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Conference insights from Vancouver and Boston to Paris and Beijing.

frog at Frontiers of Interaction '11

In the age of information overload and data glut, where Americans consume about 1.3 trillion hours worth of data on a yearly basis, it is crucial for the field of interaction design to evolve. The Frontiers of Interaction conference in Italy has become the Mecca for interaction designers to converge and explore the latest trends and challenges in their field. The event serves as an inspirational hub for thinkers and doers alike and brings together innovators, academics, early adopters and loyal geeks.

Beauty/Complexity: The TED Salon in London

TED Salon May 2011

Welcoming a Unicorn Theatre jammed with 250 TEDsters old and new, host and TED's European director Bruno Giussani promised "possibly one of the most eclectic programs we've ever put together" on Wednesday night in London at the spring TED Salon. The Salon was hosted in collaboration with TEDGlobal partner frog. And eclectic it was, covering design, education, synthetic life, contemporary art, flowers, child marriage, and the sound of space, among others, under the theme "Beauty/Complexity".

"Grace and magnificence often hide intricate realities, while elaborate systems frequently express themselves in captivating and comely ways", Giussani said laying the stage for the two-sessions event.

Facebook in Cairo: Not What You Thought

Social media amulets in Cairo

Aboard this Air Egypt flight from Cairo to Munich, I am grateful for five hours in limbo before being deposited back into Western life. After a week on the ground in Cairo with Jan Chipchase and other colleagues from frog design, I have a sharpened understanding of how little I know about this region. Anyone who has spent time talking to people on both sides of "the line" in Egypt is struck by the monumental gap between those found in the poor, illiterate corners of the city and the fountain-ringed office parks filled with the savvy Egyptian businessmen educated in the best schools the West has to offer. Our research traversed much of this continuum. While we were not in the poorest of poor areas (meaning, communities living in and mining garbage dumps), our interviewees ranged from the latte-sipping, shisha-smoking students wearing designer clothing to the tea peddlers in dusty, goat-filled alleys. When I asked, with the assistance of my translator, if they used Facebook, faces lit with a smile and a nod—even in the goat-inhabited corners.

Giving Ourselves Permission: Day Two at the FUSE Conference


“We are human beings, not human doings” Andrew Pek, CEO of ivibe global and author of Stimulated! said during his keynote, Enlightened Innovation: A Mind, Body and Soul Approach to Creativity and Adaptation. Andrew explained that we should give pause to the constant chatter that we have with ourselves, the overlapping thoughts, and the idea that we need to constantly produce. It is in this frenzy of thought, Andrew argues, that we miss the “thoughts between thoughts” that help us tap into our creativity.

Killing the Archetype: Day One of the FUSE Conference

Marco Beghin, president of Moleskine, delighted the FUSE conference audience in Chicago today when he skirted the traditional and, often tiresome, power point presentation and moved towards an overhead projector.  He placed his small moleskin notebook on top of the clean white screen to begin his talk “The Analog Digital Continuum.”  Storytelling in the most nostalgic way, Beghin flipped through his notebook to unfold pictures and script that were tucked between the pages. This underscored his narrative about the importance of artifacts in human identity, highlighting a 3,500 year old skeleton of a nomad found among his knives, bowstring, and copper axe as an example of how the objects that we carry with us can tell a story of our experiences. But Beghin wasn’t arguing for us to bury our experiences in notebooks. He explained the obvious: the possibility of sharing analogue experience is amplified by the digital experiences we have through online storytelling. At the Salon di Mobile this week in Milan, Beghin announced that Moleskin would display the reverse phenomenon by capturing all online data happening around the event with a 3ft high robot and transcribing it on pieces of paper to create a physical expression of the conversations happening digitally.

GROW Bergen, grow

The European Union recently published the Innovation Union Scoreboard 2010, a performance assessment of innovation in EU member states. It investigates relative strengths and weaknesses of the research and innovation systems per country along related indicators. The monitored categories cover enablers, firm activities and outputs. “Enablers” investigate the essential ingredients to the activity such as HR, Finance, and Research Systems. “Firm activities” comprise indicators like investments, linkages and entrepreneurship, and intellectual assets. “Outputs” monitor indicators that translate into actual benefits for the entire economy, such as innovators and economic effects. However, member states are clustered into categories like innovation leaders, innovation followers, moderate innovators and modest innovators. A brief look into the results reveals that Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany are grouped as innovation leaders. The second cluster indicates innovation followers ranking above EU average, while a third cluster sums up countries that are weak in innovation. Norway is ranked “moderate innovator” performing below the average of the 27 countries monitored.

frog's SXSWi 2011 Party Wrap Up

For the 13th year in a row frog hosted the official opening party for SXSW Interactive, the geek-love tech fest in Austin, Texas. This year's theme was “Playing with the Time of Light" and that's just what we did with a number of interactive Microsoft Xbox Kinect hacks, including a Human Tetris knock off and an Angry Birds mash up.

Unwritten Rules: Teaching Brands Communality

It’s been said that good artists borrow, but great artists steal. We recently discovered a corollary to this statement: when presenting borrowed ideas at SXSW you should credit your source, because he might be sitting in the audience. In our case, that source was the behavioral economist Dan Ariely. When we flashed his book cover up on the projector to give him (and Steven Pinker) credit for inspiring our presentation, we heard a voice calling out “I’m here!” and there he sat in row two.

How Honest Should Smart Devices Be?

Don't speak

Will devices of the future be just as as moral (or immoral) as our friends, family, and coworkers? Will they aid us in upholding our own sense of honesty?

In her panel yesterday at South by Southwest, Genevieve Bell posed the following question: "What might we really want from our devices?" In her field research as a cultural anthropologist and Intel Fellow, she surfaced themes that might be familiar to those striving to create the next generation of interconnected devices. Adaptable, anticipatory, predictive: tick the box. However, what happens when our devices are sensitive, respectful, devout, and perhaps a bit secretive? Smart devices are "more than being context aware," Bell said. "It's being aware of consequences of context."

Achievement Unlocked: Gaming, Living, and Learning

Lego tables at SxSWi

A good number of panels at this year's SxSW have been about gaming, whether about living a gameful life, exploiting game mechanics in tackling world problems, and (yet to come) discussions about how design and technology can change education. They reflect our focus on the knobs and dials that we provide to others: the discrete handles that we use to influence the game. But they also reflect the higher-order understanding of how gaming can contribute to a joyful life. Two well-attended talks today, by Seth Priebatsch of SCVNGR and Jane McGonigal from Institute of the Future, both in their own ways illuminated the impact of gaming as a whole on how we learn, how we live, and how we work together. This is a very raw synthesis of some of the ideas they've shared.