Thursday, July 14, 2011


If these are not new to you please accept my apologies.

A scene from the excellent movie, Downfall, which has been dubbed into comedic exchanges so often that there are several websites dedicated to it.

I was made aware of these two yesterday by a friend at BrainJuicer.

Have some hankies at hand and enjoy. Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Great ideas from Valenciennes

Do any of you teach?

I mean undergraduate and post graduate students. I teach. I teach MBA's at SAID, University of Oxford (don't you know) and Industrial design students at Valenciennes University. I also teach at Coventry, once at LSE, once in Norway and Italy and the list goes on. My topic is ethnography but I don't just expect students to believe everything I say. I run a a full blown exercise with them. And then tell them how well they have done compared to other groups I have lectured to - such as Oxford.

Last month I decided to set my own task for the design students at Valenciennes. I set them all up on EthOS and then briefed a project which was all about how young people clean their homes. Especially young people living in shared houses. i.e. Themselves! It wasn't really a brief. It was a task: watch and film each other cleaning (naturalistically including snatched cleaning) and then conduct analysis in order to arrive at a design brief for cleaning tools. Note I wasn't looking for concepts, I was looking at parameters - what should't they be designing.

Design students being design students, it was very hard to persuade them not to sketch or draw. And design student or not, it's very hard to watch an event and to try and think about what didn't or could have happened. And before even setting the tasks, I had the tough job of convincing them that being designers was not the most important thing in the world. That if they didn't know how to watch consumers - users - and generate meaning and implications, then they were nothing more than stylists who would remain at the drawing board until they retired.

The other complication was that they are all French! However, it is an English speaking university as dicatated by the head of the school who issued an email stating that all briefings, debriefs and written material, such as emails, were to be conveyed in English from that day on. Only the email was sent in French. Seriously. So although English speaking, I still had a very hard job to explain myself. The net result was a series of talks that went from politely trying to be interested in what I was saying and showing to not paying any attention to me at all. And then I briefed them and set them loose for 3 weeks of ethnographies armed with thinking tools learnt over many years and shared with them .

To be honest I felt quite depressed. Thirty six students with no interest in what I was talking about. Lots of puzzled looks. And a cheer when I finally said they could go and start their observations. One card I did hold was that I was marking their work. Marks which would impact their final year results.

Then followed a few days of waiting by the project I had created on EthOS for the forst entries to drop in. And nothing came. A few days after that there was a trickle. And by week three we had a  flood (relatively speaking) of 70 entries from 4 groups.

And let me tell you, the briefs they generated, backed up by their films and interpretations, were outstanding. So good that I finally caved in and asked them convert their briefs into designs. I felt quite emotional as I realised the quality of their concepts was so good that I wanted to take them to appliance manufacturers. I sincerely mean it.

Would you like to see the outputs? Call me.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Paying attention

The other day I was helping some friends pack. They were moving from Brussels to Pretoria.

Actually let me start at the beginning. We call them the 'Foreign Office couple', and what a wonderful family they are. We have known them for 5 years and will miss them very badly indeed. To give you an idea of just what a lovely family they are, over dinner a few weeks ago, they asked me if I wanted their car. As we already have have two cars and didn't want to pay for a third, I was thinking about a tactful reply when he followed up with:

"You can have it for free!"

To which I immediately replied, "Yes of course I'd love to have it - but are you sure?!"

They were positive. It's a 12 year old Honda CR-V with diplomatic plates and it's sitting in my garage as I type. I need to first re-register it as I am no diplomat, then I need to get it through some sort of 'fit-to-be-on the-road' test. And it's a wonderfully well looked after low mileage car which will serve me well on trips to the forest and the local waste disposal place. With 4X4 it will be great for winter school runs too.

Back to the point of this post. As I was helping Mrs Foreign Office couple with the packing (her husband was at work), she started chatting about how her husband had handed his mobile phone in to the office and so had no way of contacting her. This in itself wasn't so interesting. She continued to explain how she had been telling him about their plan for that evening - they were due to meet each other at someone's house for dinner - and how he hadn't be paying attention to her instructions. She finished by saying:

"Hope you paid attention because we have no mobile phones to call each other on..."

With that he had suddenly stopped whatever it was he had been doing and asked her to repeat herself while he paid her his undivided attention. She found it very funny how the realisation of no way of contacting each other had made him pay so much attention.

And it made me think. If a mobile phone allows you to not focus on a conversation because you can always call in to check later. What does email let you do? And what do social networking sites allow you do?

I need to chew this over. But in the meantime I must re-register the Honda.