Blogging as reflective practice

You are reading a blog that started off about art practice-based research charting
the journey of doing a phd. It explores alternative ways of using hand held devices
to create print-based interactive artworks using graphical tagging such as QR-codes.
Art, design, technology and craft were the main themes in writing. But life gets in the
way, and over this journey the story takes unexpected happy twists along the paths
of having a baby, going on a UK Digital Economy Sandpit, meeting fanstastic people,
and subsequent group success in funding for a large multidisciplinary research
project called TOTeM.

Entries in qr code (19)

A nice surprise

Last year I worked with Maria Burke from Salford University on a paper for the Information Systems Journal, about the case studies that they had been doing at Salford for the TOTeM project. The work at Salford had concentrated on the business contexts in which Tales of Things could be applied and they had done extensive work with real estate agents. I was invited to join in writing the paper because I could add to the theorhetical and conceptual aspects of the paper in the areas of presence and connectivity. We'd submitted the paper last year and had it knocked back because the epistemological aspects were not clear, so we had reworked it a bit before other priorities put in it on the backburner. About 3 months ago, we finally got round to resubmitting, but because it had been so long in the process and there had been so  much to-ing and fro-ing, I forgot about it. So it came as a lovely surprise to get an email from ISJ to say that the paper has now been published! 

The paper is called The Business of Digital Storytelling - abstract to appear in the abstracts section of this website very soon!

Posted on Tuesday, October 29, 2013 at 09:09PM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

TOTeM and Oxfam's Shelflife

Today the TOTeM team and Oxfam launched their collaboration Shelflife. It will be rolled out in 10 Oxfam shops around Manchester. Oxfam's press release:

Ever wished an object could tell its story? That’s the idea behind Oxfam’s unique pilot scheme, Oxfam Shelflife, launching on 27 February in 10 Oxfam shops across Manchester. The Oxfam Shelflife app uses QR codes to enable the public to discover the stories behind Oxfam’s donated, ethical and Unwrapped products, and even share their own stories for the items they donate.

The project is the latest innovation from Oxfam which promotes sustainability by encouraging people to look beyond disposable consumerism. The stories behind vintage and second-hand items are all part of their desirability. At the moment these stories can be lost when an item is acquired by a new owner but Oxfam Shelflife enables the stories to stay with the items in a more long-lasting way.

Oxfam’s Sarah Farquhar, Head of Retail Brand said: “Every item has a story to tell and Oxfam Shelflife enables people to share these stories. We’ve found that items with an interesting story behind them are instantly more appealing to our customers so we hope Oxfam Shelflife will encourage people to love items for longer. This commitment to sustainability is an important part of what Oxfam shops bring to the high street.”

The scheme allows donors to ‘tag’ a QR code to their donated object, using the free Oxfam Shelflife app on their iPhone and share the story behind the item for the next owner to discover. Shoppers who visit the participating Oxfam stores can then scan the QR code on the item, via the app, which will take them to the unique story behind the object. Usually QR codes direct users to a website or URL but the Oxfam Shelflife app enables users to engage and interact with the technology, taking QR codes on to a new level.

The concept behind Oxfam Shelflife is based on an original idea developed by the Tales of Things initiative (TOTeM: Tales of Things and Electronic Memory), a collaboration between five British universities: University College London, The University of Edinburgh/Edinburgh College of Art, Brunel University, the University of Dundee and the University of Salford. The TOTeM initiative was funded by a £1.4m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Dr Chris Speed from the Edinburgh College of Art and part of the TOTeM team said: “Oxfam Shelflife has the potential to transform shops from places of consumption into places of stories and reflection. Shopping is no longer about buying things from unknown people in unknown places, instead the Oxfam Shelflife app will allow people to ‘write’ their stories on to products and help prevent them heading for the landfill.”

To find out more about the Oxfam Shelflife project and find a participating shop visit

Its been a long time in the making and Chris Speed tells the tale  of how it all came about on his blog.

