At Future Everything: nobody likes a smart arse, even when it’s a city

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“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, opening line

Why did Glasgow win the right to host the Technology Strategy Board’s £24 million Future Cities Demonstrator? Project Leader Scott Cain reels off a set of doom-laden statistics: a looming crisis in affordable warmth; a high incidence of anti-social behaviour; a shocking 28-year life expectancy gap between rich and poor neighbourhoods. Oh, and good city leadership, the kind that’s up to hosting the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Poverty, conflict and inequality rarely figure in the “smart city” visions of those who seek to sell infrastructure dressed as “technology”.

I’ve railed against these things before. At Future Everything in Manchester on Thursday the chorus was deafening.

From Dan Hill’s call for “active citizens” not “smart cities” – “if we want people to think about carbon, don’t make the lights go out automatically.”…

… through Martijn de Waal’s pitting of computer-rendered master-planned Songdo against the very real, spontaneous “Seoulutions” of Hongdae: “engage and empower publics to act on communally shared issues.”…

… to Usman Haque’s praise for the messy city of Grub Street after 200 years of Enlightenment dirigisme: “a backlash of messiness in which the great uncalibrated rise up.”…

… and the audience’s line of questioning of the panel in which Scott, Martijn and Usman took part…

… it was abundantly clear that nobody likes a smart arse, even when it’s a city.

To frame problems in terms of efficiency is to miss the point of what it means to be a city, a platform for people’s numerous, contradictory drives and dreams.

The hunt for economies of scale chases us inexorably to the lowest common denominator. (So London gets the Future Cities “Catapult” because it’s Britain’s only “World City” – you can guess how this revelation went down in Manchester :)

Worst of all is the abdication of responsibility. Usman: “What I see specifically in the open data movement is that someone else is going to find the solution because it resides in the data.”

We’ve been here before, warns Dan, and the result was not pretty. It was Richard Weller’s “city that cars built when we weren’t looking.”

But if not that, then what?

As Dan notes, the interventions that make us smile, that feel intuitively right, like Helsinki’s Restaurant Day or Silje Johansen’s lonely traffic light, are fleeting and leave no trace but memory.

Dan urges us to consider the power of engaging with the “dark matter” of local administrations and building codes.

Despite its unpromising name, I also found some answers in a session titled “Building Creative Ecologies for Smarter Cities”.

There, Claire Reddington of Bristol’s iShed talked about “keeping the money at the margins” and trusting “the unreasonable expectations of artists”: “Tech conferences often fetishise failure. If you are not predefining the outputs it’s hard to categorise something as a failure.”

I loved Claire’s suggestion that if you want to be part of a network it’s “best not to have all the bits” – for example not having an art gallery on-site at the Watershed had prompted collaborations with surrounding galleries and venues.

On the same panel was Doug Ward, co-founder of Tech Hub Manchester in a listed warehouse in the city’s Northern Quarter. Referencing Brad Feld’s “Boulder thesis”, he listed the reasons he chose to stay as an entrepreneur in his home city: its history, universities and culture.

My take-outs: Endurance is greater than scale; diversity more valuable than efficiency; and actors are what matter, the networks will follow.

Make mine a messy city: Riot Sim and the City that Didn’t Riot

If you live in, work in, or occasionally visit a city, any city, but especially one in England’s North, please set aside half an hour or so some time soon to watch and read two powerful critiques of the prevailing techno-determinist vision of the so-called “smart city”.

All 11,000 words of Dan Hill’s post on his City of Sound blog repay an extended reading, but the title also says it all: “On the smart city; Or, a ‘manifesto’ for smart citizens instead“.

Dan asks: “Can a city be ‘smart’ and inefficient at the same time? Perhaps this is a fundamental question, un-voiced by smart city advocates.”

Then there’s Adam Greenfield’s more clinical dissection of the smart city missions of leading enterprises moving in on the space, such as Siemens’ somewhat sinister “the goal of such a city is to optimally regulate and control resources by means of autonomous IT systems.”

Watch Adam’s talk now, it’s only 10 minutes long.

