Artful Design: Technology in Search of the Sublime!

so good afternoon everyone and welcome to slack my name is Angela Anderson and

I work in the office of communications here at the laboratory and of the many things I work on is a program called art

meets science at SLAC our goal is really to explore these fascinating

intersections between the two disciplines that really provide so many

insights into the world around us and we're super excited today to present the

very first talk in a new series called art science and so thank you all for

coming and keep an eye out for future events today we're super excited to have

Wang present artful design technology in

search of the sublime J is an associate professor at Stanford University's

Center for computer research in music and acoustics he researches artful

design of tools toys games and social experiences he is the architect of the

Chuck music programming language director of the Stanford laptop orchestra which I highly recommend if

you can go see it I thought recently co-founder of Smule and designer of the

ocarina and magic piano apps for mobile phones he is a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow

and the author of artful design technology in search of the sublime a foot a photo comic book about the ethics

aesthetics and craft of shaping technology after his presentation I hope

that you'll stay for a brief Q&A with gut and the reception in the lobby just

out the doors behind you so please join me in welcoming going

thank you all for coming and I'm just gonna dive right in and artful design

technology in search of the sublime eye it's gonna draw from the book I've been

writing I'm gonna tell you really about the ideas in there and also why I've written this thing but by way of further

introduction yeah that's actually that's me my office is Stanford I'm a computer

music researcher I kind of turned code into into sounds into instruments into

toys I work with programming languages from music I build instruments that are

also like toys and games and we perform them in things like the laptop Orchestra

this is slark this fan for laptop work show let me see and hear a little bit of this in just a few minutes and I design

toys instruments for different computing mediums such as the mobile phone this is

aqua and this is the kind of thing that I do these days but if we were to

rewind like for two years I was born in Beijing in 1977 and actually was born

right there at least I was that's where I grew up I grew up with my grandparents

and that's a good picture maybe when I was four and while my parents were actually working in like a different

part of China this is during a very period of great change in China to say

the least and in a way I consider Beijing really that's kind of what's at

home Palo Alto is also home and even

though Beijing now compared to Beijing when I grew up has become a lot more congested and polluted a lot of other

things they're still he still has his moments don't think of it as home I grew

up in this apartment is it the inside of that building it's a rather it's not a big place but it was filled with music

you know grandfather would play a lot of western classical music so grew up with

that one side of the household and Grandma play Peking Opera the other so there's a lot of music and I think back

to the Wow was the first thing that I guess I consider myself someone who designed so I guess I'm by definition a designer

you know I think all of us are designers well I thought back as to what was the

first thing that I try to make tried design I think it was this something like this whose brick made out of mud

that I gathered from under our apartment building and I've tried to fashion them

into Briggs for the purpose of making gold I thought I was actually literally

in some kind of wild Alka mystic effort trying to turn mud into gold Lord you know part of his I thought the forum

pleased me of like a rectangular brick and I would keep them carefully wrapped up in newspapers that would you know let

these things dry under my grandparents bed and and then at some point I tried to pawn them off and sell them for candy

to my peers and this did not work I was a weird kid but as a as a friend once

observed all kids are weird we do things that are adult selves would consider

really bizarre and I think that's what's so wonderful about childhood is that you know kids are beholden to nobody and

therefore they're really natural to be themselves I feel like that's one of the

things that you know as we grow older it's it's hard to keep that part about all of us that thing that I think is in

all of us I grew up a lot of comic books video games I remember you know we don't

have a lot of money so I would stand for hours and like the video arcade just watching people play video game and I

love that just something about the flicker of the pixels on screen of things moving interaction causing other

things happening in the game was just fascinating to me I still play video games a lot of start I mean I was up

like this week just playing Starcraft which game I'm playing since 1998 so uh

yeah and in a way I think comics and games inform a lot of the ways I think

about building things there's a sense of again fun and and this idea that you can

kind of be yourself when you are in these mediums I moved to the US when

I was nine years old and loved my parents and it was in Atlanta Georgia at the age of 13 my

parents got me a guitar for a birthday that turned out to be a really good present because I completely changed my

my world and my first instrument actually the accordion I started playing

at the age of seven in Beijing but what are that made me like wow I can I can

rock right and the ability to rock was something that I've since just cherished

and then I realized wow maybe I can build things to help other people rock and so I think that's how I became a

computer scientist but you know my high school friends were it was a good time I

feel like high school was much easier in

the in the 90s and again in in the sense that I think we had more time to be

ourselves I went to college study computer science because I realized wow

as fun as this it is to play video games it might be even more fun to try to build them to design them something

really joyous in the building and then I went to grad school in computer science as well but focusing

on computer and music this is when I realized I could like combine these interests music on one side and kind of

this this this desire its impetus this impulse to build things right so I think

that's high end up studying computer science but really in the area of

computer music and that is my adviser Harry Cooke who I think to this day

remains really a mentor and someone I just channels and when I've Myers kind of person I'd be like what would Perry

do in this situation and then that usually is a good way to go now for my

PhD dissertation in grad school I made a programming language for music yeah like

I said I write code and the code turns into things like sound or you know software systems that are games or tools

so I'm gonna give you a quick demo of this and let's see here's

Chuck so Chuck I'm gonna make ace instantiate a sign oscillator

I'm gonna call this Angela and we want

to connect Angela to the deck so what we've done here is to make a sign oscillator and using this symbol of

connecting it to the sound output I'm going to say Angela if I'm a man such a frequency to 440 Hertz and let time pass

for two seconds if I do that

there's Angela 440 Hertz for two seconds now this is in these three lines of code

kind of embodies a very important aspect of programming and Chuck and that is by design this is a language in which we

actually need to very explicitly deal with time in order to have sound happen

the observation is hey sound is a time-based phenomena and in order to control sound maybe we know human

language the foregrounds how to really deal with time in a way that's very clear and expressive so in this case we

can read this as here's the sign oscillator set is frequency to 440 and let time pass for two seconds we copy

and paste this and change the frequency 224 48 80 and changed the time say to

0.5 seconds 0.5 seconds in one second now this by having the frequency we've

gone down one octave by doubling it we've gone up one octave so this should be a sequence of successive octaves

right so you can imagine creating all kinds of single line single sine wave

really fairly awful I imagine kind of music within this fashion but you know what let's add a loop this is something

computers are really good at doing looping repetition and precision so we're going

to do this and sorry Angela when we have put you into an infinite loop here now

we're going to instead of hard-coding this generate a random number between 30

or 1,000 and said that is Angela's frequency and do and have this happen

every one second


old mainframe computers should be making what they're thinking really hard about something we're gonna keep going every

