• The Drum – Plan It Day – Using Artefact Cards

    On: September 24, 2015
    In: artefactcards, design, marketing
    Views: 5970

    Slides from the ‘operating manual’ at The Drum’s Plan It Day.
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  • Conceptual Strategy for Intranets

    On: September 17, 2015
    In: artefactcards, people, technology
    Views: 3467

    I know, that’s a rock and roll blog post title, eh?

    A short video, explaining something that Chris, Mark and I worked on a while ago for a client, but that came back round again today when someone asked ‘any thoughts on setting up intranets?’. Rather than a long blog post, or a detailed email, I made a scratchy video…

    …using the webcam/lamp stand thing I hacked together a while ago.


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  • Froebel’s Gifts for The Internet

    On: February 11, 2015
    In: artefactcards, making, material culture, rivetings, technology
    Views: 7969

    Over the past few days, after John first introduced the topic to me last week, I have been looking in to Froebel’s Gifts. For those of you who are unaware of Froebel’s gifts, they are a series of playthings for kids that are widely considered to be the world’s first educational toys.



    The gifts, created by Friedrich Froebel, were introduced in 1838 at a similar time to when Froebel coined the term and opened the first Kindergarten. They appear deceptively simple but represent a sophisticated approach to child development. The six original gifts were accompanied by a series of “Occupations” such as sewing, gardening, singing and the modelling with clay, which were designed to help children mimic their experiences through play.

    The idea of these gifts and occupations did spark a thought with us over here at Smithery. What would Froebel’s gifts be if you were designing them today, to help people grasp the idea of the Internet? Can you easily translate the physical lessons from 1838 over to the digital age? This translation is something I have struggled with in the past, as my brain works towards predominantly physical solutions for things.

    Some of the lessons Froebel was trying to introduce included:

    i) The idea of learning through “focused play”

    ii) Seeing the interconnectedness of all creation.

    iii) The importance of knowing how information fits together, rather than memorising facts themselves.

    The last two lessons really stand out to really lending themselves to understanding the internet. Obviously the world is becoming more and more interconnected, and more recently the emergence of the Internet of Things will accelerate this. But also I like the idea of helping people develop a powerful skill; to be able to use the internet well without needing to be an expert in any of its particular disciplines. A way of closing the gap between amateurs and experts perhaps, or at the very least create common ground for dialogue between the two.

    So we’re setting ourselves a task; what would Froebel’s gifts and occupations be for a digital world? We’ll have a little play around, with the Artefact Cards which exist already, and some other ideas we’ve been playing with.

    And maybe, just maybe, we will try to create a collection of gifts to go along with one of our new years resolutions about producing more, and set up a subscription service for people to receive them.

    We have some starter questions that need answered; if you can think of any more helpful ones, please do drop them into the comments below.

    What would the internet look and feel like in your hands?

    What would Froebel’s occupations be to enhance education for the internet age?

    What’s the metaphor or analogy that helps you understand what the internet is?

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  • Flow Engines vs. Fracking

    On: September 30, 2014
    In: artefactcards, design, making, marketing, media, work
    Views: 3100

    I ran an innovation session yesterday for The Network One, to a group of owners and CEOs of various nimble, independent agencies. I was going to just explore some of the ideas in Fracking The Social Web, but given it was an afternoon session I tried something new.

    (Also, as a rule of thumb, just talking in an afternoon slot isn’t as good as getting people to do things. I can’t remember where I first heard this theory, but it’s always worked for me. Mornings are for heads, afternoons are for hands.)

    By using the Flow Engine approach to set up ‘different ways of working’, and using Artefact Cards as went, we moved through three steps.

    Firstly, I asked people to write on a card the biggest issue for them in bridging the gap between traditional marketing structures and the more fluid, granular approach needed for working on the social web. In their groups, they then shared these in the centre of the table; some would be similar, some different, but what was interesting was the conversation betwen the teams about the different issues.

    Secondly, we then used the Fracking themes to think about why agencies need to work differently; as I went through the themes and examples, the participants in groups would be noting down things on cards (either direct points, or ideas set-off by the thinking), so that in small groups they could start addressing the points in the centre of the table, building out a map of the territory.

    Finally, I asked people to looking at the map and just write down a final card for themselves on what they would change tomorrow when they got back to the office, taking inspiration from the map they’d created together.

    The slides are up here, so you can get an idea of the session. In hindsight, I think I tried to do slightly too much in the allocated time, it’d have been nicer to have some extra reflection time.  Apart from that though, it seemed to work pretty well – thanks to everyone there for throwing themselves in, and thanks again to Paul, Victoria and Doug from The Network One.

