DUX! DUX! DUX!

(I always wonder if the original organizers of the Conference on Designing for User Experience ever gave any thought to this guy: the last and most infamous person to bear the title Dux, as attested to by this picture of self-styled “fascist” footballer Paolo Di Canio. Ah well.)

So I’m back, already, from Chicago, where I didn’t really have much time to catch my breath before flying out again. Unfortunately, though it’s not really their fault, my agents arranged for my ride to the airport to pick me up about an hour after I came off stage, and as I result I didn’t really get to participate in the actual conference nearly as much as I would have liked.

More happily, it feels like my talk on product/service hybrids and ecologies went over pretty well – there were lots of nice compliments afterward, and so on. (In case you’re interested in the topic but weren’t able to attend, be of good cheer: the presentation was basically a simplified, visually-enhanced version of this article, plus some musings about the design implications of MIT Media Lab’s inspiring City Car project.)

The best part of my short time in Chicago, though – a city, mind you, in which I had spent no more than twenty-four hours during all the previous years of my life – was back-to-back explorations of the urban fabric with John Zapolski and Mike Kuniavsky. Mike and John designed me up a fantastic user experience, showing me things I certainly would have missed (or misunderstood) otherwise – from the splendidly Gothamesque pastiche that is the Harold Washington Library, to the little chunks of Angkor Wat and Westminster Abbey embedded, with supreme arrogance, in the equally Batmanian Tribune Tower, to what sure as hell looked like a McDonald’s by good ol’ Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (“MiesDonald’s”?) I’m thoroughly grateful.

I also just have to say that Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate is one of the most effective pieces of public art I’ve ever seen. It works as focal point, as activity node/non-Euclidean funpark – even, feh, as placebranding – and it’s just stunningly beautiful into the bargain. The rest of Millennium Park’s vaunted attractors rather fade into the background by comparison.

At any rate, I consider this an appetizer – Nurri and I will certainly be back in town, ready to range further and dig deeper. Thanks again to conference organizers Joseph O’Sullivan and Daniell Hebert; to Wendy Ju, Liz Goodman, Lou Rosenfeld and Elizabeth Churchill for the quickest of conversations; and of course to Mike and John for having shared some of their Chicago with me.

9 responses to “DUX! DUX! DUX!”

  1. Andrew says :

    The first thing I think when I look at City Car is: only a computer scientist would see this first as a data structure problem.

    What happens when those cars get worn, drinks spilled in them, and the nastiest, crappiest one happens to be at the front of the stack when I arrive? It’s like wanting the bag of pretzels behind the four bags of CheezExtreamers in a slot on a vending machine: you can’t have them. (For that matter, what happens when one on its last legs works its way into the middle of a stack? How does it get extracted for repair?)

  2. speedbird says :

    Well, you know I’m sympathetic to those concerns. But it’s precisely the kind of outsider reconceptualization of the problem domain that’s so sorely needed here. The audacity of the City Car, though – and the reason it fills me with optimism, which, as you know, is hardly a state I’m used to – is that it’s not so much a car as a system of what I’m calling “embodied mobility.” City Car…

    (a) posits the swarm as the fundamental unit of analysis, not the individual pod;
    (b) posits quantities like time, roadspace and energy consumption as *markets* in a certain degree of tension with one another.

    Given these two assumptions, you can thenceforth say things like, “Get me to 53rd and 3rd along the lowest energy curve, and I’ll accept the hit on time,” or “Get me to Penn Station ASAFP and here’s what I’m willing to bid for priority in traffic.” It’s an ecology, not a matter of a single given unit, and that’s why I think it’s pretty neat.

    Are there the almost self-evident issues you raise? Surely, b’jayzus, surely there are! Does the City Car have problems with that entire performative realm of presentation of self that has historically been so crucial to the marketing of automobiles. Mais bien sur! But I don’t get the sense that either set are intractable. The benefits of doing things this way would seem to outweigh the drawbacks. In fact, I have a hard time believing that some of what is proposed in the City Car project won’t simply be the way we do ground mobility in the near future.

  3. Enrique Ramirez says :

    I think the Tribune Tower’s final design is not as god-awful (or as interesting) as Adolf Loos’ own entry:

  4. speedbird says :

    Linky? ; . )

    Congrats, BTW!

  5. Andrew says :

    “posits quantities like time, roadspace and energy consumption as *markets* in a certain degree of tension with one another.”

    Hmm, that’s a much more interesting side of it than I’d thought of. Does it worry you at all to impose market forces on these intangibles? Transit and roadspace really ought to be owned by the public at large; I expect my city/state/federation to provide those things to all of us, not better ones for those of us who pay more–“asphalt neutrality” so to speak. Does the free market get to be the solution for everything? Would adding explicit market dynamics tend to reduce the level of service for the poorest customers? (OTOH, could a downtown city bus ride at rush hour get much worse?)

    And yes, I’m aware that there already are markets in place here: toll-roads, hired cars, low-bid municipal construction projects, the expenses of going green in general, etc. all prove that those who can pay more, get more.

  6. speedbird says :

    I don’t think these need *necessarily* be markets in the monetary sense, although that’s certainly what will wind up happening. I think of it more in terms of “bidding” time-efficiency for lowered energy consumption, and so on.

    With regard to the larger question, of course I’m torn right down the middle. Every “right to the city”-esque fiber of my being says that public thoroughfares should be public goods accessible to all equally – but man, those congestion-charging plans sure do seem to be working wonders elsewhere, don’t they?

    Environmental stewardship always seems to be the Achilles’ heel in purely local-intelligence, bottom-up resource-allocation schemas. Expressing the necessary tradeoffs as market-optimization algorithms strikes me as one way of recuperating them.

  7. Enrique Ramirez says :

    Oops … here’s Loos’ entry for the Chicago Tribune Building competition:

    [Thanks for the congrats :)]

  8. Enrique Ramirez says :

    Html does not seem to be working (my computer’s fault) … here’s the link:

  9. speedbird says :

    That’s pretty, uh…phallic is the word I guess I’m looking for. What, it was too self-evident for the Colonel?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s