Adam speaks of : “All that messy history caused by an infinity of small acts… It’s not just any city, it’s this city, wherever this city happens to be with all its texture, all of its history, all of its people…”

Mess, texture, history… all things Leeds, Bradford and their northern neighbours have in abundance. No more so than in the city districts that have been home to successive waves of immigration, making new dishes out of past occupants’ leftovers, as in Caribbean/Jewish Chapeltown or South Asian/Jewish Manningham.

When I look back over the glinting shards that Andrew, Imran and I have collected on our New Idea of the North Tumblr, one of the themes I see crop up repeatedly is that of the messy city, the celebration of small acts, randomness, spontaneity, lack of control.

I see it in the positive, creative activities like Emma Bearman’s Playful Leeds events…

Some rights reserved by Imran…

Take this intervention from the Scott Burnham Urban Mischief playshop last year…

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A pair of sticky tape legs, appear to have dived just this second from a half-finished shopping centre walkway and into the tarmac below. A beautiful piece of trash in the middle of a street that has itself been trashed by piecemeal development for as long as I can remember.

The smart city could not tolerate this. Development would be too well coordinated, the flow of pedestrian traffic too precious to permit even a temporary perturbation. Only in the messy city can such creativity flourish.

Of course the messy city has its dark side too. Don’t miss Radio 4’s upcoming re-staging of Tony Robinson’s ‘V’, the powerful and profane poem written at the time of the Miners’ Strike. The city that gave the world practical steam locomotion also grew the terrorists who bombed London’s underground railway.

But in contrast to the sterile efficiency of the mythical smart city, the messy city is real, and there’s always hope. To understand how the smart and messy cities see things differently, consider responses to the summer riots of 2011.

Exhibit A, the most egregious example at a recent smart city “social” sciences demo event at Leeds City Museum. The “Riot Sim” seeks to gamify law and order. Participants take the role of police commissioner, moving cute Lego officers across a projected city map to quell computer-generated outbreaks of violence.

In the movie world of the Matrix, the authorities are software agents, but here in the smart city, the computer assumes the role of the citizens. It’s tidier that way; even the riots are tidier. Riots are presented as inevitable, an apolitical phenomenon to be modelled and controlled. Tellingly, the high score is a financial one – how many thousand pounds of damage to property could the user/police chief/god-like viewer mitigate?

Riot Sim

Meanwhile in the messy city, real people were determined to change the narrative. In London they rejected the myth that Blackberry Messenger caused the riots and organised on Twitter to start the clean-up.

And in Chapeltown, there’s another story, one that the Riot Sim is incapable of imagining. In this story the police, community leaders and rioters are all humans, who look each other in the eyes and refuse to conform to stereotypes and computer models. After a gang-related shooting at the height of the ferment, police agreed to hold back while youth workers went round to calm tensions and call on parents to enforce an informal curfew. Because, not in spite, of the district’s troubled history the people of Chapeltown chose a different August 2011.

I’ll see your #riotcleanup and raise you, against all provocation and expectation, the City that Didn’t Riot.

#walkshopping (winter edition)

We made a walkshop! At sunset on Tuesday, undeterred by George Osborne, high winds and torrential rain, 17 of Yorkshire’s finest designers, technologists and geographers gathered to walk and talk, to see Leeds in a new light.

The inspiration came from Adam Greenfield and Nurri Kim’s booklet “Systems/Layers”:

“A walkshop is a new kind of learning experience that’s equal parts urban walking tour, group discussion, and spontaneous exploration. As we’ve presented them, in cities like Toronto, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Oulu and Wellington, walkshops are a half-day event, held in two parts. The first portion is dedicated to a slow and considered walk through a reasonably dense and built-up section of the city at hand. This is followed by a get-together in which participants gather over food and drink to unpack and discuss what they’ve just experienced.”

To their tried and tested format we added winter, a German Christmas Market, and the cover of darkness. Despite a nervous few hours where I checked the weather forecast more avidly than on my wedding day, I think the gamble with the timing paid off. As I’d hoped, the glow of screens and lights was accentuated by the gloom. We set out from Millennium Square at dusk, and returned an hour later in the dark to our meeting point in the Leonardo Building. It was a time of transition: for some passers-by this was going home time, for others going out time, or hanging about on the square time.

