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Blog posts from October 2011

Friday Links

This week’s Friday Links brought to you by Lech™ Premium Beer.

Here is a video of a robot riding a bicyle!

Next up, this work from the graduate lab at Mint Digital. Having been involved in a lot of short term student projects (Holla at me Extreme Blue!) what really strikes me about this project, pulled together by three graduates under the mentorship of Mint Digital, is how polished it is, how complete and real it feels. In three months they made an actual product, complete with a nice looking website, and to top it all, found it a cute name.

Matt Jones sent round this video of people falling in interesting ways:

I feel a bit dizzy.

And finally, because it’s getting a bit dark and wintery, and as far as I’m concerned this blog doesn’t have enough terrible cuteness, here is a picture of someone tickling an otter.

Happy Friday!

Week 333

It’s a drizzly day in London and I have cold forearms.
Alex, Jones and Jack are in Uinta workshops this week, so the office feels a bit empty and Jones’ iconic eyebrows are missing from my view across the desk.

This week Simon is shepherding, doing a bit of re-planning, pinging off emails and ushering the rest of us into the right places at the right time with his characteristic patience and charm.

Kari is still doing ‘the usual’, a lot of putting things into spreadsheets. This week she is also writing documentation for new financial admin procedures, which I can only hope is more exciting than it sounds.

Nick has his fingers and also some toes in many pies (dexterous feet) this week. He’s working with Joe on Uinta, with James, Phil, Andy and I on Weminuche, applying some polish to Suwappu, moving more google accounts from one place to another, and doing a bit of Schooloscope migration.

Denise is making some very beautiful things for Barry, which I can’t wait to see in the world.

Joe is working on Uinta, making some truly gorgeous looking animations, and swinging his arms around a lot.

James is working on Weminuche with Alex. Right now he is looking at something complicated in Omingraffle and tapping his face thoughtfully.

I am also working with Denise on Barry. Taking pictures from dropbox and making them into real things.

Matt Webb is thinking about January, doing his regular catch ups with the team, financial stuff and meetings.

Andy is thinking about process and working on Barry. Something must be afoot because every time the doorbell goes he jumps out from Statham and runs to the door to collect whatever the postman has brought. What’s he building back there?

Timo is working with Jack on Chaco stuff. He is also pulling together a script for Uinta work and writing a proposal.

The rain has stopped, and Alex and Jones have just arrived back, laden with coffee and fun things for us all to look at.


Friday links: personality, perfection and smoke rings

As the world starts testing Siri, with all the usuals, Alex found an interesting link discussing Siri’s personality. It’s fascinating times for copywriting in its many forms. As we get frustrated with product copy becoming over friendly, it’s tricky line to tread for the writers of AI. Siri seems to have it nailed, but it’ll be fun looking for the inevitable imitations over the next few years. (How many witty answers can you give to ‘What’s the meaning of life?’)

iCloud Icon

While we’re talking about Apple, Matthew sent around this link pointing to the origins of the iCloud logo. The golden ratio! So perfect. Only Apple could create such visual magic. Oh.

Monocle Radio

Matthew also sent around a link to this Monocle radio (above), which he spotted via @antimega. Described as ‘An update of the Heritage model’ it now has an iPod/iPhone remote control application and full coverage of DAB. Perhaps this heritage design (or the price tag) will ‘nurture the desire to keep':

“If you build in emotional value, people will keep products longer and take more care of it; this of course saves energy and materials. It is the difference between selling an ordinary hi-fi and selling amazing sound.”

Which is discussed further in this article, relating to products in general — found by Alex, on Core77.


Like everyone else we’ve been looking at the Lytro camera (above) – with its ‘shoot now focus later’ technology. Timo, sent around the first link to a written review, and Alex followed up with this additional review with videos.

We all loved this video of ‘quantum levitation’, too, first spotted by Alex.

Matthew pointed us at this waste reclamation power plant in the heart of Copenhagen:
“It’s a massive incinerator that burns household rubbish to make electricity.
Two things:
1. they’ve shaped it like a mountain, and in the winter it’ll have snow and 3 ski runs down from the top

2. it emits smoke—well, CO2. But instead of a plume, the smoke stack stores up the CO2 until it reaches 1 ton, and then puffs out a smoke ring.”


Week 332

The cold but sunny London mornings see us in the middle of week 332. We’re all much healthier this week, with last weeks human bugs all ticketed, fixed and filed.