10 milliseconds everyone knows things that is 1000 times

a second we're going to change the frequency of the single sine wave and that sounds like that

so there's not the kind of music you would you know have blaring on car stereos you're driving down the highway

but you know this is this is code that really specifies how this thing is

supposed to sound and by the way we've crossed an interesting perceptual threshold from perceiving individual

bleeps and bloops when we're at like a hundred milliseconds to just perceiving

a continuous carpet of sound and that threshold is right around 20 to 30 times

a second and that's one of the few places where our auditory system lines up with our visual system this is how movies look like they're a continuous

motion because there are at least 24 frames per second for example so you can

also go the other way one millisecond 10 we saw the eye can be you can do one

minute not and play this this is just gonna be very slow you can do hour day

week every week this frequency will change randomly you can even say 52

weeks is my notion of a year in every 1000 years I'm going to change this

we're not gonna wait for that to change so that you know so again by design this

program one which is trying to kind of afford a certain type of thinking about

how you can deal with sound by dealing with time and using the same timing mechanism you can really drill down and

do into time and deal with it in very small increments it's very fast rates milliseconds

you can add level digital samples so just there are tens of thousands per second the same mechanism allows you to

also think about time and really large timescales right so this is I would say this is an aspect of programming

language design specific to to the domain of music so that's that's an

example of something I ended up building I'm still building this thing I've been building things since 2002 I thought I'd

be done in six months and it's been like 17 years so it goes it's open source is

freely available and we're still there's a community people maintaining this I like to say it crashes equally well all

commodity operating systems so good luck and I'm brings me back to just an FIR

bright and and this I've been at Stanford now is my 11th year and and

somewhere in there really early on I also co-founded a company and that was

Smule this is when mobile phones really like became kind of an app based thing

and apps became a thing so in 2008 Smule

was founded by Jeff Smith and myself and we started building kind of expressive

and also social musical instruments slash toys and I'll come back to that so

now that takes us through a kind of let's say 2013 2014 and really about

three and a half years ago I started writing this book starting read as a book first I wanted to write a book just

really about computer music and design and what does it mean to like design things well and using computer music is

kind of this vehicle to do that but then as I started writing it I finally got a

lot of pictures so maybe this piglets book will have a lot of figures but then

it's like what if half the book was like a comic book what I and that thought excited me because then I thought well

the things that I'm designing could like talk back we have to have a conversation I got a conversation with my computer or

with the software and that's something the medium comic books could get a Ford more easily

than like a more conventional you know mostly text Facebook and when I thought

about that it was really just like a very short distance away from thinking what if the entire book was a comic book

it's a very dangerous line of thinking as you can see and yeah why not

you know the medium should be the message the medium cannot help us shape the message to do a call a book about

design is a comic book has to change the way the book actually is in the way that

it can be read right so that kind of became that's actually how this book

came to be I guess the way it is for better or for worse and but content wise

he went from a computer music how to design things well to kind of just thinking about technology in the shaping

in general because you know the more I thought about this the more like there's

a lot of things that unsettled me especially as I looked around to the technology that they envelope us and

really is pervasive in many different ways in our everyday lives right from

the building's we live in to the software we use to the social tools that

occupy much of our time in a mind and emotional energy right to games now like

all the things we actually spend time doing and using they're made of oh they're all made of Technology and many

more more of them made out of computer based technology so this book became a meditation on what any um design and

what it means to design to design well then to design like in a human way I

felt like that you know seems like something we ought to figure out how to how to talk about how to do because we

know when we see good design we also know when we we encounter design that frustrate us or worse that somehow harm

us or harm our harmless in the way that will help you relate to other people right this is so this is kind of I think

it's turning our DC developed is in writing this book so this became a meditation design as a humanistic

artistic and kind of social act of engineering and so this is kind of a

broadening of what this book tries to be and by the way the format looks you know like this and the entire book is like

this all 488 pages if in fact I'm gonna pass of a copy of here if you'd like

them to pass thank you and yeah it starts in my office and and the

manifesto in the book is artful design technology in search of the sublime and

it's a music comic manifesto and here's the manifesto really found the first few pages it reads in our age of rapidly

evolving technology and unyielding human restlessness and discord design ought to be more than simply functional it should

be expressive socially meaningful in humanistic design should transcend the purely technological encompass the human

and strive for the sublime what does that mean what is sublime design well

sublime design presents itself first and last as a useful thing but nestled within that window of interaction lies

the novel articulation of a thought an idea a reflection and invisible truth that speaks to us intimate and universal

purposeful without necessity of purpose that leaves us playful understood

elevated is a transformation so subtle that escapes our conscious grasp that

once experienced like music we would never want to be without again design

should be artful that is a manifesto this is this is what I'm putting into

the ground feels like this is what design maybe could be and strong in that

this is maybe what design ought to be and so the book is trying to make this

rest book is really trying to make the argument in the ways in which you know

design could be this and should be this and really the question is it boils down to is really what is the nature of

design what does it mean to design well not just a design things that you know

do stuff but to do it do them well and what does it mean to design ethically at

the end the day design is all about choice if their choices involved we have to ask yourself are they the right choices how

do we go about thinking about making choices that we would might deem to be better ones than others so this has

really become that kind of thing so let's tackle some of these general questions sinks with some specifics so

design the thing we noticed that yet it's all around us and but what is it well design is so simple that's why it's

so complicated all rant there's something about design that you know you strive for certain

simplicity and but there's something infinitely complex about when something

really works about design and trying to figure out why it works just like a piece of art that really clicks there's

