Creativity & Collaboration in the 20th century.

I gave a talk a few weeks ago at Creat_ED and talked about entrepreneurism, fearlessness but really, I suppose I was talking about collaboration in hindsight. I’m reading Prague: Capital of 20th Century Surrealism and what’s immediately obvious is that artists were (maybe still are, I’d have to ask James about that) much better at collaboration than designers are. They put the effort in. They visited each other’s countries, would write surrealist pieces, poems, would create art that nodded towards those travels. Not un-related, a band from my youth, Les Rita Mitsouko had their first hit singing about the death of their mentor, a 32 year old un-googlable Argentinian dancer and choreographer called Marcia Moretto. I’d be impressed if Lady Gaga ever sung about Orlan. We should be good at this, but we really aren’t. I don’t think the internet has helped particularily, I think it’s just made it easier to be influenced by but not engage with others and their work. Steal an image here, pin it, put it in a deck and move on.

There’s been a return to good old fashioned salon-type dinners recently in London (I got invited to two in the past month) and maybe that’s a way to go back to a deeper form of engagement with others, but so far the dinners have had “themes”. Nothing worse than mixing food with homework as far as I’m concerned. At least drinks and nibbles never pretends to be anything else than a networking event, noone would want to network with a great meal. All I’d really want to see is a proper absinthe-fuelled fantastic dinner for less than £20 with people I don’t know but whose work I like or might have heard of. Anyone?

Trans vs Inter

Transmedia, transdisciplinary, etc.. are clearly a fashionable expression but really…

“Trans is a Latin noun or prefix, meaning “across”, “beyond” or “on the opposite side”.”

“Inter is a Latin prefix meaning “between”, among, or “within a group”.”

Same difference? Not? Dunno but it’s bugging me.

21st century compliance


I went to a conference and a few days later my friend Michelle came up with “Twitter compliant” as a way of rating presentations. Today I walked around the beautiful new Maxxi museum of Modern Art and Architecture in Rome (another Zaha Hadid project) and thought that some 21st century compliance would really help.

The fact is that whether they like it or not, these types of museums have to compete with the Moma, Palais de Tokyo and Tate Modern, or more locally Triennale. That this is the first radically modern building in a while in Rome almost takes a back seat for the average museum buff. Modern Art museums compete internationally in terms of architecture, curation and services and this one, while succeeding fantastically on the first fails at every other level.

Just to name a few challenges that can be easily fixed:
– Lack of toilet seats (!!!!) and for such a huge space, not enough facilities
– Terribly small caffe that will very quickly be over capacity.
– No space to sit down inside, no benches unless you’re supposed to look at a movie, nothing. Makes the whole experience really exhausting as there are many long corridors in true Hadid style. You need the benches to get people to go: “wow what a great space”.
– Really bad artists info signage with clearly no real guidelines about how far away the signage is from the piece, making people look around for it.
– No signs on whether photography is allowed or not, meaning someone has to speak into a microphone occasionally to say to people not to take pictures, transforming the space into a mall or supermarket, and not a museum.
– The entrance and ticket desk becomes a nightmare when there are more than 20 people queuing. Good luck this summer.
– The book store is super tiny and not interesting. If anything is to be learnt from 21st century museums, is that its all about the book stores.
– Running your stuff on Macs means you’ll get this problem quite often and look totally stupid.


So there. Such a contrast to super-well organised events happening in the same city but clearly in a different century.

Commenting back: a response to "A rant about women"

I’ve specifically _tried_ as much as I can to avoid the subject of women, gender equality and tech in this blog for years but this was an invitation I simply could not refuse. I’m also writing this down running out of time and needing to pack a suitcase, so this should be quick don’t worry.

Quote 1: “It’s just that until women have role models who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead, they’ll miss out on channelling smaller amounts of self-promoting con artistry to get what they want, and if they can’t do that, they’ll get less of what they want than they want.”

Comment 1:
Amelia Earhart
Joan of Ark
Benhazir Bhutto

also about the ones not dead:
Anna Wintour
Zaha Hadid
Paola Antonielli
Kathy Sierra
You get my drift.

Quote 2: “They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so. Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have changed the world.”

Comment 2:
Nelson Mandela
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
Oh, you meant white men I guess.

Quote 3: “What I do know is this: it would be good if more women see interesting opportunities that they might not be qualified for, opportunities which they might in fact fuck up if they try to take them on, and then try to take them on. It would be good if more women got in the habit of raising their hands and saying “I can do that. Sign me up. My work is awesome,” no matter how many people that behavior upsets.”

