Friday, 26 October 2007

Some Reflections on InterSections

The InterSections Conference has come and gone like a blinding flash of design stars (Tim Brown, Richard Seymour, John Thackara, Sir George Cox, David Kester to name a few...), black-clad delegates, awesome keynotes, stimulating presentations, long lines for tea, coffee, coats and packed lunches in clear bags all on the banks of the Tyne River NewcastleGateshead.

It was an awesome 2 days of presentations. The breadth and calibre of speakers were impressive for their provocative, stimulating and eye-opening presentations.

Hats off to the conference producers (ie. Kevin Mcullagh, the Design Council and Northumbria University) on pulling together such diverse design subjects and issues.

I thought Core77 put together a good write up of the event. Check out Day 1 and Day 2 of the conference on their blog.

Instead of repeating what happened, I thought I would post some reflections here.

Here's what emerged from my mind map after Day 1:

- Lots of people, strong sense of energy and anticipation

- Logistics were not good- long lines everywhere (could have benefited with designers here but I think we were too busy networking) and what was with the stapled programme (guess had a nice hand-made feel to them..?)

- Steller presentations that outdid the break-out sessions

- 'Are the D Schools the New B Schools?' break-out session was disappointing. It sounded a bit like Nussbaum on BusinessWeek, only live. I thought we, as designers, could have gone a step further and discussed pragmatic ways design and business could foster an exchange

- Thought the Service Design panel got too hung up on definitions of Service Design and didn't focus on the key issue which was supposed to be about 'know-how.' Did I learn anything new? Not really, but great for validation of my future research

And on Day 2:

- I was impressed with the keynotes and presentations on Day 1, but Day 2 was awesome!

- There is so much out there we just don't know, until someone introduces them to us (thanks Peter Higgins). Such great work, ideas, stories, thinking... all out there waiting for us to discover it

- I appreciated a presentation solely focused on people. Because they really need to be featured as much as the rendered pictures of products

- The issue of different generations was brought up (though discreetly) on both days. I believe this is an important one to focus on especially given that emerging design studios are pre-dominantly run by designers in their 20's and early 30's

- Great observation, whoever made it, on the dominance of males both as delegates and speakers. Glad to see that others were picking up on it because it seemed quiet obvious. Also rightly questioned as, 'was this saying something about the state of the design industry today?'

- Richard Seymour challenged us with some great propositions (something like 10 in total). Getting us to really think about what we do as designers, our roles, our responsibilities and the thing I think we can forget from time to time which is, remembering why we are designers in the first place

And overall... I walked out of the Baltic feeling upbeat and excited to see where we go from here in this time of transformation. As one speaker noted, the media paints such a doomed picture of the world with pressing issues such as the environment and globalisation, and I do think, as designers, it is important that we continue, more than ever, to inject optimism, excitment, engagement and humanism into the world.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007


Tomorrow the InterSections: Design Know-how for a New Era Conference begins at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art at Gateshead Quays.

Hosted by Northumbria University's School of Design (where I can be found on a daily basis), Dott 07 and the Design Council, it was a sell out conference 2 months ago and looks to be a great 2 days.

There will be capture of the conference here, and on the official InterSections Blog.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Dott Festival | Day 8

The final day of the Dott Debates was a double-whammy with 6 hours in total of presentations and discussions. All, but one, were chaired by John and I thought he did a great job in opening, connecting and closing presentations, people and discussions.

Low Carb Lane

After a few hours meeting and greeting as part of the Dott Crew on the Festival site, I joined the Debate titled, Low Carb Lane, named after the Dott 07 project that happened in Ashington with service innovation and design firm, Live | Work.

Alex from Live | Work condensed almost 2 years of work and layers of complexity in the Low Carb Lane project in just 15 minutes. The brief for Low Carb Lane was to reduce the carbon footprint of a home in Castle Terrace, Ashington.

When one thinks of making a home more environmentally sound, a whole host of products come to mind such as water tanks, double-glazed windows, half-flush toilets… but what Live | Work discovered when they spoke to the broad group of stakeholders in the project was that people in Ashington weren’t going to have much interest for costly, bolt-on solutions when they had more pressing issues such as vandalism and arson to deal with.

Vandalism and arson were of course symptoms of a much deeper problem, which was lack of finance. This was a vicious circle where the tenants couldn’t pay their rent, which led to the unlikelihood of landlords investing money into the home, which then gave tenants little incentive to take care of the home and make efforts to pay the rent and the cycle goes on… It was a ‘catch 22.’ Throw in other issues, such as the fact that while the Ashington community were not rich with money, they were rich with pride and often refused charity and handouts, and you have a very wicked problem.

