Made Near You: making local food businesses shareable & transparent


So to conclude (rather dramatically) last week, here are some notes on what I ended up showcasing at the end of the Mozilla Open IOT Design Sprint in Anstruther, Scotland.

Made Near You (MaNY) is a service which allows food producers who want to encourage local communities and tourists to eat and buy local.

A form allows a food producer (farmer, chocolatier, condiment producer, they all count) would put in their details and link to their e-commerce shop if they have one.


This would allow hotels to print out a map of local food businesses for visitors or local people to look up a post code and see what is around them.


This may lead down the line (this is a bit more of a stretch) to more visual and transparent conversations about the origins of food. Many packages already include where meat is being slaughtered but they are not obliged to share the city, so it ends up saying ‘UK’ which is hardly useful. A more visual map-based way of labelling makes people think about building facilities near them and create business opportunities everywhere.



Finally this is obviously a service that is easy to internationalise and offer local versions for while keeping translation front of mind. It’s usually when we travel abroad and use our money to help other people’s economies that we are most keen to buy locally. We are, regardless of the brexit vote, one world.

Hopefully an idea is interesting enough to move forward, and if you’re interested in a conversation, do get in touch at alex at designswarm dot com





Elderly care and the internet of things

Last week I took part in a workshop run by DIOTTO an EU-funded project on the use of connected products in elderly care. Some real issues came up which I thought I’d share. It’s important to note we were mainly looking at the use of connected hardware to enhance the relationship between carers and an elderly person who is still independent and living at home.

1. Defining “seniors”.
Louisa and Marcel pointed out that during most of your work life you are categorised and targeted (by Acorn and others). But once you hit 60, you are a “senior” which is unhelpful. Profiling on the basis of technology uptake (do they have an iPad or not) is also unhelpful. We need to be granular about designing for an ageing population which is diverse and often has disposable income in the early years of retirement.

2. Transitional technologies
What kinds of technologies do we need to design that a person will find useful using at 60 and will help them in their 70s and 80s? Noone wants to be “tracked” while they are independent, but once that first fall happens, smart environments may save your life. Is personal data the price to pay to be let to live an independent life in the later stages of life? This is a hard problem to tackle as it means admitting we may be in need of help. Noone wants to think that way, people will often avoid buying a wheelchair even when they need it, because admitting that you’re at “that stage” is an awful blow to your pride. As designers we need to be sensitive to the fact that people may never have a good relationship with our product.

3. Types of care
The word “carer” is misleading. It treats family, friends and healthcare professionals in the same way. Their impact on the life of an ageing person is very different. Many older people suffer from extreme loneliness and isolation, especially men. On Radio 4 the other day, professional carers were interviewed and shared their distress at visiting a patient for only a few minutes a day. That person looked forward to that conversation all day. These are realities of medical support, but we know that a strong social support makes people more resilient.

4. Getting old
Noone likes to think of themselves as “old”. My 79 year old grandmother who sadly has stage 2 Alzheimer’s disease and thinks her care home is full of “old people” so she doesn’t socialise with them. We’ve been successful at stigmatising the wisest people in our communities to the point even they don’t want to own up to it. The Homeshare scheme is brilliant but can we build opportunities for knowledge exchange like the Amazings while using emerging technologies? What will the 50 year olds of today, with their wearable tech, look like and act like in 20 years? Will they be naturally more digitally social? Will their use of technology make up for day to day face to face interactions? Will they be better at staying connected with their families around the world?

These are all questions we should be answering to as designers. Technology has a role to play but perhaps it’s a more subtle one than technologists realise. A good old user-centered approach should dictate what gets designed. As a result we may find that sensors and connected products are best placed as touch points of new services as opposed to the soul focus of design.

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.

Unsustainable touchpoints


There’s clearly something wrong with the delivery of a service if it makes me think “oh what a waste”. This reflects poorly on the company, it’s brand and it’s supposed values, especially when I’m already aware I’m being unsistainable by using the service.

1st example:
Last week during a doze on the Eurostar a member of staff woke me up (!!!) by pushing a leaflet on me that described what their specials were at the restaurant car. I always valued the Eurostar experience as one of the best, especially their ability to generally leave me alone to just enjoy the ride. This has definitely changed things as not only are they wasting a lot of paper for trivial advertising but they actually encourage rude behavior from their staff.
2nd example:
Today on the Gatwick express, I bought a bottle of water, only to have a napkin given to me with it. Did I look like I could spill it all over the place? I realised it was made in the Netherlands for Starbucks and had the clever and oh so ironic “less napkins, more plants, more planet” printed on it. As you’re being handed a napkin so uselessly, this tagline really is reduced to hypocritical corporate advertising.

