A degree at any cost?


Early on in our Design Thinking module we were asked to run through a quick calculation.

Add up the number of hours of lectures we have (172 in my case, though I am going to add a generous 12 hours to allow for marking and surgery times with tutors).

Then divide the cost of our course fees by this figure to work out how much we pay per hour of lectures, or by dividing again by 60, per minute. International students pay around 50% more.

The aim of the exercise was to put in perspective how much money we would be wasting by turning up late or skipping a lecture.

This value-awareness was intended as a smart initiative to reduce tardiness.

However, it cuts both ways. Now when a lecturer is late starting I can’t help thinking at the back of my mind that they better make up for it with what they’re about to impart. You see, I want my money’s worth!!

Also, at the end of each lecture (normally three hours) I now often reflect: was that worth £140? Was watching that TED video really worth £8?? Did I really just spend £90 doing a personality test? Did I really need to fork out £280 attending an art fair? Did I get good value?

Often, the answer is yes. Whilst I could do many of these things for free or for a fraction of the cost they would be lacking the necessary context to make them a valuable learning experience. However, when I hand in an assignment and get nothing more than a couple of words feedback it denigrates the whole exercise.

I wonder if the tutors ever ask similar questions of themselves? With an average class size of 30, do they reflect on whether their morning’s efforts were worth £4,200+?

On occasion, I have had lectures at the weekend that last eight hours and contain over 100 students. As the lecturer drives home afterwards does he reflect that he has just generated £100,000 of income for the university?

But, as my History teacher used to say of himself, I digress.

The value-for-money considerations that I am making as an MA student are going to become more prevalent with the introduction of tuition fees for undergrads.

For example, Kingston University has announced it will be charging £7,000 per term (ironically, it’s a shame it could not justify the full 9k!). This means more people will be considering is it really worth it? In new ‘entrepreneurial’ Britain would it not be better to just get on and do it, instead of spending three years studying and generating up to £50,000 debt. That equates to an enormous amount of venture capital!

Up until now unis have been like a cheap restaurant in a tourist trap. Repeat customers are not a concern and ultimately there are always people lined up to get in.

In the future universities will need to become far more savvy in engaging and attracting the best students and the rise of on-line reviews from former students should hopefully keep them on their toes.


The complex language of creativity


Recently I attended a class called Entrepreneurship in Context.

Apparently, its presence on my timetable was a mistake – one that is not atypical of the University’s course admin.

However, as I was there it made sense to take advantage of the opportunity. I was at first struck by the fact that it was being taught by a gentleman whom had never set up his own business and confessed to preferring the relative safety of academe for the next few years.

I mention this as in our Creative Leadership classes it was explained that what we are being taught is a language. Anyone can find the words on the Internet, but what we are learning is how to use them so we can enter into discourse.

Therefore, on this occasion I was doubtful of being taught a language by someone who has never visited the country where it is spoken.

As it turned out, he was actually just as stand in as the designated lecturer was unfortunately ill; and, it was actually quite useful.

It did raise a question relating to my other studies though.

Peter Drucker states that, “Innovation is the specific tool of the entrepreneur“; an idea dating back to the work of Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter.

Yet, in his book Management & Creativity Chris Bilton defines creativity as innovation + novelty.

Therefore, by definition, are all entrepreneurs creative? As was pointed out in a recent article for the Economist, Damien Hirst certainly combines these two traits. Likewise, Tintoretto four centuries earlier in Vienna.

However, how would the art world feel classifying Leucian Freud in the same genus as a guy importing cheap mangoes from India?

I have found that through the MA Creative Economy that these sorts of questions really interest me; and understanding the context and perhaps one day being able to answer them is a great motivator. I am recognising what is meant by the suggestion that a true understanding of a subject is a language that needs to be learned.

p.s. On the subject of language and creativity we discovered from classmates that there is no direct translation for ‘creativity’ into either Korean or Chinese. I wonder for how many other languages this is the case?

Where there is vision there is opportunity


Our vision is to help create the conditions for growth in the creative and cultural, tourism and leisure economies, removing barriers to innovation and levelling the playing field… We know that this infrastructure is an essential building block for economic growth, and that the internet is a powerful democratic force in holding government to account at every level. We know that we may need to break down the digital divide by supporting rural communities.

We want there to be truly local TV.

We will play our part in building the Big Society. We want everyone to be able to play sport and enjoy their local and our national culture.

Passion for the arts and sport is instilled at a young age –which is why we want to give all children the opportunity to learn to play sport and play a musical instrument. We want to encourage a culture of giving, so that more of us have a greater connection with the things we care about.

Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
November 2010

Not a word more, not a word less


Traditional forms of media are rapidly giving way to new means of social interaction and knowledge transfer arising from technological advancements. This presents a huge challenge to the existing business and revenue models of incumbent providers. The resultant disruption is balanced by a plethora of emerging opportunities to connect with potential customers and realise new revenue streams. However, in many cases recent Internet phenomena are merely replications of existing real world practices. A nimble business that it able to recognise and fall in line with this simple step-change will be well positioned to take strategic advantage of the current landscape.

