PSFK Conference London 2010

Cross-posted from the Made by Many blog:

One of the more interesting quotes I picked up from last week’s PSFK Conference London 2010, mentioned by Matt Jones from BERG during his talk, is the one pictured above.

The day was divided neatly into 4 different themes: ‘Inspired Interactions’, ‘Visionary Experiences’, ‘Art & Reaction’ and ‘Connecting a Better World’. The first segment had three very smart people. To start the day, Jason Fields used examples like the Granimator iPhone app and the lovely Pixels video by Patrick Jean to illustrate how fine art and graphic design are used in the digital world. I know that the Pixels video is certainly much-loved by most people I know who’ve seen it. One way of looking at it is that there is an artist in all of us, however untrained, and using technology to make art a part of our lives in a way we haven’t experienced before is something we’re all fans of in some way or the other.

Usman Haque, founder of Connected Environments, Haque Design + Research and Pachube, a ‘data brokerage platform for the Internet of Things’ (love that last phrase) took us through his fascinating work, primarily inspired by the relationships that people have with the things around them. His ‘Reconfigurable House‘ project, for example, was motivated by a desire to understand how different behaviours were triggered in people, in this case by giving people the ability to ‘rewire’ a house with low tech components based on what made most sense to them. The ‘Open Burble‘ project, commissioned for the Singapore Biennale in 2006, required people to manoeuvre hundreds of bubble-shaped carbon fibre units to give it a communal shape, so to speak. ‘Primal Scream‘ was built in California at a festival, and the nodes in the LED screen of the project were built to react differently based on the noise emitted by the 200,000-strong crowd. You scream, I scream, we all scream – yup, in this case screaming was the exact reaction Usman was hoping for – the more, the better! Finally, ‘Natural Fuse‘ is a fascinating initiative that is actually in practice in London, New York and San Sebastian, where people who act irresponsibly with regard to energy consumption result in killing others’ plants because all the plants are networked. If that sounds too complicated to understand, just head here for details! The point Usman was trying to make was that encouraging people to interact with their surroundings (which people will do anyway, given a chance) leading to the collection of data that can be harnessed for social good in the process, is something we all need to think more about.

Dan Hon, Senior Creative at W+K London, made a key point – something I often wonder in this age of Farmville, Foursquare, and so on – games are good, but the question needs to be asked before anyone builds yet another game: are people deriving actual joy and entertainment out of it or is it all becoming a process of grinding – with no real purpose? With the audience comprising quite a few people from the world of advertising, where game play is being bandied about as the Next Big Thing that will help in the creation of compelling brand stories, there was certainly some food for thought.

In the ‘Visionary Experiences’ segment, Dougald Hine began by narrating experiences which led him to found/co-found the Spacemakers Agency, the Brixton Village, and the School of Everything. Essentially, he realised that the marketplace, a place where people come together to meet and socialise, is inherently different from the commercial idea of a market as merely a place for transactions. He even wrote a blog post that explained this, and simple though it sounds, it was a lovely journey to hear about first-hand.

Ben & Oscar Wilson work collaboratively as the Wilson Brothers, doing retail displays with a difference for various brands like Puma and Nike, such as building an F1 car out of shoeboxes. For Nike’s 1948 concept store in Shoreditch, London, they used recycled rubber for the floor material and traced the route that the Nike Run Dem crew follow during their training exercises, and they also contributed to building a modular Nike Stadium instore.

The ‘Art & Reaction’ part of the programme had a few graduates from the Royal College of Art talking about their projects: Riitta Ikonen, Katrin Baumgarten and Thomas Thwaites. I found Thomas’ Toaster Project quite intriguing: he actually built a toaster from scratch – a process which involved amusing incidents such as writing to BP for some steel (or was it iron, I forget!). No, they didn’t help in the end!

In the last quarter of the day, Matt Jones spoke about some of BERG’s projects, such as Nearness and Dimensions, and other cool stuff and people like James Burke and Charles Holland but really that description does not do his talk justice. I’ll just leave it by giving you the inside info (of sorts) that he listens to this song at least once a month for inspiration – I hope he puts his talk up online some time.

John Grant spoke about sustainability and co-operative systems, and initiatives like Swasthya Chetna, where individuals in Unilever decided they wanted to do good and now the brand impacts the lives of millions of people in developing countries simply by promoting hygiene.

And of course the lovely folk at PSFK covered emerging trends in the fields of retail and health (available in their ‘Future Of’ reports). Worth a read if you haven’t read them and a re-read if you have.

All in all, a really good day – thanks Piers and Team PSFK!

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