mieke on Mon, 27 Apr 1998 16:59:35 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Demo Design

Demo Design
By Mieke Gerritzen

Lecture held on april 18, 1998 at the symposium "Design as Cultural
Practice", Maryland Institute, Baltimore.

In August of last year, I watched one of the lectures from the hundred
days, hunderd guests program of the 10th Documenta in Kassel on the
Internet. It was there that I heard the term 'demo design' for the first
time. Then I found a quote from Nicholas Negroponte:

"At the MIT Media Laboratory,......the academic slogan "publish or perish"
has been recodified as "demo or die"... When we started the Media Lab, I
kept telling people we must demo, demo, demo.... Forget the technical
papers and to a lesser extent theories. Let's prove by doing."

As a graphic designer, I work at two places in the Netherlands: the
non-commercial radio and TV network VPRO, which stands for Dutch Public
Broadcasting Organisation, and the Society for Old and New Media in
Amsterdam. For about four years, I've been design director of the media
lab for digital productions for these organisations. Before that time, I
was a free-lance graphic designer, mainly for print productions. 


The VPRO has been in existence for fifty years, and the Society was
established only two years ago. This has produced a big difference. 500
people work at the VPRO, which has a structure oriented solely to radio and
TV production. The Society is small, and attempts to keep its structure
flexible and oriented to future developments in media.

"The VPRO" digital department tries to explore the relations between media
that have been in existence for a long time already. The idea is not to
use Internet as an extension of radio and TV. As a medium, television is
quite self-sufficient, and so are the people that make it. People have
enough ways of communicating (fax and telephone). Traditional radio and
TV-makers don't take much of an interest in the VPRO's digital projects.
That's part of the reason that it became a haven for autonomous
experiment. Yet, we feel it's part of our task to make colleagues aware of
new developments and to stimulate experiment. This is of great importance
for everyone working with media, because the border between the various
media will become a great deal less clear in coming years. The VPRO
projects are mainly based on the 'mediamix' idea. We try to show the
individual worth of digital media in relation to existing, linear media,
like radio, TV, and print. We do this by building applications for
Internet with a very personal approach. Besides the website and cd-roms,
we organize lectures, workshops and other events. We use as many media as
we can - media which point to other media in their turn. We're attempting
to create a media architecture, as it were. We use posters, flyers, TV and
radio items and events like pop festivals, live reporting on Internet and
publicity campagnes. 

De Waag

The Society for Old and New Media is in the Waag, a building that once
formed part of the medeival gate of the city of Amsterdam (We have a
public room in the top of the buiding wich has been painted by Rembrandt,
you probably saw this painting). The society draws attention to the
radical changes in the new media and in the exchange of information in
general. It also draws attention to the fact that these changes are often
determined by financial and technological limits. Its main concern is the
question of how an informed society can develop amid the tools of the
information society. Its research approach simultaneously employs
reflection, participation, creation and presentation. This is basicly of
the Society's work. 

The Society was founded two years ago with a project to create 'an
electronic reading table'. The ground floor of the building is a cafe and
restaurant, styled in keeping with the medeival character of the building:
with only candle-light, for example. Most Dutch cafes have a reading table
with newspapers and books; the basic idea of the Reading Table for Old and
New Media is much the same.

The electronic table has eight places: four for new media, for internet
surfing and email, and four old media places for newspapers and books.
The relationship between old and new was a pivotal consideration for the
design of both the physical table itself, and its digital interfaces. New
media don't only facilitate the successful combination of various
disciplines within the virtual environment of the screen: they also became
a part of the physical product.

The guiding principle in the design of the table was the creation of
atmosphere and ambiance. The interface is devoid of the designs of the
software industry. One no longer sees known computer programs. The reader
no longer looks through the glasses of an American software company, when
in contact with Taiwan, Paris, New York or their neighbor. One uses the
local design to look at and communicate with the rest of the world.

In designing these new forms of communication, we must coherently combine
very different disciplines. The context of the design is also increasing in
importance. The world wide web is so large, so international and difficult
to gain an overview of, that it winds up seeming bland and faceless. This
is why identity, image and environment are increasing in importance.

