Category Archives: Travel

University visits

One great side effect of moving from the product teams into Microsoft Research is that I can focus much more on design education. This was something I think I COULD have done before, to a certain extent, but Research puts more emphasis on communicating with academia, or outside of Microsoft generally. It’s actively encouraged, which is good.

Last year I started focusing on this more deliberately, by working with Dundee University on their participation in Microsoft’s Design Expo event. I’d seen the work of Dundee students at New Designers, hired one as an intern, and finally contacted a faculty member to invite them to participate in the competition. I loved the whole process of visiting the university, spending time with their awesome students and faculty, and then helping them out in Redmond for the final student presentations.

This year I’m happy to continue my relationship with Dundee. Jon Rogers, who now runs the Innovative Product Design course, organized an “Ideas Day” last Tuesday during which a bunch of us from “industry” spent some time helping the students of the 3rd and 4th year make decisions about the directions for their projects. I was lucky to make the flight out of City Airport and make it to the college.

We started with a great Q&A session sprung on us a few days earier by Jon. He’d picked a selection of questions submitted by the students for a panel of us to answer in a sort of Question Time format. Some tough ones, too, like “commercially, how far can art be applied to product design”, “where do you see the future of interfaces heading” and “where do you draw your design values from”. I think the panel (Bill Gaver, Nic Villar, myself, Anab Jain, Charlie Rohan from NCR and Tim Regan acquitted ourselves well – here’s a write up of the event by Giorgio Giove, one of Dundee’s master’s students – more shots Tim – shot below from Anab)


Jon had had the 4th year put together a book of their “top 100” ideas for final projects, from which they had drawn 20. These were stuck up on boards for us to talk through with the students, as well as “vote” on our favourites. I really enjoyed the conversations and the variety. Some students had already narrowed down their focus considerably, and had 20 ideas across the same theme. Some were still thinking at quite a high level, with a set of ideas that were much more distinct. I hope their time with us was useful.


On Wednesday Tim, Nic and I travelled down to Edinburgh and visited the Furniture and Product Design course in Edinburgh’s College of Art. Their course is accredited by the University of Edinburgh and going through some transition as it moves from it’s craft base to incorporating more interaction and product design. Andy Law, formerly at Dundee, has just started their as one of the faulty members, and we spent some time with him, as well as looking at the work of 2nd and 4th years, before getting a tour of their awesome facilities. The glass blowing, print making and jewellery studios are really great. In the same vein as the RCA (focusing on low numbers) but a little less cramped.

Amazing houses from around the world

An amazing collection of amazing houses from around the world, organized thematically. I’m particularly fond of number 2.

Amazing Houses 1: Beach and Lake Houses
Amazing Houses 2: Cliff and Mountain Houses
Amazing Houses 3: Condos and Townhomes
Amazing Houses 4: Cheap and Crowded Houses
Amazing Houses 5: Greenhouses and Glass Houses
Amazing Houses 6: Haunted Houses and Hotels
Amazing Houses 7: Lighthouses
Amazing Houses 8: Dog and Doll Houses



(Web Urbanist)

Pathfinder watch

I heard this object mentioned the other day on Radio 4, and I know it’s got a lot of other press attention, but now that I see it “in person” I can’t help but blog it here. What a lovely idea, and a lovely object, pre-dating GPS by some 70 years (according to MSN). The owner of the watch would load it up with one of a number of pre-printed, linear maps of their journey, and as they drive along in their automobile, they scroll the watch along to see where they’re going.

It’s on display as part of the Weird and Wonderful Inventions exhibition at the British Library in London. Other objects are in MSN’s photo gallery.


Starbucks closes coffeehouse in Beijing’s Forbidden City

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.


5 Powerful Reasons to Drive Slower, and How to Do It | zen habits

Zen Habits has a great entry on why and how to force yourself to drive slower during your commute. This is something I struggle with a little during my hour and a half drive to Cambridge. Peer pressure definitely tugs me into the fast lane, but I’ve also noticed what this entry points out – that driving faster barely shaves any time off the typical route, so why bother? Calmly driving at a more sedate pace would also help fight my pangs of guilt at commuting in our Prius. The Prius isn’t that fuel efficient at speed (it’s really optimized for the school run) so I’m not really getting the most out of it. But I would if I coasted and drafted a little more.

“I look around at other drivers and wonder whether they really need to get to where they’re going so fast, and whether they’ll slow down when they get there. I wonder if its really worth burning all that gas and getting so angry and risking so many lives. And then I think about other things, because driving for me has become a time of contemplation.”

San Jose Museum of Art

Listening Post by Malavagma.

Just visited the San Jose Museum of Art. It’s a small gallery but had a couple of pieces of work that really impressed me. The first was the Listening Post by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin. A curved wall of over 200 LCD displays display words and sentences taken at random from thousands of websites. Sometimes these are spoken by machine voices or sometimes they come and go in waves. Really emotive.

The second set of work I enjoyed was less absorbing than Listening Post but admirable for the patience it must have taken. These were a set of large images done with pallpoint pen on acrylic by Il Lee. They’re really quite beautiful and abstract. In one area of the gallery was an acrylic box filled with discarded pens, whic were used in the creation of a modest sized image. These images must have taken him hours to create.

A couple of great exhibitions in what is a pretty modest museum.