PSFK: now that's what I call a good idea (salon)

I’m on my way to the PSFK Good Idea Salon, which is being held up at the amazing new Guardian Offices in King’s Cross…

Aida and Sara from the Guardian were kind enough to show me around their building the other day, where I snapped a few photos…


Pretty cool, huh?  We’re plotting something, the three of us, for the spring… but more on that nearer the time.  Today is about the Good Ideas Salon.

The PSFK Good Ideas salon is their first visit to London since the conference at the Imagination Gallery about a year and a half ago.  Then they had some fantastic folk speaking & on panels, like Iain, Dan, Hugh, Faris and the ilk, so I’m hoping for great things.

And given I’ve got the laptop and the dongle, I thought I might try a bit of liveblogging rather than taking notes.  I’ve no idea whether I can do it effectively; my attention span may not be up to it, nor my typing fast enough, but let’s see… check back later for further updates…


OK, negotiated with the Guardian’s wi-fi, I’m in. 

The speakers today include Mark Earls, on why it’s important to gather info from lots of different places to have good ideas (like being a fraggle… looking forward to that), Colin Nightingale on good ideas in storytelling, Richard Banks from Microsoft on technology, and Simon Waldman from the Guardian on how good ideas are saving the print industry.

Plus a steady flow of panel discussions… right, it’s about to kick off I think…


Piers’ opening bit… highlights the importance of recognising the sheer number of great ideas that are still happening, despite all the ‘doom and gloom’ of the economy… and they’ve collected a lot of people who’re having those ideas to talk to us today… over to Mark Earls…

9.40am – Mark Earls (I’m  summarising here…)

Why are good ideas important?  A manifesto…

First, ME was at a music industry bash in Cannes, where the majority of folk talk “Asset, Rights, Owner, Enforce, Money…” but it’s the same in agency land; money takes priority over ideas.

We need to break the cultural habits of this… but it’s really hard to change things.  Took Heinz 123 years to turn the label the right way up, so you could store it the right way up.

Because innovation is unpredictable… “innovation is a great way to turn money into hot air” (quote from MD/CEO type fella…)


So, five things that we might use to argue why engaging with ideas is a great thing… a

1. test your own ideas

new ideas help us test the old ideas.  constant challenging, ‘finding a better way’ if you will.

2. explore the future

see what might have a place in the world we’re about to live in… experience it, play with it, rather than just ‘hear’ about it.  participate.  get involved.  it helps larger organisations

3. NPD hacks

Monopoly originally was to ‘teach young people the evils of being a bad landlord’.  Darrow in the 30’s took it, ‘hacked it’, made it more compelling, sold it for loadsa money.  Take something from other markets, use it to solve your problems in your market.  Notice everything around you

4. embrace opportunities

“I thought about that months ago”.  Well, you should have done in then.  Seize the day.  “Feels familiar” – when you think something is new, but you think you know it too, then it could just be ‘memories of the future’… something that’s really right, and feels like it will work.  So do it, quickly.

5. make your company more interesting

people businesses (where people interact with each other as a central core), you’ve got to make them excited and interested in it, because your company will perform better (source: McKinsey)

So, to sum up, ask yourself:

What does this challenge?

How can I explore this further?

What’s the offer for us here?

Where does this suggest things are going?

What must I absolutely – can’t wait – to do next?

How might this make our jobs more interesting?

10.10 – next up, panel on ‘Good ideas in London’…

Led by Matt Hardisty... “what good ideas are coming out of London, and is their a ‘creative renaissance in the capital?”

London was ‘centre of the world’, cool britannia etc… then lost it.  Went flat.  But it has regained a certain something… evidenced by London being acclaimed again in popular culture leading titles etc.

Taryn Ross (Urban Junkies) observes that there’s strong growth away from ‘middle market’ to both ends of the scale; as well as very upmarket and bespoke offerings, there’s a real trend at the lower, thrifty end. 

