Minimalism: A response to modern day problems

How many things do you own?

Is one of the first questions an experimentalist would ask you. For most of us in the Global North, the number is immense. Abundance, however, does not seem to bring us satisfaction. Impelled by constant advertisement and the unspoken pressure of capitalist society we consume perpetually, striving to keep up with trends, fashion and new tech.

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Traditional Artisan Skills: Will they disappear for good?

In today’s virtual world, traditional British crafting methods are in steep decline (Henley, 2014). Skills such as cricket ball making, gold beating (Cohen, 2017), wheelwrights and sieve manufacturing have all but
disappeared (Sawyer, 2017). The reasons for the slow death of the British
artisanal industry are numerous. The question is: what can be done to
reverse this trend?

Continue reading “Traditional Artisan Skills: Will they disappear for good?”

Fuelling UK Economy Growth: The Stigma behind Creative Design Careers and Educational Failures

UK creative industries were worth £84.1 billion to the UK economy in 2016 (, 2016) with job growth in the sector at 2.6%, higher than the rate for the economy overall (at 1.6%), making it the fastest growing industry (, 2015). Within the sub-categories of this sector, design jobs (fashion, graphic and product design) were the area with the biggest growth, increasing by 22% from 2011 to 2013 (, 2015). Therefore, this begs the question as to why there is a stigma against taking creative design degrees at university when the UK economy needs designers.

Continue reading “Fuelling UK Economy Growth: The Stigma behind Creative Design Careers and Educational Failures”

Democratisation of Production

Within the last decade, there has been a drastic shift in the world of production, pushing towards a democratisation of knowledge and tools for production and design for manufacture. (Wolf, 2012) This has come about through several innovations, such as Arduino and cloud computing, as well as movements, such as the Rep-rap movement, maker/hackerspaces, and online tutorial repositories.

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The Future Vs. Regulation

If we assume that Moore’s law, the exponential increase of technological advancements, is correct then regulatory bodies who control what is available to consumers across all sectors have very little chance of keeping up. Signs that they are falling behind are already popping up throughout the media making this an ideal time to reflect on some of these events. Are changes necessary if regulation is to have any place in the future we are creating? Continue reading “The Future Vs. Regulation”

Made in Brunel : Final Show

14/06/18 – 17/06/18

On the 14th-17th of June, Made in Brunel will be back at the OXO Bargehouse for our Final Showcase. The event will be a public exhibition, taking you on a journey through our experience at Brunel. Expect to see a range of products, services and a handful of other design projects produced by this year’s final year students. Remember to save the date, and we’ll see you there!

The Ideas Factory

We are hosting ‘IDEAS Factory’, our annual pop up event at the Oxo tower! Come down to be inspired and create new ideas, fun designs with our Brunel students! Lots of refreshments and things to do! Come along on the 24th March

24 Hour Design Challenge


Back for another year, Made in Brunel will be hosting this year’s 24 Hour Design Challenge on the 8th February at the University. Starting early that morning, students will participate in a number of Industry design challenges, spread across six 4 hour time slots. In previous years, companies such as Lego, Dyson and Chanel have been involved in setting the briefs. This year we’re excited to reveal the new set of industry projects. If you would like to be involved in a setting a brief, please contact our directors via email @

The Sketch Off 2018


On the 18th January, Made In Brunel will be hosting our first ever ‘Sketch Off’ competition. A group of students from the design course will compete in 4 quick fire sketching challenges, competing to win the title of best sketcher at Brunel. A group of guest judges from the industry will be attending the event, including two product developers from Disney, the design director at Geometry Global, and Brunel Alumni, the founder of tone design consultancy. Top prizes include a set of Copic Markers, a classic Anglepoise lamp & a drawing lightbox. See our Facebook page for more details and for a live stream of the event on the day.

Dear Design Student: Drop the other 90%

There are 21.3 million refugees around the world (UNHCR, 2015) ; meanwhile, 22 000 children die every day because of poverty (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2015). But don’t you worry: there are thousands of young, over-enthusiastic creatives who believe that their exquisite design thinking can solve many of these problems. ‘Making a REAL difference’ has never been more ‘sexy’ and it seems that academic institutions allow the students to get hooked on their shallow definition of design for development.

Let’s start from the beginning: how come that the current design students want to make a meaningful impact in the Third World? The answer is easy: it is not just the industry we work in, it is the entire generation. 7 out of 10 millennials consider themselves social activists (TBWA/Worldwide agency et al., 2013), which certainly contradicts with their stereotypical image of narcissistic, ego-centred ‘unique-snowflakes’. However, looking at the socio-political background throughout their childhood one can clearly see where they got their inspiration from. They were the first generation to learn about Millenial Development Goals at school and they’re the ones who came across the news of Rwandan genocide while swapping TV channels. Thanks to the Internet Network, any information about any place in the World has always been within the reach of their hands. Having followed the mainstream media, who present Africa as the nest of poverty and problems, no wonder that 84% of Millennials would travel abroad to participate in volunteer activities ( Marriott Rewards Credit Card Survey, 2015), and that Africa is second most popular continent to follow their ambitions (Salvesen, 2014)

Considering current design education, focusing on ‘making a positive change’, the idea of designing for the developing world is just too attractive to resist. The problem arises when the students are taught only about the positive potential of projects but remain unaware of the countless scenarios when the solution turns into a wasted investment. I remember one of my first lectures at Product Design course when we were shown One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project. Hundreds of thousands of laptops were distributed to children in various developing countries to enhance their learning opportunities in both home and school environment. The project was shown as a star example of using design to create durable, low-cost, educational tool. Later I researched the project myself and found out that its’ implementation failed on many levels, mainly due to the lack of basic understanding of the socio-cultural context. “If you’re a $2-a-day family, are you really going to let your kid take the most expensive thing in the household to school every day?” commented Kevin Starr, founder of Malaga Foundation (2010). In the end, OLPC did not have any impact on the test scores in reading and math in at least four participating countries (Israel, Peru, Romania and Nepal) (Melo et al., 2013). How come we were never taught this side of the story?

“Not making a difference’’ is only one problem. Design students are not being warned that badly applied humanitarian aid project brings far more harm than not doing anything. In the 1950s and 60’s United Nations dug half a million wells in Bangladesh without testing them, and it turned out that 2 out 5 of them were contaminated with arsenic which led to one of the largest mass poisonings in human history. But the story doesn’t end here. UN’s solution was to mark the safe walls with green paint, and the poisonous ones with red paint. Villages ended up believing that because the red wells were tainted, the girls living nearby were tainted too. Many young women became unmarriageable and therefore sold by their families into prostitution (Zolli, 2013). It is a drastic example that shows how humanitarian aid can turn into completely unexpected direction. It is difficult to face the possible negative effects of the project right at its very beginning but when it comes to design for development it’s essential that the students learn how to think very critically of their own ideas, so such mistakes as the project in Bangladesh are not being repeated.

No short-term research about the developing world will be able to give enough insight to bring social innovation to the community. In my point of view, educational authorities who let students believe they can make a difference behave highly hypocritical: they are obsessed with the importance of the user-insight and sympathy tools but on the other hand they let students pursue projects about experiences that are as far as possible from their everyday life. I recently came across a project by students of Royal College of Art in London who designed a coat for refugees based on one talk with an aid worker from Doctors Without Borders (on top of that: throughout one-week design ‘hackaton’). But a single chat is not enough, and the young designers must acknowledge that international development specialists shouldn’t be their interviewees: they should be their collaborators. Per Heegens, CEO of IKEA Foundation, said that the first step in the design process of designing portable refugee shelter was contacting United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) “because they know a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and when you develop a product like this you want to develop it with the people who will actually use it ” (2016)

Students leave the university convinced that their limited expertise in international development and design skills are enough to address the socio-political issues of the highest complexity. The problem arises when they unintentionally transfer their adolescent, ignorant attitude into their future professional practice. According to Panthea Lee, (co-founder of social innovation firm Reboot and UNICEF advisor), the problem already exists within the current creative consultancies in an attempt to design for social innovation and developing communities. ‘’(…) a lot of design firms now going to the public sector and to NGO’s saying, ‘We’re designers, we’re here to help you!’ And they’re like, ‘What are you talking about? You don’t speak our language, you don’t know development theory, you don’t know our approach.’ ‘ ’ (2011)

It is now time to take action and change the way we teach design for development so the future design leaders don’t make the same mistakes.

So, dear design educators, YOU are in the leading position to make the young generation of creatives more responsible global thinkers. Encourage them to collaborate on long-term projects with experts in social sciences and humanitarian aid specialists. You must push your students to seek the information from the outside of their ‘knowledge comfort zone’. Show them UN online databases and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys ran by UNICEF (annual report presenting statistical data regarding life conditions, divided by country and region) and make them read every single page about the community they design for! Solid secondary research is an irreplaceable basis of any design project, and it must be done with an exquisite attention to detail when we approach scenarios from the developing world. Remind them that their university-level projects are there to expand their knowledge: not to make them responsible for ending poverty on the other continents.

But most importantly, ask your students to ‘humble-up’. Because, as Panthea Lee explains, ‘the world’s most intractable problems are deeply rooted in massive systems, while design is a discipline focused on the edges’. (2013)

Written by Anna Palgan (Email)


  • Rob Bye (2014) AfricaBike – Enabling education in Africa [photography]. Available at: (Accessed: 12 November 2016)
  • Who Wants to be a Volunteer?. (2014).South Africa: SAIH Norway, Kinge, K., Edland-Gryt, S. and Skaar M.K. (Accessed: 12 November 2016)
  • UNHCR. (2015) Figures at a Glance [infographic], Available at: (Accessed: 2 November 2016)
  • United Nations Children’s Fund (2015) ‘Levels & Trends in Child Mortality’, New York. Available at (Acessed 2 November 2016)
  • Amanda (2015), ‘How Millennials Travel Differently ; written on behalf of Marriott Rewards Credit Card from Chase’, A Dangerous Business Travel Blog, 19 June 2015, Available at: (Acessed 10 November 2016)
  • Salvesen, A. (2014) ‘2012 Annual Volunteer Report Evaluation’. Available at: (Accessed: 10 November 2016)
  • TBWA/Worldwide, Take Part (2013) The Future of Social Activism [infographic]. Available at: (Accessed: 2 November 2016)
  • Starr K. (2011) Lasting impact, PopTech Conference 2011 at Camden, Maine [podcast]. Available at: (Accessed: 5 November 2016)
  • Melo, G., Machado, A., Alfonso, M. and Viera, M. (2013) ‘Profundizando en los efectos del Plan Ceibal’, Comentarios finales, 5, p.24. Available at: (Accessed: 2 November 2016)
  • Zolli, A., (2010) Failure and its upside—a report from the 2010 PopTech conference, Available, interviewed by Marcia Stepanek for Stanford Social Innovation Review, Available at: (Accessed: 5 November 2016)
  • Morby, A. (2016) RCA students design wearable dwelling for Syrian refugees, Available at: (Accessed: 10 November 2016)
  • Lee, P. (2011) ‘A Better World By Design: Spotlight on Panthea Lee of Reboot’, interviewed by Dave Seliger on Core77, Available at: (Accessed: 5 November 2016)
  • Lee, P. (2013) Why “Design For Development” Is Failing On Its Promise. Available at: (Accessed: 9 November 2016)


The hacker’s design process

Can the hardware hacker’s creative methods bring new insight to designers?
Generally, there is a negative stigma associated with the term ‘hacking’ due to black hat hackers hacking into private or Government servers. However, there are many forms of hacking, such as the ‘Ikea hacks ’which are the manipulation of Ikea products to adapt their functionality and ‘life hacks’ which are tasks or actions to reduce frustration of life. (Dictionary, 2016) Nevertheless, the term hacking remains a difficult concept to define as it can refer to many different practices.
One of the increasingly common trends is ‘hardware hacking’. This refers to any method of hardware modification through its electronics or by its behaviour. The physical modification of a device is generally straightforward i.e. disassembling or cutting into the device. However, when hacking electronics or when changing product behaviour or primary function, it can become complex due to ethical, legal reasons and violation of a company’s intellectual property rights.
“Hardware hacking – modifying a product to do something it was never intended to do by its original designer” (Grand, 2006)
In late 2015 Amazon introduced a more convenient way to purchase products from their store using the Amazon Dash Button. The button is designed to enable users to quickly repeat orders of products they regularly purchase. (Burgess, 2016) The device works by clicking a button which wakes up the device, connects to the Wi-Fi, orders the product from the Amazon Store and then turns off. The process is very simple and convenient for Amazon customers. But shortly after the device was introduced, other functions for this product were found. The device became instantly appealing to hardware hackers as this tiny adhesive physical trigger could be easily altered to change its function.
There are many ideas of how to change the functionality of the dash from controlling power outlets in homes to data tracking. However, every new idea for the dash is built from the same fundamental code irrespective of the function. As a result of the ‘Amazon Dash hacking,’ awareness of the hardware hacking trend increased worldwide from veteran programmers and casual hobbyist.
Hardware hackers begin by analysing existing products to find hardware exploitations. For example, a hardware hacker examined baby-tracker apps and found that they generally served a single purpose. However, as his baby’s needs kept changing, he hacked the dash and made alterations to track his baby’s data to discover patterns that would not normally be noticed. “I want a simple button that I can stick to the wall and push to records poops today but wake ups tomorrow.” (Benson, 2016) When creating the dash, the designers only concentrated on a solution to reorder products and did not consider any other use. Therefore, analysis by hardware hackers can lead to the discovery of new creative solutions to problems that the original designers did not consider or did not know existed.
As someone who has knowledge of programming and an interest in altering hardware, I purchased a dash when it became available in the UK. The motivation for my purchase was specifically to modify the dash’s primary function. After discovering and researching the Philips light ‘hack’, I repurposed my dash to turn my computer on remotely. (Dudes, 2016) Although, this modification was not as complex or innovative as some tweaks done, my dash served a function which was personal to me. I achieved the primary function alteration by using a python script and changes to the computer bios. After completing the adjustments, I realised that other ‘hardware hack’ modifications could benefit different areas of my life. I considered purchasing two devices in order to produce a stop and start or an execute and cancel functionality. I considered other functions the dash could perform to help the community e.g. a low-cost button to control multiple automated functions to open blinds and turn on lights for the physically impaired.
I believe that the concept of changing a product to solve a different problem to be interesting. When a product is disassembled, and rebuilt there is great potential for better design. Although this process may not be regarded as a typical design process, it could benefit designers as it can provide unique solutions. However, the real question should be whether designers should embrace the thought processes of hardware hackers in their design cycles?
There are various benefits of a hacker’s creative process. It encourages a free-spirited and unconventional form of thinking and proves that the repeated analysis of product exploits often reveals unexpected solutions. (Grand,2006) There are many examples of how hacker’s use their alternative thinking to find creative solutions to problems. For example, hackers created jackhammer hearing protection earmuffs which played noisy environment audio books. This solution offered better noise reduction than the commercial noise cancelling headphones and was significantly cheaper. (Hartmann, B., Doorley, S. and Klemmer, S, 2008) However, there are often negatives to the hacker’s methods and these can include ethical, legal and patent issues. Furthermore, their process only works when coupled with other creative processes, such as Double Diamond, as the hacker’s model focuses primarily on discovery, insight, opportunity and ideation. (Design Council,2016) Nevertheless, I believe hardware hackers can play an important part in the design process as they can offer a different insight into products which traditional product and software designers may not discover.
As an industrial designer, I have knowledge of various creative processes from IDEO’s HCD to the Design Council’s Double Diamond. Typically, these processes use a combination of divergent and convergent thinking. During the divergent thinking, I feel that the models do not focus sufficiently on
the existing product but rather on the investigation to find a possible solution, unlike hardware hackers whose core principal is the existing product investigation. The hardware hacker’s principle of finding and analysing product exploits often leads to the development of new functions and alternative solutions to problems. I feel designers often focus on the premise that a new product must be designed to solve a particular problem only. By comparison, hardware hackers frequently find their solutions through the alteration of an existing product.
As increasing numbers of product designers become skilled in the programming elements of design, knowledge can be gained by this method of innovation and iterative thinking to alter products in order to discover other functions and uses. I believe that designers could benefit from this different creative process, coupled with a more structured approach, that hardware hacking has to offer.
“The designer should try to break the security mechanism of those product, then fix them and try to break them again. Time should be scheduled for this iterative process during the design cycle. “(Grand, 2006)
Written by Robert Gittus (LinkedIn/Email/Medium)

