A review of 2013 projects – part 2

So then, following on from what Mr Howard may have called ‘the prologue‘… what did I learn from the three Smithery projects in 2013?

As with last year, here they are in the order I proposed them in, the original goal, what actually happened, and a grade.


1. The Sound of Smithery

In short: Investigate audio as a tool for fast turnaround of blogging ideas, or as ways to capture ‘in the moment pieces’ during projects.

WBB (Why Bloody Bother?) (from original post) Sound recording has always fascinated me, from being in Gamages Model Train Club and the like, and I’m curious to find out if making media in this way is something that’s pretty niche (making, listening, sharing), or if it has broader possibilities for people and companies.

WDG (Woolly, Doable Goal) Do a weekly “podcast” thing here on the blog, as a post, and see what people think, if people listen, and what they do as a result.



All in all, not too badly as a learning experience, but pretty terribly if we’re judging it by ‘do a weekly podcast’.  As a way to capture ideas for blogging, or even to capture ideas instead of blogging, a platform like Audiboo has proven itself to be pretty useful.

Record something into your phone, or through a microphone onto phone/tablet etc, and set it to not just automatically upload to the Audioboo site, but to cross-post into WordPress, Tumblr etc. It’s relatively quick and easy to do, and takes less worrying and editing than making videos. Doing them once, and live, seems to make it easier still.

For the first half of the year, I did quite a few that were just instead of (or to kick off) blog posts.  Andrew Sleigh at Lighthouse in Brighton referred to them as “Audiohunches”, which I liked a lot and so stuck – we talked about it here:

Occasionally, the audio post could be a marker for a blog post to be written, and I’d just expand on the audio after I’d though a bit more about it. Recording your voice (once you get past the weird self-conscious bit) is useful, as you sometimes discover what it is you think about things halfway through the sentence.

Then later on, I tried doing a series of daynotes for a week-long project at the Saïd Business School in Oxford, and again that proved to be useful, not just as a way of checking in on the project as we went, but listening back through the project afterwards to decide what to do (and not do) the second time we did it.

It’s worth noting that recently I’ve dropped off doing them.

I think I’ll do more again in 2014, and particularly for intensive projects to keep an update of what’s going on, but I don’t think it’ll ever turn into a weekly podcast thing. You never know, of course.

A word on technical stuff.  I tried a few different hardware setups to help the process.  Firstly, there’s a very simply trick Christian Payne taught me – get rid of the wind noise that affects the inbuilt microphone in your iPhone by simply using a standard microphone windshield, like this:

iPhone 5 & Microphone Shield

The built in iPhone mic is pretty good.  I did try a couple of other microphone things though.

Firstly, there was the Samson Meteor microphone, which I plugged into my iPad mini to do recordings (and more specifically interviews), as it gave a good 360 degree audio capture for more than one voice.  It’s got a very striking look too, which would possibly dissuade some folks.

Samson Meteor_Mic_straight_on-display

I have had a couple of issues now and again, but that’s mainly been an LED bulb that’s stopped working so I don’t know if it’s on or not.

But the Meteor has been pretty good, and certainly a better than the MicW i266 I’ve tried out too.  I really want this mic to be amazing, as it’s a small, pocket-sized wonder, but the one I’ve got puts out a significant amount of noise and records things really quietly.  I’ve sending it back to see if it’s faulty, and if I get one back that works better, I’ll post up a wee reappraisal.

MicW i266

All in all though, the audio experiments have been a relative success, without being anything magnificently groundbreaking.  A useful way to augment things, but never really going to be the thing itself, perhaps.

GRADE: a solid, if unspectacular, B


2. View From The Desk

In short: Use a quickly hacked together top-down webcam camera to create videos quickly and simply.

WBB (Why Bloody Bother?) Because if I shoot more videos, and get into it, I’ll start to build up a better understanding of how small , inexpensive videos might be used in the future with the same regularity as written content and images might be now.

WDG (Woolly, Doable Goal) One video a week. Starting this week. With some time off for holidays and the like, let’s call it forty videos this year.



Well, once again the woolly doable goal remains unmet, but the project as a learning experience has been relatively useful.