Justin Quirk (FHM) – people are now putting money into only the strongest, best ideas… a darwinish cull of the crap ideas, which is ‘sharpening things up at both ends’.  In print, the ‘middle market’ is being squeezed, by The Star at one end and Monocle, Economist etc at the other.

Matt asks panel for three interesting examples each…

Matt Brown (Londonist): science & innovation examples – Imperial, NESTA, UCL good at this… spinning into science/art crossovers.  The DANA centre as an example, the 30 odd museums…

Taryn: King’s Cross, as a neighbourhood, is going to be ‘hot’.  Hotels like Gordon Ramsay’s, the Shorditch house hotel, the Conran one.  Pop-up restaurant in Islington (congolese/uk food), without the ‘hassle’ of other London going out venues.  Restaurants in unique locations, different opening times etc.  Pop-up shops feel a little tired…

Justin: in FHM, covering all the science (Quamtum mechanics etc), took out the topless shoots… a renaissance in ‘intelligent content’.  Need to work hard for someone’s £4… the era of cheap tawdry press is coming to an end.  The ‘School of Life’ reconnecting people in public spaces, interesting events & speakers.

Matt B: the spaces available to hold real-world events, often starting online and then moving into free rooms in pubs, coffe houses etc… the tradition of ye olde coffee shop culture, reimagined for the 21st century.

Justin: talks about the move away from 18-24 focus… engaging older audiences, who still want a rich, cultural life.  Interests & attitudes, not demographics.  Yet a lot of publishing people sill segregate the digital & print teams… but websites are becoming a lot bigger.  How do you use the web to drive print.  Print still has a role though – “Nothing is as good at being a shark as a shark”.

Matt H: if you wanted to start an idea in London, how would you do it today?  What would you do?

Matt B: a city-wide web, a forum for communities, neighbourhoods… instead of small startups, get local govt. to fund & tie it all together.  The technological barrier is coming down for everyone.

Taryn: Now cash is tight, get a better ‘barter’ economy working on a consumer and b2b level… trading unused product & capacity

Justin: very expensive casualwear is flying, expensive clothes that last 3-4 years, rather than ‘fast fashion’.  but the North is far, far better dressed than the south (the history of ‘casuals’).

A good, interesting session… you do get a feeling of the sheer amount of interesting stuff happening in London today.  Taking on board Mark’s point earlier about making your company more interesting, the same is true with a city; if you’re surrounded by interesting stuff in your work/life blend, you’ll have more interesting ideas.

10.45 – next, Eva Rucki from Troika (multi-disciplinary art & design practice)

So, Troika do lots of things; part art, installation, communicating… all very cool…

They built an SMS Guerrilla projector, allowing you to project text messages onto whatever you want… genius:




Then there’s the Tool for the Armchair Activist, and two installations at Terminal 5 (an art wall called All the Time in the World, and a beautiful piece called Cloud inspired by the flickering train & bus station displays where the numbers would ‘flick’ round with that delightfully whirring sound).

Then there’s the ‘Newton Virus’… I love this…

A wonderful group of people – go and play on their site, be inspired.

11.20 – Panel on Good Ideas in Design

Led by Amanda Gore, with Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin), Cameron Leslie (Fabric/Matter), Kate Moross and Nicolas Roope (Poke)

All four panellists have shown things they have designed, crafted, manufactured or whatever… on their own, the T-Shirt by Kate Moross would just be a patterned T-Shirt, the Penguin books would just be fancy books…

…what what makes them desirable, lovable, unique or whatever is the story behind them… the tales that live behind them.  We buy the story behind the design, as well the object itself.

And stories in this day and age are much easier to retell and spread.  Thanks, the Internet.

Kate makes a point about being willing to share… she charged ‘too much’ for T-Shirts at the beginning, and for the sake of an extra £5 lost out on people who would have bought the shirt, spread the story… so you should make things ‘accessible’ in order to spread things.


Cameron from Fabric demonstrates the ease of creating a really lovely, aesthetically pleasing CD package which they build a relationship with a Community to send them a CD every month… there’s the story around the music, and indeed the Fabric guys, and the quality of design that goes with it.  Kate has a vinyl-only record label which works on the same principle.

