Why Making Things People Want beats Making People Want Things – #adtech_london

My slides from the talk from earlier today at Ad:tech 2013 in London:



It links back to some of the questions raised in the written piece from a couple of weeks ago.  It’s nearly two years since I stumbled across the phrase as a galvanising idea for the work I do with clients and agencies here at Smithery, so it’s been great to reinterrogate the notion slighty in the context of some other things.  As always, a smattering of economics and maker culture infuses it all.


Why I messed up the Artefact Tulipmania experiment…

This is a story about experiments, Artefact Cards, Plumpton Mornings, the 50/50 Good project, visibility and apologies.

The thing with experiments is that they can, and do, go wrong.  The Artefact Tulipmania experiment was one such thing that has gone wrong, and badly so.

I’ve fucked it up.  Sorry.  In short:

i) Nature conspired against me, but it’s not her fault
ii) I completely hid the most important part of the box
iii) I disrupted the visibility of the boxes in use

Now, it could be argued it’s not entirely my fault, but you know, I’m definitely to blame for 2 out of 3, and given nature never asked to be part of this, I’ve probably got to take the hit for the other.

So, what’s happened?

i) Nature conspired against me, but it’s not her fault

It seemed such a good idea at the time; the colour of the Artefact Cards for this seasonal special would be whatever colour emerged from the ground of the Smithery in the form of tulips.  I wrote it all up on the original project description, which is still up here.

And all the while, the suspense was amazing, watching the tulips poke up through the soil…

square pic

Then I went to the Do Lectures, over in Cardigan, which was amazing.

Then I came back, to this, which was not amazing.

Tulip denouement

If the main big surprise of the seasonal Artefact Cards is based on what colour they’re going to be, then my garden producing row-upon-row of yellow and white tulips is not very helpful.

I can hardly make a “special edition” card when they’d be exactly the same colour as the normal cards.

And yes, there’s red in them, but red is a terrible colour to try and make a black pen ‘pop’ against.

What’s the solution?

Well, here’s a thing… whilst I’m not going to do the cards in red, it doesn’t mean that I can’t do the Sharpies in red…

In each box, you’ll now get two new RED Artefact Sharpies, specially commissioned for this – I’ve been testing them on the existing yellow/white cards, and they work beautifully… you can even replicate the tulip style patterns, if you so wish…

red 2

As soon as the pens are in made and shipped to us, we’ll start getting the ordered boxes out.  The card boxes will also have special edition art on them, so they won’t just be a normal box of the Yellow Artefact cards.

But first I need to tell you what else is inside…


ii) I completely hid the most important part of the box

Now, I had also promised there would be other things in the box:

– There will be a present from Plumpton Green
– There will be something to help people
– In one in ten of the boxes, a special extra thing (selected at random)

Which was deliberately oblique, and stupidly so, in hindsight.

What’s the solution?

Well, to tell you what’s in the box, of course.

I’d like you to cast your mind back to October 2011.

The Good for Nothing guys, in collaboration with Made By Many, put together the 50/50 Good project, to raise money for UNICEF’s East Africa Famine appeal.

I said I’d do something for it with Plumpton Mornings; to create a raft of different small artworks, and then sell them in a twitter auction.  Plumpton Mornings, if you don’t know, is a long, slow photographic project (read more on it here).

Whilst the twitter auction didn’t happen though, the artworks did.

I ran one test auction, for one of the Tiny Plumpton Mornings Art books and a tiny coffee table to stand it on.  Thomas Skavhellen over in Oslo won that one, with a bid of £36, as I recall.

tiny book 1 tiny book 2 tiny book 3


There are only another two of these, one of which has just returned from being loaned to the Royal Mail’s Real Network Project.  Two of the Tulipmania recipients, selected at random, will win those.

Then there are three sets of three Tiny Photo Cubes, in vinyl & acrylic, featuring various different Plumpton Mornings scenes.  Another three Tulipmania recipients will win those.

tiny cubes 2


Then in every box, there will be a one off postcard print, numbered and signed.  Although they all feature the same six Plumpton Mornings pictures, each one is absolutely unique, through creating an algorithm to determine the patterns of all possible variations, and asking people on twitter to then pick a number between 1 and 720.

There are only sixty of them, thirty with white backgrounds and 30 with black so that each one has a ‘pair’ somewhere in the world.  They are called The Herrmann Iterations, after the Austrian national economist Emanuel Herrmann, who invented the postcard.

