Choral Sourcery

09/11/2010 § 3 Comments


An old friend came round this evening for a cup of tea and a chat. As we sat and reminisced about times gone by over a mug of Yorkshire’s finest, the conversation naturally meandered around to the subject of music (I say ‘naturally’ but my friend Ray is a musician, and judging by the amount of time designers spend waxing lyrical about design, I can hardly call this a “natural” occurrence). Ray also ‘naturally’ occurred to have his latest demo tape on him (it was actually a CD, but its nice to hear people keeping the romance of old technologies alive). So we whacked it on and had a wee listen.

Without bias, it was bloody good. Really bloody good. I don’t really have the authority to say it was ‘good’ as my technical musical knowledge stopped at running around the house with no pants on, colander on head, with pan and wooden spoon gripped firmly in each hand. Oh the joys of youth. Although, I was at this time in my life, a chorister in the local choir, however I’m not sure if this was for my musical prowess or my strong resemblance to a structurally ‘rotund’  yet sexually ambiguous cherubin figure:

Thank God it wasn’t a Catholic church. Anyway, I digress….

I liked Rays new tunes, they made my feet do strange things that some people might call a ‘beat’. But I became even more excited by them when quizzing him on where he had made them. They all sounded very (for lack of a better word)…’professional’.

“I just knocked them out in my bedroom” he exclaimed nonchalantly. At this point I got very excited and my feet started moving a lot.

“So you have all the tools of production in your bedroom?” I gasped.

“Well…yeah” he replied, like I was stating the most blatant fact in the entire world.

Then it hit me like a Catholic Priest. All this talk of domestic manufacturing, crowdsourcing, community design, de-centralised production bla-de-bla bla…The Music Industry has done it. Its been through it. Ages ago.

They’ve been making stuff in this way for ages. The only difference is, Music is an intangible thing. It’s a product made for our ears, whereas I’m talking about making stuff for our hands, our touch. Every garage studio is a domestic factory, Napster was essentially crowd-sharing, and X-factors auditioning model is most definitely the best (and most lucrative) example of crowd sourcing I have come across to date. Now, there are many contrasting arguements for wheteher this has had a positive or negative effect on the music industry and I do not wish to go into that now. The way I see it, the whole industrial model has changed, and is still changing. Everyone in the music industry is crapping their pants becasue no one (except Simon Cowell and his posse of the entire nation) knows how to make a ‘successful’ song anymore. I think this may be because the whole idea of ‘success’ used to be determined by monetary gain through sales of a record in ‘official’ outlets. Now anybody can grab a mic and record a ‘hit’.

I really have been a bit slow on the uptake with this whole music industry analogy. All the musicians I know are always moaning about how much they hate X-factor or whatever that one before it was called because its just ‘manufactured’ music. I really need to start looking further afield than the little designery bubble that I can quite easily find myself in. Especially when an obvious reference point (X-factor) is plastered across most of the tabloids headlines most days of the week.

As I write this, I have nightmarish visions of my final outcome being an X-factor of the design world, but then I realise something. This is no nightmarish vision…





Also on the judging panel are Rosario Cole and Jimmy Walsh. Luckily for them, we are not friends on the  farcebook.


Of quality and style.

05/11/2010 § Leave a comment

“The nature of our culture is such that if you were to look for instruction in how to do any of these jobs, the instruction would always give one understanding of quality, the classic. It would tell you how to hold the blade when sharpening the knife, or how to use a sewing machine, or how to mix and apply glue with the presumption that once these underlying methods were applied, “good” would naturally follow. The ability to see directly what “looks good” (romantic) would be ignored.

The result is rather typical of modern technology, an overall dullness of appearance so depressing that it must be overlaid with a veneer of “style” to make it acceptable. And that, to anyone who is sensitive to romantic quality, just makes it all the worse. Now it’s not just depressingly dull, it’s also phony. Put the two together and you get a pretty accurate description of modern american technology: stylised cars and stylised outboard motors and stylised typewriters and stylised clothes. Stylised refrigerators filled with stylised food in stylised kitchens in stylised houses. PLastic stylised toys for stylised children, who at christmas and birthdays are in style with their stylish parents. You have to be awfully stylish yourself not to get sick of it once in a while. Its the style that gets you; technological ugliness syrupped over with romantic phoniness in an effort to produce beauty and profit by people who, though stylish, don’t know where to start because no one has ever told them there’s such a thing as quality in this world and it’s real, not style. Quality isn’t something you lay on top of subjects and objects like tinsel on a christmas tree. Real quality must be the source of the subjects and objects, the cone from which the tree must start.”

pg 292. Pirsig.R. Zen and the art Motorcycle maintenance.1974.


