• Cloud of Cards. The (coming) book

    A sneak peek into the coming book that will present and discuss the design process as well as  its results, sorted out from this documentary blog. Design EUROSTANDARD with a new font by NORM.

     

    As announced a few times already, two books in print-on-demand will summarize the overall research Inhabiting and Interfacing the Cloud(s), at the term of the design and ethnographic process we went through during almost three years.

  • Cloud of Cards. Early pictures from the final artifacts, a photo shoot with Daniela & Tonatiuh

    Photography by Daniela & Tonatiuh.

    Design by Léa Pereyre, Lucien Langton and Patrick Keller

  • Naming the outputs of our design research: Cloud of Cards, a home cloud kit

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    Cloud of Cards, a personal cloud kit. Scattered 19″ hybrid server racks, elements and kit to assemble and play with. (Photo.: Daniela & Tonatiuh)

     

    We’re coming close to an end with the joint design research Inhabiting and Interfacing the Clouds and we’re becoming impatient to deliver the results: a diy small scale data center and cloud kit made of various elements (both physical and digital), to freely assemble at home or in your “garage”. Accompanied by two books documenting our work in print-on-demand!

    At this stage though, we’ve given new and final titles to the design artifacts and tools that we’ve been working on lately, together with the research team (for the design & code part: Lucien Langton, Léa Pereyre, Christian Babski and myself).

     

    Therefore…

     

    Cloud of Cards, is a home cloud kit to help re-appropriate your data self. Obviously a distant tribute to House of Cards, the toy project by the Eames (“Toys and games are preludes to serious ideas”), the kit will consist of four artifacts:

    19″ Living Rack is an open source server rack with a few functional hybridations, declined in four versions. Cloud of Cards Processing Library consists in a programming tool to help develop cloud applications with the Processing development language. 5 Folders Cloud is a version of the Cloud (ownCloud) with automated behaviors and cascades of events. It is an implementation of the processing library directly linked to the outputs and learnings of the ethnographic research about uses of the cloud. Finally, 5 Connected Objects physically interface the five automated folders in our version the cloud (5 Folders Cloud) with five “smart” objects and try to embody distant data in some kind of everyday domestic presence.

  • A “Home Cloud Kit” (evolution)

    Note: the purpose of a “Home Cloud Kit” (working title) has been described in a previous post. It will be composed by four artifacts which will become the main outcomes of the design research Inhabiting and Interfacing the Cloud(s), along with one book about the ethnographic field study and another one about the design research process.

    Below are four links leading to four posts describing and analyzing the current state of evolution for each part of this kit. We expect the research and the “kit” to be finished by the end of March 17.

    The “kit” will be distributed freely at the end of the project.

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    The final phase of our research consists in the prototyping of artifacts which relevance have been identified along the process. Tools, infrastructures and services are therefore addressed and will constitute a “Home Cloud Kit”.

     

    This final phase is organized into the four following lines of work:

     

    A) A Personal Data Center (evolution, models)

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    B) I&IC’s OwnCloud Core Processing Library (evolution)

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    C) A Personal Cloud (evolution)

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    D) My Data Controllers (evolution, models)

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  • A Personal Data Center (evolution, models)

    Note: “A Personal Data Center” (working title) is part of a home cloud kit, which was described in a previous post and that will be composed by four various artifacts, both physical and digital.

    The kit will be distributed freely at the end of the project.

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    After a few design iterations through sketches and a bit of 3D modelling, we recently produced a set of first prototypes of what our domestic 19″ server rack could look like and how it could handle domestic functions as well. As a matter of facts, we can consider this work an alternative approach to what was set up and analyzed at the beginning of our research, when we assembled our own “(small size) personal cloud infrastructure“.

    Our approach was fueled by several references, the first one being House of Cards, by Ray and Charles Eames :

     

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    The modular, simple and intuitive assembly process guided us for its adequacy within a Do-It-Yourself user context.

  • My Data Controllers (evolution, models)

    Note: “My Data Controllers” (working title) is part of a home cloud kit, which was described in a previous post and that will be composed by four various artifacts, both physical and digital.

    The kit will be distributed freely at the end of the project.

    -

    Continuing our design process, we milled the first prototypes of the five connected objects, which consist in tangible versions of the five main folders present in our alternative version of Owncloud (“A Personal Cloud”, working title as well).

