Yesterday I gave a talk on how some of the futures thinking from TENETS, specifically the Assemblage Space tool, might help teams move from current state to future state blueprints for Service Design. It was the talk I’d written yesterday’s Visual Fields post for.
It was hosted by the fantastic SDN Dallas Team (thanks guys), and the good news is that they recorded the whole shebang, including the Q&A at the end.
So grab a flask of coffee and dive in.
In addition, I’ve made the Miro board I used public access, so you can follow along there whilst listening to augment the experience. I’d be interested to hear from you if you do that, just to understand if it helps in communicating the ideas.
Finally, some folks asked about the FUTREP and How To Future cards at the end (and the forthcoming dice) – as always, the physical thinking tools side of things are over at artefactshop.com
I’m giving an online talk shortly. In an hour and half from now, to be precise.
As always, as I get closer to a talk the more ideas come to light, as the particles of information collide with each other, shedding new light on things. Sometimes, when giving talks to a room of folk, you might manage to get something in, a new slide, or a just a quick aside. You don’t want to break the linear narrative.
In these interesting times however, I’ve been experimenting with using a Miro board instead of a slide deck, and exploring ideas and thinking as more of a wander with wonders; offering some paths to turn down, some places to stop and look at, or some directions that male it clear that this path is not for today.
It means that I’ve managed to get one of those wonders in talk, but I’ve taken to here to quickly write about it first to see what I actually I think about it.
It’s about the similarities and differences between the disciplines of innovation, design and futures.
(The talk itself is on the subject of futures, to a service design network audience, so finding connections between these areas seemed important)
It’s a topic I’ve been wondering about for a while, perhaps more from a craft perspective than any other. Why do these disciplines often feel so blurry at the edges, and fall into each other (for better or worse)?
There’s definitely something about the tools and materials, and the way practitioners collect, connect and create from external information in order to achieve their goals.
The central idea which is reflected through the TENETS project I’ve been working on (Information is light, not liquid) helps support this.
Think of individual pieces of information as pixels or particles which come together to form an image, but can be reordered into a large number of alternatives views too. The information you collect, the way you recombine and order, and finally the way you show the results, is something that exists in different ways in innovation, design and futures work.
I was trying to find a suitable label, and perhaps metaphor, for those three disciplines. I’ve settled on Visual Fields.
That first image, with the overlapping areas, was by Harry Moss Traquair in 1938. It shows you different spatial arrays which can be seen by the eye when it is fixed in one position. What you can see clearly in front of you, and what’s still ‘visible’ but perhaps unknown as it sits to the edge. It feels fitting to think of the messy overlaps between three disciplines.
Then I was talking this through with Scott Smith earlier, and he mentioned spiders eyes. So I went looking online again, and found this…
“Spiders usually have eight eyes: two very large front eyes to get a clear, colour image and judge distance, and extra side eyes to detect when something is moving.”
Again, a nice juxtaposition for different disciplines; sometimes you’re very focussed on the thing in front of you, sometimes you want to get a sense of what’s moving in the wider environment around you.
Finally, the camera array on a modern smartphone comes with a range of different lens and sensors; here represented by Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro, with it’s telephoto, wide, ultra wide lenses and LIDAR scanner.
Rather than having one sensor to force all reality through, a sensing array of different disciplines should act as a complementary set of capabilities.
These three Visual Fields (and there are more, perhaps) represent ways of seeing the world, collecting the information from it, processing it, and creating the stimulus for certain actions.
What needs further thought in this encapsulation is what happens when you try and cross the inputs of one discipline into the outputs of another.
That’s for another day though, when I’m not half and hour away from giving a talk. Wish me luck.
There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in
First of all, thank you to everyone who’s said nice things about this new website. And more crucially, perhaps, to those with more suggestions on how to make it clearer still. Thankfully, the design is built for iteration, and so all suggestions, improvements and comments are welcome.
The purpose behind redesigning the site is to create a space that naturally helps expand on the ideas that I’ve been pulling together over the last few months.
