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Week 203

Posted by Keela on December 08, 2011

 

5:10pm. Standing guard.

This week…

Well, we got a new coffee maker. I broke the old one. It had it coming anyway, always dripping coffee everywhere when I try to pour a cup. The new one is shiny and brews a mean cup. I’m the only one who uses it…so happy early Christmas to me.

I’ve switched to the drip coffee maker from our regular nespresso machine. I attribute this to the volume of work. Large projects, big tasks and up-hill climbs call for a big pot of coffee, refilled every 40 minutes or so. It’s especially needed when editing. A proper cup of drip coffee is a must when editing a long paper, or Re:Vision Toolkit for that matter. Read a sentence, take a sip, read a paragraph…hold the cup and ponder. Coffee in one hand, pen in the other,  can’t edit a paper drinking espresso … you’d be wired with ink everywhere .… not red of course. I’ve learned that writers don’t really like red pen all over their work. It makes sense, I just never really thought about it being offensive. I use a green fine-tip sharpie…sometimes blue, although they do go through the page which is a drag.

Did you hear about the word of the year…it’s occupy, well so says Geoff Nunberg.

“The occupiers were romantics, holy fools, anarchists. Or they were an incoherent mob of dirty hippies — and with iPads, moreover. I make “dirty hippie” a strong candidate for comeback word of the year. It would have vanished from the language years ago if it hadn’t been kept on life support on South Park.” I’m right there with you Geoff, Dirty Hippie…comeback word.

Because it’s my last weeknote of 2011, I’d like to switch it up a bit. The end of the year is about reflection of the past 350 days or so, big events, milestones hit, new additions. So, I’d like to end with my Central highlights for 2011…

Best of List for Central 2011

1. Studio arrangement-We finally cracked how to arrange the studio, and it only took 5 NORDEN dining room tables and 7 EXPEDIT shelves.

2. Interns-We had two outstanding interns, Emma and Kathleen for our incubating client Re:Vision and now we have one of our very own, Maria, stellar researcher and all around smart cookie.

3. Squiggle T’s-flying off the shelves like hot cakes…well really given away like hotcakes in our attempt to establish some sort of Squiggle army. You all know who you are.

4. Linda the studio ninja-always 3 steps ahead of you, always smiling, always has cookies…sometimes the German ginger ones.

5. Our obsession with Tinkering Monkey and the new foam core rails that were installed yesterday. Now our 4’x8’ foam cores are 100% usable space, up from a measly 66%.

6. Cute Kitten Project Management-(compliments of Damien) in development. Let’s just say you better be pretty accurate with your projections or someone…or thing might get hurt.*

7. Alabamboo-2500 miles on a hand-made bamboo bike…we were just glad to be a part of their journey.

8. The Central Chicken compliments of Tom, our hot-blooded contractor.

9. Weightshift…and the “how fast can you launch a website project” see current website, or Central V1 or V2 for their past work.

10. Damien announcing he was giving up espresso…both times.

11. The Re:Vision Toolkit, always talked about never revealed…until now. It’s still in development, but things are coming along…thanks to the Cute Kitten Project Management tool. Coming soon to a Central shop near you.

Happy holidays to you all. See you in 2012.

*No animals were hurt in the writing of this post.

 

Week CLXXXIV

Posted by Damien on August 02, 2011

No it hasn’t been that long since you last visited. We did jump from week twenty to over a hundred and eighty. Its just that I stopped to think about how long it has since we’d been in business. And in 2008, The Central Office of Design received a business license from the city of Sausalito and we’ve been trading as Central ever since. All a hundred and eight four weeks since.

The week is busy. But really quiet.

Jonathan has been in Korea. And since we’ve not read anything in the news about him, we’re assuming he’s back in the office on Monday. Emma is likely in Africa now. Perhaps torturing the three people she’s with, of stories of her awesome internship here in Sausalito. Perhaps.