Posted on Monday, February 27, 2012 at 10:00PM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , , , | CommentsPost a Comment

Tales of Things goes to Sensation’s Family Fun Day 

As part of the Dundee Science Festival, Tales of Things will have a pop-up stand at the Family Fun Day this Sunday the 13th of November. Bring in a favourite object which has a good story and we'll capture the story using the tales of things platform, giving you a unique QR code for your object. We'll show you how others can scan the code with a mobile phone and see your story for themselves. Taking place at Sensation Dundee Science Centre, Greenmarket DD14BQ, from 1 - 4pm.

ISEA Istanbul 2011

What a fantastic 5 days! I couldn’t attend the full 14 because I have to go out to IMPACT in Australia, but what I did see was full of great papers and really interesting talks! I really enjoyed a panel about 6 x 6/36: An Artists Book/ Exhibition project where they were using QR code stickers distributed in small books. The French group “nunc” are exploring similar areas to me, in terms of the physical artefact being augmented with digital content but coming at them from slightly different perspectives. Jesvin Yeo of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore also gave an interesting talk about experimental typography in the gallery using RFID tagging to trigger interactive works.

A boat trip on one of the evenings was also a great way to see Istanbul, both the Asian and European sides from one viewpoint in the middle, though after a long day of conferencing, a 3 hour networking event (sans drinks & nibblies)  with even more talks was maybe a little too much… still I felt that I got in as much as could!

I would have loved to have stayed longer to see a bit more of Istanbul, which is an incredible city and I would have loved to have seen a bit more of the Biennale, but the next conference calls, and off again I go to my next destination!

The writing is on the wall... or is it?

One of the aspects I’ve been exploring in my Coded Moments exhibition is the use of a QR code on the wall in place of an artists’ statement. Each user I test on, I ask about how they find reading the artist statement on a device, as opposed to on the wall. I’m testing across users of differing confidence with the tech and across different age groups, and it is amazing how much of a consensus is starting to form. More info about this when testing is over and I've analysised the data to make sure.

Given my previous blog posts, it has just occurred to me that perhaps I should post up what my artist statement says for this exhibition, to contextualise what has been happening in the gallery, so here it is:

“These cyanotypes articulate experiences after the birth of my son. The works take the viewer on a journey through the first sleep deprived months of fog and confusion to the clarity and confidence, which evolve as one comes to terms with their new situation. Ever conscious of those who have warned that I should treasure every moment because the “time goes so quickly” this work is about moments. Not specific moments, which are attached to individual memories and often captured in photography, but rather universal yet intimate moments, identified by many new parents.

The artworks you see here are working prototypes which are being tested and used to develop final works for a solo exhibition in Australia in September. During this exhibition for the small society lab, both the prints and their accompanying digital media content will undergo changes as they are worked on & respond to user feedback. They are part of doctoral research exploring the relationships between mobile tagging, printmaking and gallery spaces.”

More than I bargained for…

As my exhibition of Coded Moments continues in the Small Society Lab, I’ve been using the gallery space to do user testing on the artworks. This type of testing is not that common in art because art is so subjective, but when there are interactive elements to a work, if nothing else one should test that users don’t get frustrated trying to interact with it… unless, of course this is the aim of the work. 

I’ve been using methods that researchers at Beta Space at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney have used where participants are filmed interacting with the work, and then afterwards interviewed while watching the video to talk through with the researcher what they were doing and thinking at the time. There are pros and cons for this method, in that people can get on and enjoy the work (as much as they can whilst being filmed), but then they may not remember what they thought at the time. On the flip side the “talking through method” where a user verbalises everything they do can be distracting and take away from what they are getting out of the work. This would be particularly so with my work, hence opting for the former method.

