Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Editorial: The knowing cliche

From the 'Damn! Almost!' school of headline writing, this pearl is currently up on the Guardian site. The story itself is dull, with the event apparently not that rare:

Alan Foster, a department spokesman, told the AFP news agency that it was not uncommon for hunters to be shot by their dogs.

Does that mean fox hunters could get round the ban by giving their beagles Berettas? Just a thought...


Capsule: Liberation theology 2

Thunk at Mandatory Thinking has blogged about the technicalities and the interplay of image and music that makes the opening sequence of Get Carter so good, so iconic. But what lingers, after a first re-watching after a first visit to Newcastle (and hence the childish responses of 'Ooo, we've been there!') is the overwhelming sense that Jack finds freedom through his remorseless pursuit. No fears acknowledged (except one, regarding Doreen), no favours expected, no quarter given. It is a reminder that revenge, as well as motivating, can lead to actions of a pure focus, if not purity. And that, a single goal, and the willpower to pursue it, can in itself be a source of liberation.


Friday, October 26, 2007

InterSections 07: 3 - Lines, words, pictures and sounds

Notes from the talk by Peter Higgins of Land Design Studio, addressing the question, "Does the convergence of architecture, narrative and communication media create a new genre?"

- A stream of sub-conscious throughts

- Contexts are important when considering the built environment

- They used to make films about town planners...

- Legacy of Archigram, and the Architectural Association: hand-drawn pictures, with an incredible impact of the world of architecture

- BBC theatre and scripted space: the importance of working with a script, not just a brief: structural narratives

- Theatre: upstage - where you can play with time and space; downstage - where you must obey the laws of physics, and describe reality

- Imagination: Brandscape - Sell cars, brands, communications: a user out there that could be profiled

- Architecture, storytelling and communication = destination (The Land philosophy)

- Placemaking: cities have lost their souls through segregation. Can be revived through exhibition design. But the term placemaking is up for grabs? Disney through Celebration are doing it.

- Chernobyl is a destination too: 5,000 visitors too

- Masterplanning: a diagram of what? (Servantplanning is a better term)

- Olympics: about infrastructure, land use, traffic planning. Legacy is still indeterminate. Nobody knew what to do with the Dome when it closed. So, a legacy park?

- Outside in - no programme, no chance: Jewish Museum, Berlin - scar on the landscape. The diaspora's story, just chucked in. How was the programme developed without understanding of the story, and the story of the architecture behind it?

- Public sector: charged to manage, not to imagine

- Client responsibility: BBC Salford and Portland Place. But lost opportunities, at the two sites. Masterplanned to death. Why was a brief written by a project manager and not a scriptwriter? Commercial imperatives?

- Why isn't Selfridges Birmingham a science centre? But will a developer buy it? Would change the visitor profile of the mall. Can only justify emotional impact of a project if can show commercial impact.

- God is in the detail: People are not - McLaren Internatikonal, Woking.

- Who curates urban media? branded facades of buildings; santisied, for our proctection. Who authors this? Use as part of embedded narrative of a city?

- The geographer - context is king. Who has excited me:

1) Patrick Geddes and photos of Edinburgh
2) Mecannoo, Library, Delft
3) Ito - Tower of the Wind
4) Pei - Louvre: juxtapose shopping, and learning, and art
5) FOA - Yokohama terminal
6) Diller & Scoffido - Blur
7) London Eye
8) Gateshead bridge
9) Paxton's crystal palace
10)Grant Associates, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore - stories of horticulture and biodiversity
11) Conisbee - Urban Jungle, King's Cross - was never going to happen

- The artist, at architectural scale: Eliasson's weather project - this sort of project could be used in cities, taken on the road. Also Heatherwick - what is he? No one's sure.

- The auter/scenographer: Robert Lepgae, Richard Hudson, Jim Clay (deconstructs the script), Ken Adam, Artichoke (Sultan's Elephant), Clough Ellis (Port Merion, Prisoner). Where are the auters in our city centres?

