without thought

May 12, 2008, 10:02 am
Filed under: 2.0 | Tags: , ,

Another 2.0 fairy tale

I just caught this in the Irish news today and I couldn’t not comment on it. I had come across a mention of this incredibly successful video clip on YouTube (million and odd hits blah blah blah) of this random girl dancing around her garden. The unique feature of this clip (i was told in the article I read) was that she had danced in half time to the song then it was brought back to normal time in the edit, creating this strobe like effect. The tune she is dancing to is Daft Punk (so ok nothing abnormal so far) but to be quite frank, it isn’t anything ‘amazing’ and quite how it managed to achieve over a million hits plus wind up in an article in a Times newspaper supplement had me puzzled until, of course, I found out today that ‘groovy dancing girl’ has become the face for French fashion label Etam.

Sophie Mary as she is known, who has made several more videos since, features in an advert for the French brand dancing like a maniac in their cool denim products. As John Lydon once said ‘ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ I was able to find this clip with the title ‘Sophie Merry: a modern Fairy tale Part1′

Yes, a modern 2.0 viral fairy tale. Why should we ever think otherwise. But if you look back on any of her various gigs on YouTube, the comments tell quite a different story. Incomplete YouTube profiles posting things like: ‘Brilliant’, ‘Great’, ‘Keep it up’. Are these marketing trolls sent into inflate figures? Most likely. And then there’s that curious coincidence of it being a French label picking up on a ‘cult’ video with a French track. My god this IS the land of make believe! Perhaps some of this blarney could rub itself off on this blog. If I get a few thousand hits over night, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, check this article out on TechCrunch.

April 1, 2008, 12:44 pm
Filed under: humanist | Tags:


My tutor sent me a link to this diagram which I received this morning. (If click the above image you should get a larger version). Wabi-Sabi is something I’ve never heard of before but it seems to fill in a few blanks. This year I have been trying to adopt a new strategy when approaching design problems. We’re always told that the solution is in the problem but I’ve never looked at it in terms of excavation. I believe that decadence is an essential ingredient of art and I’ve never been entirely convinced by restoration; which for me constitutes a form of plastic surgery. Wabi_Sabi, described in the Wiki

“represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience”

Would appear to fill the gap (or leave it open). I need to track down a book or two in order to gain a deeper understanding.

March 18, 2008, 8:18 pm
Filed under: Design, humanist | Tags: , , ,

Water off a…

I’ve just started looking into the growing field of Biomimetics and I find it fascinating but one of those things that appears to be so straight forward you find yourself thinking ‘why on earth hadn’t this been looked at before?’. In many ways it fits in the ethos of Naoto Fukasawa (who’s design ideology this blog takes its name from). Nature may have all of the answers. Why deny millions of years of evolution? One of the programs on BBC’s ‘In Business’ looks at this growing trend in nano technology, interviewing ‘Advanced Technology Leader’ Margaret Blohm at General Electrics. Blohm sites the origins in this field having come from what’s called the ‘Lotus Effect’; discovered by Professor Wilhelm Barthlott, the director of the Nees-Institue for Biodiversity in Bonn, Germany. The Lotus Flower is self cleaning and what companies like GE are keen to learn from this is how they can improve on their existing materials by mimicking this effect, producing something which is described as being ‘superhydrophobic’. GE, according to Blohm, have even managed to adapt this technology further applying it to metals. This has distinct advantages in areas where cleaning is either an ongoing issue or costly. Very interesting to see what everyday object this creeps into but if Nokia are anything to go by it’s set to inflict the mundane.

March 18, 2008, 7:00 pm
Filed under: Design | Tags: ,

Back to the future

I haven’t posted in a while so I thought I’d try and come up with something good. I discovered this when I was researching material for my MA studies. It turns out that the king of the british three wheel cars (the Robin Reliant) first started life in Nottingham, England under the famous Raleigh Cycles. But this little baby (see picture) is a step above all of that. It’s a Tryon Viper; not a Deloreann spin off. Sadly there were too few of them ever made; five to be exact. You can see it in action on YouTube as the owner of this particular example talks us through the various controls and explains some of his own personal additions such as the mounted camera on the back that feeds through to a monitor on the dash (nice touch). Needles to say I want one. It’s so visionary, like someone dared to actualise a bold vision of the future but was subsequently hushed. Everyone should own a vehicle like this; at least once.