In Alex’s short 15 minutes he drew out the key needs in working towards solutions (which I have collated here to be):

- it’s not only about carbon emissions but also about community spirit
- it’s about providing incentives for all stakeholders
- it’s about empowering the residents
- using the landlords as the starting point and finally
- removing financial barriers

So what was the solution? A service called Saverbox and Nesco’s smart metering system.

It begins with an energy usage audit and then signing up to Saverbox which links financial incentives to reduced energy usage in a household. To provide a tangible touchpoint of this service, Nesco’s smart metering system is then installed. The metering system brings to life a household’s energy usage with visibility of financial incentives.

Joanne, Director of Business Development of the NEA (National Energy Action) then presented some startling facts on fuel poverty which is ‘the inability to afford to adequately heat the home’ (Boardman). Fuel poverty is liked to a whole host of issues such as poor health, inability to take care of the home, inability to pay bills and causes of damage to the home, such as condensation. The value of Live | Work’s Saverbox idea is to act as the catalyst to help eradicate fuel poverty.

Ian Mansfield of nPower, added to Joanne’s contextual overview and supported ideas such as Saverbox, in achieving the UK government’s reduction of carbon emission targets.

In the Debates session we discussed a whole host of issues such as retro-fit vs. replacing homes, opportunities for partnerships with the Saverbox idea, the role of design in the project… but I think the biggest take-away I gathered from the discussion was the complexity of energy. Alex summed this up when he said,

‘… every aspect of energy is complicated… there are so many obstacles and hurdles in the way and it’s not just people being difficult.’

Eco Design Challenge

The final Dott Debate around the issue of education, was rich with ideas, discussion and lots of networking happening afterwards. It kicked off with presentations by the Eco Design Challenge team, Nick and Rachel. Nick gave us an overview of the programme which involved 86 schools and thousands of Year 8 students in the North East designing solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of their school.

A toolkit was provided online for the schools to kick off the program which involved the students diagnosing their school’s carbon emissions. Again, information graphics helped bring to life the energy usage in schools, for example this is what a school with a high carbon footprint would receive after their diagnosis.

The Eco Design Challenge Team provided workshops for the teachers and linked up volunteer designers with schools to help them make tangible their ideas. Rachel gave us some insights into her experience with this.

The Eco Design Challenge approach overall was what they called a ‘light touch’ and here’s a slide to convey what they meant:

The programme was a great way in engaging the next generation designers and leaders with creating ecologically sustainable solutions. The Challenge was also a competition and as mentioned in a previous post, the winning schools got funding from NESTA which will help further realise their ideas.

Our New School

Julia of Engine presented the project of Our New School, which involved the local Walker Technology High School and ideas for how they will use their Building Schools for the Future (BSF) grant from the UK Government for improving their school.

Engine begun with viewing the school as a social system first. Spending time at the school, living the lives of the students, teachers and parents was part of a rich discovery process which enabled them to gather key insights for idea generation.

The outcomes of the project were:

A 7-year student learning journey, mapped as a process to show complexities and how these would be supported along the way

A briefing document, with the content co-designed by the school community, for the architects

A game to scale the project and enable other schools to do the same

Steve Gater, Principal of Walker, also gave a presentation beginning with ‘our new school is about people.’ He spoke about his school and some things he’d like to see in the future such as a school which is:

- ‘inviting, stimulating and inspiring’
- considers physical and virtual spaces for the community
- embraces technology
- redefines learning journeys of the students guided by the knowledge that the students ‘are the benefices’

The final presentation captured the bigger context of both projects. Hannah from the BSF Leadership Program spoke about the key issues of insufficient time and energy available. She had stated upfront that both the projects had ‘people with passion and drive [and] if we could replicated those we’d be sorted.’ Hannah also pointed out the need to put children ‘in the centre’ for the BSF programme which will provide £65 billion to schools all over the UK.

The Eco Design Challenge and Our New Schools projects are such great demonstrators of what design and designers could do to help the creativity of people in the school community. The energy and passion is definitely there. Ideas for scaling the projects, as seen here, show that time to do it is within reach. The government’s funding completes the picture for it all to happen. My question is, what are we all waiting for?

Monday, 22 October 2007

Dott Festival | Day 7

Today's Dott Debate was on Food Systems and Cities. The Debates were opened with a guest speaker from Toronto, Chris Hardwicke, who took us through some interesting initiatives of the city's involvement in food systems.