    As explained in this post, each object is based on the same elementary brick which brings and manages a natural interaction between the connected object, the personal cloud and its contained data, files and folders –therefore becoming a controller–. This elementary brick holds the Raspberry Pi, sensors and hardware necessary to physically interact with Owncloud. This interaction will be slow and discrete.

    Furthermore than the identified objectives through the ethnographic field study and design sketches we’ve lead along the research, our approach to these networked objects was fueled by complementary meaningful references. The first one (image below) consisting in a different approach to the behavior users adopt in their interaction with the “technological home”, Shaker furniture:

     

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  • A Personal Cloud (evolution)

    Note: “A Personal Cloud” (working title) is part of a home cloud kit, which was described in a previous post and that will be composed by four various artifacts, both physical and digital.

    The kit will be distributed freely at the end of the project.

    -

    The “alternative version” of the cloud (client, interface) and the way we interact with it is still under development.

    Strongly connected to the ethnographic field research that was achieved earlier during the research process regarding cloud usages, the purpose of this project is to exemplify a different way of handling or even playing with one’s data and files in the cloud, as well as to demonstrate an implementation of “I&IC’s OwnCLoud Core Processing Library” that will also be part of the final delivery “cloud kit”.

    “A Personal Cloud” is also in tight connection with the objects controllers project, “My Data Controllers” (working title as well), because these networked objects will directly interact with the files and data contained in it.

     

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    A version of OwnCloud developed with the help of “I&IC’s OwnCloud Core Processing Library” and containing five root folders, each with a singular automated behavior.

  • I&IC’s OwnCloud Core Processing Library (evolution)

    Note: “I&IC OwnCloud Core Processing Library” (working title) is part of a home cloud kit, which was described in a previous post and that will be composed by four various artifacts, both physical and digital.

    The kit will be distributed freely at the end of the project.

    -

    motivations_usages_problems_01_02

    One processing project with one cloud, while the server (OwnCloud) can still be accessed by a regular interface (OwnCloud client). The upper part (white) is the “network/server side” of the project (OwnCloud), hosted on a Linux server, while the bottom (grey dots) is user or “client side”. It can consists in connected objects or environments, interfaces, visualizations of different sorts.

     

    The I&IC’s Owncloud Core Processing Library is now composed of a “client side” component and “server side” component (IICloud’s Addon).

    The “client side” part of the library (“user side” vs. “network/server side” in the illustrations above and below) can be used from Processing, in order to get access to OwnCloud server(s) and manipulate files. The benefit of the core library resides in the fact that it mashups all together a set of heterogeneous functionalities in one single library (it has been therefore renamed I&IC OwnCloud Core Processing Library as it is more closely related to our research).

  • I&IC design research at “Bot Like Me” conference, Centre Culturel Suisse, Paris

    Note: At the invitation of Sophie Lamparter (Swissnex San Francisco) and Luc Meier (EPFL ArtLab), we had the pleasure to present the current process and outcomes of our joint design research project in Paris, at Centre Culturel Suisse (CCS). This helped us collect meaningful impressions and comments about the ongoing work.

    The conference was given last Friday and Saturday (02-03.12) in the company and attendance of an excellent line up (!Mediengruppe Bitnik, Nicolas Nova, Yves Citton, Tobias Revell & Nathalie Kane, Rybn, Joël Vacheron, Gwenola Wagon, Hannes Grasseger, I&IC’s research assistants Lucien Langton & Léa Pereyre,  so as many others!)

    Together with Nicolas Nova, we presented the almost final state of our joint research project Inhabiting & Interfacing the Cloud(s), at a time when we are entering the prototyping of the final artifacts (deliverables).

     

    Via Centre Culturel Suisse (in French)

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    Du vendredi 2 au samedi 3 décembre 2016

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    Bot Like Me
    interventions en anglais

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    A l’occasion de l’exposition de !MedienGruppe Bitnik, et avec la complicité du duo d’artistes zurichois, Sophie Lamparter (directrice associée de swissnex San Francisco) et Luc Meier (directeur des contenus de l’EPFL ArtLab, Lausanne) ont concocté pour le CCS un événement de deux jours composé de conférences, tables rondes et concerts, réunissant scientifiques, artistes, écrivains, journalistes et musiciens pour examiner les dynamiques tourmentées des liens homme-machine. Conçues comme une plateforme d’échange à configuration souple, ces soirées interrogeront nos rapports complexes, à la fois familiers et malaisés, avec les bots qui se multiplient dans nos environnements ultra-connectés.