More recently, my research has taken a very different tack but one which is almost in line with what I have been writing about so far on this Blog. Having looked into it further and given myself time to reflect on all the data out there, I have come to the conclusion that I no longer believe in the church of mass collaboration. However, this is not to say that I don’t believe companies like Innocentive aren’t producing the goods (how could you go wrong with 130,000 people at your disposal) but I twigged something when I thought back on something their CEO told the BBC in the program ‘Eureka Democracy!’ on Peter Day’s series ‘In Business’. On the program Dwayne Spradlin tells Peter Day that they calculate roughly 10% of their ‘solvers’ are responsible for the majority of their solutions or innovations. How could I overlook this one very important detail? Putting it into context we now move from the many to many to the ‘law of the few’ (as detailed in Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘The Tipping Point’). When I reviewed this concept carefully, I came to the conclusion that certain basic tenants such as the 80/20 rule still apply to things like social networking or could it even be Chris Anderson’s equation in the ‘The Long Tail’? (98/2) The bell was finally struck for me this evening when I read the post ‘Digg, Wikipedia, and the myth of Web 2.0 democracy’ on the Blog Noor’s List. Chris Wilson makes some very valid points, pertinent to the whole Web 2.0 mass collaboration hyper bowl. Further reflection has caused me to draw an analogy between this research (what I call my back end research) and my front end research covered in The Bottom Bracket (which relates to the more practical elements of my course). On The Bottom Bracket, part of my research has been concerned with the subject of ‘lead user’ innovation in the field of Bicycles. What I have discovered so far is that in the case of BMX’s and Mountain Bikes, both innovations seem to have come from small groups of young enthusiasts operating out of California. The subsequent modifications these parties made to their bicycles were then either picked up on and adopted by industry, or they took them to industry themselves resulting in two new forms of Bicycle. Eric Von Hippel in his book ‘Democratizing Innovation’ uses a very similar example of extreme Wind Surfing, developed it seems by a small group of professionals in Hawaii. It may also be worth noting that Von Hippel’s study again records the fact that 10% of users are reported has having made modifications to their consumer goods; whether that be a bicycle or gortex rain jacket. So logic might then dictate that by simple process of reversal, we now arrive at a point where we have harnessed the wind power of human invention (resulting in bottom up hierarchy’s rather than top down). This is all good in theory but does it actually work like this?

Crowds, unlike elements such as wind and wave, do not always work inclusively and there are many variables. In the end, ventures such as Kluster will be lead by the few rather than the many, culminating in an elite group that will in turn exclude the remaining 80/98 percent (_19). However, and just to re-iterate, I’m not saying companies like Innocentive don’t find solutions to problems, what I am saying is that what they replace is nothing more than good old fashioned open competition.

Humble beginnings

A good example of open competition can be read about in Dava Sobel’s book ‘Longitude’ (a book that describes itself as being ‘The true story of a lone genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time.’) and a visit to Amazon’s site provides us with further synopsis

“Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land [...] The quest for a solution had occupied scientists and their patrons for the better part of two centuries when, in 1714, Parliament upped the ante by offering a king’s ransom (GBP20,000) to anyone whose method or device proved successful. [...] The scientific establishment throughout Europe – from Galileo to Sir Isaac Newton – had mapped the heavens in both hemispheres in its certain pursuit of a celestial answer. In stark contrast, one man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution.”

Not to spoil the ending of the book but in terms of there being a semiotic evaluation of historic plot, Longitude is the story of David and Goliath with time thrown in as a signifier. Gifted amateur Harrison achieves the unobtainable against all odds when (‘Eureka!’) he solves the problem that has dogged so many of the educated minds before him.

The journey

This all fits in with something else I have been reading about; mythology. And, as mentioned before, Joseph Campbell. Campbell is most noted for categorising mythologies from around the world, concluding that all myths conform to one basic structure, the ‘Monomyth’. Campbell more famously wrote about the ‘Monomyth’ in the book ‘Hero with a thousand faces’. Currently, I am reading ‘Joseph Campbell, An Introduction’ by Robert A. Segal in which Segal tries to explain the underlying concepts behind the ‘Monomyth’. According to Segal, one of the crucial elements that Campbell sees in the Hero’s journey is that his quest is carried out not only for himself but for the good of all humanity, the Hero’s journey ultimately involves the dissolution of his ego which in turn leads to enlightenment and wisdom (enter the Buddha, Jesus Christ). On his journey the hero, starting out at point A, goes through transformation resulting in point B. Ultimately we all identify with the hero’s journey because it reflects our own personal metamorphosis. The mythology surrounding open innovation is the same mythology found in the story of King Arthur; when an unlikely candidate pulls the sword from the stone. Historical figure such as Harrison fit into this ‘Arc’ also as do a whole host of other contemporary innovators, who capture our imagination and compel us to believe.

