Four of my favorite covers from Japanese editions of some Bruce Sterling books. I like that Schismatrix translates as ‘Graphics wound matrix’ and Involution Ocean comes out as ‘Sea of dust whale’.
Bruce Sterling, Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky: State of the World 2014
"The future is just a kind of history that hasn’t happened yet."
Bruce Sterling’s Viridian Design Principles were recently summarized by Tim Maly. Veridian was a bright green design movement, intended to counter climate change. It ran 1998-2008.
- Eat what you kill. Before superseding or obsoleting some old practice, it is important to fully understand what you are destroying. Compare to: Move fast and break things.
- Avoid the Timeless, Embrace Decay. Nothing lasts, so it is important to design for the end of an object’s lifecycle. When your thing breaks, what will happen to the parts? Harness and even aestheticize rot, rust, and decay. Compare to: Cradle to cradle design.
- Planned Evanescence. When an object ends its inevitable usefulness or is replaced by something better, it should disappear without a trace. Compare to: Planned obsolescence.
- The Future is History — Be When You Are. Viridian design understands that one can only act upon the present and warns against dangerous romanticism for the past or future. Compare to: Futurists, golden age nostalgia, Steampunk.
- History Accumulates. Every generation has more history than the one previous. This constitutes a resource, a ‘compost heap’ to be managed. We need better tools for this. Compare to: Radical breaks with the past, archives and archivists.
- Look at the Underside. The number of people paid to promote a product’s finest features far exceeds those tracking down the bugs and problems. So designers should work to correct this imbalance.Compare to: Tech press, customer rants on social media.
- Design For Evil. There are a lot of dangerous people out there. Some have access to their own police state and army. A designer who does not plan for this is naive. Compare to: Internet utopias, street finding its own use, dual-use tech.
- Design for the Old. The average age in most of the world is climbing steadily. To ignore this demographic trend is to ignore a significant slice of your users. Compare to: Youth culture, the coveted 18-35 demographic, demographics in non-Western countries.
- Superstition Isn’t Inspiration. Warns against seeking substitutions for experimental verification and reproducible results. Warns against mistaking the promptings of the unconscious for creative insight.Compare to: Oblique Strategies, user testing.
- Viridian Inactivism. Activism is an attention hog. It is often more efficient to just stop doing the things that are intensifying problems.Compare to: Occupy, the Tea Party, Arab Spring, the limits of individual action to address systemic problems, globe-trotting environmentalists.
- Do Less With Less. Alternative sources of energy may help, but it’s easier to just use less energy. “What exactly are we doing at the moment that is worth ruining the climate for? Relax.” Compare to: Sterling’s ‘hairshirt green’, monastic living.
- There’s No One So Green As the Dead. By the very act of breathing, every human contributes to CO2 emissions. Any attempt at sustainability must grapple with this. Compare to: Voluntary simplicity.
Principles of the Avant-technogarde
- The Biological Isn’t Logical. Design aesthetics tend to follow the dominant tech of the period; “in an age of aviation, even pencil-sharpeners are streamlined.” Accordingly, Viridian design should be biologically-inspired which means strange offshoots pruned back from time to time. Compare to: Modernism, minimalism, arts and crafts, bio-mimicry.
- Augment Reality: Aestheticize All Sensors. As more and more things get sensors, we are going to be faced with increasingly unmanageable data streams. The presentation of this info will be of utmost aesthetic concern. Compare to: Smart cities, ubi-comp, Edward Tufte.
- Make the Invisible Visible. We have more access to visual tools that our forebears. This should be exploited to Viridian ends. “If carbon dioxide were blood-red, our skies would look ominous indeed.”Compare to: Persuasive design, feedback mechanisms.
- Less Mass, More Data. As much as possible, physical resources should be replaced with information. This is not just digitizing everything, it’s also using information to care for things. “If you always know where something is, you don’t have to chain it up…If it pops up and vanishes repeatedly on signal, it doesn’t have to take
abuse.” Compare to: brick and mortar stores, matter battles.
