Social Design using feedback loops: guides and manuals


For Wired Magazine, Thomas Goetz looks at the idea of feedback loops and how they can be used as a powerful tool that can help change people’s behavior in Feedback Loops Are Changing What People Do.

The basic premise is that technology has advanced to a point that sensors have become cheap and powerful enough that data (ie: ubicomp) the key and necessary precursor to establishing a feedback loop, can be captured and transmitted about a wide range of factors. Which creates the possibility of increasing energy efficiency, medication administration compliance or calming traffic. The key however is for the design to be straight-forward. Goetz quotes David Rose

The best sort of delivery device “isn’t cognitively loading at all,” he says. “It uses colors, patterns, angles, speed—visual cues that don’t distract us but remind us.” This creates what Rose calls “enchantment.” Enchanted objects, he says, don’t register as gadgets or even as technology at all, but rather as friendly tools that beguile us into action. In short, they’re magical.

To me this implies a sort of pre-cognitive design. Reptilian or primordially evocative. Something that is almost instinctual affective. Early versions of this sort of interventional designed trigger ie: can be found in the example of  projects like Amphibious Architecture

which submerged ubiquitous computing into the water—the substance that makes up 90% of the Earth’s inhabitable volume and envelops New York City but remains under-explored and under-engaged. Two networks of floating interactive tubes, installed at sites in the East River and the Bronx River, house a range of sensors below water and an array of lights above water. The sensors monitor water quality, presence of fish, and human interest in the river ecosystem. The lights respond to the sensors and create feedback loops between humans, fish, and their shared environment. An SMS interface allows citizens to text-message the fish, to receive real-time information about the river, and to contribute to a display of collective interest in the environment.

How could such designs use feedbacks loops to highlight a psychology of ecologies. Creating social ecologies that are based on visible data, instruments for evolving environment ecologies. Wherein the idea of prosociality has been extended to include all species not just our own? This could result in an experimental altruism of ecological infrastructure(s). Soft infrastructures of resilience.

Next, think about the  idea of gamification. Of social gaming or networked social economies. Non-currency based earnings. Recently I read

A few hours of raking leaves might build up points that can be used in a gardening game. And the games induce people to earn more points, which means repeating good behaviors. The idea, Krejcarek says, is to “create a bridge between the real world and the virtual world. This has all got to be fun.”

Could this idea be applied to infrastructural, urban landscape design? I have wondered before about how one might create a less capital intensive form of maintenance. Could one solution be a form  based more on a knowledge building, community creating, recreational-volunteerism? It seems like one could take the growth of games like FarmVille to the next level.  Applying the concept of gamification to community development or urban ecologies. The result being a sort of social design (by designing social interactions and using social interactions to shape more traditional designed things/scapes) using feedback loops to develop recreational modes of doing and learning.

Finally, their would be in such a program a need for an owner/player, manual of sorts. Every game has one, right? Recently,  faslanyc in Surveying the Field: Guides and Manuals, wrote about the possibilities of the manual.

we are interested in the possibility that landscape and architectural practice might move away from the plan set and capital project as the sole primary document for design and towards a more open arrangement defined by the manual.  As Brett Milligan of F.A.D. and Rob Holmes of Mammoth recently noted, we had a chance to work this idea out a bit in the most recent issue of MonU.

He went on to contrast two genres: guides  and manuals. Whereas “the guide is a commercial endeavor” focused on identification the “emphasis of the manual is technique- the manner and ability of a person to employ the specialized skills to execute specific procedures.  The manual is instrumental and operational”  Then closing with “When the maintenance manual- already a part of traditional design projects, albeit a neglected and unglamorous part- is considered in conjunction with the theoretical and speculative efforts to construct landscapes that are more open, performative, and adaptive over time, the manual might be repositioned in design projects as the primary document, with plans becoming secondary.