To do that requires more writing, talking, making and sharing. Making sure there are cracks for the light to get in. The crucial lesson then is that rather than trying to perfect things in isolation, I want to keep finding new places to talk and explore the topics with folk.
It was really useful, in this regard, that Jess and Phil at Subsector invited me to be their guest on a Subsector Short, a (supposedy) five minute discussion slot on a particular topic. I chose to see what would happen if I tried a crunchy, straightforward description of the idea that information is light, not liquid, the first of the TENET tools.
Already it’s generated some great thoughts elsewhere about the concept, and how it butts up against other conventions in interesting ways.
I’ve also put together a Miro board to walk people around the thinking. I’m gradually pulling examples and projects into as a way of developing a relevant narrative in conversation with guests.
It is a little like being a tour guide around your own head, so I’m experimenting with quick introductions and then leaving folk to wander through at their own leisure over subsequent days.
Over time, it may be something I can just open up for everyone, if there is enough DIY guide material in there that helps people follow a rough route.
Finally, as I’ve been writing about topics, ideas naturally occur to me on how to visualise them.
For instance, one of the tools, Kaleidoscopes, is based on some work called Flow Engines which I talked about way back in 2014, at things like Brilliant Noise’s Dots Conference, and the Happy Startup Summercamp.
It evolved into the Smithery logo too, a glanceable glyph to continually prompt a way of setting up productive working practices.
What evolved in combination with the new thinking was a need to accentuate the visual aspects of work more – especially relevant when thinking about when planning and running workshops remotely. How do you make sure people see the elements being ‘brought to the table’ and make connections they otherwise wouldn’t have?
The Kaleidoscope metaphor was a natural fit here, as a way of reminding people that no matter how creative the output, the inputs can be quite delightfully mechanical. You need to put all the materials together in such a way that participants can simply twist the devices themselves to see new possibilities. A simple bit of After Effects helps bring that to life, I think.
(And it also gave me the chance to make a GIF of a classic moment from High-Rise…)
If you fancy a tour of the board, do let me know, I’m really interested in the opportunities people can see for the tools for teams in a wide variety of different work. More soon.
I went to our local high street today in Haywards Heath. I had an errand to run; my watch battery ran out two weeks into lockdown, and I wanted to get it fixed at the independent jeweller (hey, kids, support local businesses where you can).
Knowing I’d have an hour or so to wait, I took my camera (and mask), and looked around at what a high street looks like when its trying to reopen in the age of COVID-19.
The graphic designers of Britain have certainly been busy.
And individually, they’ve no doubt interpreted the prevention strategy of each individual shop or organisation as best they can, to communicate to shoppers what is expected of them, and what staff are doing in return.
But together, as an experienced the extraneous cognitive load on the working memory of shoppers is certainly substantial. As you move from shop to shop, you would find yourself navigating through slightly different interpretations of the broad rules. Sometimes it’s 2 metres, sometimes it’s 2 metres if you can. Some places, only one person per household. In others, one person per household plus one child.
It doesn’t help that a lot of the instructions are in full brand regalia, and so it takes a second or two to locate where the information is.
All in all, it feels exhausting, through the inconsistency.
Perhaps now is not the time for freedom of expression. If the powers-that-be want high streets to function for shoppers, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to have centralised production and distribution for communicating how to shop. Consistent posters, stickers, floor graphics, window vinyls and so on; same colours, shapes, instructions.
Perhaps in the age of COVID-19, the high street needs traffic signs, not billboards.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Assemblage. It’s been prompted by Anab’s inclusion of it in her More-Than-Human-Politics manifesto, pointedly positioned against Systems (“Assemblages are diverse, indeterminate and precarious… Acknowledging the entanglements without the desire to have the ‘full overview’”).
It also took me back to some of the thinking I originally did around Artefact Cards specifically, and more recently working with information particles generally, and a few other conversations and pieces I’ve been working on in the background.
This week, I started playing with a short explanation, which felt worth sharing:
An assemblage is like being dealt a hand of cards for the first time, in a game you don’t know the rules for.
