End of year review

1.What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?
Put all my efforts into one project.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
No, pretty much stopped going to the gym in February, but thankfully have been keeping quite well. I’d like to try that again.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Plenty. It’s a thing at my age.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
US, France, Italy, Germany, Australia, Malaysia.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?

7. What date from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory?
January 30th.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Not losing faith.

9. What was your biggest failure?
The end of a relationship.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Some health concerns but nothing scary.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
A rather lovely set of ceramics in Munich.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Nelson Mandela, RIP.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
The NSA.

14. Where did most of your money go?
The Good Night Lamp (again)

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The growing frenzy around the internet of things, after so many years of working in this area.

16. What song/album will always remind you of 2013?
The 20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
More reflective.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Cooking at home. (same as last year)

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Having conversations with the wrong people. (same as last year)

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
In London.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
My mom.

22. Did you fall in love in 2013?

23. What was your favourite TV programme?
I don’t watch TV.

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

26. What was the best book(s) you read?
Emmaus by Alessandro Baricco, Travel journals of Jean Paul Sartre to America & South America,

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
This is the Kit.

28. What did you want and get?
A great team to work with.

29. What did you want and not get?
More hours in the day.

30. What were your favourite films of this year?
La Grande Bellezza hands down. Only God Forgives wasn’t as violent as I thought and you know, Ryan Gosling.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I’m turning 33 on Monday and will go ice skating, a circus act and my favorite restaurant for a dinner with friends.

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

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
A bit grunge a bit rock.

34. What kept you sane?
Hanging out with A, K, N, L.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Ryan Gosling.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?

37. Who did you miss?
M + M

38. Who was the best new person you met?
A & D.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.
Things happen at a pace that you do not control.

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

“But my life it is good,
And I have what I need
And sometimes the wind,
And sometimes the sea,
And often the rain,
And slightly the sun,
And sometimes I sit still,
But mostly I run”

(Thanks to Molly for initiating this habit, this is the 7th year I’ve done these reviews. Will also attempt Michelle‘s version but might not share it.)

Making, speaking, meeting.

I had lunch last week with some of veterans of the now defunct Special Interest Group on the Internet of Things and we were discussing the taxonomy problems around hackdays, hackathons and other similar events. I drew something inelegant on my sketchbook which I thought I’d cleanup and share.

In the case of this diagram “stakeholders” might be the organisation putting on the event,the sponsors or anyone really who is looking for an ROI on the event itself. This is based on having run all of these kinds of events (except an incubator). I think the interesting tension and frustration of hackdays comes from the completely polar expectations of stakeholders and attendees versus other types of learning, meeting and speaking environments. If someone has had some experience they’d like to share wrt this, ping me on twitter. I’d love to hear it.


Building the internet of things near you.

I’ve been asked to give a talk at BES Forum in Kuala Lumpur and  in addition to my slides I thought I’d try to blog about this one too. It’s an educational supplier conference, one where the British Council and UKTI boost the UK’s presence in education in Asia. It’s hard to think of these types of events as anything more than post-post-colonial and as a Canadian, I wanted to try to address some of the localised potential that the internet of things can have for Malaysia and also more broadly for any big city or country with industrial heritage. I’m also currently working with the Connected Economy Catapult to write up a feasibility report on a possible Connected Studio space for the development of successful connected products so my head is very much in the organisational requirements of iot. Useful in this and many other respects is the 1958 India Report where Ray and Charles Eames were asked to visit India and write about its economic future.

My travels in the past 2 months have lead me to Australia where I was able to convince (or bully) Justin into starting the #iotsydney meetup and Andrew to start the Melbourne edition and I hope to do the same in Kuala Lumpur (maybe the nice people at SensMaster will). There are lots of reasons why those 2 countries should be able to become hubs for internet of things products and companies but they aren’t the only ones. Generally I think any good iot community needs:

1. A space where capital, creativity and IT meet constantly.

Beyond the buzz, Shoreditch and East London are excellent places for innovation in the internet of things space simply because investors, designers and programmers are working within the same square mile (the missing link of course is a Cambridge connection which is why I think a free bus line between the 2 areas would be handy).This is extremely important to a multidisciplinary approach that is essential for the development of internet of things products and companies. In Kuala Lumpur, Cyberjava is 50 km away from the city. Government officials work in Putrajaya a planned city 25km away from town and other planned cities could mean that the serendipity that fosters collaborations is somewhat slowed down and dependant on events like BES which only happen yearly.

