Category Archives: Projects

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Project: Yesterday – a call for early supporters

if you’ve been following any of the world’s geopolitical events this year, you’ll have heard a great deal about the filter bubble – the notion that we only see a small fraction of the world around us, exacerbated by digital platforms like Facebook and Google ‘personalising’ our news feed. These platforms use interest data to select content they think we would find relevant or useful to us – but create a focussing effect, the more you like something, the more of that you will see, and the less other things you’ll be exposed to.

Project: Yesterday* is designed to combat this.

every day, you post content you’ve discovered to yesterday. content you find interesting, new, exciting, different.

at the end of every week, you’ll get back a report on your content – scoring the width of your world view, along with a digest of content you haven’t seen from the rest of the community.

content which is interesting and insightful scores well, content which has already been seen by others scores badly.

there are no points for speed or quantity, only quality and diversity.

over time, you’ll build up a wider range of places to read and deeper content to consider, and yesterday will benefit everyone who takes part.

for the first prototype, we want a small community of collectors, to commit to a month of submissions.

the reporting and scoring will be done manually, it won’t be elegant or some clever system, but we do want to test the approach.

and you’ll be a critical part to this.

all we need from you is a commitment to post at least one piece of content every day, before midnight, and for you to review what others have posted at the end of the week. in the fullness of time, members will pay to be part of the community by submitting content regularly. they will be able to ‘skip’ days or ‘take a holiday’, but the entry cost is feeding the machine. you guys will need to, however, be on it for a month, to make sure the system works.

if you’re interested in being part of the early test group – please, leave your email address below:

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*Yesterday is a working title. Name TBC!

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LoveThink – a new project for 2015

You may have already seen a few tweets and posts about my new project for 2015 – lovethink.

It was sparked by a few recent conversations about the rise of Tinder and similar apps, and during exploration of the explosive category of connection platforms, from match.com to OKCupid, from Happn to Cuddlr – it struck me that they all start with one thing – physical attraction.

Clearly, this is a fairly fundamental biological drive, and years of evolution demand that physical attraction has purpose way beyond just wanting to be with someone ‘nice looking’, but I think we’d all agree that it isn’t the most important dimension, and certainly not the only one.

Fast forward to today – and I’ve been developing a platform to test a question: can you create romantic connections without physical appearance being the first filter?

In all honesty, it’s developed from a thought/concept design to talk around into a quick wordpress hack to see if something was possible, and now I’m interested in whether people will take part, and what might happen.

As with most of my projects, I’ve not really thought this through, or am too worried about what might happen and how – I’m more interested in just seeing what happens. I’d be keen for as many people to just take part, whether they’re single or not, whether they’re looking to meet collaborators, friends or something more.

You can register for an account at http://lovethinkapp.thinkplaymake.co and we’ll be posting regular updates here on the project as it develops, as well as what I discover or start to think about the concept as it unfolds.

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Timesheets

Many businesses struggle to encourage teams to keep their timesheets up to date – which leads to frequent emails chasing to complete them, and lack of up to date data on client resourcing – and ultimately profitability. I’d also wager that the longer from the moment of doing the work that it is captured and reported, the less accurate it becomes.

Our CSO (and my boss) sent a few folk internally an email about how we could encourage positive behaviours around timesheets. We have a specialist team with decades of experience in behaviour change within our Insight team, so it felt like a natural brief to include them in – but being a contrary type, my immediate response was: the question is wrong.

The challenge isn’t “how can we encourage people to keep their timesheets up to date”, but rather “how can we reliably and accurately report upon what people are doing with their time”.

Without doubt, timesheets are universally loathed. They are painful to complete, they are rarely accurate, and they take time to complete, creating a meta-loop of logging time on your timesheets for completing timesheets. They are a relic of an old way of doing reporting and data collection – and are completely out of step with how modern data collection works.

If you had a blank sheet of paper, and you were designing a process which allowed you to capture what people were working on, you wouldn’t end up with timesheets as the answer.

Automation. Ambient sensors. Big data. Natural language processing. Location data. Apps. Calendar data. Emails. Texts. Instant Messenger. Card entry systems. Intention casting. Predictive analyis. Pattern recognition. We are practically drowning in new forms of interface and data analysis which shift the very way in which we design systems for understanding systems.