Eve, my first persona.


Week 5

This week we have been learning how to create a bridge from the problem-finding User-System sector of Corinne’s model to the solution-finding Establish-Realise side through the use of personas and storytelling.

From User and System to Establish and Realise

By taking a group and using their characteristics to personifying our ‘User’ we will more readily be able to examine how they might react to changes in the system and preempt problems or predict resultant changes to user behaviour under different scenarios.

For our assignment this week we have been asked by Corrine to:

1.Move me with your own persona based on the system you observed. Tell me a story in a creative, detail-rich way in 100 words. Feel free to include photos, etc. The challenge this week is to be concise!

The system that I had observed was the (lack of) waste recycling in the post-grad cafeteria.

Here is my first persona, her name is Eve.

Eve is a 25-year-old post-graduate student living in the UK for the first time. She has just moved into a shared a house with other students and commutes to university by public transport. English is not Eve’s first language and she finds some of the differences in local customs confusing. Eve is vegetarian and considers environmental issues important. She would like to recycle more and is trying to find her local glass bank. Eve drinks bottled water and regularly buys coffee at the cafeteria. Eve is starting to find this expensive and is considering investing in a flask.

Having just written this persona I now realise that I had not considered the language issues in relation to the system I had observed. Does ‘landfill’ even make universal sense when translated? Do foreign students necessary understand what it means when they allocate rubbish to landfill? By adding a persona I have immediately identified another issue that I had not fully considered before: Language.

Reflecting on it more I am now thinking that perhaps if the university’s cafes offered a discounted option of ‘flask filling’ they could retain business that might otherwise be lost, reduce waste and incentivise customers with a suitable discount. There’s probably a whole load more issues that I could now consider to improve the system now I’ve got Eve.

The other thing I am thinking is that with regards to my observed system, to make it really work I would need to consider more than one persona. So, for example I could add Adam.

Persona 2Adam is a 21-year-old British student living away from home for the first time. He normally drives to university and only occasionally uses the cafeteria, preferring instead to nip down to MacDonald’s. He has heard of environmental issues but can’t be bothered with recycling. In fact, he and his housemates have regular disagreements about washing up and whose turn it is to take the rubbish out. He normally drinks coke and discards the cans wherever is most convenient. Adam smokes regularly between lectures and likes to hang out with his mates in the Student Union bar.

I wonder what Adam would bring to the mix?

Stand and Deliver


Week 4

This week we visited London’s Frieze Art Fair in Regent’s Park.

Having attended numerous industry specific trade fairs I immediately noticed that Frieze (or perhaps all art fairs) does not adhere to the usual rules. At most international trade shows the stands themselves are designed to make a statement. The bigger and more costly they are, the bigger and more financially robust their occupants. At Frieze the stand spaces universally (and perhaps boringly) consisted of simple plain white walls on a single level. For the uninitiated there was in general nothing to differentiate between one exhibitor and the next except their hangings. I say generally, as there was one gallery that bucked the trend and played with the rules slightly by having a dark wooden floor installed. It did make a difference. Stepping onto it gave a sense of entering into a distinctly separate space. I noticed that this had an affect on the gallery’s visitors. Whilst every other stand was filled with a swirling mixture of students, experts, dealers and aficionados this particular stand was less crowded, almost airy and was populated by what I perceived as more serious punters despite there being no discernible difference in its exhibits.

A small change in the rules

The Community, Roles, Rules and Objects.

I noticed certain commonalities as I perused the stands. Firstly the gallery representitives. Invariably there was a young boy, the peach fluff freshly scraped from his chin with a MacBook Air precariously balanced on one hand as he earnestly tried to look busy prodding away at it in the vain hope of getting an internet connection. Next there was usually a more mature woman, normally brunette. Glamorous enough to draw in collectors not interested in the young boy and haughty enough to deflect timewasters and tyre kickers. Her accessory was a mobile phone which would be used for intense, hushed conversations. Finally, hovering around the edges or in ernest dialogue was a middle aged man with the requisite spectacles, a mental roladex spinning behind his eyes as he scanned the human traffic passing by ready to pounce on a recognised collector with loud bravado and obsequious hospitality – much to the consternation of his competitors. Once hooked punters are taken to sit at what was often a suprisingly prosaic desk and the exchange of objects begins. From the punter a business card that was stapled into an appointment book. From the gallery a folder containing their complete catalogue. I had hoped to see a financial transaction, the actual purchase of some art. However, it generally transpired that instead a future appointment was made for the prospective client to pay a visit to the gallery’s actual premises. Perhaps they felt uncomfortable with the strange man spying on them?

