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?
I have been watching Google’s frenetic quest to find an opening into the social revolution for a long time.
To date, what we have seen are experiments and acquisitions.
Having Gundotra lead social at Google reminds me of President Obama tapping General Petraeus to take on Afghanistan. It feels calming at the moment, but might not actually lead to the desired outcome.
On one one side, half-hearted hobbies that senior management hopes will grow into something great. In this category we have the more-or-less failed social network Orkut and now Wave, which both surfaced from the company’s ‘one day a week’ tinkering culture.
On the other, acquisitions like Jaiku and Dodgeball, which were innovative and groundbreaking, but were allowed to die in red tape, and where the innovative founders — like Jyri Engstrom of Jaiku, and Dennis Crowley of Dodgeball, soon left the company. Or great fat purchases like YouTube, which have proven to be less valuable than market prices.
Then, Google staged a relatively public search for a leader to move them to social. (Despite losing Jyri and Dennis, either of which could have done great things for the firm.) The result? Can’t find the right person. Catarina Fake couldn’t be lured back into corporate deadness, I guess. And Bradley Horowitz, who runs Google Talk, Grandcentral, Blogger and Picasa, wasn’t the right guy, apparently.
So now we have Vic Gundotra annointed as Mr Social, a guy who has made great strides at Google Mobile, getting Android into the market with a bang. But is he Mr Social?
Having Gundotra lead social at Google reminds me of President Obama tapping General Petraeus to take on Afghanistan. It feels calming at the moment, but might not actually lead to the desired outcome.
Om Malik puts it this way: Vic is a great product manager, focused on features. But social is more than a veneer of games, gestures, music, comments.
Social is more than just features. I’ve been saying for a while that in order to understand social and win over the social web, companies need to understand people. I’m not sure Google is capable of understanding people on that level, and that’s the reason why the company strikes out whenever it tries. There are rumors Google co-founder Sergey Brin championed the acquisition of Slide. He also championed Google Wave (which is shutting down) and the poorly conceived Google Buzz.
We are in a great migration away from a web of pages to a web of flow, where streams connect us and allow us to share links, comments, photos, games, locations, lists, and even larger social objects in the future. And Google has only had the smallest involvement in that expansion.
Google made a pile by harvesting the latent value of all the social gestures we were leaving around the web in the form of links. These form the core of Page Rank and Google’s search/advertising business.
This was born in the paleolithic of the social web, where mostly we were wandering around as hunter-gatherers, turning over rocks, based on keyword search. The idea of social in those days was to send email alerts to people so they’d remember to read your blog and post comments.
But the social web has grown based on social networks — relationships between people — not hyperlinks between web pages. We are in a great migration away from a web of pages to a web of flow, where streams connect us and allow us to share links, comments, photos, games, locations, lists, and even larger social objects in the future. And Google has only had the smallest involvement in that expansion. But they desperately want in on the next wave, but they haven’t found a formula yet. It’s not Wave or Buzz, obviously. And now they are plotting a knockoff of Facebook: how 2009!
There are many unplowed fertile fields out there, where Google’s scale and engineering soul could do great things. As just one example, modern social network research has shown that the social ‘scenes’ we are situated in — the millions of people that form the ‘friends of my friends’ friends’ network — are the single best predictor of our likelihood to be fat, smoke, or be happy. And by extension, buy Chevrolets, listen to Country music, or read manga. And no services have tapped into that reality, yet, except in the most inadvertent ways. (For more background see Social Scenes: The Invisible Calculus Of Culture, It’s Betweenness That Matters, Not Your Eigenvalue: The Dark Matter Of Influence and Jeff Jarvis on The Hunt For The Elusive Influencer.)
This is why actions like buying Slide are likely to be diversions, like Jaiku and Dodgeball turned out to be. Meanwhile, there are real advances to be made — like building sociality into the operating platforms of the future. Obviously Google is in a position to do that with Android and Chrome, but I honestly don’t think they know what to build.