I have done a few videos using the top-down camera hack (a webcam secured onto the end of an angle poise lamp frame with Sugru):

webcam stand

For instance, here’s the review I did for Mike Rohde’s Sketchnote Handbook:

But really that camera has been most useful as a second Skype camera for showing people various ideas on Artefact Cards – it presents a top-down view on the cards as I go through them, and has worked really well in working remotely with people.  It’s like having a plan view for your brain.

(If you use Artefact Cards, and want to have a go at making one, pop over here).

The camera I’ve made much more use of since buying it in August (which I’ve talked about before) is the tremendous Panasonic LX-7:

Panasonic Lumix LX7

Basically it’s a high end-compact camera, and it was reviews like this one that made me think that it might be a handier informal project camera to have around than a proper DSLR.

It’s meant that going through projects that I can quite quickly capture and edit together videos which are good *enough* (to the point of the previous post, nowadays it doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be up).

So for instance, around the Saïd Business School project, I could shoot things through with the LX7 as we went, then spent a few hours one morning pulling together a project video:

It was also delightful to discover the slow motion video abilities of the LX7, especially after Anne Hollowday (creator of the brilliant film series The Makers Of Things) had suggested I try that way of shooting… it works very well indeed with molten brass, as you’ll see:

Just shooting stuff without really knowing why seems to be a valuable thing too.  On another project, I happened to be down at Lighthouse when Honor gave a group we’d brought in a quick 20 minute private view of the brilliant Immaterials show from this year.

I’d had the LX7 for a week or two, and just happened to shoot some slow motion footage of Honor.  It occurred a couple of weeks after that it’d make a great accompaniment to an Audio post I’d put up after dConstruct:

So, have I made 40 videos this year?  No.  But I’ve made about 20, perhaps, some public and some for client projects, a few using the methods I intended, but more useful ones when I figured out what I could do better.

That’s the thing, though, I guess; there’s no point spending all of your resources (time+money) on setting up to start.  Just start.  Do one, see what the limitatations and problems you have are, then solve them when you do a second.

GRADE: a fairly respectable B+, with room for improvement


3. Capturing the BitTorrent for Artefact Cards

In short: Create a platform to capture various uses of Artefact Cards, for users to share.

WBB (Why Bloody Bother?) Because introducing people to a new way of working, then leaving them on their own to figure it out seems, well, a bit on a 20th Century way to do things.

WDG (Woolly, Doable Goal)  I have absolutely no idea… let’s call it “three ways in which people can put in and take out from the communal pot”.  That’s super-woolly, innit?



Super-woolly?  Thankfully, yes.  There is no ‘communal pot’ on the grand scale here, despite 2013 being the ‘year of the platform‘.  That’s the sort of thing that takes a lot more resource than I could commit this year.

However, rather than a public platform for doing this, there is a platform of sorts.  This year, I was lucky enough (and I’m still not sure how) to work with Adam Hoyle and Darrell Whitelaw on the Artefact app for iOS.

Hoyle & Whitelaw

I’ve also just decided that together, Adam and Darrell might be tech’s equivalent of The Persuaders.  But with better beards.  I’d watch that show.


Anyway, the app does one thing well – it’s an easy way to take pictures of the cards you create (or anything else  for that matter), store them on your phone, reorder them whenever you like, and export them as a PDF, presentation or series of pictures:

Artefact App

It’s worked really well as a companion piece for the cards (have a play for free here, if you haven’t already), but at the moment there’s no broad platform for sharing cards and decks between users, as the original goal would demand.

But then again, perhaps there doesn’t need to be.  After all, the primary purpose is to share ideas you’re working on with people you’re working on them with, and there are plenty of existing ways to do that (email, shared drives, Basecamp or whatever).  There are some things (in fact a lot of things) that don’t need that sort of social platform, perhaps.

But if I must judge on the basis of the original intention…

GRADE: C+, didn’t answer the set question


All in all, not a bad year.  Better grades than 2012 too.  The Daily Telegraph will write tomorrow that these exams are getting easier, no doubt…

What it has taught me after a second year of doing these projects, I get a lot out of them in various ways, but it’s really hard to set a meaningful goal.  There are too many variables.

Maybe for 2014 I should treat each project as immersion within a system, rather than a goal (as Neil talked about in a post earlier today).  And then judge success based on how deep in a given system I get to go.

I’ll think about that next week when I talk about the three projects for 2014.

