The desks are from the John Madin’s Birmingham Central Library, which has been stripped and is being demolished. They’re the original ones as designed by Madin to fit inside the library. We nabbed a couple when they were on eBay, after some smart soul had managed to rescue a few. We’ve managed to rescue a little bit of history.
We’re sitting on a bench overlooking The Lizard, the most southerly point of the UK, on a typical blustery Cornish summer day. The weather comes over at a hundred miles an hour, it seems. One minute it can be sunny and twenty-two degrees, the next the sun disappears and a few spots of rain appear on your white paper Cornish pasty bag.
Another family comes down the path, and stops not far away. Mum, Dad, two teenagers. They spend a couple of minutes admiring the view, gently thrilled as the waves splash against the rocks.
“Ooo, we could take a selfie” says Mum. “Have you got your stick with you?” she asks the daughter.
She quickly finds the a selfie stick in her jacket pocket, and takes Dad’s iPhone to perch it on top. They move closer to the edge, turn around, and spend a few minutes arranging themselves, finding the correct angle for the selfie stick to get them all in, and a little bit of scenery behind.
Is this the new family holiday snap? Instead of trying and failing to capture the spectacle of the view, of those waves crashing against the shore, it’s a picture of the whole family instead.
It’s still a picture that says “we saw this”, but now the focus is less on view, and more on the family – “we saw this” instead of “we saw this“…
We’re sitting in a lovely Cornish beach cafe. Our kids are playing with another boy, of similar age, and they’re ducking and diving around the tables, sprawling out where they get the chance on the decking.
The boy points to the logo on our daughters sandals, and calls to his mother.
“Mum, there’s a picture on her shoes. What is it?”
“That’s what brand they are” his mother replies.
“What’s a brand?” he asks.
His mother thinks for a moment. How to tell a child what a brand is…
“It’s a make” she says. “It’s what make they are. It tells you who made them, and how, and where. A brand is a make”.
I quickly and quietly capture this on a card, for future pondering. The children play on.
I’m thrilled and honoured to be talking at dConstruct this year. It’s one of the highlights of the year for me, and so many friends, that to be asked to speak there is… well, it’s a complex emotional melting pot, let’s say. It’s on Friday 11th September, and you can see all the details here.
The theme this year is Designing the Future. My talk is still in early prototype stage, of course. But you still have to have a rough idea what it might be, so it can go on websites and that. So here’s where I am at the moment… it’s gone pretty hard into using Interstellar as the main metaphor for how I think we need to address the theme… all thoughts on the film welcome in the comments section underneath….
METADESIGN FOR MURPH
Cooper: “I thought they chose me. But they didn’t choose me, they chose her!” TARS: “For what, Cooper?” Cooper: “To save the world!”
If we’re going to talk about designing the future, let’s understand two things – who is doing the designing, and who is this future for, anyway?
Much of our cultural upbringing, from the pages of comics, to the Hollywood studios, repeatedly told us that we could step up and be the heroes. We’re programmed to feel that we’re the ones who will make the difference.
It’s time to look further than the end of our own egos, because there are problems coming we can’t find answers to, because we’re products of the system that created them.
Instead, whether we’re designers or clients, peers or parents, we must switch our attention to Metadesign; “nurturing the emergence of the previously unthinkable” in those around us, and those who will come after us.
It’s about ideas and environments, books and blocks, objects and systems, all examined through the contents and context of the most intriguing bedroom in sci-fi.
Mr Nick Kendall called me up the other day, as something had just crossed his path that made him think of (as he put it) the two realms of what he perceives I do, namely innovation and community.
(I’m glad someone has a more precise handle on this, because I’m never quite sure myself…)
He’d been listening to this Radio 4 programme on ‘Bread for Scotland‘, and he’d started thinking about the different sort of innovation that can evolve from getting all sorts of different people involved in an economy that surrounds something.
I’m off for a listen now, but in exchange I told Nick about my new friend for Barcelona, Anahí.
Anahí owns Onna Café in the district of Gràcia. We met on my first day there, when I was scouring the city for the best coffee shops I could find.
