Short observation – I’ve become aware of the increasingly likelihood of Recaptcha asking you to read what looks like irregularly created door numbers on (presumably) street view data:
Several things occur; some to do with privacy, some to do with human vs computer power, and more besides. But the most obvious one is ‘why they need to do this at all’?
Surely the way streets work (series of numbers, evenly distributed) means that the computer should be able to work out, if 1804 is legible, and 1808 is legible, what that house might be…?
(If you don’t know, the idea behind ReCAPTCHA was: “Every time our CAPTCHAs are solved, that human effort helps digitize text, annotate images, and build machine learning datasets”)
I started reading The Death of Drawing; Architecture in the Age of Simulation by David Ross Scheer today on a plane. I’m only a fifth of the way in, but already I’m hooked. It’s about how as the practice of drawing disappears from architecture, replaced by BIM (Building Information Modeling), a way of pulling together lots and lots of data to describe how it might interact, and therefore how a building should be designed. Scheer describes this as “representation” (drawing) versus “simulation” (BIM systems).
For Scheer, representations are loose, free. One drawing is one possible version of reality, but no more. A selection of drawings begins to build up a picture, but still, the viewer is left to fill in the gaps. Representations here allow space for creativity, not just of the drawer, but of all who look upon the drawings. We fill all the gaps in between the glimpses of reality we see.
Simulations, on the other hand, are “an artificial environment that creates an artificial experience that is felt to be reality”. They want the viewer to believe that they are real, because if they don’t, then they have failed in their task of simulation. Which means in turn there’s less space for creativity, for interpretation of meaning. If the simulation is not real, then the task is not to solve the problems, but to find a better simulation.
Scheer starts to ask some very interesting questions early on about Architecture (“When designs are evaluated in simulations, will the buildings themselves become simulations of the simulations? If architecture loses the idea of representation, how will buildings acquire meaning?“), and of course it’ll be fascinating to see where he goes in answer the three core questions he’s asking (my interpretations – i) What does it mean for the profession of an Architect? ii) What will become the nature of creativity in Architecture? iii) What role will Architecture play in culture in this world?).
For me, broadly thinking about the roles of representations and simulations in other spheres becomes really interesting. What if advertising agencies created ‘representations’, and media agencies ‘simulations’? How does data-driven product design fit in? What does it not leave space for? Where in organisations would we benefit from more representations, and less simulations? And how do we recognise what is representation, and what is simulation? More soon.
This is a short written version of an even shorter talk I gave at the launch of the new Creative Social book, Hacker, Teacher, Maker, Thief, for which I’ve written a chapter on Making Things People Want > Making People Want Things.
You can buy it now, and you should; the other contributors are a stellar cast who’ve written cracking guidance for The Future of Advertising.
The problem with the ‘greater than’ symbol ( > ) is that it’s called the “greater than” symbol.
It doesn’t have a cool French or German name, or some abstract Latin origin. It is the Ronseal of mathematical characters; it does exactly what it says on the tin.
So when I say it out loud when saying “Making Thing People Wants > Making People Want Things“, I kind of improvise what I say in that tricky middle bit.
Sometimes I will say ‘greater than‘. It can sound a bit much, that’s true. But it’s a nod to the effort required, I think; it takes more to create new demand than exploit existing demand.
Sometimes I say ‘rather than‘. It’s when it represents a fork in the road, a choice in the short-term; which of these two roads will we travel down for a bit? The thing with roads is you can come back and go down the other one if you find yourself in a cul-de-sac.
Sometimes I say “is better than“. As a long-term strategy for clients, it is a better idea. Sure, some short-term Charlies want a quick hit and run to further their career and find another job somewhere else. Finding clients that want to make a real difference helps.
And sometimes I just say “beats“. Being selfish, it’s just that feeling it gives me inside, actually making something that makes a difference to people, helping people to help people. It’s a rush.
But I always, always try to never say “not“.
It isn’t “Making Things People Want, NOT Making People Want Things”.
It’s not an extreme position.
It’s an equation. It suggests balance, the existence of two things with different value, not the destruction of one to serve the other.
That’s advertising all over. Looking for extremes where there aren’t any. Forcing us to pick one thing and one thing only.
Perhaps advertising is an industry riddled with the wood worm of the mass media age, where the choice about “the big idea” and “the perfect line” had to be made, before it was printed a million times, or transmitted to 26 million people. That’s a problem that’s going away.