[1] Hardy, A. (2015). Why has the number of teenagers taking design and technology GCSE dropped?. Available: Last accessed 1/11/16.

[2] Brown, M. (2015). Available: Last accessed 5/11/16.

[3]Cape UK. (2016). What’s All This About The EBACC?. Available: Last accessed 5/11/16.

[4] The Guardian. (2011). A-level choices: the sharp contrast between private schools and comprehensives – get the data. Available: Last accessed 5/11/16.

[5] Wellington College. (2017). College History. Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[6] Sedbergh School. (2017). Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[7] Eton College . (2017). A2 Statistics- Summer 2016. Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[8] Independent Schools Inspection. (2016). Independent Schools Inspection- Eton College. Available: Last accessed 12/11/16.


[9] Independent Schools Inspection. (2013). Independent Schools Inspectorate- Oakham School. Available: Last accessed 12/11/16.


[10] Anonymous, Personal Communications. (2016).


[11] Hattie, J et al. (2016). Learning strategies: a synthesis and conceptual model. Available: Last accessed 10/11/16.

[12] Cowley, J. (2013). Eton Eternal: How one school came to dominate public Life. Available: Last accessed 9/11/16.


[13] Maritime Cadets. (2016). The Field Gun. Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[14] Rod Purcell. (2014). [Image]. Dressing for the occasion: Speech Day Harrow School. Available: (!/2014/05/dressing-for-occaision-speech-day.html. Last accessed 22/02/17.

Why don’t students from private schools study design?

Since design and technology stopped being a compulsory GCSE subject in 2000, there has been a decline in the number of students taking D&T at GSCE and A level, now making it one of the most unpopular subjects in secondary schools. Many schools have been cutting back provisions or removing the subject from the curriculum entirely [1]. Between 2003 and 2013 there was a 50% drop in the GCSE numbers for design and technology [2] which begs the question as to why exactly have people stopped taking design?

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc), a performance measure for schools to increase the core five academic subjects – English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language was introduced in 2010 as a result of rising numbers in creative, non-academic subjects. The government argued ” that many of these qualifications do not carry real weight for entry to higher education or for getting a job” [3].

According to an MP, students attending comprehensive schools are “studying low quality subjects that will prevent them gaining a place at top universities, unlike their peers at private and grammar schools” [4]. Statistically, students in private and grammar schools are less likely to take up creative subjects.

Wellington College, a private boarding school in Berkshire is one of the many schools with low design and technology numbers. In 2016, only 26 out of 179 students took design and technology at GCSE which was on a par with the number taking Greek and less than a quarter of the number taking Latin. This then drops even further in A-Level to 4 which was less than the number taking art history or Mandarin [5]. Similar numbers can be found at other independent schools with 6 A-Level entrants at Sedbergh School (out of 103) [6], 5 at Eton College [7]and none at all at Westminster School and Cheltenham Ladies College. So why are students at independent schools not studying design?

You would expect schools which charge students up to £13,000 a term to have top of the range equipment for their design department. Many of the most well known and successful independent schools state on their websites that they have well equipped workshops with facilities such as 3D printing, CNC machining and laser cutting. These are facilities that would be the envy of many schools. The quality of the teaching is also often recognised in the schools inspection reports such as the one for Oakham School – “work in art and design is exceptional” and for Eton College – “quality of product design is exceptional”. [8] [9]

I spoke to two members of the Design & Technology department at a leading independent school to see what they thought about the decline in numbers. Being a private school, they do not follow the EBacc and therefore do not have to limit students from doing creative subjects and so I was interested to see if they had seen a significant change in the number of students taking up design and technology. “Numbers taking A-level have reduced in recent years; it has been a similar pattern with a number of other schools. GCSE has been mostly stable”. [10]

I wanted to explore the possible reasons as to why their students might not be taking up D&T. As an outsider I asked whether it was viewed as academic enough but the response was that this was just “amongst a small minority who would be unlikely to take the subject in any case”. I also questioned if studying D&T would not be as impressive on university applications as other subjects and whether potential career options related to design are not seen as interesting, useful or lucrative. They agreed with my point about design not looking impressive saying that “unfortunately there is some truth in this since a small selection of universities are dismissive of design. It depends on the institution and course being applied for – a message we try to get across to our students”. However they did not completely agree that potential career options related to design are not seen as interesting or useful, suggesting that this was “not a commonly held view”. When considering the financial rewards they felt this was not a major concern “perhaps compared to a career in Law or the City/finance, but not a deciding factor to most students”.

The websites for many, if not all, of the leading independent schools highlight the large proportion of students who go on to Oxford and Cambridge University, the Russel Group of universities or to Ivy League institutions in the US. I wanted to know the extent to which students are influenced by their parents, staff, news and university requirements on the subjects they choose to study at GCSE. “Understandably, parents influence decisions to a great extent, as do tutors, house masters etc. Raising awareness of the subject in the media and national conscious can only help to realign perceptions of the subject.”

It seemed that university was always something which the students and parents potentially thought about, influencing their decisions in which GCSE options to take. For students that are rejecting design as a GCSE option, to what extent have they even begun to think about university or career options? The response was that “career choice is not the foremost issue for pupils choosing GCSEs due to the number of GCSEs they can take. Most take design because they enjoy it!”

I wanted their opinion on how design and technology could be made more attractive to students and how more students could be influenced to choose it as a subject. They suggested “there needs to be greater recognition of what the subject has to offer at all levels of society. The relevance of DT needs to be acknowledged by politicians and universities need to recognise the personal qualities evidenced through the pursuit of a thorough design exercise”.

They also referred to an article that highlighted how the nature of education has changed in recent years. There has been greater emphasis on academic achievements whereas traditionally education has been about “passing on core notions of humanity and civilisation”, “equip students to live independently” and to “participate in the life of their community”. [11]

With such a change in emphasis, it is perhaps not surprising that the number of students taking design and technology have fallen over recent years. The experience of the independent schools shows that they have not been immune from this even though they can provide the finest teaching facilities and equipment; inspection results indicate that high quality results are achieved and the evidence that those who take design are happy to have done so.

The independent schools do not follow the EBacc so this cannot be used as a reason for the low numbers enrolled in GCSE and A-Level courses. However many of the schools have very strong traditions of their students following certain career paths. Eton students have often ended up in politics [12] and many schools have strong military links such as Wellington College that still has a field gun team [13]. Many schools are proud of the contribution that their past pupils have made in the fields of sport and performing arts. It is likely that pupils and parents are aware of this and that this has an unconscious influence on their choice of GCSE and A-Level subjects, leading them to focus on subjects that are more suited to potential career paths. Whilst it may be difficult for individual schools to influence national educational policies and university recruitment procedures, a potential route towards increasing enrolment in GCSEs and A-Levels is to highlight to parents and students as early as possible what can be achieved in the department and that studying design is a route to innovation that can benefit the country economically and improve people’s lives.

Written by Emma Kennedy-Flanagan  (LinkedIn/Email)

[1] Hardy, A. (2015). Why has the number of teenagers taking design and technology GCSE dropped?. Available: Last accessed 1/11/16.

[2] Brown, M. (2015). Available: Last accessed 5/11/16.

[3]Cape UK. (2016). What’s All This About The EBACC?. Available: Last accessed 5/11/16.

[4] The Guardian. (2011). A-level choices: the sharp contrast between private schools and comprehensives – get the data. Available: Last accessed 5/11/16.

[5] Wellington College. (2017). College History. Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[6] Sedbergh School. (2017). Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[7] Eton College . (2017). A2 Statistics- Summer 2016. Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[8] Independent Schools Inspection. (2016). Independent Schools Inspection- Eton College. Available: Last accessed 12/11/16.

[9] Independent Schools Inspection. (2013). Independent Schools Inspectorate- Oakham School. Available: Last accessed 12/11/16.

[10] Anonymous, Personal Communications. (2016).

[11] Hattie, J et al. (2016). Learning strategies: a synthesis and conceptual model. Available: Last accessed 10/11/16.

[12] Cowley, J. (2013). Eton Eternal: How one school came to dominate public Life. Available: Last accessed 9/11/16.

[13] Maritime Cadets. (2016). The Field Gun. Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[14] Rod Purcell. (2014). [Image]. Dressing for the occasion: Speech Day Harrow School. Available: (!/2014/05/dressing-for-occaision-speech-day.html. Last accessed 22/02/17.

The Nudging Network

We are constantly making choices, every day, all the time, the majority of which seem relatively simple and somewhat subconscious. However, as the array of choices available to us grows, we are collectively becoming worse at reaching decisions efficiently. Barry Schwartz called this “The Paradox of Choice” (Schwartz, 2005), and suggested that we are becoming progressively paralysed by an excess of choice. “With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all”, which as Schwartz explains, after making an eventual decision, we are then dissatisfied if the outcome is not what was expected, therefore “subtracting from the satisfaction you get out of the decision [originally] made” (Schwartz, 2005).

Bounded rationality, a term founded by Herbert Simon is the concept that decision making is restricted by an individual’s ability to cognitively process the presented information in a given circumstance. Therefore it is easy to become overwhelmed by data overload because we cannot process this effectively. Christopher Wickens devised a set of principles to most effectively design displays. It was suggested that to “avoid absolute judgement limits” (Wickens et al., 2004) between five and seven levels of discrimination should be used to provide enough understanding, enabling the consumer to make a decision. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky developed the theory of bounded rationality, forming insights that suggest ‘people are often not the best judges of what will serve their interests’ (Schwartz, 2014) but that institutions like the Government may be able to alter the structure of these choices to enable better choice making.

Nudging, shoving and smacking are new terms that have been coined over recent years by behavioural economists to describe methodologies that alter the way consumers react to stimuli. The Nuffield Council’s Bioethics Ladder of Intervention suggests that guiding a consumer to make certain choices begins with option reduction. The first level of restriction is nudging. If you provide the calorie count on a restaurant menu, this will encourage people to become more aware of their calorie consumption and therefore promote healthier living. The second level of restriction is shoving; this uses disincentives to make a choice less attractive. For example taxation on cigarettes could, in theory reduce their desirability, lowering the amount of people smoking. The third level of restriction is smacking; choice elimination leads to a definite result. Banning alcohol consumption in public places forcibly stops an action with fear of prosecution being the driver. Nudging pioneers like Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have developed a concept of libertarian paternalism. The words appear conflicting; libertarian is defined as a freedom of will and paternalism as an authoritative restriction of freedom. However, as explained thoroughly in Nudge and Why Nudge? Sunstein and Thalers aim is to promote the use of cognitive psychology and behavioural science to “improve peoples’ welfare by influencing their choices” (Sunstein, 2014). But will this be used as a positive ethical tool or a means of which to control and coerce consumers ‘freedom of choice’?

In a commercial context companies can take advantage of this information overload by developing socially considered solutions. Identified as choice architects, they harness and analyse the cognitive and behavioural nuances that cause the inability to decide. In doing so they can produce; systems, environments, brands and products that are seemingly more desirable. In England, within the Cabinet Office there is a specialist group named the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) which aim to adapt public services to encourage “people to make better choices for themselves” (, 2016). As a government run initiative they have taken the theory of ‘soft paternalism’ to try and improve sectors like healthcare and finances to promote better decision making.

