Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Monday, June 30, 2008

Big brains round up

Lots of big brains doing big thinking today. We have:

Nick and Toby at Dare reminding us that everyone is an advertiser now...

John Maeda, Don Norman and others reminding us about the (good) basics of webdesign (hat tip: Nussbaum at BusinessWeek)...

Michael Kinsley, Paul Omerod, Richard Posner, Gary Becker, Bill Gates inter alia on how free market capitalism can be used to solve development problems (hat tip: Marginal Revolution).

My head hurts after all that.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Design thinking for branded utilities

There's a lot of talk about branded utilities, and how they are the next level in the way brands will integrate themselves with people and their lives.

Designing them is not a straightforward process, so the more that we can learn about design and design thinking from elsewhere the better.

So in that spirit, here are some interesting pieces which I think should help frame your thinking when designing these services:

1. Google's user experience principles

These are the clearest explanation of a design philosophy that I've come across in a while. Note that number 1 is people-focused. Too many design processes start with the technological solution rather than who will be using it. I also like the reminder to add a human touch.

(via the Experientia blog.)

2. Tim Brown of IDEO on design thinking in the Harvard Business Review. IDEO is pretty much the world's leading design firm, so what they have to say about design is always worth reading. Their focus has gone beyond simple design processes to look at the idea of innovation process. but at root, it still remains a human-centered philosophy.

(via Nussbaum on Design at BusinessWeek.)

3. For some more nuts and bolts of designing interactions and experience, this collection of papers and presentations from the 'From Business to Buttons: Designing for effect' conference is worth a nosy around too.

And keep your eye on the documentation coming out of the reboot conference this weekend in Copenhagen. I suspect there will be some interesting ideas emerging.

PS: You might also want to factor into your initial thinking some of these meta themes or structural changes identified by various venture capitalists, as documented by TechCrunch. Not all will be relevant at the same time, but they do form part of the landscape you will be working in:

The decline of the firm and the rise of one-to-one commerce
Merging of cyberspace and real space
Unified identity (across different sites and services)
Generational shift
Global growth of the Web
Net Neutrality
Data Ownership
Atomization of content
The arrival of the mobile Web (finally)
Hyper-targeting of advertising
The coming of human-friendly interfaces
Cloud computing


26 recommendations for June

Can be found here, as can some advice as to how to become a copywriter.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Towards a new unified theory of society

I know, it's too outlandish a claim, right? I would have thought so too, apart from the fact that there are signs that some interesting strands of thought are starting to come together:

1. Compass, the think tank broadly associated with the democratic left, has set out what we could describe as the 'challenge' - 'How to live in the 21st century'.

2. Umair Haque of Havas Media Lab and Bubblegeneration, has thrown down the outlines of a way that business might respond to some of the larger challenges (and, by the by, reinvigorate itself).

3. Danny Finkelstein of The Times has summarised the way that social psychology and behaviorial economics could guide politics towards responding to some of the smaller challenges (and, by the by, reinvigorate itself).

[I'd add to that list the piece by Danny Kruger in Prospect in 2006 on fraternity, which provides a lot of meta intellectual underpinning for this area.]

Of course none of this suggests that this is the way that the next few years *will* develop. But I think it is salient to note that even beyond the usual tropes of politics converging on the centre ground or 'authoritarian vs libertarian' lies a ground where the future of *everything* will be built; one where all actors in society: state, bureaucratic, corporate, capitalist, charitable, etc engage on a ground that is decentralised, democratic, market-driven but bounded by tighter rules, and networked.

There will be problems in getting to this new place. Transitions are always bumpy. Which is why social exclusion will become an even more pressing problem in the next few years.

But the destination, at this vantage point, looks exciting.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Commercial: Painting pictures with words

I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it until I'm put face down in burning box. You can tell when a tone of voice is on song, and being well written, by looking at the small things. Genius really does lie in the details. As show, in this email to me. Knowing the communication - and what really happens to it - leads to a great opportunity. Which they take. Is it web safe? Adhere to usability guidelines? Really, who cares? It made me get the images in the email, and visit the site again.

UPDATE: And it doesn't stay the same either. Nice.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Capsule: My Bloody Valentine

I'm pretty sure I saw the face of God last night. It might have been just before my kidneys moved round to the front of my body during 'To Here Knows When', or just after. Not quite sure. I do remember having one of the most intense grooves ever during 'Soon'. And 'Only Shallow' was a roar of noise.

Highlight? Oh obviously, 'You Made Me Realise'. I'd read the legend of 18 minutes for the white noise breakdown. On my count (and admittedly it's pretty shonky as I'm sure I was out of my body at this point), it was 37 minutes before the song kicked back in. And I wasn't wearing ear plugs.

I watched through the video below just now. It's immediately made my ears red raw again. Who'd have thought hearing loss would be worth it? And I get to do it all again on Saturday. Wow. BTW, it's not too late to join me there.