something infinite in that and there's something both simple and and sophisticated about that so let me give

you a another demo here this is my pencil bag I've had this pencil bag for

the last five years actually use it it actually is my pencil oh god this at a Walmart in North Carolina in 2013 looking for something

to hold my writing utensils so and I found this so you can see this is

already kind of a different kind of pen Spike's got eyes and we unzip it has

teeth now these are not actual zipper teeth that we can see but they mirror

the zip zipper giving you a kind of a sense of purpose you dump out all my

stuff here and this is actually is my pencil bag and we cannot help us see the

face this is anthropomorphism working in design and you can't help but see the

face here right is it just hard-coded into our brains to recognize phases even

inanimate objects so there's more I can take the zipper and I can keep unzipping

this until we realize that the entire bag is actually its own zipper what the

hell and another question might be why what

is the purpose of the bag becoming its own zipper actually that's a good

question what you guys think is there a purpose you can jump rope there's a

purpose this jump rope this probably is a kind of a rope in a just it's not the

easiest one to jump rope but you know yeah it could be just an emergency rope I guess an emergency belt maybe it's

like easier to clean you can secure

there's a lot of things you can kind of use this for that's for practical purpose and and and maybe as you know

after wonder if this was designed out of some practical necessity because someone was just looking at like a giant pile of

surplus zippers they're like we got to do something with this and this but someone had this brilliant idea I don't

know who to me to craft and engineer

zippers in such a way that it could unravel and also coalesce in a sense into a bag I would also offer the

possibility that the question of why and what the purpose is is that perhaps it

has no purpose maybe he's just fun fun

actually you can break that down to maybe it's fun because fun can make for

good marketing and can make for good fun desirable products so fun could be kind

of motivated by this just let's try to sell more pencil bags by making it fun but there's also the other side of fun

which is the side that needs no explanation it's just fun and that's

like you don't need to say and for what is it fun you're like no is that's just such as funds like I'm saying I like the

color green you really can't ask like it's a very quickly stopping line of

questioning it's like for what reason do you like green like no I just like green you know the things that are awesome

you'll notice are often not because they're useful things that are awesome or awesome because they're awesome

end of sentence right so this is I would say this thing has a very clear

use as a pencil back that it becomes its own zipper is uh maybe has I like to

think that there's a part of that has no actual practical purpose but yet it is cool it's interesting and by the way

this is a moment where I try to recreate a moment when I realized that the bag is the zipper the zipper the bag function

has become form and form function oh my god this is in this blip is this moment of sublimity moment of clarity

well outstanding in Walmart the only moment of sublimity I'm likely ever to have in a Walmart that someone went out

of their way to make this pencil bag the way it is and and this is all to say I

think good design is useful and enables us great design is something to

understands us well I mean by this is like it's like it's like a favorite song

or like a really great movie you know

think about think about your favorite song one of them right I mean for most

of us I might say it might be a song time you feel like really gets you or

gets you at some point in your life or the relationship between you and someone else and the song has articulated so

fully and clearly and beautifully that you feel like you could have almost rid

the song yourself even though you rational II know you didn't that's how fully like the song inhabits

you and same with movies same with you know create art you know gonna ask what

is great art what makes art great well I don't know I can't tell you what we cannot really define great artists and I

can't but I'm I offer that great art is not when you've understood what's so great about the art but it's when you

feel like the art has understood you I think that in a ways why it's called

artful design is that you know the questions can design offer this type of humanistic understanding about us in the

way it actually is designed and with also respect to the function that is

serves so in artful design like we look at design as this act of alignment we

designed to bring the world into pragmatic alignment with what we considered to be useful and then to

aesthetic alignment with our notion of what's good and beautiful or the way things ought to be

right within this creative endeavor a real rich expressive opportunities to speak to our human dimension part of the

part of the manifesto and in saying when we're designing we're really trying to optimize this well this is function to

minimize kind of a beat that the misalignment between where we are now the state of the world with a version in

the world that is more useful but also closer to our notion of what is good

like what the way we think things ought to be in it in a good way right so

that's that's really kind of the just the tenant the central tenant of artful

design and we can use one of my favorite characters in Chinese this is Jenny and

it's it's the character for human or people and it looks like a person and

and for me this character oh is really special because that's one you know this

is China's got a lot of ease and a lot of people but also this looks like a

human but also for meeting coats an implicit social kind of a contract and that people kind of have to lean on each

other not only to survive but to thrive and I think design is like that you have these two legs one of which is pragmatic

this is what's useful the other is aesthetic pragmatic is kind of like how

do we lit how do we get from here to there I need something to hold my writing tencel's therefore I need this

bag hold it but aesthetics are the things that make life really rich and interesting so I think in this sense

design is this duality where we have things that are useful but the ways in

which they're useful offer us something that is rich in expressive some intrinsic artistic quality if you will

and so that's why the thing icon of the book is really based on this and I'll

tell you a little bit later the outside ring this little missing thing on the top but in artful design

world you know design things are this duality I'll try to embody some

synthesis of these two ideas and so powerful time we say aesthetics is how

we experience a thing how it emotionally intellectually psychologically socially affects us it is everything beyond it

things function yet aesthetics does not use server to live apart from functionality instead it gives context

meaning essence to a thing making it truly what it is in the kitchen of

design aesthetics is not the spice with a garnish the casserole of functionality it is the casserole

the ingredients are baked into it this is just trying to say statics is not an

afterthought it is what you it is the kind of the foundation with which you

put into anything we might care to design you know things like like it or

not everything we actually encounter in life has an aesthetic dimension we might not think of it as aesthetic but how it

feels how it looks how it makes us feel you know those things the meaning it

provides those are aesthetic can be thought of as aesthetic in nature and maybe we can take more care and actually

building that so if you look at the aesthetics you larval design you can apply this to really any everyday object

or really anything that you recognize to be design including software including

actually like policy or like forms of government to tools toys games and

whatnot you know I think there is the material which is what is this thing made out of the structural has it put