Herman iterations 2


The main point of all this was to raise money for 50/50 Good, and that still remains the case – the first £10 of the £30 cost of each box goes straight to Unicef.

For what it’s worth, in a nod to the tulips I consider that the postcards, photo cubes and tiny art books have been acting as bulbs, hidden away in the dark, and now finally ready to raise the money they were created for.


iii) I disrupted the visibility of the boxes in use

The final problem is a simple one; for all of the seasonal editions so far, when the first people buy them, they tend to get very excited about them when they arrive, share pictures and tell friends.  Then friends buy them, and do the same.

But of course, I stipulated in the original product post that, because of the set-up, I wouldn’t send any boxes until they’ve all been sold.

Which means that the boxes haven’t sold out, and we haven’t sent any out as yet at all.

So I’d like to apologise to all the people who’ve bought a box so far – the wait has been far too long already, so we will be working doubly hard to get the pens ready and sent out to you.

Thanks for believing in the box, and the project, to buy it ‘sight unseen’.  I can only hope that seeing what’s actually in the box makes the wait a little more bearable.

If you haven’t bought a box yet, and now fancy one of the remaining ones, then click here to see the product page.


A Factory Visit, and the Future of Print

This week, I visited the Axminster Printing Co. with Tim Milne, to see where the Artefact Cards are made.  And to meet Keith Rockett, who runs the business, and whom I’ve only ever spoken with on the phone.

I took lots of photos, and then afterwards, Tim and I sat and had a chat about various things on a bench in the town Square in Axminster, for the ongoing Audioboo stuff for the 2013 Media Projects.

Anyway, it occurred that I could try something a wee bit different with the audio & visual; I’ve taken all the photos, in the order they were in (save for a three photo loop at the end), and used them as a visual accompaniment to the conversation.

Rather than spend hours editing the pictures with whatever was most appropriate in the conversation, I thought it would be interesting to see if telling two separate stories at once (the pictures of the day, and the wee interview about the day and other things) actually worked.  See what you think…

Stop Motion Animation, YEAH

Before Christmas, I mentioned a brilliant, leftfield project I started working on with Andy Hunns at Clinic; part strategist, part illustrator, helping Clinic describe their process.

Well, we’re done…. click here to go and watch the brilliant stop motion animation film Andy and the guys have just finished to share the process on the website:

Artefact Cards for Clinic Process


I’m really proud of what we’ve done together.  The plan wasn’t originally to do them on Artefact Cards, but once we started using them to draw out what the process entailed, it seemed a natural way to keep playing with the process.

So as well as the video, there are sets of the process cards that the Clinic guys can sit down with people and build a process to fit a piece of work or a style of working.

Thanks to Andy and all the guys at Clinic for being such a joy to work with too.

clinic 1

clinic 2

2013 Projects: From Making to Media


Yes, I know.  It’s a bit slipshod to be writing a “2013 Projects” post when a 1/12th of the year has gone already.  But hey, you know, there’s been stuff on.  The good news is that I’ve started doing some of the things already, so I haven’t lost all that time.

NB: If there’s a balance to be struck, it’s probably to lean more towards doing things rather than writing about them.

Firstly, let’s consider the bigger theme.

Last year’s projects were all about MAKING, in a mostly explicit ‘tinkering with atoms which surf in and around the pixels’.

And whilst I’m not going to stop making things, it feels these annual studio projects should have a different slant every year.

Plus, I get the sense you’ll all be bombarded with stuff about making projects about physical stuff  from folk this year, so I shall refrain from adding too much to the cacophony.

Instead, I’d like to concentrate on MEDIA.

Which, given my background at PHD that might seem, well, predictable.

But I now feel I’ve spent long enough away from a media agency to objectively examine media in its very broadest sense.  As I talked about in the Hollow Factory talk in Paris at the end of last year, we need new metaphors for media.


The metaphors I’m most drawn to are these; they’re the ones that over the last few years have stuck with me the most, and hang together as a threesome too:

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



Media is a vehicle for knowledge” – Cesar Hidalgo, MIT Media Lab, 2011 (?)

