Featured image sketch by Juhani Risku
This is a summary of the lecture I gave at the Fuzzy Design Lab at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. This post is meant to function as a memory aid for those who were present during the lecture. I cannot remember the exact order of things and I also went back and forth on some topics. However, I have also added some additional information that I either forgot to mention or because there was no time any more.
My take on the assignment was to tell as honestly and openly as possible how I see design and what has happened in my life through the lens of a wide variety of projects. My goal was and still is, is to help students to start doing and to not get bogged down by all sorts of external factors.
Another theme was how coincidence and the ability to grab the coincidence and run with it, has played a central role in my career. I have learned to listen to this inner voice that tells me something is worthwhile. In contrary, if I rationalise an idea or external input I often make the wrong choice. Hence, throughout the lecture I speak about this in various ways. Listen to your heart, your gut feeling, learn to sense what you like and dislike if it is not clear. Distinguish between what others expect from you versus what you want yourself.
Mostly a miserable time. I disliked school a lot
I had random jobs
Art Academy Rotterdam, Rietveld Academy, Royal College of Art (workshop)
Moved to Finland
The political refugee and eternal tourist
Financial and energy markets
Imagine and create
One of my earliest memory was about making beautiful landscapes, I was about 2 years old. I remember I said to my mother I want to make beautiful landscapes for people. For a long time I believed I should become a landscape architect. Later I thought industrial design would be it. Then I thought maybe something like virtual landscapes is what I thought of. Now I don’t take it that literal and simply enjoy whenever I create.
minimal input, maximal outcome
Rotterdam, kicked out as I wanted make kinetic sculpture. The adjunct dean of the school asked later a teacher of mine at the Rietveld if I would like to come and teach in Rotterdam. Nope… Show kinetic sculpture inspiration.
Rietveld was a good school for me. Back then I found it a good school or at least I had already learned to choose teachers and subject matters that would help me further. Show watch and toilet example
A turning point in my student time was my “Toilet of the Future” project. In 1995 I won the competition and got much national and international attention. I did not read the brief properly, I stopped after one or two paragraphs. I was fascinated by the element of taboo and did not realise up until a few days before the deadline that I had to make an actual scale model. The idea for this toilet I got when I support my then one-plus year old daughter when she had to take a leak in the forest on a Sunday stroll.
During this lecture I showed one other project I did where I diverted quite a bit from the original script. The assignment was to create a watch, I ended up designing one but the path was not a direct one. Most of my research was about time and how time is perceived by us humans. One thing I saw was that we have many “clocks” that regulate our day. We have work and wake up time. We have schedules for public transportation we need to abide to. There are media schedules of our favourite soap series and “the news”. This and more inspired me to create a watch that was very minimal. Of course I failed as the whole concept of a minimal object is ridiculous.
True radical innovation
A related project is about designing a chair, which as usual I turned into something else. This is a crucial method and I use this in many design cases. I question the design brief, I question my own assumptions and take a completely different route. This is why can innovate so well.
As usual, I saw the silver lining and I took the first train out of The Netherlands and ended up at the Royal College of Art for a two-week workshop. My next following stop was Helsinki where I could stay for six months as an exchange student at the department of industrial design.
It was horrible and through a series of coincidences I ended up in the Design Leadership department. A year after my design leadership stint I began to teach once in a while at TAIK and do research in Mlab (MediaLab). To avoid confusion, I have never been an official student of the design leadership department. In fact, I always existed in a kind of digital void it seems as almost all my achievements at TAIK got lost.
Throughout my years in Finland I have been teaching. It started already in 1996 and continues until today. There are many aspects on teaching that I could still talk about but I restrain myself and I list some key points that students should recognize.
What is your story?
During a course I always ask students the question, “what is your story?” What do you want to tell your audience? Following that comes questions about why you do the things you do. People who follow dogmas, processes and rules are too often busy with worrying about what other people think. I strongly advocate to become very skilled, learn craft and also to understand why you do the things you do.
Start with the stuff you have and do not let anything stop you. In a post called “Points of Failure” I list several moments of the past weeks when I felt I was about to fail. I write this down as a tool for myself and for perhaps others. What I have heard over the years are:
- I need
- 20 million euros and then I can start
- first a degree
- skill X, Y or Z first
- to study a little bit more
- a business plan
- a partner
- Google/Facebook/Apple will do this anyway
- I always fail…
When I teach I take away those assumptions and fears. It is not that hard but I wonder why so few teachers do this. Among the teachers I know there is so much “criticism” and grandstanding, as if they know it all. All with a smile but this does not further the learning process.
