July 26th, 2007 by rbanks
Shannon and I spent our honeymoon in China, stopping off first in Beijing. One of the first tourist sites we visited was the Forbidden City, and amazing, ancient complex of buildings that used to be the home of the Chinese Emperor.
It WAS a bit of a surprise to walk around the corner of one of the beautiful red buildings to find a Starbucks. It just didn’t seem to fit. Of course we eagerly bought our drinks, but somehow it was an uncomfortable fit to find this purveyor of expensive caffeinated beverages, a symbol of Western cookie-cutter consumerism, wedged into such a culturally significant site.
Anyway, it looks like it finally became a bit too much of a negative symbol for the Chinese, too, and the doors of Starbucks’ oddest little barrista-hole have finally shut.
You may have heard in the news that we’re suffering from some bad weather and flooding here in the UK. Pretty much the worst on record. Much of England has been hit, but we’ve been really fortunate that, although we live within spitting distance of the Thames, it still hasn’t broken the banks where we are.
We are on a high state of alert, though, and we’ve taken the precautions that make sense. We’ve moved a lot of things upstairs, wrapped the leg of the piano in plastic, sent the cat to visit “grandma”.
Naturally we’ve been following the weather closely. It’s really highlighted how little this is a science. Here, for example is what the 5 day forecast for London on the BBC looked like yesterday afternoon:
And what it looked like this morning:
It changes hourly, basically. When I looked at it last night the sudden change in forecast was actually far more dramatic. The image above was almost entirely little pictures of the sun for the rest of the week (we have sunshine right now in the UK). Then a few hours later, the cloud was back with that one drop of rain on Thursday.
Anyway, you can’t trust the forecast. But that doesn’t stop it from making you feel better.
“In their raw form, a felt rock is technically a lump of felt formed when small bits of wool fluff gather while making polishing wheels for optical lenses, spun around in a drum with them. With steam and pressure, each stray piece of wool begins to entangle itself with others roughly creating a completely unique rock-like shape without the help of any bonding agents.”
As Shannon mentioned, we did the 26 mile London Bikeathon at the weekend. I went a bit stupid with mapping our route. Not sure that it tells you much because the outbound and return routes overlap so closely, but the ride is a really great way of seeing the city, particularly on a Sunday morning when the traffic is a little more relaxed. You follow the Thames, basically, across the middle of London, from Chelsea, to the West, through the City, around the Docklands development at Canary Warf, past some great views of the Dome and ending at a cool little park by the Thames Barrier. Then back again.
It took us four hours at a reasonable pace. It’s a family ride, so there’s no pressure, although guys in yellow jerseys do shoot past regularly, doing the more high-pressured route that combined out loop with one that headed further west to Richmond.
Four hours for an 18 month old to sit patiently. It’s quite a while. Maddie likes cycling, though, and was no problem at all, even nodding off for a while with her pink-helmeted head bobbing around in the seat behind me.
Anyway, it’s a well organized, unusual way to see London. The route’s recommended, even if you don’t manage to make the actual event next year.
Apparently the work that the team showed at the 10th Anniversary celebrations of the Cambridge lab made the cover of the NRC, a top Dutch newspaper. The title of the article, available online, translates as something like “Is this what the computer of the future looks like?”.
Thanks for the pointer, Annet.
A few weeks ago I spoke at the International Energy Agency in Paris at a workshop on energy efficiencies in digital networks. It was an odd event to participate in, since the topic sounds so technical and that’s just not me. Much. Plus I’d been asked to do a 30 minute ‘vision’ talk on the future of electronics (which I took to mean CONSUMER electronics) in 2027. 20 years is an impossibly long time to think ahead.
I ended up assembling a presentation which is part overview of what we do in Cambridge, and how my team thinks about people and their experiences with technology; part overview of big technology areas that are likely to have an impact on how consumer experiences evolve, with examples pulled from my Trends blog; and some comment and observations on people’s experiences and needs from energy efficient systems. I ended up being reasonably happy with the result, and it seemed to be positively received.
Some really good speakers at the event, too, like Ronald Tol from Philips who talked about lighting networks, and Armin Anders from Enocean who talked about their really interesting work developing self-powered switches and sensors, that get their energy from the kinetic action of switching a switch, or from solar energy. They’re also working on thermally powered sensors that get their energy from the difference in temperature between the sensor itself and a finger. Very cool.
The workshop really ended up broadening my concept of networks to include building infrastructure more generally, and really made me realize how valuable the human perspective is in even the most technically-seeming topics.
Last week was the 10th Anniversary of the research lab here in Cambridge. We had a few people from the media through to show them our wares. One result of that is this article and radio broadcast from the BBC’s Digital Planet show, broadcast on the World Service. It’s a nice little description of our ‘kitchen-like’ demo space and some of the projects I’ve mentioned before on this blog.
New Designers is a huge exhibition held at the Business Design Center in London every year. It brings together about 4000 new post-graduates from 400 design courses around the United Kingdom, from a large number of design disciplines, including product design, graphic design, design for interaction, illustration, architecture and so on.