(I think I got this via a talk Graeme circulated and may have been at… I can’t find it referenced anywhere else, though)

cesar hidalgo


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

dan hill


Media at its broadest is everything that connects us with others, that carries knowledge back and forth, and has transcended that initial, reactionary digital / physical division…

…yes, it’s a work in progress, but it’ll do for a fast, functional definition of what media might be in 2013.

Which is important, because the Labour Theory of Brand Value philosophy (which I’m developing further this year) demands that you demonstrate every single last piece of work that you and your company puts in to a product or service…


You’ve got to consider every piece of media possible as part of the perception of your company, not just the top ten statements that come out in research, or where you decide to spend the vast majority of your media budget.  Which means going far beyond the old comms planning thing of “oh, we could use packaging too”…

If anything, a brand nowadays is like a BitTorrent file of a film; it’s a complex, granular entity which is pulled together from a million different locations, without any one of which, no matter how small, the film is incomplete and won’t work properly.

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 08.11.58


The media grains of the BitTorrent brand of course include every single last tweet, Facebook comment, check-in and so on.  And remember, it’s not just the stuff you can see, it’s the stuff you can’t, because it’s not public (email, for instance, and anything else which people started calling ‘dark social‘), or because it’s just not happening somewhere that it’s captured digitally (hello, word of mouth)…


…I’m just going to stop that there, and get back to the actual projects… more on all the Labour Theory of Brand Value and BitTorrent Brands and the like another day…


So, what are the three media projects?

Well, there’s an audio one, a video one, and a platform one.

A few things over the last month or two have made me think that there’s a sea-change in the way people make and share stuff, which will change the makeup of the brand BitTorrent.

Previously, to be good at sharing things on the Internet, it was about writing and images.  Anyone can type into a blank box, and as more and more photo apps emerged, everyone began to see that they could take and share good pictures (not great, just good enough).

But as device storage gets bigger, broadband, wi-fi and mobile signal gets faster, and the costs gets lower, the capacity is there for more rich-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.

An example of this is, of course Instagram in relation to Flickr.  The quote I always come back to is the one I read in this post by Dan Catt last year, which is originally from Aaron:

“We did a lot of stuff wrong during my time at Flickr but if I had to highlight one thing we fucked up it was somehow creating an environment where people started to believe that their photos were not good enough for Flickr. I mean, really, how did we ever let that happen?”

Flickr used to feel like a place for ‘proper’ photos.  So if you didn’t take proper photos, why would you use Flickr?

Instagram came along, and that wasn’t for ‘proper’ photos.  In part, it felt like cheating, but a kind of cheating that was ok because everyone was doing it.  And in part, it was pretty hard not to share photos with Instagram once it was on your phone, because of the wonderful experience facilitated by what I’d argue was the first amazing social sharing app for mobile.  It just worked.

Now, as more and more things likes Vine emerge, Flickr then is YouTube now (and most certainly Vimeo, the home of artfully prestige videos).

The vast majority of people don’t shoot videos and upload them to YouTube, despite carrying the tools to do so everywhere they go, because there’s nowhere to hide behind in unedited, raw footage.  There’s no way to cheat.

Yet as start-ups and app developers turn their attention to different forms of sharable media (because that’s what brings users, and users are what brings attention, suitors and dollars), there will be increasingly more ingenious ways to cheat audio & video forms.



…sorry, yes, I  know I’m off at another tangent… what the FUCK are these three projects then..?


To the point; an audio project, a video project, and a platform project.


1.  The Sound of Smithery

Christian Payne, AKA Documentally, introduced me to Audioboo at the end of last year.  It’s been around for EVER of course(since 2009, that is).  In short, it gives you a platform on which to record and upload audio through your smartphone (or whatever device, of course, but I’m focussed on using the phone), and then curate in a variety of different ways.

I want to try it for a fast form of blogging; either initial ideas that seem too informal to write properly about (yet), but that I want to capture, or in-the-moment pieces (at conferences and the like) where a fast turnaround piece might be useful.

Here’s the first week’s worth of stuff.  I am slowly getting into it, but enjoying the challenges.  My audioboo profile is here, and there’s an iTunes link is here.


WBB (Why Bloody Bother?) 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.


2. View From The Desk

Video is becoming increasingly important in all sorts of ways for companies, but rather than learn about it top down, I thought it’d be better to start bottom up.