- Tangible Cyberspace. On the other hand, Viridian seeks a closer relationship between the digital and physical, introducing computation into the physical structure of the world. “We seek to make the screen permeable, and to turn ‘computers’ into worldly, sensual entities.” Compare to: Mobile phones, Arduino and similar, wearables, geo-textiles.
- Seek the Biomorphic and the Transorganic. Nature is over. There is no part of the planet that has not felt humanity’s touch. Accept and extend this. “We want to know what a flower means when a flower has onboard processing, amped-up genetics, and its own agenda.”Compare to: Next Nature, preservation efforts, Superfund clean-up sites.
- Datamine Nature. Return to nature for inspiration but at a deep level. “There is a wealth of aesthetic novelty to be found in previously invisible aspects of nature, such as cellular metabolism, noninvasive medical imaging, hybridomas and chimeras, artificial life entities, and chemosynthetic life forms” Compare to: bioluminescent rabbits, bio-mimic jewellery.
- Grow Complexity. It is easy to generate artworks of great complication. Viridians seek to push this to its limits, tastefully.Compare to: Brian Eno, street art.
- Walk Through the Walls of Knowledge Guilds. The socially constructed lines that divide disciplines sometimes entrench power. Viridians seek to serenely ignore these walls. “You can take photographs, plant listening devices and leave. If you choose, you can step outside the boundaries history makes for you.” Compare to:Expertise, professional associations, holding multiple careers.
Bruce Sterling, Atemporality for the Creative Artist
The Design-Fiction Slider-Bar of Disbelief
10. Holy relics, attributes of sainthood and divinity; transubstantiated Hosts, Arks of Covenant, teeth of Buddha
9.5 Supernatural objects and services associated with elves, vampires, fairies; magical charms, garlic, silver bullets etc
9.4 New age crystals, lucky charms, protective pendants, mojo hands, voodoo dolls, magic wands
9.3 Quack devices, medical hoaxes
9.3 Fantasy “objects” in fantasy cinema and computer-games
9.2 Physically impossible sci-fi literary devices: time machines, humanoid robots
9.2 Perpetual motion machines; free-energy gizmos, other physically impossible engineering fantasies
9.0 State libels, black propaganda, military ruses; missile gaps, vengeance weapons, Star Wars SDI
8.9 “Realplay” services, “experiential futurism” encounters, military and emergency training drills, props and immersive set-design, scripted personas
8.8 Online roleplaying scenario games
8.7 Net.art interventions, diegetic performance art, provocative device-art scandals
8.6 Guerrilla street-theater; costumes, puppets, banners, songs, lynchings-in-effigy, mock trials, mass set-designed Nuremberg rallies, propaganda trains
8.5 Fake products, product forgeries, theft-of-services, con-schemes, 419 frauds
8.0. For-profit frauds and false commercial advertising
7.9 Rube Goldberg and Heath Robinson devices, chindogu “unuseless objects”, parodies, whimsies and comical contraptions; Albert Robida satirical prognostications
7.0 Vaporware; “Fear Uncertainty and Doubt” campaigns
6.0 “Design Fiction” diegetic prototypes from sci-fi media, “concept cars,” “conversation pieces,” provocative laboratory curiosities
5.9 Blue-skying Internet-based “theory objects” and congealed techie pundit scuttlebutt; socially-generated rumor and tech speculation; crowdsourced speculative objects and services; Kickstarter projects
5.0 “Brand Management” by design
4.9 Design pitches to the board of directors; untested business-models
4.8 The plans and schematics for as-yet-unborn yet genuine objects and services
4.0 Real-life product descriptions and users instruction manuals
3.5 Product reviews and opinions; user feedback, public assessments
3.0 Design criticism; material-culture assessments; scholarly studies
2.0 Legal regulations and government protocols concerning objects and services
1.0 Engineering specifications, software code
0.5 Historical tech assessment of extinct technologies, the “judgement of history’
0.0 The ideal and unobtainable “objective truth” about objects and services
I gave a talk last year called What Will Matter In The Future?. One thing I suggested to the entrepreneurial types at a Montreal startup conference was that we might start making everyday goods at home, with 3D printers using recycled plastic.