A review of 2013 projects – part 1

Well, wouldn’t you know it, it’s time to review the three Smithery Projects for 2013; to explore audio by creating a regular podcast, to create 40 or so quick videos to explore new forms of sharing ideas, and to create a platform through which people could share Artefact Cards.

These aren’t, of course, client projects per se (though they proved to be very useful for such), but areas for exploration all centred around one theme, which in the case of 2013 was Media.

Let’s just look back on the premise, and then address the projects specifically in a second post (which I’ll put up shortly).


To set out my stall, I used the following three defining metaphors of media, and throughout 2013 and they proved very useful in harness together to frame ideas…

Media is the Connective Tissue of Society” – Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus, 2010

Media is a Vehicle for Knowledge” – Cesar Hidalgo, MIT Media Lab, 2011

Now, nothing is all-digital any more than it’s all-physical.  Media is hybrid, just like buildings, devices, spaces, events etc.  Dan Hill, 2012


Taken together, they helped form a rough approximation in my head of what I was creating with various projects that I’d undertaken during the year, where I would think of media as:

Connective Objects
Transfer Knowledge
Time and Space

I talked about this at Playful in October 2013:

To paraphrase TS Eliot, “the past will be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past”.

There is no order; the only constant is the reordering.

All the media created around something (a project, a brand, an ideology) is in an unending state of interplay and interaction, so much so that it becomes of paramount importance to capture as much of what happens as ably as you can.

The point of this year’s projects were, of course, to start capturing things around projects in different ways – here’s how I laid it out in the setup in January:

“…as device storage gets bigger, broadband, wi-fi and mobile signal gets faster, and the costs gets lower, the capacity is there for richer forms of media to be shared with increasing regularity.

So I’ve been wondering if there’s going to be a new phase in the creation of audio & video by  people who’ve been taught that media doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be up.  You can worry about making it great later.”

Two things stick out here.

Firstly, by ‘richer forms of media’ (specifically video) I think we’ve seen a big shift this year into video – from Instagram Video as a response to Vine as a way to share quick videos through your mobile, to the news that 40% of YouTube traffic now comes from mobile devices.  People are watching, and creating, a lot more video all the time.

More and more great programmes and apps for doing this are emerging weekly; my personal recently favourite is Diptic Video, which lets you take videos from your phone, and mix them together in a fifteen second clip, over a song that you also pull from your phone… here’s a recent one I did in the middle of Helsinki:

All in all, there is a lot more media around, pushed by our innate creativity into the space the technological advancement continues to open up.

Secondly, by using the principle that it “doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be up”, we can work out what is appropriate afterwards by working off the inbuilt feedback loops of internet things.

We’re really good at being able to what’s working, and adjust.  Data is really useful as telemetry, rather than a predictive or creative force.  But we don’t get any of that goodness if we don’t get things out there, exposed to the wide world.

Not only is there a lot more media around, but we’re in a place where we do not, and perhaps cannot, know what is going to work (if in fact we ever did).  So we must set things free and see what happens.

Mike Krieger of Instagram had a delightful phrase for it a few years ago – “A day in the wild is worth a month of guessing”.

On that note, continue reading with Part 2, about how the three 2013 projects fared when let loose in the wild…


What do the marketing people do all day?

I’ve been playing with a new camera during the latter half of this year, the Panasonic Lumix LX7.   I didn’t know about it before I bought it.  I chose it based on reviews that other people had left for it, here, and here among other places.

The camera itself is excellent.  But I never managed to get any sort of sense of the manual (see also Russell’s manual experience).  Instead I went about setting it up by following this guy’s video:

Funnily enough, when I had to set-up the camera again, I went back to the video again… I hadn’t actually learned how to do it, I’ve just relied on that video being there forever.  Or if not that video, someone else’s video, or blog post, or whatever.

The thing is, Panasonic haven’t created any sort of learning space around the camera.  Maybe departments aren’t talking.  Maybe it’s nobody’s job.  Maybe nobody knows how the camera really works.  Maybe people can’t be bothered.

But it does mean whilst I’m very happy with the product itself, I neither rely on the company making it to tell me about up front, nor rely on them helping me quickly find a way to use it.

Makes you wonder what do the marketing people do all day…

Continuity vs Copying: a dialogic conversation with Martin Weigel

You might remember, dear reader, that earlier this week I told you about this dialogic experiment I was doing with Contagious?  Yes?

