This website is now archived. To find out what BERG did next, go to

Blog posts tagged as 'work'

Olinda interface drawings

Last week, Tristan Ferne who leads the R&D team in BBC Audio & Music Interactive gave a talk at Radio at the Edge (written up in Radio Today). As a part of his talk he discussed progress on Olinda.

Most of the design and conceptual work for the radio is finished now. We are dealing with the remaining technicalities of bringing the radio into the world. To aid Tristan’s presentation we drew up some slides outlining how we expect the core functionality to work when the radio manifests.

Social module

Social Module sequence

This animated sequence shows how the social module is expected to work. The radio begins tuned to BBC Radio 2. A light corresponding to Matt’s radio lights up on the social module. When the lit button is pressed, the top screen reveals Matt is listening to Radio 6 Music, which is selected and the radio retunes to that station.


Tuning drawing

This detail shows how the list management will work. The radio has a dual rotary dial for tuning between the different DAB stations. The outer dial cycles through the full list of all the stations the radio has successfully scanned for. The inner dial filters the list down and cycles through the top five most listened to stations. We’ll write more on why we’ve made these choices when the radio is finished.

Say hello

A couple of months ago I put the feelers out for interns. Well, we have two starting today. Say hello to:

Alex Chadwick is an electrical engineer. In-between touring the canyons of the US and university in October, he’s coding and building the guts of Olinda, getting us stocked up with microcontrollers, and has me really, really wanting a decent oscilloscope (apparently it’s super useful, but I’ll be happy if it can sing and dance). Many thanks to David Smith for putting us in touch.

Jeff Easter is an interaction designer currently studying Design Interactions at the RCA. He’s been with us for a week before, on user flows and screen design, and for September it’s more of the same, plus photography, carpentry, and iterating, iterating, iterating on form design.

Both super chaps. It’s going to be an excellent month.

Editorial approaches to mobile media

One bit of consultancy we’ve done recently has been on new programme formats for mobile devices. It was a bit of a dash–just a few days thinking and writing, and a week to pull together communication material.

The brief was set by the BBC, and there was a progressive clause in the contract: S&W do the thinking, produce communication material and present to the project team there; the BBC can use any of the ideas without restriction, but we retain copyright on the report itself.

So while I could, in theory, copy and paste the report into this blog, it seems fairer to let the folks have a good run at developing the programme ideas themselves. I’ll talk a little about our approach and the deliverables instead.

Mobile Media, 2 posters


The brief was this: what would successful programmes broadcast to mobile devices be? Put aside, for the moment, interactivity and on-demand programming.

(The BBC are looking ahead a little, as you can see.)

It seems to us that successful programming has to acknowledge three factors: the technological constraints, possibilities and expectations of the medium; the interests of the audience, and; the situation in which the programming and audience meet.

TV and radio have long histories as media and are well understood. For TV, the audience varies and so we have different channels to cater for demographics and interest (the situation is more-or-less fixed, though there are different TV channels for certain situations like gyms and bars). The situation of radio varies more, but again different stations cater for focused and backgrounded listening. And of course, programming content varies over the day for both TV and radio–whether it’s late night or mid afternoon is a great predictor of the audience and its constraints.

Programming for mobile devices, on the other hand, will land in unpredictable and highly variable situations… it’s a huge factor compared to the variability of the audience (and we can forget the constraints of the medium, for the moment, given it’s too new to have historical momentum).

We focused on finding a way to talk about the experience of different situations.

Two axes seem important:

  • Mobility. Can the viewer/listener devote 30 minutes to this programme, or are they grabbing a few minutes that could end at any moment? That is: can they sit, or must they move?
  • Attention. Must the viewer/listener background the programme because the situation demands attention, or can they concentrate?

Using these two axes we can break the situation of members of the audience down into four archetypical situations. The situation will demand…

  • attention (but the viewer can control their movement): like being at work.
  • nothing (the viewer can concentrate, and control their movement): home.
  • mobility and attention: it’s like being out shopping.
  • just mobility (but the viewer can concentrate on something else): on the bus.

(Incidentally, if persona are archetypal people, what would be a good word for archetypal situations?)

Given that – and the technological possibilities of the medium – we can take basic programme ideas and coerce them into being particularly good for the common audience situations, rather than just so-so.

