This month’s Design Interest was the first to be held at the Ignite Studios: after a slightly nervous wait at the Town Wall to be shown up, and then several flights of stairs to the top, it’s probably fair to say the attendees deserved the pizza waiting for them (and which people contributed to, mind). Amidst the buzz of startups working into the night, (and a quote board sometimes a bit too reminiscent of the TV show Black Mirror’s ‘National Anthem’), we had presentations on tea, animation, and art installations.
4 years ago, Jules Quinn was a non-tea drinker, and working a “terrible intern job”, when an act of pure vengeance—stealing a detested co-worker’s speciality tea—led to The Teashed. Fast forward to today, and her company has won several awards, is stocked in a number of department stores including John Lewis and Debehnams, and is about to open a tea shop in Fenwick:
we want to be the next Starbucks, but British and selling tea … and paying taxes.
Quinn noticed after getting hooked on tea that there was a gap in the market when it came to modern products for everyday tea drinkers. The *Teashed products have a generous 20 teabags per packet, and have a more funky approach to packaging. Some of the other innovations were based on more personal interests: the paper cups are beautiful but she admits that she came up with the idea after being too lazy to clean a load of cups!
She credits her first big break with writing a fan letter/pitch to Home & Garden Magazine, with the exposure leading to getting a call from John Lewis. She suggests for small companies starting out to say their pennies rather than getting a PR firm, and just write to everyone you can who could give you exposure.
Admittedly, she probably has a bit of an advantage over a number of designers, having studied fashion marketing (at Northumbria University), but she still argues that
when you’re starting out, no one tells your story better than you.
She credits her big break of getting stocked by John Lewis as coming from the Home & Garden magazine feature. She also had practical tips about other ways to get your name out. Trade shows can be useful, but are also require discretion
they’re lots of them, and it can take a while to recoup your money, so be picky about what ones you attend.
She has stories of being too young to hire a vehicle so having to haul stock around on the train!
She also suggested keeping an eye on awards, for both exposure and money—while there isn’t much government money around these days, there are lots of smaller private one (e.g. Shellwire if you’re under 30).They’ve won £10k in prizes so far and are in the running for more. Finally, And it can come down to the little things, like having an emergency tea bag as your business card…. OK, while that may not work for most businesses, she points out that it’s a good thing to have a business card that’s memorable and people don’t want to throw away.
Her more general advice for people starting their own businesses: Find ways to be different from the others, work hard, and be nice to people.And when it comes to marketing:
have confidence in yourself and what you do, write to blogs, keep an eye on awards for money and exposure.
And someone of course had to ask: how does she take her tea?
I let it steep for three minutes, and try to drink it black, as the milk breaks down a lot of the anti-oxidents … and that type of thing.
James Taylor, Arcus Studios
James Taylor was another person working in a small team (he’s a lead animator, but also has to do a lot of other design work). Arcus Studios does a lot of animation work for CBBC and others, but also does a lot of bread-and-butter work with B2B animations: “rather than a boring website” they help a business communicate their work with animation. However, moving into this domain has meant that Taylor has found himself in unfamiliar waters: graphic design.
I know the animation principles like the back of my hand … but traditional graphic design principles are a struggle.
Taylor began as an artist and then trained in 3D animation, though he admits he ended up on a course far more technical than he was suited to “nodes and planes and renderings … it’s all so f—-king grey”. However, he was head-hunted by Ian (who won the E4 animation prize the day that he joined Arcus) and so had to learn 2D animation over again. His reflections on his early work were interesting: his first job (Ian and Hakka on CBBC) “have jaggy lines that don’t go anywhere”) while when he looked at his later work using rigged parts on Aftereffects he picked up on bits that didn’t meet “I would reshape this to it worked on the rig”. He also realised how it’s easy to go too far on extremes when learning a new tool: while his first work was too rough, he feels his later work was too smooth and vectory. Ideally, he’d like to have an aesthetic in the middle.
He also describes some interesting briefs from his B2B work:
would you really want to hire a lawyer based on an animation that sees them transform from a snail?
and his frustration at the more graphically oriented work he’s had to do and his gap in ability
these are clips that I designed that I never want to show anyone again.
While he’s studiously reading up on design books recommended to him by illustrators such as @grabbins (who, he laments, has just moved out of the area when he could employ him), he highlights how much happier he is as an animator if he can work with designers at the front end to take care of the graphic treatment. He showed us some recent examples where he got to work with a designer (as per a presentation with a startup studio, I don’t think I can talk about them!) and how he noticed the difference when he could just focus on the animations. This reminds me of something I’ve noticed with different types of designers: their skills are actually far more specialised than people often realise, to the points that working with other designers helps everyone.
