It’s fair to say that Millennials are the most tech-savvy adults in history. That advantage, one might think, would make them poised to become the most financially successful–if it weren’t for the fact that they entered the job market during a global recession. That doesn’t seem to faze them: If surveys are to be believed, they’re also more progressive and less materialistic (perhaps by necessity, as they’re all more debt-saddled than their predecessors).
These images, taken by the young Swedish photographer Sannah Kvist, seem to bear that out–snapshots of Millennials surrounded by all of their worldly possessions, which generally occupy no more than the corner of a room. The “All I Own” series stems from Kvist’s personal struggle with consumerism: “I had lived for 23 years when I took the photo of me and everything I owned and thought it was a sad collection of junk I’ve managed to buy,” she tells Co.Design. Similarly, the friends and acquaintances she has photographed since then have been amazed by “how much shit they actually owned.” (If you’ve moved recently, you’re probably familiar with that feeling.) “I think most people actually got an eye-opener when they built the piles.”
All of Kvist’s subjects were born in the ’80s, like herself, which, the artist says, is the most important limitation of the project. “It is the first generation, at least in Sweden, who had to grow up with worse social conditions than their parents, while the way we consume has changed radically.” Rather than investing in a permanent apartment, Kvist’s models tend to live in sublets, traveling with a few boxes (or Ikea bags) from one short-term arrangement to the next.
Age wasn’t the only requirement; nothing could be left out of the picture. “Everything should be in, but one can hide some stuff in the back,” Kvist says. The models are given carte blanche to arrange their things and give their most valued objects most prominence. “I noticed how quickly they began to ‘compose’ their stacks,” the artist continues. “Much time was devoted to fine-tuning them. They were proud of some things, less of others.” The compositions, in effect, became self-conscious expressions of each participant’s persona.
As for Kvist’s own fight against collecting junk, it may be a losing battle. “Now that I live in Gothenburg, where it’s easier to find a sublet where you can stay longer, I have increased the household goods again. I just recently bought a life-size skeleton made of PVC. I have no further comment.”
In the main, entries to this year’s Interaction Awards were good. The apps, the websites, the interfaces, and the games were slick and sleek. For the most part, they checked the design boxes we have all come to expect. Sure, some seemed to have beamed in from the early days of Netscape, but overall, buttons, pushed, sent you somewhere you thought you might go. Screens, swiped, loaded the information you expected to see.
So far so good, right? After all, isn’t that what we want from our interaction design? That it does what we expect it to do (and then, ideally, that it gets the hell out of our way until we need it again?). Yet, somehow, the main achievement of all of this resolute competence was to confirm the long-held idea: that the very best design–the design that transcends the merely “good”–is way more than skin or screen-deep. As juror Jonas Löwgren, a professor at Malmö University in Sweden, commented, “It feels like interaction design has solidified to become a reliable profession that is to be trusted and relied upon to deliver.” So now what?
As it happens, some clues about the future of the discipline lay among the category winners in the awards program (of which I was a juror). Many of these winners were clearly an integral part of a deeper product strategy. Many also reflected the wider shift away from command-and-control, marketing-driven design projects toward a more symbiotic relationship between design and outcome that’s becoming more common in the world at large. That’s a good thing, though it does make the job of teasing apart and assessing design’s role and impact infinitely tricky. And while “gamification” is such a horrid word that anyone saying it out loud should immediately subtract five points from their personal life score, it’s clear that fun and play are now serious business. Here, a few of the themes we’re likely to see more of in the next few years:
Best in Show went to “Loop Loop,” a musical application for Sifteo, which neatly turns the 1.5” blocks into a tiny interactive music sequencer. It was, commented Jury Chair Robert Fabricant, vice president of creative at Frog, “the only choice for the top award.” What’s most interesting is the layering that becomes possible with these types of products: The hardware developers create a platform that appeals to software designers, who create appealing programs that encourage others to get on and tinker, which influence the later versions of the physical product, and so on. We’ve already seen the success of this approach with platforms such as Apple’s iOS or the relationship between Facebook and its legions of developers (notably Zynga), and others are clearly keen to provide the ecosystem on which others can experiment. As Stimulant’s own team commented in their entry, “We’re anxious to see how the platform evolves.” This combination of a solid foundation built with inherent flexibility that allows users to seize something and make it their own is a key characteristic of many of the digital platforms that will flourish in the years to come.