together interactive how does it operate how does it work there's the emotional the psychological

how does it strike you how does it make you feel how does it move you social how

does it get you to relate to other people to yourself see the object in

question and then there's some moral ethical dimension which i think of is really this this conscience of the

design does it ultimately strive to do good this is the humanist dimension I think for a thing to be

truly aesthetic it's got to really consider all of these dimensions for

example if a thing is useful and clever but it exploits people in the process if

it's making or its use I would argue that it's not moral or ethical and then

the whole thing isn't that isn't aesthetic I shouldn't we want things that are actually kind of well that are

truthful and beautiful really across the board here that's and so this brings me

to this other duality of design which is one between means and ends all right

this is another way to look at this to look at the pencil back to look at anything I think that's been designed and where the means to an end is really

the simple idea that we do a to get to get to be or design eight address need

be we're pretty familiar with this kind of way of thinking about design and

engineering what is the problem we implement aid to solve be right this

pencil bag cold pencils or I must study in order to get a good grade or I take

the bus in order to get to work or I eat to satisfy my hunger now these are pretty these these are things we just

like we do hundreds of these things a day to get from where we are to like one step closer to some other higher end

right and so these are these are just things we do they're not necessarily

good or bad some of them are good some of them are not so good in order to get a good grade I'm willing to cheat or you

know to increase profit our business will do what is necessary even if it's not beneficial to the user that's a

another classic means to an end or you know just the end justify the means in

contrast there are things that are maybe ends in themselves you do a because a is

awesome you a because a is just a thing

to do right and in this

is kind of a thing you do which you don't need to ask like and for what this

is kind of a the causal bedrock of motivation to do anything and so you

know means Dan my include the pragmatics the functionality the needs and the whole notion of work these things are

things we do to serve like an external need right on the other side argue the

aesthetics is an end in itself for thing to be beautiful it doesn't isn't beautiful for the sake of something else

it's just beautiful and there's something valuable intrinsically to us that it's beautiful

swarm to function values to meets needs

is like hypothetical we we need to we need that the values are things we it's

not in reference to something else this is like a deeply held belief we have about something and this thing is not

dependent on like conditions this is just like you know I like green that's

kind of a value you may not be very deep about me but that's it's not dependent on the situation I just like green and

then of course play to work if you think about play kind like guys what I said

about kids is that kids are beholden to nobody play is this thing you do that's like protected it's a protected space

and time from all the rest of life right and play you don't play in in order to

achieve some products and outcome you play for the sheer experience of playing

I think about that so it's an end in itself and so if we

believe something of this we might say that design is the radical synthesis of means and ends into a third type of

thing both useful and beautiful and these two sides are not fully compartmentalize well nor are they

mutually insoluble there can be a unity a synthesis in that synthesis is design

so this is kind of a very uh I don't know like trying to get to the first

principle of the nature of what design could be so as a designer then this vs.

is not you know actually now striving to make the difference but really to combine them

and it's a question of you combining means and it's so that's a little bit

about the nature of design now let's take these definitions think about the craft what does it mean to design well

right so I'll give you another story this is a story of designing ocarina

which I did in 2008 and this is this is

like a flute like instrument for your phone and you play it by blowing into it

[Music] keep going so this is a that's well

thank you very much so what is this thing well it's it's an

instrument that's I guess its function and sinners meant to be played in a certain way and the design of ocarina as

you can see here is not complicated it's really designed backwards from two

things with design backwards from 108 the experience of the person using it I

want them to feel like you're using the phone in a different way in a physical way you know you usually use people

using the phone because we most of us do sound like this or like this or like this or like this right now this app is

saying hold the phone as you would a sandwich and blow into it like that's a very much more physical use of the phone

it kind of brings you outside of the screen and that's part of the experience the other thing is designed backwards

from is the medium and that's the medium of the phone particularly the iPhone

which really since the beginning had five point up to five points and multi-touch it has a powerful CPU and a

powerful graphics processing unit you can do graph there's a microphone because it's a

phone it has also sensors like accelerometer which detects tilt and you

know an ocarina that's kind of what we use and so if I were to hold it flat

there's no vibrato you tilt it vibrato

just by kind of just the way the phone is oriented and so this was designed

backwards in the very choice of the ocarina you know could have designed a piano or a or a guitar but no those

things seem like really much larger in the interaction more complex than maybe what the phone could naturally afford

but a four-hole English pendant ocarina really it just fits what we've got to

work with here so we don't have to make a lot of sacrifices on the interaction

or the instrument so this is even the choice of the instrument came backwards

from medium that is to be implemented on and then the other thing I'll say is

that if you look at the design it's very its minimal and that's that's kind of intentional

I was hoping people using this wouldn't think of this like hey here's an app

that emulates an ocarina I want them to think that hey my phone is the ocarina like there's a good very I would say

like an ontological difference there of how you would think about this this

thing one just has is more like metaphysically privileged than the other

if you think that is the thing it's embodying it versus this is a facsimile of the thing right

respond to what you're doing

it's fingerholes contracted extend press release these objects of circles is how

do you do this is kind of up to you so it's like ocarina hero like rock band or guitar hero the difference is you're

actually the sound is completely generated in real time on the phone there's actually a small Chuck program

running inside this app that's generating this sound and mapping kind

of these interactions these inputs accelerometer multi-touch microphone into kind of synthesis parameters that

govern how the sound is to sound and and

you can play it at your own speed you can have flourishes as you like so no to playing the same song is ever quite the

same and in a way you can get better at playing a song just by repeatedly

practicing it and you can kind of make a song your own that's that's you know it

leaves an open it leaves it open ending from how you do the expressive part and there's another dimension to ocarina now

in the same app you could actually the

world there's a lot of these coasts Anonymous

for these people I don't know this app is not here

nor these app care data nor I would already be knowing what the person's

name is so what usually know who you were that's actually my frontal one wonder who's playing Legend of Zelda

from Indonesia and the only thing can do

in terms of any kind of like active social engagement is you can just say I

don't like this but like well you can't look up how many people like your performance you've thrown it out into