- The Digeratti: Jenny Holzer, Art + Com (Berlin, wrapping Central in responsive LEDs), Urban Screens (

- The entrepreneur: Powell Tuck - Bloomberg London (cultured, branded and held together), Roland Paoletti and curating Jubilee Line extension stations - put together architects who would sit together in the projects); Eden and Tim Smit, Grimshaw (visitors centre while being built)

- Review/The press: architectural journalists review buildings with the architect, two weeks before it opens. Less understanding of how building will be used, as a mechanism. We need better jounalism about the built environment; review buildings one year on. Plus make really good TV too

- Research/academia - CSM course, on narrative in place

- Re-value procurement

- Case studies:
1) Dome: play zone there; wrote own brief: an ironic arcade of possibilities, anticipating Nintendo Wii, setting a standard for interactivity
2) UK Expo Pavillion Japan '05: partner with National History Musuem, how have British scientists learnt from nature. Pieces of theatre; communications when you go home as well.

- Who makes place and space? Not just architects and engineers. Needs intellectual sustainability; or interlopers.

- How do interlopers break in? Through writing, teaching, media. Do a programme, just with Google Earth and a filled studio. Engage with city planning, articulate a language we can confront politicians and planners with. Contacts too - right place and right time. Need to write about it, articulate it.

- Places and spaces which have content, and those which are content-less. Also seems to be a divide between design with content, and that which is empty? Architecture wraps content. It drifts where it starts to become less determinate - buildings where the functionality is less fixed. It's the grey areas that need to be influenced: shopping centres - buy and learn at the same time. A science centre, dedicated to the science of shopping.

- Take a piece of the building away with you? A souvenir of the building, the actual building.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

InterSections 07: 2 - The challenge of design thinking

Notes from a talk by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO:

- IDEO is moving upstream - to the discovery and strategy side of design

(Daljit of Digit was right - we need to be more colourful in what we wear as a community)

- How IDEO got to design thinking - not necc the dominant idea in design today

- Trained to develop and design products. But that work can do damage - eg trash. (He designed the colourful iMacs). These things have a dangerous longevity?

- Design needs to be optimistic: it looks to the future, imagining better possibilities for the man-made world. A positive impact - and definitions of this have become to narrow: ego, or business bottom line in an outmoded industrial system.

- Aesthetic experience of products: use form and behaviour to create delight, use and understanding.

- Design as an interdisciplinary and collaborative process: interaction and human factors, to tackle more complex issues. Create more usable and desirable products.

- Design consulting vulnerable after NasDaq bust - how move upstream, make design part of innovation?

- Create a new movement, like Bahaus. David Kelly asked the question, how do we talk about design to the outside world? 'Design thinking' is about the process, and not just the output.

- How does design thinking lead to a positive impact? Especially in globalising, climating changing, urbanising times. How can design be more strategic, leading to sustainable improvement, and positive net business impacts?

- WorldClock -

- Focus of new problems: New problems and new approaches means learning more, faster, on the edge - which is evolution.

- Revolutionary innovation: go beyond incremental change, as this leads to commodisation and is not sustainable. Starters, create a new category. Eg work with Shimano to make a more accessible bike - 'coasting'. It's all about building a coalition. IDEO didn't even get to design the bikes - OEMs did instead. More disruptive things - have to let go of.

- Public services innovations: in US, funded by NGO, rather than Design Council. Eg, how get higher levels of blood donations (is a complex service, relying on volunteers, who do it for varying and emotional reasons). There's only so much you can do in the studio - live prototypes on location, and then iterate.

- Sustainablility: Create better experiences with fewer resources - that's the aim. And who knew thyme (with a few additions) can be an effective killer of bugs, including MRSA. IDEO set up a company to manufacture this stuff, as none of their clients wanted to disrupt their chain. Look out for 'Clean & Well'.

- Convergence in healthcare: between management and prevention, and social and individual behaviour - how manage any of this? Good example: the Aravind Eye Care System - innovating everywhere, even making their own lenses, teaching and consulting: 21 of 26 of the management come from the same family, and still practice.

- Goods and services for the poor: with HP on microfinance - possible to digitally enable? Doing user-centered design in villages meant developing new observational techniques. Toy technology can help: needs to be cheap and robust - eg paper interfaces, which can be customised by pen/hand.

- These projects are more complex: human (desirable), tehcnology (possible), business (viable) equals design thinking. These are all fluid at the same time: user ecosystems, emergence, and business model innovations.