To be honest, it’s a totally overwhelming event because of the numbers, with products and images screaming out at you from every direction. I feel sorry for the students, some of whom have traveled from as far afield as Scotland, and who must struggle to stand out in such a dense amount of creative work. I’d thought I’d try and highlight a few colleges and students whose work managed to jump out at me before I collapsed in an exhausted heap.
Northumbria University – BA(Hons) in Design For Industry.
Students at Northumbria did a great job of telling stories with their work. I’m seeing a lot more story telling, and shots placing work in context, then I have done at degree shows in the past. Also more service design. Northumbria had some of the best of this. I particularly liked:
Lucy Denham’s Little Library system and work exploring our relationship with paper and books. While I though this would be a digital solution, looking at how paper would transform into a digital equivalent, it wasn’t. Which is refreshing.
Richard Dale’s BlueCurrent water saving membership scheme. One of a number of service designs, very nicely implemented, it’s the water equivalent of an electricity savings system, with home hardware and a web-based experience.
Simon Newbegin’s E-Motion projection games system. Not the most original name, but a really great example of the virtual/physical crossover that’s becoming more prevalent through devices like the Wii or Dance Dance Revolution.
Michael Patton’s Connected Radio Community. Another hardware + service solution, this time focused on playing and sharing music.
Rachel Watson’s Urban Eden’s project. Some great examples of low-profile, fun and integrated urban furniture. Particularly liked the brick flower pot.
Ravensbourne College – BA(Hons) Product & Furniture Design
I was just impressed by the thoughtfulness and fun inherent in a lot of the objects designed by the students from Ravensbourne. Less focused on services and stories then Northumbria, they did a great job producing thought-provoking objects. Particularly:
Yuta Watanabe’s work was just cool. I particularly liked his ’10 pencils’ project, which I can’t find on his site, but luckily I’ve taken a shot of:
In the case on the left in the shot are 10 pencils, all of which have been hacked in some way. One has been split down the middle, and pegged at one end to form a rudimentary compass. Another is a clothes peg. Anyway, his site shows more of his very cool work.
University of Brighton – ? Furniture and Products I think
Like Ravensbourne, the output of this course was more focused on the refactoring or undermining of objects. I particularly like the work of:
Sebastiano Oddi had a number of products that were really well thought out, and just came at design from a weird place. His site is a bit bare at the moment, so I can’t quite recall what they all were, but he does have shot of his edible picnic container, Mange2, up there.
Sarah Brosnahan had also designed some great objects. I liked her light pull that contains a set of matches and a candle for emergencies, particularly.
Anna Bullus’ work was also great. She’s invented a recycled material made from (among other things) chewing gum. The seat she had designed from it played on the gum connection humorously. She has a bunch of other interesting projects on her site.
Dundee University – Innovative Product Design
Students from the University of Dundee’s product design department have the unfortunate situation of having to travel the length of the country to exhibit at New Designers. They invariably get stuck up on the balcony, a little out of the way of the rest of the foot traffic (this happened to them last year) but their work really stands out for me. Like the last couple of schools, more about objects and homes. Some highlights:
Robert Djaelani‘s ‘You and my Door’ – A printer that hangs on the back of your front door, and receives SMS or e-mail. Reminds me a little of Text2Paper. Very nicely implemented. Robert’s portfolio site has some great work, generally.
Dean Brown’s ‘Table with a View’ – A bedside table with a small display that shows video being taken by small wireless cameras that can be placed around the home. Wake up to pictures of your garden. Can’t find a good picture of this, unfortunately, but here’s one of Dean’s sketches.
Tommy Dykes’ ‘Talking Memories‘ – an object you speak into to record memories, and listen to by putting to your ear. Turn it upside down and it plays loud to everybody. Really nice object.
Debbie MacLennan’s ‘Singing Shower‘ – A karaoke shower. What more can you say? Nothing more natural than singing in the shower.
A few other students whose work
Kevin Barry’s ‘Microplankton’ – (Bournemouth Art Institute) A pool of water into which is projected a digital ecosystem of tiny ‘creatures’. Really nicely done. As you look closer you see pixel-sized creatures scurrying around, in addition to larger organisms.
James Whitesmith’s ‘Samhalle’ – (Nottingham Trend University). Growing a community in a neighborhood and helping them live sustainably through a website and a a local ‘community shed.
Lucy Norman’s ‘Paperback Partition‘ – (University of Brighton) – and a lot of her other work.
I attended the recent PSFK conference in London which had an interesting mix of speakers from the worlds of marketing and (usually digital) design. Some of the talks went a little over my head since they came from a world in which I don’t exist. Those, for example, about the tension between marketing departments and the design discipline, or between consultancies and their clients. But there was still enough there for me to be kept engaged, and from which I could learn.
One of the talks I enjoyed very much was by Jeremy Ettinghausen, Head of Digital Publishing at Penguin. In it he describes many of the strategies and approaches that the company, which has a strong brand and heritage, have taken plying their trade in a digital world in which reading from small paper books seems increasingly quaint. The company clearly has guts, has taken some really innovative approaches to ‘selling’ reading, and isn’t afraid to talk about the failures of what it has tried as well as the successes.