This was recommended to me over Christmas. The one on the left about English Architecture, not the one on the right about Dulwich. Although the Dulwich Estate have a decent track record when it comes to modernist housing, we'll leave that to another time.
Space, Hope, and Brutalism: English Architecture, 1945-1975 is massive, heavy and fascinating.
I found some history of the Co-op which was relevant to my interests.
Remarkable to think that in the 50's the Co-op Insurance Boss went on architecture tours in the US to seek inspiration.
And fascinating to learn that the furniture and decoration were designed by Design Research Unit.
Here's a bad photo of the back of that building. Must get myself a proper tour.
There is more interesting stuff about a Co-op in Sheffield, but I'll save that for another post.
Design Research Unit, they keep popping up, don't they?
I've spent all Christmas fiddling with my blog layout, which you should never do, to get it to work on a phone. Which it does now.
It just looks rubbish everywhere else.
All I really want is the simplest possible layout with one column, one typeface and one size, one colour and the odd bit of bold. Fully responsive and with decent line lengths on big screens.
But I'm stuck on Typepad and I don't think anyone works at Typepad anymore. But then I don't think anyone reads this anymore just Russell and Famous Rob.
Anyway, this is proper blogging. It's like it's 2008 all over again.
"It usually comes down to a choice between two ways to go: this way or that way.
And all the thinking won’t tell you which is best.
So just pick one, it doesn’t matter which, and go with that."
Have a good 2016 everyone.
On Pinboard I tag a few links with the year in case I get round to blogging about it over the Christmas break.
Looking back through various bits of social media it seems like I had the most fun on Instagram.
So here are some interesting links from the 2015 tag interspersed with random Instagram pictures.
Nick Asbury highlighted the ridiculousness of Andrex trademarking a five-step “Clean Routine” as an example of mission escalation in brands.
There was a fascinating profile of Jony Ive in the New Yorker. Fascinating, like any peek behind the curtain at the world’s largest company, although I’m always aware of how distorting Apple is an example. One of the most startling bits for me was Ive’s love of Josef Frank, the Austrian-Swedish designer of floral fabrics.
Cat Scans of the underground Mail Rail tunnels in London. What’s not to like?
Creative Review wrote a good summary of the controversy Volvo LifePaint caused in Adland. I can see the debate from both sides, but what comes across strongly is how ridiculous the marketing profession looks. As Matt Jones said to me many years ago “you had a brilliant idea like that and you wasted it on advertising?”
Nick Clegg speaking two months before the election and the Lib Dem’s huge defeat. “Westminster is a joke. PMQs is a joke… The fact we’ve got a democratic system that isn’t democratic… Of course it’s ridiculous.”
Elon Musk didn’t like the school his kids were at, so he started his own. Of course he did, he’s a crazy billionaire. But this article is still interesting on teaching in general.
“Let’s say you’re trying to teach people about how engines work. A more traditional approach would be saying, ‘we’re going to teach all about screwdrivers and wrenches.’ This is a very difficult way to do it.”
Instead, it makes more sense to give students an engine and then work to disassemble it.
“How are we going to take it apart? You need a screwdriver. That’s what the screwdriver is for,”
Ad blockers made lots of news in Adland. Ad people seem to think the problem is bad ads, when of course the problem is just ads. This is a good example of the snow blindness of that debate.
UsTwo continue to be brilliant, doing interesting things in smart ways. Redefining what a digital design agency can be. Here's one small example launched before anyone else did it. An open source framework for smart watch designs.
Marketing Week begin to realise that “engagement” is bloody annoying. “consumers don’t want brands involved in any of this stuff. They just want a coffee, or a burger, or to be able to use their credit card to buy a pair of shoes.”
I’m not into cars, but I’m a big fan of Tesla as a business. It’s another agile internet business that makes the existing companies look like dinosaurs. The Guardian sums it up well, “I drove the Tesla S last week and it offers such revolutionary solutions to so many of the oily problems that bog most manufacturers down that you wonder what on earth they’ve all been doing.“
Daniel Craig gave some very punchy interviews when the new Bond film came out. This one is good.
“What could we learn from James Bond that would help us in our day-to-day lives?
In September I gave a talk at the RSA. I tried to sum up the things I've learned about design inside large organisations from my time in government. I spoke about process and how to make that more agile and about trust and how important it is to earn that and to give it to design teams.
Because the RSA did a good job of filming it you can watch the video of the talk below. Because I follow John Steel's method of presenting where you always write a talk in long hand you can read the transcript below.
The last time I was in this room was 18 years ago when I won the RSA Student Design Award.
So it's an honour to be giving this talk tonight at the launch of the 2015 award scheme. I want to talk about how design has changed in those 17 years and the values design needs to thrive today.
I'm going to say design at it's best shares the same values as the internet at it's best. It's open, agile and designed around the user.
Design has fallen into the marketing trap of persuasion and it needs to get back to being about usability.
Some of you will think this is basically a form versus function debate which has been had many times before.
It's different to that. What has changed since 1997 is that the internet has come along.