If advertising is to die of anything, it will be of a chronic case of extremes and ultimatums.
I’ve been using the Flow Engines principles a lot since late August, when it arose from the Culture Mapping blog project. It’s certainly the most developed, fully realised tool that came out of that burst of work.
Anyway, I used it last week to write a general guide for people to run field trips. I’m not going to detail out below the stuff under the bonnet, as that’d be a bit dull, but save to say it uses the three steps (Consequences, Environment, Embodiment) reinforced inside each other as before.
Why share it? Well, I love a good field trip. But I don’t think people do them enough. So I thought it’d be good to put it up here, as it might be useful to others, but also so that people can add thoughts and ideas on how to improve it.
FIELD TRIPS: GETTING OUT, LOOKING AROUND, WRAPPING UP
A good field trip is something that everyone in any sort of business can get a lot from. Think of yourselves as giant, rechargeable ideas batteries; a field trip provides more good input to replace the output of looking down and typing (which, let’s be honest, we all do too much of).
A field trip doesn’t need to be planned meticulously (though you can if you wish), but you should have a plan in mind to at least give yourself something to deviate from should you need to.
This quick guide will help you write out a plan, and make sure the people you’re leading out have an interesting, useful time.
Step 1 – Getting out
When you have a location in mind to go to, don’t just say “we’re going to xxxx…”, make sure you have a short, focussed explanation in mind of what you want people to learn from going out.
“We’re going to the Science Museum, to learn more about how scientists and inventors discover new ideas.”
“We’re going to Trafalgar Square, to see what happens when you take people out of their natural environments”
To get people to come along, make an invitation that has the location and the reason clearly explained. You can just send an email, or you can be more creative if you wish. What often works well is setting up a little fiction for the trip out; let’s pretend we’re another group of people, or let’s assume that the world is different in this particular way.
Step 2 – Looking around
You don’t have to have been to the location before yourself, but it’s useful. If you haven’t, you should make it clear to the people you’re taking; “we” are going on an exploration. Invite them to be complicit in the discovery of what’s there.
But you should definitely have a good idea of what might be there, from using the internet, or intel from other people who have been.
Once you’re all there, you’re playing two roles.
Firstly, you’re scouting around, looking for the sorts of things that you suspected may be useful. If you spot things, invite others over to see, and think back to the reason you outlined for coming in the first place in order to ask questions?
“What’s interesting about the way Watt discovered a new idea here?”
“How can we tell who are the tourists here? What are they doing that others aren’t?”
Secondly, you’re bringing up the rear, just checking around to make sure that people are happy and comfortable discovering new things for themselves. As you have different conversations with different people who’re on the field trip, try to cross-pollinate thoughts and discoveries – “oh, David was just talking about that with Gillian, you should catch up with them and talk about it”.
Step 3 – Wrapping up
Finally, at the end of the trip, make sure you have time to all sit together and discuss what you’ve all found, in relation to what you set up to explore.
Having a way to write a communal set of notes around the table is really useful; it locks in the learning of the trip, and will help people remember for future use. I usually use Artefact Cards for this, of course, but whatever you want to use is fine. It needs to be in the middle of the table between you all though, to prompt discussion.
If you go somewhere with a gift shop, for instance, you can get everyone to buy a thing that represents what you’ve learned from the trip, and get everyone to explain their object.
There you go then, hope it’s useful. As always, builds and critiques most welcome.
Every so often, I find myself mucking about in Illustrator, playing with a new something or other for a piece of work, and it’ll just make me think ‘oh, that’s good, that could be a new Smithery thing’. For a company that’s been running for three and a half years, to have had three different logos and styles is good going. Perhaps it’s a bit like a Doctor Who regeneration. Looks different, acts different, yet is the same thing.
Anyway, I haven’t decided if this is defintely one yet. But it’s work in progress. It’s always good to share work in progress. It’s based on the series of tools and models that have popped out of the People & Space project, we’ll see if it sticks.
Interesting: what sort of things would fictional characters recommend if they watched Netflix? Only probably doable if you own the IP to the characters… Which of course in this case, Netflix do.
Two really interesting posts were written in close proximity recently, about Planning.