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  • The Pick Up & Play Office

    On: July 7, 2014
    In: artefactcards, rivetings, technology, work
    Views: 5326

    In 2007/2008, when I did the IPA Excellence Diploma, there was one section of the course that asked you to create five different pieces of creative. One of them was about building a place fit for creativity. It was my favourite exercise of that module, possibly because the task was far removed from what I did everyday; it asked you to think in terms of architectural permanence, rather than fleeting media experiences.

    In hindsight, it may well have been be the thing that set me off thinking about how the space around us really does influence the things we create and the way we create them. We’re all just reacting to context, be it other people, or things other people have made.

    Anyway, I submitted a piece at the time which helped me define a roaming, itinerant working method of being out and about as much as possible, and not trapped inside white-walled offices trying to crack problems.

    Actually, thinking about it now, though the brief perhaps asked for something more consistent and solid, I contrived something which largely ignored the potential in static space in favour for a wandering and wondering approach, inspired by this piece on Creative Generalists.

    It’s below, should you want to travel back in time. The piece only exists in separate strands now – a hosted audio track, and the slides over which it went. Slideshare used to offer that functionality, but have since stopped supporting it. Therein lies any lessons for things wot we store on the web; they change, or go away, when we’re not looking. I’m sure you can click along to the dulcet Scottish tones if you wish.

    And yes, I’m highly embarrassed by the phone I chose to represent ‘camera phones’…

    Why do I bring this up now though?

    Well, many reasons, some of which I’ll expand in future posts about the  three-year anniversary of Smithery (TL;DR – exciting times).

    But one in particular, related to one of the companies that I’ve used since I wrote that piece, to help facilitate the working method by carting various bits of tech around; Crumpler.

    1 - Crumpler Logo

    I’ve been using Crumpler bags for the last six years, and before that housed laptops in their excellent neoprene cases. I have had various sizes and varieties of Crumpler that have served me very well indeed.

    But I found myself after something in particular; a spacious, hand-luggage sized backpack that I could use for going on my wee European work hops.

    Big enough to get the tools of the trade in (and spare undies and the like), but small enough to manhandle into one of the Easyjet’s Krypton Factor-esque baggage sizing devices.

    They didn’t have anything like this in the online shop. So I got chatting to Michael there at their German HQ, first via twitter, then Facebook. To cut a long story a little shorter, he said he’d send me over a couple of bags from the new range that wasn’t out, and I said I’d test them out and review them here.

    But rather than a straight review of the bags, I thought it’d be more interesting (for you, me and hopefully Michael) if I tried to talk about them in the context of wider work stuff.

    The first bag is called the Muli Backpack M, and it’s a small, super slim backpack. It’s basically the perfect bag for what I’ve come to think of as The Pick Up & Play Office, the bag that’d hold everything you need to do unexpected things on an expected job.

    It’s most useful to look at what I have inside the bag. Ever since discovering it during a piece of research on a chewing gum brand, I’ve been in love with What’s In My Bag on Flickr… a better insight into global ‘carryable stuff’ trends you may never find.

    So in keeping with that trope, here’s the plan view of  the contents for a typical day (btw – most links go through Amazon Associates, other shops are available)…

    15 - All Gear

    Steel Water Bottle, by Penguin – I’ve been carrying a water bottle for years, rather than buying endless plastic water bottles. Funnily enough, because of the slightly lame literary joke (“On The Road” by Jack Kerouac – geddit…?), it’s become a conversation starter with more people than I’d ever have imagined it would. It’s a water cooler moment you can carry with you. Anyway, you should all stop buying bottled water, or indeed helping to sell it. It’s stupid.

    Panasonic Lumix LX7 Camera – this wee camera is by far the best tech investment I’ve made in two years, which is not a statement I’m going to make lightly. It’s a bridge camera; functions and capabilities beyond that of a standard compact, but without the inconvenience of having to heft around a full-on DSLR. It’s good enough to do really quite serviceable product shots, little instructional vids, or one-handed filming of projects on-the-hoof, especially in slo-mo. Extra bonus – they’re dead cheap now, as the LX8 is coming later this year.

    Samson Meteor – a USB mic for interviewing, podcasts etc. I usually hook this up to the iPad mini, and use the Soundnote app for interviews or Audioboo to capture little audio-hunches.

    Apple Mac Air, 13″ mid-2011 & Apple iPad Mini 64Gb, 2012 – as often as I’ve tried to just take an iPad to work on, I find that on its own, it’s more of a time-shifting device – it helps you capture the things you need to do for work later, rather than do the work itself. So I travel with both the Air and the iPad Mini pretty much all the time.

