• What is Metadesign?

    On: August 25, 2015
    In: rivetings
    Views: 5554

    In preparation for my dConstruct talk next month, I’ve been researching metadesign. I’ll start posting some relevant things up here over the next few weeks if you want to follow some of the background work that goes into the talk.

    First up, a couple of talks by Prof. John Wood of Goldsmiths University, whose work centres on the need to ‘Redesign design’:

    The more I’ve been diving into the Metadesigners open network that’s been set-up by Prof. Wood and the team at Goldsmiths, the more I realise that there’s perhaps a separation which can be made when it comes to Metadesign; there’s the what it is (in the sense that it’s a series of tools and approaches), and the why we need to think this way. I might try to pick that apart a bit more, and look at the other descriptions and work on Metadesign in order to clarify it a bit for others and myself.


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  • The New Family Holiday Snap

    On: August 5, 2015
    In: rivetings
    Views: 4221

    We’re sitting on a bench overlooking The Lizard, the most southerly point of the UK, on a typical blustery Cornish summer day. The weather comes over at a hundred miles an hour, it seems. One minute it can be sunny and twenty-two degrees, the next the sun disappears and a few spots of rain appear on your white paper Cornish pasty bag.

    Another family comes down the path, and stops not far away. Mum, Dad, two teenagers. They spend a couple of minutes admiring the view, gently thrilled as the waves splash against the rocks.

    “Ooo, we could take a selfie” says Mum. “Have you got your stick with you?” she asks the daughter.

    She quickly finds the a selfie stick in her jacket pocket, and takes Dad’s iPhone to perch it on top. They move closer to the edge, turn around, and spend a few minutes arranging themselves, finding the correct angle for the selfie stick to get them all in, and a little bit of scenery behind.

    Is this the new family holiday snap? Instead of trying and failing to capture the spectacle of the view, of those waves crashing against the shore, it’s a picture of the whole family instead.

    It’s still a picture that says “we saw this”, but now the focus is less on view, and more on the family – “we saw this” instead of “we saw this“…

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  • A Brand Is A Make

    On: August 5, 2015
    In: rivetings
    Views: 3085

    We’re sitting in a lovely Cornish beach cafe. Our kids are playing with another boy, of similar age, and they’re ducking and diving around the tables, sprawling out where they get the chance on the decking.

    The boy points to the logo on our daughters sandals, and calls to his mother.

    “Mum, there’s a picture on her shoes. What is it?”

    “That’s what brand they are” his mother replies.

    “What’s a brand?” he asks.

    His mother thinks for a moment. How to tell a child what a brand is…

    “It’s a make” she says. “It’s what make they are. It tells you who made them, and how, and where. A brand is a make”.

    I quickly and quietly capture this on a card, for future pondering. The children play on.

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  • Cruise is to Adverts as Shatner is to Phones

    On: July 27, 2015
    In: marketing, rivetings
    Views: 3723

    Bobbing and weaving through the tweets an hour ago, I picked up on Jeremy‘s post on the issue of website performance vs serving ads/tracking people

    …in fact, I really picked up on it because of Mark‘s reply:

    Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 16.06.25

    Which is interesting, because there’s something been pinging around my head recently about why the advertising industry decided on this as their future. And why did we as people decide that advertisers knowing all this about us was OK…?

    Here’s my hunch; Tom Cruise is to Adverts as William Shatner is to Phones.

    Which means what?

    Well, there’s the famous, perhaps apocryphal story that the mobile phone, specifically the flip phone, were inspired by the Star Trek communicator. The engineers growing up and watching telly around this time had a ready-made prototype of ‘the future’ in front of them… and so, it came to pass. Let’s make that.

    Shatner Communicator Star Trek

    Another example – last week at IED, the brilliant Andres Colmenares was talking about the Hendo Hoverboard that’s received kickstarter funding. It’s basically the Marty McFly hoverboard. Let’s make that.

    Hendo Hoverboard

    And the advertising example?

    Minority Report, of course. Specifically the scene in which Tom Cruise goes hurtling through a crown of people in a shopping mall, and all the adverts start addressing him individually…

    You’ll know the scene, because no doubt everyone’s been shown it often enough in presentations about ‘personalised marketing’. It became so trite that people stop using it. It may even be cool and retro to start using it again (I’m not really sure, as I don’t do enough advertisingy type things anymore to know).