Well, the first response piece to my original provocation has gone up, from Martin Weigel over at W+K in Amsterdam (Martin’s blog over the last year in particular has been a constant source of sharp inspiration and beautifully put common sense).

The following stuff will make sense once you’ve read Martin’s piece, and maybe the original if you haven’t already.

I’ll wait here for you.


*whistles absent-mindedly*


Done?  Excellent, I’ll continue.

Martin and I, after writing the pieces, shared an email exchange which we think helps further arguments, areas of interest and so on.

So with Martin’s permission I’m republishing that here, for your delectation, before finishing it off with a wee doodle I’m thinking about at the moment…


On 27 Aug 2013, at 14:47, Martin Weigel wrote:

Ok… I’m handing my homework in early.

At 499 words, it’s certainly tested my ability to be concise.

The opening sentence probably sounds more snarky than I mean it to be…. Very happy to edit and be less of an asshole.

Let me know if this is what you were looking for!



On 8/27/13 8:51 PM, John V Willshire wrote:

I’ll tell you what is has made me think of, that continuity thing.  

We use various ways to help us buy things with minimum fuss.  As you say, in the grand scheme of things, brands aren’t THAT important in our lives.

Two of those ways are continuity, and copying others.  If we see other people doing it, we think ‘yeah, it’s easier to presume they have it right’.

Perhaps there might be some form of trade-off between the two.  If you can create more social impressions of people using your product/service, other people will use that as a guiding factor.

The more interesting you can be, maybe, and as long as it’s related to people using your thing (as opposed to pointless social media cupcake malarkey), the less you need continuity.

now drawing payoff curves of continuity / copying….  more later 🙂


On 28 Aug 2013, at 09:05, Martin Weigel wrote:

I’d add distribution as the either means by which buying a brand is made easy.
Moran called all this the creation of physical and mental availability.
I’d call it marketing.
Though I suspect marketing has forgotten that.

All that said, here’s an uncomfortable thought.
For some.
Particularly the self-styled rockstars.
Innovation in advertising has never been led by the thinkers.
It’s been led by creatives (or makers) jumping on technological possibilities.
Thinkers are merely apologists, and publicists.
Creatives do it because it’s new.
We help them understand why it might just be right.
Feeling a post coming along….!


On 8/28/13 11:25 PM, John V Willshire wrote:

I was thinking about the distribution thing more today.  The distribution factor might be how the curve shifts up.  I need to explain it better.  Will do soon.

On the innovation in advertising point, I’m less comfortable with the divide of thinkers & makers than I ever have been.  I think perhaps a lot of it comes down to nurture in environments; because the two different divisions of “thinking” and “making” exist in agencies, we separate the two out when sometimes we shouldn’t.  I’m a big fan of the “making is thinking” argument, working on doing things helps you discover what’s going on, what you think about them.

I hear a lot of frustration from the grads on the Google Squared programme that in agencies they’re put in a box, and not allowed to operate outside it.  They can only work to the job description, not to what’s a more innovative and compelling course of action.

Maybe innovation in advertising is led by those up to their elbows in doing things?  Not just those thinking about things.  And I can think of plenty of examples of both types on traditional creative/planning axis.



On 29 Aug 2013, at 09:49, Martin Weigel wrote:

I absolutely agree that we leant by doing.

I am also in favour of generalists.

And yet at the same time I endorse the importance (and benefits) of the division of labour.

Good agencies encourage collaboration. We’ve had planners write end lines for Nike campaigns, wrote TV spots and come up with interactive work..

But as the same time we do want people to excel at something.

I had this same discussion with Dave Trott. Who told me to look at page 150 of his book Predatory Thinking. It’s worth a read!

Good debate!



So I did draw out those payoff curves, as it happens, and they’ve been waiting on my wall for a month and a half to do something with.  Here they are:


It’s still just a rudimentary idea, and full of the usual sweeping assumptions (that’s what teaching Economics to people who went to Uni to do English encourages).  But it is this…

You could choose continuity, and the road of minimum fuss.  Concentrate all your efforts on that, being highly repetitive at low-cost.  One easy-to-sell, consistent thing.  The pay-off is pretty sizable (the black rectangle up the y-axis).

