Archive for the 'books' Category

Notes from ‘Structural Fabulation: An essay on fiction of the future’

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

It would be great to find more examples of keynote speeches given in my profession that even came close to the care, rigour, sense of shared responsibility and warmth for fellow thinkers and practitioners as that found in Bethany Nowviskie’s talk on Digital Humanities in the Anthropocene. I suspect I’ll be digging around at the references and ideas for weeks.

Somewhere in there is mention of Donna Haraway and it reminded me of a reference to a talk I think I got from Adam Greenfield on twitter. I’ve watched most of it but the volume of ideas is too great to not be overwhelmed in one sitting. However, somewhere in there is mention of ‘speculative fabulation’, which sounded gorgeous, so I hunted for a source and bought the book.


Note taking and head scratching for this year’s upcoming MArch studio at BCU is underway, so in the age old tradition of ‘blogging all dog-eared pages’ here are the choice samples from Robert Scholes’ ‘Structural Fabulation: An essay on fiction of the future’.

I’m hoping this will help a discussion that expands on last year’s exploration of infrastructure/design fiction. I’m particularly tweaked by the comparison between speculative and dogmatic fabulations as a metaphor for comparisons between the role of the architect versus other built environment fabulators. There are also moments that afford a rather neat loop back into thinking about the Anthropocene too.

Didactic romance anyone?


(my emphasis in bold)

On writing fiction:

Fiction has always been characterized by its ability to perform two functions… We may call these two functions sublimation and cognition. As sublimation, fiction is a way of turning our concerns into a satisfying shape, a way of relieving anxiety, of making life bearable. In its cognitive function, fiction helps us to know ourselves and our existential situation.

All writing, all composition, is construction. We do not imitate the world, we construct versions of it. There is no mimesis, only poiesis. No recording. Only constructing.

All fiction contributes to cognition, then, by providing us with models that reveal the nature of reality by their very failure to coincide with it.

Quoting Olaf Stapledon’s ‘Last and First Men’ (1930):

“To romance of the future may seem be indulgence in ungoverned speculation for the sake of the marvelous. Yet controlled imagination in this sphere can be very valuable exercise for minds bewildered about the present and its potentialities… But if such imaginative construction of possible futures should be at all potent, our imagination must be strictly disciplined. We must endeavour not to go beyond the bounds of possibility set by the particular state of culture within which we live.”

On Doris Lessing:

She has moved with the times and sees that the future is the only lever with which we can hope to nudge the present in a better direction.

On Speculative Fabulation:

Fabulation, then, is fiction that offers us a world clearly and radically discontinuous from the one we know, yet returns to confront that known world in some cognitive way.

There are two varieties of fabulation or didactic romance which corresponds roughly to the distinction between romances of religion and romances of science. We may call these two forms “dogmatic” and “speculative” fabulation, respectively… most didactic romances are clearly dominated by one tendency or the other.

A dogmatic fabulation:
…works out of a closed, anti-speculative system of belief. (e.g Dante’s Commedia)

A speculative fabulation:
…is a creature of humanism, associated from its origins with attitudes and values that have shaped the growth of science itself. (e.g. More’s Utopia)

On Structural Fabulation:

In works of structural fabulation the tradition of speculative fiction is modified by an awareness of the universe as a system of systems, a structure of structures, and the insights of the past century of science are accepted as fictional points of departure. Yet structural fabulation is neither scientific in its methods nor a substitute for actual science. It is a fictional exploration of human situations made perceptible by the implications of recent science. Its favourite themes involve the impact of developments or revelations derived from the human or physical sciences upon the people who must live with those revelations or developments.

Man must create his future himself. History will not do it for him. And the steps he has already taken to modify the biosphere can be seen as limiting the future options of the human race. It is in this atmosphere that structural fabulation draws its breath, responding to these conditions of being, in the form of explorative narrative. The extrapolation may be bold and philosophical or cautious and sociological, but they must depart from from what we know and consider what we have due cause to hope and fear. Like all speculative fabulations they will take their origin in some project dislocation of our known existence, but their projections will be based on a contemporary apprehension of the biosphere as an ecosystem and the universe as a cosmosystem.