Moving Beyond the Screen
The People’s Choice award went to “Interaction Cubes” by Fundação Oswaldo Cruz/Museu da Vida, from Rio de Janeiro. Installed as part of a traveling educational exhibition, the modular aluminum structure contains blocks that represent the various chemical elements. Visitors can remove said blocks and use them to activate cues and codes to learn more about each individual element. The exhibit was part of the still-somewhat-nascent move of interaction design away from the pixel and into the physical realm. For many of the judges, this provided the most exciting frontier of all. “Whether you’re using a television set, a coffee machine, a car, an elevator … all that stuff is designed,” commented Jennifer Bove of Kicker Studio, who served as the founding chair of the awards, along with Raphael Grignani. “The opportunities are vast and as our objects and environments become smarter, the more opportunities there are for this to be done badly. After all, behavior isn’t explicit in computer chips; interaction designers are the people who understand how to make things work.”
Seamlessly Integrating Data
Making things work might be one responsibility of the interaction designer; making sense of things is another. We’ve all been swimming in oceans of data for some time now, and the increased access to vast troves of information has led to the growing recognition that someone, somewhere has to provide the means to understand it all. And, as we’ve seen, it’s easier said than done. The word “infauxgraphic” has even been coined for pieces that turn out to be less than insightful or useful. The real challenge for interaction designers is to figure out seamless ways to use data in ways that are genuinely meaningful. “Appie” was a good case in point: The app, designed for a Dutch supermarket chain, accesses the reams of information in the store’s databases to provide real-time information on what products are actually available. It’ll even map the fastest route through a store for a shopper-in-a-hurry. Expect to see more of this type of synchronicity, which provides real utility in an understated yet powerful way.
Empowering the User
“People are more exposed than ever to the numerous choices of what to do to fill their time, to feel important, to feel loved and creative,” commented juror Younghee Jung, designer at Nokia Research in Bangalore, India. For her, this means that designers have a responsibility to use their work to afford users with the feeling that they retain the sense that they are in control, not at the mercy of a design or a format. “ReadyForZero” was a good example of a product that balances deep, built-in complexity with a simple user interface. The online financial program is designed to help people manage and escape debt. Recognizing that every woeful tale of the descent into debt is different and hugely personal, the designers had to ensure a personalized but reliable experience every time. One of the most impressive things about this entry was the attention it paid to its own data: The company claims that those “who regularly use ReadyForZero pay off their debt twice as fast as those who don’t.”
If mastering and maintaining the balance of content and delivery is the hallmark of good interaction design, then meshing the two together seamlessly is surely the mark of something great.
Top image: traffico/Shutterstock
Looking for the newest hot tech company to back? You may want to pay attention. Reid Hoffman is not just LinkedIn‘s co-founder and executive chairman. He’s also one of Silicon Valley’s savviest investors, having gotten in on the latest boom’s hottest ventures. Facebook? Check. Groupon? Check. Zynga? Double check.
Which is why it’s worth paying attention when Hoffman (pictured) decides to toss cash at a new startup. Last fall we told you about Wrapp, the Stockholm-based “social gifting” company that’s the latest idea on how you distribute discounts digitally as a means of getting people into brick-and-mortar stores.
Today, Wrapp announces that Greylock Partners, the venture capital firm where Hoffman is a partner, is participating in a new round of funding in the company, with Hoffman taking a seat on Wrapp’s board. Co-leading the Series A is Atomico, the venture firm formed by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström. The round’s $5 million will be used to fund an expansion of Wrapp, down into Europe and onto U.S. shores.