Comment 3: I know _plenty_ of men in tech who would never dream of doing that and who sit there, not living up to their full potential. When talking about the elite, one must perhaps consider one’s expectations carefully. There is also a dramatic difference between the US attitude to performance and the rest of the world, perhaps why it hasn’t been blessed with the best of reputations. A loud obnoxious man (we’d say a wanker in England) is changing your country for the worse Clay, just now, probably because he is confident, louder and is lying about being able to do the job. Fabulous.

So with inflammatory rants, and I’ve been the first to start them in the past, I’ve learnt something important: more than anything else on the subject of women in tech, education, design, let us not wallow in the valley of despair. It’s completely unhelpful, makes people angry and gives out more bad vibes than not. As a woman in design and tech, let me grow in that field, make my own place and find my own voice. It won’t be a man’s, I assure you. It might take me time, but I’ll get there.

The year that was

A bit of a tradition started 3 years ago by a canadian friend. I think it’s as good a way as any to recap.

1.What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?
Missed a flight.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Really didn’t as far as I can remember. I have a lot on next year’s list as a result.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes, plenty. More significantly Caroline my best friend in Canada.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
France, Italy, Hungary, Belgium, Netherlands.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?

7. What date from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory?
Easter Friday

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Keeping my company going through a recession.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Totally putting the essentials of my life aside to make 8. happen.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Japanese school-girl bag.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Obama for making me not want to puke anymore when i go to the US.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Amy Whinehouse

14. Where did most of your money go?
My business.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Working with great people on exciting projects!

16. What song/album will always remind you of 2009?
Mrs Cold by Kings of Convenience

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
Much more tired.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
Spent it with some friends.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
Brock who works with me

22. Did you fall in love in 2009?

23. What was your favourite TV programme?
FireFly and Mad Men

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

26. What was the best book(s) you read?
Makers by Cory Doctorow
Book of Dave by Will Self

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Wild Beasts

28. What did you want and get?
To move somewhere with a garden

29. What did you want and not get?
Peace of mind

30. What were your favourite films of this year?

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 29 and spent it with friends in London

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
More money

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Back to black

34. What kept you sane?
My friends and family and horrible 80s pop classics

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Toni Servillo & James McAvoy

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
American elections

37. Who did you miss?
Friends across the world, Caroline more than most.

38. Who was the best new person you met?

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.
You can only really choose one between fame and fortune. They rarely come together.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?

Every shooting stars in one night
The water and sand in our eyesight
The rocks in our hands preparing for flight
The lack of sleeping but it’s alright

If you fancy at all, do link to your own list!

Thoughts for better conferences

Good conferences are about managing expectations: the speakers’ and the audience’s. They’ve paid to attend, the speaker has probably paid to fly over and add their professional profile to making the event worth going to in the first place. Both parties should be cared for.

At the end of a realllly long year and looking at Dopplr I’ve spoken or organised workshops at 12 different conferences this year and thought I’d come up with a few points about what I know makes me a better speaker. This might not apply to others, but I know it would make a world of difference to me.

1. Don’t ask for the presentation in advance. Chances are you’ll never get it. I’m usually juggling running my business and thinking about your event about 2 days before it starts, writing my talk in the plane/train on the way there and ready about 20 seconds before going live. So don’t bully me or treat me like a child on email with reminders. I’ll delete them.

2. Tell me who is in the room. Out of the 12 conferences only 1 gave me a spreadsheet with details about the attendees. Simple, efficient and got me to tailor my presentation to the crowd. Online communities for the conferences are only good for the attendees themselves, I don’t have the time to engage.

3. Don’t give me one of those awkward neck microphones. I’m a woman with short hair. I care about how my hair will look with your contraption on which is usually shitty.

4. Keep emails short. Just like you would if you were emailing someone you work with. I just want to know where to go and when I’m on.

5. Introduce me to people. I’ve just spoken, everyone knows about me, I don’t know them. Take me around and think about who I would get along with. This is incredibly important and I’ve found that the number of times I’ve been approached after a talk has decreased steadily as people consider adding me to twitter as a way to connect. I’m here, I’m present, this should be an opportunity to make a real connection. Help me out.