In the perfect structural fabulation, idea and story are so wedded as to afford us simultaneously the greatest pleasures that fiction provides: sublimation and cognition.

Seen in cultural terms, then, structural fabulation is a kind of narrative which is genuinely fictional but strongly influenced by modern science. It is specifically romantic in that it breaks, consciously and deliberately, with what we know and accept to be the case. But it develops its arbitrary parameters with a rigor of scientific method. Seen in purely formal terms, structural fabulation is a development of a tradition of speculative that has a long history in Western culture. This tradition is rooted in the genre of didactic romance, and can be seen as a dialectical antithesis of dogmatic fabulation.


Plastic Praxis: MArch teaching at BCU

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

I’m collaborating with Mike Dring, the MArch Course Director at Birmingham School of Architecture this academic year to help run a studio for years 5 & 6. Over the last few weeks we’ve been crafting a studio agenda which is less about the question of how we should build and more about questioning why. We’re examining architectural practice itself and hoping to encourage our students to see this final stage of their education as an opportunity to fully understand their many possible roles and – just as importantly – foster some bold optimism in what is increasingly described as bleak times for the future of the profession.

We’ve begun in the traditional way by proposing some key pieces of writing to set the studio ethos. We hope we’ve been non-traditional however in our choices of text. They are: Future Practice by Rory Hyde and Dark Matter and Trojan Horses by Dan Hill.

Alongside these examinations of broader, strategic actions we have also begun to acknowledge an interest in how one should act at a more intimate, immediate scale through references to books such as Jeremy Till’s Architecture Depends; and in what field we might ultimately take action by setting suburban housing areas as our proposed sites (Shard End in Birmingham and Almere in the Netherlands) and considering the new resurgence of interest in the custom or self-build home.

We’ll be taking the topic of future practice both literally and metaphorically by finding excuses to experiment with digital tools ranging from Arduinos and Minecraft through to Grasshopper and BIM, acknowledging that the profession is increasingly part of the digital economy and future graduates must be able to use it to their (and their client’s) advantage.

With that in mind Mike and I have of course launched a web site and a twitter account. We’ll be sharing links to wider reading and and ideas that we see elsewhere, as well as student work in the future as the studio develops. If you’re interested in any of the topics described here, feel free to follow or comment.

Finally, here’s the studio agenda we’ve kicked off with and the full book list as it currently stands:

PLASTIC_studio briefing

95% of buildings are not designed by architects
83% of architecture is not about design

  1. investigating the challenges and opportunities of future practice and strategic design
  2. exploring ‘infrastructure fictions’ and ‘dark matter’
  3. speculating on the latency of new towns and urban extensions

“Architecture’s core aim may still be the application of spatial intelligence, but if that outcome is not seen as valuable by the wider culture, then it doesn’t solve two problems, one small, one big. The first problem is architecture’s marginalisation. This is not necessarily important in itself. Or at least, if the debates as to its value cannot be meaningfully resolved, it will only be of importance to architects. But the second problem concerns how to access and deploy the considerable potential of architecture to solve genuinely meaningful and significant problems beyond the building. This one is important.”

Dan Hill in the foreword to ‘Future Practice’, Rory Hyde, Routledge 2012

The studio will examine both the method/process/product of architecture as described by Hyde et al, and theories and concepts around the future of established ‘planned communities’ within the contested (sub)urban field. The idea of operating at the ‘edge’ of existing professional and physical boundaries demands enquiry into diverse fields from politics to product design and beyond, and the chapter titles of Hyde’s ‘Future Practice’ suggest some ambitious and engaging new roles; whole-earth architect, historian of the present, urban activist, contractual innovator, strategic designer.