Wrapp joins Groupon and Coupons.com among the shopping-related investments Hoffman has made. But Hoffman, who has a particular interest in big data, tells Fast Company he sees the potential for new insights once a service like Wrapp gets to scale, insights that can lead to ideas for new products.
“You can see which aspirational brands people are most interested in,” he says. “What do people like to give? What are the triggers and events that lead to gift-giving?”
A recap of how Wrapp works: The service allows you to send gift cards to other people. The cards usually involve a certain amount of free money, like $5 or $10. The system syncs with Facebook, so when you want to send a gift, you select the recipient from your list of friends, and the service tells you what cards that person is eligible for. (Retailers can limit their cards to people who meet certain demographic criteria, like “women aged 20 to 30″ or “men 35 to 50″.) You can add more money to the card (like $30 to a $10 card to a women’s boutique). And since you can publish the gift to Facebook, other friends can click on the status update and add money to the card, in the case of a friend’s birthday, for example. (That’s the “social” part of “social gifting.”)
The service went live in Sweden in mid-November, and so far, the results appear promising. Almost 400,000 cards have been sent so far, with a quarter of a million in December alone. (Wrapp co-founder and CEO Hjalmer Winbladh tells Fast Company there would have been more, but most retailers’ inventories got tapped out.) Two percent of Swedish Facebook users are Wrapp users, and usage is growing 30 percent every week.
What consumers like about the service is clear: Free cash and an easy way to send a gift to a friend. (It all happens electronically.) What retailers like about it is the ability to target exactly the type of consumer they want to get in the door.
A side benefit for retailers is free advertising. The use of the cards in Sweden has produced about 250,000 postings on Facebook–along with about 150,000 Likes–Winbladh says, which translates into about 3.3 million views.
Another pleasant surprise for retailers has been that average purchase amounts per customer haven’t gone down. In the Deals business, some merchants have complained that people using Groupon-type discounts sometimes only spend the amount of the voucher, no more, which defeats the purpose of issuing discounts as a loss leader. Winbladh says that the average amount being spent by customers who enter a store in with a Wrapp discount has remained consistent with what they would have bought otherwise.
Winbladh chalks that up to Wrapp’s targeting mechanism. “Stores can target people with high receipt sizes,” he says. “They can avoid kids 13-18 years old who would just go into Best Buy and use their card to buy a packet of batteries.”
Something else Wrapp has seen since its launch is that people are using Wrapp cards for more than just conventional gift-giving occasions. Users are sending them as thank you’s for a dinner party or for babysitting. “Instead of writing ‘thank you’ on someone’s Wall in Facebook, they’re doing it through Wrapp,” Winbladh says.
Winbladh attributes that to the ease with which a user can send a Wrapp card. And both Winbladh and Hoffman expect that the ease factor will accelrate the social aspect of the service as well (which Wrapp is waiting to turn on until it gets a critical mass of users). When being able to give someone a gift is as easy as shooting them an IM, both men say they think people will happily toss money into gifts started by others, the same way that today, people who wouldn’t necessarily have gone out to buy someone a birthday card now happily send wishes via Facebook, because of the ease involved.
Winbladh says Wrapp plans to expand to the U.S. in the first quarter of this year. They are also ramping up in Europe with plans to launch in the UK in a month.
Saab, the Swedish automaker “born from jets” to build quirky teardrop-shaped cars Kurt Vonnegut once labeled “yuppie uniforms,” has hit the end of the road after 64 years.
Swedish Automobile, the company’s parent, played its last hand today when it filed for bankruptcy in Vanersborg, Sweden. It said it “does not expect to realize any value from its shares in Saab Automobile” and “will write off its interest in Saab Automobile completely.”
Saab CEO Viktor Muller said the company’s fate was sealed when previous owner General Motors rejected a last-ditch bid for the company from Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile Co. Muller, the Dutch entrepreneur who once led supercar manufacturer Spyker, bought Saab from GM almost two years ago. He paid $74 million in cash and $326 million in preferred shares, but couldn’t line up the financing he needed to revamp Saab’s aging lineup and spur sales.