The visitors to Frieze were, on this day, a very mixed crowd. Ranging from babes in arms to senior citizens and from impoverished students to wealthy collectors. Normally at trade shows exhibitors hate it when the general public are allowed in. To this end I noticed that all promotional materials, post cards and catalogues had been safely stored away. In this case the role of the average paying visitor was to admire and, more often than not, photograph the art. I imagine that this gives the hangings and their creators added celebrity and thereby pushes up the asking price (imagine the shame if your expensive piece of art was not recognised by Google googles!)

There was one very clearly implied rule. Almost every exhibitor was operating to J.P. Morgan’s adage “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” Frieze had a rather nifty iPhone app that allowed one to find art either below or above £5000. The sponsors include Deutch Bank, Cartier, Pommery Champagne and BMW. Clearly this is not a place for the hoi polloi to pick up something nice to put above the mantle piece.

The cobbler’s children have no shoes.


Studying for MACE has introduced me to the concepts of ‘Design Thinking’.

To the detriment of my sanity it has also made me consider the wider aspect of “Design ‘What were they’ Thinking?”

Kingston University is widely considered to have one of the best furniture and product design courses in the country. The University has a highly regarded business school; design, architecture, engineering and environmental sciences are areas of excellence. Yet, sometimes when I look around the campus I find this hard to believe.

My experience of the Frank Lampl building is a case in point. Here we have a modern purpose-built site designed to provide a venue for lectures. So why is the lecture room I sat in laid out in such a way that a proportion of the class can barely see the screens? Those at the edge are at too obtuse an angle and those in the middle have a large monitor in the way. What were they thinking?

This weekend I spent two days in a room full of Environmental Studies students with the heating on full and the windows wide open.

And… don’t even get me started on the room numbering and signage around campus.

Fortunately, our assignment this week is to observe a system and identify a problem that the user encounters. We must describe a few ways that this problem could be solved through changing or adding a role, a rule or an object based on Corinne’s USER System Model.

I am going to look at just one element of the University’s Environmental Management System.

I am going to examine the bins.

As part of the Kingston University’s Environmental Policy it commits to: the minimisation of waste through elimination, reduction, reuse and recycling.

How very admirable!

When one goes into the Postgrad cafeteria at Kingston Hill it is easy to see the policy in action.

There are a row of colour coded bins for recycling [Rules] that allow students and staff [Users] to divide their refuse [objects] into paper & card, plastics, cans and landfill.

Obviously we all want to avoid putting as much as possible into the landfill bin to the benefit of all stakeholders [community].

So when the genii [Designers] that came up with this plan decided on the best way to communicate, facilitate and implement this system did they use design thinking?

Consider the paper and card bin. We are in a cafeteria. The ‘objects’ that will be going into this bin are mostly paper cups (round) and sandwich cartons (triangular). Admittedly some people may also want to throw away some notes – but what will user normally do first? Screw them up into a ball (spherical). So, what shape did they make the hole for this refuse? That’s right – a narrow slit of course! So where do all but the most committed environmentalists put this waste? In the landfill bin naturally. Arrrgh!!!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I don’t blame them. With the bins as the ‘objects’ the ‘rules’ of this ‘system’ suggest to ‘users’ that their ‘role’ in this ‘community’ is not to recycle paper cups and cardboard packaging.

I’m sure with a little observational research and some quantitative research to measure what is actually being sent to landfill that could be recycled a pretty reliable figure could be ascertained; which when extrapolated across the campus and over the academic year would add up to quite a frightening/disgusting volume and a tonnage that makes a mockery of the underlying rules of the system – the environmental policy.

How could it be improved? Well we could ask a 6 month+ child. Making the apperature of the bins suit the waste going into them would be an obvious solution with the most significant impact. In fact, doing away with the ‘shape sorting’ all together would be the best idea. While we are at it, let’s get rid of the rigid bin containers all together and have strong transparent (biodegradable) bags that hang from frames with relevantly coloured rims. The ‘users’ could clearly see where their ‘objects’ are supposed to go on approach (some civic minded people might even be tempted to fish objects out if they see a mistake has been made). In fact, the social pressure on the ‘user’ exerted by the ‘community’ being able to clearly see where they are depositing their ‘objects’ might cause them to observe the ‘rules’ more closely. And, the relevant ‘role’ player in the community could more easily see when the bins are getting full and need emptying.

The colours coding is a good idea, but let’s at least apply a bit of intelligence to it and change the ‘rules’. The colour red is almost universally recognised as meaning ‘stop’, ‘caution’ or at the very least ‘pause and think’. So would it not make sense to apply the colour red to the bin for landfill? Then white for paper, blue for plastics and grey for cans. Would a simple change in the rules like this help reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill?

For the maximum efficiency we could play around with the roles within the ‘Community’. At the moment the onus is on the ‘user’ to classify and seperate the waste. But, what if instead of just disposing of it, the role of the refuse company was also to separate it all properly off-site? It might cost a bit more money [rules] but in theory it would be most efficient. If all these changes were made in combination the extra cost might be minimal in relation to the improvements and kudos of having an Environmental Policy that’s not just all hot air.