Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Change of address

I've been blogging here since 2008, but the time has come for me to say "bye bye Blogger" and "hello Square Space".

You can now find me:


If you're following me on Feedly (or other readers), please be sure to update your settings!

I'm admittedly sad to leave. Blogger (or Blogspot as it once was) has served me well for five years but it's failed to keep up aesthetically. I find the UI simple and it syncs well with all my other Google products, but it just looks... tired. My hunch is that Blogger will get incorporated into Google+ in a bid to make Google+ happen. And I wish them luck with that. But for now and my needs and $10 a month, Square Space seems like a good move.

So this is over and out here. See you on the other side of the Internet for more ramblings.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rage against the machine

I try to be a good person. I look for the best in people, I see the bright side, I care how others feel and, if Stoke Newington wasn’t overrun with yuppies, I would totally help old ladies cross the street. But lately I’ve been getting angry with people.

Not random strangers but the hairdresser who kept me waiting for 30 minutes without acknowledging or apologising; the coffee shop owner who charged me £10.70 for two coffees, a tiny piece of cake, an unacceptably long wait and a huge amount of attitude; the sales assistant at M.A.C who pushed me out of her way, and the other sales assistant at Liberty’s who pushed my Mum out of her way; and the independent furniture maker who was so unpleasant when it came to organising delivery that I cancelled the order and took my 3-month’s worth of saving elsewhere.

Believe me, I’ve really challenged myself to be sure that this isn’t just First World Problems. Certainly I have high standards and expect value for money, but I was raised on the strategy of “hard on the issue, soft on the relationship” because we’re all just people at the end of the day. And yet, I am increasingly shocked at the appalling levels of customer service from both independent and chain retailers - businesses which make up the languishing British highstreet and which we're trying to preserve.

When shops are fighting against online retailers to increase footfall and boost spend in-store, it seems odd that so few are leveraging the one thing they can offer over a website - real, friendly, helpful, personal interaction. In fact, emotion and relationships are so important in the so-called ‘path to purchase’, that many of the world’s greatest brains are currently employed in making computers behave more like us.

I fear, however, that I have become so used to things being instant and personalised and “Hi Camilla, because you bought that, you might like this!” that I’ve forgotten how long things take to do and make, or how busy and crowded it can be in the West End. Not only have I forgotten, but the purveyors of haircuts, coffee, clothes and furniture have too. Is it really that hard to apologise for keeping someone waiting? Or ask politely for someone to please move aside? Won't we, as people, generally have a better time if we're all lovely and helpful to one another?

I adore technology and I think about how brands can use digital tools and platforms every day in my work, but I’d hate to see it lead to a world where I yell in public about a piece of cake. I want technology to accentuate our human-ness, to make us take pride in it and treasure it. Let machines be mean - they’ll be great at it.

Snaps to the wonderfully friendly people of The Albion Pub, Superdrug in Angel, and Barclays telephone banking for bucking the trend.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Suddenly I see

On a train back into London last week, I sat next to a blind couple and their guide dog. It was interesting to watch them complete tasks we sighted people take for granted - storing their bags, settling into their seats, and ensuring their dog wasn’t in the way of people in the aisle. As we approached the city, they began to discuss their immediate plans upon arrival. The woman suggested they find a bench and use BlindSquare to - as she put it - “see where they were”. I’d not previously heard of BlindSquare, which is an award-winning app that “makes use of the latest features available in smartphones to aid the blind and visually impaired in their daily lives”. According to the website, BlindSquare uses information from Foursquare and Open Street Map to make spoken recommendations for the user. As a blind interviewee was recently quoted in the New York Times, “The belief was the tools for the visually impaired must have a tactile screen, which, it turns out, is completely untrue”. Of course, noone who works in branding or advertising can ever observe new or unusual human behaviour without immediately wondering how they’ll be able to incorporate it into a PowerPoint presentation. So, while watching this couple disappear into the crowds at London Bridge, I was imagining what a non-visual world meant for brands. If we removed sight, what could we see?
It is now commonly understood that a modern brand is built on experience; how it feels to use and interact with. And yet it is undeniable that a great deal of our affinity with brands is based on how they look - the emotions we associate with the experience of the brand often prompted by seeing the logo or visiting it online or in-store. Even with brands we are unfamiliar with, we can use subtle visual signals such as naming, typeface or colour palette to determine whether it might be something we’re interested in. I’ve written previously about how lost I found myself in Havana - the land without brands. Indeed, without sight the visual signals that help us find our way, discover new things and even keep us safe disappear, and brands lose their power. For the couple on the train, BlindSquare provides vocal prompts to help them navigate London, but what else could a brand do to assert their presence? How could a brand use smell, touch, sound and even taste to quickly prompt that comforting feeling of recognition not just in blind people but in everyone? 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What is Britishness?

