Affordances – just because you can doesn’t mean you should

Affordances is a term made popular by Human-Computer Interaction theorist Donald Norman. The term refers to the actions that an object or system enable the user to take. A knife enables the user to cut. Thus, one affordance of a knife is “cuttability.”

I like to make a distinction between the actions that certain tools and objects enable vs the actions that tools and objects want to enable. Sure, a wrench can be used to hammer a nail, but it’s not what it was designed for. Hammering is not what a wrench wants to do. Not that you shouldn’t use a wrench to hammer a nail if that’s what you need to do and a wrench is all that you’ve got. Just remember that it’s important to understand that hammering is not what a wrench is designed for.

I have a controversial stance on the affordances of some digital fabrication tools. For example, in many cases, people use 3D printers for low batch production of identical parts. Yes, low batch production of identical parts is an affordance of a 3D printer – a 3D printer can do this. But it’s not what the tool wants to do. It’s quicker and easier on the machine (which is often a shared machine) to use a 3D printer to make a mold and do your low batch production using a mold rather than running the printer for 500 hours (and dealing with all of the hiccups) to make your ten identical parts.

I also believe that laser cutters afford cutting. Yes, they do etching really well and many a laser cutter owner uses their machine to run an etching business (think trophies). But etching, compared to cutting, is really slow. And if you are using a laser in a shared space, it’s advantageous to lean into what the tool really wants to do: lighting quick cutting. Don’t use a wrench to hammer a nail if you don’t have to.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

Affordances and Design on jnd.org

Affordances on IxD Foundation

 

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Leaning into Criticism

I’m teaching a new and improved version of MakerLab to undergrads this fall. The biggest change I’ve brought to the course is weekly writing assignments. The assignments have multiple parts and have at least two components:

  1. Explore a big picture question about the maker movement
  2. Identify a maker from a particular genre and write about their work

The latter component is called “Maker Appreciation” and I’ll dedicate a post to that in future. Quick insight: it’s a great and rewarding exercise.

The former component really interests me…and scares me a little. So far, the big picture questions have been questions like, “Why the maker movement, why now?” or “What are makerspaces and why do they matter?” But for this week, we’re going to move way out of the comfort zone and read some critiques of the maker movement. Why? It’s important to explore the criticism. I mean, if you are in the middle of a theatrical run, you might want to hold off on reading reviews lest they negatively affect your performance. But in other areas of life, you want to understand and acknowledge criticism in real time.

So for an upcoming assignment (not this week, but the next), we are reading Evgeny Morozov’s New Yorker piece called Making It: pick up a spot welder and join the revolution and Leah Buechley’s 2014 talk called Thinking About Making.  I look forward to seeing where the discussion takes us.

Types of Creative Commons Licenses

As art goes digital, it becomes easy to copy and remix. This is great in many ways. But it’s also important for artists to know that there are tools out there to help them communicate how they would like their work to be used.

Creative Commons (CC) licensing was founded in 2001 by lawyer and academic Laurence Lessig as he and the folks around him saw a need for a new kind of licensing in the digital age.

There are a few flavors of CC. Some give you permission to use and remix work with no boundaries at all while others have some requirements. From the CC web page:

  • Attribution CC BY. This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
  • Attribution ShareAlike CC BY-SA. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.
  • Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-ND. This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND. This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

  • To see examples for each kind of CC and to download license tags for your own use, go here
  • LL’s 2007 TedTalk on CC here

 

 

 

 

Fall Into Art

Last November I attended The Fingerlakes Social Entrepreneurship Institute hosted by The Center for Transformative Action at Cornell University. I had a great time chatting with the social entrepreneurs there and left feeling engaged and inspired. That inspiration manifested in a small change at the time: I changed the name of this blog from Make Better Stuff to Art & Invention. For me, the name-change marked a shift in thinking and writing about stuff to thinking and writing about what it takes to make stuff: the emotional and practical world that artists create, define, and live in.

Then in January of this year, I applied to Seth Godin’s altMBA program with the goal of making more art. But once the course actually started I changed my goal from “making more art” to “helping other people make art.” And that’s a trap we fall into, right? We avoid working on our own sh*t by helping other people do theirs. And that’s not all bad. It’s good and it’s generous, but for me, it’s also a form of hiding from my own work. So I’m just trying to hold a light on that in my life and examine it.

Another push toward making art came in late August when I visited the Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Deer Isle, Maine. The campus is what I hope heaven to be:  simple modernist cabins built into a tree-lined mountainside overlooking the sea. In each cabin, a different set of tools and materials: hot studios for glass and metal, a graphics studio with ink and roller, a ceramics studio with slip and wheels, a woodshop with saws and clamps, a textiles studio with sewing machines and dyes, and a fab lab with CNC routers and 3D printers . I left there feeling that I needed to go home and create my own space. You can’t make art just anywhere. You really do need a workshop. A place to have your tools out and keep them out. So I’ve done that this fall. I’ve created that.

This fall I’m falling into art. I’m emotionally ready and I’ve carved out the practical space to work.

Strip it down to change it up

This one’s just for fun. An oldie but a goodie.

Jimmy Fallon has this segment where he invites a pop star to perform a song of theirs with The Roots playing accompaniment using office supplies as instruments. It’s goofy but also an interesting constraint to hand off to such talented musicians. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, it does. Enjoy.

Amplified Materials

Amplified Rebar from Brad Nath on Vimeo.

Today’s the first day of class for my Maker Lab at IC. Last week I sent out a note to the registered students asking them to share work that they like by other makers. One student linked to Brad Nath’s vimeo page. I’d not seen his work before, but I totally dig it.

Nath amplifies materials like concrete and rebar and invites us to play with them. To amplify. What a concept.

I have a friend who is a soundscape ecologist: she puts mics on natural ecosystems to monitor their health. Very cool.

I have another friend who holds microphones up to prisoners and their families and tells their stories on the radio. What a gesture.

And then there are some things that are amplified that should be dialed down, like 45’s twitter feed.

But given the equipment, what or who would you choose to amplify? And why?

Art Appreciation

If you make art, you need to look at the work of other artists. It doesn’t have to be contemporary work, but you need to look at art. You need to study what it’s made of. You need to teach yourself to see and to speak. To find the words for the different techniques that artists use and the choices that artists make. Then use those words to inspire your own explorations or to describe what you are striving for in your own work.

If you write, you need to read.

If you compose music, you need to listen.

If you make films, you need to watch them. Obsessively.

 

Bernstein conducting

Back when I was in music school, about 100 years ago, I cut my “Stravinsky teeth” on Bernstein’s interpretations. My appreciation for his conducting only grew when I moved to NYC and worked at a classical record store and then at The Met/Lincoln Center.

If you know Bernstein’s music, then you will hear his influences in here. It’s kind of exciting.

 

for fun

I love this setup and passage: https://youtu.be/a9M2oTHa3GM?t=8m25s