The 17 split into three groups. Each walkshopper was armed with a map, the obligatory service designer’s bundle of Post-It notes and three simple questions:

  • Where is information being collected by the network?
  • Where is networked information being displayed?
  • Where is networked information being acted upon?

Photos were taken, sensors noted, QR codes scanned and scorned in equal  measure. The different tacks taken by the three groups were fascinating, and I hope others will write up their experiences to compare and contrast.

Some things that impressed me personally:

A lot of infrastructure…

Visibly, there are cameras everywhere, also alarms, windspeed sensors, traffic sensors, footfall sensors. And screens – in bars, shops windows, and the granddaddy of them all, the BBC’s big screen overlooking Millennium Square.

We noted with fascination how phone boxes have morphed from kiosks for calling into internet terminals and now into wireless access points. A number of phone boxes and cabinets also seemed to be taking up prime pavement real estate despite being completely redundant. In the spirit of these straitened times, we wondered what else we could do with them.

Then there was the invisible. Ground-level lighting betrays cables and ducts buried underground. And layer-upon-layer of wifi blanketed the area we walked. There’s no formal city-wide wifi, but, for those in the know, a patchwork of access points spills out from educational and public institutions, covering the area with connectivity inside and out.

Dotted around the Christmas Market we found signs (literally signs) of the cheap and ubiquitous connectivity that enables temporary stalls to affect the trappings of permanent retail. Mobile phone numbers, credit and debit cards welcome, even a fast-food stand with Twitter and Facebook IDs.

… much apparently under-used or unused…

The iconic memory of the walk for me was the sight of a lone, hooded texter, face illuminated by a screen, standing in front of the Henry Moore Institute. On one side of the building stood a brace of Giles Gilbert Scott phone boxes, on the other a Royal Mail pillar box: several tonnes of bright-red painted cast iron disintermediated by a hundred grammes of smartphone.

We saw screens blazing, needlessly bright for the time of day, yet unheeded by passers-by. QR codes went unscanned (though unlike many of the walkshop group I still have a personal soft spot for them). Smokers lit up in front of the Post Office oblivious to the comprehensive display of foreign exchange rates just inches from them through the plate glass window. An LCD display tucked inside the entrance to a shopping centre reported alarming malfunctions in the building’s security systems; no one seemed concerned.

Pedestrians crossed in equal numbers on both sides of the Cookridge Street/Great George Street junction, even though one side has a pedestrian crossing and the other does not.

… low-fi is high impact…

When it comes to public display, I was struck by the way the utility of the screen tended to be in inverse proportion to its resolution.

The two most successful public screens we encountered were the illuminated signs showing numbers of empty spaces in nearby car parks, and the displays at bus stops with real-time departure information. While people were making real, time-saving, money-spending decisions on the strength of these mono-colour LED matrices, nearby HD TV screens frittered away their millions of colours on drinks promotions and national news tickers. Even parking ticket machines can tell you the time.

… and the old still dominates the new.

From our vantage point at the top of the Leonardo Building the most striking visual presence was the clock on Cuthbert Brodrick’s Town Hall. Its trustworthiness enhanced by synchronisation with the smaller clocks on the nearby Civic Hall. I suspect this trick is achieved the old-fashioned way, without the aid of sophisticated networked time-servers.

And then the sound of bell-ringing practice wafted over from St Anne’s Cathedral. These effortless assertions of authority by church and state have gone unchanged and unchallenged over more than a century. Together they set a high bar for the new media that aspire to a place in the cityscape. Nothing I saw on our walk came close to clearing that bar.

I say these things not as criticism but as opportunities.

Never in the city has so much infrastructure been so under-used. Our walkshop group came back frothing with what-ifs of connecting this stuff just a little more smartly, to itself and to the needs of the people who use the city.

The raw materials for fun, useful and engaging services now litter the streets for the taking.

