Visiting the Heatherwick Studio exhibition at the V&A

The OpenIDEO web start-up challenge winners had a London meet up at the V&A museum last weekend for a curated tour of the Heatherwick Studio exhition. We were very lucky to be accompanied by Stefan Ritter, Designer at Heatherwick Studios who took us round his favourite pieces in the exhibition.

V&A exhibition web page

The exhibition contains just one room of artifacts but you could spend hours in there looking at the vast variety of designs. From bridges to handbags to Christmas cards and benches – the exhibition is very inspiring and shows how the studio are experimental and innovative with a range of materials.

The start of the exhibition is where you collect your guide – but not just any old guide – the studio wanted to visually show how much paper is often used for producing show guides.  Here they had 1 tonne of paper stacked up in different diameter rolls to look like pottery on a wheel. The visitor can winde a handle to release the paper strip, then rip it off at the correct point.

Exhibition guide installation

The playfullness of ‘creating’ your own guide is a great way for visitors to interact with the paper they are using. Should you take a guide at all and save on paper or should you take the guide with you with the understanding of how much paper you have taken?

Exhibition guideI thought it interesting to see how visitors then held their guide. Some rolled it up, others folded it neatly and some looped the paper to keep it uncreased.

Exhibition Guide open

The Extruded Bench
The first piece we visited was the extruded bench. Inspired by iBeam contruction, the designer wanted to celebrate the normally discarded end piece of material. When an iBeam is extruded through a tool, the end is irregular and distorted and therefore cut off. A tool was made by the studio and the aluminium pressed through. The result, a beautiful piece of art which creates a bench to be sat on. One end is clearly a highly polished bench while the edges of the end create an interesting, unusual, unpolished shape.

tool and bench drawing

The bench is therefore one piece of solid aluminium. The explanation of the piece said ‘we were interested in consorted forms that emerge as metal is squeezed through a die’ – exquisite!

extruded bench from Heatherwick website

The Rolling Bridge
The next piece we visited was the rolling bridge. It isn’t uncommon to see a bridge that opens up to allow traffic through but this design made a real feature of the folding mechanism. As the bridge lifts up, it rolls back on itself to finally end in a confined octagon. Apparently the rolling bridge can be seen in Canary Wharf…

rolling bridge

The London Bus
I hadn’t appreciated that Heatherwick Studio had designed the new London Route Master bus. It was great to see a cross section on the vehicle and understand about the inspiration for the design.

London Bus from Heatherwick websiteThe studio worked with bus drivers to discover what design changes would make the bus more appealing to them to drive and even had an enthusiastic driver in their studio throughout the process.  Apparently it is important for bus drivers to be able to see children and people misbehaving on the bus, therefore the curvature of the interior was designed accordingly.

Passenger flow and air flow were also very important to consider when designing the new bus.

Route Master

Aberystwyth Artists Studios
Heatherwick designed a low cost set of artists studios in Aberystwyth, Wales. A really unusual set of buildings with an intriguing shape made out of crinkled aluminium. The structures are made out of a wooden structure with insultation foam covered by aluminium. The jig that was designed to crinkle the aluminium (to give the material strength) was fascinating. Each piece needed to be pushed through the teeth on the jig to create the unusual shape.

Aberystwyth artist studios from Heatherwick website

Floor tiles
I really liked the floor tiles that Heatherwick had designed for a shopping centre in Hong Kong. The design aimed to allow light to pass through the floors but had to be suitable for people to walk across in a busy environment.

Each tile contains 50 sheets of glass (for health and safety regulations) and a top layer with a non-slip surface on it. The designers used the layered glass and non-slip surface as a feature to create a very eye catching pattern through out the tile.

floor tile

The Science Museum Material House
Material libraries can be a huge database of materials to search through and it can be hard to display materials effectively. The Science Museum commissioned Heatherwick to find an innovative way to display their materials and the result is fantastic.

The Material House layers the materials into a scultpure with each access to the different pieces.