  • “A Personal Cloud”: a home cloud kit for personal data (centers) / “reappropriate your dataself”!

    We’re entering the final straight of the research project Inhabiting and Interfacing the Cloud(s) and we can give at this point a first glimpse of the four design artifacts we are working on at the moment. They will constitute the main outcomes of our joint experimental effort (ECAL, HEAD, EPFL-ECAL Lab) and a kind of “personal cloud kit” (explained below). These creations will be accompanied by two books: one will present the results of the ethnographic research about “the cloud”, the other will present the design research process and its results – both in pod/pdf.

    We already pointed out in the recent post “Updated Design Scenario” where we were heading. Since then, the different projects were better identified and started to get shaped. Some got eliminated. Prototyping and further technical tests are running in parallel at the moment.

     

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    From the original “final scenario” sketch to …

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    … a “Personal Cloud Kit”, composed of various physical and digital modular artifacts.

     

    What emerged reinforced from the main design scenario is that we seek to deliver four artifacts (some physical, some digital, some combined) which themselves will constitute the building blocks of what we’ll call “A Personal Cloud Kit”. All four parts of this kit will be openly accessible on a dedicated website (e.g. in a similar way to what OpenDesk is doing).

    The purpose of this “home kit” is to empower designers, makers and citizens at large who would be interested to start develop their own cloud projects, manage or interact with their data or even to set up small scale personal data centers at their places (homes, offices, garages …)

  • From design research wrap-up to final artifacts, updated design scenario (in scribble mode, #2)

     

    This post consists in an important update to the previous note “From design research wrap-up to final artifacts, a design scenario (in scribble mode, #1)“.

    It’s main purpose is to narrow down the previously sketched scenario and become more precise about the possible artifacts we will develop. In doing so, the present description shows a likely path and tries to keep some coherence within the overall design that is segmented in four different areas, often combined (software, hardware furniture, responsive objects, visualization). Yet and even so several objects and functions are described and named in this post, it will continue to serve only as a general blueprint for the last phase of our I&IC joint design research, while the final outputs could still largely evolve, based on the same ideas and plan.

     

    These ideas keep their importance though:

    Based on the graphic “Motivations <-> Usages <-> Problems” and its description of procedures, based on our “Design Learnings” too, we’ve tried to translate and objectify these into “natural language” of actions (and problems). At this stage, this is still a trial, but we’ve listed five pairs of words that work in opposition (verbs vs. past participles) and that cover the spectrum of functions and procedures: To Care (vs. Neglected!), To Accumulate (vs. Vanished!), To Multiply (vs. Shrinked! ), To Freeze (vs. “Melted!”), To “Pimp” (vs. “Jumbled!”) — all these corresponding to a set of cloud actions and explained with more details below, after the break —

    These 5 pairs of terms will drive the development of an alternative, domestic and hopefully objective Cloud (“Our Cloud”), built upon the open source software OwnCloud with the help of our own I&IC OwnCloud Core Processing Library (which will be further edited and editable therefore). This personal Cloud will have the opportunity to be hosted into a new type of diy (and domestic as well) 19″ Cabinet.

    The 5 pairs of terms will further drive the implementation of 5 Controllers or Network Data/Bot Objects (“Smart Objects”). The aim of these “controllers” will be to give an everyday physical presence to each user’s personal Cloud, to its 5 main folders, contained files or data and the processes they undergo. The manipulation of some of these objects will include the idea of “natural interface” or “gestures”.

    In addition to these 5 physical controllers, 1 or 2 “root objects” could help monitor and possibly moderate the overall behavior of “Our Cloud”.

    For the development of these “smart objects”, we’ve decide to take into account the kind of objects or infrastructure that are already present in a domestic environment, things like single functional objects (i.e. lamps, electric plugs, consoles, mirrors, clocks, etc.) and revisit them with a slight sculptural approach. We’ve also decided to consider a “language” that takes into account “invisibility” or “immateriality” (i.e. electricity, electrostatics, magnets, light, reflections, air currents or temperature, dust).