My son is fascinated by Youtube, and more specifically unboxings.  He’s only three, but he’s clearly developing that geek gene already.  But he’d rather watch people talking about stuff, how it works, and how good or bad it is.  Especially when it’s other kids:

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about doing videos for a while; I was in Oslo in 2011 and a nice guy called Chris Brogan kept telling me that I should, I think largely because I have a Scottish accent. I couldn’t work out a way that I wanted to do it though.  Until I saw this:

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 10.07.07

It’s an instructables project, where you can build your own webcam on a lampstand.  I used it to shoot this test video (but that’s all so far).

So the plan is to now use it to shoot and share more videos, and tell stories on the desk, as if we were doing it over coffee. My gut feeling is that it will be a bit more work to prep than the audio, but maybe less than writing long blog posts (like, you know, this one?)

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.


3. Capturing the BitTorrent for Artefact Cards

Lastly, a really ill-defined project.  The Artefact Cards project in particular is growing into a really interesting platform and community, but the two things I’ve learned about them come down to this:

i) People really only understand them when they use them for the first time

ii) People get better at using them when they see other people using them

And seeing both people using them, and talking about using them, is really helping me understand more about the cards themselves, but more broadly about how people work best in the modern ‘workshop’ (a wee nod to Sennett there).

In short, I started out looking at Artefact Cards through the lens of the work I do.

lens 1

But now, quite by accident, I’ve found I’m looking at the big themes in modern working practices through the lens of the Artefact Cards…

lens 2


So I’d like to have a proper infrastructure in place to capture all of the things that happen around the cards (as much as possible), and help people put in and take out from the communal knowledge base.  It might be wikis, apps, YouTube channels, whatever… I don’t yet know yet.  It’s the engines that help power all the granular media around though.

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?


So there we go, folks.  Here’s to 2013 (or at least, what’s left of it… if you’ve finished reading this, it’s probably March already…)

Winter Artefact Cards: Structure, Precision & Steel

To celebrate the launch of the Winter 2013 Artefact Cards, I thought I’d share the story of their development on here, in detail that is perhaps as long as these Winter evenings…

Snow 1


i – The Structure of Winter

These are the hard yards, these cold January days.

People return from the seemingly never-ending celebrations of December to the what feels like the coldest, longest month imaginable.

Some heap additional misery upon themselves… giving up this, forgoing that, forcing themselves upon literal and metaphorical treadmills.

Yet January has its merits.  It returns us to a sense of order, beginning things again, or starting them anew.  It is an excellent planning month.
“Winter is the time of promise because there is so little to do – or because you can now and then permit yourself the luxury of thinking so.” – Stanley Crawford
January is when a lot of that to-do list falls away.  The festive break seems to wash away the ephemera; tasks which were so urgent in December, yet are forgotten afterwards.

People spend January rediscovering what it is they do.

Or discovering what it is they want to do.
“The tendinous part of the mind, so to speak, is more developed in winter; the fleshy, in summer.  I should say winter had given the bone and sinew to literature, summer the tissues and the blood.” – John Burroughs
It is a season for creating frameworks, building the scaffolding of the coming year.

So it follows that the this season’s Artefact Cards should be all about structure; helping you capture those delicate, fragile ideas, and bringing them in from the cold.

We are proud to present the Ice Blue Graph, the seasonal special for Winter 2013.

“Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius” – Pietro Aretino

It is in these Winter days that inspiration often strikes, and the structure around ideas and projects begins to form, like ice creeping across the bottom of a window pane.  It is fitting, perhaps, that the possible the finest box of Artefact Cards we’ve created arrives in the season in which the project itself began to properly take form.


ii – A Cover Song of a Cover Song

I spent a lot of last winter wandering around with this in my pocket.

It’s one of the Winter 2011 Northerly edition from Field Notes, who are the main inspiration for doing these limited edition seasons with the Artefact Cards.

When you’re starting out doing something new, you look around to see who does it brilliantly.  And Field Notes do seasons brilliantly.  They do a lot of things brilliantly.  I point you, for instance, to their story:

“Inspired by the vanishing sub genre of agricultural memo books, ornate pocket ledgers, and the simple, unassuming beauty of a well-crafted grocery list, the Draplin Design Co., Portland, Ore – in conjunction with Coudal Partners, Chicago, Ill. – brings you “Field Notes” in hopes of offering “An honest memo book worth fillin’ up with GOOD INFORMATION.”

