Italia Design is an undergraduate field school and research program offered by the School of Interactive Arts + Technology (SIAT) at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.
The most significant contribution to the field are interviews conducted with emergent and established players in the Italian design community. Each year, a new team builds on the previous year’s research.
Gruppo Nove, the ninth group of senior design students to embark on this adventure together with Prof.Russell Taylor , came and visit me in May 2014 to discuss around design and what I do at Arduino and WeMake, the makerspace I recently founded in Milan.
Here’s the result of that meeting and at this link you can find all the other interviews (don’t miss Giorgio Olivero, Enrico Bassi and Giulio Iacchetti videos!):
(originally created and posted on Arduino blog)
The work of Afroditi Psarra includes experimentation with embroidery, soft circuit and diy electronics. I got in touch with her after discovering she was holding a workshop in Barcelona around sound performances using Lilypad Arduino along with a really cool embroidered synthesizer (…and also submitting her project to Maker Faire Rome !).
Even if her background is in fine arts, as a little girl she got interested in creative ways of expression: on one side she was lucky enough to have all sorts of after-school activities that included painting, theater games and learning but also how to program using LOGO and QBasic. That was in the days of black-and-white terminals and MS-DOS commands:
I still remember the excitement of not knowing what to expect at the opposite side of the screen. So for me, technology has always been a major part of my life.
Designing Economic Cultures is a three year long research project that Brave New Alps have been carrying on since January 2011 investigating the relationship between socio-economic precarity and the production of socially and politically engaged design projects.
The main question they are trying to answer is: how can designers, who through their work want to question and challenge the prevalent economic system with its organisational forms and problematic consequences, gain a satisfying degree of social and economic security without having to submit themselves to the commercial pressures of the market?
I was one of the persons involved for the interviews and here’s the result.
This conversation was held in Zoe’s kitchen in Milan in February 2012.
Bianca Elzenbaumer: Considering all the creative activist groups you have initiated and been part of, we are wondering what path brought you to be so thoroughly engaged with precarity. Could you trace your path for us?
Zoe Romano: At the beginning I was studying philosophy, because at the age of nineteen, I did not know what I wanted to do in life. I only knew that I wanted to work little and earn the most money out of this little work. I used to work when I was in high school and had realised that working was pretty tough, sucking a lot of your energy. Therefore, my aim was to go to university in order to get a highly-paid job that would allow me to work just part-time. (laughs) That way I hoped to have time for developing my personal ideas and for all the other things I wanted to do in life. So I studied moral philosophy here in Milan, because my parents would not pay for my studies abroad, insisting that here I could get all I needed. And I accepted their position, knowing from all my older friends who were working and studying at the same time, that by needing to sustain myself away from home it would take me a very long time to finish university. So I concentrated on my studies, hoping to finish them in a reasonable time. Studying philosophy was good though, because it was teaching me how to think. It was like a psychological treatment for me. Discovering all those philosophers who were thinking about the meaning of mankind and asking these big questions, taught me that the important thing is to ask questions more than to find answers. For me, it was a good training to understand the situation we are living in and to find the right perspective to solve problems.
Ethical consumerism, fair trade, socially responsible investments and corporate social responsibility are all phenomena on the rise. At the same time there are also virtual and local currencies and peer-2-peer rating systems that make the creation and redistribution of value in globalized social communities that share a set of common values, more real.
At first sight it could seem a more ethical spreading of traditional economy, but there is a soon-to-be-released book that sees these phenomena as a more structural change and the rise of a new paradigm.
Ethical Economy (Columbia University Press), written by Adam Arvidsson in collaboration with Nicolai Peitersen, introduces to ethical economics and interprets the begin of a new, radically different economic system in which production is mainly collaborative and social, and in which the value is based on the quality of social interactions and relationships rather than on the quantity of productive time.
The book however is not only made of theories. The authors’ approach, which makes everything much more interesting, is based on the need to make this paradigm to work, real projects like for example the development of a software that allows the declaration and the transparent rating of their own values, and their use in a community of reference. This interview tries to rise these issues.
Zoe Romano: How do you see ethical phenomena like the signal of the emergence of a new way of production (what you call ‘Ethical Economy’) in addition to the emergence of a market niche, term often used and abused to clean up the image of a company? Are we really facing a substanstial change?
