I know it seems like I’ve been out and about a fair bit lately, with all these posts coming at once, but it’s mainly that I’ve been postponing the writing for a while and have decided to actually get these notes out there, in the interest of making these ideas stick. In my mind, in yours, both – take your pick.
The PSFK Conference a couple of weeks ago was a day well spent as far as inspiration goes. They tried out some new things, like having a panel with design graduates who spoke about what it was like to search for design-related jobs today. That kind of thing – actually asking young people their opinion in a fairly high-profile conference – happens so rarely that it was quite insightful. These kids are all really clear about what they want to do – one of them wanted to be a props maker for film and theatre, for example – and it places the onus on the design and tech industries to make sure we’re top of our game if we want to attract smart people like them.
One of the biggest brand success stories of late is Rapha. James Fairbank spoke about cycling with such passion it is easy to see why people believe in the brand. A couple of phrases that stood out: ‘cycling as a sport keeps you incredibly honest’ and something about Rapha standing for ‘a lifestyle not a product’. Rapha believe in marketing the sport rather than the product, and aim to impress experts with the sheer quality of what they do: so if they make a film they want filmmakers to appreciate it.
With reference to the Rapha Cycle Club, James said that they were set up because they felt as a brand that just setting up a store would be selling themselves short. So the club is a meeting place for people to actually go on trips together.
I remember emailing a link to the Oyster ring to my colleagues at work recently. Dhani Sutanto, the creator, spoke about his work and inspiration. He mentioned how he aims to make his work ‘reflect his personality’ in some way. Left Right OK, a project about wearable signals for cyclists, was another interesting story.
James and Josh from the Rockwell Group were fascinating. They showcased some of their digital work as architects, such as the lobby of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas, and spoke about how digital technology inspired their work in physical surroundings. As they said, the digital and physical don’t need to be divorced from each other.
Diane Verde Nieto spoke about how she is trying to get successful brands the world over to affix the butterfly logo of her company on their sites, which would indicate that their products are ethically sourced. You can then click through to details. The more butterflies you see around the web, the better it is. Brands like ASOS Africa have already signed up.
Matt Webb announced the release of developer tools for BERG Cloud, and the introduction of features such as the Little Printer’s face going from sad to happy when he successfully prints something out, and the ability to ‘give him a haircut’ (you had to be there to appreciate that!). One of the things he mentioned that was rather neat was a daily crossword with two clues – I think they’re working with a newspaper to produce that.
I haven’t heard much from Innocent as a brand lately, so it was good to get an update from Dan, whose talk focused on how brands should build stories to get their audience engaged. Innocent did that with the Big Knit, for example. And the more of that storytelling ethos you generate, the more even your detractors can become your fans. They apparently invited one of their critics to the office to talk to her!
Ben and Russell spoke about how in-house skill requirements are changing across corporate and government institutions, and the GDS is proof of that (in government). Russell mentioned desire paths and the importance of creating content that users want to find rather than what you think should be there. The current Directgov site has unnecessary information about wearing warm clothes in winter (they really do!) and they’re trying to get rid of the pointless stuff and focus on allowing people to easily find what they really want to – like when the next bank holiday is! I got a sense of how big the task is and really appreciate what they’re doing.
Richard Banks from Microsoft Research in Cambridge (UK, not US!) spoke about sharing of content on the web, especially things like photos, and where we’re going with it in the future. He was rather optimistic and said that we’re moving to a phase where possession will matter less than sharing it socially – think of the way people pose for photos and apply Instagram filters before they share pictures with friends.
I’d never seen anyone from Sesame Street speak before and absolutely loved hearing about how the team are working on making TV a next generation teaching tool – something Sesame Street have done for decades but that they’re trying to reinvent with Kinect. Look at Elmo’s World.
TWSU is a company that came about courtesy the maker school of thought. Hack and make, make and hack, so you’re not at the mercy of technology but instead understand how it works and can use it for your benefit. Puzzle Radio and the Bright Eyes kit (below) were a couple of projects that we got an early look at, that I was rather intrigued by. Seriously – glasses with LED lights, yo!
Amidst all the AR players I’d heard of, Sayduck slipped through the net so it was good to hear about this mobile AR app that allows you to literally see a piece of furniture in your living room before you buy it.
I know I sound like some sort of fan girl, but if healthcare is a field of interest, as it is of mine thanks to being a doctor’s daughter, then you must check out Professor Syrum. John Pugh and his team at Boehringer Ingelheim are bravely tackling the key problem of the pharma industry: being good at what they do but crap at communicating it. Syrum is a Facebook game that attempts to overcome that barrier.
‘By 2017 bot swarms will control finance, not bankers.’ Stan Stalnaker took us through Hub Culture’s work on Ven, their virtual currency. Wikipedia says it is the ‘first virtual currency to be used in the financial markets and the first used in commodity and carbon credit trading’.
Debbie Forster introduced us to the world of good that her team at App for Good are working on. They are getting kids to build apps that improve their (and our) world, very inspiring stuff.
Jonathan Ford from design agency Pearlfisher took us through the work of the Haller Foundation that he is associated with and told us about how brands should stand for something larger than themselves.
Jess Butcher wowed me with the new developments that are on the anvil for Blippar. You can soon blip a window dressing and click to buy straight from there thanks to their new patent-pending peelaway technology. Look at this:
Julian Thompson took us through Jaguar’s history and heritage and the reason for their relentless pursuit of good design: ‘good design communicates a product’s values; what it does and who it is for.’
I also want to mention the various small but important eco-friendly things PSFK did at the conference; from using food and drink suppliers who practiced ethical sourcing and recycling to making sure the conference attendees returned their badges so they could be recycled.
All in all, as I said, a very inspiring day. PSFK Conference San Francisco is happening soon – if you’re in that part of the world, consider going.