the ether the philosopher John Stuart Mill once said you know eloquence is

heard the poetry's overheard no I think in this age where we put stuff out there

in social media and we go back to see how many people liked it that's not over hearing that's just that's trying to be

heard over hearing is like hey this thing is cool I'm going to put it out there and I hope someone discovers it

and made this bring them peace and joy and I don't I won't ever need to know if

that ever happened if that's the hope and you know sometimes people do find and stumble upon these things it does

bring them bring them something and this is design a social experience and if

there's a underlying philosophy to this part of all Karina's is this idea from Mark Weiser who is one of the

forerunners of ubiquitous computing it was a CT of Xerox PARC right down the

street by in and he's he said the technology should create calm and this

is a remarkable statement about technology it's very different than how most of us might think about technology

today today we think about technology is this thing that solves like our problems you got a problem I bet there's an app

for that I can build enough of that argument I'm sure deep learning has something that we can we can apply machine learning and

deep learning or AI - but know this isn't saying technology to yourself or promising this is a statement

about how we might relate to the technologies that we use it's a

sentiment in a vision in aesthetic vision technology maybe doesn't have to

be in our faces all the time maybe it could work at a subconscious to help us I mean in a way it shouldn't make us

less calm but actually should bring us calm it should create calm this is a

review left by an ocarina user in iTunes this is my peace on earth I'm currently deployed in Iraq and hell

on earth is an everyday occurrence this from 2009 a few nights I may have off I'm deeply engaged in this app the globe

feature that lets you hear everybody else in the world playing is the most calming art have ever been introduced to

it brings the entire world together without politics for war is the exact opposite of my life so yeah as a

designer you're floored when someone uses your the thing you use but you know

but we designed this thing to be kind of a toy whimsical thing that you just you have fun with so it's incredibly

humbling to say the least to know that wow this thing actually brought someone like a moment of peace and it's great

turmoil and chaos and by the way this is anis again an aesthetic thing this app

did not pluck that soldier out of whatever hell they found themselves in

it just it offers something where like our does and helps you just moment if I

only momentarily helping you to transcend you know the things around you just help you see a little clearer and

to feel a little bit more calm then your otherwise might know this is a so that's

I think that's the philosophy and at the end of the day you know he's is noted by Marshall McLuhan and Winston Churchill

and many other people that we shape our tools but that's not the end of the story thereafter our tools shape us the

things we make boomerang back to make us and that's kind of the beginning and the

end really how the artful design the book ends is what we make makes us it's

as simple and not in its complicate is that here's some more tools this is a

sound peak this is a real-time audio

visualizer as you can see it's responding to the sound in this room I should on the count of three can I have

you guys all make a sound if you like one two three that's very good let's try

that again one two three with someone like to whistle okay so I'm we're so

really high it's actually right over there we go

this goes all the way up to 20,000 Hertz alright so our whistles are kind of in

the hundreds of Hertz maybe a thousand Hertz if you want some high frequency

energy give it like some no easy thing and and there's a lot of it's broad

spectrum so you have that so the top so is the the time domain waveform that's plotting kind of the the the variation

air pressure that results in the phenomenon we call sound and is doing a series of fast short time short time

fast Fourier transforms to bring us this plot and if we plot the history we get a

waterfall plot that looks like kind of a landscape right and you can play with

this thing [Music]

so here I'm just shaped in my mouth and to reinforce different harmonics that's

present in my voice the simple this thing over here is plotting the signal

with the verda labor in itself and this thing has no this is just kind of fun to play with I

yeah you can spend like minutes with with this thing having fun you can go to

the back of the waterfall this serves absolutely no practical purpose it is

fun and that's some peek and we use it actually to to look at sound strange as

that may sound and then there's a laptop Orchestra a laptop Orchestra is consists

of many laptops from one sometimes two two to six sometimes 20 sometimes 40 and

but it's not just laptops it's laptops and humans and these things

these are kind of hemispherical speaker arrays now this is an ensemble for

instrument building and for writing music for these instruments that we perform together as a group and if you

look at kind of an individual station in a laptop orchestra it's the laptops na tu interface sitting on an Ikea

breakfast tray we sit on meditation mats and pillows and we have these

hemispherical speaker arrays the purpose of these and it's very key to this idea of the laptop workers is we have it said

these keep sound local to the instrument that's being played in order to play like in a an acoustic instrument here

like a like a ukulele the sound wouldn't actually come you know from through the

PA system the sound will come from the object itself so it's ocarina stolen was

that somewhere in the I hear ocarina out there I pick this and we built these

speakers out of Ikea Sally Bowles mysterious ocarina

by the way this kind of sound is a triangle wave it's it's actually really

hard to localize so you just hear it as like there's a sound here but you can't

actually tell where it's really hard to tell where it's coming from if someone went that's actually much easier to

localize just hey there's them over there we'll see if it comes back so

these were built out of Ikea salable zwi drilled holes in them and put car

speaker drivers in them and this is the ideas that they're there to emulate kind of a point source and so in a way we're

trying to combine what we really love about it acoustic instrument since that date they have a sense of presence

physical presence and so we want to keep that while exploring the possibilities

of using the computer as a as a thing we make new sounds and new interactions

with for the sake of making music so the laptop orchestra to date has made

hundreds of new instruments and hundreds of new pieces here's one of them called Twilight




your face you see is actually accessible occasionally changes something

completely different is another instrument built this is the laptop accordion conventional use of in this

case literally turn the laptop on its side and close this almost really cannot

be good for the hinge on your screen there we have it so I think things with

these tools with programming language so the laptop works should the way you actually build these things changes

would you do with you know that Alan Perlis the first Turing Award winner a

programming language designer himself said you know pronator language that doesn't change the way you think is not

worth learning right so this is actually why we have thousands of programming

languages each one offers something potentially different for the same reason we're always gonna like they have

screwdrivers because like you know there's nothing better at being a

screwdriver than a screwdriver a service like this one like better than like really any other

tool as long as that is true and have screwdrivers and scissors and hammers

right and in the laptop Orchestra like

piping the way it is built having these speakers that keep sound local to the instrument changes the way you think