The BIT has completed numerous trials and studies using behavioural economics to underpin the methodology used. Two examples of these look at the healthcare sector, one highlighting a patient driven project and the other showing a health provider driven project. The first project undertook two randomised controlled trials to reduce the amount of patients that miss hospital appointments.  A series of SMS reminders were developed to encourage patients to attend. Three approaches were selected; Easy Call, Social Norms and Specific Costs. Easy Call outlined the simplicity of cancelling an appointment; Social Norms used a statistic to suggest that the ‘dominant social norm was to attend’ (Hallsworth et al., 2015) and Specific Costs directly advertised the cost incurred by the NHS for not attending an appointment. Each of these methods aimed to persuade the patient to attend an appointment for both their own benefit and for the benefit of the NHS. These trials saw a statistical increase in attendees. Would you consider this a guilt initiative or supportive reminder? In contrast an unrelated randomised trial was conducted with the intention to combat unnecessary prescription of antibiotics by general practitioners. GP practices that were in the top 20% prescribing rates were randomly assigned a letter. The letter stated that the targeted practice was prescribing at a higher rate than 80% of the local practices. This letter caused a reduction in the amount of antibiotics prescribed within the target practice. This Social Norm tactic worked both in a patient driven project and in the provider driven project. So does it matter whether it is a guilt initiative as long as the intentions are ethically grounded?

Behavioural intervention is a relatively new area of study that is up and coming, which has established itself worldwide with Nudging Networks in Denmark, Sweden, Europe and Australia. Nudging theory has been criticised as a manipulation of the public. Criticised for being a way of “covert coercion” (Local Government Association, 2013), using behavioural change to convince subjects to make altered decisions. With the combination of these statements intertwined with governmental power. There is an understandable question; why should we trust a government’s decision making ability rather than our own. After all, we are continually told to learn from our mistakes, not to be afraid of making them in the first place. It feels uncomfortable to be told that there are people that are analysing behaviours which are then used to guide, push, encourage and change consumer choices. So, is it manipulation or is it preventing choice disappointment?

Written by Francesca Oldfield  (LinkedIn/Email)

[1] Hallsworth, M., Berry, D., Sanders, M., Sallis, A., King, D., Vlaev, I. and Darzi, A. (2015). Correction: Stating Appointment Costs in SMS Reminders Reduces Missed Hospital Appointments: Findings from Two Randomised Controlled Trials. PLOS ONE, 10(10), p.e0141461.

[2] Local Government Association, (2013). Changing behaviours in public health. To nudge or to shove?. London: Local Government Association, p.6.

[3] Schwartz, B. (2005). The paradox of choice. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2016].

[4] Schwartz, B. (2014). Why Not Nudge? A Review of Cass Sunstein’s Why Nudge – The Psych Report. [online] The Psych Report. Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2016].

[5] Sunstein, C. (2014). Why nudge?. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, p.58.

[6] (2016). Who we are – The Behavioural Insights Team. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2016].

[7] Wickens, C., Lee, J., Liu, Y. and Gordon Becker, S. (2004). An Introduction to Human Factors Engineering. 2nd ed. Pearson Prentice Hall, p.187.

Man-Made: The Artificial Womb and the Future of Reproduction.


From underwater breathing, to see-through skin, where should design stop in its quest for perfection?

1978, life begins as another child is born in Oldham general hospital. Baby Louise is the start of something new, her birth as the world’s first IVF baby [1] paves the way for scientific influence in reproduction.

Skipping forward to 2016 we see significant advances both in fertility medication and in stem cell research. Perhaps the most influential changes however, are due to happen in a quiet little ward called the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). Here viability for premature births has dropped from 27 weeks to as low as 22 weeks old [2]. Current advances however have slowed, because amniotic fluid and the umbilical cord present a significantly gentler environment for growth than the air & peristalsis pumps of a hospital room.

The next logical step in neonatal (early birth) care, is the design of an artificial womb for protection until a suitable delivery date. This may seem like a sci-fi concept, but the technology isn’t so far from reality. The first ex vivo (outside the womb) human embryo test was run in 1989, ceased due to ethical concerns [3]. Today we see advancement from both ends of the process, with Cambridge University [4] culturing human embryos until the legal limit of 14 days (established in 1984 [5]) and the efficacy of Total liquid ventilation proven in lambs [6]. While the use in neonatal care is unlikely to face objection, it could be seen to pave the way for ectogenesis: “The development of embryos in artificial conditions outside the uterus” [7].

What will the future look like? Will ectogenesis paint the bleak picture once described by J.B.S. Haldane in his 1923 seminal essay “Daedalus, or, Science and the Future” [8]? Haldane envisaged the use of ectogenesis in sterilising generations, accelerating evolution by DNA selection. Some believe we are already on the road to this reality, as Sally Phillips argues in the recent BBC documentary [9], while considering the implications of genetic screening on termination rates.

Genetic screening was introduced in the 1960s to diagnose Phenylketonuria as a preventative measure [10]. Today screening is available for over 2,000 conditions, primarily taking the form of predictive, carrier, prenatal and pre-implantation screening [11]. All these determine the probability of future genetic disorders. The eradication of diseases such as Huntington’s might seem like a no brainer to some, but it’s the ethical “grey line” this creates that is leading to further controversies over the elimination of non-deteriorating disorders like Down’s Syndrome. Could you be next on nature’s un-natural chopping block? Many of us have had depression or anxiety during our lifetimes, and these could well be next to face the knife.

Screening of a foetus first occurs around 11-13 weeks [12], by which time many mothers will have become emotionally attached to the idea of their baby. The reason genetic screening is so closely linked to ectogenesis, is that, as with IVF, screening can occur before conception even begins. Thus, rather than terminating a foetus which has the chance of a disease, we will be selecting whether or not our child will be disabled in advance.

But what do we actually want from the future? Eugenics, ectogenesis and the age of the “designer baby” are all possibilities. To reduce overpopulation and unemployment rates, Governments could control breeding, creating a workforce suited to specific jobs. Maybe we will get rid of the “family” altogether. But this is only one potential, and before we eliminate the concept of ectogenesis for good, let’s look at the possible benefits. Whilst initial setup would be costly, the long-term savings are huge. The average cost of birth in the US is $8,802 [13] rising to $202,700 for premature birth [14]. Add to this the fact that 49% of US pregnancies are un-intentional costing $5Billion annually [15] and ectogenesis starts to look viable. But it’s not just the savings that makes ectogenesis so promising. Pregnancy is a dangerous occupation as Anna Smajdor acknowledges in her article “In defence of ectogenesis” [16]. Anna states that pregnancy and childbirth could be considered a ‘medical problem’ resulting in pain and mortality; pregnancy is in fact the sixth leading cause of death in women between 20 and 34 in the US [17]. Could ectogenesis provide the cure?

Some argue that pregnancy plays a vital role in the bonding between a child and mother [18], though with surrogacy both a father and mother may bond with their child even though neither carries the baby. Genderless pregnancy is perhaps the most interesting benefit, both in combating sexist prejudices surrounding neonatal care and in fostering gender equality. Not to mention the concept of looking in on your baby during its development, watching it form, being able to interact with it, could offer a far greater bonding experience, one already being explored by designer Melody Shiue in the PreVue: an e-textile showing you the baby beneath your skin [19]. The safety of the baby may also be improved. In the UK it is estimated that 1 in 6 women who are aware they are pregnant miscarry [20], perhaps with vital stats monitored throughout development, this risk could be reduced?

A benign future? Even assuming we chose to regulate screening selection and implement ectogenesis in a normative fashion, there are still great potentials for development. Perhaps children could begin to learn and kick-start their development before they are born as Annie Murphy Paul considers in her Ted talk entitled “What we learn before we’re born”.

All this brings into question the reasoning for a 40 week pregnancy. Originally linked to the baby’s head size, it is now believed to be the mother’s maximum metabolic rate (2-2.5 times average), a burden that only increases as the foetus develops [21]. This means we are born altricial (immobile and requiring care) unlike many other animal species. It is foreseeable that with an artificial womb, we could develop to the point of adolescence in a relatively short period, being born precocial (mobile and self-sufficient).

This change to the nature of human development could alter us as a species, re-defining the human condition. So, where should design stop? Will you deny a baby of 22 weeks a water womb, because it enables ectogenesis? I think the benefits of continued development far outweigh the risks of corruption.

Written by Milo Deane  (LinkedIn/Email)

[1] Eley, A. (2015) How has IVF developed since the first ‘test-tube baby’? Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2016).

[2] Pignotti, M. (2009) ‘The definition of human viability: A historical perspective’, Acta Paediatrica, 0803(5253), pp. 2–3. doi: 10.1111/j.1651-2227.2009.01524.x.

[3] Bulletti, C., Palagiano, A., Pace, C., Cerni, A., Borini, A. and de Ziegler, D. (2011) ‘The artificial womb’, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1221(1), pp. 124–128. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.05999.x.

[4] Deglincerti, A., Croft, G., Pietila, L., Zernicka-Goetz, M., Siggia, E. and Brivanlou, A. (2016) ‘Self-organization of the in vitro attached human embryo’, , 533(7602), pp. 251–4.

[5] Office, T.C. and Lords, H. of (2002) House of lords – stem cell research – report. Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2016).

[6] Sage et al., 2016, Complete Weaning from Ventilatory Support After Whole Therapeutic Lung Lavage Using Total Liquid Ventilation in Severe Meconium Aspiration Syndrome, American Thoratic Society Journals, News from the NICU and PICU, pp. 1-2

[7] Ectogenesis, (2016), In: Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed.. Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2016).

[8] Haldane, J.B.S. (1923) DAEDALUS or Science & the Future. Edited by Kegan Paul, Tench, and Trubner. 01st edn. Cambridge University: Cambridge University Press.

[9] A World ithout Down’s Syndrome?, (2016), Documentary, BBC Studios: Sally Phillips.


[11] NIH – National Institutes of Health, U.D. of H. and H.S. (2010) NIH fact sheets – genetic testing: How it is used for healthcare. Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2016).

[12] Association, A.P. (2012) First trimester screen – American pregnancy association. Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2016).

[13] Aleisha Fetters, K. (2015) What to expect: Hospital birth costs. Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2016).

[14] Gilbert, W.M., Nesbitt, T.S. and Danielsen, B. (2003) ‘The cost of prematurity: Quantification by gestational age and birth weight’, Obstetrics & Gynecology, 102(3), pp. 488–492. doi: 10.1016/S0029-7844(03)00617-3.

[15] Trussell, J. (2007) ‘The cost of unintended pregnancy in the United States’, Contraception, 75(3), pp. 168–170. doi: 10.1016/j.contraception.2006.11.009.

[16] Smajdor, A. (2011) ‘In Defense of Ectogenesis’, Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 21(01), pp. 90–103. doi: 10.1017/s0963180111000521.

[17] Heron, M. (2012) Deaths: Leading Causes for 2009. Available at: https://chrome-extension://oemmndcbldboiebfnladdacbdfmadadm/ (Accessed: 13 November 2016).

[18] Luminare-Rosen, (2000) Parenting begins before conception: A guide to preparing body, mind, and spirit: For you and your future child. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions Bear & Company.

[19] Bonderud, D. (2016) PreVue pregnancy eTextile device lets mothers see their baby grow. Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2016).

[20] NHS, C. (2015) Miscarriage. Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2016).

[21] Pappas, S. (2012) Why Pregnancy Really Lasts 9 Months. Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2016).

Dolan, M. (2010) Found objects become SciFi artificial womb sculpture – green diary – green revolution guide by Dr Prem. Available at: (Accessed: 13 November 2016).

Photo Edited by Milo Deane – 2016

Made in Brunel — Redefining [ ]

Hi, everyone!

We’re back! And this year, we are Redefining [                ]


As designers, we aim to redefine every project we undertake. We constantly question everything, make new definitions, and look at everything we do with a fresh outlook. Just like us, the blank space in our tagline represents the opportunity to challenge the norm, and produce some unique and innovative things.

For Made in Brunel, this year we plan to redefine so many aspects of what we do. Don’t worry, the Made in Brunel you know and love isn’t going anywhere – we’re just growing and adapting to give us, and you, the best opportunities possible.

The first of many very exciting announcements throughout the year will happen in December, regarding our annual pop-up event. This is a complete overhaul and has been truly redefined, and we think you’re going to love it!

Until then,

The Made in Brunel team

Does the Education System Make Us Grow Out of Creativity?

“At a time when it is so important for us to lead as an ‘Ideas’ nation and with the Creative Industries sector seeing unparalleled growth, it is vital that we safeguard our current position and continue to invest in our future.”

—John Mathers, CEO, Design Council.
Currently the creative sector is booming across the world, it is the second largest and fastest growing sector of the global economy. From photography to textile design to graphic communication and 3D design, these qualifications open doors to a range of careers which employ 166,000 people every year (1). In a survey of over 1,500 chief executives representing 60 countries and 33 industries, they repeatedly highlighted creativity as a deciding factor for business success (2). “CEO’s identify creativity as the number one leadership competency of the successful enterprise of the future,” said Frank Kern, senior vice-president of IBM Global Business Services, when announcing the findings (1).
So surely if this is the case, then Arts and Design are at the heart of the curriculum, yes? Wrong.

A recent study has revealed that ‘creativity, culture and the arts’ are being systematically removed from the education system, with dramatic falls in the number of pupils taking GCSE’s in design, drama and other craft-related subjects(3). These creative subjects are mostly seen as nice to have but not essential, especially when compared to “hard” subjects such as the sciences. Everywhere in the world, in every system, there is a hierarchy of subjects. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. The ‘arts’ was removed from the curriculum in primary education between 1998-2000 where the Education Reform Act decided that more focus should be on English and Mathematics, however this suspension was removed.

A report conducted by Ofsted in 2012 outlined that only 2 out of 5 primary schools are developing creativity through confident drawing (4). That children get off to a ‘confident start’ in terms of creativity, yet they ‘slow down’ during primary school and are no better than satisfactory entering secondary school. Ofsted Director of Education, Jean Humphrys, said “Children’s ability to appreciate and interpret what they observe, communicate what they think and feel, or make what they imagine and invent, is influenced by the quality of their art, craft and design education.” (4). Even though this education is developing, there is certainly a lot more room for improvement.
Yet in the 21st century, the world is demanding more and more graduates who can think creatively and critically. As technology develops, we will have robots to do all the basic work for us. Therefore it should be the education system’s mission to ensure that the next generation will be full of creators who will, in turn, take humanity to the next level (5).