I’ve also found that the fact that some people forget what they were thinking is actually really telling data in itself. The works in Coded Moments are very personal and aimed at connecting with others, and one work in particular touches on elements of, for some people, what would be considered a taboo subject matter. Initially my aims were to find out things about my works from a fairly practical point of view, in terms of interactivity and also in terms of aesthetics. What I did not expect is how much insight my own artworks are giving me into other people. I worried that there were works that some people might find a little disturbing, what I didn’t realise is that actually hardly anyone does and many people even find them happy. But when one of these works does hit a raw nerve in a participant, the effect is far stronger than I could have conceived. Noone has been traumatised by the works – all participants have assured me they are fine, but I had no idea when I had set up the codes, images, titles and audio that the combination could be quite so powerful for certain people.

I feel a little in an ethical bind: the hard thing is that the images are deliberately ambiguous and the audio evocative. Its what the participants are filling in in their own minds that is causing the responses, not anything I have created per se. I can’t predict  when I ask someone to come and test the work, how they are going to join the dots  - indeed that is why I am testing this work. I went down the path of doing user testing expecting the fairly functional responses one gets when testing design work. The literature I’ve read on it in relation to art seemed to imply that this would be the case. But for my works, which I guess are about an area of life that can be so highly emotionally charged, I am getting far more than I bargained for.

That’s the thing with art research -  the art itself has to have content, even if the research is about art practices rather than the content. In my case the responses to that content, which are really informative are a “by-product” of my research into how graphical tags mediate engagement with art and art-making along the physical -digital continuum. It's great in that my works are eliciting some amazing insights into a particularly interesting subject matter, just a pity that at the moment some of these are way outwith the scope of my phd and I’ll have to put them on ice until I’ve finished. That is the only way I feel can do justice to both my phd and the by-products that are coming out the artworks I am making for it.

Its always alright on the night

The launch of the Small Society Lab and my works Coded Moments went really well. I was really surprised at the amount of positive feedback, and what is up at the moment is a set of prototypes for user testing.

For the Small Society Lab, because I didn't have time to do anything else, I hosted the audio for my works on audioboo, which was great in that I could see how many people scanned the works. It wasn’t so good, though when my works generated so much traffic that for about half an hour we crashed Audioboo! So there was a time when my works weren’t being scanned, but hey, people could still look at the pretty pictures on the wall, so not all was lost… indeed that is an illustration of why the tangible physical parts of my work are so important.

Later I looked at the stats on Audioboo and found out that two works in particular had had over 250 scans in the space of three hours!

Posted on Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 12:56PM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , , | Comments1 Comment

An answer to Linkrot? 

I’ve been on the search for a way of creating QR codes which don’t route via another server before sending the user to the correct url and  I think I may have found one. Up until now, I’d been using i-nigma who I think are pretty good, until I noticed the url that the code generates is not exactly the same as the one I type into the box. Look at the pic below and compare the web address with the source that is being generated, you'll see it goes via i-nigma first:

Kerem Erkan who has developed his own QR code and 2D code generator may be the answer. His site generates a range of different graphical tags, not just QR codes and he has quite a good range of functionality in what you can link to, for example iPhone app urls, or things like Encoding the last tweet of a user, as well as the usual browsing to urls etc. He has a good comments section and is quite fast in his replies. I asked him this question:

Hi Kerem,
I notice that you’ll be moving your QR code generator to a new domain in the next few months. Will the codes created today at this url, still work once you do that? Am I right in assuming that qr codes generated on your site actually have additional info, in the 1st few characters of the url that routes via your servers before out into the big wide world? How will this be maintained long term?

 His answer a couple of hours later was:

 “The codes generated on this generator are not bound to this site. When you generate them, you are done with this site and they would continue working even if this site would completely vanish from the internet.”

 It almost sounds too good to be true! I guess, time will tell, so I’ll start generating my QR codes here see how things go. The site also has excellent information on what to do with QR codes and the differences between different graphical tags.

Posted on Monday, May 9, 2011 at 02:54PM by Registered CommenterSimone O'Callaghan in , , , , | Comments3 Comments
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