Credits…

Thank you to the Leeds walkshoppers for braving the wind and rain, and especially to Leeds Digital Festival hero Leanne Buchan and Leeds City Council for the use of the Leonardo Building for our post-walk discussion. Thanks to Kathryn Grace, my Service Design Leeds co-organiser, and to Leeds Psychogeographer Tina Richardson for their support. Also, of course, to Adam Greenfield and Nurri Kim for the whole walkshop concept, which made organising the event a case study in simple internet-based group formation.

The conversation continues. All three groups collected lots of evidence and had many more ideas than we were able to share on the night. I hope they’ll  upload more photos and blog about the walkshop, letting us know via the #walkshop hashtag, and by adding notes or links on the wiki at http://leedswalkshop.pbworks.com/w/page/48487583/what%20we%20found

Aramis, or the Love of Pedalling

Interesting North presentations by James Boardwell and Toby Barnes plus an all-too-short chat with Tom Armitage in the pub after the event prompted me to rescue this post from my blog’s permanently-in-draft folder. I’m not sure it’s finished yet, but make of it what you will.

Originally it was going to be a sober and constructive service design account of my experiences on London’s cycle hire scheme: a tale of how my most regular London trip takes precisely 30 minutes and 19 seconds thus costing me an extra pound; of how the supply of bikes to major train stations at rush hour could make or break the scheme; and of how the chosen shade of blue now evokes a Pavlovian pedalling response.

But then I fell into reading the story of a different mode of urban transport, every paleo-futurist’s dream machine, the Personal Rapid Transit system. Specifically, on the recommendation of a colleague (thanks to that person, you know which Matt you are :) I got a copy of Bruno Latour’s 1993 work, ‘Aramis, or the Love of Technology,’ which traces the ill-fated 18-year journey of a guided transport project.

It’s a gem of a book, part documentary, part ethnographic meditation, part fictionalised romance of technology, a post-modern retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where we cannot tell if the monster is the creation or its creator.

“It’s typically French. You have a system that’s supposedly brilliant, but nobody wants it. It’s a white elephant. You go on and on indefinitely. The scientists have a high old time…”

Aramis was a prototype at Orly Airport in the early 1970s and a network planned for southern Paris in the 1980s. It was made up of moving pods, each carrying a few passengers, which could link up electronically to form ad hoc trains along busy routes then disband as they headed for their various destinations. The idea was that you’d hop on, take a seat, select your destination, and be whisked straight from A to B without having to change at C, or even wait a few minutes at D, E and F while other passengers boarded or disembarked.

In addition to the application of a revolutionary new motor, Aramis relied on “non-material coupling” by which its cars would travel packed together as if in a train, yet contactless…

“Aramis, the heart of Aramis, is nonmaterial coupling. That’s the whole key. The cars don’t touch each other physically. Their connection is simply calculated.”

I half-remember seeing Aramis on Tomorrow’s World. It was definitely the transport of the future, or at least of a future, the one depicted in books with titles like ‘The City of the Future’.

Ultimately the technology proved too complex and the political will too weak: the project was canned in 1987, having swallowed up half a billion francs of research and development costs and half the careers of some fine engineers along the way. All that we’re left with is an object-lesson in institutional inertia, a warning of how big businesses and governments can waste a fortune when they become too fixated on the technlogical solution at the expense of the user need.

But it struck me that in a funny way the French did get their Aramis. Because before London got its blue bikes Paris deployed Vélib’, a network of cycles for hire from docking stations dotted around the city.

And looking at the requirements (not the solution) that Latour discerned for Aramis, Vélib’ matches pretty well:

Requirement Aramis Vélib’
no transfers On board software determines the most efficient direct route Rider gets on bike at start of journey and gets off when they get where they’re going
no intermediate stops Cars peel off from train to drop passengers at station, so other pods can continue uninterrupted Rider stops only to buy a litre of milk or something. Other riders are not affected
passengers control the destination By pressing a button at the stop or in the car By steering with the handlebars
passengers don’t have to think They trust the car’s navigation computer to take them where they’re going They achieve a dream-like state of flow while following a well-marked cycle route

Watch the bike lanes of Paris or London in the rush hour, especially on a strike day. Cyclists link up subconsciously to form ad hoc trains along busy routes then disband as they head for their various destinations. The bikes don’t touch each other physically. Their connection is simply calculated. Yes, I have seen the future, and what it lacks in non-material couplings and variable-reluctance motors, it makes up for with a basket and a bell.

