30
Jun 14

Retail futures, mediated through our phones

I’ve spent the past 18 months working for the “digital arm” of a global telco. They liked to call themselves a digital telco, but I don’t think that means anything.

The bit I worked for no longer technically exists, being absorbed into the even more massive parent company; a robustly traditional telco doing a few digital, webish, appish and big data-y things at the margins.

I worked a bit on a personal data concept, what would be a useful ‘locker’ for real people? I’ll talk about that in a future blog post. Most recently, I’ve spent 6 months on looking at using sensors, data and networks on shops and shopping. Most of the mobile telcos are doing similar things, as are many startups.

I can tell you this though, the efforts of this (and probably all) mobile telcos will make cities basically unlovable if you have an aversion to advertising and ‘offers’, or value your privacy.

The desire for the owners of the data to hook up your location, your past movements, your shopping habits, your phone is very strong. It reeks of money.

To pinpoint you in a store, or just passing, and attempt to engage your wallet via personalised messages is quite possible. Cross reference with history, social media data and the rest is a bit further off but probably on everyone’s roadmap.

The slick user story of personalised service, smoothly delivered to the wealthy relaxed consumer as they browse the aisles is seductive. We told ourselves we were “improving” the experience. The reality is going to be every single store, shouting with a desperate digital screech, delivering invasive messages and insta-deals.

Why is this going to happen? Because the mobile telcos are covetous of the advertising business model Google has built, and angry about the close relationship that has grown between phone OS and user. The telco thinks, “That is MY customer, I deserve to benefit from their activity”.

While you, the consumer, is currently their customer – the user they should be delighting – the telcos would much rather not have to worry about that, and instead would like to be in the advertising business where their customers are other big companies and you, the users, are just sold as an audience. The product.

I’ve seen the future, and it’s not pretty.


01
Jan 14

2013 Best Gadget

I’m sure I’m not alone in looking back over the year and amongst the many other things I might have bought, I probably bought a few gizmos and gadgets. Before I get to the best one I bought, there are a couple of runners up.

3. Cintiq 22 HD Wacom Tablet
I’d been always curious about one of these. I use a tablet, mostly for a mouse that weighs nothing and uses no batteries. I find the pen on a wacom tablet really hard to get the hand-eye coordination. Looking at the screen to paint, while you can get used to it, never feels really natural.

But this – THIS – is the daddy. A little low-res by todays retina screens, it’s still a dream to draw on. I mostly use it at the moment for a guilty pleasure of tracing and reinking Moebius comic art. It’s nice to knock out quick work before refining with a mouse too, especially in Illustrator, but mostly my current work doesn’t get down to tons of drawing, sadly. Maybe this next year will result in more drawing, as I’m on one long/wide project.

2. IOIO Board
This was learnt from scratch for a project that started in November. We wanted a custom app on an Android phone to talk to physical hardware – lights and buttons. The interface needed to be physical, with audio as a secondary feedback – no screen.

We could have made a more complicated Arduino solution, but that felt more complicated than needed with two separate codebases and two controllers (the phone running code + and arduino running code). This little board on the other hand can be coded directly from Android, and adds physical IO libraries. Bit of wiring, and it worked out ok (…eventually! mostly my zero Android skills took the time). Still, I got quite a lot out of using these over a couple of months. Fun to play with, and use in anger.

3. Stihl Cordless Chainsaw
When we took over the smallholding we knew we’d need one – the house used wood to cook, heat and provide hot water. I’d never used one. The cutting work and safety wasn’t my issue: the hassle over mixing petrol and 2-stroke oil seemed like a messy faff in the 21st century. So we got one of these instead.

After a few weekends cutting logs from the masses of felled trees on site already, I’ve really got better at seeing how best to slice and dice the trees, avoiding pinching and kickback from even the most precarious tangle of limbs. Logs is one thing. Trees is another.

When a tree fell on the service road along the farm, it was a tremendously satisfying task to reduce it to log sized pieces in minutes. Really good.

I think I might check out the Stihl cordless hedge trimmer next.

Best gadget 2013 / Stihl MSA 200 C-BQ Cordless Chainsaw


01
Jan 14

2013 Yearnote

(I posted this on Facebook, but I think my social media is pretty fragmented these days, so posting here and twitter as well)

Started the year with a new job, as an interaction designer for Telefonica Digital, working in a small innovation/research group. Pretty much exactly what I was looking for, despite being told by recruiters that such a thing was impossible to find, and please take this grinding job at a digital agency. No, ta.