Jack and Matt Jones are in New York as I type. They’ve gone for a mix of reasons; secret client meetings and non-secret public speaking.

As nice as NY is, it’s an exciting time to be in the studio. It feels like everything has come on leaps an bounds in the past few weeks. Projects are getting more visual—more tangible—by the day. Andy has just unwrapped a package which saw us all trailing in his wake on the path to Statham (the tiny back room in Berg). This is another part of Weminuche falling in to place—and it’s so easy to see how everyone’s different type of work will manifest itself now.

Alex and I have been creating the visual side of Weminuche, working closely with James and Alice. There’s a general feeling of delight as wireframes become working prototypes. (As a visual designer working on digital design, I still get so excited as things start working that I wish I could pick stuff up and squish it).

My part of the design is also uncovering bugs for Nick to wrangle. He’s extremely gracious every time ‘Oh, that’s good… It’s good to know that might happen, I’ll look into it now’. And he does. I keep waiting for the ‘ARGH! Enough! Can’t you just leave it for 5 minutes?!’ but it’s not happened as yet. Nick is working closely with Andy too, who is often buried headfirst in spreadsheets, and schematics.

Nick is also working with Joe and Simon, on the Uinta project. Again, it’s such a delight to see this developing, Joe’s design is beautiful, despite the fact that every time you talk to him he’s had some new kind of technological disaster. (Latest: laptop monitor has stopped working).

Timo is planning and editing new films. Due to our office space issues, he’s hidden away in our temporary other office (known as BERG 9), but does appear now and again for cups of tea and the odd meeting. I’m looking forward to seeing the plans for the next film, which will support some of the work Matthew is doing.

Kari and Simon are, as ever, the people that keep us going. Kari by booking flights for new workshops and continuing the ever frustrating search for new office space. It sounds like we’re getting there, but it’s certainly not been easy. Simon has been keeping control of client and internal projects, and doing a good job of keeping us in touch with some of the people outside the office we’re also working with.

All in all, interesting times.

Friday links: tree climbing, old package designs, robot recon, ultrasound-in-your-pocket and ferrofluids

The BERG studio list has been a bit quiet this week. I don’t know if it’s that everyone has been so buried in their work that they haven’t had much time to follow interesting links, or if it’s just been a quiet week out on the internets in general. A few noteworthy things have come floating past, though.

Via Matt Jones we discovered a simple but ingenious tool for any amateur tree climber: First Branch, “for when you want to climb a tree, but the first branch is just out of reach.”

Alex alerted us to Fast Company’s article about the NewProductWorks Collection where you can find “every product in food, beverage, household, health & beauty care, baby care, pet products, etc” going back as far as the 1960s. Of course “you” would need to be in a particularly qualified position because it is not, unfortunately, open to the public. I wonder if working for BERG would get me in. I would so love to see that.

Matt Jones sent this video of the Recon Scout Throwbot, a throwable robotic reconnaissance agent for use by the military, which doesn’t just seem like something out of science fiction, it actually is. (Sort of. Minus the intelligence anyway. So far…)

Also via Jones came news of a new ultrasound accessory for your smartphone. I’m sure there are plenty of celebrities who will be relieved to know that they only need to shell out $8,000 for their own private, in-home ultrasound equipment rather than $100,000. More seriously, this could be a great advance for global healthcare.

And finally, Joe delighted us with a magnetic liquid hedgehog from Russia:

Which then sent me into a rabbit hole of Ferrofluid videos on YouTube. There’s some pretty awesome stuff out there.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Week 331

331 – the week that shall henceforth only be known as Plague Week. Leaves are falling, temperatures are dropping, and the dreaded rhinovirus has claimed no fewer than five victims of our small cohort of thirteen this week. We have a policy in the studio that as soon as someone begins to look a little green, sniffly or generally grotty they are immediately banished, not to return until risk of contagion subsides. Unfortunately it seems our policy hasn’t worked too well this week. Biohazard suits are next.

Last Friday, our weekly demos were stunning. Ninety minutes of brilliant work on all projects. It’ll be hard to follow that this week, especially with so many people out of the studio.

If Barry were a rollercoaster, we’ve just gone over the top of a reasonably lengthy climb and are enjoying the thrill of sudden progress, speed and excitement, though there is still much to come. After various re-planning sessions last week, and a couple of eureka moments this week, things are really happening. Both Matthews, Jack, Denise, Alex, James, Alice, Andy, Nick and Phil have all been working tremendously towards our various short-term goals for this. You know things are going well when Andy becomes an excited one-man percussion extravaganza in the back room.