You have these five cards in your hand, of a mix of suits and numbers, and you have to work out what to play, and how to do it. When the time comes, you play some cards as best you can, but you lose that first hand. Yet you saw what was going on, and figure that you might have a better chance at working out the overall game come the next hand.
Except when you are dealt your new hand, it contains a new suit you’ve never seen before, and a number that you didn’t know existed. You’re not sure what the new suit means (is it more senior than other suits? Equal?), and from what you know of numbers, you try and establish where this one might fit in a ranking. Additionally, the previous work you put in to trying to establish the rules of the game is now potentially of lower value, though it’s hard to let go of answers you think you’ve worked out.
You play, and of course you lose that hand as well.But again you learn more about how to sort through the cards you’re likely to be holding in the next round.
So when the third hand arrives, containing another unfamiliar suit, moderately taxing algebra, a postcard from a relative, and some cheese and pineapple on a stick, you’re at least a bit more prepared for the possibility that different things will turn up that don’t fit in with your expectations.
Thinking in systems asks that you work out the rules of the game.
Thinking in assemblages helps you become better at playing the hand you’re actually dealt.
Postscript: There’s a lot of diverse and interesting debate and discussion around what Systems Thinking actually is, of course, but I’m blithely operating under the following rule of thumb for now – “If you mean constantly moving and changing things, maybe you shouldn’t use the word ‘system’?”
Earlier this week, I posted up the four images above on a twitter poll and on instagram, and asked the simple questions; A, B, C or D? No context, just that – of the four images, which would you choose. I’d said I’d explain a bit about it, but first though, what were the results?
Instagram folks are kinda similar, though it’s a much smaller sample size. The reactions, when people sent some additional thoughts, are also really interesting, but in particular I’m going to draw attention to Richard‘s comment here:
A because the gradients are spot on and draw your eye out of a hexagon into a cube. Solid yet transformative. But with refinement of colour distribution D makes my mind feel kaleidoscopic.
The real extremes in the test are A and D, to my mind.
The former is a solid, simple structure that’s trying to do one thing. All the colours are aligned, all the gradients are consistently directed. As Fraser said in his response, “a designer’s designer would say A“.
The latter, D, has a whole lot of things going on.
At first, it just feels a bit like random chaos, especially in context with the others. But then as you scan it a bit more, looking more closely, or holding it at arms length, it starts revealing different things. Richard’s idea about it making the mind feel ‘kaleidoscopic’ is bang on, I think.
Beyond playing with delights of isometric shapes and gradient effects though, I did promise to explain a bit more about what it’s for though.
Last year, various streams of work and teaching the Innovation & Future Thinkingcourse at IED in Barcelona made me start wondering about revisiting the underlying tools and frameworks of Smithery’s work (Strategy, Prototyping, Culture, Design, Innovation… etc), and how all of those things connect. The last time I’d done this was back in 2014, when a month of blogging every day produced a set of theories and practices which formed the backbone of the following five years’ work.
Back in January, in ‘the before’, I gave a talk called “A Blacksmith Makes Their Own Tools“, which set the seeds of the reading and reflection on our work so far since starting in 2011. Then these past couple of months have provided a brilliant opportunity to get torn into that work properly, and start to shape a few early parts of the new work, of which the images are part.
What I’d been working on was a graphic representation of a basic information process, from sensing what’s out there in the world, through to the actions people take as a result. It pulls on a few pre-existing models already (Boyd’s OODA loops, some of Boisot’s information space) as well as some other reading I’ve been doing, and it’s not finished as yet. As a basic general framework, it’s a fairly useful starting point for me at the moment, and would already serve as a useful tool in asking questions of clients or students (Where do we get information from? How do we process it? What filters can we identify that prevent some information getting it?) in order to identify intervention points and practices to deploy.
I’m not going to dwell on it a lot now, but come back instead to the “A versus D” thing from above, as to which best represents the ‘in here’ part of the model. In short, what does the processing of information look like internally, be it as an individual (the things in your head) or an organisation (the knowledge we hold)?
Now, if I’d framed a question around this (perhaps ‘which of these represents thinking?’ or something similar), and presented people with the four images, I would imagine the answers would be very different. We are aware of the unstructured nature of our own minds as much as we are of the information and knowledge that resides inside the organisations we populate.
