Archive for February, 2011
I gave a talk last week which was a bit of a mess. It was my first talk based on new material since 2007 if you consider I’ve been banging on about ubicomp, internet of things and smart product design since 2004. It’s not that I’m no longer interested in those topics, but the luxury of a slower pace at RIG (ie my own really as we don’t exactly report to each other) and some big thinking post Tinker make me look at things differently.
I was approached by my friend Nik, co-founder of fo.am to help them out with Lirec over a year ago now. At first, it was more or less just website redesign, getting them a Twitter feed and a Facebook group and the usual digital comms stuff. As the months ticked by, it became obvious that they needed someone to look at what they were doing and see if it would be interesting for “industry”. They are funded by the EU, specifically byFP7, a call that went out in 2007. The project started in 2008 and is ending around the time of the Olympics. Lirec is basically 10 different organisations across Europe trying to work out how to work together to bring the future of emotional robots to life. It’s absolutely fascinating and not only because of the work. I don’t say that in jest and I’ll do a proper blog post about what they are trying to do later. What fascinates me is a little more meta than that.
Projects as timebombs
I remember having a chat with Tom about the idea of running businesses that had a set lifespan. Well that’s pretty much what an EU-funded project is. There is an end. You can propose an extension but the chances of the same partners all being part of that extension are low. So you treat it like a giant multi-national timebomb. There is one year and a bit to go on this one and people are already talking about what to do after, what project proposals to go for, etc. Considering I only ever looked 6 months in advance while running my business with the hope it would go on forever, this is strangely calming. A business as a project and a project as a business.
The project includes academics from the fields of social science, ethology, software and hardware engineering as well as a private company. These people are from 6 different countries. These types of projects don’t just get money from the EU, they actually contribute to building an idea of what the EU is: a bunch of very different people who try to work together with a common goal. Just for that it’s worth it. When you work together you understand and respect each other.
The EU is incredibly strict about where the money goes and what is called a Project Officer oversees the project on a monthly basis. Every year a review is scheduled with selected reviewers from the field that the project addresses. During that review, that commitee gives advice, opinions, directions or can shut the project off if they feel it’s in danger. I suppose Steering Commitees are the corporate equivalent, but it doesn’t sound as paternal. I wish someone had cared about how I ran my business in that way. Having an infrastructure around you allows everyone to know where they stand and for the role of the founder to not be so isolating.
All in all it’s really interesting and I can’t wait to see how these guys do in the next year. There’s something to be learnt here that I’m sure will come in handy when I start my next company :)
I’ve been using Google MyMaps for about 4 years now, mapping out the cities I visit and live in with pins that often relate to food and culture. I share them a lot and most of them have been viewed by thousands of people. They do however feel like the lonely Google project noone cares about. I think there is so much they could do with it if anyone cared about the implications of those maps during a travel experience. They have the data, it’s only a question of layout and a little intelligence. So I thought I’d try designing what clicking “print” should give you.
I made a prototype last friday for a weekend trip to Paris which gave me some insights but made a cleaner version today. Pics of that on Flickr.
MyTravelMaps is the size of a Moleskine so it’s compact and you can fold it in half to fit into your pocket. Design for pockets is important as Russell said.
The first page has your travel details and the name of your hotel. Nothing else. You don’t need anything else if you’re a seasoned traveller anyway.
The other pages have the description of the pins on one side of the page, tagged according to categories (food in yellow and culture in blue) and listed from North to South to match the map, so as you travel around you kind of know what you’re likely to bump into. It also allows you to make decisions about where you’re likely to end up looking for a place to eat versus visiting museums as those areas don’t often overlap (or shouldn’t if you’re on a budget).
This isn’t about accuracy because travel is about the things you didn’t know about, the stuff people will tell you, the hand-written notes on those maps, the unplanned. It’s building in a little less accuracy than a directions map. It’s building in fun. This is also designed for the wanderings of walking around a city, not for someone who is looking for something specifically. They’ll use their phone for that. I used 3 pieces of paper all weekend, never once taking out a phone to check where we were. That’s kindof what I’d like this to be. Small, smart and useful.