    Joby Gorrilapod tripod – now, this is a really handy little tripod stand for the LX7 when I need it, but also it can turn an iPad into a hi-tech Overhead Projector for working with Artefact Cards (thanks to Mick Lock at Experian for the tip) – get your iPad mini, and add a Grifiti Nootle cover that takes a tripod screw on the base. Then connect a Lightning to VGA adapter, and you can plug the iPad in to any standard projector, open the camera app, and whatever the camera is looking down at appears on the screen behind you, like below.


    It means that groups of people can work quickly on the Artefact Cards, and show their work to the group pretty easily. You should see people’s faces when they look back and realise how quickly they’re working (instead of going away from meetings to return with a PowerPoint presentation a few days later).

    Artefact Cards – naturally, of course, given I make them as well. I’ll try to carry around four blank packs, in a mix of colours, every day. Some of them will be for using on my own or with others, but inevitably some packs get given to people who become really curious.

    Sharpies – for using with the Artefact Cards. Wielding a Sharpie feels like wielding a weapon.

    – Assorted wireage, connectables, and power supplies – I tend to carry a lot of little connecting things that’ll help bodge things together on the off-chance I need to. Whenever I don’t, it seems, there’s always something that crops up where I could have done with something. It can get messy unless you’ve got the right sort of storage… which is where the Muli bag comes into its own.

    Let’s think in terms of the layers of working – how often am I going to need stuff, and how easy is it to access?

    Firstly, the aforementioned wires are going to be an ‘every so often’ thing, they’re never going to be the first thing I reach for. So right in the heart of the bag, there’s a large mesh pocket over the laptop section into which we put all the wee wires, connectors, USB drives, clickers etc…

    11 - Rucksack wires

    Behind this, then, is the laptop section, which I use for both the Air and the iPad Mini. It has plenty of space, and could probably take a Mac-book Pro and a full iPad combo. But what the bag seems to do is really shrink back to constrain whatever’s inside. It’s like it’s always trying to be as slim as possible. Anyway, that’s the next layer; whenever I’m sitting down to work somewhere (train, office, museum, coffee shop) the bigger devices are relatively quick to access when I open the bag.

    10 - Rucksack laptop

    Then in the main section, we’ve got the larger things that I might want to grab quickly; for instance, the water bottle for a drink, or the camera to shoot something. They naturally sink to the bottom of the bag, and nestle quite comfortably away from the other stuff.

    12 - rucksack chunky

    Yet it’s quickly accessible; the whole front opens and closes a little like the eggs in Aliens…

    13 - rucksack zip

    …zipping all the way up to the top…

    8 - Rucksack thin

    …then the flap folds over on the zip, like a security jiffy bag, to make the bag waterproof. It’s a delightfully simple design, and even more secure method than I’ve seen before in Crumpler bags.

    7 - Rucksck front 6 - Rucksack straps

    So, really well sealed up, all the stuff safe inside. What if I want to get something quickly though…?

    Hiding under the flap at the sides are two pockets, one either side, which are perfectly sized to take 2-3 packs of Artefact Cards and three or four sharpies in each… so in seconds I can be working anywhere. In case of emergency, pull zip.

    14 - Rucksack Artefact Cards

    Over the last month or so, it’s proved to be the best bag I’ve owned for The Pick Up & Play Office idea. Those layers of accessibility have proven to be just what I needed, though as always, you never really know until you get your hands on something how it’s going to work out.

    It also has the capacity to get enough stuff in for an overnight; I took it to Dublin for my IAPI talk last month, and breezed through the airport security malarkey with the least of fuss of course.

    But wait; surely the idea was to get a bag that’d do longer than that? Well, here’s the thing; the other bag was the Track Jack Board Case. I can’t stop thinking of it as the bag Jason Bourne probably has packed at the back door at all times. It’s a holdall equipped with dozens of sections and pockets, and a few neat tricks.

    2 - Crumpler Holdall

    What I like most about it though is the bag-within-a-bag thing I can do – essentially, I can just take the fully laden Muli backpack, and drop it inside the Board Case, and then pack anything else I need round about it.

    5 - Rucksack and holdall 4 - rucksack in holdall

    Then, I can either carry it as a holdall (it easily fits into the overhead locker size constraints in airports, because it’s a soft case), or turn the Board Case into a backpack itself, by deploying the hidden straps…

    3a - Holdall closed 3b - Holdall straps 3c - Holdall rucksack

    It’s more Bond than Bourne, perhaps.

    Anyway, both bags individually are brilliant (and as rugged and hard wearing as you’re expect from Crumpler), but together they’ve formed another layer, a nested variation on the theme of working and accessibility.

    You can get see the Muli Backpack here, and the Track Jack Board Case here. I’d like to thank Michael for sending the over to test out too – I’m not sending them back, as I’ve bought them both 🙂

    As promised before, I’ll be talking a lot more about layers, levels, and working practices as we head towards the Smithery third anniversary in August…

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