I would argue though in this context, the neatness and perfection of A is likely not what we’re looking for in these terms; the Sisyphean task of organising all our ideas and workflows into perfect order, I think, will remain forever beyond the grasp of people. Which opens up the question; if striving for perfection in structure is a futile goal, then what should we be aiming for instead? What does good thinking look like?
Anyway, that’s the next couple of months of thinking and writing sorted – pursuing the above and the themes obliquely sketched out below. I’ll be sharing more as soon as it is ready (and maybe an additional post on why it’s not following the same process as a month’s worth of blogging from the last time). Thanks to everyone who played along with the picture experiment.
This week, I gave a talk (with a little bit of workshopping) as part of the third module of IPA Excellence Diploma. This was a course I did back in 2007/8, and without doing it, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do now, and definitely wouldn’t be thinking about things in the way I do.
It’s never a substitute, but people have asked if I’d be sharing the slides, so here you go. Just imagine that when you get to the ones that make no sense, I am in front of you saying something really profound. Ignore that pesky internal voice of yours that questions that how likely that would be, and just go with it…
It was an honour to be invited back by Amelia and Sera from The Fawnbrake Collective, who have taken over and reimagine dates course for the 2020s. Yet it feels like a gift, because being asked to reflect on 12 years of making / thinking and spot patterns in your own process has given me a view of my own work I’d never have seen otherwise. We alway look at the mountains ahead, rather than the hills behind.
I’ve noticed that there’s a fascinating little exchange at the end of the Ocado process. After you’ve received all your shopping, the delivery driver will ask ‘have you got any bags to return?’. It’s the bag recycle scheme they’ve been doing for a few years, where they give you 5p for every bag you give them back. After you hand them the pile, they ask ‘how bags do you think that is?’. You then say a number – you might know, or like us you might guess.
‘About 12?’ I offered today. “Ok, I’ll call it 20” said the driver, and off they went.
And it’s not just one or two drivers in particular that rounds up the number in this manner, but all of them. It’s so consistent, in fact, that today I started to wonder if it was designed as an exchange, as part of the service.
Because it’s such a simple, generous idea, to leave a customer at the end of the interaction feeling like the representative in the company has just given them something back.
It’s not really about the amount, the 40p extra refund. It’s the gesture that makes it work. And the fact that it’s a gesture from a person, rather than a discount figure that appears on an app, powered by an unseen algorithm. In comparison to other service companies who send people to your door, that projection of autonomy in the job is interesting.
During Natalie Kane’s presentation on the IED Innovation and Future Thinking course last month (yes, I will write something up, promise), she showed the class this, the Amazon warehouse picker wearable. It’s the antithesis of autonomy in a job – it is telling you what, where, when, and how, and your only job is simply to comply.
What struck me as the class was discussing it was that, yes, this is a wearable, but not in the way that you think. It’s not a person wearing a device, it’s an algorithm wearing a person.
Yet if the Ocado ‘how many bags?’ exchange is ‘designed’ and instructional in some way, then it’s merely just the allusion of autonomy. Is this worse in some ways?
The first book is a super useful read, a manual to keep dipping in and out of. In fact, I have it in my bag now, as I’m rapidly scanning everything I can to get further into the deeper backstory of John Boyd’s OODA loops for various projects.
Like many folk, I’d perhaps only scratched the surface of OODA. I started using in in workshops and teaching back in 2015/15, but only lightly as part of the metamechanics collection, basing work on the elements of movement, maps, loops and layers which help people think about their work using the qualities and power of information in the internet age, rather than fighting against it.
But in wanting to delve deeper into the OODA loops, I found this, which contains Boyd’s original 327 slide briefing document, and an introduction from Dr Grant T. Hammond, in which he writes…
“In introducing the 327 slides of “A Discourse on Winning and Losing,” I am hesitant. Boyd’s briefings were never meant to be a compilation of doctrine or dogma about how to fight and win wars. They were meant to be conversations between him and his audiences.
