessed with making changes. I realised it was effecting me, someone who prides herself on not being overly image-conscious, a woman of substance and not superficial.

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Before and after

The thing is, I realise the ‘after’ photo looks fake. I realise that it is so altered that I can only now class it as loosely based on me. But still, there was something that made me want to try making one of my most loved memories and most hated pictures better.

The story behind this one is being on a lovely holiday to Paris, eight months pregnant, and after dragging myself up 200-300 steps to the top of the Sacré-Coeur wanting to take a lovely picture of me with the glorious view. Except you can imagine what I looked like after this feat. This calls for Perfect365…

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See? Addictive. I know a lot of friends who Photoshop secretly. Sometimes you can tell, sometimes it’s just intuition. The odd spot here and there, a stretch mark, a bit of excess flab. Where does it end?

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Making me perfect: even my cheeks shrunk.

The app works, a little too well maybe. It was so easy to make changes with a number of different selections and a slider for more extreme editing. The app has a colour palette for choosing makeup and even some rather fake looking wigs to top it all off.

The face slimming section surprised me. I had previously learned to live with my round, slightly chubby face. Is feeling this way down to new technology? I don’t think so. We need to be responsible with the way in which we use programs like this. We need to tell our children they are beautiful, because they are. There is technology out there saving lives and doing amazing things, beautiful things. This is not one of those things.

If you do decide to download this app and try it for yourself, do so at your peril. It could cost you your self-esteem, and in this day and age it is rather hard to build back up.

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