But what do you end up with?

That’s my question, and that’s what I’ll be exploring over the coming months before Xmas.

Now, what job code should I put this under?

One Year of Junk Mail

I’ve just moved into a new flat, and it has prompted me to think about projects which last 12 months, the length of my contract in this place. The first project was waiting on my doorstep before I even moved in.

Junk Mail.

I’m going to capture the entire body of direct mail which I’m sent whilst I’m in this place.

Stuff which is anonymously door dropped, stuff which is marketed directly at me. Stuff which is incorrectly sent to me. I’m interested in seeing how long it takes for my details to appear on marketing lists, how targeted and relevant the content is, and the sheer volume of paper pushed through my door.

I’m not sure how interesting it will be to follow, but there might be some interesting data from the back of it.

You can follow the project at its tumblr, http://oneyearofjunkmail.tumblr.com and I’ll be tweeting project related tweets via #1yearofJunkMail

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Probonobo

About two years ago, I wrote this proposal – a concept for a marketplace which matches charities with talent, to support them with their digital and communication needs. I called it Probonobo, a dirty portmanteau of Pro-Bono and a joke about an infinite number of monkeys.

Apart from the fact that most of my ideas are based upon puns, the infinite monkeys aspect is really important – an infinite number of monkeys may well produce Shakespeare at some point, but charities cannot afford the (infinity-1) failed iterations until success appears – it cannot be random, it has to be well directed, because people’s free time is valuable, and charity’s work is important.

I’m posting the idea here for two reasons:

a) All good ideas which have sat in a drawer for longer than six months should be free and public, so a busy originator doesn’t become a reason for the idea to not be realised

b) Re-airing the idea gives me some focus and reflection upon what was good about it, and what was too complex. I’m learning in recent years that simplicity over all else is critical. If you’re trying to get across three points, reduce it to one, and start from there.

The idea is great, but it takes too much to get off the ground. The initial idea could be as simple as “create a place where briefs can be shared and improved”. The delivery piece can come later, the heart of the idea is about getting to better briefs (or rather the right objectives).

So, inspired by a conversation over dinner on Thursday night, I’m airing the idea publicly, and this might lead to something happening.

An image from my new project - Edges of London.

Take a look at http://edgesoflondon.tumblr.com/

Edges of London

My new project “Edges of London” launches today.

I’m building a slowly growing photographic collection of visits to the end of every tube line.

Over the course of the next 12 months or so, I’ll be travelling to the 35 stations on the London tube network which are the end of a line, and capturing the conversations I have with folk, as well as anything interesting I spot visually.

The first station was Amersham.

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Twitter for Strangers

I have a growing sense of unease about what I do and who I follow.

Reading introspectively about what our industry does, new technology, new applications of that technology, new behaviours – it all feels like a meta-exercise.

I don’t want to read about what my peers are doing.

I want to read about what people I don’t know are doing.

I need a type of twitter for people who I don’t follow.

Every day, my feed would be created of new, interesting, passionate folk, who I’ve not met and don’t know what they do, talking about their day, and their work, in every field of life.

Imagine it like a magazine or podcast, with that wonderful editorial curation that brings you new ideas, but rather than long form articles, just their passing thoughts and whimsy.

An exercise in serendipity perhaps.

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A week without Facebook

It’s been about one week since I deleted all my friends on Facebook. And I’m still here.

(Read my original post about the reason behind leaving facebook)

I wasn’t able to delete my account. For a number of reasons, I manage a handful of pages or communities on Facebook, like Disposable Memory Project and The 100, and deleting the account would have meant I had to hand over control to another user, which isn’t the right thing to do right now. Additionally, I use Facebook Authentication for SO MANY services that deleting my account would have been painfully disruptive.

So, I removed all of the friends.

What is left behind? Nothing but page likes and advertising. Facebook without people is sad place.

It is a really poor portal with streams of content from brands that you once had a passing engagement with.

As a result, I haven’t checked Facebook once this week.

