Category Archives: Interface poetics

04 Jun

Manifestosprint, May 16th and 17th 2015

During the weekend  16th and 17h  of May 2015 took place in Hangar the Manifestosprint. In order to work intensively on the Manifesto we invited the following experts and researchers : JL Marzo, Tere Badia, Pau Alsina, César Escudero, Jara Rocha, Andreu Belsunces, Quelic Berga Laia Blascos, Mario Santamaria, Femke Snetling, Rosa LLop and Clara Piazuelo.

During these two days several dynamics were carried out to pool ideas that each had worked individually in their texts. Through a physical display we could visualize the network of the relationship between the texts and the Manifesto.

We also used the ICONUU  tool to design icons and to experiment with iconic communication, we  took it as a case study to discuss about its interface and to apply all the concepts the we have been working on the theoretical research.

The rest of the dynamics were focused to imagine the final format of the manifesto. One of our concerns was that the Manifesto should have a real impact. To move from words to action, we take each point of the manifesto and deploy a range of activities, attitudes and actions in order to develop an actively critical relationship with the interfaces. These actions were classified into four types: Poetics (P), awareness (A), change habits (H), change of world (w)

Finally it was agreed to put all the information on a wiki, as it is an open interface, and it is very useful for work in team and for disseminating knowledge.

20 Apr

The Methodology behind the Interface Manifesto

The PIPES_BCN methodology gradually took shape as the research project progressed. In general terms, we have used a multidisciplinary, qualitative and partially practice-based methodology.

The team members initially organised several meetings to define the object of study, which had to tie in with the objective of the Participatory Investigation in Public Engaging Spaces (PIPES) European program.

The overall goal of PIPES is to bring together artists, designers, communication theorists, and technologists to develop creative processes and new visual communication tools, produce online and offline artistic and educational events, and generate sustainable creative models for public participation. Specifically, PIPES seeks to create an interactive tool to generate new contexts for interaction and exchange, based on the language of symbols and icons.

The project is run by several European art and technology centres including ZKM in Karlsruhe and CIANT and BrainZ in Prague. In Barcelona, Hangar, in collaboration with the UOC, decided to embark on a critical overview that could generate a shared state of the art in the fields of interface design and data visualization.

As the project progressed, the emphasis on data visualization was gradually replaced by a focus on the ethical, aesthetic, philosophical, technical, semiotic, ideological, and social aspects of the interface. After discussing several texts, the main objectives of PIPES_BCN were defined as follows:

To produce an Interface Manifesto that that develops a critical approach to the interface. The idea is to generate a multidisciplinary conceptual framework from which to reflect on interfaces, rethinking their design and models of use while at the same time seeking to stimulate the creation of more open and collaborative interfaces.

Once the objective had been defined and participants had agreed that the Interface Manifesto would be the springboard, the engine of the research, and the ultimate goal, they drafted a  theoretical framework that grew as the research progressed. This framework draws on disciplines such as science and technology studies, media studies, semiotics, software studies and actor network theory, to name just a few. The readings, compiled on the platform Zotero, generated a context for reflection which was gradually enriched as layers were added through a series of activities. Likewise, the research gradually generated a network of participating actors and institution, including BAU (Barcelona), Constant (Brussels), OST (Brussels), Xnet (Barcelona), and the CCCB (Barcelona), among others.

The activities carried out with a view to generating the diverse, open discourse around interfaces that was to end up leading to the production of the Interface Manifesto, were:

Keeping a record of the entire research process at
Participating in  Iconic Days, where part of the team introduced the European partners of the PIPES project to notions from the fields of semiotics and design theory.

Reading groups for the discussion of texts related to the objective of the research.
Hosting the Art Matters seminars on art and materiality at Hangar, including one that was specifically dedicated to interfaces. Organising an  Interface Dictatorship Roundtable, with the participation of experts from new media, semiotics, design, politics and law, where progress was made in regard to understanding the complexity of the object of study of PIPES_BCN.

RAABLAB workshop, where Stella Veciana and Dan Norton used interaction strategies to help artists and scientists implement interconnected research practices. This workshop focused on research methodologies.

DIY Symbology: Make Your Own Symbols workshop with Genís Carreras, where participants reflected, through practice, on the subjectivity inherent to any design.