    Basically, it became a cultural shorthand; ‘This is a future for advertising’ became ‘this is the future for advertising’.

    When enough people can use it as a common reference point, they can sit in meetings and decided what advertising should be in the future by using this example. When people were talking about how the ads that would support their platform, they’d major on just how ‘identifiable’ people were, and so the ads could be personalised too.

    “You know, like in Minority Report”.

    And maybe that’s why we’re here.

    Thanks, Tom Cruise. Thanks a bunch.

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  • Getting Off The B Ark

    On: July 16, 2015
    In: marketing, rivetings
    Views: 5064

    I did a wee talk on Monday evening, at the IPA 44 Club, which inevitably resolved itself in a Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy metaphor. It was part of Nick Kendall’s evening on the ideas behind the What Is A 21st Century Brand? book – Neil Godber from JWT spoke on Stephen King’s original, pioneering thinking on what a brand was in the 20th century.

    In the book, Nick’s collected together what he considers the most pertinent theses from the ten years of the IPA Excellence Diploma. You can download mine as the sample chapter from here.

    I thought I’d quickly write out what I think I was getting at.

    It’s notionally a talk about brands, but in hindsight is as much about organisational change as anything. Which makes sense, I guess, given some of what Smithery does.

    So, onwards.

    My thesis, back in 2008 or so, was called The Communis Manifesto. To pull an explanatory paragraph from it, it was about this…

    “I believe the future of brand communications lies in finding a way to become part of communities, and communicate with them in a way that is shared, participatory and reciprocal.”

    I realise now, though, that I fell into a classic economics trap. I took a micro view of one brand, and forgot to consider the macro perspective; what happens when every brand does this?

    Well, as we can see now, it all gets a bit noisy… an endless hum of brands vying for your attention at any given opportunity, all going a little ‘gorilla in a jock-strap’ in order to arrest some eyeballs for the briefest of seconds (go and read Faris’ Paid Attention for more on that).

    Thinking about how brands and companies operate in the 21st century, and how some struggle to remain meaningful, it made me think of Golgafrincham.

    You know, Golgafrincham, yeah?

    Ok, I’ll explain…

    In the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent find themselves on a massive spaceship, with lots of frozen bodies in the hold. It’s the Golgafrincham B Ark. The captain explains that they’d been told that the planet of Golgafrincham was in terrible, terrible danger, so they all had to leave.


    On the A Ark would be all the leaders, scientists, pioneers… the high achievers.

    On the C Ark would be all the people who made things and did things.

    And on the B Ark, there would be everyone else. The middle managers. The hairdressers. The telephone sanitisers.

    The leaders of Golgafrincham explained that they would send the B Ark first, so that when they settled the new planet, everyone else could be confident of a good haircut and a clean telephone when they got there. So off the B Ark went.

    They hadn’t, explained the Captain, heard anything from the other two ships since leaving. Which he began to think was a little strange, having finally told someone else about it…


    Some companies are clearly on the A Ark. They lead in their space, well, any space. Pioneers, future provokers, creating the products and services we love to use.

    A Ark stuff is easy to point at, and hard to do.

    Increasingly [because INTERNET], there are a lot of C Ark companies around. Start-ups, and hobbyists, those born in the internet, who’re happy to show you everything that they do. It’s a new transparency, it makes companies and the people who work there very visible, believable, and trustworthy. It regularly works for much smaller companies, who can make enough people see what they’re doing to be successful on their terms

    C Ark stuff is easy to do, and hard to point at.

    Which leaves the B Ark companies. The companies that just kind of exist in that middle layer of life. They didn’t used to do the stuff that was hard, because they just had to do things that were good enough. They didn’t used to worry about pointing people to things, because you could switch on advertising and pipe people’s eyeballs towards your products.

    It’s hard to be a B Ark company today.

    So you’ve got two choices.

    You can try and get on the A Ark, and start pushing the boundaries of expectations in your market. Every market has a future. Show people the one you really believe in.

    Or you can jump onto the C Ark, and start showing people all the things you make and do. If it’s not good enough to be interesting, then you need to change the what and how of your makings and doings. If you do it well, people will start to point other people towards it.

    Both things are hard to do.

    But they’re better than being on the B Ark.



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