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


Bucking the trend elsewhere, these newsletters from me are so infrequent that they may as well be sent by donkey. But here goes with a few pointers to recent pieces at A chair in a room. Some are not recent at all, but a tidying up of old pieces from, reaching as far back as 2002. They’ve had links fixed, images updated, and some words polished, but essentially they’re re-posted at Medium just as they were.

For me, almost two decades on, they’re particularly useful, helping me see what seemed relevant both then and now. But you may enjoy too. Each of them describes ideas, experiences, or contexts not usually in the design discussion, but I’d argue that—despite the tongue-in-cheek allusion to timewasting in the title here—they are subjects that can shed genuinely interesting light on design practice. And so they’re relevant here, in A chair in a room, about the design of interactions, experiences, and things.


An appearance on the MusicTechFest podcast, in conversation with Andrew Dubber, prompted me to locate early pieces reflecting on music user experience, music culture, design and data for music, and more besides. The big one here is New Musical Experiences, from 2005, which explores everything from player pianos and boomboxes through the iPod Shuffles and podcasting (and mp3 blogs!). I got a lot wrong with this piece, but a fair amount is still surprisingly relevant.

Related to that, some initial thrills of using the iPod, shuffling through the city streets in both senses, with a device that I suggested ‘may change everything’ (no s***, Sherlock.) See also my sketch for an imagined device called an iPod projector (image above). We still don’t quite have this (although Google’s home hubs, combined with cellphones, get close), and possibly for good reason—but there may still be something there. Related speculation: a time-based interface for Google Earth, featuring a creakingly old animated gif.

Even earlier, reflections on the early music streaming services Echo, which very few will remember now, but was basically, in 2002, almost everything that Spotify is now. It’s a good example of being problematically ahead of your time. Even earlier again, from November 2001, a posting from an information architecture mailing list on genres and record shops.

See also: on the sound of electric cars, and what that could be, for places.


I wrote a lot about videogames (as media, and platform) almost a year or so ago, reflecting on Avo, the brilliant combination of augmented reality, phone-based game, and TV show, by BERG, the folks behind Little Printer and more besides. But videogames had long been a topic within my writing. They include numerous thoughts and insights driven by breakthrough innovations of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto 3 alone, such as this on the game’s shifting social topography. (There are many more pieces on videogames in I am a Camera.)


Of course, often filed next to videogames in the ‘waste of time’ section of your local library are comic books. Yet there is much to learn here, as a designer, and peerless works like Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics were, and still are, huge influences on my generation of designers. There’s lots more to write about that, but you can hear hints of it in my 2002 writing about Watchmen and Unbreakable. (Again, there’s more, with a cities bent, in I am a Camera).


And a couple on digital models of physical spaces, but from my own angle, well outside of the digital twins rhetoric I recently wrote about, or the more utilitarian world of AutoCAD and the like. The oldest concerns a model of the State Library of Queensland’s wifi, which I built to help the Library understand wifi as a physical space, as if a structure (this work helped unlock a huge expansion of the Library’s wifi service, as well as an entirely new building and service next door.) The other suggests that a digital model of Robin Hood Gardens is not the same as Robin Hood Gardens—again, perhaps a useful bit of perspective given the clamouring for digital twins. Some notes-to-self on Malcolm McCullough’s Ambient Commons (2013) may also be of interest, as might be my review of Actar’s 2007 book on Japanese architecture firm SANAA.

As precursors to those, some even more fundamental pieces, such as my notes on Tom Moran’s speech ‘Everyday Adaptive Design’, from Designing Interactive Systems 2002. This talk, for me, was a revelation, and shaped so much of what was to follow in my career. You can still perceive that sensation of something emerging reading my sketchy, hesitant notes. It shaped the piece I wrote for Dan Saffer’s seminal 2006 book Designing Interactive Systems, and much more besides. I owe Mr. Moran a lot.

Eat the world with your eyes, everyone. Until next time.

Dan Hill, Stockholm.

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