NB – By which is meant Account Planning, an advertising term for a specific role in an agency. If you want to know what it used to mean, before the jump, then read this APG definition introduced by Merry Baskin from 2001. I have never been an Account Planner, but reading that definition back realise my work comprised a lot of the skills and activities listed whilst in Adland. So, you know, these are my thoughts, YMMV.
There, that’s the small print, up front, in bold.
Firstly, there’s Heidi Hackemer’s post on Planning’s Lost Generation. It points out that, through that perfect storm of increased complexity, not enough time, reduced tenure in the labour market, and so on and so forth, agencies aren’t really training the next generation of planners anymore. Which causes even bigger future problems, as how do expect a geneation who hasn’t been trained to do any training themselves when the time comes. As Heidi says:
Secondly, there’s Richard Huntington’s Can Any Planners Still Plan? He questions whether this younger generation even want to plan anymore, to understand what that is:
“I have long argued that while there are many ways strategists add value to their agencies and the business of their clients, the greatest contribution that we make is taking those brands to new places in the lives and minds of their customers. It is our ability to help brands and businesses re-invent the future that makes us most useful.
And yet I am beginning to lose count of the number of planners I come across in my wanderings that don’t want to do that. That either are not interested at all or who have little idea that this is what they are supposed capable of doing.
These planners seem to want to do one thing and one thing alone, something that they call making things.”
In short, the two posts together suggest a generation who Can’t Plan, Won’t Plan.
Of course, there followed a massive twitter exchange as happens in Planning when anyone mentions Planning and its inevitable worth/decline/reinvention/hopelessness.
But I thought I’d just stretch out a couple of points that can’t be made on twitter.
Firstly, if there’s no time and resource to teach a new generation what Planning is, there’s undoubtedly a complex variety of reasons, all of which are at odds with each other yet all true.
But reading back on that APG list of what roles a planner should play, you realise that so much of what actual Planning consisted of is now being done elsewhere:
- market researcher
- data analyst
- qualitative focus group moderator
- information centre
- bad cop (to account management’s/client service’s good cop)
- NPD consultant
- brainstorming facilitator
- target audience representative/voice of the consumer
- media/communications planner
- strategic thinker/strategy developer
- writer of the creative brief
In a way, perhaps Planning won. It raised the importance of all of these requirements for companies, and so now there a multitude of specialists that do them instead. Planning happens everywhere, just not by “Planners”.
Secondly, on Making as Thinking.
For the last three years at Smithery, and for several years before that at PHD, I’ve been using making as a way to explore things, to find things out. It’s a different sort of learning approach, one that helps you bridge the gap between ‘novice’ and ‘expert’ by playing with and creating different things in the spaces you find to aid understanding of the spaces themselves.
For the ongoing background research for Artefact Cards, I’ve recently fallen down the rabbit hole of “Constructionism”, a brilliant learning theory. If you want a useful place to start with this stuff, this post by Steve Wheeler is the shorthand version, then this talk by Edith Ackermann from MIT will give you some ideas of how you might set up learning structures like that:
However, it seems a bit disingenuous to talk about the value on “Constructionism” vs “Instructionism” by writing blog posts, debating on twitter, and largely doing nothing but talking lots. This is a part of Planning’s problem, perhaps.
It all made me think of a talk I did years ago at an IPA course, which I called The Planner’s Book of Things To Make.
It was an exhortation for young planners to make more things; not because these would be the things that would become a central campaign idea, or sell a million units, but because they would inform thinking, draw in users, reach out to niche interest groups, create feedback loops to steer brands and so on.
But, in hindsight, it was a talk, and talk is cheap.
So as I wind my way up to London on a train towards Playful at the Conway Hall, I’m wondering if it would be more useful to put on The Planner’s Day of Things To Make sometime in the New Year.
It would be an exploration of how to use making as a route into a lot of the things that Planners need to be doing to Plan properly.
Sounds niche, huh? Well, yeah, maybe. So here’s how I’m going to gauge demand.
And when you sign up, sign up to “yes, I will buy a ticket to this woolly sounding nondescript event and not show up”.
Price wise: no idea. We will pay all people running sessions, and the required materials, and refreshments, and lunch. So whatever that’s going to cost.
Anyway, that’s it at the moment. Let’s see what people make of that, and we’ll go from there.
This is fascinating, from change.org… sign a campaign, then you’re asked if you want to donate money to place an ad to show to it to more people (and a very specific amount of people) who might also then sign it.
How long until there’s a “design your ad” feature on there too?