Materials House from the Science Museum website

‘Although the sculpture bears no resemblance to a conventional house, it playfully invites the viewer to reflect on how these materials are used in everyday life, suggesting there are no boundaries to the versatility of materials. The vibrantly coloured curving layers of Materials House give a feast for the eye, hand and imagination.’ Science Museum website

Seed Cathedral
The last piece to feature from the exhibition (but definitely not the last at the exhibition!) was the Seed Cathedral, designed by a nine member conglomeration of British business and government resources directed by designer Thomas Heatherwick. It referenced the race to save seeds from round the world in banks, and housed 60,000 plant seeds at the end of acrylic rods, held in place by geometrically-cut holes with the rods inserted therein. WikiPedia

Seed Cathedral from the Heatherwick website

Each acrylic rod was held in a wood structure with a transparent end to allow light in and a seed holder at the other to show case seeds from around the world.

The exhibition is on until 30th September and I highly recommend a visit. A good hour will allow you to look at each piece on display but a couple of hours will allow you to properly absorb the beautiful pieces on show. The prototypes and models that accompany each piece really interested me. A finished product is always good to see but understanding the idea behind the product and seeing how it has developed from a concept really fascinates me.

I was unfamiliar with Heatherwick Studio work before I attended the exhibition – now I’m very impressed with the innovative use of materials, pushing of design boundaries and imagination that has gone into each project.

Group photo outside the exhibiton

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‘TED+’ becomes ‘My Fail Tale’ – thanks to attending the Digital Agenda Assembly

OpenIDEO set social challenges and put call outs for people to design solutions, better together. I’ve been involved in a number of the challenges over the last couple of years and each time find myself becoming more and more involved.

OpenIDEO

People are often intrigued as to why I choose to volunteer my time to contribute. That’s easy to answer; as a design interested in design for social good, it ticks all the boxes; I know I’m helping develop ideas to help others and help huge social issues, I get to meet designers and creatives from all over the world (albeit virtually) and I learn a huge amount. Other people’s point of view, suggestions, ideas and help is invaluable for developing myself in the world of social design.

The web start-up challenge interested me as I’ve increasingly found myself involved in web start-ups. The web opens up the potential of innovation, it is continuing to grow and more and more opportunities are appearing.

Following on from my own experiences and from speaking to web start-up founders it was clear that the majority have failed at some point in their career – they have either completely changed direction, closed one business and started up another or spent longer than expected to be successful. I believe that things happen for a reason and that positives comes from every negative – let’s embrace failure, let’s change our culture of hiding away from failure and let’s learn from other people’s mistakes.

That’s where the TED+ sharing failures, concept idea came from; let’s encourage people to talk about their failure stories and use the TED model to do this.

TED Positive

Being chosen as one of the 10 winners of the challenge was very exciting but being invited to share the concept at the Europrean Commission and collect an award as part the Digital Agenda Assembly was incredible.

The assembly was streamed live and here is an edited version of Tom Hulme introducing OpenIDEO followed by Amy Bonsall handing out the awards to the winners (sorry for the poor quality of the video!):

Although the community on OpenIDEO had provided really valuable feedback and contributions, having the opportunity to discuss the concept in person with members of IDEO, the other winners and members of the European Commission really helped develop the concept on even further.

It was clear that introducing another Failure conference series may not be the best way to realise the concept – I want to reach everyone, change the culture, build a community and help people possibly scared to launch into the start-up world to realise they can do it.

TED Positive has moved to www.myfailtale.com – the site is aiming to create a movement. It will be the place to share and learn from others. It’s your one-stop website for all failure stories told in a fun, positive way!

My Fail Tale

Please share your stories…send them via twitter using the hashtag #failtale, record a video and email it to me, send me web links to interesting articles or attend a conference where failure stories are told (FailCon will be holding an event in Paris on 25th September) – once the stories have been curated, the site will go live – watch this space, I’m really excited to see how far the message can be spread!

Two days at the Digital Agenda Assembly 2012, Brussels

This time two weeks ago I was in the middle of a really interesting and exciting two days at the Digital Agenda Assembly, Brussels. I was invited to attend by the European Commission along with the other OpenIDEO web start-up challenge winners – what an experience! The commission had sponsored the OpenIDEO challenge and therefore invited us to Brussels to be part of the discussions and to have an opportunity to present our concepts to the group and other members of the EU Commission.