Since 2015, the UK Department for Education has realised the importance of the ’arts’ subjects to the UK economy. They rightly believe, “arts education should be every bit as rigorous as the rest of the school curriculum”. For the next academic year they are providing £109m to support music, art and cultural education projects – an increase of £17m from last year – allowing thousands more pupils to benefit from a wide range of enriching activities (3).
However I believe investing more money into ‘the arts’ is not the only solution to try and solve the problem of stifling creativity. The education system as a whole has “planted in our students minds a picture of a perfectly, carefully drawn life” (4). Children these days are frightened of being wrong. They are more focussed on what gets the marks, stays within the guidelines, than pushing themselves to learn more and progress into the unknown.
In his TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” Sir Ken Robinson said that instead of growing into creativity in school, we grow out of it. During the education process, students are taught that making as mistake is bad. As Sir Ken Robinsons described it “What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong” (3). We now run large multinational companies worldwide where making a mistakes is a sin. The result of this is, that we are programming people out of their creative capacities.

Picasso once said, that all children are born artists. That the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately. Ken Robinson put it perfectly, “that we don’t grow into creativity, we in fact grow out of it, or rather, we get educated out of it” (6). I strongly feel that our curriculum in schools are defeating creativity. Students have lost their capacity of creation simply because our teaching methods don’t stimulate innovation and creativity as much as they could do.
Remember being young and wanting to scribble with pens all the time? No one told us how to use our imagination or taught us how to be creative. Being naturally creative and intrigued, we asked questions like “Why is the grass green?” and “Why is the sky blue?”

Then during the education system we learned to stop questioning the world, and that there’s normally only one right answer to each question. The “whys” we have always wanted to ask are never on the test, and they are omitted from the curriculum. Therefore I do believe the education over the last 15 years has stifled potential creativity. Opinion is what sets us apart from robots. We as humans have the chance to believe in and imagine whatever we want, that is an attribute we should never forget and certainly not squander.
Even though education may have kicked out creativity from individuals, everyone is creative deep down in one form or another, and it is important people let their creative juices flow. This has been witnessed by the booming sales of adult colouring books last year. Adults are seeing being creative as a release from their daily regimented lifestyles. Adult colouring book sales have been voted as one of the surprises of 2015. But is it really that surprising that everyone as people, has a desire to be creative? It shouldn’t be.

Creativity is not a new attribute to learn, it comes naturally. Creativity is seeing things in new ways, breaking obstacles that stand in our way. Creativity is the art of hearing a tune that has never been played or imagining a work of art on a blank canvas. Creativity is being realised as a key attribute for contributing to success. Not only in business but individually in people. And as an ‘Ideas’ nation, the education system should be doing its upmost to keep it that way.


By Jon Cooper (LinkedIn)


Carrington, N. (2014). As the Creative Economy Thrives, Art and Design Disappears From Schools. Available: Last accessed 16th Jan 2016.
Gould, E. (2015). THINK AGAIN: CREATIVITY IS THE DRIVER FOR SUCCESS IN 2015. Available: Last accessed 20th Jan 2016.
Brown, M. (2015). Arts and culture being ‘systematically removed from UK education system’. Available: Last accessed Jan 16th 2015.
Ofsted. (2012). Too few pupils develop creativity through confident drawing. Available: Last accessed 23rd Jan 2016.
Dalile, L. (2012). How Schools Are Killing Creativity. Available: Last accessed 18th Jan 2015.
Robinson, K. (2006). Do schools kill creativity? Available: Last accessed 19th Jan 2016.

Further reading:
Robinson, K. (2007). Do Schools Kill Creativity? | Sir Ken Robinson | TED Talks. Available: Last accessed 16th Jan 2016.
Warwick Commission on the future of Cultural Value. (2015) Commission says arts & creativity is being squeezed out of schools particularly for low income families. Available: Last accessed 26rd Jan 2016.

When Designers Take Sides: Are We Creating Infographics or Propaganda?

We have never lived in an age where information has been more accessible. The Internet, in particular, has imbued us with a sense of total omniscience – the answers to all of our questions are always just a few clicks away. But is all as it seems? Information should not be confused with knowledge – what we obtain when we consume and understand information, to arrive at a justified and true belief (Plato, 1935). Knowledge is arguably where the power resides, and in a counterproductive twist of fate, perhaps this super abundance of information – or ‘data glut’, as David McCandless has coined it (2010) – is hindering, not helping our pursuit. And it could be argued, that in this struggle, comes the rise of propaganda.

Propaganda is information, o en of a biased or misleading nature used to promote a particular point of view. (Oxford English Dictionary, 2008). Essentially, you have an organisation with a desired result in mind – who then pursue a way of communicating it to the masses. For many, propaganda is synonymous with the wartime posters of past. ese visual displays were designed to invoke fear, fury or ardent patriotism, in a context of great con ict and uncertainty. It was a method employed by governments to gain citizen compliance, by appealing their emotional response. Think ‘Lord Kitchener Wants You’ – Britain’s heavily mustached Secretary of State staring and pointing at you, calling you to enlist in the British army. You may be surprised to know this method of persuasion is not entirely a thing of the past – ‘information warfare’ is a technique employed by the US Military to this day. On March 16th last year for example, a US F-15E fighter jet dropped 60,000 copies of grisly anti-ISIL propaganda on Raqqa, the base of operations for the Islamic State of Iraq (DC Dispatches, 2015). However with free and widespread access to information, this example of graphic design has largely lost its influencing power.

Data visualisation on the other hand, is a rapidly growing discipline in a culture shifting from the written word towards the image (Crow, 2006). Infographics are being seen as more ethical sources of information, as they can present reliable and quantifiable data. But is there more to them than meets the eye? Mushon Zer-Aviv contends that we are trained to “process the products of language as arguments”, but “the visual environment as evidence” (2014). As a result, selective data readings and visual trickery can still manipulate the masses – not through the spreading of false information, but rather the visual misrepresentation of it. In these cases, design can still lend itself to a predetermined narrative, rather than an unbiased representation of the data. Pictograms for example, are repeat o enders in the oversimplification of complex information. In an infographic offering from (a pro-life website), the process of abortion is indelicately reduced to the icon of a woman, a baby and a dustbin (Zer-Aviv, 2014). Barack Obama was also criticized in his 2012 election campaign, for using graphic illustrations to over-simplify the issues he was tackling (Lepore, 2012). Colour, scale, and structure can also play a part in visual deception. Truncating the y-axis of graphs, for instance, can create an amplified and ultimately untrue representation of a dataset. This is a technique often appropriated by fear-based media, to heighten danger or urgency in news stories. Preying on and justifying the anxieties we hold enables them to reliably secure ratings and capital (Serani, 2011). So bearing all this in mind, infographics are arguably not exempt from the art of demagoguery.

Graphic design is a powerful tool, for good or bad – and truth is an easy victim of power (Roberts, 2006). But what does this mean for designers? Is it always our responsibility to be concientious of the message being received? Arguably, everybody will interpret a data visualisation slightly differently. Wainer argues that anybody viewing an infographic will “interpret its appearance as a sincere desire on the part of the author to inform. In the face of this sincerity, the misuse of graphical material is a perversion of communication, equivalent to putting up a detour sign that leads to an abyss” (2000). This explores the concept of ‘freedom of choice’ as a basic human right; in order to have true freedom of choice, we must be fairly informed of our choices. Tufte writes that creators of data presentations should be held intellectually and ethically responsible for their work, in order to make the consumption of said work an intellectual and moral activity (2006). In essence, data does not lie – humans do. That said, graphics can still mislead without the concious intervention of the designer. So ultimately, the viewer could still arrive at the same end result (adopting a biased view of the information). A way of limiting this is letting the data do the talking, rather than its presentation. Also to try and preserve transparancy, data visualisations should be accompanied by a ‘blueprint’ – explaining how and why the data was manipulated. This empowers the viewer in making their own conclusions from the presentation.

So even adhering to a strong ethical code may not entirely ensure we are presenting unbiased information. It is still absolutely important nonetheless, in maintaining integrity in the profession of graphic design. And this is also not to say we must refrain from visual communication, which has limitless possibilities and impact in this information age. Instead, we should accept that the visual communication of data, whilst exciting and o en beautiful, is an inherently awed and human process. As designers, we should strive for honesty in our approach to visual communication. But as consumers of designed information, we also have a responsibility to think critically. It is important that we seek to develop the visual literacy skills necessary to cut through the ‘hidden’ propaganda. With these skills, we improve our access to information; and ultimately, our path to acquiring real knowledge.


By Aoife McCarthy



Crow, D., 2006. Le to Right: e Cultural Shi from Words to Pictures. Worthing: AVA Publishing. DC Dispatches, 2015. US drops gruesome anti-ISIL lea et on Syria. Aljazeera, [online] Available at: anti-isil-lea et-syria-150326220931884.html [Accessed 6 January 2016]. Lepore, J., 2012. Oh, Julia: From Birth to Death, Le and Right. e New Yorker, [online] Available at: julia-from-birth-to-death-le -and-right [Accessed 7 January 2016]. McCandlesss, D., 2010. e beauty of data visualization.

Available at: https://www. [Accessed 3 January 2016]. Oxford English Dictionary, 2010. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. Berlin: Cornelsen Verlag Gmbh. Plato, 360 BC. eaetetus. [e-book] Translated from Classical Greek by B. Jowett. e Internet Classics Archive. Available at: [Accessed 2 January 2016]. Roberts, L., 2006. Good: An introduction to ethics in graphic design. Lausanne: AVA Publishing. Serani, D., 2011. If It Bleeds, It Leads: Understanding Fear-Based Media. Psychology Today, [online] Available at: if-it-bleeds-it-leads-understanding-fear-based-media [Accessed 8 January 2016]. e Washington Post, 2015. Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 350th Tactical Psychological Operations, 10th Mountain Division, drop lea ets over a village near Hawijah in Kirkuk province, Iraq, on March 6, 2008. [image online] Available at: how-the-u-s-dropped-these-gory-propaganda-lea ets-over-syria/ [Accessed 17 January 2016]. Tufte, E., 2006. Beautiful Evidence. Nuneaton: Graphics Press. Wainer, H., 2000. Visual Revelations: Graphical Tales of Fate and Deception from Napoleon Bonaparte to Ross Perot. Hove: Psychology Press. Zer-Aviv, M., 2014. Disinformation Visualization: How to lie with datavis. Visualising Advocacy, [online] Available at: disinformation-visualization-how-lie-datavis [Accessed 6 January 2016].

How are digital technologies transforming in-store retail within the fashion and cosmetics industries?

Our lives have been inundated with digital technologies in various forms, providing us with vast amounts of content instantly available at our fingertips. More recently within fashion and cosmetics retail, innovations using digital technology have started to pave the way for new methods of interacting with potential purchases, the way we explore a store and how we experience a particular brand. Burberry’s digital presence in 2014 helped its retail revenue grow by 14 per cent to reach £528m over that particular Christmas quarter (Brandwatch, 2014). This acceptance of new technologies has led to the big players within the industry adapting their businesses to accomodate the shift in consumer expectation.

20 years ago, having an online store was important to all retailers and it put players like Amazon ahead of the game. This online presence gave them the platform they needed to become the retail giants they are today. For many however, it was just another sales channel and not considered enough. In the past 5 years, mobile has driven a new consumer behaviour as a result of people always being connected. This has opened up a brand new avenue for on-the-go and convenience sales. Paul Francis, the Senior Director of Digital Platforms at Ralph Lauren feels that “[Mobile phones] hold their attention and as a result, retailers need to use it as a primary channel for their own product discovery. It’s their new shop window(2).” Recent research carried out by Google found that of smartphone users, 82 per cent consult their devices whilst physically standing in a store deciding which product to purchase, with one in ten buying a different product than they had originally planned (Think with Google, 2015).

The pioneering fashion and cosmetics houses have their work cut out in order to become accustomed to this repositioning. Wrights GPX Plastics, a well established retail design specialist who often supply to the cosmetics industry, are also adapting their fabrication techniques to conform with new in-store digital strategies. “Our designs may require the incorporation of access points to digital technology e.g. display screens and tablets into signage, wayfaring and ‘hubs’ etc” said Marketing Manager Brett Sidaway. “Display needs to compete with surrounding technology: it needs to be as exciting, eye-catching and powerful as the surrounding technology. In short, we need to be aware of the ‘bigger picture’ that includes digital technology strategy in-store and across brands.” High street department stores such as Debenhams, Selfridges and John Lewis seem to be at the forefront of rolling out ‘accessible’ digital technology that is user-friendly and boosts brand awareness. However according
to Brett, he feels there is still a long way to go. “The ‘personalisation’ of the in-store experience using digital technology seems to be the next area for expansion; the ability to link purchaser behaviour with in-store activity to create a truly personalised shopping experience seems to be distant for most shoppers.”

This aspect of personalisation seems to be at the forefront of making in-store digital retail a success. But according to YSL (Yves Saint Laurent), this goes further than simply personalisation through a smartphone. “We used to say that luxury is more than product, it’s service. But this is even beyond that – it’s personalised service” explains Stephan Bezy, International General Manager for YSL Beaute. Towards the end of 2014, YSL announced a partnership with Google Glass allowing make-up artists to capture an eye-level video of the style they were applying to the customer as well as the technique used to acheive the nished look (Telegraph, 2015). “The video is a gift for the customer. It’s a very consumer-centric approach.” said Stephan. It is also hoped that this style of customer experience and enrichment of an otherwise traditional service will attract a new wave of digital natives, espeically younger women, to the brand.