Meetups are a great way to create create this “third space” as the topic is so broad it tends to attract all sorts of people. The London iot meetup I run attracts investors, software and hardware developers, artists, architects and many more. Because it’s monthly it means there are people who are used to seeing with each other and engaging and possibly working together.

2. A close relationship between academia & industry

Dedicated Internet of things courses don’t quite exist yet (if you know of any ping me on @iotwatch on twitter) which means that universities that have technical courses have a lot to offer a marketplace full of ideas and crowdfunded projects . High value manufacturing, electronics design capabilities and supply chain design are skillsets that are lacking in the early stages of most iot startups. Instead of looking to large corporates to hire interns, a space for startups to have access to young technical talent in a way that goes beyond a voucher system and more IP neutral incubators would be great.

3. Access to early-stage consumer product friendly capital

This is the hardest nut to crack in the UK at the moment. I overheard an investor say that investing in consumer products was tricky because “they could be gone in 6 months”. Considering the rate of failure of online businesses I find that short-sighted. Most of the most successful product companies took many years to really embed themselves in people’s lives or become a preferred Christmas gift. The US’s sudden increase in incubators for connected products shows that they get it. Hopefully everyone else will follow. Angel investment in the connected product space is still a little sparse as you need a lot more than £10-£50K to get a product pre-industrialise. Perhaps the equity gap could be shortened with funds that specialise in these types of investments. After all all you need is a few key industrial partners to accelerate this. This is another chance for Asia to shine here as they have facilitated the production of consumer goods for many decades.

4. Coding & making for kids

You can’t train an entire industry up from the university upwards, you have to start much younger, which is why codeclub and other programs are key. It’s also a question of diversity. If 16 year olds can create products the rest of us want to use online, there’s no reason why hardware and consumer products should be any different.

I hope this is a little useful to anyone looking to build an internet of things ecology in their own country or city. There will be great changes in the industrial landscape because of it, and we really ought to have this come from the ground up.

The Internet of Things in Parliament

Before I dashed off to Sydney I was invited by John Riley to organise an internet of things showcase as part of the Parliament and the Internet day, a yearly conference. We ended up showcasing a small selection of my pop-up shop the Good Night Lamp, the AirQualityEgg Makie dolls, a RepRap and John invited Lauren Bowker to show her responsive fabrics along. I’m told it went well. More of these things should be happening if not actually displayed permanently as advocacy around these topics is never job done.






Growing the energy side of the internet of things

Last July, I met Sam Lowe at the Internet of Things meetup I organise for Xively. He was working at British Gas at the time and we got talking. British Gas has a product development group called Connected Homes (they just launched their own #iot product called Hive) who were interested in organising a hackday but I really wanted them to do something else entirely: give money away to startups in the home energy sector. I figured if I was having trouble finding funding for Good Night Lamp, I was probably not the only one. But unlike a consumer product that’s a little blurry in its market space (part tele health, part social) an energy startup is a pretty clear offering.

I didn’t exactly know how many people had startups in that space, so I started working with Mark Lowther  and we started planning a series of events called Connecting Homes which started with a startup competition for home energy startups where a cash prize was given out to the 3 most innovative startups. We were also fortunate enough to have Martha Lane Fox deliver an amazing keynote and stay for the day to join the panel of judges who went around the room. I roped the wonderful Ana Bradley into helping organise the day as well as SuperNova studio who share my office with me.

We had over 50 startups apply from around the world who were all squarely in #iot territory but for home energy which was great. 25 of them showcased on September 28th and 3 of them ended up with a cash prize. We’re not stopping there though as we move towards an online community for the startups where they can share knowledge and opportunities as well as Office Hours where startups in the home energy space who want to talk to British Gas about a technical problem, testing opportunities or funding can sign up.

I’ve been working with energy companies since the Tinker days, and it’s a real pleasure to help startups get the best of large corporates in this space. The glue between the 2 is really essential and that’s how greener homes will happen.

The Inventor, the Designer and the Maker: 3 different ways of getting things done.

I’m giving a talk at the Centre of Fine Arts in Sydney today and last night worked on 3 ways of visualising the evolution of making in the past 10 years with the emmergence of Arduino and crowd funding particularly. I’m trying to work this into a small publication on the subject so really work in progress but thought I’d share it.