(For the record, Taylor is looking for design freelancers… an opportunity that a few people took up on afterwards!)
The company do a wide range of work, as mentioned above: they’re currently pitching a show to CBBC that they’re very excited about, and are interested in doing more web related work such as app animation. They also do workshops with kids: “it’s really fun actually. They came up with a story of someone going to an alien planet, but taking along a bottle of vodka. They give the alien the alcohol and the planet blows up. It was for alcohol awareness week, they weren’t just raging.”
And for any people interested in the technical stuff: Taylor uses After Effects, Photoshop, Toon Boon Studio, Premiere, and related sound studios. When it comes to the Mac vs PC debate, he goes with the flow and uses PCs since his colleagues do, but isn’t against a switch.
Moving from design industry to arts and arts funding, Lauren Healey talked about the practicalities involved with both being an artist and dealing with arts funding (something she does both as a practising artist and an arts co-ordinator at Northern Film and Media). Healey could probably be seen as an editor in the most widest of senses, not only in terms of photography and film, but also in terms of printed publications. Healey talked about two projects she has been involved in.
The first, Response, came about when an artist involved in a one-year residency in the area at the VARC reached out to local artists with a very open brief. She created pinhole photographs which she developed in a makeshift darkroom in a coal shed. Because of the financial limitations of the project (namely, there was no money for photo prints) she then scanned them and made into a video installation which was shown in the coal shed.
Others made projects based on digging up the soil and making a watering system for it, another on the concept of being snowed in (he made 300 loaves of bread and walled himself in, and people had to get him out and eat with him).
The second part of the first project was more complicated, but based on the empty shop scheme. It turns out there’s a financial incentive for owners—if the premises are used for 6 weeks and 1 day—the rates are reset for 3 months (and there’s a 80% dip in rates if the people using the space is a charity). Because of the benefits to the shop owners, the Response people got 4 times more space than they bargained for (the shop now used by Tyneside Cinema) as well as no cost for utilities. While this seemed great, it also had problems, to the point they only used the upper area. She also notes some of the practicalities in regards to arts funding: there is often an in-kind clause in regards to the work. They had 8000 people go through the 6 weeks (particularly with a surreal moment when people perhaps unwittingly flooded through the doors, drawing other people in out of interest).
The second, a collaboration with Taryn Edwards, was based in Wallsend, “an area in transition, a site in limbo… some parts are modern, others are stuck in the 1940s, 60s, 80s”. She came about it through Red Nile and the Factory Nights. Healey knew of Edwards and her work, and got in contact when she realised the project she wanted to do would be far too much work for one person. They changed the topic to be about investigating the change of areas, without being too nostalgic. As a means of hopefully getting funding, they proposed to work in 5.1 audio and HD (both new for therm), and filmed at a number of locations in Tyne and Wear.
In regards to getting permission from the companies for them to film on the sites, she says it varied: from helpful and enthusiastic (admittedly, she said that the most helpful company often did fabrication for artists, so may have had some empathy to begin with) to ones with big health and safety clauses ‘They don’t do yellow safety suits in small!’ and fears that it’d portray the NE in a bad light. And then of course there were the companies that never called back!
They had plans of showing the final video as an installation at the shipyard, but realised the time of year and transport difficulties meant that they showed it in town instead. It’s being shown again for 6-8 weeks again in the Globe Gallery.
Next month’s Design Interest is looking for an organiser and speakers, so if anyone is interested in contributing, please let the team know!
New year, new location, new call for participation. Design Interest had a few months off due to the organisers James and Robert having other commitments, but was back with a vengeance this month.
The event was run by new presentation company Conva and their mentor Peter Nelson. So, the recurring theme of the night was presentations.
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Presentations But Were Afraid To Ask
First up was me (Vicky that is, your trusty reporter here). I covered the basics of presenations to the theme of Woody Allen’s “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask” (anything that lets me legitimately wear non-functional spectacles). The slidedeck is below.
Second up was John F Brown, discussing his work as a business communication coach, and how he got there (when you have to teach IT to unimpressed business students, you realise it’s all about telling stories). He also collaborated on what I’d mentioned about good talks being less than 20 minutes—apparently in teaching there is a saying “The mind can only absorb what the arse can endure”. If you have to go beyond that 20 minute window, you have to change things, be it pace, get people to do an activity, create some crazy diversion….