A Hero’s return

The recent Wispa campaign, launched by Cadbury’s last year, is a very good example of how reversing a mythical structure like David & Goliath can work in the favor of a PR campaign, only this time Goliath (or the ‘we’) slaughters David (the problem) with not just a single sling shot but many. The result being that in the case of the Wispa campaign, consumers truly believed they were involved in re-instating their favorite confectionery using the fabled ‘power of the we’ Facebook groups and therefor acted out the Heroe’s journey.

In essence it seems to me that with Web 2.0, Campbell’s mythological structures appear once more only this time in reverse. Is upside down the the only innovation Web 2.0 has to offer us?

I am reminded of a book I once read by the founder of the Hell’s Angel Motorcycle Club; Sonny Barger. Barger claims that he and his Angels were responsible for a lot of the modifications that Harley Davidson later adopted; such as ape handle bars and long seats. But I was also reminded of something else Barger mentions. Before they named themselves ‘The Hell’s Angels’, the gang were known as something else

‘The One-Percenters’.

February 26, 2008, 10:26 am
Filed under: brand development, Design, humanist, UCD | Tags: , , ,

Change time

I was made aware of Nokia’s new concept phone, Morph yesterday. A quick login to the Guardian site will give you a very good idea of where they’re planning to go with this. Last October I was down in Bournemouth University, along with other class mates, at a talk given by Senior Design Manager Nicola Ralston. Ralston did, it seemed, hint at a new direction for Nokia, convinced that the future of design would become multidisciplinary (she’s not alone there). But it also became apparent that who Nokia are truly competing with now is of course Apple. With the new Apple iPhone becoming the object of fetish last year, it’ll be interesting to see what Nokia fights back with and if the Morph is any indication of what they have bubbling over in the lab, Apple may have a fight on their hands. The design of the phone makes constant reference to organic type materials: It boasts a self cleaning surface akin to the structures found in ‘nanoflowers’ ; ‘Using the same principle behind spider silk’ Nokia hope to created a phone that is more malleable; ‘Nanotechnology holds out the possibility that the surface of a device will become a natural source of energy via a covering of “Nanograss” structures that harvest solar power’ and lastly ‘Further, utilization of biodegradable materials might make production and recycling of devices easier and ecologically friendly.’ (which is what the future is all about). This all taken from the Nokia site. Taking the fight to Apple, Nokia are promising an exciting fusion of high hi-tech properties combined with sustainable organic features (please check up on my sister Blog ‘The Bottom Bracket’ for more info like this). However, it’s worth pointing out that this is still a battle of the brands, not technology. Apple, already strongly positioned as a life style commodity, may have upper hand over Nokia who’s brand currently fails to evince enough warmth and love. That said, it’s possible that a product like this, if it were ever to be realized, might well help Nokia to migrate into premier position and Apple, who so far have struggled with sustainable issues, might well be left behind in the fight for hearts and minds. (thanks to Neil Glen)


Change design

Yesterday I was at the Change Design symposium in my college, Bath Spa. It was a day that served to generate debate regarding ethical and sustainable issues. Speakers included John Thackara, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Rupert Bassett, Karen Blincoe and husband Mervyn Kurlansky. The day also featured discussion groups, enabling students to take part in conversations regarding design education, sustainability and the role of the designer in the community. Particularly in the vein of what I have been exploring in this Blog, John Thackara gave a very concise talk on collaborative innovation, presenting several projects undertaken as part of dott07. Both Thackara and Shiela Levrant helped me to understand more about how my thinking on design has been changing over the last six months. Both speakers drew attention to the importance of shutting up and listening more; especially in relation to their involvement with community work.

The conclusions of the symposium and the discussion groups were varied but my own general feelings and what I feel took away from it was that in the future Designers will need to take on more social responsibility, adopt better leadership skills (not blaming unethical decision making on clients), and become more open to cross collaboration with a variety of different disciplines that (in the words of Karen Blincoe) could mean agencies employing a social anthropologists and chemists as part of its design team.

One thing did capture my attention though and that was the Imperio Armani label on the back of Mervyn Kurlansky’s jeans. But as he said later, none of us are perfect; or as American humourist Don Marquis put it

“A hypocrite is a person who–but who isn’t?”

More information can be found on the event at changedesign.info


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