And that has changed everything.
Since 1997, I've started two business. One, Newspaper Club which prints online content and is used by design students all over the world, was quite successful and got bought at the start of this year. I've worked at Wieden + Kennedy, an ad agency, with clients such as The Guardian and Nike. I'm currently also a Governor of the University of the Arts London and an advisor to the London Design Festival, which is on at the moment and I encourage you to visit one of the 400 events taking place this week. I studied graphic design at college and in my final year winning the RSA Student Award helped get my career started. In my first job my boss said, "to be honest all the designers were pretty similar but you'd won that award".
I'm the Director of Design at the Government Digital Service. I've been a civil servant for four years and that has been a privilege. But it's time to move on and I leave GDS at the end of the month.
I'd like to talk about some of things I've learned driving design in an organisation of close to 400,000 people.
The Government Digital Service is a team at the heart of government, building services so good people prefer to use them.
At the start of the Coalition government, Francis Maude, then Minister for the Cabinet Office, asked Martha Lane Fox to write a report on DirectGov. She wrote a brilliant report. It's insightful, pulls no punches and best of all - it's only a few pages long.
It boiled down to four things; create GDS, fix publishing, fix transactions, go wholesale. That led to the creation of GDS at the end of 2011.
They don't look happy because previously the UK government spent more on IT than any other country in Europe except Switzerland, although I think that included the cost of CERN.
We moved around 2,000 websites, all with different branding, different look and feel, different navigation and we made just one. GOV.UK.
We had some success. We on a D&AD black pencil which is an incredibly hard award to win as they don't give that prize ever year. In the category we won it was the first black pencil for 13 years. We won Design of the year beating the Shard and Thomas Heatherwick's amazing Olympic Cauldron.
Not everyone was pleased about this though. The Daily Mail called us boring.com. And commented that we had linked to such pages as "housing and local services." Outrageous.
More importantly than awards, last year we saved £1.7 billion pounds. This isn't just GOV.UK it's transformation, identity and technology. Tin and cables. Moving to more flexible contracts. Work done by colleagues all across government.
More importantly than all of that. We made things better for users.
So how did we achieve that? And what role did design play? We focused relentlessly on user needs.
Very early on we wrote some design principles. Our first principle is to start with user needs, not government needs.
Here's a good example of how that changes how you think about design. An early version of the site featured these icons. They're rather beautiful. But in user research no-one knew what they meant. In fact some people thought the orange door, which to us represented a "guide" or a "manual" some people thought that was the exit door. And they clicked on it to try and leave the site.
So we got rid of them. And in typical GDS fashion, we just deleted them and the published a blog post about it. If we were managing a brand would we have been so brutal and focused? I doubt it.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Calvert and Kinear's road signs. There's an exhibition at the Design Museum as part of the London Design Festival. We use a version of the typeface they designed for the roadsigns, Transport, on GOV.UK. As the Daily Mail highlighted most of the site quite boring, it's just text and so typography becomes really important. Transport looks great but more importantly it tested really well. It's clear and easy to read.
No surprise really as it was designed to be read at 70mph, in the dark, in the rain. This is a picture of the original testing at an airport. We do it slightly differently now.
Here's Margaret with civil servants from all across government when we won Design of the Year.
Lots of you are thinking, this isn't design. This is UX. I don't like the term UX especially when it's used as a noun. Because it leads to people saying, "we'll stick two weeks of UX on the end of that" that will fix all the problems. It won't.
User experience is the responsibility of everyone. It has to be, because most of the time in organisations the biggest problem is fixing the things everyone knows are wrong and everyone knows the answer too.
The most difficult task in organisations today is fixing the basics. And most businesses would gain a significant advantage over their competitors is they could just fix the basics.
There are thousands of examples of this. Here are a few I found. Verizon who sent a customer 53 letters to think them for choosing paperless billing.
The Channel 4 player that doesn't work when you plug your laptop into a TV.
And this one. Would you choose that seat? You know it's OK. You know the plane doesn't really look like that. But you'd still be nervous, wouldn't you. Too often people try an fix these problems with marketing. That's why you see jokes… social media accounts… it's persuasion not usability.
Being able to fix these problems but design firmly in the boardroom, which is where designers always say they want to be. But designers struggle with this.
And here's my pro tip. The CEO doesn't care about fonts. And nor should she. That's your job. If you enter the boardroom and say 'I can save you money, I can make your services easier to use' the CEO will be all ears. And then the CEO will trust you to choose the fonts.
Because you get trust from delivery. You can't earn trust with persuasion. You can't earn trust with passion. Henry Ford once said, you can't earn a reputation for things you're going to do.
In government now we have about 200 digital designers working as part of delivery teams on government services. In Swansea, Bristol, Preston and Newcastle - all over the country. This is a picture of Louise Downe speaking at our recent cross government design meeting at DWP in Leeds. Louise Downe is taking over from me next month. Many of you will know her, she's been at GDS just over a year and I know she'll do a fantastic job.
