Design Frictions: Cookbooks and Scribblers

This week, after Jon’s mad tour of SXSW, we started talking about event documentation.

Via Beatrice, I’ve been reading the incredible Allied Media Conference guide on how they run their event. What I love about their documentation is the language they have on what interactive spaces are and how to facilitate them. They also have great diagrams and symbols to illustrate the the often hard-to-explain participatory formats.

This year, I’m excited to document Mozfest. Building on the book we wrote at the first festival in Barcelona in 2010, I can’t wait to team up with the Mozfest Space Wranglers and other participants to better record how we put the event together. Gitbook seems like a particularly good tool for this, and it’s been fun playing around with Webmaker’s version of it, led by Matt Thompson.

Jon has also played a lot with documentation. He recently ran an event where they kicked off the second day with an unusual reflection. Everyone gathered around a stage, coffees in hand. As the photos and notes from the day flickered by on the screen, a singer improvised. She sang in a way that helped people relax and absorb — and at times, she adapted her songs to respond to what was on the screen.

It seems musical reflection invites you to think in a different mode. Through music, the event recap takes on a new quality. You can be more comfortable and ready to be challenged, and more able to soak in the ideas and see new connections.

We also talked about how to make a contract as part of an event. Jon mentioned a pub in Cambridge where you can buy yourself or a friend a drink — to be consumed at a future date. You pay for the drink, get a paper note, and pin it to a wall in the pub. Jon now has a drink waiting for him in five years time back in Cambridge.

Relatedly, through Wikipedia rabbit holing, I also learned the term “exonumia”. It’s a term for tokens, medals, and badges that are not coins but can be used in exchange for something, or as a memento.

In another conversation, Mark Surman talked about how the Whole Earth Catalog had such an strange yet purposeful set of topics. If you skimmed the table of contents, you understood what the project was all about: craft, place, media. Even the collision of topics like nomadics and learning made sense and a told a story.

wholeearth table of contents

I’ve also come across the Dome Cookbook. It seems to be a precursor to the Whole Earth Catalog. Its DIY layouts and amateur scribbling makes it very accessible. You have the sense of not only being able to build these domes, but of writing such documentation yourself.

That’s an interesting pattern:

What are the qualities of documentation that compel the reader not only to feel empowered to do what the documentation describes, but that they too can contribute to documentation?

dome cookbook

Images: How we organize the allied media conference 2015 EDITION. Electronic Whole Earth Catalog (1989). Steve Baer. Dome Cookbook (Lama Foundation, 1967).

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