- Clients are changing: the world is interdependent - funding, creating, investing etc.

- Leading to a new type of entrepreneurs, esp social entrepreneurs. The Acumen Fund in NYC is VC fund for social problems.

- Expanding design thinking:
1) human factors now is about understanding groups and social behaviour; utilising collaborators. Web 2.0 allows for new types of collaborative design, eg Crowdspirit designing new electronics; Sweat Equity Enterprises and communities of purpose, with new ideas more valuable as they are more connected to the local audience.
2) from prototyping to storytelling: more complex solutions need to be explained through stories and narratives.
3) craft: no less relevant, but different roles to play. Eg how be compelling? Can't do strategy without narratives.

- Design thinkers need to be broad, and have a new kind of education. eg at Stanford. Create thinkers who can work alongside designers.

- Design schools AND design thinking schools are needed - because craft is still needed.

- Are the positive impacts happening? Too early to say, but are some places where can start to observe and measure.

- Innovation has to be a portfolio: many projects on the go at once.

- Measure attention: 15% of IDEO time on design thinking type projects (250,000 design hours or 60 projects). It's an R&D portfolio. Difficult to identify and fund too.

- Memes: process and frameworks that can be used by others.

- Inspirational stories: from successful outcomes from successful projects.


InterSections 07: 1 - Innovation at the intersections of disciplines and culture

Hopefully the first of some live blogs (though published after session) from the InterSections conference. And apologies in advance for the no doubt ropey typing, spelling and grammar that will follow.

First, introductory remarks from Kel Fidler, David Kester and Jeremy Myerson:


- "Studios are now longer filled with drawing boards" (why ever not?),

- 'Design is changing in a world of transition' is the thought underpinning the conference. "We're dealing with a new, more integrated landscape of design for living," says Fidler.

- One key question: How can design be deployed to support economic regeneration?


- We don't fully understand the implications yet (of the globalised world) on the practice of design.

- Embedding design thinking at a policy level for innovation, competitiveness, education.

- "Your presence here helps to contiribute to the wider public understanding of design."


- High expectations for this conference. A watershed moment - where do we go next?

- A lunchbox at lunch, to enabling wandering round Dott.


Notes from the innovation talk by Frans Johnansson, author of The Medici Effect

- Where do we go to find ideas?

- Created Catalyst magazine, link together different strands of scientific thinking

- Combining ideas, disciplines, cultures leads to new ideas - is this a general rule for innovation?

- Word association games, much high US-style energy, audience interactivity

- Groundbreaking ideas come from the intersections of different industries and cultures

- 26: number of minutes for a new foreign-owned factory to open in China

- Avg number of years a company used to last on the S&P index, used to be 25-35 years - now 10-15.

- The more successful an organisation becomes, the harder it becomes to remain innovative

- Sony should be the portable music company - but Apple is

- The most gloabl business theme: where and how do I innovate?

- ...and no education really services this need

- Groundbreaking ideas are found at the intersections / diversity drives innovation

- Learning from termite ecology to build office buildings in Harare

- Stepping into intersections = The Medici Effect. The family sponsored creative individuals across Europe, across disciplines

- Why is this approach so successful?
1) All new ideas are combinations of existing ideas. But has to have more than a 'so what?' effect. The two ideas need to be far apart. A team needs to have diverse persepctives, so the ideas they bring are further apart, eg Islamic swimwear.
2) Innovative teams generate and execute more ideas. Eg Corning create over 4,000 products a year, Richard Branson has started over 350 companies. We're not good at predicting what is going to work. And we find more ideas at the intersections.

(Will the future soley be owned by mobile, gloablised individuals with a cross-cultural perspective?)

- Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells' is proving something... just not sure what yet.

- 'New ideas in rock music' has been reduced to about 2,400 artistic combinations? (Art isn't produced in this way!)

- At the intersection, number of ideas grows exponentially

- Nike and Hummer work together: tyre tracks look like soles of sneakers

- Better ideas, and more of them, at the intersection

- As individuals:
1) Search purposefully for connections from other cultures and disciplines - and dare to explore them. Don't be scared of the word: 'Innovation' doesn't mean having to be on the cutting edge. What's in your network? And what can you combine it with from elsewhere? Curiosity is key. Plus you need a room where you can throw up ideas, and none of them is wrong. 'What if...?' is a key question as well.