The main objectives of the Assembly were to:
– Assess progress to date on implementation towards the Digital Agenda’s goals and actions and seek ways to improve delivery;
– Identify challenges ahead for the implementation of the Digital Agenda and for the information society in general;
– Mobilise stakeholders’ actions to make further progress and address challenges.

Digital Agenda Assembly poster

And the days were broken up with 8 different workshops in the European Commission on day one, (followed by an OpenIDEO specific concept workshop in the afternoon, a dinner with the commission and speakers in the evening) and day two was a plenary session in the Hemicycle room at the European Parliament.

Here is a summary of my learnings…

Day 1: workshop 8 innovation and entrepreneurs, European Commission

The workshop was opened by MEP, Pablo Zabla who was very clear that Europe’s barriers to innovation and entrepreneurialism are caused by low funding, increased global competition from China and India and too high a level of youth unemployment. He felt we need to grow entrepreneurs, repeat events like the DAA and encourage institutes to listen and learn.

Zabla felt we should replicate the US model and in turn understand the importance of entrepreneurs in Europe. Amy Bonsall tweeted the following during his talk: “Why is Silicon Valley what it is? talent (stanford), failure acceptance, and funds” – Google via Pablo Zabla #da12innov #oi_startup. Zabla was the first (but not the last to mention the word failure). I loved the quote he used

“falling down is permitted but getting up is compulsory” – this is something we should all remember!

Workshop 8: innovation and entrepreneurs

The next person to talk was Laia Pujol moderator of the innovation and entrepreneur community of Digital Agenda for Europe. Pujol summarized research findings and stated that ‘start-ups don’t grow in the EU due to a lack of funding and support’. Unlike the US, there’s a lack of entrepreneurial culture and we need to stimulate hot spots or clusters for specific entrepreneurial areas to help them grow. The problems the EU face for these to be achieved are providing internships to encourage more people into the industry, highlighting sources of funding to help entrepreneurs grow and then retaining the talent it’s created!

Interestingly, 50,000 jobs were created due to the introduction of ‘Apps‘. This has clearly been a valuable new ‘hot spot’ – how can we learn from this to create another 50,000 jobs?

A really poignant point that came up during the discussions was the need to find ways to listen, learn and inspire others to spark ideas. We must ‘follow our curiosities and if something disturbs you, that’s a good thing’.

The first non-EU speaker was Derek Holt of StartUp America, a start-up for start-ups (who boast to have he world’s shortest URL!) who are there to help ‘inspire and celebrate entrepreneurs’. StartUp America are not there to create jobs, they are there to help others grow by taking the idea, ramping it up and speeding it up. With 1/2 million start-ups every year in the US, there’s clearly a need for an organisation like this one!

Holt rounded up by saying that we must ‘celebrate failure – visibility of mistakes means you will make your own mistakes and that’s when innovation happens’.

The other speakers, including Amy Bonsall and Haiyan Zhang from IDEO, Nico Perez from MixCloud, Jose Jimenez from Telefónica I+D, Spain and Gary Stewart from Wayra Spain broke off into smaller groups to talk about their initiatives, journeys and stories connected to innovation and entrepreneurship.

Workshop 8: innovation and entrepreneurs

Nico Perez gave an insightful talk about how to run a lean start-up without receive VC funding. Perez and his team spent 18 months living and working in a (not so glamorous) warehouse with no salary and no funding but the skills to get their business off the ground. Once MixCloud had built up enough traction and a good user base it was time to go looking for investment – even at this stage it was taking too long to negotiate a deal, by which point they had already started building revenue.

Interestingly, their lawyer turned out to be their most useful mentor; someone who had worked with similar companies in the past.  They realized early on that they were forced to work out a robust business model as cash flow was their life line. His advise for determining a budget and forecast for a start-up is to talk to others in a similar situation. ‘start collecting data points from your network to try and estimate your budget as best as possible’.

The other area of advise was to do with building your online community, a problem that many start-ups face. The ‘cold start’ problem of building up a user base can be a real challenge. Perez suggested immersing yourself into the community that you want to use the site. It is essential to know and understand the desired user group and build on the network you already know.

