Posts filed under ‘design’

Stages of digital grief

Andy Stubbings writes: I went to a talk on the future of publishing recently by Julius Wiedemann, the Design Editor at the art book publisher Taschen, at the Design Museum round the corner from our London office. Wiedemann made a cute analogy between the classic “DABDA” framework on the stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance) and the way the publishing industry is adapting (or not) to digital technologies and planning for its future.

It wasn’t exactly clear from the talk where publishing is on the DABDA journey (inevitably, the projector was malfunctioning), but it appears we have gone past Denial (“Of course the traditional newspaper model is viable!”) through Anger (“How dare people find information for free that they used to have to pay for!”), and is now somewhere into Bargaining (“OK, you can read all our magazines as much as you want online, but only by subscribing to our ‘digital newstand’ via your iPad”). One thought that occurred to me during Wiedemann’s argument was that skeuomorphic design – the idea that objects should retain part of their previous typeform or design cues to put users at ease (e.g. the page-flip mechanism of online magazines) – could be a product of submerged anxiety in an industry still in a ‘Bargaining’ phase, and therefore can’t let go of doing things in old ways.

According to Wiedemann, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better for the industry in the shift to digital. Chief among the reasons for this is fragmentation – of publishers and publishing formats, of retailers and distribution models, of device operating systems and interface standards.


10 August 2012 at 1:40 pm 1 comment

Surface tension


Microsoft’s whizzy new Surface slates — unveiled June 18 at a high-profile Apple-style announcement event in Hollywood — have triggered wildly disparate reactions across the technology world, with some pundits calling them a revolutionary bridge between full-fledged PCs and tablets, and others declaring their hybrid format an evolutionary dead-end.

Our own take falls in the latter category. We believe Surface may sell well out of the gate to Apple refuseniks and users who believe a keyboard can make large-scale text entry on a tablet more viable. But ultimately, we don’t believe this is a serious competitor to the iPad — or, longer term, a rival for Android-based tablets. The future of Surface is likely as a niche player for enterprise environments; if it has any sustained life in the consumer space, it will be due primarily to massive investment on Microsoft’s part.

The problem is not that Surface is not innovative. It’s that it’s innovative in the wrong direction. Surface’s keyboard is beautiful, sleek and smart — and anchored in the 1980s. Microsoft’s stubborn addition of stylus input to the Surface reinforces this point. The primary thing that Surface offers is compatibility with legacy interfaces.

Only disruptive innovation can create new revenue streams. Innovation that’s focused on preserving the past can only cannibalize the existing installed base. Even in the enterprise, Surface adoption won’t come at the expense of the iPad — it’ll be purchased as a lightweight substitute for Windows laptops.

Meanwhile, over in Cupertino, Apple has asserted that it is “doubling down” on its voice-based, natural-language Siri intelligent agent. Voice recognition opens up a range of alternative use cases for iPads — e.g., hands-free or multitasking control. That’s the kind of disruptive interface that Microsoft proved it could deliver with Kinect, for big screens and large areas.

The jury is still out on the future of interfaces for small screens and enclosed spaces — that is, the mobile computing interface. But we know one thing it’s not going to spring from: Better versions of old and increasingly outmoded technology.

Below the fold, we’ve taken a look at the spectrum of reactions from analysts across the web.

The picture of the Surface at the top of this post is from dotTech, and is used with thanks.


26 June 2012 at 7:01 pm Leave a comment

Piercing the Shard

Andrew Curry writes: The Shard is inescapable from our London office. The city’s soon-to-be tallest building, a piece of concept architecture by Renzo Piano, can be seen from our office windows and most of the approaches to the office.

Obviously, size matters, at least to architects of a certain age and a certain gender. And it also seems to matter at a certain time. As the economist Andrew Lawrence has demonstrated with his Skyscraper Index, announcements of buildings billed as the tallest are an unerring leading indicator of the top of the market, that boom is about to go bust.

Behind the branding of ‘the Shard’, the building’s brochure promotes a “vertical city”, which seems not so much cutting edge as strange sixty-year old Corbuserian throwback. But in a sharp post over at the London Review of Books, Rosemary Hill points out what a modern city The Shard would be – a city with no public space:

A city without a centre, no school of course, or church, or art gallery, town hall or library, just a great glass millefeuille of individuals getting on. … Other, horizontal cities are going the same way: selling off town halls, letting high streets wither in the blast of supermarket competition and closing libraries.

Of course, the privatisation of public space has been one of the recurring themes of the last fifteen years, the darker underside of property-led regeneration. London’s City Hall, for example, eight hundred metres downriver from the Shard, sits on land which seems like public space but which is privately controlled (as protesting photographers pointed out recently). Le Corbusier had an honest ambition to build a city in the sky. For the Shard, it’s just marketing. But in a recession, you have to drum up some excitement about all that empty space.

The picture at the top of this post was taken by The Futures Company designer Gus Newsam. It is published here under a Creative Commons licence.

19 July 2011 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

The futures of fashion

Claudia Rimington writes: What is the future shape of fashion retailing? We did some internal micro-research on this recently in our London office – exploring the drivers of change which may shape the sector and identifying some of the ways in which fashion brands may change as a result.