We ended up with three main clusters of programme concepts:

  • News (at various attention levels)
  • Radio-like: High mobility and backgrounded
  • TV-like: Low mobility and focused

Other factors come into play too, of course. Mobile devices – in particular mobile phones – are very intimate devices. We did some experiments with video and found the full face, straight to camera pieces were significantly better for these devices than presenters talking from behind a desk (Ze Frank‘s natural medium, perhaps). Oh, and the way people use their phones when they’re killing time… there’s some fascinating research there too.

But anyway, I don’t want to say much more. Just that frameworks like these aren’t a replacement for inspiration and thinking… it’s important to take them with a pinch of salt and be ready to discard them. What a framework is good for is as an explanatory tool, communicating the rationale of a nuanced concept through an organisation so that it can be developed and not reduced as it gets passed on.


Usually for this kind of consultancy we develop a slide deck in workshops with the client, or turn up and present. Since these programme concepts needed to transmit through the BBC, a different form was called for.

The image at the beginning of this post is of two of the three posters we delivered (each A2: 16.5 x 23.4 inches).

On the left, the poster discusses the background to the project, frameworks, and how the ideas could develop with interactivity and location awareness in the future. The poster on the right presents news and three other programme concepts (including a development of Ambient EastEnders).

Below is the third poster. It presents three more concepts, and some thoughts about successful forms of mobile video. All three look pretty tremendous printed large.

Mobile Media, popcorn poster

Experimental posters

Producing posters was an experiment for us–successful, I think. We were pleased to work with Alex Jarvis, who brought to bear his exceptional talent on the graphic design and illustration.

Plus we got to explore the idea of a poster as a kind of zooming user interface, where there are a series of self-similar levels of detail that progressively reveal as you move closer to the paper. So when you stand across the room, half the paper is legible with a title and a huge graphic. Moving closer, half of the rest (a quarter) become legible with a subtitle for the main segment and more concept titles. At the closest level of reading, the poster functions as a page of broadsheet. The next time around I’d like to investigate that more.


I’d like to thank Dan Pike and the project team at the BBC for choosing to bring us in to work on this, and for their open approach. I look forward to seeing where the concepts are taken in the future!

BBC Olinda digital radio: Social hardware

If you asked me to pick the two cards Schulze & Webb play with abandon in the consultancy game, they’d be Product and Experience.

Products should be what toy companies call shelf-demonstrable–even sitting in a box in shop, a product can explain itself to the customer (or at least tell its simplest story in a matter of seconds). Organisationally, understanding a website or component of a mobile service as a product means being able to describe it in a single sentence, means understanding the audience, means focusing on a single thing well, means having ‘this is what we are here for’ as a mantra for the team, and it means being able to (formally or informally) have metrics and goals. Here’s it in a nutshell: You know it’s a product when it has an ethos–when the customers and the team know pretty much what the product would do in any given circumstance.

Then we play Experience. The experiential approach is how you and the product live together and interact. The atoms are cognitive (psychology and perception), while the day-to-day is it’s own world: Play, sociality, cultural resonance, and more. Each of these is an area of experience to be individual understood in terms of how it can be used. The third level of experience we deal with is context: How the product is approached (physically and mentally), and how it fits in with other products, people and expectations.

We can go a long way, and make decent recommendations of directions and concrete features, with those two cards.

And now we’re making a radio. As much as we’ve said these approaches apply across media, services and (physical, consumer) product, working with physical products has recently been only in our own research. Hey, until now. Until now!

Olinda is a digital radio prototype for the BBC

For the past month we’ve been working on the feasibility of Olinda, a DAB digital radio prototype for the BBC (for non-UK readers: DAB is the local digital radio standard, getting traction globally). That stage is almost over now – oh and yes, it’s feasible – so now’s a good time to talk.

Olinda puts three ideas into practice:

  • Radios can look better than the regular ‘kitchen radio’ devices. Radios can have novel interfaces that make the whole life-cycle of listening easier. At short runs, wood is more economic as plastic, so we’re using a strong bamboo ply. And forget preset buttons: Olinda monitors your listening habits so switching between two stations is the simplest possible action, with no configuration step.
  • This can be radio for the Facebook generation. Built-in wifi connects to the internet and uses a social ‘now listening’ site the BBC already have built. Now a small number of your friends are represented on the device: A light comes on, your friend is listening; press a button and you tune in to listen to the same programme.
  • If an API works to make websites adaptive, participative with the developer community, and have more appropriate interfaces, a hardware API should work just as well. Modular hardware is achievable, so the friends functionality will be its own component operating through a documented, open, hardware API running over serial.