Digital media emerged from technology and are developed by technicians,
who of necessity created their first visual designs. Designers - some for
quite some time already - have been working to improve this by exploring
the significance of the visual power of the medium. But the majority of
designers aren't interested at all, because they find the medium too
limited. They'd rather wait until the medium is improved and the
experimental stage is over with. But it is precisely in this experimental
stage that the creativity of designers is important. In principle, this
has little to do with technical complexity. We think more quickly than
technology develops. The conceptual space of ideas grows more quickly than
cyberspace. Designers can get the jump on technology and try to make their
creative ideas influence its development. The Society backed the
development of this kind of reading table browser. The concept can be
extended to other locations. 

In the coming years, Internet will change its appearance drastically. One
of the most important developments concerns the browser. An interesting and
recent case is the release by Netscape of the source code of its browser.
Developers and designers can now participate in building the software and

Why is this so significant? Few people here will have ever looked at the
source code. There is a difference between licenced software and so-called
free code or open code, as Netscape calls it. Licenced software retains the
commercial rights to the code. Microsoft grew great with this product.

Yesterday, 17 April (while I was sitting in the plane) was the first
international browser day in Amsterdam. Fifty students gave public
demonstrations of their own browsers. I organized this because I think
it's very important to demonstrate how creativity can expand the number of
possible ways the computer environment can be structured. When we've left
the gray, technical period behind, a new world will open to us. Because it
was student work, the day was free of commercial interest and creativity
was at the top of the agenda. 

High End Demo Design

Actually, we make these applications only for ourselves and other
developers in this area. The sites are rather inaccessible for the public
at large, because they require a heavy computer and much patience. Part of
the reason for the 'non-functionality' of our sites is economic and
technical: through cables and satellites, we'll soon be offered the
tremendous bandwidth everyone is talking about.
The first couple of years of web design will be remembered as a minimalist
period, in which designers had to work as compactly and with as few bytes
as possible, making a kind of digital cave-paintings. The next generation
will skip this phase. For them, full-color, full-frame, and full-motion
will be simple facts of life.

Exploring live reporting on the net. We want more than the web edition of
a newspaper; more than texts with digital photographs. The web news does
more than simply link audio, video and text. It is important to develop
applications specifically for this medium, that allow something to be
expressed in a way that it otherwise wouldn't be. That cause the
journalistic tradition to take a new turn. There is a subtle difference
between this kind of web reporting and 'netcasting'. The broadcast of
audio and video through Internet is slowly taking shape. We're talking
here about a journalistic practice know to the printed media as 'on-line
reporting', also called 'broadcasting' by TV people. In both cases, we're
dealing with reporting on current events and the historical consciousness
entailed by the archiving of information. Developing templates and systems
based on elements such as archive, network, hierarchy and actuality,
offers a perspective on the near future. 

Events such as on-line journals and live-web experiments make a great
contribution to the development of these things. The quality of the
results often derives from new and unexpected social formations, of people
and disciplines that otherwise don't ever come together. In combination
with a politically or culturally oriented event (political and cultural
organisations tend to be conscious of the media), such experiments often
give rise to border-crossing, experimental collaborations. We should let
go of the static periodical form we grew up with (a form now being
continued in countless websites). We should let it go in order to enjoy
the small, special expressions of creativity the medium allows to happen. 

I do a lot of work with students and work-study students. A number of
people around me have now comprehended that design for new media is
involved with knowledge and insight into technical aspects. The combination
of creative development linked to a technical learning process ultimately
results in very interesting methods and environments specially designed for
the web. A new awareness of time, related to movement, interaction, image,
sound and algorithms, makes the user's intuition 'tangible' in the
movements of the cursor (hesitant, quickly clicking further, and so on).
For example: the longer one scrolls, the quicker the image goes. I've now
begun to recognize the people (especially students) who are succeeding in
endowing this medium with a raison d'etre through their experimental
approach to it. They succeed in creating very special, finished
applications that express an idea.

Changing role of the designer

One of the characteristics of information technology is the coupling of
many systems such as: sofi numbers, air miles, pin-coded cards, computer
networks, telephones, and so forth. We are increasingly becoming part of 
this digital domain. The designer occupies a central place in it.