OpenIDEO Challenge winners enjoying lunch

After lunch we broke off to discuss our winning challenges concepts but I will write about these in a separate blog post.

Day 2: the plenary session, European Parliament
The hemicycle room in the European Parliament is an impressive room and I never imagined I’d ever get the opportunity to sit in it!

European Parliament, Plenary session, Hemicycle Room

The morning was full of innovation, start-up, funding, technology and entrepreneur experts – to save a very long explanation of my leanings, here are a number of quotes which I felt really stood out from the opening speakers:

‘80% of European citizens are connected to the Internet, the Internet has created a 25% increase in jobs in the last year and ICT grows by 3.8% every year’
‘we need to improve our innovation culture without being scared of failing’
‘it is easier to steal a movie on the Internet than it is to buy one – how can we better protect our copyright?’ Alexander Alvaro, VP of the European Commission.

Neelie Kroes speaking at the, Plenary session, European Parliament

‘we can achieve when we act together. We must listen to the outside world’
‘the Internet matters for citizens, it is a platform for astonishing crape activity and we haven’t found it’s limit yet!’
‘there are too many barriers to the internet. 1 in 3 Europeans have no internet access at home and 1 in 4 adults haven’t been online’
‘it’s important to unlock finance to support the entrepreneurs who can provide jobs in the future’
‘what will future generations say about us? Did we adapt to disruptive change? Did we create a better connected continent? Did we make easy tools for elders to join the digital world? We need to act now – the future is in our hands’ Neelie Kroes, VP of the European Commission

The next sessions were panels sharing their views on the topics already discussed to do with eliminating barriers:

‘don’t over tax entrepreneurs’
‘the younger generation are most familiar with the digital world but universities are too slow and because of that there is a skill gap’ Guiseppe Zocco, Index Ventures

‘don’t forget the elderly or disabled. They must be art of the digital community’ Adriana Ticau, Member of the European Parliment.

‘never compromise on research and development’ Ben Verwaayen, CEO Alcatel-Lucent

‘there is a (perceived) lack of access to early stage capital and growth capital.
There is a lack of entrepreneurial culture.
There is a lack of acceptance to failure.
Why are Europeans more risk adverse than the US?’ Stefano Parisi, President of Confindustria Digitale, BUSINESSEUROPE

‘we need to change mindsets and improve the culture’ Robin Wauters, European Editor – The Next Web

‘we must foster a community that supports entreprenures’
‘the Israeli culture learn from role models and encourages school leavers to start their own company straight away. In Europe it’s seen as safe to go and work for a big company when you graduate’
‘society is driven by numbers. Let’s create an incentive culture’
‘education is good but we need practical experience’
‘you can’t copy Silicon Valley by copying the buildings – you need the people’ Eze Vidra, Head of Google Campus

‘there’s a perceived fear of looking stupid. That is our reason for not wanting to fail’
‘Steve jobs was an innovator, not an inventor – he delivered other peoples ideas better… We don’t need to make the next billion dollar idea but make what’s out there, better’ Yossi Vardi, Early Stage internet investor

The last presentation I saw was given by Juliana Rotich, executive director of Ushahidi, ‘a non-profit tech company that specializes in developing free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping’.

Rotich’s talk was very powerful. She based it on the theme of cognitive surplus ‘learning how to use more constructively the free time afforded to people since the 1940s for creative acts rather than consumptive ones, particularly with the advent of online tools that allow new forms of collaboration’

Rotich’s work which is mainly based in Africa but used globally, crowd sources data via an online platform. She stated that only 13% of Africans have Internet access yet they make use of all the resources that they have – Ushahidi’s work helps turn these  resources into invaluable tools.

The organisation she heads up is an incredible platform for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories. ‘Technology gives us the opportunity to magnify power – it’s taken 15 years for the Internet to make as much change as the industrial revolution did in 50 years!’ She went on to explain that we need to view the world from the ground, not just from main stream media and luckily, the Internet allows this. Now there are global voices and people online blogging about their experiences. Open systems are providing people with a skeleton to flesh out their ideas and co-working spaces and incubators in Kenya like IHub are allowing stimulation instead of regulation. ‘We need to remember how important feedback loops are for changing behaviors; they are like a dashboard to our social lives.’