What Olinda isn’t is a far-future concept piece or a smoke-and-mirrors prototype. There’s no hidden Mac Mini–it’s a standalone, fully operational, social, digital radio.

The intention with Olinda is that it’s maximum 9 months out: It’s built around the same embedded DAB and wifi modules the manufacturers use. And it has to be immediately understandable and appealing for the mass market. Shelf-demonstrable is the way to go.

The BBC should be able to take it to industry partners, and for those partners to see it as free, ready-made R&D for the next product cycle. We have a communications strategy ready around this activity.

So that’s why I’m proud to say that, when complete, the BBC will put the IPR of Olinda under an attribution license–the equivalent of a BSD or Creative Commons Attribution. If a manufacturer or some person wants to make use of the ideas and design of the device, they’re free to do so without even checking with the BBC, so long as they put the BBC attribution and copyright for the IPR that’s been used on the bottom.

More later

The feasibility wraps up in the next week or so, as I budget the build phase. When build starts, we have an intern starting–perhaps two (yes, we got a great response to putting those feelers out). But that deserves its own post.

And there’s a lot to talk about. For start, what Olinda will look like (we have drawings and form experiments). And how the Product and Experience approaches will manifest.

That’s for later. In the meantime, here’s the Frontier Silicon Venice 5 module operating on a breadboard:

Venice 5

The DAB module is wrapped in insulation tape, and you can make out the stereo socket (it’s blurry because it’s standing out of the focal plane) and the antenna. Running from the breadboard is a serial cable to my computer which is assembling and decoding messages for tuning, playing, receiving radio text messages and so on.

Thanks to Tristan Ferne, Amy Taylor and John Ousby and their teams at BBC Audio & Music Interactive for making this happen.

(Incidentally: Olinda, the name of this project, is aspirational, chosen from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (Olinda is transcribed at the bottom of that page). We could do worse that help along the radio industry in the same way Calvino’s city grows.)

S&W San Francisco visit

Yes, it’s really happening this time. S&W will be speaking at Yahoo! in the TechDev Speaker Series on Friday 2 February. That means talking about the future of products, media, web apps, and what-not with some brilliant people… and hanging out in California too.

San Francisco satellite view

We’ll be in town for a week! Jack and I are in San Francisco from 24 January, available for meetings from Thursday 25 January through Wednesday 31.

Fancy meeting up?

Here’s what I said before:

I’m happy to do re-runs of previous presentations, or discuss previous work (read our work page for both), and Jack has a good line in maps and graphics that isn’t online yet.

We’re especially curious to speak with folks in product and interaction design, toy companies, physical computing, and R&D in consumer technology hardware and software. Oh, internet/mobile companies too who have interesting social, interaction or interface challenges–but you knew we’d be up for that (read more about our specialities).

So if you’d like to meet up to share ideas, or explore how we could work together in user experience, creative development, or near-term product R&D, please do get in touch.

(Isn’t that a great image? It’s from the NASA Earth Observatory, found via an extremely apt comparison of San Francisco and Sim City.)

Hello vod:pod

vod:pod is the newest video sharing and aggregator site on the block, and it has a few twists. Three of them:

First, the primary focus is a video collection (a pod) rather than a single one. Collecting can be done by individuals or together. So, for example, here are 4 people collecting indie music. You can scrub over the videos for a rank and rating preview before watching, and the sparkline at the top right gives you an idea of the popularity of the pod.

Second, VodPod lets you upload videos but doesn’t ask for an exclusive relationship. It reaches out into the Web–you can include videos from YouTube, Google Video, and so on in your pod, and keep all of them collected alongside your own ones. These highlighted pods all mix-and-match from different service.

Last is something Mark Hall just told me about: Each video has a low-threshold response widget next to it, so you can say quickly that you loved, just watched, or laughed at what you saw. If you add your Twitter details in your vod:pod profile, that response will also be announced to your Twitter buddies. Simple, social and (importantly) deliberate every time.

There’s a lot more to come – really big features – but I’ll leave it there.

vod:pod is the first service I’ve watched all the way from early concept through to launch. S&W did some very early product ideation and experience work – on how people find videos to watch online, as Mark discusses – and I’ve been following progress since. While the shape of the solution has changed considerably, the core values have been maintained: Organising, socialising, and being part of the Web.

I find that promising, and so vod:pod‘s what we use to host videos for this blog.

Two recent work talks

First talk!

