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June 25, 2009

[reboot] Matt Webb

Matt Webb is part of a small design company. He’s not a designer.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He collects definitions of design: “Design is the conscious and intuitive effort to impost meaningful order” – Victor Papanek. One of his colleagues, Jack Schulze, says “Some people (they are wrong) are about solving problems. Obviously designers do solve problems, but then so do dentists. Design is about cultural invention.” Problem solving is hard but isn’t enough, says Matt. But what is culture? Culture is “the things that make life interesting” (Bruno Munari). “The designer of today reestablishes the long lost contact between art and the public,” said Munari. Art often began as functional objects — drapes, urns — so why shouldn’t our own objects be art?

Matt is going to be a chain of consciousness talk about what makes his life interesting. [My live blogging will magnify whatever choppiness there is.]

He shows faces drawn using an algorithm that bases feature size on baseball stats. (Chernoff faces?) These are macroscopes (John Thackara’s term) . Designers have macroscopes. Macroscopes shows where you are in the big context, human-scale. He shows a Here & There projection of NYC that shows where you are and where you culd be simultaneously. “It’s a kind of superpower.”

In 1959, Sen. Fulton supposed that a tomato in space might be 2D and a million mile square. In 1972, NASA finally released a photo of the entire earth. That’s a macroscope. “We need macroscope ideas.” Even the cleverest people in the world can’t tell us a coherent story of the economic collapse. The scale difference is too huge: If you can see the whole thing, the happenings are invisible, whereas if you can see the happenings, you can’t see the whole thing. People in this room might be able to create macroscopes that could help us understand it.

Now Matt talks about superpowers. In Kalarippayattu “the body becomes all eyes” and you are ready for anything. In a reverse power, your eyes become hands: Anything you can see, you can touch. Among the yoga super powers: To become mute, unheavy, large, levitate, telekineses, self-hypnosis, “the ability to touch the moon with one’s fingertip.” Matt then quotes JFK’s commitment to putting a person on the moon. JFK was a “yogic master with the supernatural power to touch the moon with this fingertip.” It took a million man-hours of technical study, 300,000 Americans and 20,000 corporations. What’s our generation’s equivalent of the moon landing? Might be Wikipedia. Where do we spend our next 100 million hours?

The moon landing came out of a command culture. 300,000 people worked and 12 people went to the moon. Wikipedia came out of a collaborative, participatory culture. E.g., , (house reports status), (uses excess capacity for producing papers). He reads an extended quote from Ze Frank. “When people start something new, they perceive the world around them differently.” We become aware of how the media manipulate us.

Matt’s challenge: Put aside 100 hours to work on someting. ” When you participate in culture —not solving problems but inventing culture — that’s when life gets interesting.” [Great talk. Posted without being proofread.]

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