Commuting from Bicester, Oxfordshire most days worked out ok generally but it was a 2 hour door to door trip, twice most days. Not as bad as it sounds.

We also stared the year with two dead beehives, which was disappointing but it was a crappy 2012 followed by a super tough winter so I don’t think we were alone. I put off cleaning out one of the hives until it got warmer, but before I had chance a really early swarm took up residence and later in the year even provided a few kilos of honey. Go bees!

Anyway. This is only the second big company, full time job I’ve ever taken. Living in the freelance, self employed, startup space is nice and all but a bitch to get a mortgage with, which was the mission for 2013.

We had a holiday and a property look at North Devon, but the only smallholdings in our price range were wrecks, or swamps or had nasty surprises cunningly hidden from the estate agent photos. Truly, the estate agent is the lowest form of sales person. Or person.

OK, then. South Wales, your turn! We took a sunny trip on 8th June and saw four places over the weekend, but the first one we saw looked perfect. Five acres, half woodland, half well organised with paddocks, stables, sheds, polytunnel, chickens, etc. How unlikely is that? Still, we put in an offer and were accepted on the Monday. Wow.

Having not bought a house before, it seemed to go pretty smoothly, what can I say? Can highly recommend using a mortgage broker – Adam at Pacific Financial was great.

And on 1st October we moved into Ty Newydd Farm. On 2nd October I turned 40, so that was all completed to schedule ;-)

Our first pair of sheep, Jabobs, arrived in December and their lambs are due in March.

Now I’m doing the lodger thing in Turnpike Lane, London – arriving late Sunday night, seeming to be heavy on the meetings and catchups Monday & Tuesday and heading back out to South Wales late on Wednesday afternoon, catching up on reading and work on the train and getting into the design groove Thursday & Friday.

The office view is nice. Seems to work so far.

So there we are! I should add into that, our lovely dog Mia had a litter of seven puppies in June, and we now have Merlin who we kept. The others went to lovely homes.

Plans for 2014 are to roll with this schedule, get some farmhouse improvements installed (external insulation, timber cladding, solar panels, maybe even hydro from the torrent of a stream alongside the house). Maybe get a goat or two to help clear the overgrown woodland down a bit. Or piggies! Potential, that’s the thing!

All this would not be possible without the amazing support and drive from my beautiful wife Veronika. Truly we are living the dream (with a little more commuting than most dreams, but hey, nothing is perfect).

 


17
Apr 13

GOV.UK – Design of the year, a breakthrough for all of us

Last night the GOV.UK website won Design of the Year after winning it’s category – Digital – last month. Significantly, I think, it is the first website to win the prize.

The work itself is excellent, the team is outstanding. I know and have worked with some of them, and they genuinely are some of the very best in their fields. The win is well deserved.

The transformation of the organisation is less talked about, and despite obvious setbacks (“Digital by Default” came under fire recently, “Identity Assurance” seems to be taking longer than originally sold) massive progress has clearly been made.

But I think they have won something for us outsiders too. For everyone working in digital generally, and design in particular they’ve won the right to finally say “No” and do less, better.

To do it properly and stop cutting corners. To take the time to start small, write yourself principles and guidelines – and then follow them. Any coincidence that the Service Manual was published yesterday?

No doubt, people will copy now – but that’s the point. This isn’t just a really good website that almost everyone will use. It’s a guide on how to make really good websites for anything, for everyone and that’s powerful.

So thank you GDS.

Imagine if that power could, inevitably, sell things too? I await the ‘gov.uk of advertising’ with, almost, positivity.


19
Feb 13

Pentagram – Profile

With the last few official Pentagram books being big collections dominated by the work, the insights into how they work, how the firm is structured and mostly how they each think about design seemed to be airbrushed out of an increasingly corporate picture.

So maybe to redress the balance, here comes this chunky book of individual interviews with each partner and it more than fills the hole. The distinctive work of partners accompanies each piece too, finally extracting the strands of specialism from the fabric of Pentagramness. It is about 2004, and a tiny bit digital emerges, in the form of installation work by Lisa Strausfeld. Revolutionary.

pentagram-8

 

The book photo above tipped off to collect the set. Covetous. You can pick up this fine hardback Phaidon book new or used for very fair prices from Amazon.


