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Blog posts tagged as 'update'

Week 222

Let’s keep it short and sweet. Schulze is working on video all week with Timo for the RFID design research and communication project. Tom is breaking ground on our new fulfilment system, named Springdale, which will be used in consumer sales in the future. He’s also writing, and in this morning’s crit showed a component of last week’s toy experimentation he built. It manipulates video and looks like it has lots of other uses. Neat.

Matt J is doing design work on Ojito and research on upcoming projects. Ashdown is close to kicking off and he’s leading that — the subsidiary holding company is formed and there are just a few more logistical hoops to jump through.

My priorities this week are coding for the racing car, and admin: anything in the pipeline needs to be progressed, and there is a list of tasks for the year end accounts which really must be done this week. (The pipeline is the list of projects pre-contract, everything from prospect through proposal to purchase order. It’s healthy to keep the pipeline full at every stage, and everything moving.)

Schulze has just walked in the door with Timo, so I’m off to lunch with them now. Enjoy your week!

Week 221

Matt Jones and I have been in San Francisco this week, for meetings and a conference (an event called Foo Camp). We’ve been demoing Ojito, a cheap 3D device for the iPhone we’ve developed. Although it wasn’t the purpose of the trip, we’ve pitched it maybe two dozen times, sometimes in less than a minute in a corridor, and it’s fascinating how that process helps distill a product concept and clarify its route to market.

I met one guy and he was like, “oh, great name, how did you come up with it,” so I told the story: we give all our projects codenames after places on the Colorado Plateau. We need essentially meaningless names for the dark projects, and it’s one of my favourite regions in the world. Ojito is a place there. And he replied, “no, no, you don’t understand. I speak Portuguese. Ojito, it means LITTLE EYE.” Auspicious.

My plan for the remainder of this week is to write Ojito up as a plan and cost it, and catch up on the admin that’s difficult to do away — invoicing, payroll and so on: there’s an approved suppliers list the company needs to get on otherwise we’ll lose our chance at a project, and the other big task is setting up a subsidiary company to run Ashdown so that project can start. The wheels are in motion but I need to speak with the bank.

Jack and Tom are in London, working together on a toy I’m really looking forward to seeing. It needs a codename. I understand there are stickers involved. That’ll continue next week.

Tom has been spit-and-polishing the website. Jack has been finishing the stationery templates for invoices and so on. Next week he’s doing some video work with Timo on our RFID research project.

Energy is important to new product development, and to creating new work, as is perspective. It’s easy to get mired in even the most exhilarating work and lose sight of what’s important in a product, and work is always better – and easier – when it’s approached with bright eyes and an open, confident nature. For projects that last longer out of the public eye, you need willpower too.

Conversations and conferences help (Matt J and Tom are both at dconstruct this Friday). What erodes these feelings is a lack of stability. In that spirit, the big news this week is mundane: we’ve been waiting for invoices to two clients to be paid… and in the last couple days, the money landed in the bank. Frankly it’s a relief. Large company bureaucracy can make the payment process time-consuming to navigate, and now especially – what with expanding and investing in new product ideas – Berg’s two major resource constraints are attention and cash flow. Having these invoices paid makes me realise quite how tense I’ve been about the latter for the last month (I don’t mind saying that most of my waking cycles go to thinking about the company), and it’ll be good to return to the normal situation of just having too many exciting projects to work on. That’s life in the Escalante.

Week 220

Our first week being BERG, and everything is sweet. Welcome to the new website! I should ask Matt J and Tom to say a few words here about the design ideas behind it, how it was put together, and where it’ll go next.

Tom is migrating the last parts of the old website now, and he and Jack are working together on an internal interaction design project for the rest of the week. That sounds fancy: it’s a toy and it’s funny and clever. I look forward to seeing it.

Matt J and I are both in California for conferences and meetings later this week and most of next. Jack has been making demos for Ojito with Campbell (the 3D designer who worked on the Manhattan maps), so we’ll show that around while we’re out there. It’s a simple toy and tool, and our best guess is that – as a standalone thing – it’s legally unprotectable. That means we need to be able to move fast, fit with other people’s products and context, innovate with the service design, and be flexible with route to market. It might still end up as an experiment but that’s fine. We’ll show it more publicly once it’s gone through another round of refinements.

Matt is also wrapping up final deliverables for the two design strategy projects. At that point both become a kind of gentle chase through the accounts payable sides of the relevant companies, which is simply a part of doing business with organisations of a certain size.

