Tag Archives: MACE

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.

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!!!!

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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.

Fail early, fail often. My first solo experience with dirty prototyping.


When we were requested to discuss a passion I became deeply concerned, alarmed in fact to realise that I wasn’t aware of having any deep passions. I can be very interested in something that catches my imagination, but it is not normally long lasting. In my work I can be very enthusiastic about developing a new title, but after a couple of issues the novelty wears off and I want to move onto the next thing. I now recognise I have a slight battle to get things done before I lose interest. I suspect that I may be best suited to roles where I might come up with ideas and nurture them, then at some point hand them over to others so I can move on.

When trying to think of a passion I considered a few ideas though none of them really stuck. I enjoy swimming, but in bouts constrained by time and opportunity. I can be quite geeky about technology, especially when discussing disruptive technology and its wider socio-economic impact with a fellow convert. However, by its very nature it either becomes commonplace or disappears. Anyway, in the end I decided I would make a list and weigh up each one to try and at least come up with something. With a thick black marker I wrote at the top of a clean sheet of paper, ‘WHAT AM I PASSIONATE ABOUT?’ The first thing I wrote down was ‘property’. At that was it. I didn’t have to write anything else. I immediately felt the passion rise up. The timing seemed perfect. I had seen a place just a couple of days before was on the market so I called up the estate agent an arranged a viewing. I now realise, the timing was not special. There are probably always a couple of places in the back of my mind.

Having arranged the appointment I got straight on here and wrote my blog. It seemed to just flow out. It was really quite cathartic!

This has come as a bit of a surprise to me – realising it as a passion. It crossed my mind, briefly, that perhaps I should have chosen an MA more in this area. It was brief though. For one, the very fact that we are only in week two and already I had this level of enlightenment must mean I am onto a good thing! What does the rest of the course hold in store? The other thing is that it can be bit of an unfulfilling passion. It’s like being an avid fan of a particular musician, but never being able to attend their concert – even when they are playing just down the road.

My inkling of an idea was creating complete documentaries of a building’s transformation. From the very first viewing with the estate agent to the final touch of paint. The videos would include little interviews with all relevant stakeholders during the process; builders, interior decorators, locals who remember its past etc. I envisaged that at the end of the project the future residents would have something to reflect on and help them empathise with the building and its heritage – they could even be part of it. The associated costs would not be very high, but it would add a special something extra. It might also help the developer with future projects. Their brand could become associated with doing a sympathetic job that takes the local community into account and provide a more humanistic face to the company. If combined with a blog, it might also act as marketing tool. It would generate interest long before the property was ready for occupation. It would also provide an important snapshot for generations to come.

It was a bit difficult to dirty prototype the idea and even know if it was worth prototyping. It was based more on just a flash of inspiration than well conceived idea. I did explain it briefly to the estate agent on site, but he seemed fairly nonplussed which wasn’t a great start. Then again, young estate agents aren’t necessarily employed for their interest in the wider opportunities of their profession.

What I learned was this:

For the vox populi video is great. But, filming it on an iPhone 4 at arms length is not ideal. For the imagery of the building itself moving video really didn’t capture its true hideous beauty. I should have taken a decent camera. I was really disappointed with how flat it looked and the lack of depth. However, I did like how some things seemed to loom out the dark in the back room like an exploration of the Titanic.

The venture would require a certain element of theatrics. A bit of knowing what to expect and acting like it was unexpected would make it more interesting.

Having a local historian along would really help explain what is being presented.

Doing it in fifteen minutes is not long enough.

Wearing a suit gave the right impression to the estate agent, but limited how I dirty I could get.

Having a gang of scaffolders clanging about opposite isn’t helpful.

Editing with iMovie on a phone is a pain in arse – I need to buy a Mac (Curse you, Mr Jobbs, you are reeling me in!)