Keela has been working on… everything. The Toolkit. The Picturebook. The Web site. The contracts. The performance. The banking. The bookkeeping. The numbers. The Ride. The event. The call. The machine. And likely more.

Conference Call

One of the things she did was arrange a conference call between ourselves, Amy Benziger from SOCAP, from COMMON: Alex Bogusy, John Bielenberg, Rob Schuham and Sarah Brooks from Hot Studio. Only two couldn’t make it. The rest of us brewed up some ideas for the upcoming SOCAP 11 in September. It should be pretty interesting.

Which reminds me, I should be preparing my stuff for speaking on the Design for Social Innovation track. Which is being curated by the above mentioned Sarah. It looks to be a very interesting set up for the four days. I’m honoured and thrilled to be going this year.

We have a couple of projects in what might best be called ‘development’. Many of our projects evolve through development to become long-term engagements. In a traditional consulting practice a client comes to you, explains their needs, or you help the client define their needs and then you write a proposal to meet those needs. Proposals become easier and easier the more you write them, as they tend to borrow from prior versions as you do more work. However, in our case, the people that tend to pay for the work aren’t the ones who are actually impacted by it, or perhaps even the ones who suggested the work be done in the first place. So business development works very differently. Which is a fun distinction between the two worlds.

In our consulting practice, we have to develop the projects, the funding and the stakeholders. Even if someone brings it to us. So much like the film industry, we get a kernel of an idea, perhaps from an outside person who brings to us an area of concern we might not have considered and we begin to pitch that “around town” to see if there is any interest. We develop the basic materials to explain what could be done, or why we think there’s a need and start to meet and talk to people about the overall concept. Because we don’t really know any precise details at this point. We’re likely just dealing with a huge overarching issue like, fish populations are in serious decline, and we have to get to grips fast with what design can do for this issue. It takes a lot of meetings, many interviews. Lot’s of research and we slowly get a good idea of what kind of story we can tell about the value of running a large-scale design project might be for the huge-critical-thorny-seemingly-intractable problem we’re interested in. Typically by now our development team comprises of actual experts in the space. Whether they’re scientists, researchers or practitioners. And we start to write our version of a script. Which is our project proposal.

A few years back it seemed that philanthropy was the best funding partner to have in situations like these. And back then it was. But today the opportunities seem to be different and the mix of funding partners is much more varied. Which is good in some regards. We now can have partners who are seriously invested in the outcomes and in the performance of our process. Or in areas where philanthropy can work is when the outcome of a particular phase of work could be shared with the entire community. The foundation then would be able to market the work throughout their relevant program areas. So the mix of funding is important. It can help to accelerate a phase of work, as well as create the perfect conditions for another phase. And when a project is in development, you’re trying to figure out where the best source of funding and partnering is for the right parts. Because not all funding is equal, and if you have the chance to get an incredible partnership, that’s the goal to go for.

Once the proposal is written, it really does live much like a Hollywood script. It gets rewritten again and again. It gets notes from different people its shopped around to. It gets tailored to the audience we’re seeking. And along the way we end up creating a kind of brand for this project, an ideal scenario for what we want to achieve which now exists within this new community and our studios. So we act as producers. Shaping the story we’re telling and engaging a community in the vision of it. Finally, when the right funding mix is achieved, we then do the dealmaking to get a full green light to proceed. Contracts signed, kick-off, well kicked off.

Like the film development process, we can easily stage our version of development. And it helps to manage multiple development projects and deal-flow. Yes, we typically do development for free. Having managed ourselves on prior projects to have the freedom to spend a serious amount of time in development on the projects we most want to do. It seems like the development cycle lasts between three and nine months, depending on the sheer audacity of the goal. The smaller the scope, often the simpler the process. But I wouldn’t say there’s not often an exception to that rule.

So we have two major projects in development right now. One year long engagement, and the other is a Future of… project which would be three or more years. This is a fun part of the process. Driven mostly by passion and the belief that these projects are truly worth doing because of the communities and the amount of the environment they’d impact positively. As much as I enjoy the development process, I also can’t wait till they begin.