This is a quick note because I’m travelling a day early, today, for client workshops in New York (part of one of the two design strategy projects). On the plane I’m hoping to prep for that, and also collate our comments on the Ashdown contract — our solicitor had some interesting points I need check into.

Disappointingly I’m not going to get to work more on the racing car, which needs about another day’s work. Andy and I spent last Friday on it, and lost a good half an hour chasing it round the studio kitchen and having it respond to different instructions. It’s fun to play with in ways I hadn’t expected: interactively and together. More laughter than I’d thought. A good toy.

Week 219

It’s the last week of Schulze & Webb because we’re renaming the company on Thursday. S&W no longer says what we are: four permanents and a network of expert practitioners, working in design strategy, invention and new product development for ourselves and others. The new name is good for the next four years… and more on that in a day or two.

Tom’s working on the website. It’s super clean, and the launch scope is good and tight. It’s all built in WordPress so we can add to it continuously — a big problem with the current one is how hard it is to update, given how busy we get. Matt Jones is on that too. He’s designed it as a hypertext, all cross-linked so browsing is a flow of reading. He’s also writing, sketching and designing as the deliverables are created for the two design strategy projects. And he’ll be on business development towards the end of the week.

Jack is working on negotiations for the new studio, developing our new branding, and today is with our model maker on various projects… one is Ojito, prototypes of which Matt J and I are hoping to take to California when we visit next week.

I’m writing, one design strategy doc and a little copy for the website. And I’m still on business. The Ashdown contract needs to be run past our solicitor, which is new for us but it’s more complex than ones we’ve signed before. And I have my fingers crossed that we’ll be able to move the iPhone app job forward towards kick-off later this week too.

See you on the other side of the re-brand!

Week 218

Matt J’s two design strategy projects of last week continue. One is at illustration and document design stage, and the other is feeding into a bigger process through docs and meetings. Tom A continues work on the new website, and we’ll be having some friends of the company over for drinks on 19 August to help us launch. Jack Schulze is working on our new stationery and typography, and on moving us into a new studio with friends.

Schulze also has a new prototype in hand from the model maker we work with — the feasibility test has come back well. The project is codenamed Ojito. We name a bunch of our projects with place names from the Colorado Plateau. Jack leads new product development and prototyping internally and for clients. His main client project, a toy car for AHO, wasn’t supposed to be a priority last week, but Andy H was able to come in and work on the electrical engineering so there was more progress than we expected. We’re hoping there will be more of that this week.

My week is costings, admin and closing projects. Matt J and Schulze have each put out proposals this week, and I’ve helped with costings for both. I’m working on a financial model and some user scenarios with Jack; a visual/interaction design project in Germany and an education project in London, both at contract stage and requiring a little shepherding towards signing; and an iPhone project we need to get to a letter of intent this week to keep timings sweet. I was hoping to gather material for the preparation of our year end accounts, but it looks like that’ll have to wait until next week… because instead I’ll be putting together a contract:

Tom Armitage has been working with us four days a week for the last six months, primarily on Shownar. This week is his first week full time. He’s been doing ace work as lead developer and a kind of embedded journalist/design researcher, and I’m super pleased to make this permanent.

Week 217

I thought it’d be interesting to start giving a weekly update here of what we’re up to in the company.

We have weekly design crits inside, on Tuesday mornings, where we all talk about our plans for the week and crit a single project, so in the future look for these updates just after those meetings.

Let’s see… Matt Jones is leading on two big design strategy projects on at the moment, both oriented around workshops. The shorter is more about concepting, and the workshops are complete so it’s about writing up products, the ideas behind them, and illustrating. The longer is just starting and more focused on facilitating and synthesising.

Tom Armitage is leading on building out our new website. The old one hasn’t been updated in, oh, four years or so. Look for that in the next couple weeks.

Otherwise we’re focusing on business development. There are two projects we’re hoping to move to first draft contract this week or early next, and Jack is in Amsterdam for a few days developing a proposal for a third. His travelling means two other projects (ongoing new product development and a prototyping gig) aren’t burning super bright this week. And of course the usual following up leads.

It’s an exciting summer, doubling in size, new studio soon, lots of work and project, lots of stories to tell… but more of that in weeks to come.