Our study sites this year are Shard End, a suburb in East Birmingham, built to satisfy the critical housing shortage in the immediate post war period, and Almere new town built on reclaimed polders east of Amsterdam in the 1980s to alleviate pressure on existing urban centres with extreme densities. Both represent ‘communities without propinquity’, a term coined by Melvin Webber in 1963 to describe the new town communities (in this case of Milton Keynes). Propinquity describes continuity and evolution; whilst these places were once ‘new’ (and we include Shard End in this as a large scale urban extension), they have reached a critical point in their existence having established themselves within the wider urban construct and grown histories of their own. They face serious challenges but also offer huge potential. Often described (by those external to these communities) as monocultural, monofunctional, and monoformal (sub)urban space, these spaces have a latent character, a hidden opportunity to adapt and evolve.

The overarching challenge for studio is to explore these opportunities through excursions on density, diversification, and growth (the ‘matter’), and the ‘meta’ that surrounds it from the role of regulation, legislation, political agency, public/private sector supply histories and future models for ‘civic enterprise’ and ‘intentional communities’.

Book list:

  • Architecture Depends – Jeremy Till
  • Future Practice – Rory Hyde
  • Dark Matter and Trojan Horses – Dan Hill
  • Recipes for Systemic Change – Helsinki Design Lab
  • Around and About Stock Orchard Street – ed. Sarah Wigglesworth
  • Out of the Woods – Borer and Harris
  • The Architecture Machine – Nicholas Negroponte (copy available online)
  • Cohousing in Britain – Diggers and Dreamers
  • Cohousing – McCamant & Durrett
  • Rural Studio – Samuel Mockbee
  • Landscape Futures – Geoff Manaugh
  • Form + Code in Design, Art and Architecture
  • Urban Maps – Richard Brook and Nick Dunn
  • SUB_PLAN – Finn Williams/ Architectural Association
  • Explorations in Architecture, Teaching Design Research – ed. Reto Geiser
  • White Night_Before a Manifesto – Metahaven
  • After the City – Lars Lerup
  • FARMAX & Metacity Datatown – MVRDV
  • Non-Plan – ed. Jonathan Hughes and Simon Sadler
  • Slow Space – ed. Michael Bell and Sze Tsung Leong
  • The Cultivated Wilderness – Paul Shepheard

Personal note:

I’m genuinely delighted to be back at the school that raised me for almost a decade. I’ve done various bits of visiting tutor work before over the years since I graduated but this is the first time I’ve had a hand in shaping a studio program. The decade of education of which I speak is perhaps one of the reasons that we’re considering the topics described. My generation needs to acknowledge that the luxury of time and funding available to us is now sadly long since vanished. To propose teaching it today as if those days remained would be a mistake. Whilst the future of architectural education is perhaps uncertain, to begin by looking inwards and questioning practice itself seems like an appropriate way to start.

The ideas and writings suggested here are unashamedly just a list of people and projects that have inspired me over the last few years. My personal interest in digital tools is also clear to see but I believe appropriate on many levels. Access to such ideas is so often made possible thanks to the smartest people sharing the smartest stuff in smart places – making them accessible, shareable and hackable to the wide-eyed student in all of us. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know some of the main protagonists in this story (hello Dan Hill) thanks initially to shared interests on blogs and twitter – long may it continue and long may the newest students continue to do likewise. Also, in the midst of the debate about what an education should be about we should remember what an education should cost. My interest in digital tools such as Arduinos, Minecraft and fairly priced e-books for example is also about money.

Thanks to BCU for inviting me to take part and thanks also to anyone appearing in the references above. If you fancy making a star appearance for a lecture one afternoon let me know.

dyslexia, eBooks and typography

Monday, January 9th, 2012

A rather off-topic post, but hopefully of value to some fellow parents…

In summary

This is Josh. He’s ten years old. He can light up a rugby pitch, climb to about grade 5c/6a and strike a cricket ball with such Gower-like sublime beauty I get tearful. What he can’t do very well, or at least doesn’t really enjoy very much, is reading. This is far from unusual for us boys of course (many of us can’t be bothered with it until we’re in our teens as a rule) but with Josh it always seemed particularly unappealing to him. We didn’t let it worry us too much given that he is, like I said, a boy who on the whole prefers to be running and jumping rather than sitting and reading; but every once in a while I’d catch a glimpse of a look on his face when he was staring at a page that suggested there was more to it than that. Watching closely you’d catch a look in his eyes that suggested he was momentarily experiencing what’s probably best described as some weirdness, and for a split second he’d have to wait for the world to right itself again.