about designing the instrument that in turn changes the kind of music you would write and how you perform it in short

the way we actually design laptop Orchestra really changes the music that

you can make with this hopefully expanding it the range of music that you can make and you know these are just

some of the many choices you would make about design and they come pound and

this is actual mix design so challenging it's like you know writing I think is a form of more specialized design you're

designing early words in sequence at a micro level and then structurally you're

really trying to figure out how you are what you're trying to say and how to say it and we're what you say and how you

say it are both things that are incredibly important this is where my rhetoric is important to writing it's

the message is not just the message and message is also how you do it and oh

this is to say design is really all about choices and that's the case we

really ought to consider how to make the right ones and that is why we should

think about ethics and what does it mean to design ethically so the beginning of

the last chapter of artful design release goes back to this idea what we make makes us design lives with us

shaping our everyday lives and indirectly our desired disposition and character it has the potential not just

to cater to people's wants and needs but to evolve us as citizens and human beings good design not only expresses

utility but like art it elevates us making us more thoughtful interesting witty empathic and reflective but now

design on the other hand makes us addicted an unimaginative it can bring out the ill spirited hateful and selfish

in us the things we make over time make us right this is the power and the

danger of design which is something by the way we cannot help but do we are all

designers by this definition that design is when we just align the world to our

notions of usefulness and to our notion of what we think that the world should be we all design from our rooms to our

wardrobe to things we do in work and play like this is design we are

therefore we heat design so if we're to look at the ethics of shaping technology you know how do we think about these

things well this is an ease this is kind of probably the one that comes to mind like well technology should not hurt us

do no evil googles you know famed rather old motto by now I don't think Googler

is in the audience but I'm just say like I'm not sure if Google has lived up to this do no evil and by the way I also

offered this might be kind of a really low bar don't you think

do you know evil it's an it's like it's good to not do evil I mean but it's

better to maybe do good these two are like fundamentally different things to

optimize for right and so this is kind

of I think the thesis of the ethical type in artful designs that maybe maybe

ethics doesn't have to be just a leash on technology on what we cannot do

because it's gonna harm us what if ethics instead or in addition was really

the foundation the thing you start with when you actually build a system right I

mean if you think about Italy yes it's we build systems as engineers

and then we leap unleash into the world that's here's option one option two we build a system and then we're like you

know what let's make sure this doesn't actually do any harm so we maybe get it test it or maybe hey

let's go talk to an ethicist and by that point guess what the ethicist would say

well they usually be like yeah that's a hard problem and and but the system's

already built right it's it's a little too late for that so but if you started with ethics here

maybe things could fundamentally be different the again the choice is compound and you know the other thing

I'll say is that Pathak's is not some module u is not a feature of a product

you can't install this into a lake a product no more you can stall ethical

thinking into the brain of an engineer it's like something you something you do right it's something you you really

instill or imbue into the thing you make and really this other question which I

think we're not asking a much as much about ethics of shaping technology is really how do we want to live with our

technologies I think that's more nuanced question than either of these this is

already very hard do no evil because our imperative is a lot of is driven by

economics right so this is almost an afterthought but that's a pretty low bar

then we can think about how do we proactively do good but this I think Locke's precision is a good sentiment

maybe this is a slightly better more precise question is that how do we want to live with technology again what is

the aesthetic of a society that has that's gonna have more and more technology right how do we really want

to to live with that because live with our technologies we're gonna have to do and this pervades it's in many ways you

can think about robots I can think about you know AI we can also think about games you know games entertain us but

here's a game called that dragon cancer that is actually about infant cancer

based on the real life story of the family this family ended up designing

the game and this is a game that is

actually trying to help us understand something about ourselves and this is

the use of a technology of a game that I think tries to understand us principle

7-eleven in am be it's a two-part principle in artful design first part says that which can be

automated should be except in cases

where we have things that cannot be meaningfully automated those things should not be and I think the art of

designing automation is to figure out where this balance really lies right you

know as machine learning AI deep learning robots all these things are just they're just they're already in our

society in great great amounts in ever-increasing how do we think about

that and and so maybe we need principles

to really think about how we need up to a point as long as it does it can be meaningfully automated yeah automate

away but we really should know where to stop and have like precision about that

doctor this idea of play I'll give you an example where I would be not meaningful to automate play this is

something I think all of us can get you know when I said earlier plays this thing you do for it's very experienced yeah I don't want like a robot no matter

how adept at playing to play in my place that's possible it's possible today we a

robot can replace me as a to play but what's the point it is not meaningful so yeah I think we

can rest assure that that's one thing that robots will not replace us in doing is playing nor is like the experience of

eating because I like eating like I'm gonna eat this hamburger I don't want a

robot to eat the hamburger no matter how good it is that eating the ham or don't eat the damn thing myself

right so we you could think about this

there are things that it's not just can we do it but should we do it if you had

an app that could tell you like you know how to how to be happy or how to be ethical I think it misses the point you

know it's it's not like can we have an app that does that is that do we want an app that actually does that do we want

an app that actually gives answer when it's really actually about

the activity about the actual doing that really matters

Kranz Berg's first law of technology melamine Kranz Berg was a technology historian is the technology is neither

good nor bad nor is it neutral technology has never been neutral it's made by humans made for humans and it's

it would be a mistake to think that it is neutral or that it can be truly

neutral I think knowing that already gets us somewhere so the argument artful

design about ethics design it goes something like this and the choices we make and design holds implications for

our users and our tantamount to taking action ourselves like face to face

saying that this there's no difference because the things we design touch people and change their behaviors and

change the way they think and how they relate to each other if we believe that then there's actually no difference

between designing something that people use and taking an action face to face in if that is the case shouldn't we hold

ourselves to the same moral ethical frameworks we normally hold ourselves to face to face that's really the argument

so the question of why design ethically or morally is really not a different

question than why be moral if you want them to be moral as I suspect many of us would like to be this is not a separate

question and we shouldn't think of it as because I'm engineering something because this is my job that's separate

from me as a moral entity right and the answer really to wiping moral is it's

kind of up to you I think we all have different answers to this I would offer one that is a non-answer that's a long line of why does what's

the point of this pencil bag becoming its own zipper and the answer maybe the bad news is that there could be no

extrinsic a logical rationale to be moral but maybe the good news in the sense that you should never need one if you

believe it's something that is good in itself it's an end in itself if I had only one rule and then for engineers as

a general rule to follow it might be something like the Platinum rule what's the Platinum rule if a whole herd

of the Golden Rule right do want to others that have you had them do unto you anyone heard of the Platinum rule