I think if Nike came to us and asked us to work on supply-chain solutions to alleviate labour-rights issues and said they’d happily pay us to do so, I’d still have a hard time probably understanding that and suggest we spend six months looking for someone else to pay for it. We work best being extremely creative around large complex problems, so finding a sustainable resource for funding these projects is part of that challenge for us, which we very much enjoy. Sometimes the money is to last beyond the project is over, for the ideas that have been implemented and need to run for some time.

But what really topped the week off was an incredible gift from the guys over at Tinkering Monkey. Completely unexpected. If you’ve not visited their site- do so, and feat your eyes on some delicious woodmaking skills and products. And then buy something. Like I just did. Thank you both – Mike and Paula (and congratulations on the engagement!).

I’m out for the next week to ponder my age and make plans for becoming XL. Until then I have a XXXIX year ahead of me.

Week 20

Posted by Keela on July 22, 2011

It’s Friday. I think everyone is very happy about that. It’s been a busy and productive week. Fridays we turn the music up just a little louder. And with the sun shining through the windows and Pandora sprinkling Beatles’ songs into my mix, it’s quite a nice ambiance in the studio. Except that it’s Emma’s last day. That’s a downer. We put an ad out a few months ago for “one of those interns we talk about for the next ten years, comparing every future incoming person to them” and she really fits that bill. She’s smart, funny and a joy to have around. She loves mobiles, so it’s only fitting on her last day that Google’s homepage was an ode to Alexander Calder’s 113th birthday, he’s the great inventor of mobile sculptures.

Outside of being bummed about the loss of a super-smart and comedic intern, things are going great, except we might be running out of space. Everyone has a desk, but the addition of another large-scale project will call for more tables and more foam core. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Jonathan isn’t here. He’s off to Seoul for a week. He cleaned his desk before he left, so not only is that corner of the studio ultra-tidy, but it’s quiet as well. It’s a little strange. He furiously cranked on the project before he left, mountains of research on his desk and piles of cookies. I’m not sure what he did with all those papers…and cookies for that matter.

I’ve been working with the Alabamboo team this week. They’re planning their arrival into the Bay Area, after biking well over 2500 miles. I get sporadic e-mails and phone calls when they have service. I applaud them for being able to not only bike across country, but blog, tweet, facebook and plan an event all at the same time. I’m looking forward to meeting them and hearing about their amazing journey.

There are a lot of proposals on my desk at the moment. Not necessarily currents ones, but olds ones that I am reading through to see what projects have been done and how they were structured. It’s interesting to see the wide range of work that was done at Central before I came here and even more interesting to see where we are going to go…hopefully that will include working with Architecture for Humanity in the near future.

So, it’s late on Friday now and I’ve still got quite a lot to do before I call it the end of the week. Soon, we’ll have more news to share and stuff to show. A thank you to Charlotte for driving over to see us this afternoon. She’s doing a Visualizing Science Fellowship at Yosemite this summer, you can check out her work here: www.charlottexcsullivan.com.

Speaking of driving, I’ve posted a pic of Emma’s ride. I’ll miss it almost as much as I’ll miss her.

So long…happy trails.

 

Week 18

Posted by Damien on July 08, 2011

It’s one of those amazing Bank Holiday weekends here, where it reminds you why it is so special to live in the Bay Area. 67 degrees when waking up, and slowly getting warmer. Here at the office, people have been piling into the parking lot getting ready to sail, canoe or hang out on the small beach right here. Le Garage Bistro is going to be slammed. And while everyone is out there, I can get some serious work done.

I just read this in a paper my father wrote:

Dumb ideas have to die first. That’s why progress takes time. First, new ideas have to evolve, then the bad ideas that stop progress have to die.

(Lammers, 1986) by Charles Simonyi. The pioneer of the first word-processor.