Friday, June 20, 2008

The race for talent

The race for talent
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
So about 150 of these bad boys have gone out in the last 24 hours. Mostly hand delivered; I was pawing my way round SW1 this morning. So people at Lambie-Nairn, Channel 4, 4Creative, DIUS and DCMS we definitely expect to see you on the starting line next Monday.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Black Swan life lessons

In case you missed them t'other week, you can find Nassim Nicholas Taleb's life lessons here, as part of his Sunday Times profile by Bryan Appleyard (a profile which, btw, Taleb rates). I particularly like this one:

Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behaviour. You will always have the last word.

The one about going to parties is quite useful too.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Editorial: Writing for games

To the Zigfrid last night, to find out more about writing for computer games, under the aegis of New Media Knowledge. It is, by the accounts of the speakers, an area that is growing and growing, with the demand for stories meaning that narrative and words are going to increase in importance alongside gameplay, artificial intelligence and real-time rendering.

Three things stood out for me, as an observer more interested in the words than the gameplay:

1. Things are converging: When Blast Theory and Punchdrunk can collaborate on 'urban gaming', when games developers are enlisting theatrical and film writing talent, then it’s clear that something interesting is going on here, and those of us who haven’t thought of games as new way of bringing narratives to life need to think again.

2. In discussing Penguin’s We Tell Stories, which his company developed, Adrian Hon of Six To Start suggested that in this world starting with design is no bad thing. That, and having writers who are fast, and good. The project explored narrative as delivered through maps, infographics, blogs and Twitter, as well as live writing and choose your own adventure modes. Knowing those constraints meant that the writers, such as Mohsin Hamed could experiment with circular, branching and infinite loop narratives. Linear is not the only way.

3. When Naomi Alderman was describing Perplex City, and the range of interactions players could have with the game: emails, live web chats, phone calls, text messages, skywriting, live encounters with improvising actors… well, it sounded like the most ambitious integrated campaign you could ever dream of. Clearly people have been developing immersive, 360, all channel communications. We just haven’t properly noticed. There’s stuff here that we in adland need to learn from.

Plus I loved a) the word ‘cutscenes’ (it’s my new favourite word) and b) the legend that hidden somewhere in Metal Gear Solid is a 90 minute movie – an entire film within game. Convergence indeed.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Commercial: Scarlet Mist sees red

Just registered to use Scarlet Mist for the first time. For those who don't know, it's a site where you can buy and sell gig tickets at face value, thereby avoiding mark-up/touting/karma issues.

It uses some great language on the site and in its emails. At the bottom of the info page, we are reminded:

At the end of the day, if it is sold out, then it is sold out.
Try and be philosophical about it. Get things into proportion.

And they do, sotto voce, talk about cannabis, in a realistic fashion. Nice to see someone taking a point of view.

My favourite fragment is from their confirmation email:

If you were not expecting this email and haven't a clue what we're talking
about, the most likely explanation is that one of your friends has been playing
a prank on you. Tell us who they are and we'll kill 'em.

But one suspects that they're such hippes, they won't.

By the way, the reason I'm partaking of their services is because I have two spare tickets for My Bloody Valentine at the Manchester Apollo on Saturday 28 June. If you want them, reach me in the usual ways.


Herowatch: Paul Gilroy

Beta is not normally one for unnecessary genuflection at the feet of his betters... otherwise I wouldn't be off my knees at all. But at last night's 'Sounds of Political Freedom' debate, organised by the Urban Enterprise Network, Paul Gilroy wowed all. Now the Anthony Giddens Professor of Social Theory at LSE, he was passionate, eloquent and playful on the topic, and conistently forcing those on the panel with him, and the audience to be more articulate and incisive. And all with a genuine smile too.

If you haven't already, go and get this. He's preparing a book on music at the moment, which should be an absolute corker. And you can find out more about him and his ideas here.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Commercial: Young lions go for it!

Keep your eye out for new team Lolly and Nat, who are keeping the British end up in the Young Lions competition at the Cannes beano next week. Campaign has them blogging in-between making their ad in crazytime, so don't expect much coherency in their posting. And you can find out more about them below. (Disclosure: I used to work with Lol, so in an unbiased way, obviously I think they'll win...)


Barack, imperfections and dreams

You'll be seeing a fuller analysis of how Barack Obama is pioneering a new form of popular democratic movement online from Amelia in the next few weeks, but for now this New York Times piece provides a good starting point. I particularly liked this passage:

It is not easy to say, because Mr. Obama draws on a range of influences, not the least of which is the high rhetorical tradition of American politics. As Garry Wills recently suggested in The New York Review of Books, Mr. Obama’s characterization of himself as an “imperfect candidate” draws on Lincoln’s idea “that the preamble’s call for ‘a more perfect union’ initiated a project, to make the Constitution a means for its own transcendence.”