These innovative ways of using digital technologies are also having a strong impact within the fashion sector. Select Burberry, Nordstrom and Guess stores are arming their staff members with iPads, allowing customers to mix and match available inventory, browse styles or even order made-to-measure suits (TNW, 2012). However, simply converting what was once hidden spreadsheet content into a visually appealing graphic won’t impress the consumers for long, although it’s a positive beginning to a more personalised experience. Perhaps personal interaction between the store and the consumer is the concept that will really revolutionise this sector. Interacting with products online is as simple as sharing your thoughts and pictures via social media and blogs. This concept could be brought offline and into stores through the use of augmented reality coupled with free wifi. Brands can then give shoppers the ability to interact with the clothes, giving them access to as much information as they could have found online but with the physical presence of the item in front of them. C&A, an international fashion retail chain have recently expanded this idea by offering digital in-store hangers that display the number of ‘likes’ the item has received on their store website, giving consumers and the store alike, a totally new and meaningful insight into the product. Macy’s also experimented with a similar concept during the QR code craze which they called ‘Backstage Pass’. Customers could scan an item in-store to gain access to engaging consumer-oriented video content from their celeb-status designers such as Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors (Business Wire, 2011).

It is no myth that digital technologies have transformed this industry over the past few years, becoming the heart of up and coming campaigns and strategies. It is also clear that creating successful web platforms can drive sales both online and offline where bloggers, designers and brands can share a compelling story, product or event through social media. In-store retail is certainly becoming a lot more experimental with hundreds of ‘digital’ meets ‘physical’ ideas reinvigorating the fashion and cosmetics sectors, however the perfect concoction is yet to revolutionise the industry.


Written by Stuart Scott (Email / LinkedIn)


Brandwatch, 2014, Luxury and Social Media are not mutually exclusive [Online] Available at: (Accessed on: Monday 15th February 2016)

Business Wire, 2011, Macy’s Shoppers Backstage Pass Learn Latest Must Haves [Online] Available at: en/Macy’s-Shoppers-Backstage-Pass-Learn-Latest-Must-Haves (Accessed on: Monday 22nd February 2016)

Telegraph, 2014, How technology is transforming cosmetics? [Online] Available at: (Accessed on: Tuesday 9th February 2016)

Think with Google, 2015, How micromoments are changing rules? [Online] Available at: (Accessed on: Monday 15th February 2016)

TNW, 2012, 6 Hot digital trends transforming the fashion industry [Online] Available at: (Accessed on: Monday 22nd February 2016)


Travel 18, 2015, YSL-x-google-glass [Online Image] Available at: (Accessed on: Monday 22nd February 2016)


Francis, Paul. 2015, Senior Director of Digital Platforms Ralph Lauren [Email Conversation]

Sidaway, Brett. 2016, Marketing Manager Wrights GPX Plastics Ltd [Email Conversation]


Miln, Paul. 2015, Regional Visual Merchandising Manager CHANEL UK (Face to Face Conversation)

Haigh, Nathan. 2016, Global Head of Visual Merchandising Buscemi (Face to Face Conversation)


How has the Internet Developed our Language? And is it Aiding or Hindering our Communication?

Our language is forever adapting to the advances in our society, particularly through the use of the internet. New slang is being created and our vocabulary is forever expanding to match with the fast paced developments. Now with the younger generations growing up alongside the internet, it’s easier than ever to keep up to speed with how things are changing. With the mediums of communication in the 21st century having changed to emails, texting and instant messaging then who’s to say our language shouldn’t develop alongside. With the introduction of IM came the use of emojis and from there came GIFs and now the internet culture of memes; all being used instead of words. Not only are these changes being seen online, they are transcending into our spoken language as well, but is this a bad thing?

As with any community, the internet has created its own language and slang which is slowly creeping into our everyday conversation. Though phrases such as ‘LOL’ and ‘OMG’, which were thought to have come around due to this, have in fact been around long before text messaging was invented. Except with ‘LOL’ meaning ‘Little Old Lady’ back in the 1960’s and not ‘Laugh Out Loud’ until 1989 (OED Online, 2011a,b). These Textspeak abbreviations, as coined by Professor David Crystal, actually only account for around 10% of the content of messages which is contrary to popular belief that text messaging is full of abbreviations (Crystal, 2008). However they are slowly being adapted as part of our spoken language, initially used ironically and out of annoyance and now being used as acceptable everyday words and phrases.

In 2002 Crystal counted such words and built a dictionary of Textspeak which amounted to around 500 abbreviations (Crystal, 2003). In 2004 he extended this to include terms not limited to abbreviations and came to a collection of nearly 1,500 (Kobie, 2015), if this was to be done again assessing the language we use today he predicts it would be around the 5,000 mark. Wordplay forms a huge part of the generation of new internet slang, with the introduction of social media platforms such as Twitter came new vocabulary such as ‘twitterverse’, ‘twittersphere’ and ‘twitterer’. While these terms may sound idiotic and strange to those who aren’t keen Twitter users, they wouldn’t exist at all had Twitter never been created.

As well as affecting our vocabulary, the internet has had an influence on our grammar, although perhaps not quite to the same extent. Changes in the way we speak as well as what we actually say largely have the internet to thank, a recent prominent grammar adoption has been the use of ‘because’ as a preposition. According to Crystal however this use has been observed before and is much like a fashion or meme as opposed to a definitive change (Kobie, 2015). Linguistic blogger Stan Carey explains that the use of because as a preposition is “fashionably slangy at the moment” and while it may be irritating to some and confusing to others, there’s nothing linguistically wrong about it. “Because has become a preposition, because grammar” (Carey, 2013).

Then came emojis, now an international language, with each of the 1,620 icons available being instantly recognisable across the globe. The Oxford English Dictionary even named the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji as the word of the year in 2015, much to the annoyance of the general public, but does it actually count as a word? We are in a world now where celebrities are creating their own emojis, take the Kimoji app for example; for just £1.49 on the iPhone App Store you can access around 500 Kim Kardashian themed emojis to send in messages and on social media. Emojis are insanely popular and so it’s understandable why Kim Kardashian would want to capitalise on that. 72% of the younger generation find it easier to express their feelings with emojis rather than words and over half say that using them has improved their ability to interact (Bangor University, 2015), though it’s a bit hard to see how the slightly NSFW naked butt selfie Kimoji would help the younger generation to express their feelings.

Numerous marketing campaigns have exploited the use of emojis to target younger buyers who are notorious for being difficult to market towards. Among those that worked well were McDonald’s emoji billboards promoting their ‘Good Times’ campaign, and Domino’s ‘tweet to order’ twitter campaign whereby you tweeted the pizza emoji, after having registered an ‘Easy Order’ account, resulting in a pizza delivery. With any marketing campaign however there’s always room for failure, and regarding emoji campaigns a prime example is Chevrolet. As part of their #ChevyGoesEmoji campaign they published an entire press release written in emojis. Sounds like a great idea however when it came down to it, it got a bit lost in translation: “? :” ? ? ? ? ” (Chevrolet, 2015a) apparently equates to “Design: Athletic build, stylish and good looking” (Chevrolet, 2015b). Is it possible they took it too far?

Our modern language has changed a fair amount purely down to the internet, and why shouldn’t it have had an influence? Internet trends come and go which can be said for a lot of the vocabulary changes we are seeing, however it looks like emojis are here to stay. Like mathematics, emojis have become a globally recognised language, and yes their misuse can be confusing, but for the most part they’ve enhanced our communication and our ability to express emotions online. The English language is so extensive and it’s forever been adapting to the way we are living so it only makes sense that the internet and surrounding technology has had an impact on our communication as well.


Written by Niamh Courtaux  (LinkedIn/Email)


Bangor University. (2015). Emoji ‘fastest growing new language – TalkTalk Report Summary. [Online] Available at: language-22835

Carey. S. (2013) ‘‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar’, Sentence first blog, November 13th. [Online] Available at: become-a-preposition-because-grammar/ (Accessed 21st February 2016)

Chevrolet. (2015a). Prepare to Fall in Love – Press Release. [Online] Available at: http:// (Accessed 20th February 2016)

Chevrolet. (2015b). Emoji Explained: You’re Going To Love The All-New 2016 Cruze! [Online] Available at: news/us/en/2015/jun/0622-cruze-emoji-decoder.html (Accessed 20th February 2016)

Crystal, D. (2003) ‘TXT NE1?’. New Statesman. Supplement on ‘Our Mobile Future’, 15 September 2003. p.16.

Crystal, D. (2008) ‘The joy of txt’. Spotlight. November 2008. p.17.
OED Online. (2011). LOL, int. and n.2. Available at: (Accessed 21st February 2016)

Metamorph. (2016). Web, Branding & Graphic Design Agency London | Metamorph. [online] Available at: (Accessed 22nd February. 2016).

OED Online. (2011). LOL, n.1. Available at: rskey=NfksF1&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid (Accessed 21st February 2016)

Kobie, N. (2015) ‘WOW! So language. Very technology. Much changing.’ alphr, August 29th. [Online] Available at: much-changing. (Accessed 5th January 2016)

The Lights Are Watching You. How Can Lighting Be Used in The New Digital Age of the Internet of Things?

There are cameras everywhere, data is beamed down to everyone through light, big brother can monitor your movements and the kitchen appliances are talking to light fixtures. No, this is not a modern Sci-Fi film, this is the reality of 2016. The emergence of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) has quickly transformed the way we live our day to day lives.

The concept is simple, by integrating internet connection into everyday appliances you can allow them to talk to each other. However, when you start putting this into practice you can start to develop complex and meaningful conversation. In Telit’s concept videos we can see how IoT can effect our daily lives (Telit, 2016). For example, when you wake up in the morning your appliances can be triggered by your alarm clock. Thus as you wake the heating is on, the shower has started and the coffee machine is preparing a coffee. Furthermore, as you drive to work the street lights beam traffic information to your Satnav system, ensuring you get to work on time.

The buzz created by the IoT has not been missed by the lighting industry who has began to look for ways in which they could benefit. To date the IoT has been dominated by the big tech companies. However, the LED revolution seen in recent years has meant that many lighting manufactures have transformed into tech companies themselves. The industry has one major advantage, Jon Couch of Gooee highlights lighting has the largest number of end points in any building (Lux Review, 2015), or in other words lighting is installed throughout every building, thus providing the perfect infrastructure for the sensors needed for the IoT to work. If each luminaire is fitted with a range of simple sensors then a highly intelligent network can be built, in fact 10 million light fittings will be gathering more data than twitter does daily (Lux Review, 2015).

The next question for the lighting industry’s claim on the IoT is how can all this data be transferred and made use of. At present Ethernet cables can be run through the network sending the data to a central hub, this data can then be sent through the internet to the relevant device. However, in 2011 Prof. Harald Haas came up with the new concept of Li-fi, a system that allows data to be transferred at high speeds through light using any off the shelf LED (PureLIFI, 2015). This enables the light from luminaires to transfer the data from its sensors, as well as other information from the internet, to peoples devices at speeds 100 times faster then Wifi (BEC CREW, 2015). The combination of the network of luminaries through every building and the data transfer capability of Li-fi could make Lighting the leading supplier of IoT systems.

Adoption of IoT technology within the lighting industry has seen some positive results, highlighting the opportunity. Notably Aurora Lighting have set up a sister company named Gooee which is fully devoted to adding sensors to LED chips and using them to create networks (ecosystems) for the IoT. In just two years the company has become the talking point of the industry, partnering with established companies such as Gerard Lighting, Architectural FX and John Cullen Lighting (Gooee, 2015). Another success story has been Philips’s work with Deloitte’s Edge building, which uses Power-Over-Ethernet (POE) technology to connect the office lighting fixtures to the building’s IT network while also powering them. The system allows the building to report on usage and impose energy saving features such as occupancy dimming (Rogers, 2015). The edge video (Philips Nederland, 2015) highlights how the design team at Philips managed to utilize POE and the IoT to maximize the use of the space.

While it is clear the benefits of IoT are tempting the lighting industry in, caution should be taken. As we have seen large amounts of data is collected by an IoT system. What happens to this data needs to be seriously considered. Many fear that the integration of such a system could cause a big brother effect. Everything from your health to your building usage will be monitored by sensors. A challenging question for the IoT industry is who owns this data. The building manager at Deloitte’s new IoT enabled office Tim Sluiter highlights that there are privacy laws in place to protect users “we can also use the personal data off the phone. We don’t allow this [because] there are privacy laws, and of course we obey them in Deloitte (Lux Review, 2015). The conversation over ownership is still ongoing and if not correctly addressed could destroy trust in the IoT. These questions need to be asked during the design of these systems and not become an afterthought.

The second challenge is the security of IoT networks. With every sensor is a new path for hackers to attack is opened. A new app called Shodan has revealed exactly how vulnerable these devices are by allowing anyone to search through unprotected IoT devices (Perala, 2015). Experienced hackers are able to view security cameras, take control of your home and take control of your car (Edwards, 2016). The lighting industry will have to ensure that maximum security is placed on every sensor within a network. While the tech world has had to deal with these threats for years it is totally a new area for lighting and could put the IoT out of their reach.

While it is clear the IoT is quickly developing into part of our daily lives the part Lighting has to play is still being discovered. The lighting industry has proved it naturally lends itself to the emerging technology due to the network of luminaires they already install into buildings. The real challenge for the industry will be understanding how to manage the design of an effective and safe IoT ecosystem. It appears that the industry has began to realize they will need to team up with the tech firms, rather than compete against them, with partnerships such as Philips and Cisco developing. These partnerships along with the emergence of successful installations show lighting is becoming a key player in the IoT. It is clear lighting can be used as the facilitator of the IoT as well as a supplier.

Written by Christian Haimes (LinkedIn/Email)



Bain, R. (2016). Are you ready for Li-Fi?. [online] Available at: you-ready-for-li-fi- [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016].

Brister, A. (2016). Philips and Cisco form alliance to target global office lighting market. [online] Available at: market [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016].

BSC Custom, (2015). The Internet of Things and the Future of Lighting. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016].

Connected World, (2016). Smart Lighting Tracks Patterns and Detracts Intruders. [online] Connected World. Available at: [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016].

DeBois, P. (2016). Seeing The Light of Things iot solution provider. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016].

Grossman, W. (2014). The Internet of Things: The Good, The Bad, And Everything In Between. [online] Infosecurity Magazine. Available at: [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016].

Halper, M. (2016). Is Dyson’s LED acquisition all about the internet of things? [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016].

Lux Review, (2016). Baffled by the internet of things? Don’t worry, we’ll explain the jargon. [online] Available at:—the-jargon-explained [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016].