“Mixed experience: when “users” and “developers” make tools together” workshop with Femke Snelting and Open Source Publishing, where participants critically questioned how tools condition creative practice, and how users and developers can collaborate to improve software. As well as exploring the critical perspective, this workshop also looked at examples of open, participatory interfaces.

MEMBRANA Residency. An artist in residency programme was one of the key aspects of PIPES_BCN. Through an open call for participation,  César Escudero was chosen to collaborate on the Interface Manifesto and to participate in the research through his artistic practice.

The research project will conclude with a Booksprint: a working method that consists of collaboratively producing a publication over an intensive booksprint weekend.

A series of preliminary meetings have been held to prepare for the Booksprint and the Interface Manifesto. The first sessions consisted of internal work, to define the main lines of interest. The people collaborating in the Interface Manifesto were invited to the following sessions, where these lines were discussed and honed. For this stage, the Open Source Etherpad platform proved to be very useful.
For the Booksprint, we expect collaborators to have contributed a text, and that the main points of the Interface Manifesto will have been agreed upon, so that we can concentrate on defining the form of the interface of the Manifesto.

The research project has also been presented at, or participated in, events such as the  Free Culture Forum (Barcelona),  Art Matters International Conference (Barcelona), the #edcd 15 Digital Culture and Design Conference at Medialab (Madrid), and Siglo XXI Radio Nacional 2 radio programme, which allowed participants to share ideas and methodologies with other artists, designers, and academics.

21 Jan

Critical Interface Manifesto Work in Progress

During the Arts Matters conference we adressed the manifesto that we are working on.  It was explained that this Manifesto functions not only as a goal but also as the leit motiv of our research that crosses all the activities that have been done so far. All the workshops, conversations and lectures that we have organized have been nurturing the background of the Critical Interface Manifesto.

This tool also constitutes the compass that guides us along the wide and heterogeneous bibliography that we’ve been reading and discussing.  Some of the books that we have highlighted to write the first Manifesto draft are:  “Interface Criticism: Aesthetics Beyond the Buttons” (Christian Ulrik Andersen, Soren Bro Pold), “the Interface effect” (Alexander Galloway) or “Evil Media” (Matthew Fuller, Andrew Goffey).

We have also been looking at the wide tradition of Manifestos that exists in the fields of arts and technology. We consider some of them very inspiring like:

->The GNU Manifesto (1985), by Richard Stallman, an explanation and definition of the goals of the GNU Project (free software computer operating system). But also a fundamental philosophical source for the free software movement.

->The Hacker’s Manifesto (1986), by The Mentor aka Loyd Blankenship. It acts as a guideline to hackers across the globe, especially those new to the field. It serves as an ethical foundation for hacking, and asserts that there is a point to hacking that supersedes selfish desires to exploit or harm other people.

->Mozilla Manifesto, a  set of 10 principles that articulate a vision for the Internet a global public resource that must remain open and accessible.

->The First Things First manifesto , published in 1964 by Ken Garland. It was backed by over 400 graphic designers and artists and also was published in the Guardian newspaper. It is a reaction to the rich and affluent Britain of the 1960s, and it tried to re-radicalise a design industry which the signatories felt had become lazy and uncritical. It has been influences by the Critical Theory, the Frankfurt School and the counter-culture of the time. And it explicitly re-affirmed the belief that Design is not a neutral, value-free process. It was later updated and republished with a new group of signatories as the First Things First 2000 manifesto  by Adbusters magazine .

->The Critical Engineering Manifesto  considers engineering to be the most transformative language of our time, shaping the way we move, communicate and think. It is the work of the Critical Engineer to study and exploit this language, exposing its influence.

->The New Clues Manifesto, is an update on fifteen years since the Cluetrain Manifesto, which has been  seminal in the development of the Internet. The authors emphasize that the Internet is not a medium nor is it content, it is a conversation.

->Even a Manifesto for a Post-Digital Interface Criticism exists, written by Pold and Andresen that of course has been an inspiration for us.

What all these manifestos have in common is that somehow they try to fight the lack of ethics in the industry or in the economic system.  They also consider that technology should be used to expand our horizons. And at last, they invite us to thinking critically.

So we are quite aware that there is loads of previous research done before we started this project. All of this begs some basic questions like why should we focus and produce a manifesto and how can we contribute to this field?

Why to write a manifesto?

Because as a Manifesto is a political declaration of intentions or views and  it seem appropriate to us to use this kind of output that stress the “political” aspect.

