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Week 23

Posted by Jonathan on August 12, 2011

I have to agree with what Keela said last week and exclaim “Can anyone believe its already mid august?!” Everyone has been working really hard, and I don’t think we saw summer flash past us.

I returned from Korea last week, which was probably the best trip I’ve ever been on, despite the incessant rain (it’s monsoon season). So I’ll treat the beginning of this post as a sort of show and tell. The design scene in Seoul is one of the best in the world. Literally at every corner is an art bookstore, incredible museum, experimental retail shop, or the best handmade food you’ve ever eaten (this is a traditional soup called dukgook, which includes stock broth, egg, seaweed, fresh sliced vegetables, meat, spice, and of course duk, which is compressed rice cut into slices):

It’s always a good bet that if you think something is cool, there’s something cooler there. What is most fascinating, not only from a design point of view, but also linguistically and historically, is Hangul, the native language. It was invented by King Sejong in 1443. Concerned that his people were unable to express themselves in everyday language with Chinese characters, he enlisted the services of scholars and together with them, devised the writing system that is used today. The amazing part is that all of the characters were designed after speech organs, and the basic vowels were representative of the confucian realms of heaven (ㅇ), earth (ㅡ) and man (ㅣ).


You can see how these symbols represent their inspiration. 대박! So research, synthesis, design. They were using the design process a long time ago. Not only that, Korea invented metal moveable type. Let’s just say for a graphic designer, there’s a lot of inspiration. What I thought was really cool was the typographic logo on this truck (can anyone guess what it means?):

(It’s the Korean word for Milk! Notice the milk droplets.)

Luckily, the Bay Area is famous for its Indian Summer, so we get a summer bonus in the fall. Thinking about it now, that’s really nice. Although the weather might be nice, it does feel a bit like “back to school.” We’ve been preparing all summer for some big things in the fall – some of our Exchange projects will be in their final stages and wrapping up, and new ones will be starting. We’ll be meeting a lot of new people. Damien’s SoCap appearance is just a month away now also. I’ve just recently read his piece in the August edition of PRINT magazine, which summarizes a lot of points that have themed these summer months at Central. Snag a copy if you see it!

We were lucky to have Linda join us full time this week. She has a pretty cool background (she worked at IDEO), which makes her ideal for her new role as Studio Manager. It’s really fantastic to have someone new join our team. We’re already good friends, and I’m a bit envious of her EU passport. We had actually run into each other before, at an IDSA awards event last year. SF is such a small place! I’m hoping next week she can do one of two things: 1) bring it some cool german music, 2) ask Pandora to add new songs to their playlist. We’re happy to have you here, Linda!

Kathleen and Keela have been working super hard this week as well. They’ve been working together on Kathleen’s research, and from what I gather, Kathleen is totally breezing through what would otherwise be a very steep learning curve.

This weekend, the Outside Lands concert is taking over Golden Gate Park in the city, although I waited too long to get tickets. I might have to just experience it vicariously through Keela’s Monday description.

Week 22

Posted by Keela on August 05, 2011

I have no idea how it’s Friday already. I have no idea where the week went or how we are in the month of August. Our new intern, Kathleen, started this week. Well, she’s not really ours, she technically works for our client, but she sits in Suite 6 with the rest of the Central crew. So far she’s doing lots and lots of research, which I hope she likes. She seems too, but she’s also extremely polite so we probably wouldn’t know otherwise.

The Alabamboo team made it cross the finish line this past weekend. So, we helped throw a little party for them at the Bamboo Bike Studio on Post. It was great to hear about their journey and very cool to see all the people they brought together. It was also nice to see our buddies at Weightshift show up. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a face-to-face conversation with people that you talk to via e-mail more than 7 times a day. We had an interesting conversation about when startups aren’t startups any longer and those that truly stay indie vs. those in for the buyout. You can ponder your thoughts on that.

This week has been about juggling. Juggling different projects, different responsibilities and keeping the team moving forward, while still staying smart. It’s easy to push toward a hard and fast deadline, but you’ve got to make sure that you are keeping with the overall vision that you set out, not just trying to make it to the finish line. Sometimes this needs to be repeated aloud.

We’re continuing our collaboration with the teams from SOCAP, Fearless and COMMON this week. We’re hopefully going to pull off something pretty cool at the SOCAP event in September. We’re also learning more about the COMMON pitchclever people pitching bold ideas to change the world. I love it and can’t wait to hear how it went!

I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails lately from soon-to-be graduates looking for jobs. We don’t really have anything posted out there as far as “help wanted” signs go, but they find us anyway and are all so specific about their interests in working at Central and they all live far away. We usually stick to a strict in-person interview process. The first test is finding the studio. The second is deciphering Damien’s British humour. Both are oftentimes impossible.

That’s it for today. Got to get back to… everything that is…on…my…desk.

 

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.