So the immediate result is that I have freed up a great deal of time which I spent browsing through updates and social content. I mostly miss this on train journeys or whilst waiting for things. I have seemingly replaced it with increased use of:

a) Podcasts – I am now listening to more content
b) Feedly – I am reading content and articles, rather than updates and comments
c) Messaging – I’m responding to more emails and sending more WhatsApp and SMS
d) Music – listening to more music
e) Nothing – I seem to look out of the window more often

As far as connecting to my friends in a more meaningful way, I’m not sure that has happened yet.

Why? Because Facebook teaches us to interact with our social network in a frictionless way.

In two forms:

1. Post to your network, and see who is interested.
2. See what your network is posting and react to what is interesting.

It feels like the lowest effort possible, you’re throwing out something that MIGHT interest SOMEONE, and you’ll get a response.

Rather than thinking about who might be interested in the specific thing you’re doing, and telling them.

It also makes me think more about what i am doing that I would share.

“i’m making cheese on toast” – i would happily post that on twitter/facebook/instagram, but would I write to a friend and tell them that? No, probably not.

“i’m thinking about you” – i would happily send a message to someone about that, but would I write it publicly on a wall? No, probably not.

And finally, I’m only making cheese on toast. I have very little interesting content to truly interest my friends. So I need to do two things:

1. Ask my friends what they are up to (because I don’t know ambiently any more)
2. Do more things that are interesting in order to have things to talk about

Also, I got sick, and I lost my voice this week.

I don’t know if that is related, but losing my voice seems apt.

I hope I will get it back next week.

Happy Easter.

On the meaning of friendship…

I’ve been thinking a great deal about friendship recently.
And how it is defined in a world where online and offline blur.

So I’m about to start an experiment in Facebook.
Where I delete my account.

Not because I disagree with Facebook, but because I need to get better at staying in touch with people.

For someone like me (introvert, struggles with face to face interaction with people, brilliant at creating loose networks but bad at building real relationships), Facebook creates the illusion of connectivity without actual connection.

This isn’t about social isolation, but meaningful social interaction.

Let’s see what happens.
I’ll share my discoveries here.
Or with you, face to face, over a cup of coffee.

Discoveries:
April 18, 2014: One week after leaving Facebook

#NicerTuesdays

Last night, I spoke at It’s Nice That’s #NicerTuesdays.


Photography courtesy of GT / Its Nice That

It’s their monthly creative talks event, and I stood alongside three other brilliant speakers, photographer Spike Visser, Kevin Haley of aberrant architecture and Hector Harkness from immersive theatre company Punchdrunk, all on the topic of participation.

My talk talked about a couple of projects I’ve run where participation is key, and generally focused on the importance of the role of Curator, someone who is responsible for guiding and directing effort and talent, into the best possible shape; the importance of ensuring that your community is looked after and feels a sense of co-ownership; and that participative projects which include collaboration with a wide group of people are sustainable, so that no-one person can decide they’re bored and give up on a collective group’s input.

All of the talks revolved around the role of the audience in a piece of work, and reminds us that everything we do, ultimately, is for an audience – and without understanding how they fit into ecosystem and the role they play, ideas can be disconnected and inauthentic. Without putting a person and their needs and interests at the heart of an idea, it falls flat.

There’s a larger description of the evening over at It’s Nice That’s blog: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/nicer-tuesdays-participation-write-up

The 100 (+2)

Almost 2 years ago, I started a project called The 100.

I dreamt up the idea on Jan 1st 2012 to send 100 cameras to 100 people aged between 1 and 100, one camera per age, in order to capture a week in the lives of 100 different ages.

I intended to complete the project within twelve months, as a quicker project in comparison to the long running Disposable Memory Project (which is five years and counting), and wrap the project up on Jan 1st 2013.

Boy, was that an underestimate. In reality, I’ve effectively finished the project today, with the very last roll of film being published on the site. Whilst there will still be a bit of actively over the coming months, the project in its first state is complete with 100 (actually 102) rolls of film developed and shared, in addition to two special ages 0 and 101.

Why did it take longer than expected? I’ll write a longer blog post over on the project to explain, but in short:

1. Major Life Events. Not least of all, my wife got pregnant and we had a second child in 2012, I moved jobs, and a handful of other significant personal events took place which immediately consumed all of my emotional and cognitive energy.

