Orienteering Objects


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A talk to museum and gallery audience (MLA) in Leicester.

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Orienteering Objects

  1. 1. Orienteering Objects James Boardwell, MuBu, 2010 Hello. I’m James and I work at Rattle (www.rattlecentral.com) where we research, design and build social technologies.
  2. 2. Assumption 1 Significance is ‘socially’ constructed and online can be fleeting and ephemeral We do lots of different things from designing strategies to engage audiences online for e.g. around the BBCs History of the world, to designing new social recommendation services for the BBC, mobile phone UX for INQ and then technical products such as a text mining engine. We’re designing stuff for the social web, for a world of ubiquitous connectivity.
  3. 3. Thoughts on Stuff I want to start off by questioning object ontology in the age of the Internet. The internet asks some quite profound questions of what it means to be a museum or gallery in an age of almost ubiquitous access to a unparalleled wealth of information. There’s a lot of stuff about. And whilst it’s only a tiny sample, museums and galleries have a lot of significant stuff. Notice: significant. I think this is important, because significance is increasingly constructed by other people rather than professional curators and in ways which are hard for museums to do themselves.
  4. 4. Heuristic Significance is ‘socially’ constructed and online can be fleeting and ephemeral Design Implication Go to where your audience are I’m going to give a bit of background to a project we did for Renaissance East Midlands, called My Life as an Object, which basically looks to orientate engagement around objects for the internet age. The background is framed as three heuristics, three assumptions about the world we live in. This is the first...
  5. 5. Heuristic Objects enable effects... they enable collective agency Design Implication Design experiences that show the effects! This is the second assumption, basically giving some power to objects, to things, rather than assuming it’s just us that has the power to effect change.
  6. 6. Bruno Latour told us this and the social study of science is very interesting in this area. Objects can effect change as part of a network. They have the same power to effect change as humans, as part of a network of associations. He talks about this most effectively when he says that technology is Society made durable.
  7. 7. Heuristic Different objects have different associations or ‘hooks’. Design Implication Find what is inherently engaging about the object. Finally, we have the idea that different objects have different inherent ‘hooks’, different ways to be interpreted which lend themselves to a particular design solution.
  8. 8. Go to where your audience are 3 types of online social activity Then we come to the actual design of social stuff... You need to design stuff for the spaces where people live online, and understand the social dynamics of that space. Matt Locke is good on this: http://test.org.uk/2007/08/10/six- spaces-of-social-media/
  9. 9. Social Network * with apologies to Jez Burrows Stroking, peer network driven
  10. 10. Object stuff, peer network significant but object key - look beyond network for significance
  11. 11. We Are Friction* James Boardwell, We Love Technology, 2010 * with apologies to Jez Burrows Lastly, discoverability where it is just the object that matters
  12. 12. Assumption 2 Non-human things enable effects... The Penguin project We Tell Stories was interesting in this regard as it experimented with different platforms... each of which had it’s own dynamic. For example one tells a story in real time using twitter, whilst another uses Google Maps to play out a thriller narrative around Kings Cross in London.
  13. 13. Design experiences that show the effects! Mapping the outputs and associations
  14. 14. We love the way objects are starting to come alive and ‘speak’, through data they give out which can take on a semantic, meaningful form if you frame it right. Botanicalls is an object that tweets when you plant needs watering. It’s not sentient really, it’s quite dumb, but despite that it’s really engaging.
  15. 15. There are a heap of objects twittering what they;re up to from the Lovell Telescope to Tower Bridge. Exposing the data feeds of objects shouldn’t necessarily be that interesting but it has potential to tell stories, to create narratives in an Internet of Things.
  16. 16. Find what is inherently engaging about the object. Object Value
  17. 17. Assumption 1 Significance is ‘socially’ constructed and online can be fleeting and ephemeral What can we say about different objects? On a generic level we can talk about value. It’s a brilliant lens on objects and a key ‘hook’ ... everyone wants to know what something is ‘worth’ as that shows intrinsic value. We call this the ecomm view. It’s one of the ideas we proposed to the British Museum around the BBC History of the World programme. Imagine the British Museum as Argos. Things went quiet after that.
  18. 18. The antiques roadshow is perhaps the key cultural symbol of this object as value. “What is it worth?” is The Money Shot!
  19. 19. Love what the project Significant Objects is doing in using value to engage people around objects. They have a simple hyposthysis: that a good story can change your perception of an object, and hence its value to you. They test this by buying stuff off eBay, getting people to give it a fictional story and then re-listing it. The results are extraordinary. The power of narrative, the power of giving a voice to objects, even a fictional voice can be profound.
  20. 20. My Life As An Object So that was a brief potted history to the thinking behind a project we were commissioned to do for Renaissance East Midlands.
  21. 21. Initially we were interested in a Psychogeography of Objects, how a sense of place could be created from the objects in the collections. This led to us exploring how different objects could have voices. What could you start to say about a place based on object voice? Who speaks for the object? How do they speak? The scale and nature of the project meant that we scaled this to something manageable and something that would provide the maximum amount of learning for the time and money we had available. The only condition in the brief was that we should use participatory media.
  22. 22. Raleigh Chopper. This is the first object we’re giving voice to through twitter, where the narrative arcs from a birthday gift, to being an extension of the owners’ self, to being a cast off in the shed (making way for the BMX) and thence into the museum as a collectible. All in the course of a week. We’ll respond to replies, buzz and general feedback throughout the week, so whilst the narrative is planned, it can be reflexive to the audience. see twitter.com/yellowchopper
  23. 23. We Are Friction* James Boardwell, We Love Technology, 2010
  24. 24. Tea at Englefield Green by Paul Sandby, one of the finest painters this country has produced. This is the second piece and in many ways the most challenging. Painting is all about interpretation. We wanted to take an object which is actually quite hard to ‘socialise’. How? Treat it as any other image, cut it up and be irreverent with how we can interpret it. It helps that very little is known about the painting, allowing us some framing (Englefield Green is a place in Surrey, the painting dates roughly from 1800), but otherwise a blank sheet. History of flickr being used for this purpose w short story groups. So we’re going to use flickr to tell this story using tags, comments and notes. See: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tea_at_englefield_green
  25. 25. Baby scales... from the 1930s Boots. Industrial design. Boots baby weighing scales (circa 1930). What does this object do? It has a really profound significance. It tells you whether your baby is ‘normal’. We’re taking a data stream of (hopefully) baby weights from one week in history and will be encouraging people to put up the weights of themselves when born, the sons or daughters or friends’ babies. We’re creating a Facebook fan page of the object and have worked with the Nottingham Hospitals Trust to get one weeks’ worth of baby weight data, which we’re going to ‘update’ in real time on Facebook. In doing so we’ll be encouraging others’ to put in the weights of their babies or friends babies or their own birth weight. People will be giving the object a voice through the data it was designed to provide. Neat. Check back here for the details: http://www.mylifeasanobject.com/
  26. 26. James Boardwell, MuBu, 2010 rattlecentral.com twitter.com/jamesb My Life As An Object mylifeasanobject.com twitter.com/yellowchopper Thank you for listening.