We don’t notice these things though. As James Boardwell so smartly put it in his Interesting North talk, we’re unable to picture something as simple as a bike playing a role in a radical vision of the future.

In this respect the pushbike is like Frank Chimero’s tiny horse in the Apple Store (as referenced by Toby): we’re too busy looking at the new shiny to even register the glaringly wonderful.

What really fascinates me about the cycle hire schemes, however, is the way they turn the bike into just a small part of a bigger system. To the hardware of gears and chains and brakes are added official and unnofficial services that multiply the bikes’ utility.

  • The access control systems and kiosks at each docking point…

  • The mobile apps that help users find a bike to use and a place to leave it…

  • The route planners that tell them the best way from A to B (without a care for C, D, E or F)
  • The GPS apps that records data trails for future reference.

These things may not be as obvious as Trondheim’s spectacular escalator (and I’d vote for one of these up Chapeltown Road) but they are real nonetheless.

Aramis’ body may have long since been scrapped, but its spirit lives on in the emerging software of the city.

The Makers of Leeds

Notes for my TEDxLeeds presentation, “The Makers of Leeds”. The Prezi version is here.

It starts with the amazing view from the top of the TEDxLeeds venue, the Mint, which looks out over Leeds on all sides. The American architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen said:

“When you look at a city, it’s like reading the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it.”

And where better to illustrate this than in one of the world’s oldest industrial cities? The new cities springing up in Asia, Africa and South America have 200 years to wait before they have such depth of stories.

Looking down towards Leeds Bridge, we can imagine the scene where Louis Le Prince shot one of the world’s first ever movies. Together with his wife Lizzie, who trained in ceramics, Louis started a “school of technical arts” in Leeds. This marriage of arts and science is still alive today among the Leeds Savages and hackers at the Hackspace. While we think of new media as bits and bytes, digital content, the new media of the late Victorian period was chemistry – specifically the actions of light and chemicals on ceramics, brass, paper and celluloid. The Le Princes had to combine these things to come up with a whole new artform.

But to make his design a reality, Le Prince needed a way to reliably move the film through the gate of his camera or projector. He turned to an inventor who had something every city needs – tickets (just think of all those football matches and theatre performances). James Longley had invented a machine for dispensing tickets. Le Prince commissioned him to combine this know-how with his own work on photography to create his camera-projector.

And the result is this snippet of traffic moving across Leeds Bridge. If you don’t believe how important this is, you can look it up yourself in the Internet Movie Database where Le Prince dominates the movie charts for 1888. There are no entries for 1887.

Just down the road from Leeds Bridge is Meadow Lane where hacker Joseph Priestley moved in near Jakes and Nell’s brewery. He noticed bubbles on the vats of beer and wondered what they were. This led to a series of experiments which isolated the gas we know today as oxygen. Priestley shared his discoveries of the effect of this gas on plants and animals with his coffee-house friend Ben Franklin who, in a startling leap of imagination, suggested that we should stop chopping down trees. The green movement began wih a mint plant in a bell jar in Joseph Priestley’s kitchen. Steven Johnson also tells how Priestley invented a process for making fizzy drinks. He open sourced the method and Johann Shweppe cleaned up.

Speaking in Shanghai, the writer Charlie Leadbeater set out six C’s that determine a city’s capacity for innovation: combination, conversation, co-evolution, challenge, commitment and connection. I think we can see plenty of all six C’s here in Leeds. The Le Princes combined art and science, mchanics and chemistry to make moving pictures. Priestley’s exchanges with Ben Franklin and his French rival Antoine Lavoisier give us conversation.

