I started a thread on the UK’s EU referendum

I’ve been having an interesting Facebook debate this weekend with a few friends. It largely concerns the forthcoming referendum in the UK to leave the European Union. I’m pretty proud of it actually and I think it makes for some useful reading.

I was feeling somewhat frustrated by the poor quality of debate happening in the British media so kicked off my own.

The long goodbye

My very good friend Sarah Shaw left IPPF today after serving for over 12 years.

She held a variety of posts – we first met while she was busy, running the library and looking after the photo collection. As the in-house designer at IPPF, the photography collection of over 40,000 images was an enormously important resource – we needed them to help us communicate the value of the Federation’s work in a subtle but powerful way. While many in the organisation did not value communications, Sarah had this brilliant ability to understand multiple perspectives and appreciated the value of photography more than most. She often was responsible for accompanying photographers on field trips and made a concerted effort to distract each subject in conversation so that the photographer could move around unnoticed.

They always returned with a treasure trove of dazzling reportage-style images: realistic and natural. The success of those trips was, at least in part, down to Sarah’s natural talents with other people.

By the end of her time at IPPF, Sarah was spearheading some really interesting advocacy work with the organisation’s local affiliates and she championed a new approach for increasing access. She’s due to start working at Marie Stopes in a month.

It was a real pleasure to be present at her leaving party to help her celebrate her many years at HQ. And meeting up with all my old colleagues brought back some great memories of working there myself. I have so many fond memories and made some lifelong friends there. 

The party was also a reaffirmation for me personally that I did the right thing in leaving when I did. It’s been nearly two years since I departed from “the mothership” and I have found it an enormously challenging and difficult experience at times. But founding and building up Folk Labs has taught me so much. I’ve never really had enough time to look back. And the opportunities presenting themselves to me (while less huge in their scale) are, in their own way, mountainous.

I’ve had so many experiences and opportunities that I would never have been offered at IPPF. And that’s not to say that I wasn’t offered plenty of opportunities at Central Office. 

I miss the team I worked with enormously and I regret not having more time to head down to London Bridge to keep in touch with them. 

Leaving an organisation like that is very hard. It was especially hard for me: I think I’m the sort of person who enjoys becoming part of a team and growing within it. But, sometimes, when you’ve climbed as high as you can within one organisation, the only way to progress is to “promote yourself” externally, and saying goodbye to that organisation and saying hello to the next. 

Indie Web Camp

Have you encountered the IndeiWebCamp movement before @IfungLu? https://indiewebcamp.com If not, it think you should check them out. They’re doing amazing things and I think you might find them interesting.

What does real digital innovation look like in parks and public spaces?

I was fortunate enough to attend Nesta’s “Digital Technology in Parks & Open Spaces” event on the 30th July.

As always, Nesta fielded a genuinely impressive lineup of speakers across all three of their sessions on how forward-thinking local authorities and park managers are using technology to increase public engagement, fundraise and improve park management.

Over the course of the day, one speaker – Abandon Normal Devices‘ Senior Producer, Ruth McCullough – stood out from the rest of the panel for me. She, above all the other speakers, presented a vision of what it means to really engage the public in their own open spaces using digital technology.

The presentation Ruth gave of the work AND have been doing over the past few years in public spaces had a significant impact on my thinking. It’s rare that one single speaker at any event leaves me scribbling frantically in my sketchbook. but her presentation was so clear, it opened doors in my thinking.

AND’s approach to using cutting-edge technology to engage with the public is clearly informed by an arts approach which places the public right in the centre  of the piece. I spent much of the rest of Thursday scribbling out ideas which flowed directly from what she had said.

What really opened up my thinking was their use of all forms of “technology” – not just web and mobile apps but a broad church of solutions including the Oculus Rift virtual reality kit, quadrotor drones and even bespoke interactive projection systems to engage the public with civic spaces and with one another.

This sort of ambitious use of technology for public engagement helped to really lift my own thinking about the work Folk Labs are getting involved with to encourage greater online and offline civic engagement.

Could we deploy drones, 3d printing or interactive digital projection systems to help citizens in Herne Hill to re-engage with their own civic spaces in a new and more exciting way? The idea of it is astounding.

Until I watched Ruth’s presentation I hadn’t really thought at this level. Working in local community technology can stunt your ambition if you’re not careful.

In future I feel as if I need to maintain a more healthy level of ambition or we run the risk of not bringing best practices to the table.

I must also just mention Simon Poulter from Metal Culture who also spoke passionately about the importance of using the web appropriately to protect the heritage of cultural assets created during local community projects. His contribution to the conversation was incredibly thoughtful and sensitive and I found his presentation incredibly rewarding and thoughtful. I could have listened to him for a lot longer.

Entering the 100Days Challenge

I recently read about Gareth Mailer’s #100DAYS Blogging challenge and, since I’m painfully aware that my own blogging output has dwindled to the point where I barely ever publish anything, I plan to take a literal approach to the 100 Days aspect and only write approximately 100 words per day for 100 days. That way I reason even I can manage to commit to sticking to the regime. 

Of course, my talent for procrastination will still likely get the better of me, but I suppose I’m hoping that even I can’t procrastinate around 100 words. In fact I may even occasionally try to split up the 100 into several tweet-length posts. 

What could possibly go wrong?


Exploring museums for creative inspiration

Since my wife is away in the US right now, I decided to spend some of the my afternoon at the British Museum. I’m working on a design project for The Elders at the moment and, as part of that work, I needed to do some visual research into Tribal costume and pattern. 

It was a fascinating experience for because it’s been such a long time since I visited a museum or gallery for the explicit purpose of researching a design project. I tend to live in my imagination too much or draw from existing brand assets. 

So it was deeply pleasurable experience to simply wander around exploring with my eyes. I was reminded of all the many happy afternoons I spent while I was a design student in London, ambling slowly around the empty halls at the back of the V&A or inhaling the musty atmosphere of some of the more unloved rooms in the bowels of the Science Museum. 

It’s a wonderful opportunity just to look and see where your gaze takes you. There’s a constant, gentle absorption of new knowledge, understanding and connections between cultures and periods of history that happens during these times. You mustn’t feel too rushed or get distracted too much by the outside world. That’s why I tend to prefer the emptier galleries where there aren’t as many members of the public, taking selfies next to the big attractions (you can tell which ones they are because they’re on a plinth, generally right inside the door from the main hall). 

Once you can get far from madding crowds (perhaps the “maddening” crowds is more appropriate) a reverential hush descends over the pieces and, if you can find a great room, you can lose yourself for hours, sketching, learning with you eyes and connecting somehow with the people who originally made the item you’re gazing at. 

I will definitely be looking hard for ways to bring this method of working back into all my professional practise from now on because it can lead to some genuinely delightful surprise discoveries and revelations. 

Few other places than museums are so filled with possibilities for unexpected connections to be made. 


Does your MP know where money comes from?

Positive Money have a new campaign, encouraging us to write to our MP asking if they understand how our monetary system works. Here’s the email I sent Emily Thornberry. Read more

Writing is harder than I thought (and I already thought it was hard)

I’m really struggling. I’ve been hacking away at the text for my blog for quite a while now and I’m finding it incredibly hard. I think one of my problems is the process I go through to assemble my thoughts, then write them. Read more

Visualising the spoken word with dictographic notation

In 1996, while in my third year at Central St Martins college of design, I devised a basic notational system for  visualising the spoken word. The system which I named “dictography” adapted aspects of standard musical notation as well as typographic conventions. Since the first version I have further expanded dictography into a more complete notation system.

Read more

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