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18 JUNE 2014

Calm Technology: designs which require only peripheral attention

"The most potentially interesting, challenging, and profound change implied by the ubiquitous computing era is a focus on calm. If computers are everywhere they better stay out of the way, and that means designing them so that the people being shared by the computers remain serene and in control. Calmness is a new challenge that UC brings to computing. When computers are used behind closed doors by experts, calmness is relevant to only a few. Computers for personal use have focused on the excitement of interaction. But when computers are all around, so that we want to compute while doing something else and have more time to be more fully human, we must radically rethink the goals, context and technology of the computer and all the other technology crowding into our lives. Calmness is a fundamental challenge for all technological design of the next fifty years. The rest of this paper opens a dialogue about the design of calm technology. ...

We use 'periphery' to name what we are attuned to without attending to explicitly. Ordinarily when driving our attention is centered on the road, the radio, our passenger, but not the noise of the engine. But an unusual noise is noticed immediately, showing that we were attuned to the noise in the periphery, and could come quickly to attend to it.

It should be clear that what we mean by the periphery is anything but on the fringe or unimportant. What is in the periphery at one moment may in the next moment come to be at the center of our attention and so be crucial. The same physical form may even have elements in both the center and periphery. The ink that communicates the central words of a text also peripherally clues us into the genre of the text though choice of font and layout.

A calm technology will move easily from the periphery of our attention, to the center, and back. This is fundamentally encalming, for two reasons.

First, by placing things in the periphery we are able to attune to many more things than we could if everything had to be at the center. Things in the periphery are attuned to by the large portion of our brains devoted to peripheral (sensory) processing. Thus the periphery is informing without overburdening.

Second, by recentering something formerly in the periphery we take control of it. Peripherally we may become aware that something is not quite right, as when awkward sentences leave a reader tired and discomforted without knowing why. By moving sentence construction from periphery to center we are empowered to act, either by finding better literature or accepting the source of the unease and continuing. Without centering the periphery might be a source of frantic following of fashion; with centering the periphery is a fundamental enabler of calm through increased awareness and power.

Not all technology need be calm. A calm videogame would get little use; the point is to be excited. But too much design focuses on the object itself and its surface features without regard for context. We must learn to design for the periphery so that we can most fully command technology without being dominated by it.

Our notion of technology in the periphery is related to the notion of affordances, due to Gibson and applied to technology by Gaver and Norman. An affordance is a relationship between an object in the world and the intentions, perceptions, and capabilities of a person. The side of a door that only pushes out affords this action by offering a flat pushplate. The idea of affordance, powerful as it is, tends to describe the surface of a design. For us the term 'affordance ' does not reach far enough into the periphery where a design must be attuned to but not attended to."

(Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, 1997)

"The Coming Age of Calm Technology," Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, In Beyond Calculation: The Next Fifty Years of Computing, Peter J. Denning and Robert M. Metcalfe, New York, Springer–Verlag 1997.

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1997affordancesambient awarenessaround usattentionattunementbecoming invisible • blend into the background • calm • calm technologycalmness • distributed computing • Donald Norman • encalm • encalming technology • engaged interaction • everyday thingsexcitement • explicitly • human computer interactioninteraction designJames GibsonJohn Seely Brown • Mark Weiser • peripheral attention • periphery • sensory phenomena • sensory processing • technological change • technological design • technology affordancesubiquitous computing • William Gaver • Xerox PARC

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
05 AUGUST 2012

Donald Norman: The Design of Everyday Things

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1988 • aeroplane cockpit • affordances of a physical object are perceptually obvious • audio feedback • car dashboard • comprehension • consistency of operation • consistent expectations • consistent interface rules • consistent operation • controls and their effects • design of everyday thingsdesign principlesDonald Norman • door handle • everyday things • heuristic principles • inconsistent interfaces • interaction designinteractive information designinteractive instructional designinterface design • language of messages • mapping controls and effects • psychological perception • rational expectations • reading images • restricting user interaction • similar elements achieving similar tasks • tactile feedback • technology affordances • The Design of Everyday Things (1988) • Three Mile Island • universal symbols • usability principles • user constraints • user feedback • verbal feedback • visible action • visible functions • visual literacyvisual messages • water tap

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
18 JANUARY 2011

Tate Modern: Gabriel Orozco

19 January – 25 April 2011 Tate Modern, London, UK

"Creative, playful and inventive, Gabriel Orozco creates art in the streets, his apartment or wherever he is inspired. Born in Mexico but working across the globe, Orozco is renowned for his endless experimentation with found objects, which he subtly alters.

His sculptures, often made of everyday things that have interested him, reveal new ways of looking at something familiar. A skull with a geometric pattern carefully drawn onto it, a classic Citroën DS car which the artist sliced into thirds, removing the central part to exaggerate its streamlined design, and a scroll filled with numbers cut out of a phone book are just some of his unique sculptures.

Orozco's photos are also on display, capturing the beauty of fleeting moments: water collecting in a punctured football, tins of cat food arranged on top of watermelons in a supermarket, or condensed breath disappearing from the surface of a piano show Orozco's eye for simple but surprising and powerful images.

His art also shows his fascination with game–playing, for example a billiard table with no pockets and a pendulum–like hanging ball, or Knights Running Endlessly, an extended chess board filled with an army of horses, both of which are well–known games to which he has added an element of futility. This kind of unexpected twist makes Orozco's work interesting to both contemporary art lovers and also anyone who wants an unusual and captivating art experience."

(Tate Modern, UK)

Fig.1 Gabriel Orozco: 'Sala de espera/Waiting Room', 1998 (photograph) Gary and Tracy Mezzatesta Collection, Los Angeles

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TAGS

2011art • art experience • beautyeveryday thingsexhibitionexperiencefamiliarfleeting moments • Gabriel Orozco • game playing • inventive • Mexican artistplayfulnesssculptureUK

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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