Ulla-Maaira Mutanen from Helsinki then spoke about the coupling of mobile phone technology to deliver information by pointing at and scanning RFID tags on products.

I quite like the idea of being able to know the origin of products, how far its travel and the personal stories behind them, all of which may be shared through this technology through word, images and sound.

If 'markets are conversations' (Locke, Searles and Wienberger) then this technology can help ordinary people see the stories of products and also bring people together. Ulla made some interesting points around social networks and the fact that companies cannot buy or control the stories that people share.

After a short break, John led a panel discussion with Tim White, Director of Regeneration from Middlesbrough Council, Chris and Ulla.

Tim spoke about his experience on the Dott 07 Urban Farming project having 'been an eye-opening experience' because initially the Council had thought 'very little' about food. Here's more of what I managed to capture from Tim...

'What came into my office were off-the-wall ideas for growing food in town... I thought it wouldn't work... but was carried along by the enthusiasm... and I was please to see it work well. Our role was to push along [the project] and open the door...Middlesbrough was a grassroots-driven activity. We need to go forward like this in future years...'

Urban Farming

After lunch, the Urban Farming project team gave us an in depth look at the project. Seeing as I have posted the Urban Farming project space pictures up in a previous post, I thought I would document here what will be happening next.

Ian Collingwood, a regeneration consultant who was was integral in making the Urban farming project happen, mentioned that the project concept 'fits strategically with the local area agreement' as it contributes to:

- education and learning
- making the community safer and stronger
- health in the region
- involvement of older people
- economic viability

Ian spoke of the legacy Urban Farming has already begun to leave behind, such as:

- the local health authorities who have set aside money to provide 6 local schools with allotments to grow food for the students to eat
- the development of a Jamie Oliver Fifteen-style restaurant to help put 15-19 year olds in jobs where they cook local food for the town
- the beginnings of a food co-op, where all the money it makes, is put back into the community to help lift people out of poverty through setting up credit unions
- developing ideas around a database for the skills of the growers, so knowledge on growing food can be shared
- organising a Christmas Dinner for the schools where celebrity chefs help cook the food that has been growing since the end of Summer.

Some of the previous Dott Debates had mentioned that while the Dott Festival closes this Sunday this was not the end, but only the beginning. The continuing activities and initiatives from the Urban Farming project in Middlesbrough couldn't be clearer evidence of this fact.

The Dott Shop

A great selection of books, selected by the Dott 07 team, is for sale in the Baltic Gallery's Dott Shop.

The selection of books provide a good grounding to the philosophies embedded in the Dott 07 programme. Here are the Top Ten.

Here's John's top eleven from his Doors of Perception blog (eleven because I bought the eleventh one- a beautiful book on maps of all sorts).

1. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed - Jared Diamond

2. Heat - George Monbiot

3. An Inconvenient Truth - Al Gore

4. A Demon of Our Own Design - Richard Bookstaber

5. Six memos for the next millennium - Italo Calvino

6. Relational Aesthetics - Nicolas Bourriaud

7. Smart Mobs - Howard Rheingold

8. Worldchanging - Alex Steffen

9. Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes - Viljoen&Bohn

10. In The Bubble - John Thackara

11. A Geography of Time - Robert V. Levine

To check out the full list, visit the Dott Shop. In the meantime, Andrew Curry's blog gives us his perspectives on the books.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Dott Festival's Blogging Community

The Dott Festival is not only generating interest around the physical site itself, but there is lots of blogging happening. It's been interesting to see the different perspectives on the Festival, both the content of it and the event itself. Here are some links:

The offical Dott 07 website has a daily blog kept up-to-date by Emer and Claire.

Dott 07's Programme Director, John Thackara, has been blogging updates on the Festival at the Doors of Perception blog.

Melissa, Jenny, Ollie and Lisa came over last week from the Köln International School of Design, Germany to document the Festival happenings. Their blog is called Dott07.

Richard Florida has been checking out the Köln team's blog too. Find a link here that Florida posted on his blog to my comments regarding Service Design.

The Dott 07 projects of Alzheimer 100 and Our New School have also been blogging updates on their sites.

Pre-Dott Festival here is what Core 77, CPH127, BusinessWeek Online, Bruce Nussbaum and Experentia all had to say about Dott 07.

To round up an awesome 2 weeks of Dott 07, Northumbria University and the Design Council, London will be hosting a conference called InterSections07: Design Know-How for A New Era. The tickets sold out more than 2 months ago, but you read about the lead up and all the happenings at the InterSections 07 Blog.

