This week we visited the Modern Colony exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore. It featured many local everyday objects such as clothing, entertainment, household items and furniture from 1925 – 1935 used by people of different socio-economic classes. This decade can be viewed as a turning point in culture amalgamation as well as women’s rights and education. Together, these various objects represent the rich visual and material culture of early 20th century Singapore which was then a fast-developing cosmopolitan city.
1920s: Style and Aesthetics
During this decade, there seems to be a general stylistic preference for ornamental and intricate details. Floral and curvilinear motifs were popular choices to decorate furniture, lights and vases (either painted on flat or attached). There was also a focus on handicraft and embroidery during this period. This contrasts with today’s more minimal aesthetics which lean towards clean lines and crisp shapes.
I really like these decorative lamp shapes and vases. Their fluted rims resemble flowers. The firm glass contrasts with the fluid folds. The colours are also applied in gradient.
Women’s Identity and Blending Cultures
Many of the objects on display illustrate the dichotomy between east and west in the pre-war British colony of Singapore. These two influences are seen in clothing, shoes and household items, especially from wealthier households.
Although traditional bound feet shoes (centre) were very pretty, they hindered movement and resulted in many women staying at home. By the 1920s, they were replaced by these exquisitely embroidered high-heeled shoes which were favoured by the modern women in Singapore.
These shoes did not hinder movement and conversely were used for social and ballroom dancing. This change reflects the evolving role of women at the time and their increasing rights and freedom.
Furthermore, these shoes represent the combination of eastern and western influences, a hallmark of the cosmopolitan city. The designer appropriated style elements from the east and west and applied them to a pair of shoes as seen by the frilly bow (western) and embroidered peony (Chinese) on the toe caps.
Household and luxury items also reflect this blend of East and West such as this golden cocktail shaker and beakers with a four-clawed dragon chasing a pearl. The cocktail shaker, originally an invention of western culture, is here remade with Chinese aesthetic elements and motifs.
I was slightly nervous during the broadcast, not unlike the feeling of going up on stage. The ‘live’ medium initially creates a sense of performance and self-consciousness but that will likely disappear after getting used to the medium. I was surprised and really felt the immediacy of the medium when my friends commented and reacted during my live broadcast.
This was my second time using Facebook Live, the first was a few days prior at my friend’s birthday party. In comparison with my second broadcast, the first came out more as a comedic personal home-video filled with chatter and giggles. I’ve realised that being a reporter is challenging as it requires us to be aware of our environment and the events unfolding before us. I find that it’s also slightly different from capturing personal memories. It can be personal but I do feel compelled to offer something to the audience; be it something interesting, humorous, informative or insightful. What do you guys think?
This week’s assignment is about the Smart Nation initiative, which was launched in late 2014. Part II can be found here.
A Brief Overview
The Smart Nation seeks to improve the way we live, work, play and interact with each other through the use of data analysis and information communication technology. These technologies are gradually being implemented in our public infrastructure, transport networks, housing environments, businesses as well as healthcare and day-to-day services. These innovative solutions aim to create a sustainable and comfortable way of life, which simultaneously connects members of society and strengthens community ties.
“I think for Singapore, what we really want to look at is how do you use technology, networks, big data to deliver the benefits to citizens in terms of improving their quality of life, to forge stronger communities, to improve productivity and industry and how technology can be an enabler as we move towards an ageing population. At the end of the day, what defines a smart city is whether technology has made a positive difference in the lives of the citizens.”
— Chay Pui San, Deputy Head of Smart Nation Programme Office
A well-designed Smart Nation initiative
I think the Smart Nation tele-health initiative is a thoughtfully designed improvement to eldercare, especially in our aging society. It understands the needs of our fast-paced society where working adults are divided among many commitments such as their career, children and elderly parents. The elderly monitoring systems allows family members to monitor their parents or grandparents remotely. The system monitors movement patterns, notifying caretakers of their whereabouts and any unusual activity within the home through a mobile application.