Last week we started working with partners Future Platforms on some elements of the Uinta and Chaco projects. Progress so far is good, and as they run their projects in fortnightly iterations, as well as our day-to-day communications Joe and I will be spending every other Wednesday with the FP team in Brighton to review what’s been done and plan the next iteration of work. It’s a similar process to that which we’re using for Barry internally.

We’re at the stage where we’re gearing up some communications work around Chaco, Uinta and Barry. Jack and Timo have been sketching and I’ve spent time with them to sketch out timings and logistics. It’s going to be a busy few months for those guys.

Between her numerous other responsibilities, Kari’s been pounding the streets scouting out slightly larger spaces for us to move to locally. Matt Jones and Matt Webb have been looking at our pipeline of work into 2012 and I’ve been supporting by looking at our likely capacity into the new year. They’ve also been out at Wired 2011, returning to the studio rather excited about brainwave-controlled cat ears. And why not.

Guardian iPad app launched

Congratulations to all the team at The Guardian for launching their iPad app this week.

BERG played a small role at the very beginning of the process with initial product workshops, Nick contributing his experience on iOS prototyping and Jack consulting on the interaction design with Mark Porter and the team.

Andy Brockie who led the internal design team there has put together a great ‘behind-the-scenes’ gallery of the process, and newspaper design guru Mark Porter has an in-depth blog post about his involvement here.

From that post, a snippet about some of the ‘algorithmic-art-director‘ workflow the team invented:

Unlike the iPhone and Android apps, which are built on feeds from the website, this one actually recycles the already-formatted newspaper pages. A script analyses the InDesign files from the printed paper and uses various parameters (page number, physical area and position that a story occupies, headline size, image size etc) to assign a value to the story. The content is then automatically rebuilt according to those values in a new InDesign template for the app.

It’s not quite the “Robot Mark Porter” that Schulze and Jones imagined in the workshops, but it’s as close as we’re likely to see in my lifetime. Of course robots do not make good subs or designers, so at this stage some humans intervene to refine, improve and add character, particularly to the article pages. Then the InDesign data goes into a digital sausage machine to emerge at the other end as HTML.

Fascinating stuff, and perhaps a hint of the near-future of graphic design…

It was a pleasure working with the team there, and Mark especially. The final result looks fantastic, and more importantly perhaps reads beautifully and downloads extremely quickly. Well done to all involved!

And now, we can now finally exclusively reveal our prototype sketch for Robot Mark Porter…

Friday Links

It’s Friday the 7th of October, and this is Berg Friday Links.

The recommended soundtrack for this edition of Friday Links is Keygen Jukebox, provided by Andy, and my favourite link of the week.

Alex provided us with this link to a 1971 Nintendo product.

We got excited enough about this new Roland 3D hobby mill that we started talking about the games consoles we used when we were kids.

There’s been a bit of interest in Point Of View videos on the list, bringing up these examples: The Stampede by Biting Elbows, Cinnamon Chasers – Luv Deluxe, Prodigy – Smack My Bitch Up (NSFW) and the game Mirror’s Edge.

We also had a mini discussion on the greater debate around what now seems to have been coined wackaging. Denise, the person I would most trust on this issue, gave us this:

Main thing is that writing in that style and doing it well isn’t easy. And it’s not quick. It doesn’t just trip off the tongue, its not like writing an email to your mates. Get it right, and people like it. Get it wrong and it’s really offensive. It’s also very difficult to tell people how to get it right. Christopher Hitchens explains it better:

To my writing classes I used later to open by saying that anybody who could talk could also write. Having cheered them up with this easy-to-grasp ladder, I then replaced it with a huge and loathsome snake: “How many people in this class, would you say, can talk? I mean really talk?” That had its duly woeful effect.

Alex provided us with this animated gif:

And finally, from Denise via She Went of Her Own Accord, is New Old Jokes Home:

My robot wife has gone to the Carribbean.
No, she came ready-manufactured.

Have a good weekend.

Thanks Steve.

We probably wouldn’t be doing what we do if Steve Jobs hadn’t done what he did.

To mark his passing this week, I asked the studio for their stories of first contact with Apple.


