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Nov 22, 2005 3:46am

drang nach oakland

I'm back home in CA.

Last week I had the good luck to attend Design Engaged in Berlin. It was a mind-expansively great time. Thirty-five designers from Europe, Asia and the U.S. converged on Andrew's second micro-conference. I heard so much good stuff about last year's Amsterdam event that I just had to beg or steal my way into this one. The reward was a weekend-long series of talks and directed conversations which covered a much wider range of topics than your typical tech/nerd conference. My own interest was piqued by design for our post-cheap-energy future (Adam read a little Jacobs and Kunstler), exercise machines as a joy (Dance Dance Revolution) instead of a chore (24Hour Fitness), mechanizing thoughtwork, metals which snap into liquid form at low temperatures, and Malcolm McCullough's musings on ambience and uniformity. I don't recall a single official invocation of wiki's, long tails, or anything-onomies (though Thomas was there).

My favorite aspect of the whole affair was the design of the conference itself. Despite an inauspicious beginning with chairs arranged in neat rows, the scheduled 20-minute presentations frequently evolved into conversations once Q and A got started. The conversation-starter sessions were overall the most engaging for me - these were talks on the short side that presented a few themes or arguments (or fun crafts projects) and then yielded the floor to the rest of the group. They had a call and response feel to them that I greatly enjoyed, with just enough structure to keep the thing flowing but not so much that I was ever forced to travel to the laptop-planet for a break. Two participants planned events instead of presenting - Matt designed a button-trading game which won us (Stamen) a Nokia N90, and Mike set up a series of neighborhood walks that bagged us (myself, Gem, Anne, Andrew, Joshua, Liz) a personal tour of Schoenburg from Erik Spiekermann.

I find it interesting that every time I detour to Poland, I fly back with another Norman Davies tome in tow. This time it's Heart Of Europe AND Rising '44, but I've only had time to crack the first. Adam's talk Design For Decline seriously hits home with me, because when I visit Wroclaw (the town, the book) I'm constantly made aware of the fact that 60 years ago the city was a Dante's Inferno of post-war terror. Buildings are riddled with bullet holes. Neighborhoods where family members live were attack vectors of the Red Army. Expelled Germans come back to check out their old homes. For all my good-O'Reillyite optimism about our Google-Wikipedia future, it's only been a few years since the last time Europe convulsed into total war. It's hard to trust in unfettered progress when you're from a country that blinks into and out of existence every few generations.

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