The Inventor Model

The Designer Model

The Maker Model

Web Directions 2013

I’m sat in the darkest room since the LIFT conference days and I think the first time I’ve spoken at a proper web conference in some years. It’s kind of weird. Lots of talks about front end development techniques I have never heard of which I guess is a sign I’m hanging out with back end developers mostly. I’m about to give my talk which I think will be a good primer for Golden Krishna who is right after me. Here are the slides.

Pour boxer, il faut avoir faim: my thoughts on design for design students

Written for an exhibition put on by Middlesex University as part of London Design Festival.

I graduated from a McSc in Industrial Design 2004 and here’s what I wish they’d told me.

You won’t design this way ever again.
If you work for someone else, you will spend 100% of your time designing 10% of a product. In famous design studios, you will only get involved in a fraction of the whole process, either the artistic direction, or the CAD drawings, or the user interface or tiny snippets of each. You’ll spend half your days in meetings and wonder “wow, I used to be so productive before”.

But working for yourself doesn’t make it easier.
If you work for yourself you’ll spend 10% of your time designing 100% of the product and 90% of your time selling it, begging for money or filling in paperwork. You’re probably never going to pay off your student loans this way, but you might be happier. I am.

Keep Learning.
In the digital age, to be a product designer is something you have to justify to yourself and others. It’s not a popular field of practice anymore as we live in more and more digital worlds and we’re moving towards a society of access & rental models rather than ownership. I learnt how to code in my MA because I hung out with programmers and I can safely say it saved me. It gave me an edge and an understanding of a field I would always have to interact with. I work in the fuzzy world between products & the internet (called the internet of things) and I can safely say what I learnt between 2000-2004 is obsolete, but that’s ok because I continued to learn and develop my skills.

Fame is never fortune.
The greatest disappointment of your early years in design is to realise that when you make the pages of a magazine, blog, newspaper, or show your work in a museum your life doesn’t change. You are fodder for some poor journalist/curator who has a 4 o’clock deadline. That’s it. Never pays the bills, never increases sales. Never.

Just do.
The Internet has created a society where we’re constantly fixating on what other people are doing. Back in the days, you might meet your peers once a week or a month, not every second of the day, which left plenty of time for the doing bit of design. It can be easy to stay stuck in a mode where you’re just spending your time in research and not actually designing. Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, the distractions are enormous, but nothing trumps just doing, designing, working.

Meet non-designers.
Spending time with people who aren’t designers is really important. There’s nothing worse for your career of developing a closed sense of what you’re interested in and what you’re not. You don’t know what you might be interested in…that’s the point of life in design. Inspiration can come from anywhere, so you literally have to go to random events, meet scientists, talk to politicians, because you might find you have something to contribute in their field too.

We have enough chairs, but not enough wheelchairs.
Design should be about empathising with a foreign problem and trying to solve it, not doing the same thing over and over again. I go around the Milan Furniture Fair and I despair at the number of pointless additions to the built environment young designers are producing when our grandmothers are being sold ugly products that are hard to use. Dare to work on un-popular topics because you’ll find you become an expert and you’ll make a great career out of it. It takes courage and if design isn’t about courage, then we should all have become accountants.

Against the culture of “meh” and the internet of things.

Two weeks ago I nearly lost my shit. Gartner, a trends research group (or science fiction that costs a lot more to subscribe to) published their yearly Hype Cycle Chart, describing the Internet of Things (which they’ve only started adding to their chart in 2010 after “mesh networks” was doing rather well) as being “more than 10 years away” for the third year in a row. Well I sincerely don’t know what they’re smoking in Connecticut but they should come to Europe more often. Trends researchers have a disproportionate influence on the tech sector and C-suite executives who don’t have time to keep up with what’s going on outside their organisations and rely on outside opinion. This is totally fine, unless that source is living under a rock.

I seriously doubt we’re 10 years ago when:
- There are monthly meetups with thousands of members across the world
- The EU has been discussing and integrating #iot in its discourse for about 5 years
- The UK technology funding has invested millions in demonstrator projects (one of which, EyeHub, I’m involved with)
- Large corporations like IBM, Cisco & GE have used the term to brand their activities
- Startups are mushrooming everywhere (see the map I’ve been building)
- Incubators are present worldwide (see my friend Peter‘s writeup)
- The UK Parliament hosts advisory sessions around the topic (which I attend and try to contribute to).
- I can fill my office with #iot products
- My friends are writing a book about #iot
- Products are getting funding on crowdfunding platforms because investors don’t get it.

We should remember that the people paid to write reports for the C-suite executives in technology will breed the type of opinion that Ken Olson had in 1977.

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”