In 1983 when I was 10 years old, my school got about 10 shiny new Apple IIe computers and decided that we should learn a little basic programming. They divided us into two groups. Half of the class learned Basic, and the other half – the group that I was in – learned Logo. I remember feeling like we were pretty important and very cool for learning how to do computer programming. And I loved that I could change a few letters and number and make the turtle do different things. It gave me a great sense of autonomy.


The thing about buying an apple product is that you’re sold an experience. It’s not all about the industrial design of the product, or the UI, or anything else, it’s the russian doll effect of unpeeling layers of a sealed box and feeling like you’ve bought something really special, which is something I’d never really experienced with a consumer product until I bought my first iBook at uni. If you can make people smile before they’ve even lifted the product out of the box, I think you’re almost half way there.


My first introduction to the word of computing was at home. We had a commodore PET and graduated to the BBC Micro. I have only one sibling, so aside from a few fights over who got to play space invaders next, we were lucky enough to be able to use a computer when we wanted to. It was never a big deal, there was no fear involved for six year old me.

Two things changed this. First, the BBC moved from the front room to my father’s study. Home computing was work computing, not a play thing. Second, we started ‘doing computers’ at school. This meant looking over the shoulders of 30 other kids at the one, perhaps two, computers available. It meant a fight to get to the front—a fight I wasn’t that fussed about joining. (I’d already seen a computer anyway).

And so I didn’t touch a computer again until university in the early 90s, by which time I’d learnt to fear them. We weren’t trained in ‘desktop publishing’ on my degree course. Yet again, scheduling educational computer time involved a bit of a fight, and so I squared up to a Mac at last, and wondered how the hell I was going to get the file I’d just made off the desktop and on to a disk.

After a split second’s thought, I picked up the picture of the file and put it on the picture of a disk. Seemed obvious. Was obvious. Worked. Turned out that using computers was really easy.

Better than that, it meant that when I said yes to my first design job as a penniless graduate, was handed a magazine to design and a deadline for the end of the week I had a tool to use. Not quite as easy as using a pencil, but not so far off.

At the end of the month, I got paid. Thanks Steve, for feeding me.


One of my first encounters with a Mac was back in 1996 during a High School ‘Design & Technology’ lesson. I think it was a Macintosh LC 580. Anyway, it was reasonably new but already grubby with the greasy fingerprints of overzealous teenagers. I turned it on and the screen flickered with light. A blinking apparition of a disk appeared alongside a question mark. I remember taking this to mean that it had crashed so I reached back, opened my hand and struck the monitor really, really hard. The next thing I remember was a jolt of shock as the class teacher screamed at me from across the room. I got sent out. Apparently the question mark was normal.

The second and more favourable memory was the first time I saw pictures of the first iPhone on the internet. I remember looking at it and thinking that I was seeing the device that featured in so many of my sci-fi fuelled childhood dreams. A screen that you could hold in your palm. That would show you videos. That would let you communicate to your friends. Find your way around. Somehow Apple had made real something that I could only conjure up in my imagination and it felt magic to be part of the generation that got to see it happen.


1994, using an Macintosh II in IT at secondary school. My only other prior exposure to computers had been Apricot and Amstrad (we had a CPC6128 with a colour screen). I was amazed by the tiny size and loading speed. No tapes! It was the first computer I’d ever used with more than one word processing font.


The first Mac I owned was an LC475, and that pizza box unit is still at my mum’s house, the insides chewed away by mice which is what happens if you leave computers hanging around in houses in the countryside. I loved that computer: I made fanzines and I made art. I connected to my first BBS, through a 2400 baud modem I bought from a classifieds ad at the back of a magazine. When I connected, that very first time, when I saw the future and everything changed, pivoted on the spot and pointed towards a much larger very different future, the stereo was playing Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason. The standout single from that album is called “Learning to Fly.”

The first Mac I saw was at a house of my dad’s friend, a man named Dave, and he had one of those all-in-one Macs, and I was very young. This was a long time before the LC475 that I had, and the strong memory of seeing it was the reason I would, when I was older, get that LC475. I was amazed at three things: the GUI which looked like pen-and-ink draftsmanship; that the power button was on the keyboard instead of being on the back of the box, and that the keyboard was a separate, independent thing; and that there was no computer: there was just the screen, the thing that you used. I couldn’t believe it. I looked at it for a long time.


I don’t really care what anyone else than Steve does.