++

It’s now Thursday morning. There hasn’t been a moment to stop moving. Sometimes that’s a good thing but I’ve learnt that it is quite important to have frequent small moments to take a break. So I have two minutes here before the next activity. We’ve been trying this new thing of making meetings and working sessions fit inside 45 minute slots. It works. For some time now I’ve started most of my meetings at quarter past the hour. For me, I did it mostly to increase the likelihood the meeting started on time as if the earlier meeting ran the full hour then it was hard to move straight into another one on time. But the effect has been that the meetings are shorter, easier to manage and I tend to use the fifteen minutes before it begins to make notes and think about what I want from it. My next meeting, which begins about now, is all about Efficiency. How we as humans develop strategies in density to be efficient and what are the evidences of that. This morning, my strategy for efficiency is coffee and many small breaks.

++

So you must by now know I’m a big fan of Berg in London. And of course, I’m eagerly awaiting my shipment of their latest publication SVK, which is a new comic.

++

Here are some quotes I’ve recently come across, which all have a common theme to the work we’ve been focused on lately.

Ideally our cities become exciting, sexy, and profitable places to live, play, and work – that’s the most important part. When people have no investment in the places they play or work or live, they act accordingly.

 – David Byrne

“Place matters. The kind of environment you create for yourself makes a real and tangible difference in your level of happiness, health, and satisfaction.”


– Malcolm Gladwell

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”


- Jane Jacobs

++

I just had one of those conference calls where, as one of the people said it best, “The conference call Gods were not with us today”. We kept stumbling over each other, interrupting and talking over the other person inadvertently. In spite of that, we ended the 50 minute call with an inspiring combination of Prototyping in the field + SOCAP ’11 and COMMON. I look forward to sharing more about that soon.

++

I just saw this tweet from Jason Fried, quoting someone:

“As a designer, there are no “dream projects” handed to you. It’s up to you to make shit great.”

Which I disagree with. In part. We get plenty of dream projects handed to us. Which is incredible. Though – yes, it is up to us to make shit great. It is in our hands to mess it up completely. Or to create something better. I wonder what type of designer Mig Reyes is? Oh, a Graphic designer… that might make sense now. Wouldn’t a dream project be any project that was handed to you, that asked of you to do something great?

++

Thursday is wrapping up now. The studio has a silence to it at 6.26pm that smacks of people trying to wrap up things before leaving with a clean conscious of having achieved everything they wanted to do today. Some of the things that I saw happening today were, Emma built a table. Jonathan spent the day reading research and academic papers on things such as value driven design, or the design of educational materials. Keela ran two working sessions with the client. I need to go an summarize the Future of Fish project now, so that I can kick-start a new “Future of…” project.

++

Earlier this week we decided on the office Christmas break. Yes, I might be the first person online to have mentioned Christmas 2011. Sorry. It is strange to have to do these kinds of things so far in advance, but then retailers who manufacture goods for Christmas or national holidays often have to plan much further in advance, so I don’t feel that alone. We’ve decided to close the studio for three weeks and one day this year. Which is a tough thing to swallow when your business largely runs on billable time, seeing all those potential billable hours slipping away. But I have to say, I’ve found that personally, if you don’t find a way to close the business for a considerable amount of time, then it can be incredibly difficult to pry yourself away for any decent length of time. The Christmas and New Year’s Eve period seems to be a perfect time to shut up shop, rest and restore for a considerable time, and come back in the New Year (on Friday the 13th) ready for anything. Because typically, it’s almost impossible to take off two or more weeks at any other time of the year. This way everyone has a forced, mandatory, real vacation. We don’t have any vacation policy here – you take the time off you need – but knowing it is so hard to do so throughout the year, perhaps this 3 week closure is our policy. Back up policy. I’m looking forward to my 3 weeks off already.

++

Finally, a photo of Keela and Emma taking a fancy car out for a spin. Emma, the further away in the photo, is an intern from Harvard, who is working for our incubated client. We’re sad that she’s only with us for another two weeks, and so we’ve begun a campaign of trying to keep her with us, which includes fancy cars, and trying to convince her to quit school.

Keela + Emma