Oh, the week 217 thing: Schulze & Webb Ltd isn’t the original name of the company. Jack and I renamed an off-the-shelf company we bought — that’s often the easiest way to start up in the UK. So for a while the company was called Z.V.B. Ltd. “What does that stand for, Zero Version Behaviour?” said Jack’s dad. And that particular company was formed 1 June 2005. I like that it pre-dates us, if only by a few weeks.

Immodesty and hello

We’ve had a bunch of extremely generous links in the past couple of weeks… just as we submerged into deadline mode.

Fimoculous picked out this blog, Pulse Laser, as one of the best blogs of 2006 that you (maybe) aren’t reading. Wow! I’ve had much teasing for being described as “the kind of nerd that all nerds aspire to be.” The other blogs in the list are brilliant; it’s extremely flattering to be placed in that company. Thank you!

And if that weren’t enough, we’re also in a list of Best Interaction Design Blogs 2006. Staggering company again, and thank you. Not bad for a blog that started only at the end of September.

Modesty, once thrown away, it difficult to re-establish. So I’ll continue.

There have also been a number of new readers coming from O’Reilly Radar on the 3C products essay series, and also from a great collection of lessons from animation (on 37signals) which links into one of those same essays.

America 1958


What all of that means is there have been a lot of people visiting, with nothing fresh to read.

So, if you’re new here, start with our introductory post.

Then you might also enjoy our most popular posts (our top content to-date as listed by Google Analytics):

  • My printer, my social letterbox, on how taking the lessons of the Web to consumer electronics can make satisfying, simple, social products.
  • Burtin vs. Ellis/Williams compares a spread from Warren Ellis’ Desolation Jones to a page from a U.S. Army rifle disassembly manual. Comics are in everything.
  • Robot arms traverses from from extremely small, mechanical hands to industrial robot arms. Don’t miss the robot-arms-as-DJs link.
  • 3C products, The life of products and Experience hooks is a series about the new creative, connected and community-driven generation, Gen C. It introduces the 3C products they demand, and the design challenges we’ll face.
  • Visiting a model railway exhibition simply shows what we saw, models and layouts. The comments from model railway enthusiasts are of high value.

The image above, by the way, is from American Look (Part III) (1958). It’s a Chevrolet-sponsored film promoting the industry and style of the 1950; part III focuses on the designers themselves. This particular screen grab falls in the segment described:

15:15:20:00 MS Executives point to a model of car which is unveiled; smile and nod approvingly; senior executive shakes hand of subordinate, pats other on back

It somehow seems appropriate. The whole movie is recommended.

Making Senses revisited

Adaptive Path kindly invited me to their offices this morning, where I muddled through my Making Senses talk, on using the human senses as inspiration for next-generation Web browser functionality.

Optic flow

Revisiting the slides, and the conversation afterward, has shown me how to state the argument more directly:

  1. As far as interaction on the computer desktop and the Web goes, navigational and spatial metaphors dominate. On a micro level we talk about direct manipulation of files via icons: Dragging, moving, opening and so on. On a macro level, we have addresses, visiting, and sitemaps.
  2. When a person has navigated to something, they can know what it is because of the navigation itself. For instance, you know you’re in London because you followed all the signposts to London.
  3. In a world of cheap sensors, many, many display surfaces, and high connectivity, we are presented with information without that navigational context. Furthermore, in areas which have traditionally used the navigational metaphor (mainly the Web), navigation might not be the most appropriate approach to reading the news, buying books, or hanging out in chatrooms. Yet still we approach Web design armed with this metaphor.
  4. It’s as important that a thing can be instantly appreciated for what it is, as that it can be navigated to. ‘Instantly appreciate’ means comprehend pre-consciously, just as we instantly appreciate a chair as a chair when looking at it, without having to deliberately deduce the meaning of the pattern of light on our retina.
  5. As a guide to what qualities we should be able to instantly appreciate, we can use human and animal senses to show what features we need to recognise of things in the environment. Sensing these features is sufficient to let us intelligently interact, without navigating.
  6. To summarise these features, we need to be able to detect: Structure, focus and periphery, rhythms of activity, summaries, how this particular thing is situated in the larger environment (and more). The Web browser, as our sensory organs online, should do this job, instead of leaving it to the websites themselves.

Applying the sensory model to Web design triggers a few ideas:

  • The high-level structure of all sites should be represented by the browser in a consistent way, not by each site differently.
  • Regular patterns in browsing (such as the sites visited daily or weekly) should be supported by the browser.
  • Using the extracted keywords of a web page as its ‘scent,’ hyperlinks should indicate how their odour strengthens or detracts from the smell of the current browsing trail.