('To intersect' is going to be a heavily used and abused verb)

2) Staff for innovation: Easier to get inspired if you are surrounded by difference. Diversify the pools that you draw your talent from. Maybelline became the no 1 cosmetic brand in the world through creating diverse teams: combine experiences, approaches, concepts, traditions, and country backgrounds. (But also need to have local knowledge and consumer insight.) A tiny design change, eg a curved mascara brush, can drive success.

3) Leverage existing diversity: eg Volvo's concept car, designed by an all-female team. Features include no need to open the bonnet, to replace washer fluid. Needs different perspectives to see the obvious.

4) Allow for experimentation

5) Plan for experimentation: iterations mean that idea and realisations of the idea have changed. Some assumptions will be wrong, and need to adapt to that. Eg unexpected customer segments can be found and exploited.

6) Think differently about risk: There are difficulties - Murphy's Law, for example. The inherent riskiness of an idea means that you will change your behaviour around that idea. Apple spent half a billion dollars on developing the Newton. (Yikes.) Risks of failure do not change significantly depending on how much money you have. 'Go for the idea.'

10) Look for connections in unexpected places. Riskier not to step into the intersections.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

InterSections 07

Just a quick note to say that Beta will be attending the InterSections 07 conference, held at the BALTIC Centre in Newcastle, over the next two days. It looks set to be one of the most important - certainly the most notable - gathering of design thinkers and luminaries for many a moon, and certainly since SuperHumanism way back when.

Live blogs from some of the sessions will be attempted here, depending on wi-fi access, battery charge and how much networking, hand-shaking and rubbernecking is going on. Failing that there will no doubt be much traffic on the InterSections blog, which currently is being manned by conference organiser Kevin McCullagh. I've already entered the fray: I trust that some of you will as well.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Editorial: Poetic mistakes

As detailed by today's column by the Guardian's readers' editor. My favourite line in the column though is:

It seems that sometimes disappointment smells of biscuits.

Yes. Yes it does.


Friday, October 12, 2007


Another bit of beast this one:

1. How are advertising campaigns changing? Paul Springer's new book 'Ads to Icons' can help show you. (Disclaimer: AIS has some work featured in the tome, and we created said site too.) (Oh, you can get it here.)

2. My review of the Wallace Stegner novel 'Crossing to Safety' is now available on the Penguin Classics blog. (You can get this book here.)

3. A few months ago, Richard Palmer of d3o lab was named the Arena O2 X Awards Entrpreneur of the Year for 2007. (Disclaimer: I wrote the copy for the awards site.) Now, truth be told, we didn't really have much idea of what the material that Richard invented was, or what it could do. Until we espied this on Sky News the other day. Wow:

4. For those of you have the time, this might be an interesting course to attend. (via PSFK).

5. And for your consideration, four myths of viral video.

6. Regular readers will know that Beta is rarely a vehicle for political discourse. But this week's Prime Minister's Questions was a belter, and will be notable in the future for the Leader of the Opposition's denunciation of the Prime Minister:

For 10 years the Prime Minister plotted and schemed to have this job—and for what? No conviction, just calculation; no vision, just a vacuum. Last week he lost his political authority, and this week he is losing his moral authority. How long are we going to have to wait before the past makes way for the future?

From a progressive perspective, it begins to have the horrible whiff of truth about it.

And it appears that the spinning can't stop. On the Number 10 website, the transcript link for this week's PMQ's takes you here - Small Business questions to Stephen Timms - although I have no evidence this mislinking is nothing other than a genuine mistake. The full Hansard for the PMQs exchange can be found here.

It is a small thing. But, as there is no smoke without fire, it does suggest that the 'New Politics' in the 'Age of Change' is pretty much like the old politics.

6. And, from Adliterate, how to recognise a good aphorism.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Commercial: An emerging new mobile phone paradigm

Apologies for the use of the word 'paradigm', but it does appear to be the correct one in response to this fairly detailed post on TechCrunch about the underlying model of the putative 'GPhone'. (And for those of you who have only just got your heads around, and hands on, the iPhone, well, the G could well be more important than the i.)