I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm quite partial to a spot of BBC Radio 4 of an evening. It's informative, erudite and distinctly British. So you can imagine how much I enjoyed the first instalment of Rory Bremner's new show, "One Question Quiz", which asks his panellists (and his impersonated characters) to riff off just a single question. The first episode asked "What is Britishness", and an answer was given that was so perfect I had to transcribe it here.

'We've always been a country that turns its face to the world and goes, "I'll have that, I'll have that, I'll have you, I'll eat that, I'll put that on my living room floor, I'll have two of those, Timmy needs a new pair of tusks for school, so I'll shoot that and if you don't do what I say I'll whack you with this, infect you with this and and threaten you til you believe in that. I'll have a gin and tonic on the veranda sharpish or I'll open fire on you in a confined space and never apologise for it and I'll have a side order of all your natural resources. Now answer our phones and pretend you're called John!"'

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler" - the interview

They say that if you don't ask, you don't get. So I asked Tiffany Beveridge if she would tell me more about creating Pinterest sensation "My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler", and she said yes! Tiffany's eye for imagery, unique turn of phrase and biting satire have made her amongst the first "social media stars" on the Pinterest platform, and I was fascinated to understand more about how it came to be and how she felt about her success. 

What form of writing do you currently do?

I've been working as a freelance copywriter for the past seven years. I've written everything from catalogs to radio ads to product packaging and blogs. It's a lot of variety and a lot of fun. 

How is creating content for Pinterest different to other formats (long form, Twitter etc)?

For me it was very natural but also very accidental, if that makes sense. I wasn't out to prove a point or do something new, I just started building a story to entertain myself. There isn't a character limit like Twitter, but I try to keep the captions short. I try to pack in as much "story" in as few words as possible and give a new twist on the details of the photo. And of course, the photo is a huge part of the content. I try to write captions that make you look at the photo in a totally new way.

Where did the idea come from?

I have two boys, so I never got to dress a little girl. I had always imagined that to be a lot of fun. When Pinterest came around, it gave me an avenue to explore that little fantasy. But then, of course, my imagination and sense of humor got the better of me.

How would you describe the "voice" you have created for it?

Quinoa and her mother are both very strong, Type A personalities. I am anything but Type A, so the voice for both is a lot of stuff I would never say or do. That's the great thing about being a writer; you can try on different voices as easily as trying on clothes.

Who were you writing it for? Who was your imaginary audience?

I have to credit my sister Leslie. She loved the idea from the beginning and would ask me for updates. I really had no other audience in mind. It was very much a silly sideshow, kind of a creative release I'd engage in every now and then. My husband and kids didn't even know about it until things took off. 

What has been the most surprising thing about its success?

I think I'm most surprised at the broad appeal. There is quite a spectrum of people enjoying the board. There's one end that is revelling in the social commentary and the other end that is laughing, but wondering where they can buy the clothes for their own kids. 

How do you see it developing?

I've always dreamed of writing a book, so that's what I'm pursuing first. But the great thing about Quinoa is that she thinks big. I'll try to follow her lead and go wherever she wants to take me! 

What has it taught you about Pinterest and/or what opportunities do you see for satire on it?

I've said before that Pinterest has always been about storytelling. Explore somebody's boards and you'll have a good understanding of who they are as a person, or who they hope or wish to be. My board just took that storytelling down a more overtly fictional path. It's fun to think about following a specific story line pin by pin. I hope there will be more boards that explore it as a fictional medium.