2. The Post. It doesn’t work. Sending physical things all around the world is costly, hard work and unreliable.

3. Crowdsourcing. It takes a long time to find 100 people. It’s sort of chicken and egg. If people aren’t visiting your website, no-one will apply. No-one will visit your website until you have images online. If no-one visits your website, there are no images. And so on.

4. Major Life Events. This is worth posting for both 2012 and 2013. This year has been even more unsettled, with yet another new job, and a host of other challenges.

Needless to say, its great when a project concludes, and to see the complete set of images is really special.

Check out the complete project at http://the100.thinkplaymake.co/

Challenging Meetings

So, despite the myth that new parents have no time, I built a thing last night.

After this conversation with @malbonster and @katiedreke :
http://l.ynx.co/meetingappidea

… I built this last night:
http://l.ynx.co/meetingsapp
(it works best on a smartphone, like iOS)

It’s a meeting challenge app – open it during a meeting, and at random times, you’ll get presented with a challenge, for instance, drop a completely made up abbreviation and use it like everyone should know it, or hum for longer than 30 seconds. You only get points if you don’t get called out on it.

There aren’t many challenges in there yet, let me know if you’d like any particular ones adding.
You can add the app to your home screen on iOS in case you need quick access to it.

It’s all clientside tech, so you can just grab the source and fork it. Let me know if you do anything interesting with it. Also, it was very rapidly built (in around one hour) using divshot to throw together a twitter bootstrap layout, and then basic javascript to get the engine itself work.

Have fun, but don’t blame me if you lose your clients’ confidence.

DR Codes

This is a thought that’d been rattling around in my head for a few years, which I want to try and crack this year.

Each agency I’ve worked in, there has been some form of tea making culture. Every day, at varying times during the day, someone will offer to make a brew.
Small teams of good friends know how to make each others drinks, but larger teams struggle to remember, and if you’re offering to make a large round, you have to remember quite a few permutations of the basic bases: Drink Type, Sugar Count, Strength/Milk Ratio, Foam, Steep Time, and so on.

At de-construct, we had a number of solutions to remind brewers how the team liked their drink. These were pieces of beautiful design which presented the instructions to make the drink in a graphical format, printed as a large poster in the kitchen area. The first one, I think was done by Alex Griffin, mostly in response to me accidentally putting salt in a cup of tea instead of sugar (they look the same, it wasn’t my fault).

There are so many combinations though, and people change their desires frequently – I’m drinking more tea than I used to for instance, and some times I need sugar, other times I don’t. If you’re making me coffee though, its simple – freshly ground black filter coffee please.

So posters only work so far, and don’t solve the problem of remember who wanted a drink either.
How often have you scribbled down some hieroglyphs like MK: T2S, SB: C1SB, KL: C2 to keep track of who asked for what?

So the idea of a DR code came to me a few years back when looking to create a new poster for a space: A graphical marker which explains how someone wants their drink, that can be read by both humans and machines. A QR code for drinks.

A human looking at the code could easily see the drink’s make up: drink type, sugars, milk, etc. A computer could read even more information, and build that into applications. A mobile app could easily capture what drinks people wanted, and who wanted them – perhaps the DR codes are stored against the address book entry, and the app logs the ratio of making the drink to receiving the drink (to catch out people who never step up to the kettle), and that data could be aggregated to show the consumption habits of a business, and improve stock ordering accordingly.

So I’ve started work on creating the code itself, a human and machine readable visual device which holds information on a drink’s make up.

There are TR Codes (Tea Requirement codes) and CR Codes (Coffee Requirement) so far, and I’m still tweaking the meanings (for instance, subtleties between ristrettos and espressos, or milk/foam ratios for drinks like a latte vs a capp’).

There’s potentially colour to explore too, to expand the drink types. I’m pretty sure it could extend to drinks beyond the office, cocktails for instance might work based upon ratios.

Once the DR Code works, I’ll look at how we can use some simple Javascript to recognise the icon, and act upon it in some way.
I’d also love to look at non square / non digital looking versions, using perhaps pie chart type visuals and colour.

There are bunch of references which have influenced this so far:
The work Mat and I did on CLARITY*
The espresso field guide (and versions of that)
Tea over IP