Elderly can also wear panic buttons around their necks to alert caretakers of an emergency. If they were to fall, the elderly person can immediately signal for help using the button. This is rather well-designed as it is portable, physical and works well regardless of one’s digital competency. Although simple, it makes far more sense than a sleek mobile application.
Connectivity and Openness
Seamless connectivity is an integral aspect of Smart Nation. This ensures reliable real-time data which can be used to monitor transport networks, crowd patterns and environmental conditions.
So what can be done with all this data? It works hand in hand with openness to build a smarter nation and encourage innovation. Businesses and individuals can access government data to co-create solutions. We see these independent initiatives manifest as popular transport applications like SG BusLeh and the Facebook chatbot Singapore Bus Uncle, which can track real-time bus locations, arrival times and measure how packed a bus is. These applications were made in the spirit of open source and their interfaces even have a local flavour.
Apart from being open and transparent, these initiatives can also be improved through continuous community contributions and feedback. Although not everyone can develop chatbots and apps, members of a town can contribute by sending on-the-ground updates (e.g. lift breakdowns, mosquito breeding grounds etc.) to alert agencies about municipal issues.
Becoming a Smart Nation: Potential Problems and Possible Solutions
As a society, we will have to alter our behaviour and way of living in order to fully utilise this technology. To achieve this, we will need bridging schemes to encourage people to embrace these new technologies and way of life. For example in 2016, new modes of contactless payment such as Apple pay and Android pay were made available in Singapore. Exclusive incentives such as timbre+ $1 Good Eats were set up, which encouraged people to try the new system.
More importantly, the technology should be embedded in a seamless and non-intrusive fashion. This is where good, people-driven design comes into play. With the development of a smart nation, members of the community also need to play an active role so as to not feel detached or herded.
Many of these initiatives are implemented using smartphone applications, typically with graphical user interfaces (GUI). Although these are a great start, how will we prevent marginalised groups of people in our society from being left behind as Singapore develops into a smart nation? Perhaps, some of these digital technology solutions should be installed in public spaces for people who lack access to smart devices. Furthermore, to aid members of our community with low computer competency, we should aim to go beyond GUI, and incorporate more tangible media interfaces.
Singapore’s future as a Smart Nation is exciting and promising. Nonetheless, we have to be aware of such limitations and work towards minimising any gaps in society created by technological differences.
Löwgren and Stolterman have presented a convincing and comprehensive argument for the need to be a thoughtful and reflective designer. Although they are writing specifically about how users interact with digital artefacts, we can apply their key principles to other types of design.
Although they may not have articulated and categorised the process as Löwgren and Stolterman have done, I do believe all creators and designers have an intrinsic understanding of the design process and situation. When approaching a problem, good designers would ask themselves similar questions along the way; how will users interact with it? What skills do the target users possess? How will my design alter user behaviour? Nonetheless, having the design process, motivations and effects analysed and verbalised is helpful as it quantifies the importance of good design.
I enjoyed the idea of design as knowledge construction. Designers do not just create products, services or experiences, but instead creating new behaviour and perspectives, which we internalise, and then use to interact with other people and artefacts. Löwgren and Stolterman highlight the influence of design and its power in shaping our behaviour, our lives and our future. It brings to mind digital features such as emojis that may have seemed alien or niche in the past but are now ubiquitous and an integral part of our communication norms. These tiny yellow faces have managed to classify a large range of our human emotions, forever altering our mode of written communication 🙂 😮 😉 😀
“A designer’s most important task is to develop her judgement, by critically and independently formulating her own assumptions and beliefs.”
After some deliberation, Löwgren and Stolterman do not conclude what makes good design. More than technical skills and qualities (which can be developed with time and practice), they stress the need for highly developed judgement skills. I’ve understood this as developing a good eye for design and user interaction. How does one achieve this? By continuous, conscious perception and reflection.