Should we be supporting leaderless networks?
Should we stimulate or regulate?
What we need are gate keepers or trail blazers to empower and open doors.

A fantastic final presentation providing a heart felt message to a very insightful, information filled couple of days.

I captured all these quotes, lessons and insights but what did I learn?

  • Europe has the right people to help nuture and grow digital entreprenurial start-ups but access to funding and support needs to be easier and more approachable.
  • There are ways to support entrepreners better (tax relief, policy changes etc) and we need to drive awareness for a likely hood of these happening in the near future.
  • We need to drive innovation forward making sure we use the talent of the younger generation.
  • Failure is a known problem for start-ups – we should embrace it, change our culture and not shy away from it.
  • The internet has so much potential, we have only scratched the surface and we need to seek out the opportunities lying ahead of us.

And the last thing I want to point out is the lanyard we were all given with our name tags. I had forgotten that the clip for the lanyard doubled up as a memory stick! A nice touch.

DAA Lanyard

All I need to do now is put it into my computer to see what’s on it…

(the hashtag for the workshop was #DA12innov and the whole event hashtag was #DA12 for those wanting to read up more via twitter)

Bicycles helping women in Uganda

I recently came across this website for a community program, Ride 4 Women that empowers women in Uganda and provides them with bicycles so that they can reduce the time to travel, become economically stable and in turn safer in their community. The women in Uganda tend to do all the jobs around the house for a smooth running community but this ‘leaves no time for them to learn a trade to earn money and very little time for them to learn from each other’

Ride4Women

Ride4Women

With the following objectives:
1. Set up our Women’s Community Centre to be the women’s safe haven.
2. Equip women with vocational skills and adult education.
3. Set up income generating activities.
4. Train women in improved agriculture and animal rearing.
and use of bicycles, I’d love to get involved and wanted to share this discovery with everyone.

I have a personal connection with Uganda and a passion for the country and realised when I visited that they face many challenges which are not always easy to solve. It was clear that women do all the hard work, that adult education is non existent and setting up income generated activities would really benefit a large number of women. They did not appear very entreprenurial but maybe this is because the women need empowering for their communities to be more successful.

This type of project is an example of the type of concepts being posted by the OpenIDEO community.

The power of communities

I have already expressed a passion in previous blog posts for collaborative consumption and building communities but this has only been exagerated by signing up with IDEO‘s online platform OpenIDEO. Rachel Botsman recently posted a Twitter message that said successful collaborative consumption ventures ‘come down to two golden rules: convenience & choice’. This has proven to be very true – OpenIDEO has been my choice to join and it is very convenient to use, especially if you already think in a socially orientated way!

OpenIDEO logo

OpenIDEO logo


The online platform was set up to encourage people to design better together; crowd source information, build on others ideas and come up with sustainable solutions that can be implemented to help a community in some way.

I love the fact that it is unintrusive; I can browse the posted inspirations, read about the various challenges, choose which ones I want to take part in, post as many pieces of inspirations and/or concepts as I wish, comment on as many as I wish, applaude, bookmark, build…. you name it, they have thought about it. If I wanted, I could choose to be a passive member of the community. I could log on once in a while and simply read what has been added. On the other hand, anyone with an inquiring mind or slightly competitive nature will want to add inspiration, post concepts and build on other people’s posts.

OpenIDEO design quotient

OpenIDEO design quotient

The ‘design quotient’ adds another engaging aspect; it is a pie chart which shows how many points you have earnt for taking part in the challenges – what a fantastic way to encourage people to return to the site. I’m not sure if it is deliberate but it is not always that obvious where your points have come from – points definitely get added when someone has built on your idea but you do have to dig around to find out where from!

