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On October 23, the decoded conference took place in Munich for the first time, and I (i.e. Moritz Stefaner) was fortunate enough to be among the invited speakers. The topics ranged from generative design over data visualization up to hardware tinkering and media arts, a spectrum probably of interest to most infosthetics readers. So I thought you would appreciate a little retrospective on the event, even if it should be taken with a grain of salt, as my general attitude towards events that put me on a big stage and cover my expenses is quite positive in general.

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First up on stage were Hartmut Bohnacker and Benedikt Groß, part of the author team for the fabulous book "Generative Gestaltung", which, unsurprisingly, covers a variety of projects and techniques in the emerging field of generative design. Unfortunately, it is currently only available in German, but I hear international versions are planned. Consequently, their talk covered a wide range of projects and techniques from the field. The presentation was capturing, with lots of dynamic elements and smart little narrative ideas. I have the feeling these two guys could even explain to my grandparents why playing with processing code is cool.

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Next up was Mario Klingemann, a code tinkerer and "computational artisan" as he puts it. He likes to throw together techniques from image processing, artificial intelligence, visualization and other disciplines with often quirky and surprising results. Among his projects were Mona Tweeta, the attempt to compress Mona Lisa into a tweet, image transformations based on Voronoi maps, and many other digressions drom beaten paths. Fun talk from a loveable and inspiring - I'll say it - artist.

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Next on stage was yours truly. I tried something new and started with a quick runthrough of 8,000 years of visualization history - a topic I would like to learn much more about myself. I then proceed to discuss and show some behind-the-scenes material from my projects Eigenfactor, X by Y, Revisit and Map your Moves, and ended with some remarks on the process and practice of information visualization. So you could say I played it safe, but, honestly, I do not talk in front of 300 people everyday. Overall, I was quite happy with how things went and from what I gathered in feedback, the talk was received quite well. But - in case you have seen it - I am also always happy to hear on how to improve!

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After a break, the show took a slightly different direction with //////////fur////, two media artists probably best known for their painstation installation, a gaming console running a pong clone, with the twist that it punishes losing players with electric shocks, and who pulls his hand back first, loses the game. The installation was quite a smash hit when it comes to media arts, and it lead them around the world for a couple of years. As most of the first half of their talk was about this installation from the mid-2000s, I became a bit worried that I might be witnessing a one-hit wonder, touring with the same song over and over again. But luckily they proceeded to show some more fabulously inventive projects, among which a fully mechanic fight duel console, an original pinball machine which you could wear as a virtual reality helmet, and finally a hardrock installation, which was controlled by headbanging gestures and featuring the priceless mechanical "godfather of metal". Very entertaining.

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The event closed with Massimo Banzi, the inventor of Arduino, a low-cost and very hackable micro-controller. He showed a variety of projects realized with Arduino and shared some anecdotes like Arduinos going to space in satellites which, in fact, he admitted to be a bit scared about. Although personally I am not into hardware tinkering at all, I realize that projects like this have a tremendous value from a hacking, researching and educational point of view, and together with the Makerbot scene are one of the fields quickly revolutionizing whole industries. In addition, Massimo is a very humble and entertaining person with a great stage presence, which made him the much celebrated highlight of the conference.

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Overall, we saw a well-organized event with a great atmosphere and lots of little, but smart "event design" decisions: starting at 4pm and ending at 11pm was friendly to visitors from other cities and enabled a seamless transition into the after-event party (instead of always difficult mass-dinner reservations). Between every talk, there was a break precisely 15 minutes, indicated by a huge countdown projection. This gave enough space to catch some air or grab a snack, but also made reminded everybody to be back in time. Very German, very effective.

According to the organizers from envis precisely and reppa.net, a sequel is planned fpr next year, and they think about switching to English as presentation language, which will be good news for many of you. One thing that will be interesting to watch is how the relationship with the see conference develops, as this one is definitely oriented in a very similar direction and has been around for 5 years already. But with the 6 month break in between, I am confident there is place for both of these conferences, even if their orientation stays similar.

Concerning documentation, here is the official flickr stream, my presentation (others should be available soon from the decoded site) and after a while, the video recordings from the talks will be available, too. I am already looking forward to next year's edition, which I will probably enjoy from the comfortable regular visitor seat.

This post was written by Moritz Stefaner, a researcher and freelance practitioner on the crossroads of design and information visualization. Occasionally, he blogs at well-formed-data.net.

Photo credit: Anna McMaster

1 COMMENT

Great summary of the event! Thanks!

Fri 12 Nov 2010 at 7:29 PM
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