Category Archives: design

Come discuss AR with me @ York Mobile Media Lab


Date: Monday Dec 7, 2009
Time: 3:00-5:00 pm
Where: Mobile Media Lab, York University
Technology Enhanced Learning Building
88 the Pond Road, Room Tel 2001
Link: Thomas Purves talk at Mobile Media Lab

Who knew that since I gave my first Augmented Reality talk back in April of this year that AR would become such a trending topic amongst marketers, geeks and many many app designers.

This new talk will be follow up to that one, checking in on how AR is evolving and thinking about the economic and societal implications of an always-connected society. I am less interested in the current fad of augmented reality in narrow sense of computer imagery projected or overlaid on our field of vision. For me it’s more interesting to talk about the deeper implications of the pervasive and inexorable cloud seeping into and “augmenting” our daily reality in the broadest sense, for our individual benefit – or otherwise.

Nonetheless, for today, I bring you the visual AR gimmick of the week: AR on a moving canvas (including clever use of infrared marker LEDs for tracking a reference surface as if by magic) via @pdinnen. enjoy.

Presentation: Design for an Augment Reality world

For posterity here is the slideshare version of my Augmented Reality talk, which I presented for the first time at Refresh Events in Toronto. As a first cut, this presentation represented more of a shotgun scattershot rather than a linearly coherent narrative of the various thoughts on this topic currently spinning in my head my these days.

For background this was the talk proposal. I think I got to most of this stuff.

How “Augmented Reality” and the mobile web changes everything

Mobile broadband access and ever-smarter phones are shaking the internet out its lofty cloud and bringing the web into the real world. As a result, the old “real world”, and many old ideas and many old business models will be running out of places to hide from the pervasive influence of the net.

Meanwhile, each of our smart phones are in many ways even better than the old clunky tools we used to use to surf the net. Our mobile devices are not only connected but, also bristling with sensors like radios, cameras, microphones, GPS etc. that can directly perceive and interact with the world around you. We’re reaching a point where it’s theoretically possible to point that device at almost anything: a landmark, a product on a store shelf, your friends or a crowd of people; and draw from the cloud and your social graph as much, or perhaps more, relevant information than you ever wanted to know. Oh, and the cloud will be watching you and whatever’s around you as well.

In the new augmented reality, the web surfs you.

The goal of this talk will be to provide you with a fast paced overview of what this new “augmented” reality will mean for how we socialize, for how we sell and market physical products, for architecture, for media and entertainment, for public policy, crime, privacy and, as well, few early signals for what might be the new killer apps.

If all that is not interesting enough, I will also bring free beer.

How did it go? I think it went well! thanks for all the wonderful twitter feedback. 100+ tweets and counting =)

wrongbutton @tpurves fantastic presentation! very thought-provoking. especially enjoyed social AR consideration and the notion of layering data sets

BrianSe7en @tpurves great job on the AR deck! somebody who “gets it”.. yeah!

danielpatricio @tpurves Great job on the presentation, it really inspired me and got me thinking. there is a lot of potential in our future

randymatheson @tpurves – inspiring presentation on Augmented Reality tonight at #refreshevents , a balanced look at what is coming in the next few years

sebchorney @tpurves Great job. Real value for me was the “example->implication” flow, and high-level summations/analyses/insights in your tables.

D_Hock Great #RefreshEvents tonight – seeing the crowd engaged by @tpurves‘ talk was truly fascinating.

malcolmbastien @tpurves Awesome talk. It’s clear you know your stuff and have done some deep thinking of its broad impacts.

nitchblog Amazing debate to end the night. Great discussions that brought us around the world and back! Thanks to @jkozuch + @tpurves #refreshevents

davefleet @tpurves is wielding a NFC phone. Love the potential with that technology #refreshevents

pinkbrickroad @tpurves so interesting/funny. Future is crazy. #refreshevents

josephdee @tpurves presentation has been kick-ass so far. Peeks into the future of mobile experience, which is making me grin : ) #refreshevents

AdamSchwabe I love hearing @tpurves talk tech. So intelligent and focused. Fast, well-read. #RefreshEvents

I look forward to presenting again the next revision. Contact or DM me if you’d like me to lead/present this discussion at a future event. Meanwhile enjoy:

Link: Audio track of my presentation (video coming they say)

How the mobile web and “augmented reality” changes retail forever


At South by southwest interactive this week (SXSW) a huge theme was “augmented reality” the idea of, Amazon-app style, pointing your phone at any product to get more information -or a better price- online. We’re getting to a world where holding a mobile device means all of the potential knowledge and intelligence of the cloud is now in your hand as well, everywhere you go. “The web” is no longer separate place or channel we go to visit at home through our computers. The web and the real world are rapidly converging. It’s now just up to us to design the apps, and interactions to make that useful.