He never gave a briefing in which he did not learn something. He might have poorly conveyed a particular idea or skipped a step in the logic trail. Alternatively, perhaps, he forgot something or someone had added to the examples he used, the references he had consulted, or provided a different interpretation that he should have considered more deeply.”
“He could not bring himself to publish anything because it was never complete. Coming from an essentially oral culture of briefings in the military, Boyd put carefully chosen words on view-graphs, but never in print. The “Discourse” was an unfinished conversation with each audience, part of a perpetual learning experience. He learned every time from each discussion with his audiences, and this necessitated changes for the next iteration. There was a succession of unfinished OODA Loops.”
I’m totally going to use this as my excuse for not writing books from now on.
Firstly, because I believe it; all of the various theories, models, tools and so on that have developed over eight years of Smithery are not ‘finished’; they work differently every time, and are contextually powerful because of that, and always send me away thinking new thinks.
And secondly, because from the outside, writing books looks hard and often joyless, and my hat goes off to all those who do. I look forward to reading them all.
I’m delighted to be back at IED in Barcelona again this summer leading the Innovation and Future Thinking summer course. We’re bringing together the usual gang of inspirational lecturers and local innovators to explore a theme across the two weeks, starting on July 16th. More details on that soon, but in a change to the regular approach, we’re sharing the course theme up front this year (because, well, reasons… which will become clearer if you attend). Apply now if you’d like a place, or send it on to someone you think might…
UPDATE: We’ve finalised the core course teaching staff for next month in Barcelona, and I could not be more excited to explore ‘The Future of Space’ with a set of folks whose ideas and methods regularly excite and inspire me. We may yet add some more special guests too, keep an eye out for those. And come and join us in July in Barcelona.
Scott is best — and worst — described as futurist, taking a distinctly non-traditional approach to the job. He is also a writer, critic and educator. As founder and managing partner of Changeist since 2007, he points the way for the team’s research, and manages partnerships and strategic direction for the group.
Scott’s work covers 25 years looking for and describing the “So what?” of change across technology, society, economics and politics. His time is spent between gathering new signals in the world, making sense of them at a quiet table or crowded whiteboard, giving them narrative form on sketch paper, in a text editor, or on camera. He has lived in three countries and worked in over 20, and managed strategy and research teams in New York, Washington and London before launching Changeist.
Scott heads the Designing the Future programme for Dubai Future Academy, and lectures in the Innovation & Future Thinking programme at IED Barcelona, which he helped create. He has written for The Atlantic, Quartz, The Next Web, WIRED UK, How We Get to Next, Medium, The Long View, and HOLO 2, and spoken at major events as diverse as The Next Web, Lift, Helsinki’s Flow Festival, South Australia’s Open State, EPIC, SxSW, Sibos, FutureEverything, and NEXT14 and 15.
Dan Hill is a Visiting Professor at IIPP (UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose), as well as an Associate Director at Arup, and Head of Arup Digital Studio, a multidisciplinary design team based in London. He is also one of the Mayor Of London’s Design Advocates.
A designer and urbanist, Dan’s previous leadership positions have produced innovative, influential projects and organisations. They range across built environment (Arup in Australia, Future Cities Catapult in UK), education and research (Fabrica in Italy), government and social innovation (SITRA in Finland), and media (BBC and Monocle in UK), each one transformed positively via digital technology and a holistic approach to design.
He has lived and worked in UK, Australia, Finland and Italy. He started his career working on the urban regeneration of Manchester, and has subsequently worked on city strategy and urban development projects worldwide.
Last year he was the Sir Banister Fletcher visiting professor at The Bartlett School of Architecture, with Joseph Grima, and he is also an adjunct professor at RMIT University in Melbourne and UTS in Sydney.
He is the author of “Dark Matter & Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary” (Strelka Press, 2012), as well as numerous pieces for other books, journals, magazines and websites.
Christina Bifano is a design and trends researcher, educator, textile designer and fashion historian with a passion for combining all interests into one.