Adam Arvidsson & Nicolai Peitersen: The reason why these phenomena do not represent only a market niche is because they are the companies and brands rational response to a deeper structural change. This deep transformation is made of two main elements. On one hand there is the rise of what we call “the productive publics” and on the other hand the growing of the economy reputation.
In the book we show how the “productive publics” are becoming increasingly important for the organization of both the immaterial and the material. The “productive publics” identify collaborative networks of strangers who interact in a highly mediatic way (which often doesn’t need the use of informatic networks or social media) and who coordinate their interactions through sharing a common set of values. By coordinating production in such way, the productive publics are different from markets and bureaucracies, not only because they allow to consider as good reasons a wider range of issues, but also because they tend to be highly independent in conferring a value to the productive contribution of their members. In the book, we suggest that the productive publics are becoming increasingly influential in the information economy, not only in alternative circuits, like Free Software, but also within the corporate economy itself, especially around the immaterial assets that in some sectors reach two thirds of the market value. As a result, there is recent growing emphasis on ethics and social responsibility in corporations which can be understood as an attempt to accommodate the orders of worth promoted by the productive publics.
The other transformation is a consequence of the first one. Companies and brands, as well as knowledge workers, are evaluated by other members of the publics to which they belong, based on specific values to which that particular public is devoted. This evaluation leads to a reputation value that can be quantified through direct ratings, e.g. the number of re-tweets, the number of “likes” and any other kind of feeling expression.
The brand and company’s reputation in the publics determines its ability to attract talent and push it to overcome its duty; engaging non-salaried people (ie the productive publics) in co-developing products and services; and to establish a convention of value among consumers that distinguishes the company and its products from its competitors. This is the main driver behind the growing importance of the reputation, which brings corporate investments towards CSR and ethical consumerism.
So, yes, CSR, ethical consumerism, corporate values and so on are an illusion, but this illusion has been placed there to manage a trend that is much more important: the socialization not only of wealth production (as it happens in productive publics) but also the ability to determine the value of that wealth through the economy of reputation. It is this double tendency that we try to capture the core of this book.
Zoe Romano: Accepting that we are in front of a new mode of production and creation of value, what are the new exploitation tools? Is ethical exploitation some kind of self-exploitation?
Adam Arvidsson & Nicolai Peitersen: Exploitation is a universal phenomena. We need to find out how it takes place and how wide it is. We believe that ethical economy harbors the possibility of a new way to reconnect economy to society and thus to democratize the economy, especially for what concerns the value of attribution and distribution issues. Even if unable to eliminate explotation itself, this model could potentially lower the exploitation level of the system if we compare it to the present neoliberal model. New forms of exploitation are less related to the marxist idea of ‘theft of labor time’ and more connected to the ability of common resources wealth appropriation, resources that derive form heavily socialized productive networks. An ethical economy based on reputation might become a way to determine, in a more democratic way, who can legitimately claim those resources and in which amount…
Zoe Romano: In the introduction of your book you write: “In a universalist ethical system the value of one’s virtue depends on its ability to contribute to the realization of universal principles of moral conduct. In a system of networked ethics, the value of one’s virtue depends on the positive difference made by people who live close to each network.” In this way reputation becomes a useful measure of the productive power that can be translated into non-monetary gratification but it also works as capital used to mobilize resources and start new projects. On the one hand we are assisting at an abundance of social production while at the same time we face a new kind of shortage: the ability to make sustainable social relations that are able to start a cooperative production. Insufficient is the ability to create something together, a koinonia, in a situation of diversity and complexity. Can you list some practical example of these kind of situations and explain what are the power games at stake?
Adam Arvidsson & Nicolai Peitersen: Within management thought, this has been debated for a long time. There is a general recognition that the true key to value is the ability to create shortage like in a ‘culture that lean toward innovation’ or a brand that offers a unique experience and so on. The fact that the value shifts from things to the ability to enable people to create cohesion among things is not new. The same principle is applied to the alternative of productive publics, like the Free Software communities. What really makes these productive moments to work is not the technical abilities per se but the ability to create an experience of affective proximity, that motivates people to make a contribution and that is able to identify and attract skilled individuals.
What are the power dynamics at stake? Well of course, we live in a mediatic system that is dominated by extremely wealthy actors, so the ability to create ethic capital comes from their market power. However, we think that a new media system is coming, in which power is or could be distributed more equally and in which the evaluation of that capital happens in ways that allow wider deliberative processes. Yet, this is still a possibility and not a necessity, a lot depends on how media are regulated. For example, will Facebook be able to make data mining on its 500 millions of users? Should it be possible to exclude other actors from the access of such datas? Facebook datas, for example, would be an excellent resource to create a system able to obtain a peer-based evaluation of corporate social impact. It is important to start facing these political issues that concern, for example, the way to rethink the access to datas.
