A blacksmith makes their own tools

This week, I gave a talk (with a little bit of workshopping) as part of the third module of IPA Excellence Diploma. This was a course I did back in 2007/8, and without doing it, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do now, and definitely wouldn’t be thinking about things in the way I do.

It’s never a substitute, but people have asked if I’d be sharing the slides, so here you go. Just imagine that when you get to the ones that make no sense, I am in front of you saying something really profound. Ignore that pesky internal voice of yours that questions that how likely that would be, and just go with it…

It was an honour to be invited back by Amelia and Sera from The Fawnbrake Collective, who have taken over and reimagine dates course for the 2020s. Yet it feels like a gift, because being asked to reflect on 12 years of making / thinking and spot patterns in your own process has given me a view of my own work I’d never have seen otherwise. We alway look at the mountains ahead, rather than the hills behind.

The title of course comes from Dan Dennett’s 2013 book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools For Thinking, and quite clearly I’m still a sucker for anything that extends the blacksmith metaphor…

Public(ish) Service


Replacing screens in the world with the one you have in your hand. Questions about how much of a public service this remains – can everyone afford the hardware, software, data charge and experience to access this info?

via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/2ihB7v6

How many bags do you think that is?

I’ve noticed that there’s a fascinating little exchange at the end of the Ocado process. After you’ve received all your shopping, the delivery driver will ask ‘have you got any bags to return?’. It’s the bag recycle scheme they’ve been doing for a few years, where they give you 5p for every bag you give them back. After you hand them the pile, they ask ‘how bags do you think that is?’. You then say a number – you might know, or like us you might guess.

‘About 12?’ I offered today. “Ok, I’ll call it 20” said the driver, and off they went.

And it’s not just one or two drivers in particular that rounds up the number in this manner, but all of them. It’s so consistent, in fact, that today I started to wonder if it was designed as an exchange, as part of the service.

Because it’s such a simple, generous idea, to leave a customer at the end of the interaction feeling like the representative in the company has just given them something back.

It’s not really about the amount, the 40p extra refund. It’s the gesture that makes it work. And the fact that it’s a gesture from a person, rather than a discount figure that appears on an app, powered by an unseen algorithm. In comparison to other service companies who send people to your door, that projection of autonomy in the job is interesting.

During Natalie Kane’s presentation on the IED Innovation and Future Thinking course last month (yes, I will write something up, promise), she showed the class this, the Amazon warehouse picker wearable. It’s the antithesis of autonomy in a job – it is telling you what, where, when, and how, and your only job is simply to comply.

What struck me as the class was discussing it was that, yes, this is a wearable, but not in the way that you think. It’s not a person wearing a device, it’s an algorithm wearing a person.

Yet if the Ocado ‘how many bags?’ exchange is ‘designed’ and instructional in some way, then it’s merely just the allusion of autonomy. Is this worse in some ways?

A thing, in a shop

Look here; it’s a thing, in a shop:

Yes, that’s right, the new Artefact Cards are now available to buy in the Somerset House shop. They saw them at the Makerversity Christmas Fair and said “well, what are those, and can we sell them in our shop..?”

Which was good, because a big part of the Artefact Cards redesign was to make something people could pick up in a shop, and play with a bit, then either a) buy or b) put back in the same condition so the next person could try them.

Whilst you still still buy them online, of course, the goal this year is to get them in 100 shops around the world, as we start our retail world learning curve.

So if you’re passing, pop into to Somerset House, and check them out.