In agency speak my job is be Executive Creative Director of that talented bunch. But the traditional agency approach won't work in a large federated organisation spread all over the country with over 300 agencies. So we devolve power down the network and we empower people, just like the internet does.
The traditional Creative Director is a bottleneck. It's a waterfall process.
At GDS all the designers can code. They start by sketching, they move as quickly as possible to working code. GDS makes over 8 changes to GOV.UK every day, thousands of content changes, but around 8 code of design changes.
The design process is agile. Very few design teams are truly agile, even in big digital organisations that use agile to develop software.
This is how we describe agile. We're talking about software development but this could be applied to many processes. In fact, it feels like the traditional creative agency approach.
We're also open. We publish all our design patterns on GOV.UK. There's no brand guidelines PDF.
But before they go into the design patterns there's an active community discussing different designs on a wiki. Feeding in user research from all over government. When we're sure it works, it goes into the Design Patterns.
This openness is the only way to work on project of this scale. In my opinion openness is an essential element of leadership now.
And lots of ideas with strong leadership is better than one big idea.
The design industry has become obsessed with novelty and persuasion. The internet is forcing it to change. Focus on user needs. Concentrate on fixing the basics. Trust = delivery. Be agile. Be open.
Usability trumps persuasion and now is the time for the design industry to move back to that. Thank you.
Jeremy has turned his blog into a shop.
And it's fantastic. A whole shop full of magazines, a complete range from Vogue Italy to the most obscure indie titles. You're encouraged to browse, they don't sell coffee or lottery tickets.
You should go. You'll love it.
270 St John Street London EC1V 4PE. Open 11-7 Weds-Fri and 12-4 Sat.
It's good in some ways. The telly is a massive, communal screen that everyone knows how to use and knows the social conventions around it. A PDF is a common format and useful enough to most people for sharing information. The car thing simply reads what was last "playing" on my phone, which connects automatically through Bluetooth.
But it's all happening by accident. Or as a workaround. Bits of technology that talk to each other, but weren't meant to talk to each other in this way. And the UI is terrible. You can fight your way through it, but it makes little sense unless you know the tech behind it.
It's certainly not explaining itself like good UI should. And I can't help thinking it should just be html in a browser. A missed opportunity.
I was watching the telly the other night and for the first time in ages I noticed some ads. Turns out it was a special thing where they put all the Bond product placement ads in one ad break in Homeland. (I only know this googling after the fact.) That link has a pretty good description of what happened, "people jumping out of planes (Gillette), extreme water skiing (Heineken) and the creation of the perfect martini (Belvedere)."
I was struck by three things:
1. All the ads were rubbish. Clunky, every single one trying too hard.
2. What a tough brief that is.
3. For the first time in ages I not only noticed the ads, I watched them and I looked forward to the next one. Because it was interesting.
I have no idea if this worked or not. But I noticed it.
And then I noticed another one!
This one was in the break of X-Factor (I only know this googling after the fact.)
What made me notice this was the voice of Adele.
Review for Russell: Nine miles from home, a little exhibition, but you should still go.
Review for everyone else: MC Escher at the Dulwich Picture Gallery is very good. Slightly outside of central London, it's worth the trip because they haven't held back. It has all the famous ones and some early sketches which are fascinating. Chronologically laid out, it's small like these things often are but it's packed and covers pretty much all the Eschers you need. He's a great artist and an amazing draftsman. You should go.
If you can get past some of the conferencey language there's lots to like in this speech by the PepsiCo President. (President, Executive, CMO - job titles are so strange these days.)
"My particular peeve is pre-roll. I hate it. What is even worse is that I know the people who are making it know that I'm going to hate it. Why do I know that? Because they tell me how long I am going to have to endure it -- 30 seconds, 20 seconds, 15 seconds. You only have to watch this crap for another 10 seconds and then you are going to get to the content that you really wanted to see."
"I am sick and tired as a client of sitting in agency meetings with a whole bunch of white straight males talking to me about how we are going to sell our brands that are bought 85% by women. Innovation and disruption does not come from homogeneous groups of people."
"There is no such thing as digital marketing. There is marketing - most of which happens to be digital. We 'ghettoize' digital as though it's the life raft tethered to the big ocean liner. And we have to move on from that."
This is a nice idea. Spotted in an art gallery the other day. I should have taken a bigger picture of the gallery, because it's not a fancy wall they've put advertising on. It's just a normal wall that happens to tell you what paint it is.
I actually thought 'that's a nice colour' as I walked past, then saw the signs afterwards. But that might just be me.
Last week was the 10th cross government design meeting and my last. We set this community up from scratch and now there are over 200 digital designers in government and about 100 of them, from over 10 depts gather every six weeks to share ideas, problems and solutions.
We always have a guest speaker and I was honoured last week that it was Michael Bierut. I've known Michael a while now and he very kindly dropped in as part of his UK book tour.
His new book, like his old book, is ace. You should buy it. How to use graphic design to sell things, explain things, make things look better, make people laugh, make people cry, and (every once in a while) change the world.