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The Esthetics of Hardware Design

February 11, 2013

Some unreported facts behind the 2007 Boston terror scare: The "hoax devices" were based on Night Writer, a low-cost electronic LED graffiti device developed by Graffiti Research Lab. Here is G.R.L.'s mission statement:

 

"Outfitting graffiti writers, artists and protesters with open-source tools for urban communication."

 

Unfortunately this statement contains an internal contradiction: "open-source" by definition means the tools are available for use by anyone, including the ideological antipodes of "graffiti writers, artists and protesters". Read: corporate ad agencies. As a result, the G.R.L. web site posted the following message in response to the terror scare:

 

You may have heard about the most recent terror attacks in Boston. This is NOT the work of the Graffiti Research Lab. ... It’s just more mindless corporate vandalism from a guerilla marketer who got busted. Interference Inc, welcome to the world of being misunderstood, scapegoated, demonized and wanted by the law. Still wanna be a graffiti artist?

 

The Anti-Advertising Agency offers a cogent explanation of how ad agency Interference Inc. ended up creating a nationwide terror scare, while G.R.L. and its followers threw up Night Writers without ever catching radar:

The G.R.L. Night Writer is done with materials bought at a hardware store. It’s made with cheap LED’s, tape, and magnets. It’s designed to be a low-cost, small-scale project with a strong visual impact. It works well, but it takes about an hour to make if you are experienced, work quickly, and have some help. This wouldn’t work for mass production, so Interference Inc built on the idea, adding a custom designed and manufactured circuit board, a photo cell, wiring, resistors, and large D cell batteries. Arguably a better design if you are producing 400 at a time to distribute around the country and you have backing funds from Turner Broadcasting. ... The perfect irony to this story is that advertisers can’t get it right. What attracted the attention of the bomb squad was the wiring, circuitry, and large batteries that Interference Inc. added to G.R.L.'s original design...

 

An object lesson in how 9/11 has made unauthorized public sculpture a vastly trickier proposition: the problem being how to create and install unidentified public objects which read as harmless while still hitting esthetic goals.

 

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