Please feel free to email me or leave a message if you know of any more links or have your own blog to add here.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Dott Festival | Day 4

Design of Sexual Health (DaSH)

Today's Dott Debate focused on the issue of health. John opened the Design for Sexual Health (DaSH) session by saying that sustainability, 'is about looking after each other', and that's exactly what people involved in health are concerned with.

The DaSH Debate's aim was to review the project and focus on some learnings. First up was the Design Options team who were involved with running the project. The first presentation gave an in depth view of the process the team went through in their discovery stage with people.

Various methods, tools and techniques were used such as forming a co-design team, steering committee, doing some stakeholder mapping, questionnaires, interviews and cultural probes.

The outcomes were ideas and recommendations for new modes of sexual health delivery services. These were captured in a consultation document and Service Experience book.

The legacy of DaSH has lived on with the Design Options team working in different areas and regions of the UK in sexual health.

Angela, a Nurse Team Leader and member of the co-design team, also presented giving some insights into what the experience of working on DaSH brought.

She mentioned:

- the ability to complete a wide exploration of the state of sexual health services
- the 'opportunity to get out of our silos'
- the ability to engage people, both those who use and will potentially use sexual health services and
- overall just a different way of doing things and interacting with people involved in sexual health

To summarise, Angela noted that DaSH was able to generate ideas for an integrated sexual health service 'as chosen by the people of Gateshead.'

Jenna, of Design Options, was the final presentation that dealt directly with the DaSH project.

Jenna pushed our imagination towards 'blue sky' ideas on sexual health services. Wouldn't it be great if sexual health services could....

- be found in the back of high street stores where there was a high degree of access for young people
- be around the idea of a 'clinic in a bag' where nurses could visit people in their homes
- use technology, such as vending machine, to distributed condoms.

The following two presentations were on the National Chlamydia Screening Program and the vending machine technology which actually has a functioning prototype that dispenses condoms at the DaSH project space at the Festival.

While these two presentations were interesting, my personal opinion was that they led the debates right into conversations on delivery mechanisms. Throughout our discussion, I found that cultural and behavioural issues that surrounded sexual health were beginning to emerge. Someone even mentioned, 'our nation doesn't talk about sex.' I was left questioning if we could change cultural paradigms by vending machines alone. Do we need to go 'outside the system', do new kinds of studies in sexual health, think more about sexual well-being (rather than sexual health) and deliver the kinds of services which empower people to seek sexual health services, on their own...?

Urban Farming

In the break between the 2 Health Debates I visited the Urban Farming project space.

The Urban Farming project

Design Opportunities for Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough Town Meal

Middlesbrough Town Meal

Alzheimer 100

I have to admit the Debates keep on getting better and better. Alzheimer 100 opened with 'it's all about citizen participation.' Staying true to the statement the goal of the Debate was to take forward ideas and plans from today and do something.

Deborah of ThinkPublic, who were the Senior Producers on the Alzheimer 100 project, gave us an insight into the design practices used in the project.

These included holding a skills sharing days to train the co-design team in research (which involved the use of film), observing and talking to people in the Alzheimer Society network, identifying the 80+ services available to the Alzheimer community and keeping everyone up-to-date and included in the process through a website and leaflet (for those not IT enabled).

Ian and Ivo, also of ThinkPublic, presented the outcomes and opportunities which eventuated. Some of these included the design of a space for a garden, the use of mentors, a Signposting service which enabled face-to-face meetings for help and the use of public spaces eg. cafes for social interactions and activities.

I don't know if I missed something, but I wondered how all these ideas things could connect and work together. Maybe they are not intended too.

The Debate was an uplifting experience marked by the enthusiasm of everyone in the room and building on ideas.

Discussions opened with assistive technology and media training as a starting place to remove the stigma that runs alongside Alzheimers. This led to conversations around the use of film to share the stories of the Alzheimer community and help reduce this stigma. Just before the Debate begun, Deborah put on the one-minute video that was showing in the Alzheimer 100 project space and I found that added a lot of energy to the conversations that followed around the issue. What more proof did we need that film could contribute a whole lot more? As one person put it, 'the voice of people with dementia is a powerful and moving experience.' I would add the voice of the carers would be a powerful and moving experience too.

The Debate was round up with a set of agreed upon ideas as ways to move forward, but the energy would not leave until a list of names was put down on list to further the conversations and deliver some action. I think everyone in the room signed up. The legacy of Alzheimer 100 lives on as it certainly was 'not the end... but the beginning of something.'