    Finally, all of the above should be distributed as open source.

  • Towards applied object design and interaction

    As we are now well into the second phase of Inhabiting & interfacing the Cloud(s), our aim is to materialize and verify our research. The intent is to work from two complementary perspectives: object design and interaction design. Lea Pereyre, object designer, and myself Lucien Langton, interaction designer and both assistants on the design research I&IC, will work on some parts of the physical hardware of the cloud as well as on it’s functions and usages.

    Doing so, we are pursuing by design means the Learnings from the “I&IC design research wrap-up of sketches, towards artifacts” and “blabla”.

    If the cloud as a medium has not yet been colonized by designers, expect of course in the applied case of user experience and interaction design practices, it is perhaps because it takes the place of a “blind spot” in our lives as front-end users. As soon as we make a gesture towards it’s nature it seems to vanish in a blur.

    A first step in enabling designers to grasp the concept seems indeed to setup an enumeration of the building blocks composing the cloud. After all, it is a system of systems, optimized to perform certain tasks: upload, download, synchronize, share, compute, stream, and perhaps more. Many of them on third party hardware. The term “Cloud” is only a packaging for such terms, therefore it seems evident to investigate the possibility of a plurality of objects in order to create a relevant design for the somehow blurry term.

    Moreover, the most flagrant incarnation of the cloud resides in it’s physical infrastructure. Colossal amounts of servers, electricity and cables are necessary to maintain this invisible yet crucial part of our contemporary society. This ecosystem built for machines to host and compute data is filled of objects, engineered in the never-ending quest for optimization: hubs, ventilators, connectors, etc. The most recognizable and useful object of this data paraphernalia is the 19″ server-rack. It is therefore natural to identify the server-rack as an obvious subject of product design in this research, especially also because it was “unblackboxed” almost at the beginning of this research.

     

    The 19″ Server Rack and the “U” unit: object design

    Historically, the invention of the 19″ server rack is a mystery. It was first standardized by Bell Telephone Company (later  AT&T), but was probably introduced beforehand in the railway infrastructure. Anyhow, it has always been an object dependent of the technology it supports in it’s evolution. This strange object has constantly evolved through the quest for performance optimization in electronics but it was until recently never questioned in it’s mobility aspects, let alone in itself as a designed object. The cloud’s physical infrastructure is a hostile environment for humans, even though it is meant to provide end-users with an abundant set of resources.

    This hostile hardware is defined by a peculiarly standardized characteristic:
    - The unit U  is specifically used to standardize server-rack heights and inner vertical spacings. One U is equivalent to 4.445 cm, or 1.75 inches.

    This unit is of specific interest for our research as a formal constraint in object design. Other standards of interest were already introduced and documented in a previous post here.

    It is necessary to acknowledge that these standards are maintained in order to keep in place a technological (and therefore economic) compatibility and interoperability within the infrastructure. It is difficult for non-technical users to gain access to the hardware necessary to setup their own infrastructure, precisely because the technical aspects aren’t communicated to encourage public use. This is why we need to re-appropriate these standards as designers with an open-source approach in mind. The first step towards this re-appropriation is to get familiar with the technical aspects of server-rack.

    Considering the personal cloud as a paradigm serves primarily the need for users to store their “memory” (storage is by far the most popular function of the personal cloud), it is crucial to notice that by externalizing our “memory” to the cloud we have actually  displaced it to distant data centers. In this regard, re-appropriation is also a way to become conscious of this phenomenon.

    Two references (out of the datacenter field) were identified as interesting design tracks according to our research questions (didn’t we wonder in this document about inhabitable shelter/data center in the chapter “What is the most appropriate approach?”)

    The first reference, then, is Living Structures, Ken Isaacs, 1974, in which the author investigates our daily domestic micro-environments and synthesizes modular counter-proposals under the form of an open-source manual. The second comes from Shaker furniture, in which the aim was to design a universe of objects which all share a common function: to optimize the surroundings in order to liberate space for spirituality.

     

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    Ken Isaacs, Super chair (top) and Shaker chairs (bottom).