I first heard about OpenIDEO when Tom Hulme presented it at InterSections2011 in Cornwall at the start of March. He gave a very powerful and captivating talk about how the platform has grown and how building online communities in turn helps so many people around the world. I was intrigued and wanted to learn more…. Described on the website as ‘a place where people design better, together for social good. It’s an online platform for creative thinkers: the veteran designer and the new guy who just signed on, the critic and the MBA, the active participant and the curious lurker. Together, this makes up the creative guts of OpenIDEO’. It has been designed to be inclusive, community-centred, collaborative, optimistic and always in beta (open to continuous improvement). These are all words which are core to being a successful social innovator.

I highly recommend watching this video which explains how OpenIDEO works:

– No one should ever be left out because they are not a ‘designer’ or feel they are not creative.
– If socially orientated people (or anyone!) do not think community, they will get left behind and isolated at some point.
– Sharing ideas, knowledge, insight and experiences is essential for an idea to blossom. Two people with the same challenges can come up with very different concepts yet help each other with what they have learnt.
– I do not believe in pessimism
– Being open to continuous improvement is a very brave yet realistic point to make. How can your idea ever be 100% finished, especially as society is forever changing?

Example concept for food production challenge

The challenges are set with industry partners on real life problems which is another reason why I have become so attached to the community. I know that any inspiration, concept or evaluation of another concept I contribute with can help to build on the ‘winning concept’ which in turn will make a difference for many people in the world. The industry partners are able to take the well thought through ideas into the situations they are required in.

The blog ‘Failed Robot‘ has a interesting write up on the platform which shows a diagram to help explain who gets involved and why. Some great thinking has gone into why people take certain actions and this is particularly interesting when related to social issues within an online community.

Well done, OpenIDEO for
– being slightly addictive; twitter feeds are posted to show you the latest activity,
– for capturing content; the OpenIDEO community tribunal is regularly published providing an overview of the latest posting and stories and
– for allowing members to really feel part of a community; testimonials can be written, applauding can be given, comments are welcomed and the OpenIDEO community champions are fantastic at helping build on ideas.

It doesn’t matter what your background is, what your nationality is or what culture you are from, we can all learn from each other and this is fantastic. It removes any barriers from communicating with other members and instead encourages collaboration between like minded people.

IBM Start Jam

IBM Start Jam

Another example of successful online collaboration was this week’s IBM Start Jam. A two day event of collaborating on sustainable innovation took place online and a vast number of people took part. Guest contributors came on for set amounts of time while other people simply contributed over the 48 hours. The online platform appeared to be aimed at sustainability consultants, innovation managers, CSR consultants and corporate organisations.

Set up to encourage innovative collaboration around the globe with multidisciplinary and open mindsets, the Start Jam brought ‘different perspectives together to discover new solutions to long-standing problems’. IBM wanted to work across industries, disciplines, and national borders which they managed to do. I didn’t find the interface very intuative but once a question had been posted and people started to reply, the threads grew and I was soon hooked on reading all the responses. Seeing how conversations developed, how people responded and how focused people were on the original question fascinates me. Some people really thought on a corporate level yet the posts I could relate to more were the local, community focused ones. It didn’t mean they were not as relevant, I just felt they were more true to real life situations.

As the Start Jam was only for a short period of time (unlike OpenIDEO which is ongoing) it meant that people tended to have short bursts of collaboration (maybe in their break time or time allocated during their day to take part) which to me took away the community element. If you commented on someone’s post, they were less likely to comment back. This could have been because they had logged off and felt they were done with their contribution or because there was no incentive (no Design Quotient) to return!

I have to questions why these types of online platforms and community builders only seem to happen in the sustainability and social innovation sectors? Are other industries less happy to share information or maybe they do not see the power of building a community around a subject? Maybe their community are not ready or do not have the time to take part in an online platform? I think it all comes down to design thinking – design thinkers understand the need for concise storytelling, collaboration and are able to take a small piece of inspiration and realise it into a sustainable solution efficiently. This has to be done through engagement, empathy, prototyping (or all three!) and realising that it takes a team of different disciplines for an idea to be successful.

I wish I could have taken part in the service design, Global Jam 2011 where service designers in different countries set up Jams together to design brand new services inspired by a shared theme. Time and effort are required for these types of events but service designers and social innovators are forever inspired by them!