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Dott Festival | Day 3

Day 3 was a cold, but sunny day for the Dott Festival. The first influx of people had thinned out a bit, giving the Dott Team, Designers and Volunteers some time to catch their breadth before the weekend.

I spent my morning touching base with people via email whom I had met on Day 1 and at lunchtime headed down to the Dott Festival site to attend the first of the Dott Debates.

Today’s Dott Debates were presentations and conversations around ‘The Movement Dilemma.’ The afternoon kicked off with two presentations from (external to Dott) professionals who deal with mobility in their daily work. After a short lunch and tea break we came back for presentations on the three Dott 07 projects:

1. Move Me
2. Mapping the Necklace
3. Welcomes

I will only cover two presentations here. One from the first half of the Dott Debates session and one from the second half.

In the first session, Andreas Zachariah talked about his journey from Investment Banking to studying Design at the Royal College of Art (RCA). At the RCA, Andreas undertook a project called Carbon Hero. Carbon Hero is a mobile phone interface and information system which lets individuals see their daily carbon footprint. It’s such a brilliant idea because we are in need of becoming more aware of our impact on the environment and most of us carry our mobiles around all day and have it on. Andreas successfully put two-and-two together and the Carbon Hero idea was born.

Andreas’s belief that is even the small steps can make a difference further led him to design the information system people-friendly tracking and comparison measures eg. He designed alternative units of measure so we can all understand, in familiar terms, just how much carbon we were creating. We can also compare our weekly carbon footprints, enabling us to think a little bit more about what made the difference between one week and the next.

I enjoyed Andreas’s final slide titled the ‘Legacy of Design’.

It left us all with some things to think about such as:

- The fact that we need to create ‘waves not ripples’
- We need to encourage ‘empowerment not apathy’
- We need to give ‘transparency and personalisation’
- We need to enable ‘knowledge not spin’
- We may need ‘Failing to succeed’ and finally,
- We must ‘trust the human spirit’

David Towson of Live | Work, Newcastle presented a more in depth story of the Move Me project (the Awards night presentation was Pecha Kucha style ie. Three minute presentations with six slides and 20 seconds to talk about each slide) with which took place in Scremerston and looked at how to bring more mobility to school children in a widely dispersed area without impacting hard on the environment.

One of the things I love about design are the tensions in the problem that must be solved. Horst Rittel called them ‘wicked problems’, and they aren’t black and white, but the grey and complex. The grey and complex are the kinds of problems designers deal with everyday.

David started with the fact that most cars of the road each day travel with empty seats. If every one of these cars took an extra person, half a million cars would be removed from the roads. Powerful facts to begin with, but what and how can we begin to work on this?

David immersed us into the life of Margaret who makes a 5-mile walking trip down, each day to collect her child from school. In the photo we see a bus timetable, a potential point of intervention from a designer, but in the Move Me project, David points out that design did a whole lot more.

Through using the design process, David and his team involved all the stakeholders around the issue of getting children to school in Scremerston. This meant talking to children, staff, parents, bus operators etc.

What they found was that the information could be a whole lot more visible and clear. So the Live | Work team re-designed the timetables and other sources of information for bus services.

But that would not be enough to help fill those empty car seats. The key part of the Move Me project was designing a system of bespoke timetables, where individuals could identify, communicate and share their movements around Scremerston. The sharing and visibility of this information enabled people to become connected so that car pooling could take place, allowing greater mobility of school children and filling those empty seats.

If the success of the project is not already clear, the implementation of this project into other areas around the UK, such as in Berwick and within 53 other schools in the region, certainly demonstrates the extraordinary ability of designers and citizens to solve wicked problems.

Urban Camping

After the Dott Movement Debate, a group of us popped by the Ouseburn Valley to check out Dott's Urban Camping site. In July 07, Dott got together designers from around the world for 10 days to have them explore ideas around sustainable tourism in the North East. The last time I saw the ideas, they were concepts in Powerpoint presentations, but today, we got to see one of those ideas fully realised under the towering viaducts in the Ouseburn Valley.

The Dott Camp is a real accommodation site where one can stay during the Dott Festival for just £15 per person, per night and make very little impact on the environment. The site is a short bus ride and an even shorter walk away from the Dott Festival.

The tents are above ground, on scaffolding for increased safety. There are cooking facilities and toilets on site, and discounts for food at the local Ouseburn pubs and restaurants. It's a peaceful place with pleasant views.