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They said so, and it was done so.

Posted by Damien on June 17, 2011

Weightshift came in on Tuesday for a working session, and by Thursday they’d transformed what you’re looking at. Yet anether great experience collaborating with them, made even sweeter by the fact that they stopped everything else to do so, for two days this week. As they sat down at the large table in Studio 6, Naz explained that they’d like to launch the new site before Scott got on a plane on Friday. Scott is off back to Chicago today, and we’ve got a shiny new site.

And yes, there are some subtle changes. In how we explain what it is we do. Now with a little more focus, and some examples to explain it, we’re able to tell the story of how we create value for our clients and their customers or stakeholders. We’re less a design firm, and more a consulting firm who uses the design process to help our clients. Think IDEO/Participle + StoneYamashita + Project M. We understand how design changes things, people, groups, systems and the way people see the world. So we embed a creative approach to helping organizations transform themselves. And much of the time we work on transforming the relationships that they have with their customers or the people they’re trying to help. The ‘trying to help’ comes from the fact that much of our work is with Foundations or Non-profits, and the relationship that they have with their grantees or communities is typically very different from how a brand interacts with a consumer.

Also new this week is that we’ve moved in a new organization we’re incubating. The non-profit is working from our studios as we help them relaunch and develop plans for the future. This is an ideal situation where we get to closely collaborate with our client as we work side-by-side with them to launch the ideas we’ve developed over the last year. We get to support them by managing the infrastructure that can get in the way of focusing on creating the successes they need to have in order to grow and create impact. And we’ll help them grow their team to ensure this can happen. So stay tuned for more, especially if you’re looking for truly exciting work in the community + city redesigning space. And yes, we will mention the company once they’ve relaunched. We don’t mean to be so vague. We just have be so.

Earlier this week, Cameron Sinclair and some of his development team from Architecture for Humanity dropped by. Cameron on an electric bicycle of course. They spent a couple hours with us going through projects and talking to us about ways we could get involved. We found many possible opportunities and we’re really looking forward to making them happen over the next few months. Sometimes it is hard not to get too excited about the fact that these kinds of people come to spend time with us to find ways to work together.

And then yesterday I had a very interesting lunch with the editor of Places Journal, on Design Observer. If you’ve not read last weeks Architect Barbie piece yet, you should do so once you’ve finished here. Places is a long-format blog that used to be a print journal founded nearly 30 years ago by faculty from MIT and Berkeley which publishes articles on contemporary architecture, landscape and urbanism, with particular emphasis on the public realm as physical place and social ideal.

Those of you that might know me personally, know that I have a fetish for printed matter, journals, magazines and books. So some of the conversation with Nancy Levinson did find its way to print versus online. I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for Design Observer and continue to be so with what Winterhouse are doing with the growing media empire. It was great to spend a little time with an architect who is helping shape the public discussion of the future of physical space in such a rich way. I’m doing everything I can to stop myself from suggesting that we resurrect the printed version of the Journal….

The week isn’t over yet, which means we definitely have to check in with the Ride Alabamboo team riding across the States. We need to ask them if Cameron Sinclair can have one of their T Shirts. He loves them. Earlier this week they were in Paris. In Arkansas that is. Check on their progress here, and if nothing else, shoot them an email of support to help them with this epic journey of theirs. We’re going to start on plans for making their arrival an event to remember.

I just got off the phone with the documentary producer Patrick Sammon, who’s put together an excellent team to tell the Alan Turing story. As a personal project, I’m trying to continue the family history of supporting Turing by helping Patrick with bringing the film to the US by raising some funds to do so and with other things. If you don’t already know, Turing was an important figure in computer history and his direct impact on saving a tremendous amount of lives during the second world War. His story is unfortunately a tragic one and this film, for the first time, tells the story of who Alan Turing was and what he did for his country and science overall. And as you can imagine, the film making process is an incredibly difficult one and so I’ll be looking for help in the future with what I’m doing. If you’re in the UK, you’ll be able to see this film on TV later this year.

Studying with Collaborators

Posted by Damien on November 02, 2010

I dipped into Bruce Mau’s Life Style recently. Dipping is really the best way to experience the book if you’ve not got the time to read the six hundred and twenty six pages from beginning to end. I don’t think he wants you to do this anyway.

As I dipped in, kind of looking for inspiration about how to sum up the work we’ve done over the last few years, and within a few pages I arrived at this:

To understand the studio, you must understand the way we have defined collaboration. A collaborator comes to the studio with an undefined relationship to the proposed work. They approach with an understanding that anything is possible. They arrive prepared to ignore the limits, engage content, and develop something new. They may have expectations, even quite specific ones, but within those expectations or desires, there is space for invention. We, on the other hand, enter an open space of learning. It is an enviable position. At the best of times we have been students with the world’s greatest teachers.

And the text goes on to list learning things like architecture with Frank Gehry, urbanism with Rem Koolhaas and so on. Page 223.

I like this passage. It connects with something we try to do here: truly collaborate with the client. In a fashion where we’re not so much leading as we’re facilitating, and learning on the project together. Almost every project we work on tends to spawn news ones, new directions and take different trajectories. And this comes with knowing that we don’t, at the start, know yet what we’re going to find out as we embark on a collaboration together. But we do know we’re going to learn a lot.

I was thinking about our list.

We’ve learnt a tremendous amount both from the people we’ve collaborated with but also in exploring the field with our clients.

So as a first pass, we have studied:

The future with Ashoka Changemakers.

Complex system design with Changemakers’ Discovery group.

The supply chain black hole with the Future of Fish project.

Strategic investment with the Packard Foundation.

Urban redesign with Urban Re:vision

Making it personal, with Proteus Biomedical

States of mind with Silverado winery

Storytelling with Architecture for Humanity, and Kosmix.

In my own words, when I look at the projects like this, I end up being grateful for how much you get to learn with each collaboration. Because it is inevitable that if left open, you’re going to be changed by a real collaboration.

In Bruce Mau’s words: Our collaborators have helped create a situation in which we have more at the end of our work than we had at the beginning.

I think there’s something to this in both how you see what it is you do, but also in how you see the projects and “clients” that come through the door. I know I’ll be writing more about this in the future.

In other news. People came to resurface the parking lots outside our studios. I had to wrestle with the desire to push a bright yellow Post-it note into the black tarmac that had sharpied on it: DO NOT WALK ON THIS. But then I noticed someone had… forever leaving their mark on the ground. And their shoes.

I also have to draw attention to this Kickstarter project: the Glif. Thomas and Dan presented a story of how they’d like to manufacture a mount for the iPhone 4, so it could work as a camera. They created a great short movie, were very likable, and asked for a mere 10,000 dollars from the community at large.



When I found out about it, they had a measly  6,000 dollars pledged, with a lot of time to go before the funding period ran out. Today they closed the funding goal time (they set at the outset and can’t change) with a total of 137,417 dollars pledged.

This isn’t the most extreme case of funding on the Kickstarter Platform, but it is one of the top 100. And it was fun to watch the number climb and have that nice fuzzy feeling of having contributed.

That’s it for now. More to think about on studying with collaborators.