There are more ideas, but that’s what the presentation discusses and illustrates.

Incidentally, the image at the top of this post is from J. J. Gibson’s The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, which talks about how we see continuously and actively as we move through space. I’d like to consider browsing the Web in the same light.

Deploy to desktop

Web apps are currently undergoing a renaissance–or perhaps they’re fulfilling the promise made when the genre was created in 1999. The technology, skills and community that go to make these web apps is beginning to turn in many different directions. We’ll soon see a number of different web app species. One I find most exciting is Deploy to Desktop. What if the same skills needed to build complex web apps could be turned to making desktop applications, starting from a simple web app in a HTML renderer window, and iterating to use native widgets, drag and drop, and full OS integration? (More about this in my App After App talk.)

We’re on the way there. Three data-points for that journey:

Apollo is Adobe’s cross-platform runtime, based on Apple’s WekKit, that lets you run HTML/CSS/AJAX apps on the desktop. It works offline, includes an API for communication between Apollo apps, and will let you write database hooks to a local or remote persistent store. The Apollo wrapper will be distributed free, like Acrobat Reader or the Flash Player (personally I think this is the wrong model–apps should be standalone, but we’ll see). Some Apollo screenshots.

Next is WebKit on Rails which is exactly what I wanted to see when I gave that talk. It makes it easy (well, easier) to take your Ruby on Rails web app, wrap it in WebKit, the Mac HTML renderer, and run it as a desktop app. See the list of existing projects for applications you can already download.

Last up is Pyro, which wraps 37signal’s Campfire browser-based live chat application and turns it into a Mac app. Features include a badged application icon (the number of unread messages are shown), drag and drop upload, scripting support and more. Someday all web apps will be available this way.

Friday feedback

It’s Friday, so let’s see what people have been saying about Pulse Laser…

An easier update first. I mentioned pagefeel, toying with taste, mouthfeel and extra browser functionality. Not only has Ben Gimpert put his culinary talk online, Theomatics of Food, he’s also offered more suggestions for what the browser-mouth could taste. All good stuff.

Now a slightly tougher comment.

Anne Galloway gave us a generous write-up on the first few days of posts, and asked some important questions of my model railway exhibition observations:

Matt’s assumptions about technology, and his expectations of technological progress over time, become very apparent in these excerpts. But what if the values these hobbyists associate with their craft include the beauty and nostalgia of keeping history alive? Or the joyous absorption of manual work and constant maintainance? What if there is a desire to resist automation and ease of use? What could we learn then about what people want and expect from new technological designs?

It’s true, it’s true!

Phil Edward’s comment on Anne’s post amplifies those questions, saying that they’re: “Pretty fundamental questions, in fact – and I dislike and distrust technophiles like Schulze and Webb (and Archigram, for that matter), precisely because they don’t ask them.”

And if that’s the side of us I’m showing, I’m doing something wrong!

I hope what generally colours our work is the preservation of existing practices. While I use technology more than most, I wouldn’t call myself a technophile. I like exploring the possibilities inherent in things, it’s true, and by making and using mainly–can I be a thingphile instead?

But there’s a specific point I should make about technology in the context of this hobby. Here, also, is where my post failed to give the full picture. Take Anne’s point about “keeping history alive.” It feels to me that, 20 years ago when I last went to an exhibition, that the history being kept alive was the railway. New technology went in the service of that modelling: electric points rather than manual points, lights inside trains, electric turntables. The technology felt contemporary, and it felt as if it had been kept contemporary for decades. Today, however, it feels like the history being kept alive is not that of the railway, but of the state of model railways from the late 1980s.

In short: It felt like the hobbyists used to chase technology in pursuit of their modelling more then than they do now, and that’s a big change.

Is this true? I have a low confidence in it, a tiny sample size, and a hazy memory so I don’t even know whether I’m remembering correctly. That’s why I didn’t discuss it… but omitting that comment was a mistake, as my surprise at the technology in play permeated the entire post without any explanation. It’s in that context the absence of computers and monorails stood out for me, not one of a general drive towards progress and automation. (I was as happy as many of the folks there just to watch the model trains move. The smaller the trains the better, for some reason.)

Anne, Phil, I hope this clarification leads to slightly less dismay!

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