What was clear is that brands have a long way to go yet to figure out what to do with or what retailing models will work in this new “augmented” reality. Consumers may beat the brands at the game using their devices and information advantage to arbitrage themselves consistently better deals.

To compete as a retailer, someone mentioned the idea that physical stores just become “really expensive websites” that help brands build relationship with consumers seamlessly across both physical and virtual channels.

This is a problem for retailing models like malls, which typically take a slice of retailer sales. Now the interests of retail merchants and their landlords may be mis-aligned as a consumer may go to the apple store just to see and touch the product, make use of the genius bar, but then spend their money on apple through the internet channel, or post-sale through itunes etc.

It’s another problem of misaligned interests for merchants if physical retailers are franchises that don’t have piece of the revenues from online sales.

Apple (no surprise) is a good example of a merchant that will do well do well in the hybrid cross-channel retailing environment.

Some other merchants that compete just on product and price without specific competitive advantages are going to get killed.

Design neutrality and why Google Chrome rocks

Last week, I gave Microsoft’s new browser a shake, now it’s time to look at the competition. There is a lot else to like about Google’s new browser. But this, this is my favorite feature:


Why does (almost) every product google touches, feel so refreshingly natural to use? A significant part of their competitive advantage comes from an enormous, if invisible, effort of design restraint.

Not trying to make your product always the centre of attention, getting the hell out of the user’s way, is a product design decision that many of us could learn from. And it’s a lesson than certain OS makers, for example (here’s looking at you Redmond & Cupertino, can continue to ignore at their peril.

The design principle of neutrality doesn’t mean less features (Under the hood, Chrome is pretty feature rich for a first generation browser). Just not pestering users with popups they can’t understand, not painting window wrappers and task bars in garish and distracting colors is a good start.

Most of the products we build are tools, they are a means for the user not an end. In most ways good usability is all about reducing all sources of mechanical, perceptual and cognitive friction. If you can get a design to a point where users can instinctively ignore it, that probably means you are doing a good job.

For this an other reasons (also notable the wonderful built-in tab/task manager), Google chrome is now the main browser on our home pc.

You can get google chrome here. (windows only at this point)

previously on design neutrality on

link: Google Chrome explanatory cartoon (it’s a great read)

“Some people tell me it is a beautiful shape, but I cannot tell this because I am an engineer.” – Gábor Domokos

Gomboc shape

Ha, a quote that seems to explain a lot about this world?

1. How many the things that surround us may work, but are not beautiful.
2. And the corollary, why some things that are beautiful don’t seem to work?

file under: arguments for interdisciplinary design.

Quote overheard on a quirks and quarks podcast. a Gomboc is the first know shape shown mathematically to have only one stable and one unstable point of equilibrium. Side note: if modern engineering is a hare, than this must be the tortoise?

The Robotification of Usability Design

1998-2000 Human to web interaction, Web Usability, Human factors. The great bubble of Web-enabling networked databases and applications – like Online Banking,, lets sell pet food online etc. (eBay never heard of usability)

2001-2005 Website to robot interaction design, the golden age of Search Engine Optimization

2004-2006 Human to Human and social web interaction, funny how no one thought of this sooner. Web 2.0 and all that.

2007- Robot to Robot web interaction, Microformats, CAPCHA’s and RSS the carrots, sticks and duct tape of mashups. APIs and widget sandboxes of Facebook, Salesforce and google/yahoo/OSX desktops where our applets do our browsing for us and play -maybe- nice with each other. RSS made interacting with websites redundant, now robots will read our RSS for us too, sometimes with the aide of the ‘community’ acting as the proxy of intelligence.

In this scheme we’re somewhere between users and used. Human-mediated robot interaction etc. Which part of Artificial Artificial Inteligence (google it) becomes an oxymoron? It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Welcome to Web3.0.

Negative Space in Product Design – Value from things that things don’t do.

I figure the single sound that must bring the most collective happiness to people the world over is exactly the sound your alarm clock doesn’t make as soon as you hit the snooze button.

I’ve been trying to think up, ever since my alarm came back on this morning, some other examples of this principle in practical action. In visual design negative space can be as important to a composition as the subject.

1. (When it works) Google search creates it’s value from the search results that it doesn’t return.

2. Desani creates value by not putting all that sugary Coke crap in your Coke water – and just giving you not flavored Coke water in a handy portable container.