Tyron states do want to others as they would have you do on to them right this

is sounds just subtly different but it's actually quite profound and we can trace

this actually it's kind of thinking to philosophers like Cott who in the second

formulation of his categorical imperative states that act so that you treat humanity whether in yourself or in

another person never as a means to an end but always as an end in itself

treating people's people as ends in themselves do you wanted them as they

would have you to do unto them as they would have you do want that right yes do you want two people and if you think if

you compare them the golden rule in the Platinum rule and the difference is interesting the golden rule is like a

statement of sympathy it's like this is what I would want so maybe you want that the Platinum rule tries to really

understand another person a person whose experience may be very different from yours someone whose shoes you have not

walked and to try your best to really understand it I want to do right by you

the way you want to be you know in the way that you'd want and in this sense

technology really is not an in itself people are never a means to an end if

you look at kind of how well look at the products that we're using we're hopefully using less and less of you

know look at Facebook you know they saved the product is free you're the product ro was Facebook built for our

well-being or are we means to the monetization of Facebook I'll let you

figure that one out right is Facebook designed to engages so that engagement could be monetized

so this through these lenses I think there are ways to think about how we can shape technology ethically and ethics

not it's just like what's right or wrong but it's actually could be a question of

quality how well do you do this and how well does this technology actually bring

about a certain kind of well-being and you know in the conclusion we can draw

from some of these that maybe we can not just design from the needs as we're accustomed to doing and those weren't

taught to do but to look deeper and really the values behind them you know

the ocarina was in design because we took like a survey be like hey we're

designing an app what do you want to what you want the app to do and people are like we want an app that we can blow into and we can hear other people blow

into their phones around the world no there was no survey you know this is it

was built out of belief that music making does person good and that this technology could be a goodly

democratizing medium for people to express themselves creatively musically that's it again those are the values and

their values are never that complicated a-and but values are kind of you to go

deeper and deeper to understand like why something is and what people really want even beyond what they're able to tell

you I think the causal bedrock usually is at the point of values it's what

people really really want in ways they can't really say so there has to be

something of an artistic leap on the part of the designer that results from seeing and feeling the world at large

feeling the pulse of the world designers are less problem solvers and more artist philosopher engineers of

useful things that understand us this is the vision this is the hope and this is

how I don't know I and others feel the engineering needs to evolve into not as

the thing that just solves problems and be done but it is a thing that tries to understand what you've tries to

understand people that feels the pulse of the world and has a larger context in all

right and that means I think the way we educate ourselves that we educate

engineers need to evolve I present to you in higher education we talk about

things like eye shape student and the t-shaped student is the t-shaped and I shape student is as the letter I

indicates like a student has a lot of depth in one area the t-shaped SUNY got

some depth and you got some bread I presented the pie shaped student if you

look at one leg is disciplinary expertise in computer science domain expertise music or Public Health music

was for me Public Health me even from them so you're applying a discipline to a domain but look at this bar this is

what I would call the aesthetic lens the philosophical artistic moral lens that gives broader meaning in context in

bridging the two legs this is the kind of engineer that I

think we need to be is the kind of engineer think we need to educate if

it's just this we're just educating technicians and tools really we need not tools but full

citizens human beings I think to be engineers and is for this reason I think

engineering art humanities Social Sciences steam like these things matter

matter fundamentally to each other these are not separate things they didn't used

to be it's not a matter of putting them together it's an it's it's really a matter of how we reclaim this unity you

know they should these are things I should have never been taken apart and other well at the letter H to steam for

the Humanities like huh steam or steam I'm not sure where that goes yet and maybe like Social Sciences C not another

two S's justice team and okay and the more letters we now maybe education

maybe design but the point is design is not just about design engineering is not

just about an engineering nothing is just about architecture is not just the architecture is to understand the whole

ecosystem and the people that live in them so as a

small effort on my part I'm you know I've been I'm trying to put this into a course so based on our field is I'm

teaching a course at Stanford called design that understands us thinking 66

is part of first-year requirement part of our thinking matters program and in this course we talk about the nature

of design the craft the ethics of design the experience of design and the future of design design is defined as this

alignment the shaping of technology and some of the texts were using include go back to Aristotle it can be key in

ethics to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein design as art Don Norman's design of everyday things right these are these

four kind of these historical texts in the book is kind of structured in the vein of artful design and you know in

this class as in this book we can have the pencil bag you know asks these

questions what is my purpose so to make my life more eudaimonic this is an Aristotelian term then means

pursuit of happiness of human flourishing and so facts like huh how do I do that so by being a useful thing and

by imparting delight and how you fulfill your essential purpose your function as a pencil bag in a way that makes me a

little bit more thoughtful and that I find beautiful in itself all of that is part of what you are and pens bags like