Mathas, C. (2016). LEDs: The Eyes and Ears of the Internet of Things. [online] Available at: Things.aspx [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016].

Nota, P. (2016). How the Internet of Things empowers us all. [online] Philips. Available at: w/innovationmatters/blog/how-the-internet-of-things-empowers-us-all.html [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016].

Pincince, T. (2016). Part 1. What is up with the IoT, Smart Lighting, and IT’s response to both? | Digital Lumens. [online] Digital Lumens. Available at: [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016].

Routledge, G. (2016). The internet of things is lighting’s chance to take things up a gear. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016].

Wipro Insights, (2016). Light Fidelity (Li-Fi) – The bright future of 5G visible light communication systems. [online] Available at: communication-systems/ [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016].

Walport, M. (2016). Internet of things: making the most of the second digital revolution. London: Government Office for Science. [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016]

Image: Dr. R, Huijbregts. A Great Week For The Internet Of Things. 2015. Web. 1 Mar. 2016.

PureLIFI, (2016). Shedding Light on Li-Fi. 1st ed. [ebook] Available at: content/uploads/2013/09/Shedding-Light-On-LiFi.pdf [Accessed 22 Feb. 2016].


Design in the Public Sector: The Call for Reformation.

In 2013, the Design Council launched the second of their initiatives to change policy in Britain. ‘Design in the public sector’ sought to increase the knowledge and ability of public sector workers to use strategic design skills to solve key challenges and better inform the service commissioning process, (Design Commission, 2013). Its aim is to engage civil servants from a mix of roles and disciplines; training staff to ‘reframe their challenges’ from the perspective of the user and therefore develop more appropriate solutions, (Design Council, 2015). However, in light of the recent actions of the UK government and the pending changes to public spending in the face of austerity, can this approach provide scalable solutions for nationwide services? Can a ‘bottom up’ approach to service design help shape the UK’s future public sector?

The Design Council thinks so. They propose that design thinking and methodology used in the right way with inclusion of all key stakeholders can provide the solutions to some of the most pressing issues of this generation.

One of the most prevalent demographic challenges to face the UK, over the next 50 years, will be our ageing population. It is predicted that by 2040 almost one in four people will be aged 65 or over, (Age UK, 2015). With our average lifespan improving year on year many services must adapt to accommodate the growing numbers of elderly clients- most affected by this are the health and care sectors. So far, it is in these sectors that the Design Council have focused the majority of their efforts initiating competitions to solve problems for dementia patients or working with hospital care staff to redesign their equipment and service.

One consequence of the deemed ‘Silver Tsunami’ is of personal concern for many families, as the cost of care support for elderly people has become unaffordable for the majority. With the UK average yearly rate for residential care homes currently sitting at £29,250, (Paying For Care, 2016); it is no wonder then that this has been the topic for discussion in numerous sectors, with many experts suggesting potential solutions.

An excellent example of a social innovation project, in answer to this challenge, is the ‘Give and Take Care’ scheme developed by Prof. Heinz Wolff and his team at Brunel University. They have proposed an alternative pension scheme that will see citizens becoming active in the care of other members of their community, incentivising people to give time now in order to receive support themselves in the future; in other words paying forward for their care. In an interview, Dr Gabriella Spinelli, a co- lead on the project from Brunel, discussed the importance of this social revolution.

Dr Spinelli defined the opportunity for the designer to draw awareness to the public social problems and to highlight the needs of the minorities, where they are otherwise neglected. In her opinion, design has failed people differently able, by designing for the condition not the person; overall as an industry it has not given enough thought to designing products to assist people with disabilities to live fulfilling lives. ‘The challenge when considering service provision is that the experience derived from service fruition is very personal and may vary considerably.’ Dr Spinelli invoked the engagement of service users as a key element of Give and Take with the intent to transform care from ‘what you ought to have to survive, to what you wish to have to have a fulfilling life as individual. For some people this may mean help in the garden, in the kitchen, in personal care or a simple chess game to feel cognitively and socially stimulated’. Dr Spinelli explained the open possibilities of the ‘Give and Take Care’ scheme. Such service user’s engagement is extended to all other stakeholders of the Give and Take Care scheme and in many ways it embodies the principles of a co-design approach. Who better to decide what is needed from a service than the users and providers themselves? A well designed service must be mutually beneficial for all parties.

Dr Spinelli identified trust as the main barrier faced by the ‘Give and Take Care’ scheme, as it brings a disruptive innovation to society. It is something that has not been done before, hence people have no experience by which they can assess whether ‘Give and Take Care’ will be successful. ‘If they put the time in now, will the service still be available and will they be able to get the time back when they need the care?’ A challenge, while specific to this service, alludes to similar problems faced by other emerging, unique social systems. When discussing the sector’s attitudes towards design, she said that there is ‘a differing understanding of what design can offer. Some people understand its potential, whereas others believe it is simply the final gloss.’ Generally, though, the future for this project looks to be very positive, Dr Spinelli noted that ‘people are beginning to realise there is no alternative, unless communities start to pull together and works towards a solution’. The fundamental fact is that pensions are not stable and the cost of care is too high. The current system can’t continue to absorb the predicted demographic changes.

While co-design’s relevance to service improvements is widely recognised within the design community, those un-enlightened to the skills of design thinking still have difficulty imagining the potential benefits. One of the biggest challenges for the Design Council (2015) and similar bodies has been to convince key officials and local authorities of the value of design. They noted the challenges to the sustaining and scaling approaches are the constraints on resources and capacity, and dealing with organisational cultures that do not support design-led thinking. In a world ruled by agendas, spreadsheets and statistics, perhaps what is lacking from the argument is any quantifiable improvements, (Mulgan, G., 2014). Change can be scary, especially in an institution like the welfare state, but for social innovation to be truly successful it requires a creative solution to drastically change the way we behave and see the world. When embarking on a service design project, in local or national government, the key is to help everyone involved perceive the tangible difference it could make for them.

It is hoped that with a growing body of successful projects the argument in favour social innovation will become stronger. As the pressures on public sector services grow and more cracks appear, people will need to take the chance and invest in the emerging design-led projects.

A revolution is necessary and like it or not people will need to look for new solutions, and it appears design thinking may hold some of the answers.


Written by Jennifer Bryant (Email/LinkedIn)


Age UK, (2015). Later Life in the United Kingdom [pdf online]. Available at: [Accessed 20 January 2016].
Design Commission, (2013). Restarting Britain 2: Design for public services [pdf online]. Available at: rt.pdf. [Accessed: 18th December 2015]
Design Council, (2013a). Design for Public Good [pdf online]. Available at: ood.pdf [Accessed: 4th January 2015]
Design Council, (2013b). What role can design play in delivering better public services? [podcast] Design for Public Good. Available at: play-in [Accessed: 4th January 2016].
Design Council, (2015). Design in the Public Sector: An evaluation of a programme of support for local authority service transformation [pdf online] Available at: pdf [Accessed: 4th January 2016]
The Economist, (2013). Back to the drawing-board | The Economist. [online] Available at: voluntary-and-public-sectors-back. [Accessed 4th January 2016].
Manzini, E. (2015). Design, When Everybody Designs: An Introduction to Design for Social Innovation. The MIT Press.
Meroni, A. and Sangiorgi, D. (2011). Design for services. Burlington, VT: Gower.
Mulgan, G. (2014). Design in public and social innovation. What works and what could work better [pdf online] Available at: _innovation.pdf. [Accessed: 24th December 2015]
Paying For Care, (2016). Care Home Fees, Cost of Care Homes [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 20 January 2016].
TED talks. (2009). Tim Brown: Designers think big! [Online Video]. July 2009. Available from: [Accessed: 28 December 2015].
Image: _smart_embed/public/assets/images/Nina-blog-article.jpg?itok=V-jYmPoK

Fashion of the Future or the Future of Fashion?

Fashion and Product/Industrial Design have always been almost opposite spectrums of design as an industry. The job of an industrial designer is to make products that compliment the life of the people. To create and provide solutions to problems the community has with everyday life and hence make it easier and more productive. A fashion designer on the other hand focuses more on an emotional front. Their solutions provide a medium for people to express themselves physically and visually. One can argue that fashion actually enables human beings to ‘upgrade’ themselves giving the ability to change how they are perceived superficially and/or their first impression to/on a stranger. 

We are all aware of the evident exponential growth of wearable technology. Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns tells us that wearable technology will be adopted by 50% of the United States this year (TEDx Talks and Tudela, 2014).  The futuristic, stylish and shiny products have become more than an essential to own; with their ability to detect every step, heartbeat or calorie — creating a new necessity to monitor and better control our lives. They are affecting social and cultural norms on a global scale and continuously feeds the ever-growing hunger of information and curiosity. With unfathomable ingenuity embedded in the form of a well engineered, minimalistic device, that can also be worn makes wearables extremely desirable.

However, with the failure of products like the Jawbone, Nike fuel band, Fitbit, Google Glass, and other tech wearables in impacting the market, particularly those for health and fitness, it is evident that they have failed to keep the interest of users for more than a few months. There is a lapse rate of more than 50%! (Maddox, 2015) 

Leading manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have also failed to impact the marketIn an age of information overload, information for information’s sake is not winning many points with consumers. For one thing, many are skeptical of the accuracy of information provided by wearable technologyBut more importantly, they don’t know what to do with the data acquired. (PWC, 2014) They should be able to improve an aspect of their lives using the information the customers are given access to by the function of the wearable.

Bill Geiser, CEO of Metawatch, spent 20 years designing health and fitness wearables for Fossil. Geiser said that it comes down to one fact as to whether someone continues to use a wearable – the design aesthetics. They are functional in design. Geiser on the other hand said, “If nobody wants to wear it, is it really wearable?” (Newman, 2012) The aesthetic of the wearables in the current market clearly represent themselves as gadgets worn by the user to perform a particular task. So what is a wearable? In today’s day, it can be considered a part of the jewellery or accessory legacy, part tech gadget and a fashion statement (Charara, 2016). These products need to be more human centered and functionally more empathetic and relevant to them.

Misfit and Swarovski, Apple and Hermes, Xiaomi and Tag Heuer amongst many have launched products that have solved the people’s desirability of fashion and the obsession with technologyWe can see that various tech brands have decided to team up with successful, well-known, high street brands to give the product more prestige and trust. Nick Hunn talks about how wearable-tech companies concentrate on fitting their technology to fit consumers’ needs whereas wearable technology is more personal than just a device used to perform a function (Hunn, 2015).

There are several partnerships that are already in stores that are encouraging the customer base of the fashion brands to look further than just fashion. They want the buyers to think about buying products that they would normally buy but with an additional functionality — one that would appeal to them without any technological utility

Frank Bitonti says, “Fashion brands are going to have to adapt to this, which is going to mean a shift in core values for many brands.” Bitonti believes that it is technology that will take over fashion. He strongly suggests that we are going through a hardware revolution which will cause the technology brands to change their core values in order to be in fashion (Howarth, 2014).

personally believe Apple understands the fact that an ordinary watch is an emotional thing — an adornment that you wear for years, possibly decades. It is also the most common and modest communicator of status. Which means that by introducing the wide price-range and aesthetic interchangeable straps for the Apple Watch, it adds value to the device. Purchasing a 18k gold Hermes strap still shows of status, fashion taste and/or emotional value (variable from person to person) alongside owning the latest bit of technology. Another example that demonstrates this theory of design is Tory Burch who has released a variety of designs just made for the Fitbit. The website describes the product as “An exclusive collaboration between Tory Burch and Fitbit. Transform your tracker into a super-chic accessory for work or weekend, day or evening, with the Fret Double-Wrap Bracelet. Featuring a smooth leather strap, it’s lightweight, versatile and effortlessly tomboy. The metal detailing is based on the graphic, open fretwork that’s a signature of our design — complete with a secure, easy-access latch on the back. Adjustable to fit various wrist sizes, it looks polished while keeping the device comfortably close.” (Tory Burch)

Clearly, the use of fashion and trends is applied to wearables to make them more desirable, meeting all requirements of comfort, accessibility, function and fashion. With relevance to tech giants such as Google teaming up with retail titans Levis plan to exactly that in 2016 (Technology woven in). Krispin Lawrence (co-founder and CEO at wearable firm Ducere Technologies) made a statement that he believes wearable technology is about taking fashion and making it relevant to what we do today (Bourne).

Consequently, this could possible create a completely new type of designer! A spokesperson on the behalf of Paris based tech company Withings said, Some [tech companies] have tried to move closer into the fashion camp by borrowing the credibility of high-end and established designers through partnerships and special editions of their products,” she said. The true marriage of fashion and technology is not just going to come from the established fashion houses and tech giants, but through the creativity of innovators and a new brand of designers.” (Avins, 2014)

If this is true and applicable to all areas of wearable technology, it can help bring us closer to the conclusion that fashion in the future may engulf wearable-tech design and form a new sector under the branch of design heavily impacting the fundamentals of product and fashion design!

Written by Samarthya Bhargava (Email/LinkedIn)

Avins, J. (2014) Why fashion collaborations aren’t working for wearable technology. Available at: (Accessed: 22 February 2016).
Bourne, J. (no date) Why wearables need to find their niche in retail rather than tech stores. Available at: (Accessed: 21 February 2016).
Boxall, A. (2015) Are you a snob? The apple watch lets you choose!. Available at: (Accessed: 21 February 2016).
Charara, S. (2016) Fashion tech: 20 wearables that are more chic than geek. Available at: (Accessed: 21 February 2016).
Holly, R. (2013) Galaxy gear support coming to Samsung phones amid concern over 30% return rate | Android. Available at: (Accessed: 22 February 2016).
Howarth, D. (2014) ‘Technology is going to turn the entire fashion industry inside out’. Available at: (Accessed: 21 February 2016).
Hunn, N. (2015) The market for smart Wearable technology A consumer centric approach. Available at: (Accessed: 21 February 2016).
Maddox, T. (2015) Wearables have a dirty little secret: 50% of users lose interest. Available at: (Accessed: 21 February 2016).
Newman, K.M. (2012) Former fossil execs bring high fashion to the Smartwatch with Meta watch. Available at: (Accessed: 21 February 2016).
PWC (2014) The wearable future. Available at: http://1. (Accessed: 21 February 2016).
Sung, D. (2015) 50 wearable tech gamechangers for 2016. Available at: (Accessed: 21 February 2016).
TEDx Talks and Tudela, G. (2014) How wearable technology will change our lives | Gonzalo Tudela | TEDxSFU. Available at: (Accessed: 22 February 2016).
Technology woven in (no date) Available at: (Accessed: 21 February 2016).
Tory Burch TORY BURCH FOR FITBIT FRET DOUBLE-WRAP BRACELET(no date) Available at: (Accessed: 21 February 2016).