3. Of course the iPod shuffle was most distinctive features were the ones it didn’t have.

4. Tokyoflash makes a (awesomely cool) business out of not making it easier to know what time it is.

5. Strategic nuclear weapons

8. What else there must be lots? What softwares or products are handy for features they don’t have or, for features they do have, are handy for the negative not-uses of those features?

The Flavour of Cities – My deck from OpenCities

UPDATE: oh and my speaker notes are here on the slideshare page which might explain things a *little* more clearly.

A great commentary by Edward on the discussion that followed (thanks!):

“At the final session, insulated by a Creemore, it was interesting to think of as flavour as taste: in the look and feel and design and form and method and means of how we, for example create/make architecture. In other words do we permit taste to be acknowledged by sampling flavours and then understanding preferences based on this sampling? Is this an exercise in nostalgia or form of connoisseurship? We mourn the passing of a time-stamped culture and its intrinsic forms of expression its aesthetic? We contrast this with what might seem the harshness of the new. I like the new. You admire craft. Is there craft in contemporary design? Is contemporary architecture the triumph of pure design—conceptual as opposed to crafted? Even if we wanted to recreate or recapture neo-classical architecture would we not end up with kitsch? Something so artificial that it would be at once Disney. The time-sense, the aura of the object (the neo-classical bank building for example), it is irreplaceable ‘having-been’ or being ‘of the past’ cannot be replicated. And how do we assess what is going to be understood as valuable, beautiful and fabulous? Everyone I know under 15 in Toronto thinks the new Royal Ontario Museum Crystal is fabulous and when told some ‘grown-ups’ have divided opinions about it they are incredulous. What kinds of architecture tend to work and continue working? Perhaps buildings designed to listen to people and anticipate function (it was suggested that people refer to: How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built: by Stewart Brand) will last and be enjoyed: understood over time as beautiful.”

And this response from Kelly Seagram

Tip O’ the day. If presenting at a conference, ensure a wonderful turnout and a warm reception by simply announcing you’ll be kicking off your session by handing out a free beer to each participant. OpenSauce, because sometimes it should mean free as in beer.

OpenCities was a great event, you can find lots moar notes here.

And yes, that is a vintage glass plate photograph of Zepplin over Jerusalem that I’ve added to the cover. Flavour and dead media egads.

Open thoughts for open cities

..Because gifted children are able to consider the possibilities of how things might be, they tend to be idealists. However, they are simultaneously able to see that the world is falling short of how it might be. Because they are intense, gifted children feel keenly the disappointment and frustration which occurs when ideals are not reached. Similarly, these youngsters quickly spot the inconsistencies, arbitrariness and absurdities in society and in the behaviors of those around them. Traditions are questioned or challenged…

When gifted children try to share these concerns with others, they are usually met with reactions ranging from puzzlement to hostility. They discover that others, particularly of their age, clearly do not share these concerns, but instead are focused on more concrete issues and on fitting in with others’ expectations. Often by even first grade, these youngsters, particularly the more highly gifted ones, feel isolated from their peers and perhaps from their families as they find that others are not prepared to discuss such weighty concerns…
Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals

I’m sure many of you out there can identify. I would like to think, more positively, that everything arbitrary about the flavour of our world is itself an untapped resource, an opportunity gap. But then I also want to believe that massive weight everything that’s arbitrary in our modern world and culture is also obvious – or even perceptible. As I see it

The trouble with gifted children
is that they have the imagination to just taste the flavours of what could have been. But are not in the position

to do anything about it.

As grownups we,
are -or should be-
finally in a position
to DO
something about it,

if we can just recapture
some of that

or the wisdom to see
whether any given thing
is the way it is
just because it is
or actually because it should be.

The second paragraph resonates as well – but more about whether it’s even healthy/productive to worry about such things. Maybe there is no hope.

How do you see it?

Because media has a flavour

2 Walls in New York

These are two exterior walls. They serve (roughly) the same physical purpose. They live across the street. 52nd street if I remember.

B) is the north side of the brand new redesign of the the NYC MoMA
A) is just another building of another century facing it across the street. Right across the street.

They have a different flavour. In general, all media have a flavour.

By it’s flavour I mean the medium’s idiosyncrasies, it’s accidental memes of little common details, you might call it it’s character. How often do we choose a medium based on it’s flavour? how often do flavours choose us?

Does the character of our age choose our mediums, or do our mediums determine the character of our age?

This is a teaser of sorts. I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot lately. I have a few answers, I believe, the start of which (at least as it may pertain to cities, and open cities) that I plan to bring to OpenCities this Saturday. I hope that you might join me in the conversation there. I guess I should book a slot.