Oh Jane I'm really glad someone went out of their way to design you as you are me too I fulfill my purpose functional and

aesthetic and I'm like it must be nice to know what you're meant to do this is where the pencil bag gets a little philosophical yes in essentialist terms

my essence preceded my existence I came into being in order to fulfill a preordained purpose that is the core of

my essential nature and the meaning of my existence and of all design things the car come in comes into being already

knowing what it's supposed to do we've made a car to get just point A to point B right then it's like you humans seem

more complicated like yeah well perhaps existentialism would say or is this existence precedes our essence that is

there's no preordained purpose or meaning in our coming to be which I realized can seem quite sad and pressing on the contrary says the pencil

back I find it exceedingly beautiful to be born without preordained purpose is to be truly free I can imagine anything

more free you get to make your own purpose for yourself in a way I think in

looking at design it's a question of what purposes is served we actually are actually looking it's a

way it also to look at ourselves to question ourselves right so it's art you can't with reflects on us you know maybe

so can design and again this is why it's artful design is I think there's it's

not just about thing it's actually about how the thing is related to how we are and how we might be so what it means

what does it mean for designed to be artful and you know the this book is not like hey everybody go out and use

technology to make art make computer music that's not what this is about this thing how can imbue this kind of

artfulness that we all maybe strive for in the things we make especially useful

things I'm not worried about the artists art is gonna keep making art I'm worried

about Lee well I'm an engineer I'm worried about engineers and how we shape

the world and so this logo this thing on top this is a this is really an aura

Boris this is a snake eating its own tail and it's kind of this idea that in life we we do like I said we do hundreds

of things every day as a means to some higher end you know I I drove my car to

get here did this talk that's a means to an end right I I have the pencil baggie that holds pencils but what is it all

form we're going back to this Aristotelian idea that maybe in the aggregate it's for some kind of human

flourishing there some pursuit of happiness it's defined kind of by ourselves

and so in some way like really great design is functionality melding

seamlessly into into the aesthetics the functional the practical actually

becomes something that can be beautiful and that's really the hope of artful design and design art to be dishonorably

is making an art of humanizing technology as a final example this is in

our social karaoke app now called sing and in 2011 in the wake of the 2008 and

tsunami disaster in Japan a woman reached out with the with a rendition of

lean on me now the feature of this app is that you can on the globe listen to other people saying like an ocarina and

here are the people play but you can also then add your voice in a plus one kind of way to the course so within

weeks four thousand people join in can see people across world forging on where

this originally took place in Tokyo and this what it sounds like and thank you

guys very much for having me thank you

time for questions and then we do have some refreshments out back so we can

take about two questions and then then we'll head out

I think there's a couple ways to answer

that but uh I think one of them is to is this means we're means and ends you know I think mmm the economy if some level is

a good thing it actually drives good things to happen you know I saw a copy of like a dr. Seuss book at a kink and

like a FedEx office I was like why is if not marketing I would never see this

wonderful book or dr. Seuss you know when I'm trying to ship a package and I think that's that's marketing at work so

it caught I was like wow you know the economy marketing these are things that actually can do good I think you know if

you take a design lens is to say how can we find a good melding or synthesis radical synthesis between the things

that really are the means which is like yeah companies need to make money they need to survive hopefully thrive you

know with something that's intrinsically valuable so if you're an engineer making

a product yeah you do want to speak to both you could be like how do we design

products that will like Salo and make his money I think that's I think that's okay at least in itself but then I think

you want to really not lose the part of yourself that's also like how but what

how would this thing do good and not to do good because it benefits us but do good because it's an end in itself

because that's just something we choose to do and and to do things sometimes

that may not be the best optimal marketing or sales approach but that

something that hopes uphold something of your own values but I think the hope is you would find things that can optimally

speak to both and for that I don't know I mean there's no there's no easy answer to this sometimes I'm like I'm willing

to work so much harder than otherwise would just because I want to find this balance and but I don't have a I don't

have a better answer than that except to say like you kind of like time morality I think at the end the day you have to

choose the terms of what it means to be moral you have to choose to be so I think it's a choice

and this comes back to kind of the education angle but that's that's a separate story so I think we I think in

one hand we're training people to be logical to be rational and we hope that rationality is still possible and the

rational discourses is still possible but I think the layer that we also should train ourselves and are the

people that you know our students are kids right is the force civil rational

discourse we need to find something of our common humanity and I think that's

that's a fundamental layer and that's I think that's ultimately what's gonna give us you know a good chance at doing

things then in a better way but it it's not a it like this is a problem but

there's no easy solution this is a complex human problem but I think it needs to be seized we need to chip away

at it something that I think we absolutely can thank you oh that you

answered so as more smarter and sophisticated technologies becoming more

present in people's lives it seems that there's a remarkable counter movement of

popularity for older more analog tactile kind of tools so my question is how do

you think nostalgia fits into good design I don't know if it's nostalgia so much as we're realizing like smart

things often aren't smart right this is this you take an instrument for example

like actually Perry cook who I alluded to or they had this principle about instrument design that smart instruments

often aren't by contrast he says I like dumb instruments in the sense that a

smart instrument presumably one that adapts to me is not the kind of

instrument want I want an instrument that doesn't change is predictable because it's a dumb instrument that

allows me to learn it I don't want it to learn me and that whole act of learning

instrument is a it's kind of valuable onto itself right and that's so the reason

that we don't really have smart instruments really is that I think once we build them often were just like yeah that's not it that's not a great idea

right I think it's it's violating kind of it's it's dismissing that sometimes

the actual sheer effort of doing something the practice of learning an instrument of doing something for

ourselves like playing or eating my hamburger is intrinsically valuable so

maybe it's nostalgia but if you look one layer below nostalgia it might just be us being like we like being physical

says we are physical beings in addition to I don't know intellectual rational beings and whatnot and if I were to tell

you the truth I think my brain is like one chaotic soup it's just like I think all of us are it's hectic also random

thoughts going here and there and like an inch this mythical interface of like hey here's an app that you can like use

brain waves to be like let's render music from thought yeah here tune my brain I want that tune

rendered into like like a WAV file or mp3 that I can share with my friends I think that'd be like it might be

interesting but the other part I think I wouldn't miss is my physical self my physical self is less hectic it's like a

low-pass filter on the craziness that's my brain and when you're playing instrument you're engaging kind of this

part and this part and this is my hands my fingers when I'm playing like my

guitar is the part that's kind of like keeping my brain in check in a really useful way while my brain is kind of

helping to direct kind of and also to analyze what I'm actually hearing so I

don't know part of the nostalgia it might be just for things that words is always going to be good design part of

it is just maybe our human selves being like hey don't forget that we're all these things not just you know

functional not just you know intellectual but also physical is melding thank you thank you so much

thank you thanks for having me [Applause]


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