To clarify, seeing is not the same as perceiving! Seeing allows us to obtain visual and formal information such as shape or colour without understanding the needs the product fulfils, and what it requires from us as users. Instead we must constantly look at products, artefacts and behaviour, and reflect why it is good or lacking. However, developing good taste alone would make us good critics, but not designers or artists. While training our eye, we must also hone our craft by practicing, producing and learning from our mistakes.
“The thoughtful designer dares to challenge her own thinking and assumptions as a way to develop her competence and design ability.”
Lastly, I appreciate this disclaimer at the end of the section. Especially in our present era, where knowledge and tools are rapidly developing and ever-changing, it is important to keep improving and not be stagnant. After developing critical design judgement, we must then be open to breaking these set beliefs if they become limiting.
3 thoughtfully designed interactive experiences
Before I Die by Candy Chang is a thoughtful interactive design experience. Chang repurposed an abandon building in her city of New Orleans, painted a wall with chalkboard paint and stencilled on the prompt ‘Before I die I want to _______.’ The premise is simple but effective in inspiring participation and community spirit. Although formed by many individual sentiments, the collaborative work comes together as a coherent image of a community. The interface is just enough for the intended outcome and the work also recognises the influence of good design on a social level.
Ototo by the the Japanese sound artist Yuri Suzuki is another instance of a thoughtfully designed interactive experience that potentially revolutionises our way of learning music.
It is a music kit that transforms day to day objects into instruments. Although it has limitations and is not a replacement for traditional music making, it has reimagined our interactions with everyday objects and our definition of musical instruments. It presents a possible future, and can be a complementary tool for music education (especially for people who are intimidated by music-making).
Lastly, another example would be William Forsythe’s ‘choreographic objects’ installation Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time, No.2 (2013). This series of interactive installations consist of hundreds of pendulums swinging simultaneously. The piece invites participants to manoeuvre around the swinging pendulums, inevitably making dance-like movements as they try to avoid them. The experience is physically engaging, fascinating and encourages a playful art experience in the typically solemn museum setting.
This week’s reading is Goal-directed Product and Service Design (Chapter 1 of Designing for the Digital Age by Kim Goodwin).
Goodwin has broken down and presented to us a step-by-step methodology for effective project planning and execution. Although she writes in the context of design and business, we can extract many useful learning points that are applicable to other types of creative projects, even if they are non-commercial and lean closer towards art than design.
Goodwin expands on the common definition and scope of design. She goes beyond functional products and rightly includes services and experiences. Perhaps, all kinds of design should be viewed not as standalone products, but more broadly as experiences. When we think of a product, the hardware becomes a little irrelevant. Instead, we recall the memory and the good feelings associated with its use.
One of the models which Goodwin encourages brings to life the old saying ‘to walk in another’s shoes’. By thinking of how another user would view the same product, service or artwork, with a different set of memories, associations and skill set, we would gain a deeper understanding of what is lacking from our initial prototypes and proposals. For example, how would someone in a wheelchair, or someone with limited knowledge of technology interact with our art installation, service or game? Tweaking the experience for different types of users would make the work more accessible and inclusive.
Furthermore, interaction should influence design and functionality. Ideally, core ideas and interaction should not be compromised for ease of execution. Goodwin proposes a broad to narrow approach to design and ideation which I find very helpful. When starting on a new project idea, I often get bogged down by details and practical limitations. While these considerations are good, taking them into account in the early stages of the ideation process can be self-limiting and overwhelming, and may stomp out potential ideas. Instead, she suggests starting on a higher and broader level to work out a clear and simple core concept before banging out the details and execution.
After ideation, Goodwin also distinguishes and explains the three different design frameworks (interaction, visual and industrial design) and how they influence one another. This was very interesting as I often use a singular approach when designing devices and experiences (i.e. I try to make a ‘good’ experience without stating clearly what ‘good’ is or what factors make it ‘good’). However, dissecting this into distinct frameworks seems like a more holistic way to think of the same problem from different angles, ultimately creating a comprehensive view of our design goals and the intended user experience.
Some food for thought
Q1. Besides thinking about design and interaction from the perspective of different personas, what other models can we use specifically to create interactive art works?