As you’ve probably guessed we’re now coming to the conclusion that he may be slightly dyslexic. Two separate tutors have raised it over the last year so we’re convinced enough to ask the school to look into it and in the next few weeks he’s going to be assessed by the local authority. It’s probably a quite mild case but it’ll be valuable to know if we need his upcoming secondary school to give further support.

This week I realised something about one of the few books he has enjoyed reading that I think is worth sharing publicly, hence the off-topic post here.

One of the only books he’s ever really enjoyed and enthusiastically read is the series by Jeff Kinney called Diary of a Wimpy Kid. At first I put it down to the fact that he was simultaneously enthused by the movie – we got him the first one after a trip to the cinema last year – but now I realise that it’s very likely the layout and the typeface that has made the difference. He got another for Christmas and once again he’s started reading without encouragement from us or protests from him. Looking through it with him a few days ago I suddenly clocked what had been staring me in the face for months: the handwritten font.

I think dyslexia is a little different for everyone, but one aspect of it is the way it can cause letters to appear mirrored. This gets particularly confusing with letters such as d and b which are easily mirrored on the vertical axis. The video from StudioStudio, designers of what seems to be one of the few specialist font projects in this field explains it further.

Here’s a page from Diary of a Wimpy Kid:

The varied angles of the handwritten font could very well be doing a great job of reducing the mirroring problem. Also, the notebook-like design with the line under each line of text combined with the page being broken up by sketches is probably dramatically improving his ability to keep track of each sentence.

Could it be that simple for someone with a mild case? A font choice and careful layout design? If so then the opportunity to explore this in modern eBook readers such as Kindles, Kobos or iPads seems ridiculously easy. An extensive investigation about Diary of a Wimpy Kid, fonts and ebooks (i.e. 30 to 40  seconds in Google) demonstrates two things: 1) that I’m not alone in noticing this but 2) that there’s surprisingly little comment about it.

I found a couple of mentions in some forums by people noticing how their dyslexic child enjoyed the book and also a blog post from August last year from a father who made the same connections and has seen results by combining a Kindle with an overlay; but beyond that there appears to be little debate.

With the appearance of beautifully crafted reading apps such as Readmill, the step from there to an additional visual setting designed to assist dyslexia sufferers is surely very small. It would simply (?) need some varied font choices of less perfect, more varied form (guaranteed to irk the purist typographers) combined with line by line support through a staged reveal or other visual aids and perhaps even some investigations into colour choices and brightness (such as those found in palettes like Solarized). An equally intensive investigation of the app store provides a few results regarding dyslexia but they appear to focus on diagnosis or spelling assistance, rather than just reading support.

So, if you’re an app developer and you fancy looking at this more, maybe we should have a chat? Better yet, if you actually know something about dyslexia and can put my armchair/googled understanding straight that would also be much appreciated.

In the meantime, there are things that can be done to test this further and craft something at home. In an hour or so over the weekend I’d managed to create Josh another book with a similar layout approach using Proboscis’ self-publishing system, some text from Project Gutenberg, a font made from my own handwriting (made using Fontifier a few years ago) and some help from a certain Mr Kipling.

We can view the online version with an iPad or on a laptop, and after some quick folding I’ll be giving him the paper copy later today (PDF link – A3 format).

If he thinks there’s any discernible difference I think it’ll be worth pursuing further, although keeping his attention with only the classics available on Gutenberg could be tricky. Let’s hope someone in the publishing world looks into this further. We’ve yet to have the formal assessment so it’s possible the results will tell us he doesn’t have the condition at all, either way it’s pretty clear from his enthusiasm for the design of Diary of a Wimpy Kid that a more child-like approach to writing and design can make a big difference to child-like eyes.


