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Mountains, Exploration, Education, Rich Media and Design

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I want to talk about some things that I feel passionate about: mountains, exploration, history, learning and design. In particular, I want to talk about learning and understanding within our society, which is becoming increasingly difficult to function in, much less influence – largely due to technology-induced complexity.

I have to believe that the objective of good design is to render the world more manageable, not less so. I do believe that the more technology is developed apart from a social context, and specific problem domains, the less likely it will meet this test.

So I have chosen my domain: mountaineering and exploration, especially in the area surrounding the Himalaya. Using examples, I want to put forward the case that we have the potential to design tools that could have as much impact on education and learning tomorrow, as the introduction of the blackboard had when it was introduced in Canada in the mid-1800s.

I will also argue that doing so represents a proposition which is as hard to do as it is easy to say that is, it is a worthy 10 year project.

I believe that the current slump in the technology sector is a largely self-induced, and a deserved consequence of bad design applied to poorly thought out problems. Through my examples, I want to argue that there is a way out of this, and to point to a particular path. As I said: its about exploration. So a good place to start is to establish some appropriate bearings.


Bill Buxton is an interaction designer and researcher, and Principal of the Toronto-based design and consulting firm, Buxton Design. During the spring of 2005, he is a Visiting Researcher at Microsoft Research, Cambridge, England.

Bill is one of the pioneers in computer music, and has played an important role in the development of computer-based tools for film, industrial design, graphics and animation. As a researcher, he has had a long history with Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and the University of Toronto (where he is still an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science, and Visiting Professor at the Knowledge Media Design Institute). As well, during the fall of 2004, he was a lecturer in the Department of Industrial Design at the Ontario College of Art and Design.

From 1994 until December 2002, he was Chief Scientist of Alias|Wavefront, and from 1995, its parent company SGI Inc. In 2001, the Hollywood Reporter named him one of the 10 most influential innovators in Hollywood. In 2002 Time Magazine named him one of the top 5 designers in Canada, and he was elected to the ACMs CHI Academy.

More information on Buxton and his work can be found at:

This talk is part of the Room 911, Cavendish Laboratory series.

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