“This is the darkest day in my career, probably in the history of Saab. But we had no other alternatives,” Muller said Monday, according to Swedish media quoted by the Detroit News.
It was an ignominious end to a company that built cool cars known for understated exceptionalism.
Saab’s story started after World War II with a handful of aircraft engineers who wanted to create what they believed were the best cars available. The first model, the Saab 92, featured a two-stroke engine driving the front wheels. It was remarkably aerodynamic, a trait shared by the models to follow.
From those roots grew a company adored by a small but passionate band of enthusiasts who relished Saab’s early adoption of technology like turbochargers in the Saab 99 and overlooked anomalies like putting the ignition switch between the seats.
Though they were, um, unusual, Saabs had a reputation for being dependable and innovative. The company developed dual brake circuits to ensure drivers could stop even if the brakes were damaged. It mounted the ignition between the seats to prevent knee injuries in a crash. And it was the first to offer heated front seats and headlamp washers.
Perhaps the marque’s most notable model was the Saab 900, which appeared in 1978. It drew a cult-like following of owners with a reputation for smoking pipes, teaching English and wearing tweed. The 900 begat the 900 Turbo and then the 900 SPG, sort of a Swedish BMW M3.
General Motors took the reins in 1989 and tried to give Saab broader appeal. It updated the 900 in 1994, which helped, and offered interesting models like the 9-3 Viggen for the gearheads. But Saab was never more than an automotive footnote beyond Sweden, and sales peaked at 133,000 in 2006. Saab sold just 27,000 cars in all of 2009, by which point GM was frantically trying to stay alive.
It was all for naught, though, as Muller and Saab ran out of time, out of money and out of luck. It was perhaps an inevitable end for a company that had been all but dead since March. But Muller isn’t quite ready to pull the plug.
“Even if this may look like the end, it doesn’t necessarily have to be,” he said, according to the Detroit News. “It could be a new beginning and Saab could rise from the ashes like a phoenix.”
Photo: A Saab 92 leaves the factory back in the day. / Saab
Sweden’s people have officially taken over the @sweden Twitter account — and with the blessing of the Swedish government. One Swedish citizen will control the handle each week, tweeting about whatever they’d like, as part of a new project called Curators of Sweden.
“No one owns the brand of Sweden more than its people. With this initiative we let them show their Sweden to the world,” says Thomas Brühl, CEO of VisitSweden, the tourism ministry that had been updating the @sweden account since January 2009.
Curators of Sweden is based around the idea that no single voice can represent the country, so a slew of guest Swedish curators will do the best job to portray the national character.
First to get behind the @sweden helm is Jack Wermer, a writer and marketer, who started his stint on Dec. 10.
“I’ve always enjoyed to show tourists my Sweden and to be able to do it on Twitter feels like a fun and natural step,” Werner says.
VisitSweden says it chose the curators because they represent the country’s values and skills, such as gay rights, fashion, design and innovation. In the coming weeks, @sweden followers can expect tweets from an ad agency founder who owns a farm, a suburban writer, a priest, a teacher and a coffee-drinking lesbian trucker .
In addition to VisitSweden, the Swedish Institute has contributed to the @sweden account in the past year.
What do you think of this idea? Is this Twitter account a great way for the country to express its character or is it merely a bizarre curation-sharing experiment? Should other countries follow suit? Let us know in the comments.
A man from Sweden was arrested after it was discovered he was trying to split atoms and build a nuclear reactor in his kitchen, blogging about the experiment the whole time.
Richard Handl kept radioactive elements radium, americium and uranium in his apartment, but he was arrested only after he had sent a question to Sweden’s Radiation Authority, asking whether what’s he doing is legal.
“I wanted to see if it’s possible to split atoms at home”, Handl said. While it may be possible, it certainly is not legal under Sweden’s law, and Handl may be looking at two years in prison.
