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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.

This is BERG

Some history

Jack Schulze and I dispute where we met, but I know when we first worked together. In 2005 he offered to have his students design icons for some experimental social software I was making. He showed me the options, and the best one had gone against specific requirements in my brief. I picked it anyway. It wasn’t from any of his students it turned out. He’d done the work himself and put it under my nose secretly.

Schulze & Webb Ltd isn’t the original name of the company. Schulze and I renamed an off-the-shelf company we bought in summer 2005 — 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 Schulze’s dad. And that particular company was formed 1 June 2005. I like that it pre-dates us, if only by a few weeks.

In the summer of 2008 we began the Dayuejin. It’s important to name the eras of a company. It gives a sense of purpose, and of history. The Dayuejin is also known as the Great Leap Forward. To make the products we wanted, we needed more money petrol, which needed bigger projects, which needed more people and a bigger studio, which needed more money, which needed our own projects to build confidence. Everything had to move forward at once. It took a year, more or less, to find the right way to do it and lock it in.

The current era started last week. It’s the Escalante, the Grand Staircase. We’re in the third stage of the business plan I wrote in 2006. Tom Armitage started with us as lead developer and writer at the beginning of 2009. Matt Jones joined mid this year.


This is an invention, strategy and new product development design company. Schulze looks after NPD. Matt Jones looks after design and client services. I help keep the wheels turning. In addition to Tom, there is a network of expert practitioners in electronic and mechanical engineering, industrial design, print, 3D, animation, videography, visualisation, data-mining, coding and technical development. We have growing experience in more and more of fulfilment and the supply chain, with patents in progress, and some neat products either out of the door or in development.

I look at the ideas, people, projects, ways of working, products in development, our friends and culture, and I have to say it: I’m proud. S&W laid the right foundation, and it’s bittersweet to say goodbye to this part of our lives.

We need a name for the next four years. I’ll ask Schulze to say more about the brand in the coming days. For the moment, from all of us, welcome.

A new name

This is BERG.

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!

Matt Webb at Web Directions South, October 6-9 in Sydney

I’m super pleased to have been invited to give the opening keynote at Web Directions South in Sydney at the beginning of October.

In 2008, I closed Web Directions North in Vancouver with Movement, on designing flow into the Web, and making applications in which action creates action. It was one of my favourite conferences.

This year I’m presenting Escalante:

The long run to the turn of the millennium got us preoccupied with conclusions. The Internet is finally taken for granted. The iPhone is finally ubiquitous computing come true. Let’s think not of ends, but dawns: it’s not that we’re on the home straight of ubicomp, but the beginning of a century of smart matter. It’s not about fixing the Web, but making a springboard for new economies, new ways of creating, and new cultures.

The 21st century is a participatory culture, not a consumerist one. What does it mean when small teams can be responsible for world-size effects, on the same playing field as major corporations and government? We can look at the Web – breaking down publishing and consuming from day zero – for where we might be heading in a world bigger than we can really see, and we can look at design – playful and rational all at once – to help us figure out what to do when we get there.

You may recognise the themes from Scope which opened reboot11 (catch the video here) in which I spoke about the personal roots of the invention of culture… and also about million mile tomatoes, JFK, and the Moon.

I’ll build on these topics at Web Directions. The leverage small groups have now to invent and participate in culture is wonderful, and the Web is at the very front of that. We’re at the beginning of a complex, remarkable world of exciting possibilities and responsibilities both. I want to look up and take in those wide blue skies.

It’s also my first trip to Australia, so recommendations of things to do and people to see are much appreciated. I think I’ll be able to extend my trip to about a week after the conference itself, but let’s see what happens. It should be ace, and I hope to see you there.

Matt Webb at UX Week, September 15-18 in San Francisco

I’m excited to be opening the final day of UX Week 2009 with an exploration of what we can learn from the Web about smart products.

Smart products bring their own design challenges. Internet-connected devices and plastic filled with electronics behave in unexpected ways: what does it means for a physical thing to side-load its behaviour, or for a toy to have its own presence in your social network? What we’ve learned about user experience on the Web is a great place to start: social software, adaptation, designing for action creating action — these are principles familiar on the Web, and still valuable when design is not on the screen but in your hands.

We’ve learned a lot in the recent couple years about designing when there are a lot of moving parts: software, plastic, mechanics, embedded electronics, multiple teams and languages, standards, component costs, fulfilment… it’s a lot to put together and still retain a focus on user experience, and user adaptation. There’s no single project where we’ve got it all right — but there are a load of lessons, and I want to share some of them.

The talk is called Design is in your hands.

I’m in town 17—20 September, so if you’re at UX Week or in San Francisco the day after, let’s hang out.

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.


Some weeks back, halfway through the development of Shownar, I saw a whole bunch of messages on Twitter about a mix on BBC Radio 1. That was the Jaguar Skills Gaming Weekend mix — it’s no longer on iPlayer, but that turned into an ace afternoon with ace music.

More recently the Reith Lectures have been on Radio 4. Shownar’s finding a load of blog posts about the lectures, really insightful ones. I didn’t realise the lectures were on until they popped up on the site one morning.

This is a website I now check daily…



Shownar tracks millions of blogs and Twitter plus other microblogging services, and finds people talking about BBC telly and radio. Then it datamines to see where the conversations are and what shows are surprisingly popular. You can explore the shows at Shownar itself. It’s an experimental prototype we’ve designed and built for the BBC over the last few months. We’ll learn a lot having it in the public eye, and I hope to see it as a key part of discovery and conversation scattered across BBC Online one day.

Dan Taylor tells the story on the BBC Internet blog, so I won’t say more here except for a few thanks…

Dan calls out our colleagues at the BBC. I’d like to thank especially him and Kat Sommers. Our data partners at Nielsen, Twingly and Yahoo!, as well at the LiveStats team inside the BBC — it’s been a pleasure to work with you. Major kudos to the folks behind the BBC Programmes database and system for creating such a fundamental piece of infrastructure. And to everyone working for and with S&W: Max Ackerman, Jesper Andersen, Nick Ludlam, Jack Schulze, and most especially Tom Armitage, Phil McCarthy and Phil Gyford, great work and well done all! I’m proud to work with all of you.

The idea of using computers to watch and reflect audiences, to find not just what’s popular but what’s surprisingly popular, turns out to be a number-crunchingly heavy task. I hope that Shownar, during this phase of its development, becomes a site people genuinely use daily to join in talking about and with the BBC, and to widen their consumption to previously undiscovered, engaging programmes. There’s a feedback address on the site — please use it! We’re after stories of where it works and where it doesn’t, and some insight into whether this kind of product really does change habits. It has mine.

We go public today: Shownar.

Olinda, first look

Rabbit infront of the radio

I’m pleased to be able to bring you Olinda, the social radio prototype we’ve designed and built for BBC Audio & Music.

Tristan Ferne, who commissioned Olinda and leads the BBC Radio Labs, is currently at the Futuresonic Conference, discussing what happens when you put social networks and the Web inside consumer electronics – in particular, this radio – and is giving the folks there the very first look. But for those of us not in Manchester…

For background, photos and more, check out Olinda.

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