For co-evolution – the ability of suppliers, manufacturers and customers to develop solutions together – we look across the city to the three Italianate towers of Tower Works. Thomas Harding who built the towers was a maker of pins, not dress-maker’s pins but the pins used by billion in the textile industry. He understood that the business would prosper if his customers could rely on standard sized pins from multiple suppliers, so he worked with his customers and competitors to develop a range of standard pin sizes, called the Harding Gauge. For a modern parallel, picture those pins as angle brackets and the Harding Gauge as HTML, a standard language facilitating endless innovation and efficiency improvements.

Co-evolution was also central to the parallel developments of coal-mining, manufacturing and consumption in our city. In Holbeck, Matthew Murray built the Round Foundry, possibly the world’s first integrated engineering works. But he faced challenge in the form of competition from Boulton and Watt, a much bigger name in the steam engine trade. James Watt Junior stole Murray’s ideas, recruited a spy at his factory and bought up land to stop Murray growing his business. But the competition spurred Murray on, and he built the steam engine for the first commercially-successful steam railway at Middleton Colliery.

It seems unjust that the engineer commemorated by a statue in City Square is not Matthew Murray but his nemesis James Watt.

Murray’s mentor John Marshall faced challenges of a different kind. He was a flax spinner and flax spinning was a flamable businss. When one of Marshall’s wooden-framed mills burned down he partnered with a designer of a different kind of mill, one made of cast iron and brick. That’s commitment! The resulting fire-proof mills, like Marshall’s Mill in Holbeck are an important step in the evolution of the skyscraper. So it’s fitting that Leeds is the home of the best new tall building of 2010.

We can list a series of start-ups and businesses grown in Leeds:

  • Marks & Spencer, founded on Leeds Market
  • Burtons, which mass-produced suits for de-mobbed soldiers after the Second World War
  • Freeserve which revolutionised the business model for ISPs in Britain, enabling millions of households to get online for the first time.

But what’s left as we move from the indutrial to the post-industrial? At St Aidan’s former colliery near Garforth a five-storey-high giant walking robot stands marooned in a Teletubbyland of grassy hills and lakes.

What’s left, I think, is narrative capital, the wealth of stories we can draw on to make sense of our present and inspire our future, it’s the power people have to tell stories about their places and lives. And unlike coal, narrative capital never runs out. It’s a rich seam that’s getting deeper all the time.

Stories belong to everyone, so as well as the great innovators, the dead white men, it’s important to remember the contributions of ordinary people, like the thousands of women who laboured over spinning machinery in Temple Works, in its heyday the biggest room in the world.

And stories can be slippery when we try to grab hold of them. Of the heroes listed here:

  • Louis Le Prince was a Frenchman who had to go to New York to commercialise his invention
  • Joseph Priestley was from Leeds but ended his life in exile in the United States, having been hounded out of the country due to his radical political views
  • Matthew Murray was a Geordie so the North East has as much claim on him as we do here in Leeds.

All of those people bear out Charlie Leadbeater’s sixth C, connection to the wider world. As do the buildings that our Nineteenth Century predecessors have left us. Squint and you can see:

  • The Temple of Horus at Edfu on Marshall Street
  • Rennaissance Florence, Verona and a Tuscan hill town on Water Lane
  • A Venetian palazzo in Park Square
  • Paris at Cuthbert Brodrick’s Corn Exchange

So when I hear that people want to make Leeds “the best city in UK” I wonder whether that’s ambitious enough. Our predecessors saw themselves not as better than, but certainly equal to, any great city anywhere in recorded history.

Which makes me optimistic for the future of the city. As the American writer and campaigner Jane Jacobs put it:

“Lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.”

Service Design Leeds, from Drinks to Thinks

There are lots of reasons to come along to Leeds Service Design Thinks on Tuesday 14 September. So many that it’s hard to know where to start.

I could begin with the chance to meet and chat with some of the smart and passionate service designers who made it to our first Service Design Drinks event back in June, and some more who’ll be joining us for the first time. It was a bit of a gamble to bring this format to Leeds, modelled on successful events in London, Glasgow and elsewhere, but it paid off handsomely. We discovered there’s lots going on already, and lots of interest in developing a northern community of interest around service design and design thinking.