People are generally interested in the buildings around them and feel a certain sense concern about their wellbeing. The vicar in the video just happened to be passing and struck up conversation because he saw me taking photos (I filmed the “let’s meet the vicar” clip afterwards). You learn quickly when you dive in at the deep end.

Some things are a private passion. I would really have preferred just to spend some time alone in there, picked over the artefacts and explored properly. But, were it not for MACE I would never have gone further than simply driving past and wondering.

Afterwards I did feel a bit down. The fan turned away from the gig. My relationship with the Chapel may go no further, unless I win the Euromillions on Friday. However, my little video record is now on the Internet so hopefully preserved for the future.

Actually, if I win the Euromillions the Chapel will have to wait. The property will become my project:

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Blog Assignment: Week 2


This week’s bog assignment is threefold. Discuss what I am passionate about. Find a video (on TED?) that moves me emotionally and link it to my blog. Find a way to connect with people involved in the subject of my passion.

What am I passionate about?

Property. And, by property I mean dwellings. New homes interest me, but old houses excite me. I relish their history. There is something about a rundown old building that fires my imagination. I love to think about the possibilities. I embrace the problem solving that goes into renewing a property. I desire the unexpected challenges that arise and the serendipitous discoveries: The inscrutable plumbing or the beautiful fireplace hidden behind chipboard. Even an old newspaper beneath a carpet is exciting. All of these things delight me. I have lain away at night in blissful reverie imagining how a property could be renovated and renewed – despite the fact that it will never be mine and I might only covet it from the street.

Like many people’s passions there is an element of nostalgia. I grew up in a home that’s history dates back over 500 years, in the centre of a village that is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Naturally I have gained certain affinity with buildings and their past. When we first moved in, the place was a wreck and it took most of my childhood for it to be fully renovated. Perhaps this is why I love the smell of wet cement and plaster.

I remember when I was a little boy being told by a very old lady that lived along the road, Mrs Amy, that the Hydrangea in our front garden had been planted by her when she was a little girl. She had grown up there too and I loved this brief oral history.

This week’s assignment has sparked an inkling of an idea. A way a property developer could enhance the perceived value of a project: Creating a social documentary that enables the future owners or residents to empathise with the building and its history. This can be done relatively cheaply. It would be easy to create a coffee table book of nice photographic images of the development. I would also envision a video diary of the project covering the entire value chain; from the very first viewing with the estate agent through to profiling the very builders and tradesmen who transform it and documenting their work.

So, rather than just talk about it I am going to get down and dirty prototype. I am meeting the estate agent for this property on Thursday:

A sad building needing a lot of TLC

The Wesleyan chapel in Church Street was established in 1861 through pioneering work done by the students of Richmond Wesleyan Theological College. The church was built on land sold by George Urling of Hampton and has a capacity of 400. Three years after it’s erection there were 117 children in the Sunday school. In 1888 the Hampton chapel had 31 members but by 1900 this had dropped to only 21. The chapel remained in use until 1925. In 1945 it became a cold store. It was later converted to industrial space. For many years it housed a business that repaired electric blankets, before falling into disuse. It has now been derelict for over a decade.

I have driven past it on many occasions over the years watching it slowly dilapidate. Now I have a chance to look inside.

There is a plethora of property ‘porn’ on daytime television in the UK, but it is a struggle to find a supporting video for my passion on TED. The clip I have chosen is a speech by Rory Sutherland, Vice-Chairman of Ogilvy.

Sweat the small stuff

I have picked this for a few reasons. Firstly, I attended a presentation by Rory last year. I liked him and felt inspired by his keen insight and slightly disruptive ideas. Secondly, he talks about lifts which links to one of the exercises we did earlier this week; I like links. His other TED presentation has a great anecdote on potatoes! Finally, I have chosen this because he talks about the little things that make a difference and don’t cost much money. My idea for sharing my passion for renewing a property fits into this category. In the short-term it adds a little extra for the client, in the long-term it adds a little extra to our cultural heritage and for someone one hundred years hence it might be of incalculable valuable.