Defining error


So having some good debates at the moment around my thesis – seems like my prototypes are turning up the heat on the topic of what is an error?.

Actually this a very good question and something I need to define. So far these mini-projects have been ways to investigate different definitions of error. So what have I defined as error?

  1. The unexpected.
  2. Wandering off track.
  3. Misbehaving.
  4. Wrong and Right.

There’s a big focus on play in my thesis, so I wanted to create playful interventions that explored these definitions and place them in the urban environment to test how people respond. Each prototype could not evaluate if the error could change a persons behaviour over time, as they were a one-off thing. I guess the projects more asked is this an error?. I now need to narrow down my definition of error in order to answer my overarching thesis question: Can an experience of error excite positive change and learning? Can an experience of error favour fustration and provoke play?

So to redefine – for something to be an error it must:

  1. be unintentional.
  2. break a defined code.

The experience of error in these projects has been on two levels

  1. The errors I, the designer, experience in my process, design and hypothesis.
  2. The experience that an error has occurred for others.

Somethings missing! A third, vital level – The experience by someone else that they have committed an error.

This is the most difficult to design. For I can only design the conditions for an error to occur, and not force an error, for then it is intentional and thus not an error. Or alternatively I can find an error that people already commit, and see how I can use that error in a playful way to design with the error rather than against it. (The latter I favour as an approach.)

Then of course I need to test this experience over time to see if it changes the behaviour of the person and/or brings about a learning experience. Maybe I’ll need various tests – a control experience, then various other experiences where the variables are slightly changed to see which one is more effective.

Why we walk in circles when lost

“Small random errors in the various sensory signals that provide information about walking direction add up over time, making what a person perceives to be straight ahead drift away from the true straight ahead direction.”

from The Times Online
See also Science News

Not a Number


Taking on from my methodology research into computer errors translated into everyday life, I’ve started a flickr group pool to gather errors I, and others find.

If you have any evidence, please feel free to add them!

Grammer errors turns 60 year old man into ‘vandal’


Frustrated by living in “St Johns Close”, in Turnbridge Wells, Mr Gatward decided to buy a can of black paint and a craft brush before correcting the name to “St John’s Close”.

In the shadow of error

I’ve currently been reading Enlightenment aberrations: error and revolution in France by David William Bates. It’s rather interesting. I’ve only gotten through a fraction of it, but so far it’s full of wonderful myths and dramatic perceptions on the notion of error. I’m not sure if I’ve already discussed the fact that the latin root of error, errare, meant “to go off track”, or “to walk at random”, and in 16th Century France, erreur meant “a voyage involving adventures”. In it’s original sense, error had a much more physical definition than the psychological connection to truth we attribute to it today.

The Wrobots are out!

Trap Street

Compairing Oxford A-Z from 2000-2005 reveals a trap street- Goy Close via The Map Room

A trap street, or errata, is a fictitious street inserted into maps to purposefully trap potential copyright violators of the map. Normally quite innocuous, these fictitious bits of information are used as proof to spot where plagiarism has taken place. It’s not just a matter of creating fake streets, rivers, buildings or even towns, but also design errors, such as rivers bending another way and added roads that are used as tell-tale signs to prove a copyright holder’s case. Publishers deny the existence and purpose of trap streets.

Must get my hands on this book by Mark Monmonier revealing the methods cartographers employ to “confuse potential enemies or to trap copiers”. Never knew cartography could be so dramatic!



“Don’t use your sleeves as a napkin!”
As part of the Dining in Error system.

Tuning Forks


As part of the Dining in Error system.

Tarte Tatin

So the Tarte Tatin was created in error. As the story goes, it happened in the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, France, 1898, which was owned by two sisters at the time -Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin. One day Stéphanie Tatin, extremely overworked, started to make a traditional apple pie but left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. She dived in to rescue the dish by putting a pastry base on top of the pan of apples. Despite this all going wrong, and being upsidedown, she still served it to her guests. She was surprised that they appreciated the dessert. Thus the Tarte Tatin was born.

If we could go back in time, I’m sure we’d see that most of our dishes today were created by accident. Do you have any exmples of error leading to new discovery?