 In conclusion what is the importance of manuals?  I would argue that particularly in the current economic times of austerity the importance of manuals is increased. For after all aren’t manuals more about manual (labor) rather than capital (flows). Many people also have more time than money now. Even in my case a manual could be a tool for strategizing. For the manual helps to sort the easily achievable from the more prophetically desired. In the end a manual can perhaps be thought of as a document focused more on the how to (including whens and wheres) than the final what. Yet, I would like to think that the manual can also be a form of critical speculative design as others have already articulated more clearly

re: Andrea Badoer, Karl Kasthofer, Willy Lange et al. and SOM’s Weyerhaeuser Headquarters

First, the Forests installation view at the CCA. © CCA, Montréal

Marcelo López-Dinardi reviews First, The Forests, a new exhibit at CCA. The curatorial project is “organized under four categories that provide the interpreter with a synthetic view of the complex and larger phenomenon of forestry and nature. These are: Bureaucratic Forestry, Scientific Forestry, Tropical Forestry and Economic Forestry“.

In Domus

re: decolonial ways of knowing from a queer hemispheric text

Approaches to addressing climate change that are unconcerned with its racial and colonial implications will ultimately perpetuate them. Attempts to absorb environmentalism into capitalism and neocolonialism can never address the forms of racial violence that emerge as ecological destruction…Gómez-Barris’s book begins to do this work…offers a glimpse into what kind of world may be possible through the everyday practices and knowledges of submerged perspectives

A review of Macarena Gómez-Barris’s new book The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives (Duke University Press, 2017) by Megan Spencer.

via New Inquiry.

Recently in Places re; architectural renderings, a Postwar nascent homemaker rehabilitation movement, the Los Angeles River and hospice design

Back in April, Susan Piedmont-Palladino published “the Uncanny Valley“, about architecture, digital drawing and photo-realistic rendering. She first argues.

Architecture demands an intersection; but not a total eclipse. When reality eclipses the imagination, the result is banality; when the imagination eclipses reality, then we have abandoned architecture for the untethered spheres of science fiction, or gaming, or art. It’s at this point that images become ends in themselves rather than representations of a plausible new reality.

She then identifies two specific tells of uncanniness in this context; 1) deployment of perspective and 2) a performative inclusion of (happy) people in a drawing.


Later, Barbara Penner explored how the issues of gender, disability, and user-centeredness have been relegated to the far margins of architectural history. Yet, we read.

Home economics comprised not only corporate consultants like Frederick but also university-based researchers such as the ones pursuing disability studies, who had a different audience and approach…Cornell’s College of Home Economics had a dedicated department of housing and design in which an all-female staff of seven instructors taught subjects ranging from furniture refurbishment to farmhouse planning. Over many decades, they developed a distinct mode of design education and practice characterized by cooperation, skills sharing, and a highly customized body-centered approach.


Then in May, Vittoria Di Palmaand and Alexander Robinson reviewed the epic struggle for control, which characterizes the history, between Los Angeles and its river.  With a hopeful look towards recent and ongoing attempts at an arts-led, DIY, revitalization.

Indeed, the remarkable activity generated by the Los Angeles River — which as yet remains largely a concrete channel bisected by a thin course of water — testifies to the profound power of the city’s desire for ecological redemption and urban rebirth, and to ways in which civic or even poetic acts have found purchase within a byzantine network of managerial interests. Nonetheless there remains the distinct possibility that moneyed interests will distort the original ideals. Even as Los Angeles seems to pulsate with the river’s irrepressible spirit, the river’s future is clouded by a fog of unresolved social, technical, and environmental factors.


Finally, Dr. Nitin K. Ahuja raises some concerns regarding trends “toward more formally ambitious hospice design” which utilize “evidence-based design” and “best practices” or on the flip-side, domesticated, home-hospice like spaces.

In the end although, he does believe in the merits of palliative care, he favors an “unbraiding of its clinical, economic, and aesthetic justifications. As far as aesthetics go, I’m with Nuland — I’ve seen enough vulnerability at the end of life to know that a bit of grisliness is inescapable.