Archive for January, 2010

A is for Apple, D is for Dieter

Jake Goretzki writes:

According to one of the so-called ‘ten commandments‘ of the German industrial designer Dieter Rams, “Good design is as little design as possible”, something that is clear from the retrospective running at the Design Museum in London (until 7th March). Rams has a cult following among design enthusiasts for his enduringly simple, elegant designs for Braun from the 1950s until the mid 1990s. For his fans, that exhibition space full of stereos, toasters and coffee grinders is, well: it’s what Heaven’s branch of Curry’s might look like, surely.

Two thoughts struck me as I left.

Firstly, if plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery, is Dieter Rams the most flattered industrial designer alive today? Without his influence, it’s certain that much of modern product design would look very different – including Jonathan Ive’s celebrated work for Apple, up to and including this week’s iPad.

Secondly, how did it come to be that an iconic, widely emulated and now ‘cult’ brand today only really exists as a largely forgettable range of electric toothbrushes and vegetable steamers? In an age where brands hunger for authenticity and ‘cool’ credentials, the brand that ‘did Apple before Apple’ could surely be working harder and making more of its credentials.

As Rams’ fifth commandment says, good design is unobtrusive. But to my mind, Braun’s fate feels like unobtrusiveness to excess.

The picture at the top of the post comes from slamxhype blog, and is used with thanks. Slamxhype’s post on the exhibition has a fantastic collection of pictures of Rams’ work.

29 January 2010 at 6:03 pm Leave a comment

Data for all

Oliver Wright writes:

Last Thursday was something of a watershed for the UK government. Data.gov.uk was launched, becoming one of a growing number of government portals giving us access to reams of official government data. That might not sound terribly exciting, but for businesses and research organisations that use official and reliable information, the announcement may fundamentally change the way they operate.

Government data has traditionally been stored in departmental silos where it is difficult to access. Many aggregation sites, such as the ONS, are notoriously hard to navigate.

The Guardian has been campaigning for such an initiative for some time,  although its progress could only be described as incremental. In one of a number of articles on the site (you can find them here), they trace the birth of data.gov.uk to a comment made by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the world wide web, to the Prime Minister at a dinner for recipients of the Order of Merit:

“Gordon Brown said to me, ‘How should the UK make the best use of the internet?’ and I replied that the government should just put all of its data on it,” Berners-Lee recalled. “And he said ‘OK, let’s do it’.”

The site has been open to developers since October, in which time – without wanting to rely too heavily on one newspaper – The Guardian has created a portal which allows you to search for data from other ‘open government’ sources. It’s rather ambitiously called World Government Data, although currently supports only Anglophone countries. It mimics other efforts to combine official data from around the globe in an accessible way.

Why is this good news? Firstly, it seems only fair that taxpayers have access to information whose collection they have financed. Secondly, releasing such a vast body of data to the public enables a greater pool of talent to find ways to use it, in building new applications or finding new insight.

Ito World, for example, created some great visualisations using transport data . They were also responsible for this amazing video showing the edits made to OpenStreetMap over the course of 2008:

Greater access to data like this can have profound consequences. Members of the online mapping community scrambled together data from various sources to create an OpenStreetMap of Port-au-Prince that aid workers could use to help co-ordinate their efforts. Whilst their work was undoubtedly appreciated, it would have been made far easier with greater access. Here’s to Open Data.

The image above is used with kind permission of Jason Hawkes.

27 January 2010 at 11:00 am Leave a comment

A history through objects in a post-material world

Eleanor Cooksey writes:

I have been enjoying the current BBC Radio 4 series ‘A History of the World in a 100 objects’ in which Neil McGregor, the Director of the British Museum, tells a history of humanity using objects from the museum’s collection. As I listened to his intricate description of the pestle, it made me realise that objects, things, ‘stuff’ – or however we like to call them – still have a very important role to play in our lives.

It is often easy to assume we live in a ‘post material’ world, but in a post credit crunch recovery marketplace, should we re-evaluate how we think about ‘stuff’? Looking at data from our 2009 Global Monitor Survey suggests that it is perhaps worth reviewing our hypotheses. Consumers are less likely to agree that they have all the material things they need: in the UK, this dropped from 60% in 2008 to 56% in 2009. In fact, the only market surveyed where feelings of material satisfaction have increased is Australia. Moreover, though we may not have everything we need, we are also less likely to buy more as spending without consequences is no longer in favour.  Again, all markets – bar China – are showing a greater reluctance to take on debt. This suggests we are more likely to value what we have now.

Our research also suggests that people are still as interested in spending on experiences as accumulating possessions, but this is less about extreme experiences, and more about the enjoyment of simpler pleasures. Such pleasures, in fact, could consist of listening to something interesting on the radio, or going to a museum.

The image above is from the BBC’s ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects‘ website, and is used with thanks. For more information about accessing Global Monitor, please contact our UK Marketing and PR Manager, Jennifer Childs.

26 January 2010 at 3:58 pm Leave a comment

A cake for ‘blue Monday’

Sophie Stringer writes:

The papers have been talking about ‘Blue Monday’ today – apparently the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year.  While the methods used to divine the gloomiest day on the calendar might be suspect to the point of dodginess, some brightening up of a Monday afternoon can never go amiss.

So this Monday, we were lucky to have cake to distract us.  Cake Club is becoming a weekly ritual in the London office; at 4pm tools are downed, tea is served and homemade cake is shared in the kitchen.

This week’s particularly fine offering was the plum and almond tart baked by Gus (yes, that’s the actual cake in the picture at the top of this post), but over the past few months we’ve seen everything from pumpkin bread to rocky road. The idea is simple – each week someone different makes a cake at the weekend, and brings it in on Monday.  Everyone is invited, the only rules of Cake Club are that participants have at least a mild intention to bake, and cake should be consumed seated while chatting (and not about work).

I could say something apposite at this point about Cake Club being indicative of our desire to embrace the authentic and relearn past skills, or evidence of the changing nature of our expectations of the workplace. But it should be enough just to be about cake.

18 January 2010 at 6:42 pm Leave a comment

Making Britain think

Andrew Curry writes:

We’ve been sharing some of the puzzlement about the ‘Britainthinks’ posters which have appeared since the New Year. The claim on the website is that “Britainthinks is an independent space where the opinions of the British public can be publicly expressed.” But it turns out that they’re actually a cunning plan by the ad industry to promote the value of outdoor as an advertising platform. So, obviously it’s worked, since we’ve been exchanging emails and I’ve been moved to write a blog post about it.

But the slogans they’ve chosen to provoke Britain to thought seem carelessly unimaginative. The ‘Career Women Make Bad Mothers‘ posters had to be pulled after a howl of disapproval on Mumsnet (more than a thousand posts at time of writing) , which I suppose goes to prove the point of the Outdoor Advertising Association’s chief executive that outdoor can drive online traffic. Be careful what you wish for.

And as for ‘Educashun isn’t working‘ (see what they did there?), for people of my generation it inevitably recalls – no doubt deliberately – the Saatchi campaign which elected Margaret Thatcher in 1979. So much so that when my son asked me about it I told him (before I’d found out about the OAA’s thumbprints) it was probably put up ahead of this year’s election by a group which supported the Conservative party.

13 January 2010 at 6:27 pm Leave a comment


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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.


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