6. Pay for my travel and accomodation if you can. If you can’t, give me reasons for my I should go especially if you’re charging attendees a ton of cash. (Back to number 2 really)

7. Don’t do the whole backchannel projected behind me thing. Super distracting because people just can’t listen to you , look at your slides, a live twitter stream and their own laptop without getting totally distracted, laugh at the wrong moments and therefore totally putting me off. danah’s post is more than enough regarding that particular issue.

8. Make my badge readable and don’t make it too long. I don’t want people staring at my navel or crotch to read my already unreadable name. Actually, this applies to all badges for any conference ever made. The only 2 pieces of information you need to show is someone’s name and their company. That’s it. In BIG. No logo, no funky colours, maybe a distinction between a speaker and an attendee but make that easy too. It’s such an important piece of communication but so many conferences get it wrong or over-think it. Here’s a suggestion of what it could look like:


As we move towards an ever increasing professional connectedness and conference fatigue sets in, I think these could really make a difference.

Design as survival tool for the 21st century

Forgive this: a quick and dirty theory that I’ve been working on passively as I read Novecento this weekend lounging in a metal chair in the jardin Luxembourg in Paris and later as I flicked through this month’s Marie-Claire Maison in one of Brixton’s fashionable cafés.

I wonder if design as an activity, a field of practice and an economic lubricant is a way for us to survive. If we assume that desire is a fixed element in society, desire for others first, but then desire for wealth, glory, recognition, happiness, is desire of objects not an intellectual extension of that? Another mirror? Another way to tell a story about the lives we live? Another way to help us achieve the story we want to tell about ourselves?

If I am unable to connect with others in traditional ways and my social reference points are no longer in tribes, villages and local geography, is it not through the Ikea catalogue that I construct a sense of what home should be? In London, you barely get to see people’s houses, the way they live, but you can imagine them through the windows of Habitat. You can decide what your home should look like through the colour choices that Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road made on their second floor for Christmas. “That’s who I should be”, you think to yourself. In the same way, we consume fashion based on what we think is hip or what we want to communicate about ourselves, why shouldn’t it be the same with the objects we surround ourselves with? Psychological survival, the ability to chose who we are through what we show, what we buy, what we desire and what we design. The epitome of that thinking being “design art” that has emerged as its very own field of practice. Art is no longer enough, design and everyday objects need to make statements, call out to us, invite us for me, because we desire more meaning from them than they could initially give us. We long for “the other” whether that is a person or a new pair of curtain rods.

If we didn’t have that desire, if we were perfectly happy with what we had, would we not be empty? And would that be sad In the same way that lack of desire in life is seen as a bad thing and often associated with teenage angst?

Will think about this some more as I don’t think its anything new but it has been said that Pleasure disappoints, possibility never and I think our ability to recognise our dependancy to design, our addiction one might say, might be the key to separating one century’s thinking from the other.

A City Experience: Canvases

I’ve been thinking for a while about contributing to the latest design craze among my peers: cities. I’m not an architect but I like cities as a user, as a designer, and I thought I’d write very short bursts about what I like about them, having lived for years in some of the best and most beautiful cities: Paris, Montreal, Milan, Amsterdam and now London.

I also think there’s a huge distinction to be made between travelling a lot and relocating often enough. It makes you actually taste the culture, get a model in your head of a city, the experience you have in it and what makes it great, special or horrible. Cities have voices, personalities, habits, just like the people who live in them. Hopefully I’ll write a little about each of those elements, but for this one, I’ll concentrate on graffiti or “tags” as the French would say (funny the flavour that word has now).

My theory is that you can tell how well a city is doing creatively based on its walls. Graffiti sort of end up acting as a “creative industry barometer” of a more realistic sort for me.

Milan for example (and Turin for that matter) has some beautiful paper-based ones. Most of it happens organically as well, with no money involved, anonymous but known artists like Tuboy and Humen just keep popping up and it becomes the city’s signature.

Great milanese graffiti

Paper graffiti


This signature can be so strong, like in the case of Amsterdam-based artist Laser 3.14, that when I saw his work appear in London’s fashionable Shoreditch, I did a double-take and looked around for my bicycle.

In London???

Then there’s graffiti as historical tourism. Bruxelles takes advantage of its walls as canvases of communication and uses them to deliberately to showcase its long history and involvement in the comic strips / books industry in Belgium and France in the 60s to late 90s. There’s even a tour you can take in the city to visit all the different “paintings” and this is where the lines get blurry and you have to ask yourself if this even counts as graffiti. Is it still a graffiti if its been commissioned. I’m sure these kids would argue otherwise.