TechCrunch reports that:

By creating a reference design and working with existing phone manufacturers, it appears that Google may be hoping to create an entire new class of smart phones, rather than a single, super Gphone. In this view, each manufacturing partner and cell phone carrier could develop their own set of unique features around the Gphone platform.

While this might mean a lot of experimentation, and probably no single device fully utilising the capabilities of the Google platform, it does mean it's more likely that more GPhones will get out there.

Features of the GPhone platform are likely to include:

—Free (or incredibly inexpensive) ad-supported phones.

—Mobile versions of Google apps like Gmail, Google Maps, Google Reader, Google Calendar, and YouTube, pre-loaded onto the device.

—Integration with GTalk, Google’s IM and VOIP software (this one is controversial because it would potentially bypass the carriers’ more expensive voice minutes, especially if combined with WiFi, but it could also mean more heavy usage of mobile data plans).

—GPay mobile payment software that turns each phone into a wallet.

—A true open-source platform on top of which anyone can develop their own apps.

AdSense is the most important because:

If Google were to tie its mobile application development platform to its existing advertising platform, it could share future mobile advertising revenues with developers the same way it splits ad revenues with Web publishers today.

Which suggests a mobile web boom/bubble (depending on taste) could be imminent too.

If I was writing Facebook applications, I'd start figuring out how to make them mobile as well.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Commercial: How to use new media to bring characters to market

As learnt in a seminar at the Brand Licensing Europe 2007 fair:

• Create the characters
• Market them virally on the web
• Launch mobile content
• Deliver e-commerce merchandise
• Start internet TV broadcasting
• License merchandise
• Show TV content on traditional broadcast network.

... or something like that.

Advantages of this approach include:

• The ability to reach audiences cheaply
• The ability to reach niche audiences worldwide, cheaply
• Online stores offer a limitless merchandising space
• Profits, via the long tail, can be made from niche markets.

Currently, to achieve ‘optimum’ sales, one should be aiming mobile content at the average 16 year old, whoever that person happens to be.

Your character-driven website should include:

• A ‘living’ story, with frequent updates
• Tools to allow users to personalise the characters
• Engaging and interactive content
• Games
• Things that the word can be spread about.

Most of this was sourced from a presentation given by taymai.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Commercial: Yo Gabba Gabba

Much insight was gathered at the Brand Licensing Europe 2007 fair, held over the last few days at London's Olympia. Some more formal insights to come, but for now revel in this:

Yo Gabba Gabba is the breakout kids TV show in the US at the mo, and no doubt will be huge everywhere in due course. You might wish to know that:

a) Elijah Wood has been on the show
b) The Shins have been on the show
c) The chap at the beginning of the clip is called DJ Lance Rock
d) 'Party in my tummy' sounds like Radiohead. No really. 'Idioteque', non? (Speaking of which, In Rainbows is available from next week.

More prosaically, it was the music bloggers who picked up on Yo Gabba Gabba first. Said the marketing person from the rights company in the seminar: "identify a USP in your show that may resonate with an audience who will evangelise for you." Clearly, the rave Teletubbies is one hell of a USP.

And speaking of odd musical influences, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council were showing the wares of some HK-based designers, including a collective called MONSEIUR. Whose principals appear to be called Albarn and Coxon. And who appear to be owned by this corporation. Eh?



1. Catalyze is a new social networking site for people who design software, websites or user experiences.

2. An article from Wharton Business School's Knowledge@Wharton's newsletter is challenging the assumed efficiency in automatic recommendation systems found online, suggesting that they may be limiting the 'long tail' effect.

3. Bruce Nussbaum is reporting that some ad agencies are about to be sacked. No word on which companies might be sacking some agencies. Which suggests it might be a bit of a way off yet.

4. If you're an O2 customer, you might care to ask for more from them here. (Disclaimer: I wrote this, so I'd really like you to. And notice any grammatical infelicities.)


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Editorial: Wither the hyphen?

Abi at Eek! A gerund knows, thankfully.

BTW, you might also want to have a look at her daytime hangout, the and/or/if blog, and the brand-spanking-new-whistles-bells-go-faster-stripes of a/o/i itself.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Commercial: Why the web 2.0 bubble will pop

Because people are lazy, don't have enough time, and get bored easily. (Nod to Tech Crunch.)