Who would be Quinoa's Instagram counterpart?

I think the obvious answer is Alonso Mateo. That is one stylish kid and he's the real deal! 

If Quinoa started a Board about you, what would it be called? 

Probably My Would-Be Writer Mom or An Imaginary Wardrobe for My Clearance Rack Mom.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Can't Understand New Technology #2

The second issue of Can't Understand New Technology comes out (officially) today. Thanks to my co-founder Steve Price, our superstar contributors, and a power gang of financial backers it continues to be a publication I am immensely proud of.

The launch issue of Can't received a great response from its readers, with Design Week terming it "a lot of swearing with a fair bit of insight". We self-financed both the printing and distribution - circulating just 100 copies to the great and good of London, San Francisco and New York. It took a little longer than expected, but we bring you Issue 2 today thanks to funding via our network on Indiegogo, and with the support of the School of Communication Arts, whose students have created "ads" across the paper. To you all, big respect and thanks from the bottom of my heart.

So, what's in it? Amongst other thought-provoking pieces, we bring you a killer opening article from none other than the bearded darling of Shoreditch - Nik Roope, more bleeding edge ranting from the sartorially advanced Harry Woodrow, and wild futuristic ponderings from Panja Gobel. The ladies of Digit - Laura Tan and Alexis Cuddyre - have created a controversial infographic, Tony Hymes pursues Steve Jobs in Hell, and Ellen Turnill solves more reader problems. In essence, it's a page turner.

If you received a copy today - of which there are very limited numbers - please show it to all your good looking and influential friends, and give us a shout out using the hashtag #cantunderstandnewtechnology.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Digital blankies

In a recent Wired article, Grant McCracken considered our propensity for comfort consuming as such, “I believe we binge on TV to craft time and space, and to fashion an immersive near-world with special properties. We enter a world that is, for all its narrative complexity, a place of sudden continuity. We may have made the world “go away” for psychological purposes, but here, for anthropological ones, we have built another in its place. The second screen in some ways becomes our second home”.

McCracken makes a strong point, but I believe it goes beyond TV. I think we’re inching towards a mindset of “wherever I lay my phone, that’s my home”.  Like a blankey, we associate our devices with a deeply personal feeling of security, belonging and reassurance. But, unlike a blankey, it’s not the object itself we are attached to – phones and laptops are interchangeable – but the data they hold and the people they connect us to.

As our emotional connection to physical objects and locations dwindles, so our definition of ‘home’ changes. ‘Home’ instead, is wherever you and a wifi connection are. We can travel halfway around the world, but the things that make us feel at home (our families, our friends, our favourite films, the things that make us laugh, cry and feel nostalgic) are all there, at the swipe of a screen. These days, it’s rarely ever “goodbye”, more often “see you on the Internet”.

Philosophically moving into our second, digital homes, however, throws up new challenges. Writer Quinn Norton muses on how we tackle “a world where falling in love, going to war and filling out tax forms looks the same; it looks like typing”. So much of history, of culture, of storytelling is about setting a scene – the land we stand on, the smells, sights and sounds around us, the things we’ve discovered and invented, the objects and people we treasure. Now the scene is set on screen, in the cloud and amongst users. Before, we used to obsess over what we’d rescue if our houses burned down. Today we can walk out and need only look back to Instagram the fire.

Snaps to Andy Ellis for the enlightening chat on this subject.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What a day for a daydream

“I once lost a pair of earrings and tried to Google them”. So says my byline on this very blog, as it has for the past three or four years. Only, lately, it’s just not that funny anymore. It’s not funny because it’s possible. Between Google and “the internet of things” the ability to search the internet for the location of unique, physical objects is happening, has happened.

Daydream by Lovin' Spoonful on Grooveshark

And in a good, excited, optimistic way, I am completely freaked out. In such a short space of time we’ve gone from plugging things in and getting them to work, to Steve Jobs’ vision for things that “just work”, and now we’re into stuff that is working all the time while you’re just busy enjoying life. Which is exactly what technology should be about - because right now, sitting as we are on the corner of Everything and Everywhere, our relationship with technology is demented. Look around - we’re all hunched over phones and laptops like voluntary returnees to stage numero uno of Darwin’s evolution of man. Yes, Google Glass may be ridiculous, but at least we’re walking upright again.

