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Distinguished Speaker Series Winter-Spring 2006 2007

copyright Steve Heller

Brenda Laurel

Chair and Professor, Graduate Program in Design, California College of the Arts


Designed Animism: Poetics for a New World

February 23, 2007

Refreshments and Networking: 1:30 - 2:00
Presentation: 2:00 - 3:30


Faculty Host: Walt Scacchi, ISR


RSVP: Email RSVP required to Nancy Myers at nmyers@ics.uci.edu by Tuesday February 20.

UCI McDonnell Douglas Engineering Auditorium (building #311)

No cost to attend.

Directions and parking information
are available.



Abstract: Around 350 BCE, Aristotle set down in the Poetics an understanding of narrative forms, based upon notions of the nature and intricate relations of various elements of structure and causation. Drama relied upon performance to represent action. Interactive forms and simulation inherits much of dramatic structure, but authorship is more explicitly shared among designers, engineers, and interactors. I and others have proposed extensions of the fundamental elements of Aristotle's Poetics to understand these new forms. But ubiquitous computing is a horse of a different color. Ubicomp's new blends of sensors, networks, computation, and space create potential for novel interactive forms. When we embed what Rob Tow calls "perception-representation-action loops" in objects and spaces, we enter a realm that I call designed animism. What new forms of narrative and experience may emerge from such systems? How do we understand them, in terms of structure, cauality, narrative, and experience? What are the poetics of this newly animistic world? And, does it have a soul?


About the Speaker: Brenda Laurel is a designer, researcher, teacher, and writer. She has been a pioneer and entrepreneur in interactive media, human-computer interaction, and design research. Her PhD dissertation was the first to propose a comprehensive architecture for computer-based interactive fantasy and fiction. In 1989 she co-founded Telepresence Research, a company focused on virtual reality and remote presence. In 1992 she was among the founding members of the research staff at Interval Research Corporation in Palo Alto, California, where her work on gender and technology led her to co-found Purple Moon, a spin-out company developing computer games for girls, later acquired by Mattel.


She holds an MFA and PhD in theatre from the Ohio State University. She has worked as a designer, producer, and researcher for companies including Atari, Activision, and Apple, From 2002 to 2006, she was Chair of the graduate Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. In 2005 and 2006 she served concurrently as a Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems Labs in Menlo Park, California. She has recently been appointed Chair of the Graduate Design Program at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Her books include Computers as Theatre and Utopian Entrepreneur.