He challenged the audience to think about their perceptions and how to change them in a speech, and above all to tell stories first, and sneak in a lesson or sale in the tale (a storytelling Trojan horse?)
The talks finished up with Cata and Joe of Conva discussing their business. They are business and innovation Masters students at Newcastle University who noticed an opportunity to help businesses not only enhance their slides, but be better communicators. They’ve started rolling out their business but are looking to not only get more involved in workshops and coaching in the future, but also engage designers and content makers to help.
They also did powerpoint karaoke with two brave audience members, and got people to think about how they might sell a cow. Answers ranged from bovine VR that made captive cows believe they were in the fields to cow rides and even making an acronym of COW to mean “clever older women” and adding related technology.
Design Network North is on this Friday morning (8 February), as is Datarama in the evening.
March 1 is the global Service Design Jam. Last year there was a Newcastle event which was a lot of fun. At present there isn’t one set to be here (the closest is Dundee!) but if anyone is interested they should get together and start organising.
Hack Newcastle is happening over Easter Weekend (March 30-1). They’re looking particularly for designers.
Finally, James put it out to the community to help contribute and run. Where should we have the event? Should there be food? If there is, would people be prepared to help contribute to pay costs? He’s keen for other voices.
This month’s Design Interest was jam-packed with four talks ranging from eyescanning apps to design manifestos. They were:
Designing Catalogues: Understanding the Chaos Ben Wilson
Ben Wilson talked about the Herculean task of desiging several hundred pages worth of bathroom catalogues, and some of the trials and tribulations (don’t cut corners when it comes to printers, his company did and ended up with boxes of catalogues with the cover rubbed off!)
He had a few tips for tackling the task, including
Styles are your friend (much as webdesign has CSS styles, an efficent print designer will set up paragraph, character and object styles in Indesign to save time and allow for quick global changes should when the client changes their mind).
Set up grids (necessary with all of the constraints)
Get sign off on copy (and other people to proof read!)
There and Back Again: Academia/Design/Academia Vicky Teinaki (me)
My talk reflected on my having bounced around from academia (undergrad and a Masters) to industry (web design) and academia again (a PhD and design research). I also shared some of the cool stuff that has happened through PhDs, for example Tony Dunne’s post-optimal objects or Jane McGonigal’s ubiquitous gaming.
[Someone rightly pointed out that I didn’t really talk about my work: to be honest there isn’t that much to show as of yet because of paperwork, oops!]
Imagine Challenge Cup Colin Squires
Fresh from their win in the UK Imagine Challenge Cup semi-finals and preparing for the final in Australia, Colin Squires shared Team Eyeworks’ winning idea: the MIRA (Mobile Intelligent Retinal Analysis) app that combined with a special lens can help medics in third-world countries diagnose eye problems.
A Freelancer’s Manifesto James Rutherford
Design Interest co-organiser and design freelancer James Rutherford shared his manifesto for freelancers.
For an as-it-went summary, check out the Storify of the night, or read on for brief recaps and video.
Designing for a different type of the website: the wiki Richard Carter
While Wikis are fairly basic, they are more than wikipedia. And at least they’re not Myspace or Geocities. Richard Carter reflected on his experience with designing for wikis (his company uses MediaWiki), and key things to look out for.
As it turns out, wikis are often used for internal knowledgebases, document sharing, and public opinion sites, as their point of differences from CMSes are that they don’t require logins to post and generally have few admin rights. They often have to deal with extra complexity (for example, that 6 letter word in English may be 22 in German) and really require content from the start. Still, they can look good as well as be powerful, with examples including the Mozilla Wiki and Carter’s own CMK Alliance.
Showcase of Republika - a book which explores architecture as a metaphor for occupation Livi Dale
Livi Dale emphasised the importance of personal projects—’they force designers to have to handle not having constraints’—with her grad year final project Republika, a book on abandoned buildings in her ancestral home Latvia. Along with giving some tips on doing urban photography (for example, get a local guide as they can give you information about hidden places as well as ones you probably want to avoid), she pointed out how accidents can work to your advantage: her borrowed camera only took small photos, which forced her to adapt her book accordingingly, with great results. She’s looking to redo this book in the near future.
Can’t wait for tomorrow’s meetup (or can’t make it?). Here’s some optional reading and viewing for the talks.
We’re going to have someone talking about a designer’s take on the Culture Code Hack, but there have also been a series of talks for designers and cultural institutions leading up to the event, which Codeworks have kindly released on video. Here are some highlights: