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Week 193

Posted by linda on September 29, 2011

My Autumn decorations are out so where’s my Fall weather?

The last few days included copious amounts of spread sheeting, making sure our contractor doesn’t melt, ordering supplies, errand running, furniture moving, assembly, and repair.  The plants that needed it have larger pots and one in particular is much happier now that I know it needs more watering.  On Tuesday there was a scheduled fire in the Marin Headlands.  We didn’t hear about this so naturally Keela and I went into emergency evacuation mode, we didn’t evacuate far, just to the front door.  It brought up the question of whether or not we should have a Central boat.  I think we should.  It took awhile but the office no longer smells like a campfire.

Everyone is heads down, busy mousing and typing away on projects.  At my desk, I am once again diving into the world of twitter.  It’s been over 2 years since I’ve logged into my account and apparently I have forgotten how to speak the language.  At times it’s exciting but it’s similar to driving a race car one can’t get too comfortable or the car can get away from you, you have stay alert.  I’m sure my other half will enjoy me staying plugged in more than normal.

I’m also excited to be ordering more squiggle tees.  We’re ordering a limited amount in navy blue with an orange squiggle.  Hopefully I can figure out how to add them to the website next week.  In the meantime check out the store, we still have a few sizes available.

This weekend is the Hoe’s Down festival in Capay Valley.  There will be camping, a farmer’s market, a giant hay maze, farm animals, tours of the farm and much more.  I’ll be camping for the weekend in their walnut orchard and sneaking a few giant heirloom tomatoes before I go!  If you love local food I highly recommend visiting the farm.  Farmers from the Capay Valley will be in attendance not just Full Belly, it’s a great opportunity to see exactly where your food comes from and personally say thank you.





Week 187

Posted by Damien on August 23, 2011

Yes, its true, Keela and Jonathan are working about a hundred and sixty weeks behind me. Hopefully I can bring them up to speed in time for week 188.

Week 188 is likely to be written by a new member of Central: Linda Hoecker. I’m really pleased to be able to welcome Linda to the team. We were previously colleagues at IDEO, which is where for the first time, as Daniel Kushner recently put it, under Linda’s reign the San Francisco office actually ran smoothly. So now Linda is here. At first, to help sort out our studios, and then help prepare us for growth and see where that takes things. We’re lucky to have her, and even within a couple weeks, things have been running better and overall there’s been a lighter step to how we work.

We’re in one of those unenviable situations where there’s only two weeks left to a several year long project. There’s so much to do. 336 photos have to be selected, uploaded and then written about online. All the text and details have to be written. An entire 350 page (and growing) toolkit is being shaped and drafted as we speak. Plans, strategy, business models and launch projects are being hatched. All for our incubated client. Which, now in a couple of weeks, we get to pull the wrappers off of and start speaking publicly about our work with them.

What is exciting about the work with our client is how it will shift into a new kind of relationship where we’re no longer being hired as consultants to help achieve the goals of the client’s organization, but now we’re helping to define the goals as well as develop the opportunities for the client. For us, we get to build an organization of people, infrastructure and parts in order to creatively tackle their goals. It’s really quite a luxury.


As I write this, the BERG fellas are staring at me. From the cover of the latest ICON magazine. On the cover it says, BERG invents the near future. If you don’t already stalk them online, it’s a great piece on them and the three principals (Matts, and Jack). In the article there’s a line I like:

The trouble with the modern world, the guys agree, is that designers are used by business to achieve the goals of business– not the other way around.

Firms like BERG, of which there are but a few, fall into this category of being incredibly smart not just about the process of design, but also business and the system that built stuff falls into. It’s great to see. Inspiring too.

In the near future, which we’ve not yet invented for ourselves, we’re to be dipping our toes into conservation and the complex systems existing there. In the mean time, I must get back to the moving parts of one machine, and contribute to our own, now smoothly running machine.


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 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

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.