Cameron made the point that even though online downloading of music is rife now, there will probably be a backlash against it – people will reconnect with the tactility of real, openable, ownable objects that they engage with, own and pass down… vinyl, and other real physical formats that have an element of real, invested design in them, will always have a place.

12.20 Richard Banks, Microsoft, on Digital Heirlooms

Richard works in a more academic environment, at the Cambridge arm of Microsoft… they’re very upstream, so this is where Microsoft’s key ideas are born.  They’re very ethnographic in approach, visiting lots of homes and families, and look for the thing that are quirky, unique etc, for it is there that they find the most interesting ideas.

Compares the chest of photos has Grandfather had to the way we keep photos currently… instead of 100s in a lifetime, we take 1000s of photos a year.  What’s going to happen to our digital heritage?

So, for instance, would we want to save someone’s ‘desktop’/  Like when IT log into your PC and look around, it would let you step into your ancestor’s PC desktop.

Or classic digital devices… the old phones that are hot for 18 months, then rubbish, but then revered as classics after a set period of time. 

We’re interested in stuff that has a sentimental value, and also a presence and ‘of the moment’ quality.  The things we put up in the loft…


There are heirlooms that you put away, or the ones you use (Grandfather clocks, an old ladle that was your great aunt, a book of jam recipes with generations of annotations).

Objects could be created to encourage families you change them, giving them a patina of the people who’ve owned them.

He shows a technology called Photosynth, which allows you to take lots of pictures of a place, and turn the set into a 3D environment… it’s brilliant, have a shot…

All Richard’s stuff is hugely interesting, it’s really reassuring that someone, somewhere is out there doing this stuff, and isn’t as ‘money/asset’ orientated as Mark Earls talked about earlier. 


…and so, lunch I believe.  More this afternoon…

1.50pm – Christian Nold on Communities

Christian‘s work is based on bio-mapping projects; he gets people to wear a device which monitors their skin response in terms of when their senses were aroused, and then sent them on a walk around their local area…

What he gets is a lot of data on how a community feels when they are in certain areas…


Which means that local communities, councils and government can actually understand where the areas were in their town where their are issues for the community.

It’s a really impressive way to think about monitoring a community, and doing things that can actually better their lives based on real evidence, as opposed to just asking them in a questionnaire.

Christian really sees this as Art, Design, and he’s right… but the learnings for our work could be great; how do we really tap into a community’s fears/desires, and help them identify and find a real solution they need?

It could be a community-wide, useful, live version of the Nike+ mapping stuff.

2.15pm – Panel on Good Ideas in Mobile

Led by Piers Fawkes, feat. Mike Butcher (ex NMA editor), Dan Hon (Sixtostart), Matt Jones (Dopplr) and Jonathan MacDonald (Ogilvy).

“What is Mobile”? as a starter…

Dan: nothing more than ‘people outside’… and all that encompasses

Matt: it’s superpowers, a tiny universal machine in your pocket that can do lots of things, like in ‘his dark materials’… it’s very exciting

Mike: I’m always moving around… you just work everywhere.  It was phone/SMS… the iPhone is a glass window I can touch and do anything… we’ll think it can do anything, and it actually can’t

Jonathan: more interested in what mobile does, not is… the ad agency route forward is to de-silo mobile, and look at how the phone becomes a dialogue machine

Matt: takes pictures of things in the street because there’s a device in my pocket saying ‘that’s really interesting…’ it’s a remembering machine


Mike: references ‘work/life hum’… as a full time blogger, needs to be communicating permanently, all the time… so Twitter, RSS, Yammer… anything.  A constant hum of stuff, checkable permanently on the mobile device.  But his wife says ‘put the fucking phone down, and talk to your children…’  he doesn’t know what to do about it.

Dan: used to think he needed to follow every feed, twitter etc… but out of all the contacts he has, he will find out about things ‘in good time’… in the grand scheme of things, chill out, relax.

Q: What technology is exciting you?

