Design theory “supergroup” start blog…

William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand, Michael Beirut and Rick Poynor… together at LAST! This group of design heavyweights have started a blog Design Observer: looking at contempory issues in design, design education and design theory.

No RSS feed as yet – and I’m longing to read what those four think of RSS once they discover it…

Monday links, found with free wifi…

Enjoying free wifi and good coffee at the moment in Tinderbox, Upper St, N1 [free until 1st November] and Foyles cafe on Charing Cross Road. Discovered Foyle’s hotspot while struggling to get connected in the souless surrounds of the Starbucks concession in Borders on Charing Cross Road.

Stood next to a window where the connection seemed to be there, if very poor – holding my laptop in one hand and trying to IM with one finger. Then, while cursing, opened a browser- and saw the splash-sponsorship screen for the hotspot bore the logos of Foyles and O’Reilly…

The cloud of connectivity was drifting across the road – not where I’d imagined it had orginated from at all! I shut down and moved across the road, where there was organic food, fine coffee, beer and nice tunes from Ray’s Jazz store that share the space with the cafe on the first floor of Foyles.

A lovely discovery to make, if it wasn’t my final week in London…


Anthony Colfelt has been at the ForUSE conference in New Hampshire, and has an excellent piece on his reflections/conclusions drawn from the experience:

“Larry Constantine said it best in the final conversation that was held between the remaining delegates on the last day. “Process is like the training wheels for learning a craft. When one has gained enough experience one knows when to throw it away.” Ron Jeffries also had a good way of describing process. “Process is like a Kata, you practice techniques over and over and over to make you learn the art…” Having once studied Karate, the notion of practicing set techniques in different combinations really resonated with me. Through practice, you can draw on your route knowledge of individual techniques and combinations of them, to best solve a problem when faced with it.”

» The Vanity Experiment: ForUSE – Conclusions

The gift

“The gift of the net” by Richard Barbrook in OpenDemocracy:

“Ever since the beginnings of modernity, free speech has been championed as a fundamental right of all citizens. Yet, for most of the population, this concept has been a piety rather than a reality. Big government and big business have long monopolised the media. But, ever since the advent of the net, freedom of expression for all no longer seems like a utopian dream. We can conceive of a society where making your own media is not just possible, but also a mass phenomenon. Sharing knowledge could become much more important than selling information.”

It’s all about the tail

was one of our mantras during the early stages of iCan. When we were talking with people from News and other involved divisions in the BBC, we used to use the power-law curve so beloved of the blogosphere to give an analogy of the connection between the 6/7 major national or global stories that feature on the 30-minute evening news programme and the 100s or 1000s of personal, local issues that people could feel empowered to act on.

3 or 4 times a year at least, one of those personal, local issues will propel itself up the power-law curve to become a national or even global story. For instance, the fuel protests in the UK of a few years ago. iCan was about trying to increase that number, by recognising and supporting the continuum that exists between the tail and the top.

Even if not every story, issue or aspiration for change makes it to the top, the community and resources of the tail will provide support, information and inspiration for each new inhabitant of the tail.

The Stephen-Gould-esque aspiration then is reach some kind of self-sustaining equilibrium of activism and achievement there, with plenty of punctuation into the wider public consciousness that the top of the power-law curve represents. Whilst upward-mobility of stories or campaigns until they get onto the ‘broadcast-radar’ is desirable for the BBC as a news-gathering aid, it’s not the primary purpose of the iCan service – which is to create positive outcomes for people in their local civic environment – in the tail.

As Kevin Marks* rightly points out – it’s about low barriers to entry, and as we said, it’s all about the tail.

“You and I we’re gonna live for-ever”

From Arnold Kling’s summary of PopTech! [found via JOHO]

“Longevity has been increasing fairly rapidly for the past hundred years, from about 45 years at the beginning of the 20th century to close to 77 years at the beginning of the 21st. However, if we reach the point where longevity increases at a rate greater than one year per year, then from that point on people will live forever.”


iCan is live (in beta-be-gentle-with-it-form). It’s been a tough 14 months, but hopefully it will be of real use to people with real problems or plans for their locality.

It’s a little empty right now, as the punters have yet to populate it, but it’s going to grow and get better. We had the design work for perhaps the next couple of revisions already done before I left, and the ethnographic research we did at the top of the project, coupled with user-testing and research that the new design lead Helen Day is going to be doing should see some rapid iterations up-ahead.

It remains to say well done to all who made it possible. Helen, Julie, Priya, Ki, Andy, Thomas, Dharmesh, Stokes, Nico, James, Anno and Tom particularly. Danny has a nice little appraisal.