But starting there would be to neglect the fact that on September 14 we’re giving you the chance to hear from Dr James Munro about his social enterprise, Patient Opinion, and the challenge of building better services in the NHS. James already presented his work at Service Design Thinks in London, and we know it’ll be of interest to many people working in the North. I’d give up my Tuesday evening just to hear from James.

But that might give the impression that service design is only for public services and social enterprise. It’s not. We also have my Orange colleague Kathryn Grace presenting her work on retail customer experience. As a designer for a company called Everything Everwhere, Kathryn has a unique viewpoint over in-store experiences, large-scale e-commerce and e-care, and cutting-edge mobile applications. I know she’s passionate about making all these things work together to deliver a simple and engaging customer experience. Kathryn also deserves the credit for making this whole event happen in the first place. Tero and I have played supporting roles, but hers is the main drive and motivtation behind both “Drinks” and “Thinks”.

And if you’re still wavering, consider this. Not one, not two, but three amazing speakers! For we will also hear from Professor Guy Julier of Leeds Metropolitan University. When we set up SD Leeds we wanted to explore how service design approaches could make a positive difference to the place where we live and work. So Guy’s role in the Leeds Love It Share It community interest company is right up our street. He’ll tell us about “Margins within the city” a recent community development project.

There’s no end to the fascinating questions that arise when we consider these three topics together. When designing a service, where do you start? Who do you start with? And what kind of people and processes make a new service more likely to succeed? That’s why we’ve tag-lined the event “Starting Points”.

“Service Design Thinks Leeds 01 | Starting Points” is on Tuesday 14 September, from 6pm to 9pm, at a central Leeds venue to be confirmed. You can sign up now on Eventbrite, follow us on Twitter, or find out more about this and other similar events on servicedesigning.org.

Maybe it’ll be the start of something new.

Around the city, joining the dots

I think there’s a coherent narrative to be woven between all of the following, but for now, I offer them to you as a puzzle of jumbled bullet points. Fuller posts on some of them may follow.

1. It’s been a few weeks since my colleagues and I at Orange moved offices from Holbeck to Clarence Dock. I’ve been meaning to share some photos and thoughts on the new locality, ever since I saw Mike Chitty’s blog post and Imran Ali’s interesting response, Ideas for Cities. I know that was February and this in June. I will do so soon. Just call it slow blogging.

2. For Fathers’ Day, we took a family trip on the Leeds sightseeing boat from Granary Wharf to Clarence Dock. For 20 minutes the River Aire was our Canale Grande, only without the gondolas and palazzos. Lots of cities have a river, but I reckon we could do more with ours. If you live in Leeds you should take the boat at least once, just to see the familiar from a different perspective.

3. Kathryn, Tero and I hosted Leeds’ first ever Service Design Drinks at the Midnight Bell on Tuesday. It went even better than we’d hoped. We had a broad range of interests, some fascinating conversations and new connections made, including some people who travelled a long way to take part. We can see there’s more than enough interest for us to move to the next stage with Service Design Thinks, an evening of three talks followed by an open discussion. More on that soon.

4. Mike was one of our service design drinkers. He floated the concept of an Innovation Lab for Leeds: “a process – not a place.  It usually culminates in an intense workshop to allow key thinkers, influencers, technologists and service users to come together to work intensely and constructively on developing a vision for how things could be…” Turns out Imran had already been thinking about this too. Imagining a place to imagine solutions for our city: I guess that’s meta-imagineering.

5. Finally, back in Holbeck on Thursday night Temple Works was more alive than I’ve ever seen it before, with the Sh! Awards, a prize for the region’s most promising design students run by my friends at Brahm. Having been a judge as a series of amazingly confident young designers presented their work in the edgy surroundings of the Temple Works loading bay, I’m sure the best one won. You should check out Matthew Young‘s work now, before you see it everywhere. In particular, watch his D&AD nominated winning video, The City…

So join the dots! Can tell what it is yet? if you can, please let me know.