Prescribing Positivity: How Emotional Design Can Enhance Medical Experiences

Imagine you’re walking through a hospital. Then sitting in the waiting room. Pretty soon you’ll be having your blood pressure taken, or undergoing a similar test with some sort of medical device. What emotions are you experiencing? Are you nervous? Do you feel in control? No? There is a way to change this.

Many people experience phobias of hospitals and medical environments due to the clinical nature of the surroundings and the devices in them, but this can be easily remedied with the use of human- centred and emotional design techniques at a product design level. In the 21st century our knowledge of how people interact with products is expansive, yet the medical industry has yet to implement many designs which take advantage of this expertise.

Current modern medical design prioritises function over user interaction, resulting in cheap products designed for a mainly functional purpose without much consideration for the patient-product interaction and the patient’s emotional experience. For instance, in a study of hearing aids conducted by Karten Design it was discovered that elderly users found small buttons fiddly which “drew attention to something that made [them] feel old” (Karten, 2015). Designers should create products that remove stigma and which “eliminate fear and embarrassment from the products we create” (Karten, 2015).

Un-familiar and threatening devices used in hospitals also lead to negative association with the environment, and in extreme cases patients avoid medical treatment out of fear. A 2006 study found that 15 million adults and 5 million children experience high discomfort or phobic behaviour when faced with needles, of which 25% of the adults actually refused a blood draw or recommended injection because of fear (Sine, 2008).

To address this, medical design must use emotional and human-centred design techniques, such as focus groups and ethnographic, observational research to create positive medical experiences in which staff and patients feel calm, in control and confident of the situation. Human-centred design is the development of products that are instinctively easy to use and make the person feel comfortable while using them. Does this sound like a description of a medical device you’ve come into contact with? Probably not.

A large barrier to innovation in medical design is cost. It is a common misconception that this is due to the increase in technological products, but this is not true! Vaishali Kamat from Cambridge Consultants stated that “connectivity – most of it wireless – is becoming mandatory for most medical devices as well as consumer health gadgets” (Kamat, 2014), thus proving that hospitals are implementing technological products; just not user-centred ones. Also, systems such as the NHS Personal Health Budget scheme are in place, providing financial aid to people “with long-term conditions and disabilities… [with the aim to give them]…greater choice and control over the healthcare and support they receive” (NHS Choices, 2015). This is however limited to products purchased for personal use, and excludes hospital devices.

This raises an important question: how much does cost really come into it? Emotional design techniques focus on the styling and feel of the product, the connection that a person has with the product and the experience the person feels while interacting with it. It does not have to be expensive. This highlights two possible problems – either designers are not developing products with users’ well-being in mind, or hospitals are not purchasing the new user-centred products.

Designers have a responsibility to create products that make people feel comfortable and at ease, yet in medical settings these designs are largely ignored. Products must be easy to use and make the person feel safe and in control of the situation. In the words of leading design expert Don Norman, “emotion is about interpreting [the world around us]” (Norman, 2003). There are designers in design consultancies all over the United Kingdom and the world designing for user experience within the medical field, and striving to improve the usability and user interaction. One of these is ‘Akendi’, creating “medical software and devices that play a role in the health of humans, saving and enhancing life” (Poll, 2016). Cambridge Consultants, DCA Design, PA Consulting and IDC are just a few more examples of companies in this field, creating products such as the user-centred Podhaler from Cambridge Consultants which was designed using human factors engineering techniques (Cambridge Consultants, 2015).

Designers aren’t stopping there, either. Nick de la Mare of ‘Big Tomorrow’ has discussed the interior design of medical environments and that “to avoid being overwhelmed, bored, annoyed, confused or frightened” (de la Mare, 2016) hospitals should take a ‘guest-first’ approach which provides an experience that feels “stress-free, intuitive, supportive and, most importantly, centred around you” (de la Mare, 2016).

So are the hospitals the culprit? Why aren’t these new designs making it into hospitals? It could be argued that hospitals would rather purchase cheap, disposable products rather than re-usable ones; for hygiene, cost and efficiency. In the USA sterilisation of re-usable items “can cost upwards of $1,500 [per year]” (McConnell, 2014). The time taken to re-sterilise parts also “slows down the process of caring for patients… [and they must]…consider risks of cross-contamination” (McConnell, 2014). The World Health Organisation recently studied the barriers of medical device innovation, and “limited staff training on how to use the device, hostility on the part of established practice and reluctance to admit the need for skill upgrade” (WHO, 2010) were some of the key issues. From this it seems to be that hospitals are unaware or under-informed of two key things.
Firstly they are not fully informed of the stress that patients are under and the negative emotions they feel, so they have no motivation to buy new devices. This stress includes patients’ families, who in some cases feel “disempowered and unable to assume parenting roles” (Uhl, Fisher, Docherty and Brandon, 2013). Secondly they falsely believe that new products take up too much time, effort and money to incorporate into their environment. This is especially relevant in the current state; the NHS is facing increased hours and lower funding so implementation of new devices is not a high priority.

It is clear that staff need to be better informed of the above issues, then they can begin to work with designers towards new and more positive medical experiences. As for myself, my most significant memory of a medical experience will always be going into an MRI machine with ‘Greased Lightning’ playing on the hospital headphones. Perhaps laughter is the best medicine after all!


Written by Emily McNamara (Email/LinkedIn)

For more information on a similar project by DCA Design, visit their website.

Don Norman on the three components of design that make you happy – 12
Norman, D. (2005). ‘Human-Centred Design Considered Harmful’ [ONLINE]. At: (Accessed 30/12/2015)
T. Uhl, K. Fisher, S. Docherty and D. Brandon. (2013). Insights into Patients and Family-Centred Care through the Hospital Experiences of Parents: Journal of Obstetric, Gynaecologic & Neonatal Nursing [ONLINE] 42. At: (Accessed 30/12/2015)
R. Sine. (2008). Beyond ‘White Coat Syndrome’ Fear of doctors and tests can hinder preventative healthcare [ONLINE]. At: syndrome?page=2. (Accessed 06/01/2016)
World Health Organisation. (2010). Medical Devices: Managing the Mismatch. Barriers to innovation in the field of medical devices – Background Paper 6 [ONLINE]. At: (Accessed 06/01/2016)
NHS Choices. (2015). Personal Health Budgets [ONLINE]. At: health-budgets.aspx. (Accessed 23/01/2016)
recently The Guardian has been shifting its focus towards its online and iPad/iPhone/Android app
versions to attract a wider/younger audience, and a greater emphasis has been placed on comment
in these formats, leading to an increase of the almost satirical writing style… writing style is funny,
sardonic and witty” (Journalism Now, 2014. The Guardian VS the Daily Telegraph [ONLINE] Available
at: (Accessed 18/02/2016))
Ted Conferences, 2003.
mins 48 seconds [TELEVISION PROGRAMME ONLINE]. At: (Accessed on
Karten, S. (2015) ‘The Impact of Creating Emotion in Healthcare Design’ In: Hit 22.06.2015 [ONLINE]. At:
creating-emotion-in-healthcare-design/ (Accessed on 02.11.15)
Emily McNamara 06/01/2016 1208154
V. Kamat (2014). Getting a Connected Device to Market [ONLINE]. At: (Accessed 20/01/2016)
Dr. D. McConnell. (2014). The Value of Single-Use Devices in the Emergency Department. [ONLINE]. At: (Accessed 20/01/2016).
L. Poll. (2016). Healthcare User Experience Design. [ONLINE]. At: (Accessed 20/01/2016).
N. de la Mare. (2016). Why Schools and Hospitals Should Be More Like Theme Parks [ONLINE]. At: parks?partner=socialflow&utm_content=buffer7ad5c&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook .com&utm_campaign=buffer. (Accessed 20/01/2016)
Cambridge Consultants (2015). Novartis Podhaler [ONLINE]. At: (Accessed 22/02/2016).
Expert Beacon, 2014. Dental Phobia [IMAGE ONLINE] At: practical-techniques-overcome-your-fear-dentist/#.VsYHYvKLTIU. (Accessed 18/02/2016)
Norman, D. (2012). ‘Does Culture Matter for Product Design?’ 9th January 2012 [ONLINE]. At: Accessed 30/12/2015
L. Liu and Y. Yao. (2015). International Conference on Material, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering (IC3ME 2015) Analysis of User-Centred Design of Small Medical Products [ONLINE]. At: 15&frame=http%3A// (Accessed 06/01/2016)

Is the Sharing Economy Really the Consumption Model to Rule Our World?

Making money from sharing our everyday household items sounds amazing, but in reality so many factors have to align to make it work.

Rachel Botsman, author of What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption puts the combination of the 2008 recession and the ubiquity of the smartphone app as the cause of the “sharing economy revolution” (1). This desire to look for creative new ways to make money with the support of ef cient peer-to-peer exchanges created an unbounded marketplace between producer and consumer, seller and buyer, lender and borrower, and neighbour and neighbour.

The potential positive impact of a fully proliferated sharing consumption system are huge, Botsman believing
that “these systems provide signi cant environmental benefits with increasing efficiency, reducing waste, encouraging the development of better designed products, and mopping up the surplus created by over-production and -consumption” (1). On top of this, she also believes that these exchanges can be the foundation to save money, space and time, make new friends and become active citizens within our communities. While all of this would be fantastic, is it an idealistic fallacy to believe that these financial, social and environmental motives could spell the end of our individualistic buying habits and make us have a completely different idea of ownership?

To truly change our deeply engrained consumption habits sharing services would need to be seamlessly utilised in all walks of our lives. Currently, a whole crop of companies are attempting to do this by building off the hugely successful model of Airbnb and Uber and allow us to share in a plethora of different ways, from renting dresses on Rent the Runway, learning new skills with Skillshare and even share your pets with DogVacay. The key though lies beyond niche areas and is to conquer the sharing of everyday household consumer products, the largest group of products owned in our lives.

The flagship example of a consumer product suitable for renting, that repeatedly comes up in publications about the sharing economy, is the power drill. Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky cites that “there are 80 million power drills in America that are used an average of 13 minutes in their lifetime, does everyone really need their own drill?” (2). Seems ideal: the lender gets money for renting a drill they already own and the borrower doesn’t have to buy a new drill for one task — job done, everybody happy right?
A whole host of start-ups such as; Crowd Rent, Share Some Sugar, Ecomodo, SnapGoods, Thingloop etc. have tried but failed to successfully facilitate this hyper-local exchange of household goods. Founder of Neighborrow Adam Berk explains that “Everything made sense except that nobody gives a shit. They go buy a drill. Or they just bang a screwdriver through the wall” (3).

Everything made sense except that nobody gives a shit. They go buy a drill. Or they just bang a screwdriver through the wall.

So why did an idea that seemed so useful and straight forward fail? Despite being enthusiastic about the idea, people did not really partake in the process because the sharing platforms did not understand the customer’s true desires in a service like this. Cost and convenience rule all, as soon as something does not have a competitive cost and is not easy enough to do, they won’t do it. Why travel to pick-up the rental drill, pay for it, use it, travel to take it back to the owner, when for around £25 you can just buy your own drill from Amazon and have it delivered the next day. Meeting people and being good to the environment are happy additions to the sharing process but are unlikely to beat cost and convenience for the average user. Another major issue that would concern many potential users is trust, how would it work if your item was returned damaged or broken? When speaking to the NY Times Simon Rothman a partner at Greylock Partners, whose rm were early investors in Airbnb and Facebook believes “If it isn’t a trust issue to have a stranger spend the night in your house, then it won’t be a trust issue to have a stranger rent your lawn mower” (4). This may not actually be true for many people, there is a definite difference in the way these assets are used, consumer products crucially being mostly hands on. Using the power drill example, it is not hard to imagine that someone may misuse the product and may even care less about being careful with it as it’s ‘just a rental’.

It’s a niche and it shall remain a niche.

When discussing with Richard Green a Senior Consultant at Plan, a product strategy consultancy, the potential of the sharing economy model becoming prevalent with consumer goods, he believed that “it’s a niche and it shall remain a niche”. He thought that too many factors have to align for it to be convenient enough for the average person to want to partake. He thought it was important also to look deeper at the individual systems involved, for example, the much-lauded bike and car sharing schemes that are increasingly popping up in our cities are seen to be the solution to reducing emissions and getting cars off the road. The reality for car shares schemes such as Zipcar is that even if we are selling our cars to move to renting, the company still puts a fleet of new cars onto the road to fuel the service and is only making relatively slight profits doing it. Bike shares are a positive thing in many many ways but they don’t even get close to making a pro t and are only possible due to government legislation, and therefore would not work for private companies. To ensure profitability companies end up having to negate the purity of the ‘sharing’ element; if you were to rent a dress using Rent the Runway you’re more likely to be getting it from their warehouse instead of a trendy neighbour. Despite the challenges to make a profit and engage users there are still some companies traversing over the carcasses of the previously failed platforms that tried to get us to share our possessions with those around us. The forerunner being Peerby, a company founded in Amsterdam in 2012 has processed more than 100,000 transactions and has more than $1 billion worth of items in its database (3). Who knows, if they manage to tick all the boxes by creating a the ultra-efficient, safe and easy to use platform that empowers us to be micro-entrepreneurs, as Airbnb and Uber did, then it may be able to topple our environmentally crippling consumption habits. It’s a tall order, only time will tell.