On trains and planes, in coffee shops and waiting rooms, I mapped out across the pages of that Northerly notebook the first few sketches of what the Artefact boxes would look like.

How they’d be packaged, how to do a trial pack, refills and so on.  Components, material costs, seasonal ideas.

It began to bring structure to the idea of Artefact Cards – what it looked like as a product, rather than a project.

(There’s that word again, structure.)

That Northerly book became the original repository for all of the ideas that Artefact Cards would become.

I turn back through the pages every so often, and find some great ideas we haven’t done yet, and some rubbish ideas we have.  And vice versa, thankfully.

I now use Artefact Cards offers to keep projects alive within.  Bad ideas are thrown away, good ideas replace them, new shapes and strategies are found by reorganising and rearranging.

But I am still never, never found without a Field Notes book, for moments when I finds me some of that GOOD INFORMATION.


In tribute, I’m covering my favourite Field Notes song.

Or perhaps it’s this cover of this song that was a cover of that song; the cycle of inspiration that goes on, and on, and on.

But like all cover songs, you’ve got to bring enough of your own thing to make it worth listening to.

Graph paper, the drums of the song.  It screams structure at the subconscious, gently guiding you to find order, precision.  Rather than a perfectly repeating square, I prefer a weightier margin every five lines… a bass drum for ideas, keeping them in line.

I wanted the bass blue to be punchier.  The lead guitar of a black sharpie needs to sit on a bass line that balances it out.

And balance really is important.  When you’re dealing with such a specifically sized object, you want it to be even.  None of that weird Graph paper overhang you used to get at the edge of school books.  If in doubt, cut out a chorus, shorten the guitar solo.

I hope that whether this is a song you’ve heard before, or a song you’re hearing for the first time, you find it says something to you.


iii – The Artisan Who’s An Artist

Whilst we’re talking about the structure that these cold winter months offer, let’s look at something else you’ll find in the Winter 2013 box.

It seemed only right to include something that would help guide the conscious and subconscious process of working with precision when you use the cards.

There are some interesting tensions around the idea of precision in the modern age.  Whilst so many more of the things we do are measurable, a lot of the ways of working we set down for ourselves are, when you look at them, ‘by rule of thumb’…

La Pouce, by César Baldaccini
RULE OF THUMB: “A useful principle having wide application but not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable in every situation.  The phrase itself has been in circulation since the 1600s. In 1692, it appeared in print in Sir William Hope’s training manual for aspiring swordsmen, The Compleat Fencing-master: “What he doth, he doth by rule of Thumb, and not by Art.”


Here’s the thing; if ‘rule of thumb’ is to mean ‘not strictly accurate’, as in the fencing example, it implies that precision and accuracy lies in the domain of the artist.  Where perhaps today numbers and measurement are seen as strictly the domain of the scientist and empiricist, it’s perhaps not so cut and dried.

There has always been, and will always be room in an artist’s hand for a ruler.

So we set out to find you one.

After much searching amongst the bric-a-brac and back alleys of the internet, we found just the thing.


It’s a Rolson rigid spring tempered stainless steel 150mm (6in) ruler.

– metric and imperial scales.

– ink black figures and graduations

– subdivided down to 0.5mm and 1/64 inch

– conversion table on the reverse side (inches to mm)

– a very handy wee hanging hole


Not one of those rubbish ‘shatterproof’ school ones that’d last half a term if you were lucky.

This is a workman’s ruler, a joiner’s ruler.  But here’s the strange thing; it’s quite small, especially in the context of putting up buildings and extensions and making tables.


Which leads me to concur, simply, that this ruler is a tool for those who want to make things well.

Those who leave nothing to chance.

Those who measure twice, and cut once.

This is a ruler for the artisans who are artists.


The Winter 2013 Edition is on sale now – click here to visit the shop

Snow 1

Lego Batman’s take on the Future of Advertising 2020.

Last year, the Herdmeister Mark Earls and I were asked to contribute to the Wharton School of Advertising.  Given that it’s a celebration of different views from across academia, business, students and more, we thought there might be enough long reads already, so we’d do something…

…well, a little different, using Artefact Cards.  And Lego Batman.  Enjoy:

Developed for the Wharton Future of Advertising Program’s Advertising 2020 Project 2012-2013, wfoa.wharton.upenn.edu/ad2020.

If you want to sign up to get news of when all the pieces are released, then head on over here and sign up for news.