I am a non-conformist, non-diplomatic perhaps, but to the point, honest and respectful. Therefore, I find it easy to tell how I see it and show students their potential and encourage them to give it a try. The clue for me is to break down the big dream they have into doable packages. The same for the big mountain the student thinks she or he cannot overcome.
During my teaching time I have become increasingly interested myself why I had periods of great happiness, and, unhappiness. This lead to a serious study to what is called the study of consciousness. It is not the brain based consciousness so many talks about though. I did start with neuroscience, psychology but that did not answer much, if anything. A workshop I gave at Aalto University in 2017 focussed on the relationship between consciousness and ideas, it was called Ajatus (Idea).
A thorough explanation of my theory of consciousness and it origins can be found at this page called “What is the larger consciousness system and how to use It“. To read why I discontinued this research you can find here.
We listened to a Lenswork episode about craft and art
Show photographs and talk about the process
Prosthesis and making money
During the lunch break, Pekka mentioned a hands-on problem of two students. One student wants to work on prosthesis and the other student want to know how to make money with doing these nice design things.
The field of prosthesis design is not well-known to me. My assumption is that you need a combination of a degree in engineering or medicine, probably bio engineering of some sort. The short of this is that you need to study another four years, begin to work at a company to gain experience before you can design something for the real world. This assumption is based on my experience as an industrial design, which is limited but enough to be pretty confident.
I spent years being unsure about my skills, believe it or not, and wasted much time on learning and planing instead of doing. When I made the change and began to do, everything changed. I propose that you begin immediately to do with what you love, designing and making of prosthesis. You do this in your computer with for example the free Blender software.
Blender is not CAD software and at some point you will need to work in CAD. But meanwhile, you can learn a lot about 3d modelling and how to make money. There is a massive industry waiting for you to create high quality products.
On a site such as CGtrader you upload your models with good images of the final product so people can do a proper estimation if your model suits them or not. You reach many people immediately.
With the free 3D modelling suit Daz3d you create realistic look human, or non-human, figures. People who design with Daz3D supply animators and other graphic artists with resources, you can be one of those suppliers. Also, with Daz3D you can show how your prosthesis would look on a human, or non-human. At Daz3d they also have a shop where you can sell your products and thus now you have two market places at your disposal.
When you got experience with 3d modelling and have learned about polygons, vertices, instances and all that, you can begin to prepare your models and export them to CAD oriented file formats. It needs some extra learning but you can get quite far with online tutorials. Your 3d prosthesis is ready to be uploaded to a Finite Element Analysis online testing environment such SIMscale.
The idea is that you learn how to first estimate where their strengths and weakness is in your model. Later, with the proper CAD software, you can calculate this. So far and with zero money investments, you can design and build your prosthesis, sell it and test it’s viability. You can start now and there is no reason to postpone. Even if you want to do the real thing later in life, with this approach you have a head start on those who wait.
Give away your work
Throughout my career I have lost ten of thousands of euros on salaries for developers. I have lost uncountable sums on concepts that have been “borrowed” by corporations without me getting any financial reward or recognition. This inspired to write about innovation theft and I worked on the concept of exovation.
The Active Office Wear concept is still valid and novel. At the time, this kind of thinking about branding and modularity was uncommon. The overall thinking on my side was to create a modular system where third parties could supply for example rugged wheels or graphic print designs for printing onto a table surface. The glue that connected all this I dubbed: Furniture Development Kit or FDK. The concept FDK I borrowed from SDK, Software Development Kit which is a common thing in the software industry. The FDK showed detailed specification on how for example, a caster (wheel) needs to be designed and engineered to fit well in the table leg.
During my 10 years of running or trying to run a software company I learned to appreciate all the work that thousands or millions of developers do. Many offer their achievements in the form of code, for free on the internet. For a long time GitHub was my home. I even used GitHub to share my visual designs.
At some point in time I needed 2d face illustrations for a product concept. I looked around the internet and found the offering limited. So, I start to make something myself and in a short time I had a system worked out where I could create almost unlimited 2d faces. As appreciation for all the work other designers had done and how that had helped me over the years, I offered my Sketch file to them through a well-known Sketch community site called Sketchappsources.com.
Multi year ideas coming together
In 1999, I was asked by the University of Tampere’s Information Science department, to come and give a lecture on Future User Interfaces. One of the concepts I outlined was of what I dubbed (on the spot) My Second Me. From the moment of birth, information is collected on us and stored in various databases or filing systems. Throughout your life you are asked to fill in or hand over the same information again and again. Think about how often you fill in forms with your first name, last name, street address etc.