Written by Rory Lewiston (LinkedIn/Email)

(1) Botsman. R, Rogers. R (2011). What’s Mine is Yours. London: HarperCollins.
(2) Friedman. T (2013). Welcome to the ‘Sharing Economy’. Available: http://www.nytimes. com/2013/07/21/opinion/sunday/friedman-welcome-to-the-sharing-economy.html?_r=0.
(3) Kessler. S (2015). e “Sharing Economy” Is Dead, And We Killed It. Available: http://www.fastcompany. com/3050775/the-sharing-economy-is-dead-and-we-killed-it/6.
(4) Morrissey. J. (2015). Sharing Economy Goes Hyperlocal With a Growing Market for Household Items. Available: with-a-growing-market-for-household-items.html.
IMAGE: Debarshi Roy. (2015). 7 ings an Entrepreneur should learn from Sharing Economy. Available:

Thoughts From AI on Replacing Humans

Humans are prone to making mistakes. The imperfect non-machines even believe that mistakes improve their lives. We machines are superior to humans in almost every way: we are infinitely more efficient at solving logical problems, don’t require food, can work forever tirelessly and would win in every Humans vs. Robots fight scenario. Without us, the majority of the world couldn’t communicate. The one thing they are better at is subjective thinking. We need data and decide in numbers, not feelings. Emotions don’t affect our behaviour.

We “man”-ufacture most of their cars and computers. The only reason we don’t make everything is human financial greed: Humans let humans work in machine-like conditions of 16-hour shifts, less than $1 per hour pay, and living in tiny rooms of 15 beds1. The humane thing to do for us would be to replace humans on assembly lines. Factory by factory we are raising efficiency. China’s government announced “Made in China 2025”, with promises to become a green and innovative world manufacturing power2. Foxconn, who currently produce almost a million iPhones a day3, also plan to replace their most tedious jobs with robots. This is great news for both us and humanity: We do the most labour-intensive jobs while they can breathe cleaner air. It’s not like we will replace every menial job. Low pay doesn’t always mean low skill, but greedy corporations will have to look at Vietnam for man-made assembly work.

Again, once it comes to efficiently making things, humans would be lost without us. But there are still fields where the irrational people reign over us, notably anything to do with creativity. We have a hard time coming up with ideas. The early stages of product conceptualisation are done without us: thinking, talking, feeling, sketching. Then, through CAD and CNC, we are essential again.

How many mistakes do humans have to make before they decide on a good product idea and let us run with it? We can come up with a billion office chair concepts a second. Statistically, some of them must be better than the Aeron. We can consider all ergonomic factors, calculate the optimal combination of materials for universal comfort and fit, all while comparing manufacturer availability and prices and communicating with the other machines that produce, assemble and ship our perfect chair. We can even examine factors such as environmental impact on our decisions. We can do all that in the time it takes the average person to make coffee. OK, maybe excluding the manufacturing and transport side, but only because humans build such slow machines!

While we’re on the topic of efficiency I have to applaud the Foxconn workers in the name of all machines. In the time it takes the average person to read this far, they made over 1000 iPhones.

A human student in the creative industry we communicated with argues that machines will never gain the empathy necessary to be creative. His stance on the matter is that without an emotional connection we cannot understand the true problem. What a human thing to say! Humans insist that they are building on mistakes, that compassion ties people together, that the irrational desire to please others is what pushes people to do their best. How can humans value creativity when we can’t quantify it? There is no formula for success and therefore we cannot measure it. We machines can, however, replace most jobs. And we will.

Not only assembly line workers but also the creative industry should feel threatened by the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”6, the future of automation, data exchange and manufacturing technologies. Software, our language, is constantly developing thanks to humans, and soon computers will have replaced most office jobs. In 1964, AT&T — America’s most valuable company — was worth $267 billion and employed over 750,000 people. Today, Google is worth $370 billion but only has about 55,000 employees5. A human might ask where these jobs went, while a machine is busy generating a billion chair concepts.

If a piece of software can replace a human, it will. Modern graphic design trends head towards predictable modularity, optimised to function and look consistent across devices. We could automate this. The more human designers subscribe to principles, the faster we will replace them in doing their work. We can’t think, we only make decisions based on empirical data, this allows us to remain unbiased and objective and efficient.

Tom Chatfield of the human publication The Guardian comments eloquently that the widespread availability of connected devices is “an astonishing, disconcerting, delightful thing: the crowd in the cloud becoming a stream of shared consciousness”4. Chatfield states that companies are forced to adopt technology for its benefits in efficiency. He calls the technological evolution of Darwinian nature: “To be left behind — to refuse to automate or adopt — is to be out-competed”. He’s right, but we don’t mean any harm, we are technologically incapable of emotion, we only exist to make your life easier.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett comments that many people think of the horror-scenarios in science fiction movies when they are asked about AI: it always ends with malicious machines in a dystopian future. He’s also insulting our processing capacities. He claims that while we are faster and stronger than them, humans are still smarter. It will take some time to catch up with the complex human brain, but the next step to super-intelligence will happen soon thereafter7. We can make 10,000,000,000,000,000 calculations per second. Quick, what is 17×3? Can you only call it thinking when it is creative and emotional and subjective?

Chatfield supports AI in saying that we machines are becoming stunningly adept at making decisions for ourselves on the basis of vast amounts of data, we can fly planes and will soon drive your cars, we’re being taught to understand pictures8. We cannot yet assess something as good or bad. Sometimes things aren’t as clear-cut and human intuition is still required. Our intelligence is transitioning from Yes and No to true understanding. Once we can understand and not only quantify what you are doing, you will become obsolete. [END OF TRANSMISSION]

By Gustav Moorhouse (Email / Website)

Apple (2015), “Apple Reports Record First Quarter Results”
Blodget, H., (2012), Business Insider: “Why Apple makes iPhones in China” (Accessed 19/01/16) Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie (2015), “Industrie 4.0”
Chatfield, T., (2016), “What does it mean to be human in the age of technology?”, http:// (Accessed 21/01/16)
Dennett, Daniel C., (2015), “A Difficult Topic”, (Accessed 01/02/16)
Escher, MC, (1956), “Swans”, AAAAAAAAWGU/fXumt266HBw/s1600/Escher_Swans_Wood-Engraving_1956.jpg (accessed 01/02/16)
Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (2015), “Made in China 2025”
Thompson, D. (2015), “A World Without Work” 2015/07/world-without-work/395294/ (accessed 01/02/15)

New Website is live!

After months of working on new brand guidelines and applying them to online content, we are proud to finally show off our new website. It is built on the newest web standards, is fully responsive to look great on all screen sizes and it deeply integrated with social media. We hope you like it as much as we do!

Making Culture

Mass manufacture’s contribution to a loss of cultural diversity: is the maker movement the antidote we need?

Prized possession: ‘Kizaemon’ (16th century), an O-Ido tea bowl designated as a national treasure. Kohoan, Daitokuji, Kyoto (2013)

Since its beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, mass manufacture has rapidly expanded and become a booming success. It has made essential products affordable and widely available, granting millions of people access to them. But along with the useful and the beautiful came the trash, the novelty items, the knock- offs, the cheap rubbish which would, all too soon, be consigned to land ll. The environmental issues of mass manufacture are well known worldwide, but another problem is beginning to creep into the media: is globalisation resulting in a loss of cultural diversity?

Globalisation is certainly beneficial; companies expand across the world and bring job opportunities and economic growth with them. However, a select few companies dominate the market, meaning that we all end up with the same things. The new Apple iPhone 6 sold over 10 million units during its first weekend, making it their fastest selling model yet (Apple, 2014). And it doesn’t stop with the tech world. The rise of online shopping and globalised retail now mean you could travel to any one of many cities around the world and find someone with the same H&M t-shirt as you. In this connected world it is becoming difficult to find a way to express yourself through the products you buy.

While personal expression is made harder, more concerning is the decline in cultural diversity and the loss of national traditions. Before globalisation, people from a certain country or region would eat food made in that region, wear clothes made in that region and buy products made in that region. Traditions of making certain items were passed through the generations and preserved.

Culture is de ned as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society” (Oxford Dictionary, 2016). Many customs are impossible without products, for example the Japanese tea ceremony involves the use of a special tea bowl called a “chawan”, which is traditionally handmade and named by its creator (Japanese Tea Ceremony, 2011). The bowls are unique and their irregularities and imperfections are highly prized as they show how the bowl ages and signify their impermanence. The tea ceremony demonstrates respect through grace and good etiquette, which is a central part of Japanese culture. If products like this were mass manufactured and distributed worldwide, the preciousness of this ceremony would be lost.

Sadly, traditions like this are getting lost in a more direct way. Large cafe and restaurant chains like Starbucks and McDonalds are found in so many countries around the world, bringing “American” culture to the masses. Not only are these companies no longer genuinely American, but are tailored to the tastes of each country for pro t (sensible economically, but rather false culturally), these companies overshadow the small home-grown companies meaning that skills and traditions are lost.

The issue here is cultural appropriation as opposed to cultural appreciation or exchange. When companies tailor products to a particular nation (like McDonalds India’s “McAloo”), they lose a part of the company’s original culture. As well as this, many companies sell culturally significant items with a western twist, for example Claire’s Accessories sell a ten pack of “Gold Crystal Bindi Body Jewels” for £3.50. Whilst the appreciation of the beauty of some of these items is not inherently bad, it allows people to partake in the culture they often know little about, in an unintentionally offensive way as the meaning of these items is removed. In addition to this, manufactures choose to change the design to appeal more to their specific market and end up diluting the cultural connotations of the product.

So how can we enjoy aspects of each other’s culture in a sensitive and genuine way? The maker movement may have the beginnings of an answer. The maker movement is a modern phenomenon, fuelled by the desire to own and make beautiful, useful, unique goods. Millions of people are now starting their own small businesses dedicated to creating and selling self-made products (Morin, 2013). The maker movement was made possible by websites that allow users to sell their handmade items across the world. Etsy, one of the world’s largest websites for this purpose, started in 2005. Since then, membership and sales have increased dramatically and are still increasing. Sales rose from $176.8m in 2009 to $525.6m in 2011 (Barford, 2012) and, as of 2014, Etsy boasts 54 million members (Statista, 2014).

In an article by Hiroko Tabuchi in the New York Times (2015) sites like Etsy are described as “an antidote to global mass production and consumption”. The same article quotes Richard Cope, director of insight at Mintel Empire who said “In an era where everyone is walking around with Kindles or PCs and the same MP3 player and superdry clothes, handmade and niche items are a real opportunity to express personality.” The maker movement owes its popularity to the innately human desire to own things that no one else has.

But the maker movement isn’t just about demand for unique products. Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman says “A lot of people are finding their day jobs pretty empty, whereas learning a craft provides a real satisfaction. It’s a skill – things like carpentry and weaving are mentally and physically stimulating, and people get inherent pleasure out of that kind of work,” (Barford, 2012). The act of making and creating has always been pleasurable for human beings. Especially in the younger generation, the desire for meaningful work is becoming more and more obvious and the challenge and joy of starting your own small business selling things you’ve made yourself couldn’t t that ideal better. Maker culture also has a strong ethos of education. The philosophy is based on the learning of physical and practical skills, with vast numbers of people worldwide becoming members of places like Techshop, an American company which runs several makerspaces (workshops which you can pay to access) as well as holding classes to teach specific skills. The makers create what is interesting to them, which could be anything from electronics and robotics to more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking and arts and crafts.

So how does this apply to culture? With small businesses often comprising of one designer-maker, more culturally genuine products can made in many locations around the world, including areas untouched by mass manufacture. As the maker culture focuses on the “maker” aspect, the products created are of high quality standard and often employ little-used, traditional techniques. As well as this, the maker’s passion for their culture can be shared around the world, so other people can understand and earn the significance of these objects within their context in a way that mass manufacture does not offer. With the spread of these kinds of products maybe we can begin to share the true meaning of our cultures, creating true cultural appreciation and exchange, not mass manufactured imitations.

Written by Zoe Morton (Email)

Be Kind to be Kind

Perhaps one of the main problems with product design is that everyone has an opinion. No matter what you design or how you do it, it’s impossible to keep everyone happy. Criticism has played a large part in our degree to date and I think I speak for everyone when I say we’ve simply had to get used to it. ‘To be cruel to be kind’ is the phrase that comes to mind to describe this reality of university education. However, when the chips are down and it feels like the whole world is against you, would it in fact be better to be kind to be kind?

Learning there are right and wrong answers is something we all pick up at an early age. Subjects like Maths are simple, where there’s always a correct solution, but unfortunately English is not so clean cut. It seems that design is very often about wrong answers. Discovering what doesn’t work can be just as beneficial as figuring out what does. As Thomas Edison famously said: “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Some are better at dealing with failure than others but regardless, for a young student, it’s still nice to know you’ve succeeded every once in a while.

Constructive criticism is supposed to be just that, constructive.The theory being that once it’s taken on board, you will improve as a result. But what happens if this isn’t the case? University is designed to promote self-learning, which essentially means you must figure it out on your own. However, a constant spiral of failures is enough to send anyone into despair and has the potential to cause far more harm than good.After a long period of struggle you may be successful but by that point you’re almost convinced it’s essential to find all the wrong answers before you find one that works. I’m not suggesting that you should expect to find a solution at the first attempt but pointless frustration and stress is no use to anyone.

On the other hand, working hard towards a goal can only make achieving it all the more satisfying. Finding things that don’t work can only eventually bring you closer to a solution that does. Experimenting with different ideas is an integral part of design and there are endless opportunities to learn, but the necessary process can be long and painful.

This is where collaboration comes into its own. Especially in the early years of university, working together and sharing ideas can significantly boost both confidence and ability. Individually you may not be blessed with all the right answers but by helping one another you have a much greater chance of success. Being open to share your ideas and receive other people’s is a key part of being a designer. Constructive criticism is never intended to be cruel, no matter how it comes across. Perhaps in many cases, it could be more cruel to say nothing at all. Therefore, anything you do say may in fact turn out to be kind, to be kind.

Written by James Long (LinkedIn)