We came up with six possibilities:, laid out here in no particular order:

  • Caravanserai: An online store which sells the “most beautiful fashion from around the world”.  Maori scarves and cashmere knits from the north Himalayas are typical products. Clothing is rare, fair trade and tagged so you can see the artisan who made it.  A brand for well travelled ABC1s.
  • Trunk Show: A pop up store which sell one off garments by emerging talent, such as artschool fashion grads or graphic designers.  At the show you meet the maker, buy unique items and take part in a one off event.  You have to be ‘in the know’ to find out about it and news circulates only a few days before. Locations include construction sites and disused buildings.
  • Neetwear: A company founded and ran by ‘NEETS’ – the British government’s slightly dismissive acronym for people ‘Not in Employment, Education or Training’.   By working for NEETWARE, the NEETS get a start with a job and some skills. The clothing they make is high quality basics with twist: functional/crafted duffle coats and jeans.
  • Iris: A clothing store which makes tailored clothes using digital technology. Customers are measured up by advanced scanning technology in an in-store booth.  The items they want are customized and sent in the post.  Targeted at the busy female urbanite who wants things ‘just right for her’.
  • ‘Tailor’ made: A brand which connects you with talented ‘tailors’ in developing countries.  The tailors sit on an umbrella website, where they sell their eclectic but high quality garments. You get distinctive clothing at a fair price – fair for everybody involved.
  • Selica: A brand which sells exceptionally high quality garments with a minimalist aesthetic. Clothes from here are ‘investment pieces’. Each item lasts for years (pieces come with a Five Year guarantee) and can be worn everyday – the straightforward designs guarantee to match all items in the wardrobe.

The thinking behind such sessions is to keep us on our toes in thinking about how innovation spaces might develop in a particular category or sector, and as ever the challenge is imagining how such emerging futures might scale. Of these, ‘Tailor’-Made seemed to have most potential: crafts portal Etsy meets micro loan site Kiva before crashing headlong into the strong trends around the intention economy.

The picture at the top of the post was taken by TheCyberGypsy, and is used here with thanks.

8 July 2011 at 9:01 am Leave a comment

Climbing Mount Everest one stair at a time

Amy Esser writes:

Prompted by recent work with clients on changing behaviours  in the area of physical activity, I decided to enrol London office employees in a fitness challenge; to collectively climb the height of Mount Everest in four weeks by climbing the stairs at work.

So, doing the sums, Mount Everest is 29,029 feet high, or 8,848 metres, which equates to 58,070 steps or 3,871 flights of stairs. There are 10 flights of stairs leading up to our office, which means in order to complete the climb in four weeks (20 working days) we need to complete a total of 388 climbs – an average of 19.4 times a day. There are around 40 people in the office on a typical day which means that each individual needs to climb the stairs every other day – but will they? …

So far I am feeling positive – by Day 2 we had already reached the height of Ben Nevis, and if we continue like this we will reach the top of Mount Everest in half the time, although I sense enthusiasm may decline as the days go by.

My theory is that we need to change people’s habits so they fit exercise into their daily routine. Our challenge is about getting people to ditch the elevator for the stairs. And it’s tougher than it should be – our office building has been designed to lure you straight into a lift as you enter whilst the stairs have been hidden behind doors and corridors. One of the first questions I was asked about the challenge was, ‘where are the stairs?’! The actual experience of climbing the stairs is poor and uninspiring. The walls are grey, there are no windows, and our building managers prohibit us from putting up any motivational posters in the stairwells.

What we have been able to do is to encourage people and to communicate the benefits of taking part. One stair climb burns 30 calories, climbing the stairs will tone your legs and bum, and increase your confidence. Having a visual representation of the climb also really helps people engage. We have a log sheet where people sign their names after they have finished a climb, and this act of making your mark gives a sense of achievement and a sense of being part of a group activity.

Personally I’ve found this rewarding: I started a small social movement, and people are thanking me for it, so it seems that some people did want to be prodded to act. And I’ll be interested to see what happens once the challenge is over – will people continue to take the stairs instead of the lift?

11 May 2011 at 2:12 pm 4 comments

Some good things we’ve seen #6

Compiled by Jo Phillips

  • A sobering New York Times graphic of the 2009 death count (Allied military forces only) in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • An alarming case of public sector innovation in South Africa
  • Some interesting and successful attempts at behaviour change in Schipol Airport,  from Core 77, demonstrating that humour is important even when the subject is serious
  • A talking plate that tells you to eat more slowly, via the iftf
  • Stella’s app for finding the nearest pint of the stuff to your location – and a taxi to take you home!
  • Bruichladdich’s beautiful bottle for the world’s first organic whiskey. It is possible to push the boundaries even in traditionally stuffy categories
  • And a video of an uplifting performance by the singer Bobby McFerrin at the world science festival last year demonstrates the power of the pentatonic scale.

The image at the top is from the Schipol bheaviour change campaign, designed by the Dutch firm Autobahn.

8 March 2010 at 8:36 am Leave a comment

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

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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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