Thursday, October 6th, 2011

(The Isolator found via Anne Galloway’s always brilliant tumblr)

We’ve been using 37signals products at the office for years now. I’m a big fan of their products and their philosophy. For some reason though I remained dismissive regarding the business self-help book Rework they published last year. Probably the fault of that usual suspect: ego.

A reminder on twitter from Nick Grant encouraged me to be a little more humble and give it a try. I’m glad I did;  it’s cheap, easy to digest in one or two sittings and contains a good mix of reminders about well understood truisms as well as a plenty of new ideas. Given that we’re entering an era when so much of the standard architectural service needs to be rethought, now is as good a time as any to consider how to rework work.

Some notes provided in the spirit of the ‘blog all dog-eared pages’ movement:

page 43
Draw a line in the sand: As you get going, keep in mind what you’re doing. Great businesses have a point of view, not just a product or a service. You have to believe in something. You need to have a backbone.

page 62
Less mass: Embrace the idea of having less mass… Mass is increased by:

  • Long term contracts
  • Excess staff
  • Permanent decisions
  • Meetings
  • Thick process
  • Inventory (physical or mental)
  • Hardware, software and technology lock-ins
  • Long-term road maps
  • Office politics

page 88
Tone is in your fingers: In business, too many people obsess over tools, software tricks, scaling issues, fancy office space, lavish furniture, and other frivolities instead of what really matters. And what really matters is how to actually get customers and make money… Use whatever you’ve got already or can afford cheaply. Then go. It’s not the gear that matters. It’s playing what you’ve got as well as you can. Your tone is in your fingers.

page 104
Interruption is the enemy of productivity: If you’re constantly staying late and working weekends it’s not because there’s too much work to be done. It’s because you’re not getting enough done at work. And the reason is interruptions.

page 170
Build an audience: All companies have customers. Lucky companies have fans. But the most fortunate companies have audiences… So build an audience. Speak, write, blog, tweet, make videos – whatever. Share information that’s valuable and you’ll slowly but surely build a loyal audience.

page 173
Out-teach your competition: Instead of trying to outspend, outsell, or outsponsor competitors, try to out-teach them. Teaching probably isn’t something your competitors are even thinking about. Most businesses focus on selling or servicing, but teaching never occurs to them.

page 222
Hire great writers: If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. It doesn’t matter if that person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer or whatever; their writing skills will pay off… Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking.

New Small Cullen

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Taking the time to write something considered and share it online is not easy, so getting reminded why it’s worth it is always welcome.  I’ve certainly appreciated all the supportive comments about my first submission to the housing blog over at and much more importantly I’ve learnt lots in return from people sending links and sharing knowledge. The real star of that show though is undoubtedly the delightful book by FRS Yorke and Penelope Whiting: The New Small House.


The added bonus being this suitably charming cover by none other than Gordon Cullen. As a student of the mid-nineties, surrounded at the time by all the linguistic gymnastics of post structuralist decision dodging, I’ve noticed that with age my later interests appear to be an act of rebellion and I’m becoming an arch-empiricist.  Yesterday I was into linguistics, but today I’m not Saussure.

This is a fact well recorded in years gone by with entries and even the occasional sketch on Cullen that ranged from simple explorations of sections of Townscape through to more unusual assessments involving a skunk called Pepe Le Pew.

I was unimaginably flattered then to recently receive an e-mail from a reader who likened my own sketches to the work of Cullen and even more excited to discover an opportunity to share some more of his work.