Matt: we’re getting very good at making bridges & rivers talk… we’re augmenting our environment, engrossed in the new ‘windows’ in the world.  Wants someone to come along and do a Wii to the iPhone’s Playstation… designing a device for real people, rather than a finger on a screen

Dan: hopes we can stop viewing the world through the LCD screen… integrate technology seamlessly into the environment, stop getting between us and the experience.

Jonathan: the public need, want, will buy things that just makes lives easier, not more complex… technology for technology’s sake.

Mike: the iPhone basically made surfing the net on your phone really easy.  The sky app allows you to set the box if you forget to at home.

Matt: the difference between ‘location’ and ‘place’.  Computers and Phones are great at ‘location’.  But we describe where we are as ‘place’ – where culture meets location… computers can’t do this easily, can’t really relate in terms of place.  All Matt’s angst is trying to design systems that understand and refer to ‘place’. 


Dan: TfL’s got all this data that we could make some wonderful, wonderful stuff with, but we’re not allowed to touch it…

Q: cool things to watch out for…

Jonathan: – less strategy around the ‘plastic’ piece in people’s hands, but what it can enable people to do & feel

Mike: Barcelona in two weeks, Mobile Awards… the best twenty mobile start-ups, look on Techcrunch UK for more…

Matt: don’t think about screens/eyeballs… what do you all DO with eyeballs when you get them… it’s hands and feet and legs and bodies moving around.  stop making eyecandy, start making footcandy.

Dan: I will hunt down and kill the next agency who asks for an ARG that ‘must have QR codes in it’…

nearly 3pm… coffee

up next… a panel on good ideas in youth…

3pm – Good ideas in Youth

Led by Jeff Squires, with Brett Booth (MTV), Paul Graham (Anomaly), Terry Guy (Monorex), Jenny Owen (Ruby Pseudo).

Paul: ‘Youth’ as a concept, especially as an age thing, is weird; like saying ‘let’s talk to adults’.  Think broader Horizons, less pre-conceived ideas, less time to mould into tribes and groups… they are just more open to stuff.

Jenny: Trends as a term is redundant, as things move so fast… it’s trying to be a barometer instead, and ‘kids’ just tend to experiment more, much more than adults. 

Brett: Kids are more adaptable… they are the early adopters, it just happens that youth are the people more likely to be doing it.  Youth is a mindset thing, not an age thing.

Jenny: People look at Nike as being a ‘youth’ brand, but they are a ‘youthful’ brand.

Paul: They are just people.  but they don’t see the ‘join’ between digital/traditional… it’s just stuff that’s our there for them…


Paul: they got a youth conference together to ask young people what THEY would do about knife crime, rather than preaching in advertising… a lot smarter way of engaging people.

Jenny: The media have a lot to blame for… it’s good that we’re in the Guardian, as they’re one of the few media folk who’re not creating the bad image we have of kids today.

Terry: runs a project called ‘Secret Wars’… two teams, big 20 ft white wall, and each team has an hour to create an image on their, against each other.  Schools & brands (like Reebok) are interested in supporting these events and the kids they help out.

Jeff: is branded utility the future of youth marketing..?

Paul: It’s about being genuine, having something to say, to offer… if you really understand that, then your brand should do that.  If a brand isn’t useful, what the fuck is it for??  If a company thinks they can get away with in this day & age with a dodgy product, they’re not going to last very long…

Brett:  Pepsi did an optimism survey, and used the new logo as the O in Hope… kids are very optimistic, and Pepsi are capitalising on it…

4pm – Colin Nightingale (Punchdrunk), Good Ideas in Storytelling

No slides, no film… they are an organisation who create events and productions in storytelling (they would have films, but aren’t happy with how they’ve created films of the events so far…)

Through theatrical techniques, you can create emotions in people, make them wide-eyed and run around like children…

“Punchdrunk shows aspire to be a full sensory experience, transporting the audience into the world of the show…”


Key elements include… freedom to explore, audience masks, design including detail, physical use of building, light, sound, smell etc…

Basically they ‘perform’ throughout the building, different elements happening at different times, with the audience wandering throughout the building.  No-one can see it all, but during and afterwards they can get together and piece together everything that went on.

