It's been 4+ years since my last post. Wondering if anyone is still out there... If so, watch this fantastic video from TED.

Party wearable

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Following the lead of Vivienne Westwood, Diane von Furstenberg has teamed up with Samsung to design a fashion phone. It comes with the "girl-about-town" Cityband -- an arm, wrist, or ankle wrap that keeps "your phone and lip gloss handy while you're on the move." What more could a girl want??

Francine and I were discussing Cityband-like ideas when we did our research on the comfort and function of wearables a few years ago. We told our subjects that an armband they tried on was a "party wearable" and that it could hold a key, money, mints, or other necessities (use your imagination) for a night out.

I also saw something similar -- an armband caddy to use while jogging -- a few months ago at a women's store in Pittsburgh. Because of the potential for movement on the arm, it had a fixed (though stretchy) diameter and fit really tightly around my arm. A cool thing about the Cityband is that it wraps around the arm, which, although probably making a little more bulky, means that it will comfortably fit a range of arm and ankle sizes.

And I just can't let it pass without saying that I wore a much less stylish terrycloth version of this product -- sans cell phone of course -- when I was a kid and used to hang out all summer at the local amusement park with my friends. It held a few bucks and my season pass. (Oh how I wish I had a picture of that thing.)

- Seen in the November issue of Vogue.

This is corny

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If you like fashion and reality TV (like I do), have access to the Bravo channel (like I do), and have always wanted to see the inside of the Parsons School of Design (like I have), you should check out Project Runway. On this new reality series, twelve fashion designers compete for a New York Fashion Week runway show and $100,000 to launch their own clothing line.

I caught the show last night, and was instantly hooked. The challenge for episode one was to design an outfit from materials found at a grocery store. The winner made a dress out of cornhusks, which the judges deemed much more innovative than the outfits made of garbage bags, shower curtains, lawn chairs, mop heads, candy, pantyhose, and cupcake foils. Huh? Yeah, go watch the show. Its regular time is Wednesdays at 10pm Eastern.

Is that a hair in your coffee?

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I love observing how people "dress" their personal technology: bedazzling cell phones, wrapping ipods, toting laptops in stylish bags.

But how far will this trend go?

Now you can dress your paper coffee cup... XS Couture has designed the Fur Cozie -- a fur, leather, and suede java jacket that will keep you from burning your little paws. "The fur provides a luxurious sensual experience, indicating one's distinguished refinement while enjoying their to-go latte." Hahahahaha! Even more laughable is the $85 price tag.

- seen in Dwell magazine

Upcoming conferences

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Next Monday and Tuesday, I'll be attending ISWC in Washington D.C. If you read this and are going to the conference, please look out for me and introduce yourself. I'm excited that this year's program seems to focus less on the (sometimes agonizing) details of wearable technology and more on issues of usability, interaction design and context, topics that have been largely ignored at past conferences.

It's probably a little late to be mentioning this, but there's another interesting conference next week in Ottawa. The Technology and the Body conference will take place November 4 - 6 at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. Conference themes include the built environment, medicine, clothing and adornment, body enhancement, athletics, and the body expressive.

- Thanks to Marc for pointing me to the Technology and the Body conference.

Visions of the future?

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A year ago, TIME published a list of innovations that were predicted to change our lives, but haven't quite had the impact some imagined.

Among the items from "future that wasn't": a jet-propelled backpack that appeared in a 1969 issue of Popular Science. There's a fabulous image of a person in retro-futuristic garb, seemingly flying through mist over a mountain range.

Enjoy.

loop reactive surfaces

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Rachel Wingfield makes amazingly beautiful electronic textiles. Under the name loop, she develops light emitting fabrics for the home that respond to their environment and facilitate visual communication.

Her research and resulting products aim to address big issues like seasonal affect disorder, sustainability, and the use of technology in the home. Digital Dawn (detail shown here) is a window covering that helps to maintain light levels in a room, responding to low light by increasing its own luminosity. Other pieces include a light-emitting bedspread that acts as an alarm clock, a tablecloth that displays where objects have rested for long periods of time, and wallpapers that light up according to noise levels or power consumption.

The intricacy and beauty of these textiles indicate deliberate and thoughtful attention to design. In Rachel's words, "Established notions of aesthetic and beauty do not have to be exchanged for function; therefore an organic interpretation is sought in opposition to the often clinical and futuristic shine of 'intelligent' materials."

Fiberart International

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Fiberart International, a biennial exhibition of contemporary fiber art, is currently showing at Pittsburgh's Society for Contemporary Craft and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

My favorite pieces: intricate, bold tapestries designed by weaver Nancy Jackson. My least favorite piece: the bowl made of fish skin.

If your summer plans don't bring you near Pittsburgh, the show will move to New York's Museum of Arts & Design in September. It's definitely worth checking out if you get the chance.

Dialectric

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Laura MacCary and her father Lawrence MacCary are collaborating on a series of interactive electronic textiles that they call Dialectric. "By interacting with the weaving the viewer physically enters the circuit, and the circuit passes through the viewer, blurring the boundary between them." Touching one piece in the collection causes LEDs to light up, while touching another causes audible clicks.

The output of the weaves isn't based on a simple on/off switch. Instead, how you touch the fabric (providing more or less skin surface area) affects the intensity of the light or the frequency of the clicks. Commerical fabric circuits (such as those from SOFTswitch used in flexible keyboards or MP3 jackets) also share this resistive property, but they certainly don't exploit it. There's a huge potential for analog input to allow for more emotionally rich expression and interaction with fabric, so it's exciting to see the MacCarys exploring this area.

If you're in the Seattle area, you can play with these pieces at Illuminator2 from June 25 - July 31.

Adidas has developed a running shoe that senses changes in surface conditions and running style and adjusts the amount of heel cushioning accordingly.

Technology analyst Rob Enderle was quoted in the NY Times, "Of all items of clothing, the shoe is a logical one to be a focus of wearable technology. Unlike articles of clothing that must be washed or cleaned, shoes present a more stable place to add useful electronics."

Washing is one challenge, but designing new interaction techniques for articles of clothing is another. The interface on the Adidas shoe consists of two buttons (one with a "+" and one with a "-") for adjusting the desired cushioning level. The symbols are ambiguous though. Does "+" mean more firm or more cushiony? There's also a row of five tiny LEDs that indicates the current setting. I've found that light patterns aren't always as easy to interpret as designers expect them to be, so hopefully the mapping is straightforward and has been tested with potential wearers.

I'm a little bothered that Adidas is planning on shipping the shoes with a CD-ROM to explain how to use them and change the batteries. Granted, people may initially need some extra help learning how to interact with computerized shoes, but ultimately these types of products need to be designed in a way that doesn't require extensive instructions.

The shoe, called the Adidas 1, is slated to come out in December with a price tag of $250.