Of course, great coffee shops are becoming an indicator species for any city nowadays – find the really good coffee places, and they’ll be in the heart of other interesting things.
What’s more interesting than usual about Onna, and Anahí, is that she’s not come into the business just through a general love in all sorts of coffee from everywhere. She’s originally from Costa Rica, and is using Onna not just as a venture for herself, but to improve the way the coffee economy works for all the people throughout the supply chain of her home country.
She works with everyone from the farmers who grow the plants and look after the soil right through to the wholesale customers she supplies with Costa Rican beans, to establish an understanding of exactly where the cofee comes from, how it’s processed, packed, shipped, roasted and so on.
What it means I think is that everyone becomes visible to each other, all along the supply chain, and it’s helping Costa Rica step away from the commodity stock market approach to coffee beans (where price is dictated by the market), and help everyone realise greater value for the product through understanding how and why to make great coffee.
It all means that the coffee economy for Costa Rica is changing – so much so, Anahí pointed out, that the very first Latin American winner of the World Cup Tasters Championship was Juan Gabriel Cespedes of Costa Rica (who apparently had never been outside the country before heading to Gothenburg to compete).
Which is another interesting thing about the visibility throughout the supply chain; it’s not just one way.
It’s not just the wholesale or retail customers at the end of the chain understanding how the coffee is grown, processed, and delivered to them in their businesses and homes, but about the farmers and shippers at the other end what and how people value the coffee. If you need to grow and ship coffee that stands up well in a coffee cupping test, well, you need to learn how cupping works.
When I think back to what Nick was describing, the crossover of innovation and community, I think more about this sort of business, and what businesses of all sizes can take from it. How do you make everyone visible and valued by others along the supply chain? How can they change the conditions in the chain for mutual benefit? And how do all these stories leak out to add to to a complex, compelling, authentic brand?
…in fact, I really picked up on it because of Mark‘s reply:
Which is interesting, because there’s something been pinging around my head recently about why the advertising industry decided on this as their future. And why did we as people decide that advertisers knowing all this about us was OK…?
Here’s my hunch; Tom Cruise is to Adverts as William Shatner is to Phones.
Which means what?
Well, there’s the famous, perhaps apocryphal story that the mobile phone, specifically the flip phone, were inspired by the Star Trek communicator. The engineers growing up and watching telly around this time had a ready-made prototype of ‘the future’ in front of them… and so, it came to pass. Let’s make that.
Another example – last week at IED, the brilliant Andres Colmenares was talking about the Hendo Hoverboard that’s received kickstarter funding. It’s basically the Marty McFly hoverboard. Let’s make that.
And the advertising example?
Minority Report, of course. Specifically the scene in which Tom Cruise goes hurtling through a crown of people in a shopping mall, and all the adverts start addressing him individually…
You’ll know the scene, because no doubt everyone’s been shown it often enough in presentations about ‘personalised marketing’. It became so trite that people stop using it. It may even be cool and retro to start using it again (I’m not really sure, as I don’t do enough advertisingy type things anymore to know).
Basically, it became a cultural shorthand; ‘This is a future for advertising’ became ‘this is the future for advertising’.
When enough people can use it as a common reference point, they can sit in meetings and decided what advertising should be in the future by using this example. When people were talking about how the ads that would support their platform, they’d major on just how ‘identifiable’ people were, and so the ads could be personalised too.
Right now, I’m holed up in a lovely little AirBnB in Gràcia in Barcelona, a self-proclaimed ‘writers apartment’, which to be honest does live up to its claim. It’s a perfect spot for sitting and working on a few things, as the sounds of the streets bubble up through the wide bay windows, whilst hidden at the back of the flat is an oasis of air-conditioning in which to sleep.
I’m not here just to hang out, though.
Scott Smith invited me over to teach on the Innovation and Future Thinking summer course that he runs here at the IED. Thirty-one students are coming to learn about how to spot things in the world, and use them to start building up versions of the future from the fragments of the present.
Barcelona as a city is a perfect environment to do this; complex different types of economy and social behaviour, combined with an independent streak a mile wide, means that the city just tries to talk to you at every turn.
