First, Do No Harm

The Road to the Gulag is Paved With Good Intentions

The Road to the Gulag is Paved With Good Intentions...On Powerpoint

“At a minimum, a presentation format should do no harm.” – Edward Tufte


In a 2003 piece for Wired.com, Edward Tufte of Yale University raised the following in a criticism of Powerpoint slideshows:

“Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn’t. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall.”

Augmented reality is so potent and accessible because it is immaterial, and typically only requires the upfront cost of the mobile device with which you are viewing.  This makes it even more imperative that the medium is developed with care.  It will be important to thoughtfully distribute the knowledge to create these narratives in order to prevent monopoly and abuse, without limiting altruistic applications.   “Don’t Be Evil.”

Architects and planners used to have “direct” contact with their audience via the built environment,  but this is about to change.  Augmented reality will quickly become the secondary, if not primary, lens through which people experience the urban environment.  What designers seek to implicitly convey with their arrangements of program and space will soon be explicitly communicated through this medium.

As we scan our surroundings in these augmented realities, what will be the lasting effects on the human psyche?  While the human brain is very plastic, each of these visual overlays is going to cost time and mental bandwidth.  So how do you make that exchange worthwhile and beneficial to both parties?  How do we become caring curators instead of strict choreographers of consumerism? On what grounds will we evaluate the merits of augmented reality applications?

Let’s apply Edward Tufte’s criticisms to augmented reality, and use the inverse as goals for what we aspire to create.  How can augmented reality: combat stupidity, make us more interesting, make us more efficient, and improve the quality and credibility of communication?


Edward Tufte for Wired

Yelp AR Demo

Royksopp – “Remind Me”

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