The financial art of Kickstarter UK

Thought this might be helpful to share. I was looking at Kickstarter UK and amongst the concerns about making things, fulfilling rewards and trying to raise money at the same time, the financials can be quite a headache.

This is a budget form, you just have to fill your numbers in and see the effect on fees, fees per pledge, total Kickstarter fees, & VAT. Then once you start fulfilling, I’m assuming you’re paying the person fulfilling minimum living wage by London standards.

Editable sheet here.

Principles of robot design

I’m trying to think, through Lirec about what the difference is between designing a robot and designing a teapot. I will probably go back to Don Norman’s book (even if I hated it the first time around) shortly but in the meantime, here’s 3 little things I’m thinking about that would possibly justify developing a robot versus a “machine”.

– Does it do the job better than a human?
– Does it help a human?
– Does the human care about it?

Dunno. Still thinking.

Managing a portfolio & online presence for design students

Last month, Carole invited me to come in, lecture and help her graduating MA Textile Futures students understand the value of building an online presence of their own. I ended up putting together a few presentations to explain the value of what the internet was about, how it could help them in their career, etc. I learnt a lot and observed a lot along the way. Some of it shocked me, some of it are service ideas that are just screaming to happen and I thought I’d share. Feel free to reap the benefits :)

It’s 2010. The golden age of technology right? Well, managing an online presence, understanding what it’s all for when you’re not a web designer or involved in web design or “social media”, turns out to be more obscure than in 2005. Let me explain.

In 2003, I took a Flash class in my product design course. Horrible, obscure stuff where the end result was a Flash website. Need I say more? In 2005, half way through my master’s in IDII, I learnt how to code my own website (thanks to the many hours I spent with Didier who had the patience to teach me HTML & CSS). The year after that Yaniv made it compulsory to use WordPress to communicate our progress in our thesis work. I still find PHP a horrible thing to understand, but the hours spent paid off eventually. I moved on to being Karola’s sysadmin and web designer (I get jewellery in return you see) which keeps me coding once in a while. So all in all, that’s 5 years worth of investment that unless you’re in a “media” course of some sort, you’ll never encounter. This is a problem.

1. The internet’s ultimate designer package.
Most students will access the internet to have access to particular social communities (FB, Twitter, etc), do google searches for images and check email. They have no real understanding about the value of having their own URL (nevermind that they don’t know what URL means) until you ask them to Google themselves. Then they get it. If there’s a business idea here, its a packaged “registration, hosting and wordpress/tumblr/whatever installation” package. Having that will compete and just eat up horrible sites like (i don’t even want to link to them) to stop taking advantage of creative people who just want a “box” to put images and captions in. Designers want to worry about the right things, want some degree of personalisation and want to get on with the business of designing quickly.

2. Ignorance is not bliss.
Reliance on “IT support” is strong in the creative industries. This means the IT sector takes the piss and doesn’t educate designers. There is no knowledge exchange, there are only service providers who make designers totally dependant. Explaining to a designer what FTP is, getting them to write their first index.html page and upload it and see it there, means they can then understand what happens behind the curtain and can have a creative discussion about it. Again, not talking about anyone involved in the “new media” sector but everyone else, photographers, textile designers, product designers, etc. Some of the women I spoke to about this (was an all-women course) were amazed and happy to build a vocabulary that made that world of acronyms make more sense.

3. Portfolio communities are horrible.
One of the missconceptions of design graduates, is that shoving their work into online communities for other designers will help them build a voice online. Looking at my own experience, when I graduated from product design school, core77 and if you were a bit cool, Computer Love or if you were really cool K10K were the places to go. What changed soon after that, was that your best friend online became Google and the blogs that linked to the work ( think WMMNA, Cool Hunting, Swissmiss or Mocoloco). In 2010, well it’s partially about Twitter love, but still very much about Google, not about walled gardens but about rich networks of relationships.

4. Flickr’s golden opportunity.
I just spent the day with Karola rethinking her website, and in the end, we found that it was easier to ask her to update Flickr and for her website to just link to slideshows of work. She understands HTML because I bullied her into it ;) , but she’s obviously now much more active and at ease thinking about Flickr, managing an image around her work, and thinking about the power of imagery. So we redesigned her website to basically end up being a “wrapper” around Flickr sets. It’s not Flickr, so she feels its her own space. If you Google her, you’ll get her website first, which is what she wants, but all the assets end up living elsewhere, in a space she’s happy to manage and where customer support is easy to handle through commenting. If Flickr was interested in monetizing at all, this I think would be a nice way to do it.

5. Education
In the end, I was happy to come and talk to the students about this, because noone had really bothered to give me such an introduction when I was a student. I’m not sure to what extent this shouldn’t become a compulsory module for design course “Online identity management” as so much of our work as professionals relies on promoting our work as much as possible, and this isn’t only through publications in magazines anymore. With the recent cuts in education, I doubt this idea will have any traction, but hey, that’s my 10 cents.

2009 resolutions

I don’t like chocolate that much anymore and I’ve already promised myself to do more exercise, so all there’s left to commit to are a loose collection of interests I’d like to pursue in the coming year:

– Find out what’s behind the current trend of doomsday scenarios for the it only a byproduct of a downturn? Can we find solutions to this general malaise? Is it common to former times of despair? (Great depression? Great war?) Future-casting is now a completely depressing activity (see Trend Blend 2009.

