I spend a fair amount of time every day trawl­ing the web, with the hope of keep­ing up to date with all the latest devel­op­ments in my fields of interest: cre­ativ­ity, design, social media, web and mobile tech­no­logy, typo­graphy, neur­o­logy, inform­a­tion archi­tec­ture, beha­viour change com­mu­nic­a­tion, lan­guage, writ­ing, the envir­on­ment and the trans­ition town move­ment. If I find any­thing, I’ll try to post it up here.

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. 

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