Handl kept logs of his experiments on his blog, still available at richardsreactor.blogspot.com. There, he describes his efforts in detail: obtaining hard-to get materials, trying to create nuclear fission, and even having a small “meltdown” in his kitchen after trying to “cook Americium, Radium and Beryllium in 96% sulphuric-acid”.
Like a real scientist, Handl describes details of his arrest calmly and objectively.
“I was ordered by the police to get out of the building with my hands up, then three men came, with geiger-counters and searched me. Then I was placed in a police-car, when Radiation Safety Authory went into my apartment with very advanced measure-tools. So, my project is canceled”, he wrote in the blog.
As the death toll mounts in the most horrific violence Norway has seen since World War II, local police have arrested the suspected perpetrator of both the bombing and the shooting at a children’s summer camp. His name is Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old man reportedly spotted at the scene of the bombing. Police believe he was acting alone.
According to multiple news reports in Norway and Sweden, Brievik belonged to Oslo’s extreme right wing. He was a frequent poster in Norwegian right-wing online forums, the accounts said, and had two guns registered to his name. He also appears to have launched a social media presence just days before the attacks.
In Breivik’s Facebook account, now removed, the suspect identifies himself as a Christian conservative. However, that was far from his only interest. Breivik also listed himself as a fan of World of Warcraft, Modern Warfare 2, bodybuilding and stock analysis. The account, which appeared to have only been started last week, was mostly filled with music videos. Breivik, who listed himself as single, said he had completed “3,000 hours of study in micro and macro finance, religion.”
Breivik appears to have started a Twitter account on the same day as he launched his Facebook presence, July 17. The account, which has not been removed, has just one tweet to its name. It’s a quote from the philosopher John Stuart Mill: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100 000 who have only interests.”
The attacks may well have been politically motivated. The bombing took place outside a building where the Prime Minister, who wasn’t present, has an office. And the purpose of the summer camp on the island of Utoya was to teach teenagers about politics.
Volvo takes safety very seriously, and if it’s going to start building cars with cords it wants consumers to know the technology is every bit as safe as a conventional car.
To that end, the Swedes rolled into the Detroit auto show with a Volvo C30 Electric that’s been bashed in a frontal collision test at 40 mph. We’ve shown you the video already, but it’s still interesting to see the pics and get a look at how the electric drivetrain fared.
“Our tests show it is vital to separate the batteries from the electric car’s crumple zones to make it as safe as a conventional car,” president and CEO Stefan Jacoby said in a statement. “In Detroit we are the first carmaker to show the world what a truly safe electric car looks like after a collision with high-speed impact.”
Volvo says the C30 Electric’s 24 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery was fully charged when the car was tested at its crash test lab early last month. The test in question is an off-set collision in which 40 percent of the front end hit a barrier at 40 mph. The battery and cables connecting the 400-volt system remained intact.
“The front deformed and distributed the crash energy as we expected,” Jan Ivarsson, senior manager of safety strategy and requirements, said in a statement. “Both the batteries and the cables that are part of the electric system remained entirely intact after the collision.”
The pack, which is good for a claimed range of 95 miles, weighs 660 pounds. It is mounted in the center tunnel where the fuel tank is found in the conventional C30. The battery is “robustly encapsulated,’ according to Volvo, and the body structure around the pack is reinforced. Putting the battery in the middle of the car provides optimal protection while centralizing mass.
The 82 kilowatt (110 horsepower) electric motor is under the bonnet where the engine would be. Ivarsson said that required reinforcing the front crumple zones because the motor occupies less space than the engine, which absorbs some of the energy in a collision.
Volvo says all of the cables are shielded for maximum protection. Crash sensors control the system’s fuses, and the same signal that deploys the airbags in a collision cuts power to the drivetrain in 50 milliseconds. Several other fuses cut power if the system detects a short circuit.
Volvo plans to roll out a demonstration fleet of 250 C30 Electric vehicles in Sweden early this year. Another fleet is slated to arrive in the United States later this year.