Mannekin pis 2

Mannekin pis 1

Then you have cities who try to organise creativity on their walls and deem genuine graffiti “dirty”, such as Montreal. Only the occasional building will have a piece of art that someone chose, got a permit for, made in broad daylight. Boring. A manufactured narrative of creativity.


"The pizza will arrive cold"

And in the UK, graffiti take on a more political, news-relevant flavour, like an unofficial, slow newspaper. Only the events worthy enough make it onto the walls. Another way to own the city and its narrative. To own what stays and what goes. Manufactured democracy.

Graffiti wars

MJ graffiti


Design's role in the descending economy


So I find myself more and more motivated to blog as a way to scratch an intellectual itch triggered just today by visiting the V&A’s Cold War Modern exhibition and coming back home to read the Guardian’s interview of Philippe Starck, Terrence Conran and Kirstie Allsopp.

As I walked through the Victoria and Albert’s completely packed exhibition (my fault for picking the last weekend this show was on) full of fabulously utopian housing projects such as Archigram ‘s concept design for the Instant City as well as their abandoned project of the Montreal tower for the 1967 Expo, posters from Atelier Populaire to encourage 1968 Parisians to protest in the streets, objects used in counter espionage in Russia and East Germany as well as “socialist plastics”, it was almost possible to forget we were talking about times where the dangers of the atom bomb, the Cold War, the construction of the Berlin Wall, Bay of Pigs and general cultural and political turmoil were part of everyday life and were felt and lived as a global community. The Western world was on alert and looking for something better.


Product design, print, graphic design and architecture brought promise and hope for the future, whatever side of the iron curtain you were standing on. Not only that, but these fields were seen as political tools in themselves, because the message or image they conveyed was quite easy to communicate to a large audience. Schools were built to reinforce political agendas (not like today where it’s more often a corporate agenda that is being served), artists and film makers were invited to go to areas of political turmoil to bring their vision and perspective back home. Fewer mass media and a more focused cultural experience (not that this was always a good thing) allowed these visions of happiness and progress to be communicated and absorbed and believed. Innovation took place among fear and uncertainty.

Matt is quick to point out that perhaps this is something we can only explore now, some 40 years after, with a comfortable sense of perspective, but I genuinely feel that events like the Expo 1967 in Montreal or the Bruxelles Expo in 1958 had an impact in shaping people’s view of what was possible at the time. I don’t think that this is possible in this way anymore.

If something has come out of the Internet age it is specifically our ability to listen in to the micro-trends and micro-events that have been unheard and that we like, not the ones we might not hard heard of and probably should. Like choosing our own blinkers if you will. Again it’s been a blessing and a curse, for we’ve found a fantastic tool for self expression, creativity and global social understanding. At the same time, i doubt we know who our local MP is or who our neighbors are. When governments try to steer the public in a certain direction on some issues, we accuse them of treating us like nannies. Had the climate change issue been as central to us as the proliferation of the atom bomb, we would be in the streets asking for architects to create better buildings, products to stop using plastics, plastic bags to be eradicated, etc. Instead, we channel hop between issues that interest at the moment and hope that someone, somewhere will make the big decisions for us.


Back to fear and uncertainty. The Guardian piece has Philippe Starck himself, one of the pioneers of the designer superstar model almost talking about service design “We need to stop thinking about ownership. We need to look at the idea of renting rather than owning.” while at the same time leading a reality TV show on BBC entitled School of design where he’ll be working with “Ten aspiring designers with the talent, drive and vision to create the next ‘must have’ products of the 21st Century”. I’m sure the economic downturn won’t affect his business as he seems to be covering all the angles.

Designers like Starck have contributed to a fashion-led and attention-deficient design industry that in these difficult times couldn’t possibly hold up.

The great principle of design have faded. Form no longer follows function but fashion. Less is more but a lot more often.

The eternal realist, I also would like to be an optimist. I hope the design industry emerges from the downturn a little wiser. I’ll be watching this year’s Milan Furniture Fair closely for signs of decay and for the type of utopian vision of the future that once inspired people. I look forward to hearing about more of the types of micro-projects like Russell Davies’s Speculative Modeling, for conferences that get the sustainability, web and design crowd together, to get people thinking ahead, being smart, innovating like crazy, creating and in constant forward motion, as opposed to a never ending sugar-coated merry-go-round.

In short, I hope design can once again give people something to hope for and look forward to instead of a quick fix.