Zoe Romano: What is the difference between Reputation and Self Branding?
Adam Arvidsson & Nicolai Peitersen: Self Branding is a form of reputation management, which usually does not cause any problem. Problems rather lie on the way the public sphere is structured and in which these processes are put into practice. In a situation in which the determination of the value is based on peer-based processes, starting from what we call general sentiment, self branding implies a virtuous conduct. When this mechanism is limited, self branding can become much easily manipulative
Zoe Romano: How the European funded project Openwear experiment these theories?
Adam Arvidsson & Nicolai Peitersen: In order to create an open and collaborative brand built on “productive publics”, we need to establish an economy of reputation. Openwear(http://www.openwear.org/) is trying to build a global community of fashion designers and textile workers in which design is made through collaboration and production develops locally. The only way to ensure the trust and quality of such open systems is by measuring the reputation of each actor, by referring to the conventional value established by the community. This is also how eBay works. Without the rating of sellers and buyers, an open marketplace like eBay would not be possible. Openwear oes one a step further as the ethical capital that you accumulate can be used to produce, and not only to sell. For example, a big ethical capital stock would give you the opportunity to attract the best designers, suppliers and makers to create your fashion collection. In addition, measuring the peer-based reputation also enables Openwear to reallocate its profits to its own community, calculated on the base of the level of value that every individual contributed to make.
(EN) I paste an interesting article from an italian magazine on the new infographic journalists working at New York Times .
(IT) Dal magazine femminile di Repubblica un articolo/intervista sui nuovi giornalisti infografici del New York Times:
Hanno fatto irruzione nella casa di una “signora in grigio” del giornalismo, come viene chiamata, per la sua eleganza e il suo understatement, la testata del New York Times. E stanno mettendo in discussione abitudini e certezze. Sono convinti che, per continuare a essere una voce autorevole dell’informazione, bisogna sperimentare nuovi formati e contesti per le notizie, puntando sul matrimonio tra estetica e informatica, interazione e mash-up (interfacce in grado di combinare dati, multimedia e coinvolgimento degli utenti).
Ce n’è abbastanza perché il team di dieci giornalisti-sviluppatori che ha messo piede nel palazzo di Renzo Piano del New York Times venisse subito etichettato come “i cybergeek arrivati a salvare la carta stampata”. A guidare questo gruppo c’è Aron Pilhofer, da qualche anno a capo della divisione Interactive News Technologies dello stesso quotidiano. Non provate a cercare una figura simile nelle redazioni italiane (e molte straniere), difficilmente ne troverete qualcuna. Ma anche se lontano anni luce dai fasti (finanziari) del passato, ancora una volta il Nytimes ha visto giusto e sta facendo scuola. Come? Investendo in tempi non sospetti (prima della crisi) nella creazione di un team di journo-developers-graphics (giornalisti con competenze grafiche, artistiche e informatiche) che si dedicano a nuovi format per visualizzare le notizie.
Come lo spettacolare Word Train sulla prima pagina web per la vittoria di Obama: un fiume di parole che scorrevano senza sosta: le grandi in blu (pro Obama) recitavano “fiducioso, grato, orgoglioso”; in rosso (pro McCain) dicevano “preoccupato, disgustato, ansioso”. Migliaia di lettori hanno descritto il proprio stato d’animo, una sequenza ipnotica di emozioni che, più di molti reportage, ha fotografato lo stato d’animo di una nazione nel day after. Una trovata di Pilhofer e soci. Sentiamolo.
Come è arrivato al Times? E perché avete deciso di far nascere un’unità specializzata in nuove tecnologie per la visualizzazione delle notizie?
“Sono stato assunto nel 2005 come reporter computer-assisted (un giornalista che spulcia tra statistiche e database per trovare trend interessanti). Un ruolo molto tradizionale, focalizzato su economia e politica. Ma una delle cose che mi frustrava di più era che disponevamo di dati, risorse e idee fantastiche ma ci mancavano i formati per proporli online. Così ho avanzato la proposta di far nascere una News Technologies Unit, e il management ha accettato. Da allora il mio lavoro è cambiato radicalmente. Ora mi trovo nell’intersezione tra tecnologia e giornalismo. E c’è un mondo da esplorare su come usare il web per raccontare storie più approfondite”.