One line service design

Got tagged by Marc of 31volts so here goes. This is how I would characterise service design:

Getting a meal at MacDonald’s, getting a weekly vegetable delivery from Abel and Cole, ordering chinese takeout, going on your weekly supermarket run, getting your lunch from the office canteen, all the same thing, but not the same at all.

People-less services


Let’s start with an anecdote:

I spent Friday on the go on a mad one-day trip to Amsterdam and then Eindhoven and back to London. Not as mad as you’d think, it was a totally self-indulgent decision I took at the last minute and ended up meeting old friends and new ones. Just lovely to be in the Netherlands as well. One my way back I didn’t have enough time to stop in town to had to settle for the sad choices at Schipol airport. I ended up getting a pannini at Per Tutti, some dodgy italian food chain. The waitress handed me a thick plastic-cased coaster and asked if I knew what this way for? I cleary looked like I didn’t so she went on to explain that when my sandwich will be ready, this coaster will ring and blink and I can come and get it at the counter. At first I thought: wow the future we’ve been talking about is getting nearer by the day, but wasn’t entirely thrilled either. The coaster reversed the role of the waitress and got clients off their backs, this also limited the reliance of the company on good and friendly staff as the interaction with the customer was limited, even more than usual. This felt like an efficient service definitely, but also one that made you feel even more like a number.

A few days later during the course of a conversation with Janne the larger implications dawned on me. The question for service design in the future isn’t only how will services be made more ubiquitous, engage people in different ways and get people to use things, but it’s also going to be: how are we going to be designing services that still involve people altogether?

Will our idea of progress eradicate the need for people to occupy a role in the service industry because we’ve designed them out?
In countries like China and India where population is a big issue, they are turning to solutions that see the problem in an opposite way. Each service must be broken down so as to involve (and pay) as many people as possible.

Does that mean that in the future, dealing with people in services will be seen as a less-productive method of obtaining something? Surely that’s not why so many of us complain about feeling unimportant and like a number when we interact with banking services. So it’s interesting to see that approach in the food industry which perhaps points the way to future changes.

Defining service design

I recently had the pleasure of meeting some of the great people behind a book on services in the tourism industry. Andres explained to me that they had written this book in Estonia (only has been translated to Finnish so far) and was working on setting up a BA in service design.

This was great news, as I often feel that how you teach people can influence the way an industry shapes itself. I quickly realised though that we were talking about services in really different ways. He was talking about the classic and slightly corporate view of the “service industries” like tourism, catering, etc and imagined the alumni of this program to work in middle managment in bridging ideas between people on an execution level and the upper management. Quite a different perspective than my own on the subject.
This makes me think that service design, in the way that I was taught and people talk about in the UK, can be interpreted in a really different way and a little like interaction design, might create a gap between the way a field is taught and the practice. Definitions are always useful and I get the feeling that in these pioneering years of service design, we’re gonna need one really quickly.

Luxury and service design

I’ve had the privilege to have experienced a rather luxurious service recently and it got me thinking about the way we design services for the elite vs the general public. Can one inspire the other? What are the differences and what’s the thinking behind it?

1. Planning for all possible scenarios:

I stayed in a very fancy hotel last month and found among other weird things a shelf next to the minibar including the following items:

– a promotional cup from the hotel
– an Alvar Aalto votive candle holder
– a bottle of liquor
– a box of condoms that included small condoms

Odd combination of items which in fact make total sense, but that I’ve never seen offered in more affordable hotels. What’s the scenario here? Have a cup of tea, light a candle, have a romantic drink and shag? Bring back the cup of tea as part of your collection, bring back the candle holder as you forgot your wife’s birthday, have a stiff drink and call a hooker?

In a way, this very fashionable hotel is almost acknowledging what it is more than hotels where you’ll find the Bible in the drawer of the bedside table. Culturally and otherwise these objects are far more useful to a guest because they can convey a sense of “we’ve thought about everything, just relax”.

It’s interesting to think about how this feeling could be replicated in services. How can you provide a service and give a sense of reassurance to it’s users? Are you honest-enough with your service provision?

2. Secret language:

We all know that the epitome of luxury is feeling like you’re part of the elite and have your own secret language. You can find this to be true of most internet memes (wtf is flume?) but it also applies to the services and objects you surround yourself with. The latest Core77 article on the latest Bang & Olufsen portable music player is an example of misunderstanding that language:

“Bang & Olufsen designs interesting-looking products that most of us will never own, either because they’re too expensive and/or we simply have no use for them.”