But at the same time, Mr. Obama’s notion of persistent improvement, both of himself and of his country, reflects something newer — the collaborative, decentralized principles behind Net projects like Wikipedia and the “free and open-source software” movement. The qualities he cited to Time to describe his campaign — “openness and transparency and participation” — were ones he said “merged perfectly” with the Internet. And they may well be the qualities that make him the first real “wiki-candidate.”

Was thinking about such issues in part because I finally caught up with the BBC4 'Selling Power' programme, on how British adland has contributed to the marketing of politicians. In it, someone - I can't remember who - claimed that an effort like Will.I.Am's 'Yes We Can' would not work, as it wasn't connecting the politician's words directly to voters' lives. And I wasn't quite sure how a rap based on one of Obama's speeches isn't connecting the words, making them more accessible, as if they needed to be. Judge for yourself:

And yet more evidence that Obama connects at a level far deeper than other surface politicians. I had a dream about him last night; riding on a train with him through the American heartland, before driving through suburban winding roads on the side of high hills. I have no idea what all that means. But it turns out the phenomenon isn't that uncommon.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Commercial: Uberpup at Cockpit Arts Open Studios

A quick advert: my sister, Uberpup, has her debut show tomorrow and Sunday, Cockpit Arts Holborn, as part of their Open Studios weekend.

She's been doing the advanced professional development course there, and this weekend is the culmination of the past year's effort.

It's looking mighty fine, but I would say that as I did giver her a hand hanging everything yesterday.

BTW, prices start from £20 for the smaller critters up to £400 for the larger canvases. Bargain!

I'll also be providing lunch cover on the stand both days. Hope to see you there.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Commercial: Abbey Zero

Forgive the small blast of the personal trumpet that I have secreted about me for occasions like this; but it's rare that a piece of traditional financial services DM that you've worked on gets a positive write up in Precision Marketing. Other creative critiques are also available.

But no other credit cards are available. At all. Oh no.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Commerical: Fruity thank yous

After giving some feedback on iTunes customer service (they resolved a problem in downloading a Neu! track. I know), I saw this page. It made me smile for some reason.


Monday, June 09, 2008

Recycled poetry

This is well worth a few minutes of your day. Laura Barton of The Guardian, under the auspices of Green Thing, creates a Polariod poem of London. Ace.


Listorama: Facebook status updates vol 7

BetaRish (is):

cracking on

thinks the boycat is far too excited about the England friendly tonight, and that there was no need for him to be practising his crosses on the bed at 4am

would like to be young enough to be a club bunny again

dancing… in his mind…

listening to his muxtape now. Any ideas why it’s only working in IE7 anyone?

now sure the girl cat is cleverer than she’s letting on

does wonder why he bothers sometimes

hopefully ready to start now

cabin boy on the ship of fools, and wishes for a promotion. And a new vessel

all arrrgh! How am I going to fit it all in?

on the way to help make a film

supposes he has to like the snow, because everyone else appears to. But come on, it’s April people!


still thinking

says he is not a moron – he is your wife

asks you all to get back at

says champagne at lunch doesn’t half get you wrecked

now loving Yeasayer

amazed I tell you, amazed!

loving ‘Kill Your Friends’ by John Niven. Good call, Julie

all of the ponder

now trying out hellotxt too. Bit unifying it, isn’t it?

off to learn where ideas come from

saying baby come on

thinking about dancing, when he knows that he should be *actually* dancing

all of a flutter, which will soon become a flitter

still grumpy

just won a bottle of champagne in the Little, Brown pub quiz!

dragon slaying

thinking he’s awake, but isn’t sure

awaiting Friday, payday, yayday!

at work, again

at work, again again – but at least that sounds like a Futureheads song

confused and saddened by the news from The Pipettes

soon to be better connected

hoping the April skies clear soon

salutes international labour, the proletariat and all working classes everywhere; and reminds those of you in London to vote green-red today

timing his exit

had forgotten how good an album ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ is

a Bernie Gunther novel

still admiring the high class fart joke in Julian Barnes’ ‘Before She Met Me’

is about to pop out

sans manbag today. Here’s hoping the brolly won’t be needed either


pleased that everyone likes his new hair

always thinking

panda panda panda!

pleased that the tradition of the first day of the first test being damp and drizzly is being maintained

salutes aiElvis. The glory!

scrambling to get everything done

ditto at today

on the way to ORD now, so apologies in advance for being offline

chilly in Chicago

waiting for Mark and Steph to get married

has less than a day left in Chicagoland

back home, via Chicago (thanks Wilco)

back back back. To a pitch!

thinking about breakfast too much

bothered, hot


Thursday, June 05, 2008

Commerical: Plurk

Beta is now, officially, too old for social networking. I don't have emo-ness to share.

Or is that wail, by its very definition, 'emo'?

Good strap though - 'Your life, on the line'. We used to say that when things like pop music mattered.


Best excuse ever

It's amazing what you can blame World War II for:

"[Name} is not in today... Due to a 2nd world war bomb near the track, he is unable to get get in."


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bubble wrap apron

Bubble wrap apron
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
Sometimes, London is a wonderful place to live.