Secondo molti i giornalisti-sviluppatori sono il futuro della professione.
“Sì, nel mio gruppo ci sono dieci giornalisti-barra-sviluppatori che arrivano sia dal mondo dell’informazione sia da quello dell’informatica e lavorano a stretto contatto con le divisioni multimedia e grafica. Non credo che ogni giornalista debba imparare a programmare o diventare grafico. Ma penso che le competenze in questi settori diventeranno presto necessarie. Per realizzare prodotti cool e innovativi non basta sapere usare solo le parole. Per questo consiglio a tutti gli studenti di giornalismo di specializzarsi in ambito grafico, multimediale, di programmazione. Un investimento decisivo sul lungo periodo”.
Interazione, aggregazione, estetica, cura dei dettagli, effetto-wow: come bilanciate questi elementi nel vostro lavoro? Ad esempio cosa privilegiate tra accuratezza e velocità?
“Ci comportiamo come ogni altra divisione del Nytimes. Ogni prodotto che realizziamo deve rispettare gli alti standard del quotidiano. Certo, ci muoviamo per lo più sul web e quindi bisogna saper trovare un equilibrio tra velocità e accuratezza. E a differenza della carta stampata, online possiamo continuamente aggiustare il tiro. Come nel caso del progetto Guantanamo Docket, database interattivo che raccoglie le schede dei 779 detenuti nel carcere cubano, documenti riservati di cui è entrata in possesso la redazione investigativa, aggiornati in tempo reale”.
Molti professionisti del settore sono convinti che design e nuovi formati per visualizzare le notizie aiuteranno a salvare i giornali dalla crisi.
“Certo. Non sopporto chi dice che il giornalismo è solo il contenuto, la notizia dura e pura, mentre la sua presentazione è un semplice addobbo. Niente di più sbagliato. I prodotti che realizziamo aiutano a coinvolgere i lettori, capire e approfondire. Tuffarsi dentro le storie ed esplorarle come finora non era stato possibile. È giornalismo, anche se spesso non viene visto così. Ed è un peccato: una maggiore attenzione ai formati permetterebbe di raccontare meglio le notizie. Che è poi quello che vogliono i lettori. In questo senso, su carta e su web, il design potrà aiutare il giornalismo a superare la crisi”.
Ritrova differenze tra carta e web? Crede che il giornalismo visivo sia più evoluto nei magazine cartacei rispetto a quanto lo è ora sul web?
“Non credo che il linguaggio visivo funzioni meglio su un medium rispetto all’altro. Ci sono elaborazioni grafiche straordinariamente efficaci su carta, che non funzionerebbero mai online, e viceversa. Per fortuna, dopo l’integrazione tra redazione cartacea e web, al Nytimes ci sono molti professionisti che hanno occhio per entrambi i contesti. Ma siamo l’eccezione”.
Si ritrova nella definizione che il New York Magazine (che non c’entra con il NYT) ha dato del suo team come “ribelli che stanno salvando il Nytimes (e il giornalismo)?
(sorride) “No, anche se qui dentro hanno preso a bollarci come i ribelli della situazione”.
(EN) In 1969, a 14-year-old Beatle fanatic named Jerry Levitan, armed with a reel-to-reel tape deck, snuck into John Lennon’s hotel room in Toronto and convinced John to do an interview about peace. 38 years later, Jerry has produced an animated film about it: “I met the Walrus”, Oscar Nominated. Using the original interview recording as the soundtrack, director Josh Raskin has woven a visual narrative which tenderly romances Lennon’s every word in a cascading flood of multipronged animation. Pen drawings by James Braithwaite and digital illustrations by Alex Kurina. Graphic animation is exploring new fascinating applications and Lennon’s words become even more part of nowadays political life.
(IT) Nel 1969 il quattordicenne Jerry Levitan, fun dei Beatles, armato di un registratore a nastro si è intrufolato nella stanza d’albergo in cui stava John Lennon e l’ha convinto a rilasciargli un’intervista sulla pace. 38 anni dopo Jerry ha prodotto il film animato nominato agli Oscar “I met the Walrus” che ha donato una narrazione visiva alle parole di Lennon attraverso il talento degli illustratori James Braithwaite e Alex Kurina. La grafica animata sta esplorando nuove applicazioni e in questo caso rende le parole di John Lennon ancora più contemporanee.