That’s besides the point really, because luxury was never about utility but about recognition. How can a service develop it’s own language, only understood by it’s users? I’m talking about more than a member card here. Can other users of the service recognize each other by that language, like those necklaces people who have been to New Zealand wear. Products and services can become part of a secret shared by few but who are the few? Your friends? Your family? Your colleagues?

3. Not for everyone:

Asmallworld has been enjoying a little press lately, and why shouldn’t it? When all the services out there these days have “free signup”, these guys are invite-only (perhaps also what makes feel so elitist still).

What would be the middle ground here? Partial service access depending on who you are to me as the prime user?

I think there’s a lot of potential here beyond thinking about luxury as guns, drugs and art deco :)

Missed service opportunities

I just finished working with Dave on a proposal for the second edition of the Muji award, and being designers of course, we waited till the last minute to submit our proposal.

In this particular case, Dave is in Boston, I’m in London and the proposal had to be sent to Japan by Tuesday next week. We were done with everything by Friday afternoon, but that meant that traditional postal services were no longer an option (we also had to get 2 A3 printed etc…)

We turned to the most efficient option, in this case Fedex Kinkos. Trying to figure anything online with these services is a mess but we didn’t have a choice. We thought about it a little and then thought… hey wait a minute! What if we get their Japan-based office to print this out, and they can send the stuff through from there as well! This will not only mean that the proposal will be received on time, but will actually be much greener as it wont have to take a plane to get there!

With all the greenwashing going on, it was refreshing to find a nugget of sustainable opportunity in a clunky service. Only thing is that it seems that Fedex haven’t figured this out yet, because payment online, without a Fedex account, is not possible and transacting between Kinkos and Fedex seemed to involve someone from their office printing it out, calling Dave to arrange payment on the phone (!!) and then being able to send it…

This is when you realise that there are organisational and corporate roadblocks to a seamless and converged service that could otherwise make an experience much more enjoyable (and sustainable).

Designing audiences: master and puppet.

Spending time in New York is always a story of compromises. I planned to go to the MoMa but didn’t get a chance to. Nice people were in town but triangulating was a nightmare. I think it has something to do with the scale and the spread of urban life there. In some cities, you clearly have a “downtown” area where you’ll eventually bump into people (Milan is a good example) but in New York, you can go from one end to the other really quickly and there are interesting things to do and visit at pretty much at every corner. Making plans with other people becomes an odessey.

So the trip consisted of hanging out in the West Village, getting great coffee at Jack’s Stir Brew, eating at some nice vegetarian restaurants that Daverecommended, going to see Design Life Now at the Copper Hewitt Museum, breifly dropping by the venue for Postopolis and getting my new favorite ice-cream in America: Green tea Pinkberry topped with coconut flakes.

In any travel plans however there’s also a little bit of work involved and so Matt and I went to see Designing Audiences an AIGA talk at the beautiful Fashion Institute of Technology.

The panel was lead by the infamous Ze Frank with guests graphic designer Stefan Bucher, game designer Katie Salen, and head of Stamen design, Eric Rodenbeck.

They each made a short presentation of their work, Stefan with his daily monsters, Katie with her Ice Karaoke project and Eric with the work that Stamen does (presenting Trulia Hindsight for the first time).

Each spoke about their relationship to audiences both offline and online and I must say I was at first skeptical about this wide array of experiences in drawing a set of conclusions but 2 themes seemed to emerge from the conversation nonetheless:

1. Setting rules is key: Not unlike a school teacher, the designers, apart from Eric perhaps, all spoke of the need to set rules to grow a good community. If you left things too open, people would start wandering away from the “goal” of the community and produce what Ze referred to as “crapucopia”. This is a social phenomenon that teachers, babysitters and mothers all know too well. Makes me wonder if these designers haven’t all turned to become design teachers handing out briefs. The tighter the restrictions, the more creative you are forced to become in order to impress your peers and win the love of the teacher. Is this web2.0 all just an extension of school then? Strange notion worth exploring. In a way this has nothing to do per se with designing a community but more to do with maintaining one and maintaining the conditions that will make every participant feel special and look great by rewarding even their most meager attempts, and keep them interested in contributing. Seen under such a light, “web2.0” seems almost a maternal activity, closer to real life than a truly unique “internet phenomenon”.

2. Platform makers: I asked them during the Q&A whether they thought that designers would become simply platform makers and their value would come from how great a platform they would create for people’s enjoyment. This is a question that I myself struggle with as a designer in an age that pushes us to think more and more about services and less about “stuff” more particularly in product design. The answers they provided pointed to a balance between these 2 roles for the future designers. Yes we will be building more platforms but the content creation will still be important to launch that community and gather people’s reactions around an initial body of work.

It seems almost impossible to think that most designers will not be following this trend even if it means more maternal maintenance work and less ego-driven creation.