It’s not just the hardware that’s messing us up, either. The other day at lunch I casually mentioned to my fellow colleagues how I sometimes dream in browser windows. Silent stares from the (ever so slightly) older generation, nods of understanding from my contemporaries. “When I was in a long distance relationship, I would dream of my boyfriend’s Facebook profile” admitted one. A quick Twitter poll revealed similar experiences, @culturalelite recounted how he’s “had dreams where I tried to right-click physical things to ‘inspect element’ and look at the source”. And @kowchow has spent her sleepytime in the realms of the Airbnb interface and Adobe software. Seriously, WTF?

What all this reveals is that while our brains have been busy blurring the line between the online and offline even as we sleep, technology is running to keep up. Google, connected devices, voice recognition, heads-up displays and machine learning are not only evolving but finally converging. Converging towards a future that’s just like the past - when we stood up straight, took time to notice and appreciate the people and environment around us, and dreamed - not of the multi-tabbed browsing of our present - but of the unimagined amazingness of our future.

10 Films from the 80s and 90s illuminate today's tech glossary

1. Start-ups
Ghostbusters - four guys with varying skillsets develop a unique hardware solution in order to improve city life. A distinct tag line helps them go viral.

2. Sheryl Sandberg's "lean in" culture
Working Girl - With "a head for business and a bod for sin", Tess discovers what she's capable of when she's "not afraid".

3. Crowd-funding
Empire Records - A group of music store employees offer perks of badges and booze to the general public in a bid to raise enough cash to "Damn the man" and "Save the Empire".

4. VC Funding
Wall Street - a bright young whipper snapper gets the investment he needs, but discovers only too late that the provision of lunch was not included in the small print.

5. Beta Testing
Jurassic Park - A potentially game-changing new experiential start-up selects a small group for Beta testing. They don't make it to SXSW

6. Google Glass
They Live - A drifter discovers that the ruling class are in fact aliens managing human social affairs through the use of a signal on top of the TV broadcast, concealing their appearance and subliminal messages in mass media. #ifihadglass

7. Rapid Prototyping
Home Alone - a child genius creates a self-inflicted bootcamp and uses iterative development techniques to innovate simple solutions to petty crime.

8. User Experience
Weird Science - two cyberneticists build a humanoid robot with a focus on user needs.

9. Quantified Self
Groundhog Day - By tracking himself over a length of time and assessing the data, Phil is able to improve relationships and lead a better lifestyle.

10. Aquihiring
ET - A foreign entrepreneur recruits an entire team of American specialists to help overcome serious logistical and communication issues.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Love desks

My co-conspirator on Can't Understand New Technology says "f*ck desks". Steve argues that, within reason and with common sense, it is unnecessary to show up to the same desk, in the same office, in the same country every day. And to a certain extent, I agree. He makes a sound case. Here's the thing though -- I love desks. I don't want to fuck them, I want to take them out for an expensive dinner and treat 'em nice.

Marissa Mayer's recent call to end remote working may have been controversial yet I can understand the reasoning. A company's internal culture is a key, if not guiding, component of its brand. For Yahoo to rebuild itself in a post-Google world, the focus needs to be on bringing its people together, under one roof, at desks, in order to start figuring out what they add up to and where they're going. On December 31st 2012 I made several big decisions. I decided to quit my job, I decided to launch a newspaper, I decided to go to California, and I decided to stop caring quite so much and just enjoy life. But it was the offer of a desk - albeit on the other side of the world - which anchored me. The knowledge that I'd have a place to plug in - and people around to work alongside - gave me all the courage I needed to act on these huge decisions.

Yes, today's technology means we can work from anywhere, but camping out in a coffee shop is only as fun as your next bathroom break. Is there any greater sense of loneliness than having no-one to watch your MacBook while you pee? No. So, for the past month I have been at my desk in San Francisco's Presidio at Suiter Creative (working title). Some days I was there all day, some days I just did a couple of hours, but in four weeks I worked, I wrote, I helped friends and I starting ticking off some of those goals I set back in the new year. It's the best thing I've ever done.

