City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Welcome to ‘A Chair in a Room’

Written in


Dear readers —

I just published a four-part series addressing Avo, a new game (or is it a TV show?) by Playdeo. Avo is a fascinating hybrid of videogame, television show, augmented reality and other mobile interactions, created by alumni of BERG, of Little Printer fame. I discuss it the context of Google’s Stadia and Apple’s Arcade, as well as our so-called ‘Golden Age of TV’ and the recent (somewhat)interactive Black Mirror show ‘Bandersnatch’, for Netflix.

Avo, Stadia, Arcade, Bandersnatch, and the New Grammar of Television (and Games)

The posts cover interaction design, videogames, television, film, augmented reality, and media platforms, with reference to Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut, Yatatoy and Star Wars, MG BGTs and the ZX Spectrum, Henry James and Marshall McLuhan, Grace Hopper and the Seattle Public Library, and Daniel Arijon’s classic Grammar of the Film Language, with some quick sketches by me. Enjoy!

Avo, and designing for interactive cinematography and editing

As they often drill into interactive product design, the Avo series has a clear relationship with some of my favourite pieces from the last couple of years, often addressing physical interactions with technology, particularly Internet of Things-based products, or so-called smart devices.

That includes ‘Let there be light switches: From dark living rooms to dark ecology’, which looks at the design, and perhaps meaning, of the light switch itself (this written for the Design Museum).

‘Let there be light switches’

Also, ‘Things That Don’t Work Yet’, addressing Roli Blocks, musical technologies, and designing connected objects in general (a longer version of a piece written for Disegno).

Things That Don’t Work Yet

And of course, given Avo’s heritage, the piece for Domus concerning Little Printer itself, which addresses this ‘new domestic landscape’ of interactive products and services.

Little Printer: designing the new domestic landscape

Finally, a favourite piece from that Domus ‘Supernormal’ series I edited, concerning that bright yet brief shooting star that was the last great Nokia phone: ‘Portable cathedrals: the Nokia N9, and contemporary product design’.

‘Portable cathedrals: the Nokia N9, and contemporary product design’

But the Avo series also reaches right back to some earlier parts of my career, particularly at the BBC, and the work we did there around the form of media on the web, and how that would change media itself.

These would include ‘Binge Watching contemporary TV’, from way back in 2006, as well as ‘Why Lost is Genuinely New Media’. They build on the product strategy work my team did at the BBC, such as ‘Ripples: The Social Life of a Broadcast’, from 2004. Interesting to see how those concepts hold up 15 years on — some do, some don’t.

‘Why Lost is Genuinely New Media’

The Avo series also draws on a fair chunk of writing on videogames, which I’m slowly migrating to Medium. Many crop up in my writing about cities, actually, which can be found in my publication I Am A Camera; such as this piece from 2004, about Collateral, Grand Theft Auto, Los Angeles Plays Itself: Los Angeles: Grand Theft Reality.

‘Los Angeles: Grand Theft Reality

Finally, watch this space for a write-up of my work last year with Punkt, on their MP02 phone, working with my old team at Arup, Studio Folder in Milan, and Jasper Morrison’s studio.

The title A Chair in a Room is drawn from the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen’s maxim:

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context — a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”

I started as an interaction designer, and progressed slowly to strategic designer, so in some way that maxim describes both my career, and an overarching design principle. I’ve always found it useful, interesting and provocative to try to design at both the micro and macro simultaneously, taking into account the wider context, as well as the functional, technological or social details of interactions. It frames my work in strategic design (read more at Dark Matter and Trojan Horses), or with technology and the city (read more at But What Was The Question?)— but was drawn from a lot of the work, or subjects or principles, covered in the articles here.

Please, have a read, and post thoughts, comments and reactions. Thanks!


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