Stowe Boyd, What Will Matter In The Future?
The frontiers of the future will the ruins of the unsustainable. - Bruce Sterling
Sterling’s tantalizingly bleak and oblique wisecrack has to be considered from the prospect of both real and virtual ruins.
Only 5% of the plastic from recycled plastic shopping bags is reused, because there is no demand. What if Makers start to reuse plastic bags in the home, in 3D printers? What if I could model and manufacture iPhone cases from those bags? Or planters? Or light shades? Or fruity-flavored condoms?
Well it turns out Tyler McVaney has gotten kickstarted on building the Filabot, which is a desktop plastic extrusion device. Basically it shreds various sorts of plastics, like the ones in soda bottles and milk jugs, melts them down, and turns them into the spools of plastic filament that serve as the most common input to 3D printers. Doesn’t look like plastic bags are an option, at this time, however.
McVaney’s been funded, so it just a matter of time before artisanal types will be making flip-flops, bricks, shower curtains, and iPhone cases out of plastic waste.
And all of a sudden, a revolution in recycling, happening at the micro scale, and empty milk cartons become an asset instead of waste.
Is Fashion Ready For A New Aesthetic?, Jay Owens via BOF
For the last few years, the stylistic purview of much of the creative class in places like Shoreditch in London, the borough of Brooklyn in New York, and Berlin’s Mitte district has been curiously backward-looking. Perhaps this retreat into retro nostalgia is a reaction to economic uncertainty and technological change. Maybe it’s a craving for what we imagine were simpler times or a search for authenticity in a world that is increasingly artificial. Whatever the reason, the backward-looking trend extends to fashion, as well. In fact, perhaps more than any other design discipline, fashion is engaged in an intense dialogue with the past. “There’s so little innovation in fashion in its current state,” Susanna Lau, widely known as Susie Bubble, told BoF. And indeed, from Belstaff to Moynat to Schiaparelli, reviving dusty heritage brands is undoubtedly the business model du jour.
But over the past year, a loose group of creatives in London’s East End have given birth to a counter-narrative to the growing tide of heritage and nostalgia, examining the reality of our increasingly artificial and technology-mediated world head-on. Known as “The New Aesthetic,” the movement was born last May with a blog post by London-based writer and technologist James Bridle, who began collecting found images at new-aesthetic.tumblr.com that dealt with the “eruption of the digital into the physical world” and the idea of “seeing like a machine” in an attempt to capture and communicate the possibilities for a more contemporary visual culture. Subjects included everything from glitches in Google Maps to photographs from military drones in Afghanistan and the techno-organic forms of contemporary architecture that betray traces of the computer-aided design (CAD) programmes used to create them.
The movement really struck a chord and came to wider attention at this year’s SXSW Interactive conference where Mr Bridle led a panel called “The New Aesthetic: Seeing Like Digital Devices” and futurist Bruce Sterling asked what the New Aesthetic meant for fashion in his highly-anticipated closing address. “Although SXSW people do look chic, it’s a rather retro look,” he challenged the tech-savvy audience in attendance. “They don’t actually look very futuristic. I would suggest, when you come back next year…come back in robotvision glitchcore!”
“We need to see the technologies we actually have with a new wonder,” wrote James Bridle in his first essay on the New Aesthetic. Digital methods of image research, image editing and production have quickly become embedded in the fashion industry, but the possibilities for digital creativity have yet to be fully explored. “It’s still not something people are consciously thinking about,” said Ms Lau.
As a term, “The New Aesthetic” may be short-lived. Surprising many, James Bridle shut down the New Aesthetic Tumblr ten days ago, exactly one year after it was launched. But if the “New Aesthetic” movement is already dead, this is surely only the beginning of digital technologies impacting the way fashion creatives think, see and design. Indeed, the generation of students just starting to arrive in fashion schools have only ever known a world that’s mediated by digital technology and learnt to process visual culture through a ceaseless digital stream of appropriated and juxtaposed images.
Hmmm. Is The New Aesthetic dead, or has it just gone underground?