“Last Will” – run in collaboration with HP Labs and Seeper.  A prototype MITE.  A two player experience, they turned up together, one sitting at a computer, one in a real space.  They worked together to solve the space… a cross between an online game and the Crystal Maze.

More than a game… the lighting, sound etc were changed in the physical room.  If you unlocked the secrets of the building and the room, you got closer to the denouement of the story…

Other companies doing stuff like this: Tin Horse Theatre, Minkett (et al)…

Brilliant inspiration for thinking about experiential stuff… of all the ways you can engage people, handing them a flyer in a train station isn’t the best…

4.30 – Good Ideas in Collaboration

Panel, led by Colin Nagy (PSFK), with Kevin Anderson (Guardian), Pat Connor (BBC), Jeremy Ettinghausen (Penguin) and Sophie Howarth (School of Life).

Pat: about creating an environment where people can get together, feel comfortable about having new ideas, and collaborating… then collaboration

Jeremy: Big companies think they’re the experts on their own field, so they’re scared of collaboration… there’s meant to be no-one better than them… but they have to realise that there are lots of people on the outside who know more than them on other areas…

Kevin: “If the change happens fast enough, then no-one will know”.  For the US elections, Kevin used a video twitteresqe application… had the idea in the morning, put the video up, got responses in the afternoon… there are so many services and widgets out there, the important thing is the idea, not the technology.

Jeremy: Agencies come in after weeks of research and say ‘we know your business inside out’.  But no-one knows a business like the people who have worked there for years… there should be more collaboration.  But chasing newness isn’t always the best answer.


Sophie: Social media doesn’t leave any space for ‘quiet mind’ time… the space where people aren’t intaking information constantly, and the brain can process and create genuine new, innovative thought.

5pm – Simon Waldman, The Guardian, Good Ideas in Media

Details out his previous media day… the death of John Martyn through twitter, on the Guardian site, using BBC iPlayer to listen to a Radio 2 tribute…

The old world media needs to catch up, so how can it catch up with the instant, scattered, disparate collaborative world.

Wikipedia & Britannica are coming towards the ‘middle’ but from different ends of the scale… it needs authority, but also the ability of crowds to help build things quicker.

The new Guardian approach is including lots more content from other people featured in their spaces, but also letting the Guardian content roam free in the real world.

Some video clips, interviews with other Guardian folk…

Alan Rusbridger (Editor-in-Chief); the traditional role of the ‘editor’ has gone, there’s too much stuff.  There’s alos the blurring of the line between the producer & the reader…


Moderating & curating is going to be a vital part of the Guardian’s future, which is an edict right from the top…

Jemima Kiss has a constant Twitter dialogue with a subset of readers as she is writing content for the site, and the paper…

Emily Bell (director of Digital Content); you can’t see every word, it’s impossible.  Have to have the skills, rules, systems and principles in place to deal with the new world.

Simon Willison (Developer); Database Journalism is about structure to data capture, building data sources over time, and publishing it, building tools for people to analyse them over time.

Simon Rogers (News Editor); It’s moving from keeping data internally to pushing the data out there to see what people can do with it…

Matt McAlister (Head of Developer Network); need to be a part of where people spend their time, rather than forcing them to your website…

Quote: “All the Smart people in the world don’t work for you”

Mike Bracken (Director of Technology); find the people who have the skills, abilities and soon to achieve the things that the Guardian can’t… small agile teams (quite an achievement for such a big company)

Ben Clissit (Head of Sport): previously served up just stats to people… but give the data and power to people to interpret it themselves is much more empowering.

Simon’s point: Basically, newspapers are becoming open… working, data, info, even the new offices… all being built to be open…


5.40 pm – final thoughts from Piers

Lots of thanks, but i’d like to thank PSFK, for yet another great, great event.  Thanks, folks…

…and that’s me… have a good weekend, y’all.