– Where is design going exactly? On one hand we have very cheap and limited productions by a limitless number of young aspiring designers being pumped out of every design school in the world every year (see See Super Christmas Market), then we have design for the masses with every new version of iPod or Dyson vacuum cleaner, then we have luxury focused products made by signature designers ( see the rest of OLPC designer Yves Béhar‘s work as an example ), then we have design that wants to occupy the same function as art , then architects who design products (although that’s always been a sort of tradition) and then design as a business solution. I’m interested in this absolute dilution and often wonder if the field will dissapear entirely as we enter the post-modern age and industrialised processes break down and shut down or if people will stop referring to “design” as an activity at all. Will design be a word that will become “dirty” in 30 years, by referring to an era of 100 years of absolute excess?
Related: Will product designers stop using Flash in their websites and start participating in the global internet conversation? What would convince them?

– How can you teach people management skills when they are young entrepreneurs who don’t have an MBA? I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff out there, but i’m looking for bite-sized advice.

– Can people be interested in DIY problem-solving when they’ve been spoon-fed with produts to fulfill every solution to every problem they could imagine in the past 60 years? What can we learn from our grand-parents? Should governments be taking a more active role?

– Sustainability / climate change / global warming is impacted by sets of constraints and imbalances in a system we can’t quite wrap our heads around, can we build a machine (not unlike this one) to illustrate the problems tangibly?

– What is the next generation of web-enabled products and interactions? I can feel this is really going to be very exciting. Should designers and developers be working together on this? YES!

There, that should keep me busy.

Personal ubiquity

It took me a while to digest Janne’s post on why ubicomp is a broken concept, mostly because on principal I tend to disagree. It’s also a bit in response to Tom Coates’s altered version of his talk with Matt Jones that he gave at Foocamp called “Personal Informatics”.

Firstly I think the starting point for thinking about ubiquitous spaces, objects etc is not necessarily that they are meant to be smarter, but perhaps more that they are meant to report better. Not smart, just less dumb :) Andy’s house is the obvious example of this. I think there is tremendous interest at the moment about being able to gather more efficiently stuff that is just lying around, invisible and not particularily useful. Innovation often comes from taking things we know and mashing them up with things we didn’t know we didn’t know. Someone pointed out the other day that we’re ultimately creeping towards AI with all these “clever” systems, but I think it might just be the reverse, we still hold the brain, we’ve just outsourced the synapses.

Also I think there are plenty of areas to think about in regards to the results of ubiquitous systems, information and data. One of the most important things, in my opinion has to do with evaluating the amount of behavioral or operational change based on the digestion and synthesis of all this data. It’s no use collecting the temperature and light levels inside a building if it isn’t with the aim to perfect your heating system or prevent collective seasonal depression for eg. Even on a personal basis, its no use me being able to monitor my heartrate everyday, because it only puts me in the “now”, an ephemeral place of thought and decision-making. One thing about technology, is that it tends to make people generally lazy about their levels of commitment. Perhaps we should push instead for the development of technologies and applications that encourage people to invest time and effort in an activity (think Honey we’re killing the kids).

Furthermore, what’s interesting about this idea of personal ubiquity is that some of it could possibly be shared online, so no longer relying on a sturdy and professional infrastructure other than the internet itself. Seeing people play around with Pachube and the Ethernet Arduino shield, makes things really exciting.

All in all I think the ubicomp ideas of the future will be more personal, more persuasive and lighter than what we’ve seen so far.

Fighting the war against terror by blowing air up your shirt

Just went through 2 “secondary security” checks at San Francisco airport today and got introduced to this delightful contraption.

“To collect microscopic particles for analysis, the EntryScan3 takes advantage of a natural upward airflow around the body called the “human convection plume.” By not using forced airflow from a fan-which stirs up dust and other contaminants-cleaner samples are collected.”

What this means is that you walk into this box with glass doors on one end and without warning they will spray you with air quickly and at every angle. Not only is it really scary and unexpected, but you also get the added pleasure of having it blow your shirt upwards… not usually what you’re looking for from a security device.

Gotta love the US.

Sciencists are not designers

“When you look at the population as a whole, there is no way of describing the patterns. The problem with answering this question is that people normally are not tracked — but today we are tracked thanks to the phones we carry with us.”


To see or not to see?

Random thoughts triggered by Nicola’s link.

What if what was going to be a major roadblock to ubiquitous computing is the idea that as users, we want to be able to point to where a “technology-enabled” object lies? That we cannot live with the idea that we no longer have an on/off relationship like the one we have with our phone or laptop. Can we come to accept the implications of “ubiquitousness” and give up the ability to encapsulate technology in our hands, inside a thing we can kick, curse or accuse?

Can we accept that we may no longer be able to see where exactly technology operates because it’s unevenly distributed and invisible? For John Doe, questions will arise like how much technology is ubiquitous technology? How distributed and where is it distributed and for what purpose? It’s not only going to be a preoccupation of the systems but of the urban human psyche, it will affect how we relate to technology in general and our perception of it as something that is controllable or something much closer to Big Brother: controlling, everywhere and impatient.

Quote of the day

“Caring from a distance”

The tagline for a telecare (read remote care for the elderly) conference last year. Somehow doesn’t quite get the point across.