05
Feb 13

Pentagram – Identities

A tiny wee book, roughly around 1999 – no copyright or ISBN so I guess made for clients, guests and friends and not usually for sale. I can’t find much about it, a rarity. It’s filled with around 100 pages of some iconic brands, and a few that are, er… a little of their time, the Metreon brand for example. Lovely little book though.

pentagram-7This seems to pop up quite often and relatively cheaply on Amazon used, so maybe not that rare?

 


04
Feb 13

Pentagram – Black Book

It’s nine years after the monstrous volume Five, post-dotcom crash, and the 2007 sub-prime home loan crash. Times are dark. Time for an austerity Pentagram: The Black Book.

pentagram-6-1

Printed as a smaller, more modest size it still packs in the work. 800 pages covering 400 projects. In their own words, “arranged in alphabetical order, like a dictionary, and printed on Bible paper, like a Bible, complete with tabbed sections and ribbons for bookmarking.”

It’s a beautiful object (indeed, it won a book design award) and was never available to buy, with a few copies given to clients and friends. It contains a wildly varied selection of work – and even the odd website. Most interesting, for me, is the appearance of the Pentagram GUI – the Sugar UI work for the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, but I’ll return to that another time.

pentagram-6-2

This book was never available to buy, and is therefore very rare with used copies turning up only occasionally on Amazon or Ebay.

 


31
Jan 13

Pentagram – Five

Pentagram continues! It’s 1999, exciting times – early days of the New Labour government, the end of the Clinton era, the dot com boom! And here is another telephone directory sized volume of work. 50 solid case studies in fact fill out the 500 hundred pages covering the period between 1993 and 1998.

pentagram-5-1

 

So we have some extremely tasteful packaging, modern with just the right amount of classicism to fit timelessly on the shelves. That international slick and corporate yet homely country kitchen style? Pentagram nailed that. The wide tracked type filling each line. Nailed. The curvaceous pastel plastic household electricals? Nailed. The tactile, eye burning electro-pop record cover? Er… nailed.

Number of websites? Zero. Number of user interfaces? Zero. Ah.

The introduction is an interesting piece, exposing the slight fib in early Pentagram days about their organisation and inherent collaborative nature. Turns out, they didn’t really do it: the partners pretty much ran distinctly separate practices under a red umbrella. Described are the steps the firm took to expand into the US, and embrace their second generation. With extremely tight graphic design, mostly for print, packaging and signage fully represented hindsight suggests a small digital blindspot.

pentagram-5-2Still, a cracking telephone directory. Remember telephones? Anyway, prices vary widely from cheap to not so cheap on Amazon used.

 


25
Jan 13

Pentagram – Compendium

If the previous book felt a little lightweight, Compendium weighs in for the defence. Big, wide, fat and bright red this volume covers the period up to 1993. Quite the interesting cut off date, as this is a distinctly pre-digital. Sure, there’s lots of desktop typesetting of the highest quality, but the world this work lives in is still unchanged, unconnected.

pentagram-4-1

It’s difficult to condense the contents of this book into a couple of montages – there is loads of it, and some decent sized essays by the partners and others to accompany the really good quality images. The number of partners (including, briefly, Peter Saville) has clearly increased, as has the amount of US based work.

pentagram-4-2

This big book reflects a busy, big, global design agency. First editions are quite expensive used, while second editions seem much cheaper.


23
Jan 13

Pentagram – Ideas on Design

Hardcover this time – fancy. So here we are in 1986, and Pentagram must have been really busy because they appear to have phoned this one in. No analysis of design agency life, but a tepid introduction from ad man Peter “Year in Provence” Mayle – how very 80s.

pentagram-3-1

As a picture book of the work, it feels a bit thin, relying on graphic design much more heavily than in earlier collections. The pages are sparse, not so much packed with insight and drawings, works in progress or unfinished concepts. The influence of new technology in their most primitive forms are beginning to be felt, but not yet deeply understood. Even the logotypes turn out less timeless and more style over substance. The 80s.

pentagram-3-2

But even here, on a bad day, Pentagram still throw down a few legendary shapes. Their worst is better than many others best. This first proper coffee-table design book sold loads, so used copies are available literally for pennies..