Gorden Cullen sketch

Here’s Eric Osbourne describing the history of the sketch he’s been the proud owner of for years:

I have been trying to remember the firm I shared 16 Carlisle Street, London W1 with from about 1968 to 1970, I think they were called Phillip Chandos, because they were drinking in the Chandos Pub opposite the Nurse Cavell Statue, St. Martins’ Lane when the company was conceived – drinking was important to the company ethos! They use to write, design, edit and sub-contract printing for books and leaflets on various aspects of construction and architecture. The Lead Association springs to mind. Gordon Cullen was in and out all the time and very good friends of the main man (a tall guy with a long horizontal moustache and always sporting a bow tie), who had his office on the first floor. All their names are gone now but I remember Gordon would arrive at 11.00/11.30, the office manager would go down and we would hear peals of laughter. At opening time they would either go to the ‘Bath House’ pub on the corner for a ‘quick one’ which lasted until 3.00 or the Braganza, Soho Square in which case you did not see the three of them again that day. After they moved, I do remember going to their new offices in Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden for a very quick drink, with accumulated post and the drawing which I had found amongst the serious piles of rubbish they had left behind. I was told I could keep it and I have treasured it every since – it’s the nearest thing I have to a William Blake/Picasso/Durer – a true masterpiece.

I don’t know whether it was commissioned for anything else or used in any publications so perhaps this is its first outing beyond Eric’s home. Thanks for taking to the time to share it with us Eric. I dream, literally, of being able to muster such line quality so effortlessly.

for our pleasure and interest

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Blogging like it’s 2004. That’s the answer it seems. In which case I should return to my habit of just lazily scanning cool stuff and putting it on flickr. So, for no better reason than a desire to share some beautiful illustrations, I give you the 1961 Ladybird guide to London:




The authorities of the airport are pleased to see us, and they have arranged everything for our pleasure and interest. We can but refreshments or a full meal. For children who are not above old-fashioned means of transport, they have pony-rides and a miniature railway. There is even a sand-pit for the very young. But the great thrill is the aeroplanes; huge and graceful, immensely powerful and so beautiful to watch.


Never mind the carbon emissions and the extra runway rubbish: huge and graceful, immensely powerful and so beautiful to watch. Oof.

With thanks to Kinver Village book fair. More to come.

2 B R 0 2 B – Vonnegut

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Pool of poetics

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Some interesting stuff to be found in this Bachelard inspired flickr pool:

Poetics of Space

paper bagged

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

A long time ago I wrote a blog entry on the back of a paper bag. It was a review of a chapter from a Calvino book – the author who, as Kieran Long once twittered, architects always turn to when they want to appear arty and sensitive. At the risk of further proving that theory I can honestly say it remains one of the most satisfying posts I’ve ever written. Lately I’ve been trying to get our office to think about paper (and bags) more.

For most of the latter half of 2009 I was working on the city’s new housing development project, the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust. Like many other local authorities around the country, Birmingham hurried to stake its claim for a share of the funding made available directly to local authorities for the first time in many years. Alongside another local practice we had 5 sites to take from nothing to a detailed planning submission in about 6 weeks. This is an insanely short amount of time. Weekly design team meetings with numerous departments ensued and the process was, to put it mildly, intense. Turning to others for moral support, encouragement and inspiration was an absolute must; as was the occasional bottle of Rioja.

Giles Lane helped by offering me a new notebook. Not the regulation issue Moleskine, almost as cliched as the Calvino reference, but a bespoke notebook just for us which we could make with our own bare hands. Giles and Proboscis have been using their Diffusion notebook format in consultation work and arts projects for some time. Printed (crucially) on single sided A4 the format is carefully designed to cut and fold quickly into a small, robust A6 book that can be either landscape or portrait.

Here’s a video showing how to fold one:

Diffusion eBooks from stml on Vimeo.

Got it?

We made a blank one, experimenting with different templates to assist with writing and drawing and I carried it around in my jeans pocket for most of the 6 weeks, proving that the design is perfectly robust enough despite only being crafted from a few folds. What I’m most interested in though is what happens when it’s finished. I can unfold it, and because I can unfold it I can easily scan it in and share it with others or work over it again with other tools. Chunks of it would quickly get extracted and thrown into presentations to the client and ultimately some of the sketches informed the design and access statement that went with the planning application. That’s interesting; the ease and speed with which you can align the analogue with the digital.