To make the most of this, we’re giving each of the students an Artefact Field Kit, which they can prowl the streets spotting and collecting the clues about what might happen in the future.
Then we’ll be teaching them how to use these clues together in exploratory mapping using the cards, and recombine them in speculative acts of creation. As Scott put it last night when we were prepping, it means we could run this course sitting on the pavement somewhere, in the event of a sudden and seismic collapse in the infrastructure that takes the power grid down… I’m hoping it won’t come to that though.
We’ll try to post as much as we can up from the course, and share it on twitter using the #IEDFutures hashtag.
More as we have it, as they say…
PS Thanks to the guys at Flamingo in London for doing some game testing last week as part of the preparation for today
I did a wee talk on Monday evening, at the IPA 44 Club, which inevitably resolved itself in a Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy metaphor. It was part of Nick Kendall’s evening on the ideas behind the What Is A 21st Century Brand? book – Neil Godber from JWT spoke on Stephen King’s original, pioneering thinking on what a brand was in the 20th century.
In the book, Nick’s collected together what he considers the most pertinent theses from the ten years of the IPA Excellence Diploma. You can download mine as the sample chapter from here.
I thought I’d quickly write out what I think I was getting at.
It’s notionally a talk about brands, but in hindsight is as much about organisational change as anything. Which makes sense, I guess, given some of what Smithery does.
My thesis, back in 2008 or so, was called The Communis Manifesto. To pull an explanatory paragraph from it, it was about this…
“I believe the future of brand communications lies in finding a way to become part of communities, and communicate with them in a way that is shared, participatory and reciprocal.”
I realise now, though, that I fell into a classic economics trap. I took a micro view of one brand, and forgot to consider the macro perspective; what happens when every brand does this?
Well, as we can see now, it all gets a bit noisy… an endless hum of brands vying for your attention at any given opportunity, all going a little ‘gorilla in a jock-strap’ in order to arrest some eyeballs for the briefest of seconds (go and read Faris’ Paid Attention for more on that).
Thinking about how brands and companies operate in the 21st century, and how some struggle to remain meaningful, it made me think of Golgafrincham.
You know, Golgafrincham, yeah?
Ok, I’ll explain…
In the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent find themselves on a massive spaceship, with lots of frozen bodies in the hold. It’s the Golgafrincham B Ark. The captain explains that they’d been told that the planet of Golgafrincham was in terrible, terrible danger, so they all had to leave.
On the A Ark would be all the leaders, scientists, pioneers… the high achievers.
On the C Ark would be all the people who made things and did things.
And on the B Ark, there would be everyone else. The middle managers. The hairdressers. The telephone sanitisers.
The leaders of Golgafrincham explained that they would send the B Ark first, so that when they settled the new planet, everyone else could be confident of a good haircut and a clean telephone when they got there. So off the B Ark went.
They hadn’t, explained the Captain, heard anything from the other two ships since leaving. Which he began to think was a little strange, having finally told someone else about it…
Some companies are clearly on the A Ark. They lead in their space, well, any space. Pioneers, future provokers, creating the products and services we love to use.
A Ark stuff is easy to point at, and hard to do.
Increasingly [because INTERNET], there are a lot of C Ark companies around. Start-ups, and hobbyists, those born in the internet, who’re happy to show you everything that they do. It’s a new transparency, it makes companies and the people who work there very visible, believable, and trustworthy. It regularly works for much smaller companies, who can make enough people see what they’re doing to be successful on their terms
C Ark stuff is easy to do, and hard to point at.
Which leaves the B Ark companies. The companies that just kind of exist in that middle layer of life. They didn’t used to do the stuff that was hard, because they just had to do things that were good enough. They didn’t used to worry about pointing people to things, because you could switch on advertising and pipe people’s eyeballs towards your products.
It’s hard to be a B Ark company today.
So you’ve got two choices.
You can try and get on the A Ark, and start pushing the boundaries of expectations in your market. Every market has a future. Show people the one you really believe in.
Or you can jump onto the C Ark, and start showing people all the things you make and do. If it’s not good enough to be interesting, then you need to change the what and how of your makings and doings. If you do it well, people will start to point other people towards it.