Technological developments influence every area of our society. Health
care, for example. How will mentally retarded people communicate? Perhaps
they can do more through computers than in everyday life. We can develop
tools: how will they work? What kind of atmosphere will they create? The
advertising world (certainly in the Netherlands) still understands nothing
about the new media. The companies' organisation hasn't changed. The
result is that clients go to the places where campagnes are being
developed within new organisational structures. The art world, for
example. The museum of modern art is no longer applicable to the art being
made today. This art doesn't fit in a building, a room, or on a wall. This
art is looking for a place of its own, wandering the internet ...luckily
we don't know yet where this art is located. 

Peter Lunenfeld stated the following about demo design:

"The demo has become the defining moment of the artist's practice at the
turn of the millennium. For the artists and designers who work with
technology, no amount of talent, no ground-breaking aesthetic, no
astonishing insight makes up for the inability to demonstrate their work on
a computer in real time in front of an audience."

Developments in information technology cause designers to be confronted
much more quickly with all kinds of social processes. Because so many
forms of expression are now available, it is becoming more andm ore
difficult for organisations and companies to determine how they will
present their information. Each medium has its own specific
characteristics, and the arrival of the new media changes the
functionality of the old. These donot become obsolete, but we must
re-evaluate their traditional significance. I assume that designers have a
highly developed awareness of media; that the designer can also act as a
consultant for a client and help determine which media should be used to
achieve which goal. 

Besides this capacity of media advisor, we can expect the designer to act
as information architect. Designers must learn to deal with
characteristics of media, like interactivity and a multiplicity of levels.
Games and internet are examples of participant media. Participant media
are media in which the viewer has become an active player. It's not enough
to call them 'interactive media'. The concept of 'interactivity' is used
carelessly, and has never been properly defined. This is why it is no
longer very useful in discussing new characteristics of media. The
distinction between digital and analogue will soon also lose its
relevance, as all audio and visual media will soon be digital. 

It is important to define the term 'participant media' well. By
aprticipant, I mean media that enable users to carry out programs of
action of their own, to come into with contact other users and to
influence the information and communication environment. Not every website
and CD Rom meets this requirement. An encyclopedic cd rom is indeed part
of the 'new media' and has interactive elements, but does not offer the
user the chance to influence the information. Most websites are extended
folders that one can leaf through, and which approach the user as a
consumer. We offer, you may consume. 

The internet as such, the collection of applications and possibilities it
offers, is a participant medium. We still need much research and experiment
to endow it with the right significance. The medium derives its power 
from the element of space. We have to learn to think in terms of 
structures, participation, environments and atmospheres. In the final 
analysis, the designer is the director that co-ordinates all
the different disciplines.

To end I would like to quote from 'Photoshop City' by Geert Lovink:

"The concept of space is about to get out of the narrow tunnel it was forced
to enter. But we can see the light now. Both real and virtual spaces are
about to be liberated. They will make curious, unexpected dialectical
moves. One of them will result in wild raves, weird places. The other one
in radical dislocations. Let us enter the corporate software and dominant
metaphors together and create open space there. This is the announcement of
the opening of Photoshop City.
Celebrate all forms of manipulation. There is no original anymore, no true
image. The aura has been destroyed, long time ago. We are now surrounded by
pure propaganda (not anymore the altered details of the photo montage). All
surfaces, entire environments, both urban and virtual, are being produced
in Photoshop. Some of us will never leave the Netscape surroundings. Others
will be captured by CAD-CAM, they live in Illustrator Town, or will never
be able to leave the QuarkXPress ghettos. That is our human condition in
the age of global information capitalism.

The digital workers are now fighting the new forms of alienation and
exploitation. HTML-slaves of the entire Internet unite and demand higher
wages and better working conditions. They are lining up with terminal
proletarians from the former Third World countries. Down with electronic
solitude and broken bodies. Photoshop City is the place to meet and
organize our open conspiracies. Digital artisans, leave your designer
sweatshops. Stop making smooth images. Now it is the time to photoshop
everything. No more correcting. Pump up the effects. Make a thousand
layers. Not just the flashy cyber images, but pasting the entire society,
all aspects of our lives. Until everyting gets cloudy, blotted with blurry
imagery. Wellcome to Photoshop City."

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