Yearnote for 2014
I was inspired by reading Dan W's and Alice Bartlett's year-summarizing posts, so I wrote this one. I don't really know either Dan W or Alice Bartlett but we all appear to work in similar internet-y areas of technology and their Twitters are always interesting, containing as they do tales of container ship trips and tampon clubs etc.
I don't think I had an especially eventful 2014, so this definitely isn't intended to be trumpet-blowing. But it's nice to be able to look back on the times when I managed to put some effort into non-worky things. Things I'd definitely like to do more of this year.
Let's start with work-work. Most of my year at R/GA was spent launching Open Your City, a global advertising campaign for Heineken. The work included a mobile-optimised website and intelligent Twitter-bot which supplied realtime going-out recommendations based on your location (plus the small matter of one billion promotional codes on specially-printed bottle labels...).
It's a really nice service, with a decent amount of algorithmic magic going on in the background to make sure the tips are really very useful. Heineken themselves got a lot of mileage out of it, being named The Drum's most-creative brand of 2014. And while launching it I got to have some fun attending the press junkets: sat next to jacuzzis talking to journalists on a Soho hotel rooftop. We got some good coverage from the trade press and it was part of our winning submission for Campaign Magazine's Digital Innovation Agency of the Year award.
I spent about two months planning a huge physical computing campaign for an enormo-client, which ended up being postponed, cancelled, reinstated, reimagined and reworked entirely. It may by now have actually transmogrified into an authentic brand engagment film experience being shot in an exotic location nowhere near a computer of any kind. I work in an advertising agency. These things happen.
The remainder of the work year has been spent in discovery mode for another super-project, the first evidence of which you should start to see in October this year. Big ideas require big calendars. See you in October!
I was lucky enough to work with Anne-Marie Imafidon and Yasmin Lodhi of Stemettes, a project aimed at inspiring the next generation of women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics jobs and learning.
Together with Stemettes we ran a full day introducing 20 students to the opportunities STEM subjects can offer in the world of work. We had a amazing group of girls in years 9 and 10 (age 13 and 14) from two schools in Essex. With great help from a number of my colleagues, we took the girls through what we do at R/GA and explained how technology fits into our creative work. Then we showed them some simple tools for prototyping, as well as the basics of building web pages. Then we challenged them with a real brief and gave them the afternoon to brainstorm, validate their ideas, put together a pitch and create an app or website to show their concept.
I was absolutely amazed by the quality of the girls' ideas, their enthusiastic interpretation of the brief, and the speed at which they worked. We talk a lot about millenials and digital natives, but to have them standing in front of you confidently pushing ideas that wouldn't look out of place on one of our meeting room walls, that's am extremely enlightening experience. I also had Youtubers girlsplained to me, so now I know.
It was a real privilege to be work with Stemettes and all the girls, and I hope they found it as rewarding as I did. Anne-Marie describes herself as “a woman on a mission”, which is entirely accurate, and you can't really fail to be inspired by her as she steps off a plane direct from the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference in Phoenix, Arizona and walks straight into the day-long event we'd organised for young girls we'd organised, brandishing Google Cardboard kits and banging on about how Satya Nadella was stitched up over his comments about women and promotions. We're planning on doing more STEM days this year, and also some more focused and longer-term mentoring, which I'm really looking forward to.
I started a Code Club at George Tomlinson School in Leytonstone. The idea is to teach computational thinking to year 5 and 6 students (9 and 10 year-olds). In practice it means we use approachable programming tools to create things the students are interested in — games, apps, animations and movies. It is incredibly rewarding, and I highly recommend you think about running a club if you have even basic programming skills. At our club the students use Scratch, which is an open-source drag-and-drop web interface for creating programs. The underlying language is based on Smalltalk. Students can progress at their own pace, and can even carry on at home or elsewhere. And programs can be shared and remixed by anyone else, reminiscent of the “view-source” culture of the web. How far the students go in each session, and how much they learn, is totally up to them — you are there to facilitate their learning.