If Interface design nowadays tends to hide the interface in order to be more user friendly giving the illusion of neutrality, by doing an Interface Manifesto we are stressing the “ideological” aspect of the interface.

So one of the aims of the Critical interface Manifesto is to generate a discussion between those who are concerned about the need for criticism in Interface design and those who believe it should be ideology-free.

With this motivations in our minds and after looking at all this references we tried to summarize the main ideas on a first draft. And these are some of statements that we agreed on:

– I interface, you interface, we interface.

– Interfaces are political objects.

– An Interface is not a neutral space. Ideologies are always embeded in the interface, but those are not always visible.

– The success of interface is defined not only by its ability to generate the interaction, but to have the user to understand  how this interaction occur and the set of rules that the determine the interaction.

– As a tool the interface should provide the acknowledge of its own shape and limits.

– We need to feel the presence of the interface while accessing the content on the other side.

– Freedom of use implies knowledge and to be consequent.

– Interfaces can also be honest and simple.

– Code is part of the interface.

– You can claim the right to know and understand without having to really know about each interface.

– Design is emotional, functional and political. Interfaces are designed. (D. Norman)

– Interfaces can be potentially everything, objects, movements, behaviors, spaces, sounds…

Taking in account this political tradition of Interfaces, we would say that a Manifesto embedded in its shape its political intention. So one of our challenges and hopefully our contribution to this field would be to transform the previous statements into an interface.

How can we do this? During the work session we focused not only on the contents but on questions related to the formal aspects of the manifesto that posed some dilemmas such as: should we strive for simplicity and clarity or rather should we try to be creative and poetic?

And if Manifesto itself will be an interface how can we design a coherent Manifesto so it can contain its ideology embedded on its own interface?

We have designed two future events that will help us to solve some of these doubts and to keep on working on the development of the manifesto:

—>1st  Booksprint:  this is a methodology that brings together a group to produce a book in 3-5 days. There is no pre-production and the group is guided by a facilitator from zero to published book. During this event we would like to finish not a book but the Manifesto and we’d like to invite some researchers and  designers to think together how can we develop that Manifesto whose shape, structure, matter will be coherent with its ideas.

—> 2nd MEMBRANA: an open call to support a visual artist interested in developing an artwork based on the concept of interface. The artist will develop his/her project during a six weeks residency at Hangar (Barcelona). He/she will also be invited to participate in the ongoing investigation of the PIPES_BCN research group which involves the drafting of a Critical Interface Manifesto.

19 Jan

¿La interfaz definitiva?

La idea de interfaz está desapareciendo, precisamente porque su diseño está evolucionando hacia un futuro de invisibilidad y gestualidad. La forma en la que mañana (literalmente) interactuaremos con muchas de nuestras máquinas será muy parecido a como actuamos con nosotros mismos: (casi) sin darnos cuenta.

Olia Liliana ya dijo en Complete Turing User que en el discurso de los diseñadores, la idea de usuario está siendo sustituida por la de persona, de modo que se naturaliza e integra al propio ser humano el uso de un dispositivo electrónico. La máquina desaparece del terreno simbólico para esconderse en el real.

No por haber menos superficie de contacto entre los aparatos y quienes los utilizan, las máquinas serán más inexistentes. Se busca su invisibilidad, y es en esta estrategia donde la caja negra -ahí donde tienen lugar muchos de los procesos que hacen útiles nuestros gadgets-, se cierra aún más en sí misma. A más invisibles sean nuestros smartphones u ordenadores, menos control tendremos sobre ellos. En los 90 la mayoría de ordenadores de sobremesa venían con instrucciones y un mapa de los circuitos para que quien quisiera pudiera desatornillar la torre, mirar qué había dentro, y jugar con sus componentes. Ahora, cuando abrimos el envoltorio de nuestro portátil (por no hablar de los “teléfonos”), lo que encontramos generalmente es una fragancia que nos recuerda que eso que hemos comprado es nuevo. Es parte de la “experiencia”. Parece que nuestros aparatos están cada vez más rodeados de halos de marketing y menos rellenos de tecnología que pueda sernos realmente útil. Más comodidad equivale a menor control, en todos los sentidos.

En caso de emergencia apretar el botón rojo

Podría decirse que de todas las interfaces tangibles, la más sencilla es el botón. Eso es lo que seguramente hayan pensado los desarrolladores de Button Corporation al presentar BTTN, un botón rojo que lo soluciona todo… Sí, como ese botón rojo que lanza los misiles, ese botón que sólo hay que tocar en caso de emergencia. O como escribe Morozov, ese botón en el que clicar para salvarlo todo.

BTTN es precisamente eso lo que busca, sintetizar toda la complejidad del Internet de las Cosas en su aplicación a la domótica. Ejemplos: un abuelo podrá usarlo para apagar las luces del comedor, el termostato, y activar la alarma de la casa antes de irse a dormir; o una familia encenderá la cafetera, abrirá las persianas y activará la tostadora al despertarse. Lo que provoque el botón dependerá de lo que quiera cada uno, porque lo que hace es ejecutar una serie de algoritmos (del tipo si aprieto el botón pasará esto, y luego esto, y luego esto) previamente programados por (alguno de) los usuario.

Sin duda es práctico, pero ¿qué sucede si cambia el orden de prioridades de las acciones? La cantidad de esfuerzo que separa el apretar un botón con reprogramar una serie de instrucciones es abismal. ¿Y si algo falla?  ¿Cuántos niveles de error puede tener una casa inteligente? ¿Cómo se soluciona? ¿De quién dependerá la reparación? ¿Cuánto tardará? ¿Podrá funcionar una casa inteligente sin sus automatismos? ¿Realmente existe la necesidad de automatizar aún más nuestras vidas?

El gesto como interfaz

Otro sueño de ciencia ficción hacia el que se encaminan nuestros dispositivos es el de ser controlados simplemente con gestos de la mano. Como los guantes que usaba Tom Cruise en Minority Repport, pero con la dosis extra de sofisticación que siempre trae la realidad, la empresa ThalmicLabs ha presentado recientemente Myo, una pulsera (o cinta de brazo como dicen ellos) de control gestual. En pocas palabras, lo que hace es, literalmente -la empresa lo promociona así- crear un dispositivo de interacción sin esfuerzo. No se necesitará un control para manejar el drone o el coche teledirigido; ni tocar ningún mouse ni pantalla para navegar en internet; o usar ningún botón para sacar fotos o videos.

Esto abre un nuevo espectro en la relación que tendremos con las máquinas. Es un paso más hacia una la integración del ser humano con las tecnologías digitales, y de nuevo, en la desaparición de la fricción, se desvanecerán esos pasos intermedios que nos recuerdan que estamos utilizando algo que puede ser problemático y que nos modifica.

Esto son cosas que están por venir. Mientras tanto, podemos ir clicando en este botón mágico para ver si conseguimos arreglarlo todo.

11 Jan

PIPES theoretical framework

During the Art Matters International Conference we had the opportunity to talk about our project. Here we’re sharing a part of our participation on the conference, when we focused on the theoretical framework of PIPES.

So any investigation of code, software architectures, or interfaces is only valuable if it helps us to understand how these technologies are reshaping societies and individuals, and our imaginations.

                                  Lev Manovich (in a Rizhome interview)

When we started the research we began to think about data, visualization and interface. What we had clear, as Laia Said, was that a highly critical perspective should be central. Each one of us comes from different backgrounds: cultural and visual studies, design, art or sociology, which has created an interdisciplinary point of view.

Having decided that our path will follow the interface manifesto as a goal, we began a theoretical research with the aim to settled it’s basis, reading and discussing several texts.


The first to come out was interface as a representation: assuming that they are based on other media as print or film, which metaphors are used more frequently? Some symbols have changed but some others have crystalized. Interfaces are dynamics, and their shape is in constant change. In this point Media Studies, semiotics or aesthetics, and concretely Lev Manovich, Bertelsen & Pold or Catalá were central.

Infrastructure – networked object

Then we went deeper. Interfaces are becoming ubiquitous, and they have become a universal language to relate to reality, affecting our public and private activities. They are social, psychological, economic and political unnoticed infrastructures, and many things are happening there. As a networked object, interfaces are fields where different actors and interest collide, not without conflict: Protocols, coding languages, standards, aesthetic trends, physical networks, designers, programmers, companies or users, dialogue in a constant flow. Obviously, Burno Latour was a must on this new materialistic point of view, and we’re researching, departing from here, in Actor-Network Theory and Science and Technology Studies.