I visited the London office of a week last Friday and reprised Engaging Technology. The gags went down okay – something I’m always nervous about, especially with an end-of-the-working-week audience – and I made a few small changes, mainly to focus the Acts Not Facts slide on interactive agency work. I said:

When I buy a holiday, Expedia makes it feel like I’m engaging with tedious bureaucracy. My ringing phone embarrasses me when it rings on a train or in the cinema. But when I purchase something, that’s not just a cold fact… it’s the first time a product and I engage, and if the purchasing experience is lousy then the brand is damaged. […] And when I’ve talked to advertising planners and folks working in brand communication in the last few months, they’ve all told me that the days you want a product in your life because that product is “cool” or “reassuring” or has a particular lifestyle, whatever the fact… those days are gone. It’s all about the acts instead. What’s it like to purchase? To show off to friends? To sell? To clean? To run in? What are the stories? How do I engage with it, and how does it engage with me?

I keep meaning to post more about how to design for intrinsic activities. Remind me.

Second talk!

This Saturday, I spoke at an away-day for the folks behind BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight (my slides aren’t online). It was rather disconcerting to see the faces of voices with which I’m extremely familiar–I catch the programme almost every weeknight. I was speaking about the leading edge of media consumption, especially new media, covering old and new media channels (giving some demos–I think hands-on is important in understanding threats and opportunities), social media, citizen journalism, and a little trend speculation on where people will be spending their time in coming years:

Virtual worlds such as Second Life and the creative renaissance evident in Make magazine and more (the example I gave was Instructibles, where the empowerment of creation from the internet has come together with the loosely-coupled collaborative ethos)… both of these feel as energetic and full of potential as blogging did in 1999.

Thanks, too, to Dan Hill and Suw Charman, who were both generous with their help when I was putting together the talk.

I wanted to mention, here, how I concluded the presentation. I’d begun by stating that while technology changes, people mostly don’t. At the end I highlighted one social change that, from my perspective, looks as if it might be taking place:

Far from being an antisocial medium, the internet is enormously social. We in this room are media literate, from being surrounded by tv, cinema, radio, magazines, adverts… People growing up online are surrounded by people, and are socially literate. They’re fully in-tune with small-p politics. Interpersonal politics. Social politics. Sometimes it shows as a lack of respect, because they know how people work and aren’t willing to think that some people are special, just because they have authority. They understand that people are just people. […] There is a small-p political literacy that comes from continually socialising. It manifests both as people forming communities online, and as a lack of respect for big media that means media needs to personalise, and meet people in their communities as peers.

Highly speculative, of course! I also touched, briefly, on social capital.

It’s been a while since I felt like I was banging the drum for the internet. But being online is a large component of most of my friendships, and a lot of those friends I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the net. Often people who have purely utilitarian use of the internet don’t see that.

I find it enormously heartening that there’s a general intelligence, online, about how people work in groups, gleaned from folks living on mailing lists, making stuff together, and chatting. I wanted to get that across.

S&W in San Francisco (update: but not yet)

Update, 11 October: Oh, the joys of attempting a trip of multiple purposes! We were almost sorted on one of the meetings that we wanted to come off, so I jumped the gun and posted this to get the rest of the week arranged… and it turned out the timings just wouldn’t come together. The trip only half makes sense without it, and we’ve just got swamped with work, so we’re pushing the S&W California tour into next year. It’s a little disappointing but I’m still considering a San Francisco holiday in December, so we’ll see what happens!

The following is the old post, maintained for posterity:

Very exciting news: S&W (that’s us) has been invited to speak at Yahoo! as part of the TechDev Speaker Series (weekly talks for the Technology Development Group). Our slot is 1 December. Not only do we get to speak with a room full of super smart people, we also get a rare visit to California.

That means we’ll be in San Francisco during the last week of November (and, personally, I might be staying on for a week and taking a holiday).

Fancy meeting up?

I’m happy to do re-runs of previous presentations, or discuss previous work (read our work page for both), and Jack has a good line in maps and graphics that isn’t online yet. We’re especially curious to speak with folks in product and interaction design, toy companies, physical computing, and R&D in consumer technology hardware and software. Oh, internet/mobile companies too who have interesting social, interaction or interface challenges–but you knew we’d be up for that (read more about our specialities).

While we’re not quite bespoke Savile Row tailors visiting to take measurements and send perfect suits back on the next plane, it’ll be grand to meet a whole bunch of new and old friends face-to-face. Please do get in touch if you’d like to do something, or have a suggestion for someone we should see!

Recent Posts

Popular Tags