Q2. Goodwin explains the goal-directed design process in the context of larger-scale projects with multiple stakeholders. How can we synthesise and streamline the goal-directed process to smaller projects?
Not unlike the Dada performances at the Cabaret Voltaire during the early 20th century which revolutionised the roles of artist and institution, the open source system is our highly-connected and technologically-fuelled era’s retelling of this art historical narrative of intervention and opposition. Open source shifts the dynamics of art-making from vertical to lateral; anyone can be an artist, curator, participant and critic. It is an inclusive platform, not limited by space or traditional tastemakers.
Open source extends the social aspect of art-making further. Creators, netizens and our peers can provide constructive feedback and contribute to the creative process and product. The open source system can also be a channel of inspiration and learning as it heightens our awareness of contemporary issues and concerns, and allows us to witness ongoing projects by our contemporaries as they develop. This grants us insights into their creative process and methods which are equally, if not more valuable than the finished product.
Our school’s Open Source Studio (OSS) has helped cultivate this practice of sharing, collaboration and openness which are crucial today. Furthermore, OSS offers a comprehensive view of our practice. It does not separate or privilege finished works over ideation, work-in-progress, inspirations or potential projects. Instead, the OSS platform is an integrated reflection of our practice that serves as a portfolio, process log and archive simultaneously, all while remaining accessible to employers, our peers and practitioners all over the world.
It was an interesting read to see someone lay out varying definitions of these 4 terms (some more familiar than the rest), discuss them in depth, highlight the overlaps and limitations before eventually tearing apart the very definitions and explanations he had built. It felt like we know these words, yet not really.
What struck me most was the point regarding play. Zimmerman urges creators not to forcefully direct a play experience but rather to design a system and structure with the potential for play. We as creators cannot incite play but can instead create an environment which encourages and supports it.
Zimmerman also highlights how there is a narrative to be found in all media, games and creations. It teaches us a new way of viewing creative products, searching for the overall stories and ‘micro-narratives’ in each move, sequence and activity.
A month is a period of time that we share universally. What happens in a month? How much of the past months can we recall? When we recall a month that has passed, what comes to mind?
Perhaps it’s characterised by events; public holidays, birthdays, one-time occasions (i.e. marriages, celebrations, funerals, world events, injuries, natural disasters). I feel that a month really flies by and the days blend together and become indistinguishable.
This project will invite users to document the most significant thing that happens each day. Users would record a single piece of media in any form (images, music/sounds, words, article/headline, website link). The system will record the submission each day but will not show posts from other days of the month. Users will only be able to view these daily submissions at the end of the month, as an entire month and collated experience. The arrangement of the daily posts will also correspond to the layout of a calendar.
Anonymity The posts would be anonymous, with no identity, descriptions or captions. Unlike social media, perhaps not having an audience which knows us personally and only viewing the happenings of a single day would reduce the level of curation; i.e. reduce our urge to document our month according to certain cohesive themes/colours/forms etc. or document only the ‘nice sexy moments’.
Ideally, the project will have users from all over the world. The database would store the ‘months’ of users around the world. People can access these ‘months’, and have a glimpse into the lives of others. These experiences may vary from the intimate and personal to a collective experience. For example, on 23 Jan 2016, posts from Singapore may include a sound clip of a birthday celebration, failing a school assignment or a picture of a large tree. On the other hand, many people in the US may post pictures of the blizzard which hit the east coast, showing snow covered cars and streets. The significant-happening-of-the-day can be something that shook you personally, or an event that shook the larger global community.
On a side note, experiences and happenings seem to dictate the tone of the month. Hmm… I wonder if other more subtle aspects can be recorded, like feelings and moods.
I typically like using traditional media to create art but being in IM has allowed me to stretch my skills and control of media. Learning programming, max and all these other really new and fresh fields is no different from drawing or painting. All are mediums used to create art equally but add so much more to my appreciation and application of these individual mediums. Applying the logical to painting and vice versa makes art way more flexible and feels like I get to dip my fingers in many different pots of honey.