Black – box: software studies

Interfaces have a great agency power. As black boxes or -as Fuller & Goffrey assets on Evil Media- obscurely grayed-out zones, interfaces hides their processes, and doing so, they embody choices and worldviews where power is rooted and displayed. In this point, perspectives from Software and Media Studies were extremely useful.

Interfaces don’t hide just their functioning, but also themselves. As we learnt from Olia Liliana among other authors related to art and design, there’s a curious paradox: as computers are becoming more and more present in our lives, there are growing attempts to create computerless illusion (Tools are becoming a nuissance, something that’s clear when thinking on augmented reality applications or wereables: the machine does everithing for us, painless and effortlessly).

Nevertheless of this illusion, interfaces are now more than ever fields of data collection. Our performing on screen provides quantifiable test data, which is exploited, to better understand users or improve interfaces. As Fuller & Goffrey asset: “It is perhaps uncertain just how far behaviour has been transformed into economics”.


Behavioural labs

Indeed, interfaces have become behavioural labs, but experimental subjects are unaware humans. Here, sociology helped us understand how important are users when thinking on interfaces. As Liliana says, this word is disappearing from designers discourse, preferring to talk about people. General Computer User is perceived as some whose not interested on the tool but on the results, and in this sense, the ideal subject of design reaches it’s materiality on interfaces.

But interfaces don’t follow just one road. We learnt from a virtual ethnography research on Drupal community, which are the social dynamics of the interface as a collaborative space, and how do it’s members act, negotiate and relate each other to build a very competitive service.

Last, interfaces become highly visible or even exotic on net or digital art or videogames, where the creator’s intention is to maximize computer experience. As Liliana says, user must be empowered as workers were empowered on XIXth century, and for those, they should be aware of their role.





24 Nov

Free Culture Forum

Last 5th, 6th and 7th of November was held the Free Culture Forum, an XNET project that shows practices and sensibilities developed in the environment of free culture in the world of design (not without conflict). FCF wants to present new perspectives, attitudes and pedagogies, through projects that are experimenting with new tools, licences and methodologies. This 2014 edition took place in BAU, Design Collage of Barcelona, and it was full of interesting presentations and workshops.

Here you have the full programme information.

XNET recorded the 6th November presentations. Following  you have all the videos linked.

Recorded talks in Bau, FCF 6th November 2014

Introduction by FCForum (Simona Levy/Jaron Rowan) – Watch the video of the presentation here

Block 1 – Free design practices

“Diseño libre desde la práctica, la experiencia de un laboratorio maker ciudadano” – Josianito Llorente – Watch the video of the presentation here

“Paths, streams and flows”  – Manufactura Independente – Watch the video of the presentation here

“Visual culture, a tool for distributed design collaboration” – OSP (Open Source Publishing) – Watch the video of the presentation here

Block 2 – Prostetics and contraptions

“Lives off catalog: from designing functional diversity” – En torno a la silla – Watch the video of the presentation here

“Autofabricación Colectiva de Prótesis en Código Abierto” – Exando una Mano – Watch the video of the presentation here

Block 3 – Free hardware and design

“Top-Down Economies VS self-replication Hardware: Domestic Digital Manufacturing” – Raul Nieves / Faboratory – Watch the video of the presentation here

Block 4 – Critical perspectives in design and art

“I think that conversations are the best, biggest thing that free software
has to offer its users” – Femke Snelting – Watch the video of the presentation here

Anne Laforet – Watch the video of the presentation here

Block 5 – Designing open spaces

“Test Over Test”- LaCol – Watch the video of the presentation here

“Diseño abierto. Otras políticas, otras agencias” – Zuloark – Watch the video of the presentation here

Presentations links

“Visual culture, a tool for distributed design collaboration” – OSP (Open Source Publishing)

“Lives off catalog: from designing functional diversity” – En torno a la silla

“Autofabricación Colectiva de Prótesis en Código Abierto” – Exando una Mano

“Test Over Test”- LaCol

25 Aug

PIPES: A first collaboration experience between Hangar and UOC

Recently, Mosaic has published an article about PIPES as a first collaboration experience between Hangar and UOC.

The article, entitled “Research, creation and interdisciplinarity for an Interface Manifesto” (in spanish), deepens in the content and activites of PIPES, and explanes which are the aims and expectations of both UOC and Hangar in this new mutual project.


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