Runner Spotters

June 2012

film, electronics, software, improvisation, runninglives, rca

Runner Spotters identify and record the runners they see as a hobby. Much as people spot birds, buses or trains.

Runner Spotters is a Critical Design response to the spilt data I exposed in 263 Stories and an examination of our desire to creative narrative from data. I probe our morality by constructing an analogue to the present where this is an everyday activity.

In order to explore the Nike+ data I designed and built a device called P1. This contains an Arduino, Nordic Radio and a Nokia Screen. It is built on a custom printed circuit board. The design exposes its function and communicates its status as a prototype. It is reminiscent of early game consoles to encourage a playful approach. This gives us permission to consider it in different contexts and uses, to improvise with it.

I have found improvisational techniques to be very appropriate for exploring speculative technologies, creating rich characters and scenarios. I consider it to be superior to traditional persona based techniques, where I think the designer controls the characters and outcomes too tightly. With my technique the designer's roll is as director and they must respond to the unexpected paths taken, improvising along with the actors. My film Little Help first used this technique.

Working in collaboration with the actors Adam Lannon and Beatrice Rose, we explored the implications of this technology by developing characters and scenarios over a period of three months.

The resulting short film follows two characters, Samantha a young mother who goes running spotting in the park every morning with her children and a Steve runner who is adjusting to a celebrity the system has brought with the pseudonym Tricky Tony. Through the film we seek to understand a little more about their motivations and experiences.

During this process I was able to test and develop a range of ideas, some of these were incorporated into the final design of the “joglog” device. Throughout the process the actors never saw the device and it remained abstractly in their imaginations.

The characters are deliberately shown to be largely positive and well motivated. This is to contrast with my expectation that the audience will relate this immediately with stalking. However, we do get hints of complexities and perhaps less wholesome intentions of the characters. The film questions the basis on which we prescribe morality. Can a young middle-class mother be doing any wrong?

The resulting “joglog” imagines a consumer electronic device for runner spotting where sightings can be made and traded through social media. A new runner can be named and their story told by the first person that sees them. The name is then shared with all other users.

The Joglog is a working prototype containing an electronic ink display and electronics to receive the Nike+ transmissions on a custom printed circuit board. Specifically it is a rooted Nook Simple Touch with a Sparkfun IOIO for Android. The user interface was developed in collaboration with Jon Sutton of Aint Rocket Science. As a working device the audience are invited to improvise with the technology and imagine themselves in the roll of a spotter.

Exhibited at Show RCA 2012 as part of the Running Lives with Data project.

263 Stories
Improvisation Workshop
Steve aka Tricky Tony
Joglog Internals