In preparation for my dConstruct talk next month, I’ve been researching metadesign. I’ll start posting some relevant things up here over the next few weeks if you want to follow some of the background work that goes into the talk.
First up, a couple of talks by Prof. John Wood of Goldsmiths University, whose work centres on the need to ‘Redesign design’:
The more I’ve been diving into the Metadesigners open network that’s been set-up by Prof. Wood and the team at Goldsmiths, the more I realise that there’s perhaps a separation which can be made when it comes to Metadesign; there’s the what it is (in the sense that it’s a series of tools and approaches), and the why we need to think this way. I might try to pick that apart a bit more, and look at the other descriptions and work on Metadesign in order to clarify it a bit for others and myself.
I’m wearing new shoes today. They’re made by Atheist Berlin. They feel like hot chocolate for the feet.
Now, I’ve been following the Atheist story for a while, because I know David, Chief Atheist (is that a thing?) from when we did the IPA Excellence Diploma together some years ago (dates redacted to protect the aged). Indeed, it’s interesting to reflect on the number people from the IPA ExDip who’ve gone on to do their own thing; consultancies, accelerators, etc. The course clearly gives people a bit of motivation to do something differently.
But within that those who’ve made a thing. Making things is different from service industries. Not better or worse, just different. Another example would be Matt’s success withTwo Fingers Brewing. I make some card things you might have seen. There are no doubt more examples from diploma alumni too. And there are definitely lots of examples of ex-agency people who start making things instead of selling other peoples’ things. But it’s not just a few agency folk leaving uninspiring surroundings to play around at ‘maker’ (although Murat’s post from 2013 still hits upon most of the reasons why that happens).
There’s a cacophony of forces driving more and more people to start making their own things. Some are positive; access to funding of some sort (grants, investors, crowd-funding), the ability to use the internet to learn new skills and find an audience at the right scale. Some are negative; lack of fulfilling work, high youth unemployment, cost of higher education.
They all add up to interesting times for existing companies. Take beer, for instance. The number of breweries operating in the UK in the last five years has tripled. Yet beer sales in the UK remained in a long-term decline until last year, when they managed a 1.5% annual increase. All in all, it adds up to more suppliers fighting over less sales, and more interesting suppliers stealing share from less interesting ones.
This summer has felt like what started as an expression thing for the creatively minded has started to become a business thing for a lot of people. The conversations I’ve been having and become aware of are less about how brands can support makers do their own thing, and more about ‘what happens when they start to make our thing?’
Our culture has a new pair of shoes, and it’s starting to test just how far it can walk in them.
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.