Ultimately no human brain, no planet full of human brains, can possibly catalog the dark, expanding ocean of data we spew. In a future of information auto-organized by folksonomy, we may not even have words for the kinds of sorting that will be going on; like mathematical proofs with 30,000 steps, they may be beyond comprehension. But they’ll enable searches that are vast and eerily powerful. We won’t be surfing with search engines any more. We’ll be trawling with engines of meaning.
via -@bruces (Bruce Sterling)
I love the poetry of the words, but I believe we will depend on social networks to act as our ‘engines of meaning’ — and they may involve 30,000 steps. Meaning is the new search.
When you are interested in magic, you might want to talk to a witch doctor, so when I started to think about the future of money, I thought I should talk to a science fiction author. Who better? As it so happens, I know one.
Bruce Sterling is a well-known science fiction author, perhaps best known for his contributions to what is now known as “cyberpunk”: near future, post industrial, dystopic settings with alienated loners struggling against megacorporations and artificially intelligent machines. He won Hugo Awards for “Bicycle Repainrman” and “Taklamakan”.
Sterling is responsible for a lot of neologisms, like “Spime” which he coined in 1994:
[via Word Spy]
The next stage is an object that does not exist yet. It needs a noun, so that we can think about it. We can call it a “Spime,” which is a neologism for an imaginary object that is still speculative. A Spime also has a kind of person who makes it and uses it, and that kind of person is somebody called a “Wrangler.” At the moment, you are end-using Gizmos. My thesis here, my prophesy to you, is that, pretty soon, you will be wrangling Spimes.
The most important thing to know about Spimes is that they are precisely located in space and time. They have histories. They are recorded, tracked, inventoried, and always associated with a story.
Spimes have identities, they are protagonists of a documented process.
They are searchable, like Google. You can think of Spimes as being auto-Googling objects.
—Bruce Sterling, “When Blobjects Rule the Earth,” SIGGRAPH, August 1, 2004
There are a lot of spimes in the world today: soda machines that dispatch trucks to refill them, xerox machines that diagnose paper jams and text message people to unjam them, and the Challenger space shuttle that twitters its position in space. Bruce saw all that coming.
Among a long history of projects and writing, he is now author of a blog at Wired Magazine, called Beyond The Beyond, where you can see the video of his talk from the recent Reboot conference in Copenhagen, which comes across as something like a graduation day speech. (I thought i was hilarious, but it incensed quite a few of my more serious techie friends.)
We chatted in Copenhagen over breakfast, and then we caught up a few days later, when I was back the States and he was in Torino, Italy.
The first is Gothic Hightech, and he uses the example of Bernie Madoff, who wormed his way into the convention world of investment and banking, and boiled off $50B, leaving thousands wrecked. He seems to imply that this endlessly possible, and that an episode could be much more devastating. Or perhaps he’s suggesting the current Econolypse is no different? That handing over our money to the system is inherently dumb, a form of institutionalized and voluntary slavery?
The second term is Favela Chic, decidedly low tech approaches taken by the dispossessed, outside the orbit of bourgeois society. These folks don’t line up with the world of banks, so they opt for paracurrencies, like cell minutes. He points out that the transfer of this sort of currency does not necessitate handing something over physically, like paper money. Like electronic fund transfers, you can give cell minutes to someone by just telling them a code to use. So it is an anonymous transfer. “No tax. Crosses international borders.”
Bruce suggests that a return to a feudal honor society could come about. I asked about a world of the near future with less governance, more rogue cities and regions. Will fiat currencies fall in use, and be replaced by commodities, like cell minutes, energy credits, or the like? Bruce argues that these regoins are parasitic on the more well-off, better managed areas that surround them or abut them. Bazaars emerge, he says. “I look to the Chinese model, by which I mean the offshore Chinese, not the communists.” He argues that they set up clan-based banking or production businesses, based on petty bourgeois activities. “There’s a certain rough justice in it [transactions in the bazaar sealed with a handshake], because you see the guy every week when your wife is there buying rutabagas.”
A truly enjoyable experience, and thought provoking in unexpected ways, which is pretty much what I expected from Bruce Sterling, I guess.
The Future Of Money series is sponsored in part by Neo.org