Then there was Owen Hatherley. I asked Owen to help me fill in the back story for the other team members and make sure we knew where we’d been before we decided where we wanted to go. He wrote a short essay on the history of municipal housing, talking us through projects such as Eric Lyon’s Span housing and Sheffield’s Gleadless Valley. Initially I gave it to Birmingham City Council in standard A4 format, but later when self-publishing a booklet became possible with Gile’s I could create my own notebook, this time by uploading a PDF then getting it back immediately in the Diffusion format to fold and issue myself. You can download a copy yourself from the library. That’s interesting too, I self-published a book.

More recently, when the dust had settled and it came time to tell other people what we’ve been doing lately at the West Midlands Built Environment and Design Fair I published a newspaper in about 48 hours with the help of

Axis Design news - page 2

Like, connects a web interface to a production process but this time it gives you the power to command a newspaper printing facility usually reserved for massive print runs. You can upload a PDF of any design as long as it follows the template size or you can use the newpaperclub interface to upload text and images from your machine or source either from other locations on the web such as blog entries or flickr pages.

Axis Design news - page 5

I’ve rarely seen a web service in early beta stage nail the interface design so succesfully first time. It adjusts the 4 column layout and shows a clear snapshot each time you make an adjustment. I pulled in text from here at and lifted images from my practice flickr account and turned out a 12 page newspaper in little more than an afternoon. 2 days and £120 later I had 100 beautiful objects to give away to clients and colleagues. We gave them out along with bookleteers by the staff in paper bags that had been rubber stamped with our logo.

WMdesignfair-axisdesign (2)

WMdesignfair-axisdesign (1)

So it’s a useful PR tool and in the same way Moo mini-cards still do after all these years it’ll help me cause a stir in a generally conservative, predictable industry; but what else? What interests me most about tools like newspaperclub is how I might be able to connect it with the hyperlocal debate and the work a practice like ours does with neighbourhoods like Blurton in cities like Stoke on Trent. If I can plug the outputs from amateur community blogging quickly and cheaply into professional looking trusted formats like a newspaper then the credibility, the reach and the power of the voices being supported become reinforced. Not only that but you can leave it on a bus for someone else to read and you’re not likely to do that with an iPad.

Before you wrap your chips in it however, there’s something else you could do when you retrieve it from the bus. The bookleteer experience teaches the value of being able to easily send the paper format you produced with the digital tools back into pixels to be worked on again. There are more layers to be added, further annotation to be inserted and new ideas to be traced.

When I spoke about the project at Be2camp Birmingham last year I finished by enthusing about the Walking Papers project created to allow people to annotate simple paper copies of their chosen section of Open Street Map. Once complete they can be scanned in again and traced over thanks to the QR code that aligns the analogue with the digital automatically. Self publishing formats like bookleteer and newspaperclub are perfect for this type of process, flipping constantly between screen and paper (and indeed the experiments at SXSW have begun to explore this), but what I’ve come to realise is that I need the process to take place at many scales. What I need is a walking papers process that works on a building scale.

This collaboration between paper and screen knows no limits. It won’t care about file formats and it couldn’t give a damn if you’re a Mac or that Windows 7 was your idea. There’ll be no more excuses for a lack of communication.

And I’ll be able to go back to writing on paper bags.

Of course back in the day, the oldest and wisest of us knew that instinctively.


(picture circa 1997, taken from 2005 blog entry “Death of a Drawing Board“)

local facts

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

“This time, though, Keill avoided those streets. He was looking for a different source of information – local facts, this time, rather than space talk. Every world had its own forms of communications media – holo-screen or the more out-dated ultravid. The media people were the ones most likely to know what he needed to know.”

With apologies to fellow ‘social media surgeons’ for my lack of attendence at tonight’s surgery.

If you know anyone who needs to learn how to tell their holo-screens from their ultravids, be sure to tell them that the next Social Media Surgeries will be on the 11th February and 9th March.

Alternatively, if you’re still not convinced by any of this ‘its-all-about-the-conversation’ nonsense, you may prefer to read ‘The 5 Signs You’re Talking To A Social Media Douchebag’.