Christina has been coordinating and teaching trends investigation courses at IED Barcelona for the past 7 years. Her latest research projects include: Design Thinking for the EU Erasmus Commission, The Book of Everyone, Hotel Brummel, GNT Group, Cahier Studio (Double G Prints), Protein (London) and Stylus (London) and she has participated in producing trends-based editorials for: PSFK (NYC) and La Entropia (Barcelona).
Her backgound is in textile/surface design and she has worked for large brands and small design studios alike including: JB Martin, Co. Inc., Nautica Int’l. Inc., Milkprint Studios (NYC), Colette&Blue (PA), Cahier and Coloroom/Double G (BCN). She is proud editor of Roadtrip to Innovation and Digital Natives/Get Ready! both by Delia Dumitrescu. She holds degrees in Textile/Surface Design from FIT in New York and Accademia Italiana Moda in Florence, Italy.
Natalie D Kane is a curator, writer and researcher based in London, UK. She is Curator of Digital Design at the Victoria and Albert Museum (UK).
Natalie is a co-curator of Haunted Machines with Tobias Revell, a long-term curatorial and research project starting with a mini-conference at FutureEverything 2015, which reflected on the narratives of magic and hauntings pervading our relationship with technology. Haunted Machines were selected to curate the 2017 edition of art, tech and media festival Impakt (NL).
Natalie has talked about magic, art and technology on BBC Click and BBC Radio Four’s Digital Human, been interviewed by Vice’s Motherboard, Uncube Magazine, Spark on CBC Radio, Mindful Cyborgs and The Guardian and had work featured on BBC News, Le Monde Blogs and Mashable. Which is nice.
As an educator, Natalie has guest lectured at London College of Communications and Design Academy Eindhoven, is a Visiting Tutor at the Instituto de Europea Design (Barcelona), previously taught at Royal Institute of Theatre, Cinema and Sound (Brussels), and delivered workshops for the 2017 Malta Presidency of the Council of the European Union for Times Up.
The Futures and Follies of the Full-Stack Habitat
Each year on the Innovation and Future Thinking course at IED in Barcelona, we select a theme to work with. This provides students with a lens through which to see the world, a platform to help understand the methods and tools used to critically assess what may unfold, and a language in which to design a response to communicate what they see. Perhaps most importantly of all, given the global diversity of the course and the highly contextual nature of the field, we look for a theme that connects them to the city itself.
In 2018, we will explore the future of spacein Barcelona: Where will people live, where will they work? What will be public, what will be private? Who will be from here, and who will be passing through? Which resources will be finite, and which will be infinite? What will be permanent, what will be temporary? What changes, and what will remain eternal?
In order to unpick the various physical, urban and social interactions which are being transformed by software, we will interrogate the idea of The Full-Stack Habitat.
The first half of this is about kidnapping the ‘full stack’* metaphor from technology development, and wearing its clothes for a while to see what works and what doesn’t. We will look at the city as if it is a stack of interdependent systems, from the light-touch experiences you have on an hourly basis to the heavy infrastructural implications, from the feelings it creates for an individual visitor, to the long-term social effects for whole communities. Where does such a metaphor help us, and where does it fall apart?
Through understanding more about the complex and networked layers that exist around Barcelona, we expose the need for adaptability in both ourselves and the spaces we inhabit. By the end of the course, the students will be able to connect different ideas and elements, and design innovations and interventions to represent potential, viable futures.
Most crucially, we must create a learning experience in which the anticipation of problems is brought the fore. New products and services are emerging in cities which ignorantly or wilfully bypass any thinking on how they will affect the balance of a space.
Collaborating with partners in the city, each of whom will bring a different perspective and set of priorities to the debate, we will seek to identify where in Barcelona problems are likely to arise, the form they will appear in, and the evidence of how they manifest themselves already. Understanding the follies of The Full-Stack Habitat are as important as understanding the potential futures.
Apply now if you’d like a place, or send it on to someone you think might…
* a full-stack developer is “simply someone who is familiar with all layers in computer software development. They aren’t experts at everything… they understand how everything works from top to bottom and can anticipate problems accordingly” – https://codeup.com/what-is-a-full-stack-developer/