Or, you could choose a route where you’re making loads of people engage, interested, and sharing your stuff.  It’s probably phenomenally expensive, experimental, really hit and miss.  It might even require you to do lots of experimental product stuff too, rather than one homogenous thing (heaven forfend!).

I guess you’d say (if you were that way inclined) that it’s the infamous ‘earned’ media; getting people to talk about you so you don’t need to buy media.

Copying each other, buying things from brands because ‘they look popular’ in whichever social waters you swim.

Graeme pointed out the other day that branding could arguably be a simple proxy for popularity, which is important to make it easy for people to choose you.

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 22.55.32


But if you go for it (really go for it), you’ll beat everyone else to the attention of the masses, and again, the payoff is considerable (the black rectangle along the x-axis).

And that’s probably true that you could do that no matter what sort of product you have (hello, rouge bovine energy drink).

But there are only ever a few winners in this space; it’s the far end of a bell-shaped curve.  Not everyone can do the exceptional; the clue is in the name.

The danger point, however, the place where you get little payoff, is in the middle.  A halfway house.  Not committing to either route specifically well, spending too much time and energy toying badly with trying to make a social splash, and not spending enough money or attention on doing continuity well.

You get stuck on that red rectangle in the middle as a result, a far worse payoff than either of the alternatives. The chances are then that you’ll be in a slump.

And when you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself is not easily done


Finally in this model, perhaps distribution (being physically available) plays the most significant part; it’s how the curve shifts up.


Distribution determines under all scenarios how much you’ll sell, and it may well be that you don’t need to give a hoot about where you are on the curve if your distribution is strong and defendable enough.

(how you make that happen is a whole other story)


Anyway, there we go, some more meat on the bones of the ongoing experiment.

This might also coincide with something else I’ve been thinking of recently – The Humdrum Conundrum: whether average FMCGs are becoming SDCGs – Slowly Dying Consumer Goods – but I need to work out if there’s truly an argument here rather than just a nifty title.



The Dialogic Brand – an experiment with Contagious

I’ve spent most of this year wrestling with a notion that challenges a lot of what is considered accepted wisdom in the heart of marketing.

It’s about The Dialogic Brand, a way of thinking about brands that doesn’t demand certainty, compression and repetition, but instead looks to use the internet for what it’s good at, rather than forcing it to do what it’s bad at.

After using the idea often over the last eight months as an interesting thrust for talks, and evolving it as the discussions afterwards drew out new angles, I’ve finally arrived to a place where I can present a written version.

But here’s where things get a little more interesting, hopefully.

The very notion of the dialogic theme is that it is an interplay, not a transmission.  The difference between dialectic and dialogic conversation, as outlined in Richard Sennett’s Together, is that whilst dialectic conversation seeks precise resolution in consensus, dialogic conversation seeks understanding through discussion.

Which is why I’ve been working with Emily Hare, editor at Contagious, on a way to present the idea in discussion, rather than isolation.

What we’re doing is putting the original idea up first, which you can find here, and then bringing in a wealth of brilliant minds who’ve been asked to respond.

The first two pieces afterwards will be from Mark Earls and Martin Weigel, and we’ll release more regularly after that from more brilliant minds.

And, if you read it and feel compelled to respond in some way, we’ll collect up all posts and the like we can, and link to them.

What we’re trying to do is form a map of the territory around what brand might be today; we’re not interested in finding a consensus, but in exploring the diversity, and learning more about our own views through understanding others.

Without further ado, then, head over to Contagious to read about The Dialogic Brand

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 23.17.13




GPS by James Bridle

One of the objects in CONTAINER is GPS by Mr James Bridle… I’ve just seen that Tim’s put a short interview with James about the piece up here:

Interview with James Bridle about his item in CONTAINER #1:Hot&Cold from Tim Milne on Vimeo.


Which, in turn, reminded me to do the thing I meant to do ages ago with it…

…swapping out the Earth in the planets that hang from the kids’ bedroom ceiling.

James Bridle GPS 2

James Bridle GPS


I’ll explain to them, as best I can, but only when they ask and not before.

I do think all the things in CONTAINER should be used, and so I’m plotting how to use them fittingly for each use.  Also, I did a full unboxing video for CONTAINER if you want to see more – it’s here.