‘Bloody Steve’ we used to shout, as Finder windows lost their positions, as CDs were teased with paperclips or the screens of Titanium laptops fell off. Schulze & I have lambasted Jobs over the years for faults in OSes and problems with Apple hardware, but that was before we realised how hard it is to do even basic hardware and software properly at scale. My respect for him grew enormously as Apple moved from computing and swallowed up ever more industries that I cared about. Perhaps the most significant thing I have learnt from Jobs is that his products were absolutely his politics.

My story:

It was 1986, I was 14, and working at Harris Printers in my hometown in South Wales after school everyday and most saturdays. I cleaned, collated, folded, packed print. Sometimes I got to make litho plates on the big Agfa camera, and sometimes I got to use the ancient treadle-powered letterpress. I sometimes got to do layout with Letraset and typesetting galleys from an IBM golfball printer. I convinced the owner that something called DeeTeePee was the next big thing, and we should buy a Mac Se30, Quark Xpress and Adobe Illustrator 1.0. I think with the Radius display and Laserwriter+ it must have come to about £20k or so. It was an incredible machine. What you saw was what you did was what you got. You moved things on a screen that seemed real, not abstractions. My only computer experiences, like most kids till then had been a BBC Model B, or a Vic-20, abstract and arcane. This was something that everyone, in the printers, in my family, my school friends – everyone – could see was different. It was when I first felt I wouldn’t have to choose between technology and art.

Thanks Steve.

Suwappu app prototype – toys, stories, and augmented reality

You may remember Suwappu, our toy invention project with Dentsu — those woodland creatures that talk to one-another when you watch them through your phone camera. You can see the film – the design concept – here or (and now I’m showing off) in the New York at Moma, in the exhibition Talk to Me.

Here’s the next stage, a sneak peek at the internal app prototype:

Direct link: Suwappu app prototype video, on Vimeo.

It’s an iPhone app which is a window to Suwappu, where you can see Deer and Badger talk as you play with them.

Behind the scenes, there’s some neat technology here. The camera recognises Deer and Badger just from what they look like — it’s a robot-readable world but there’s not a QR Code in sight. The camera picks up on the designs of the faces of the Suwappu creatures. Technically this is markerless augmented reality — it’s cutting-edge computer vision.


And what’s also neat is that the augmented reality is all in 3D: you suddenly see Deer as inside a new environment, one that moves around and behind the toy as your move the phone around. It’s all tabletop too, which is nicely personal. The tabletop is a fascinating place for user interfaces, alongside the room-side interfaces of Xbox Kinects and Nintendo Wiis, the intimate scale of mobiles, and the close desktop of the PC. Tabletop augmented reality is play-scale!

But what tickles us all most about Suwappu is the story-telling.

Seeing the two characters chatting, and referencing a just-out-of-camera event, is so provocative. It makes me wonder what could be done with this story-telling. Could there be a new story every week, some kind of drama occurring between the toys? Or maybe Badger gets to know you, and you interact on Facebook too. How about one day Deer mentions a new character, and a couple of weeks later you see it pop up on TV or in the shops.

The system that it would all require is intriguing: what does a script look like, when you’re authoring a story for five or six woodland creatures, and one or two human kids who are part of the action? How do we deliver the story to the phone? What stories work best? This app scratches the surface of that, and I know these are the avenues the folks at Dentsu are looking forward to exploring in the future. It feels like inventing a new media channel.

Suwappu is magical because it’s so alive, and it fizzes with promise. Back in the 1980s, I played with Transformers toys, and in my imagination I thought about the stories in the Transformers TV cartoon. And when I watched the cartoon, I was all the more engaged for having had the actual Transformers toys in my hands. With Suwappu, the stories and the toys are happening in the same place at the same time, right in my hands and right in-front of you.

Here are some more pics.


The app icon.


Starting the tech demo. You can switch between English and Japanese.


Badger saying “Did I make another fire?” (Badger has poor control over his laser eyes!)


Deer retweeting Badger, and adding “Oh dear.” I love the gentle way the characters interact.

You can’t download the iPhone app — this is an internal-only prototype for Dentsu to test the experience and test the technology. We’re grateful to them for being so open, and for creating and sharing Suwappu.

Thanks to all our friends at Dentsu (the original introduction has detailed credits), the team here at BERG, and thanks especially to Zappar, whose technology and smarts in augmented reality and computer vision has brought Suwappu to life.

Read more about the Suwappu app prototype on Dentsu London’s blog, which also discusses some future commercial directions for Suwappu.

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