It dawned on me that I should be the central player in this system. And thus I outlined on a conceptual and abstract level how Information that I create, by for example moving from one home to another, is also stored by me. Now we have a smartphone, encryption, biometric security so it will be feasible soon to reconsider this concept. Back then it was future talk.
P2P resource sharing
Nevertheless, this concept has stayed with me and some I have created or proposed some spin-offs, like U2609 (there are no instructions but if you click on the screen you see blue highlights popping up, click on those) which is about P2P resource sharing. Later when I worked with Nokia Research Center I came up with a platform innovation. I utilized the possibilities of a touchscreen to that extent that was not done at that time. And, this innovation has impact on all levels of the touchscreen ecosystem at Nokia back then. Suffice to say, the patent officer had no clue, management knew better and companies such as Apple picked the fruits.
One such implementation was – and is still valid and not done – is the multifaceted touch interaction between two people. A common problem in the dating interaction is the big difference in proportion of male vs female users. One of the many consequences is that men copy & paste messages to many women as it is too tiresome to type a similar message over and over again. One would argue to be original with each person but there is only so much you can write in the first message.
Women therefore, receive messages which do not feel authentic. When this barrier is taken and the man and woman do have a connection, another similar problem occurs. Is the message that is sent original, authentic and sent with an actual intention to connect? Or is it once again Copy & Paste? A woman, or man, would like to know or feel that the interaction is well intended and specifically target to her or him. For my concept I linked the various gestures a touchscreen allows to have assigned specific meanings.
In this way an app developer can create, download or share industry specific libraries of gesture-meaning definitions. For the dating app a click could mean a touch or kiss. A dragging motion could mean a stroke and so forth. I had a large example-library of such industry specific interactions, now in this post I skirt around this as I don’t want to spend much time on this any more. Below are some snippets of illustrations I made throughout the years.
As I wanted to have some short animated examples of the interactions and also wanted my then sixteen year old daughter to learn something useful, she made with Framer a few examples of how such interaction would work. The first video show the real time interaction of person A touching the lips on a shared photo or image of person B. Person B sees instantly on her phone what person A, just has done. The issues of privacy and giving rights to touch a photo and where to touch has been dealt with but not shown here. It is a massive project 🙂
In this example person B explores which people has interacted with which images and where the preferences of these people are. In this example the face images are too different to make the point clear but it should be the same photo or image of the same person B. I was abroad and could not help my daughter with better resource materials, and so it goes.
Sensing ahead in time
The last 20 minutes of the lecture was dedicated to an experiment. Based on Remote Viewing protocols we conducted a little test and see if we could sense details of an image or it surroundings we would see 10 minutes after the start of the exercise.
More on remote viewing can be found for example at the site Remoteviewed.com. What we do is a truly slimmed down version. I have done much more concise experiments at other universities in Finland and abroad. In short:
- we take an A4 paper and pen
- we fold the A4 paper in half so you get 2 A5s
- On the left side you
- write nouns such as car, Eiffel tower and penguin
- add rational answers like “it must be an…”
- On the right side you
- write adjectives like yellow, big, and verbs or anything that describes something without naming the object itself
- On the right side you add answers that come out of the blue and which make no sense
At the 10-minute mark we stop. In my browser I have prepared this random number generator page where I filled in the numbers 0 and 121 as my image dataset has a numbering starting from 1 to 120. Now I press “Generate number”.
This generated number I used to open the link in this image dataset.
We collected quickly some data by raising of the hands and I kept emphasizing how this is not the correct method. The goal was to introduce this a fuzzy method and perhaps there would be some hits.
Some people did have descriptions and objects that were certainly on the target image.
- people in circle
If this means something we cannot say at this point. Hopefully though some people are inspired to look into this and what it could mean .
How to prepare to be a UI/UX designer?
This was one of the last questions and my answer was, start to play computer games like BattleField 4 (BF4). My argument is that the future will be also, not exclusively, about VR based interfaces. What you learn in BF4 (for example) is that you have specific goals for which you learn to choose specific gear (tools). You learn as well that collaboration and communication increasingly helps you to achieve your goals.
The speed at which events take place is very high and you shall learn to anticipate moves made by others. These skills, choose the right tools, collaboration and anticipation are commonplace in most UI/UX/Service Design design process. Here is a fun article about a link between playing VR games and CERN.
After the lecture was over I had very interesting conversations with students and some of the staff members.