Every session also has a teacher present. This is very reassuring, as the practicality of managing 15 students bouncing off the walls with energy and questions is not something I had really considered before I signed up. One thing I realised immediately was how bloody tiring teaching is, and I was only doing it for a few hours a week, with only half a class! The other thing I realised — and thinking back to my own school days the irony involved apalls me even now — is the importance of preparation! I usually stayed up extra late the night before a club, trying to anticipate the many curveballs and requests the students were guaranteed to throw my way the next day.
I got to work with the lovely people at Village Underground in Shoreditch, who are organising another edition of the fantastic Convergence festival this year. They wanted a website which reflected the aims and culture of the festival, which is focused on the experimental and collaborative nature of music, art and technology.
The resulting work was a collaboration with my regular design partner-in-crime Suki, which we had to turn around in about a week! I can't wait to see Clark and Vessels blow the roof off VU at the opening party in March. Plus I haven't been able to stop listening to Kiasmos for months so I recommend checking them out at St John-at-Hackney.
Shimell and Madden
I also got to work with the inspirational and absolutely lovely jewellery design duo of Emma and Luke, who create beautiful handmade jewellery as Shimell and Madden. Their workshop in Shoreditch is knee-deep in mathematical diagrams and scientific research, and every piece I've seen people wearing never fails to elicict comments and compliments. Do check out their work, as every piece has lifetimes of thought and craft put into it. Again, the work came about quite by chance after I'd bought one of their necklaces for my wife early in the year. We got to talking about each of our crafts, and a few months later they asked if I could help them out with a new site.
I worked on the website and ecommerce shop with the talented designer and typographer Robert Holmvist. Like any good work it was a true collaboration and learning curve for us all.
First Things First
I did an interview with Sydney Brownstone at Fast Company about the First Things First Manifesto. This was a refresh of the earlier First Things First manifestos (in 1964 and 2000), each of which had the same aim of rallying a community of creative professionals to put their collective skills to more worthwhile use. I am particularly driven by the acknowledgment of the manifesto that it is the responsibility of members of the creative and technology industries themselves to create positive changes within them. So I'm trying to highlight the need for advertising agencies to improve our record on diversity and inclusion, especially gender imbalance.
In 2014 I started mentoring 2 developers in R/GA's Bucharest office. Mentoring has a different feel from line-management. It allows us to focus purely on ideas around technology and exploration, which I think is a nice opportunity for us both. I also had a lovely family holiday in Italy, where it turns out that my kids love gelato even more than they love ice cream. I went to Serbia for Resonate, and both the country and the conference were revelations — the friendliest places I've been to in a long time. I'll be heading back this year. Also hopefullly eyeo.
I bought a Kindle and read more books last year than I did in the previous two put together. This is because you can (just about) fit in in your jeans pocket and so can take it anywhere. Also you can read it in the dark. I mucked about with Tilde Club a bit, which is fun because it's basically a load of media professionals coding websites ironically not ironically, and sometimes it's nice just to be part of someone else's silly idea that they know is silly but also take too seriously. Finally, I saw some great gigs: Sun Ra Arkestra at Barbican in June, Darkside at the Coronet in March, A Love Supreme at the Festival Hall as part of James Lavelle's Meltdown, Kelis at Somerset House, Kelela at Corsica Studios, Young Fathers at XOYO, Tony Allen at Village Underground. Also the Duchess of Malfi by candlelight in the all-wooden Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on Southbank.
Some ideas for things I'd like to continue doing or do more of this year:
• More mentoring. I saw Cennydd Bowles recently posted about his availability to mentor junior digital product designers, and it seems like a really good idea to open up this kind of activity outside of the usual work channels.
• More Code Club and Code Club-style things. I'd actually like to do one aimed at older people who want to learn the nuts and bolts of web development. I know people like General Assembly and others do run programming courses, but I think the cost is probably prohibitive for many people.
• More side projects with my friends. I feel like I let work consume me a bit too much last year, and didn't give myself time to have fun and do silly things. Or serious things. I definitely need to do more of both.
• I think I'll set up a London Tilde Club if anyone's interested in learning how we used to do things on the web before it all descended into just plugging our brains into a giant digital sewage pipe spewing advertising into us while also being followed by sinister men with ridiculous Powerpoint decks
• Err, that's it so far. Hopefully I'll add to this list as the year goes on :)