     

    The Functions: interaction design

    As users, we often use the cloud without even knowing it. The reason for this is that the cloud is a system engineered to assure a constant access to data and other users regardless of their position on the planet. This goal to access everything whenever and from everywhere relies on key functions which are kept hidden (“blackboxed”) in the user’s experience. Therefore, our clouds, phones, computers and connected devices constantly upload, download, synchronize, compute, stream and share data in the background.

    The closest way in which these functions exist for the users are in the form of buttons, icons & notifications in the user’s interface. We can see these actions are always triggered by the same user interactions: click, tap, swipe down to sync, scroll down to load more data (in essence download), etc. On one hand the user has an extremely restrained contact with these actions, but on the other hand an ever-increasing universe of connected objects embodies the granular appliances of these actions.

    These connected objects, often referenced to as the “Internet of Things”, decline cloud functions under every form. These remain nevertheless opaque to the user’s eyes, which is once again a flagrant proof of the vacuous engagement in the design process to produce these objects.

    Connected devices of the internet of things are often the only ambassadors of the cloud under tangible form. However, one cannot help to notice their aesthetic and interactive aspects are often disappointing. Indeed, these objects are only designed with the purpose to add market value to a technology, but very rarely does it question or reduce the system’s technical opacity. We believe designers have a strong responsibility in this.

     

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    Iotlist entered as a search term in Google images gives a quick glimpse of the trend in connected object design.

     

    Designing a family of connected objects seems like a good lead at this stage, because it resolves several conceptual problems. First of all, it enables to kickstart a debate on the bundled nature of cloud functions. Dissecting the cloud into a list of functions is already a first step towards the establishment of an honest familiarity with the concept. In the second place, we need to give the cloud a body. One of the major difficulty with cloud computing is it’s invisibility. By embodying these functions we give place to commentary on each one of them.

    Finally, objects are interesting in their different sizes and physicality. What would happen if instead of launching an upload with a click, it would be launched by temperature, location or proximity? What would happen if the object could be transported in a pocket? Or on the inverse, would be too heavy to move but very fragile? These are the tracks we are digging and interrogating at this stage in the research, enabling us to envision a personal family of objects related to the cloud.

  • Three summary drawings

    Three drawings from the previous series of scenario that resume quite well what we intend to do:

     

    An objectified cloud (a combination of open source software, automated behaviors and physical data controllers),

     

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    … that would find its physical location in a kind of retrofitted and open source 10″ cabinet,

     

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    … to let anyone create and manage its own “tiny” and personal/home data center, based on existing or newly created open source technology.

  • From design research wrap-up to final artifacts, a design scenario (in scribble mode, #1)

     

    Based on the design guidelines drawn from the wrap-up (recently published on this blog) and following a logic of “branching” from the existing (forks, branches, hacks, versions, etc.), we’ve identified in collaboration with the research team four main design projects/artifacts to further investigate in the context of Inhabiting and Interfacing the Cloud(s), following the questions addressed by the research project.  These design artifacts are intended to become the major outputs from our joint research:

     

    1° We will continue develop the open source tools, the related procedures and our OwnCloud Processing library, possibly developing a Javascript version of it as well. (Christian Babski)

    2° By way of practical applications about these libraries, we will design and develop I&IC’s “branches” of OwnCloud (OwnCloud + scripts). They will favor alternative ways to operate and interact with the Cloud in direct link with the identified “motivations” to use this universal service. (Patrick Keller, Christian Babski)

    3° A set of networked data objects (“controllers”, kind of…) will be developed directly in connection with the above “branches” of OwnCloud. In order to embody the usually hidden processes and data so as to trigger objective interactions with the personal cloud. (Lucien Langton)

    4° We will retrofit the 19″ server cabinet built around the standard unit “U” with the purpose to create a domestic version, a kind of modular and highly decentralized “house/personal data center”. (Léa Pereyre)

    In order to address the maker and designer communities, users will be able to openly access the blueprints, the parts, the files or the code of these elements (librairies, OwnCloud versions, “controllers”, 19″ Cabinet and develop or adapt their own versions from them).

     

    I drew a series of scribbles lately to sustain our investigations towards this final design scenario. It will serve to frame the development range for our design artifacts (points 1° – 4° above and top slideshow). It is further explained with additional information and images below, after the break.