While it's true that most of my professional relationships and "strategic breakthroughs" have not been forged at desks, a desk nevertheless symbolises being part of something, of belonging. Next week I get a new desk and a new place to belong. I first emailed Wolff Olins in 2007, about an hour after I learned the term "branding". It's been a long - and incredible - journey since that email and I wouldn't change it for anything. But, of all the desks I've had the pleasure to sit at, this is the one I've had my eye on for a while.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Three studios. Boundless creativity.

In the past week or so, I have embarked on a creative safari and visited three incredible studios. In Austin, Texas I stopped by the awesome Chaotic Moon and here, in San Francisco, I was lucky enough to visit Pixar and Madefire. These three studios could not be more different in terms of the work they produce, but they are alike in their dedication to their craft, attention to detail and their instinct for relentless innovation.

Chaotic Moon bills itself as a mobile studio and, with The Daily, Marvel and Disney on the sizzle reel, there is no denying their prowess in mobile experiences. However, as I discovered on an explosive tour by founder Whurley, this shop is making considerable steps towards world domination. The word ‘awesomeness’ is emblazoned in two-foot lettering across the largest wall in the main studio and yet it somehow feels like an understatement. Standing in midst of soldering irons, hacked Kinects, augmented reality paper, 3D printers, mind-controlled skateboards and a blender, Whurley talked at a thousand miles an hour about his ambitions for the company which has grown exponentially in just two years. With new, big-hitting partners onboard, and as they prepare to move into bigger offices up the road, the intention is to split Chaotic Moon into separate divisions in order to bring specific focus to gaming, software and - Whurley’s domain - labs. “Right now we’re like eighties Metallica”, explained Whurley, “we’ve not gone mainstream yet, but we’re smashing it underground”.

Madefire is close to my heart. Ben Wolstenholme, founder of Moving Brands where I worked for four years, took the decision to realise his vision for the future of storytelling early last year. Madefire is a comic book reader and creator tool which fundamentally disrupts the way people experience comics. I was part of the UK-based brand team behind Madefire, so it was fantastic to finally see the studio in real life. Incredibly detailed sketches lined the walls and, upstairs, some of the world’s best developers worked their magic. My visit came just days after their announcement of a strategic partnership with DeviantArt - a relationship which will expose a vast, global audience to the artistry and progressiveness within Madefire. Personally, it was fantastic to see Ben and his team just as their months of hard work and hustling began to pay off and I look forward to watching a dedicated fanbase build Madefire to superhero status.

Last but not least - Pixar. I am going to struggle to find words to accurately describe my experience within the walls of this prestigious studio. Awe-inspiring? Momentous? Life-changing even? Nothing is more thrilling than being part of a team who collaborate with and challenge each other in the quest for the best possible solution and to see how a diversity of talents and mind-sets can spawn a simple, beautiful output is specifically what makes me love what I do. At Pixar this spirit of game-changing group think was infused into the very fabric of the campus. It was evident in the ‘visitor’ sticker I was given at reception, it was there in the infamous artist huts behind the main hall, and it’s there in the animations loved by young and old around the world.

My host took me through Pixar's art gallery to show how a broad range of artistic styles and nuances inform what culminates in a distinctly "Pixar" visual language on-screen. He explained how a sketch will move from script to story to character to modelling to shading to sets and props to animation to simulation to lighting and, finally to rendering. "And that's just one frame!" - he said. Pixar, however, is not immune to the challenges of the moving world - like Chaotic Moon and Madefire too, their future lies in keeping a keen eye on the horizon. New audiences, new competitors and new technologies are all finding their way past security and sizing up the giant Luxo Jr on the concourse. Little have these external forces reckoned, however, to the legions of monsters, princesses, cars and toys awaiting them on the inside. At Pixar creative infinity is a given. It’s what lies beyond which remains unknown.

Thank you to Whurley, Ben and Andy for hosting me and taking the time to share their stories, ambitions and dreams with me.