I’m reading this book at the moment and apart from it being incredible, I think this quote bore some sort of relevance to my project. Im interested in the way Pirsig talks about ‘stylised’ objects as if everything has a defined style or specific function and it is not untill  we break through the veneer to reveal the ‘ugly’ technical inner workings that we begin to see the multiple ‘styles’ an object could potentially be. Just a thought anyway.

Design splits.

05/11/2010 § Leave a comment

I had a moment of sweet clarity the other day with regards to my project and what direction it’s taking. See, I’ve had a bit of a conflict recently between two main ideas that I would like to pursue:

Idea one is basically all about exploring the potentials of domesticated manufacturing. It makes reference to stuff like Le Corbusiers famous quote “The house is a machine for living in” and the cottage industries which laid the way for the industrial revolution. It is also concerned with the seemingly individualised tasks of most domestic products and certain gender roles that accompany them. There is a slight dichotomy within this area of the ‘stuff’ thought about so far. One field of interest focuses on consumer products being modified to create the tools of production used to create the consumer products themselves. An example of this may be a toaster/Hoover vacuum former or a deconstructed toaster neon sign/branding machine:

The other side of this field revolves around the similar functions of many domestic products that are sold to us as separate entities in a pursuit of economic gain. For  example, a drill and an electric whisk have the same functional behaviour: Rotation. Yet they are sold as two separate things with very separate uses.

Idea two is quite simple. Most people shave. Most people use a razor to do this shaving. The current state of the razor blade market is still rooted deep within the idea of disposable products. I don’t believe this has to be so. I also don’t believe that shaving has anything to do with being an alpha male, champion or being extremely good-looking. I believe it is something everybody does and therefore it should be utilitarian and efficient. Not elitist and disposable. As I already have a fair idea of what the outcome of this will be, I wish to explore the potentials of crowd sourcing as much of the design as possible through the necessary social networking sites.

These are two separate projects. The major project will be the domesticated manufacturing area and the minor project will be the razor project. Although they are two essentially different projects, there will be some aspects that may overlap in the future. Both are concerned with manufacturing processes and if may turn occur that some aspects may benefit each other such as the possibility of producing the razor from a domestic setting, or using the ‘crowd’ to distribute a manufacturing process more widely. However, untill further development into each project has been completed, they shall remain separate entities.

i object

03/11/2010 § Leave a comment

So somebody told me the other day that it was the intention of Apple to remove every orifice from their products in the divine pursuit of aesthetic simplicity. Fair enough, I can see why people may find that appealing. A single sealed object that does a variety of wondrous things  would probably have Pavlov’s dog salivating at the DING DING emanating from its mysteriously concealed speaker. Only problem is I’m not a dog, I’m a human. We may share a few  (less favorable) behavioral traits  but even if I could, I just can’t see myself licking my own crotch.

In revealing the latest addition to the Apple family, Steve Jobs said something along the lines of “For some reason, when the way something works is a complete mystery, it becomes a million times more desirable… almost magical”. With the exception of girls, I could not disagree more. I love to know how stuff works almost as much as the smell of a laundrette. That knowledge is how we innovate, adapt and repair. It is how we make. It seems strange that a company so dedicated to the creative industries, is so protective about whats inside their little magic boxes.  And how the devil am I supposed to know which Ipod I am if I can’t see inside the damn things? Are you calling me shallow and superficial Mr Jobs? You would probably be right but that is not the point.

The point is that I am not a ‘Shuffle’ or a ‘Nano’ or a ‘Classic’ or a ‘Touch’ because I am not a small electronic device. I was not conceived in California, manufactured in Taiwan and assembled in Shanghai. I can see where Mr Jobs got mixed up. I am an extremely complex, compact and efficient system of components that many biologists, psychologists and many other ‘ists’ before me, have tried to understand for thousands of years. And how did these curious individuals find out so much about ourselves? They cut, dissected, exposed and opened up every tiny element of the physical and mental human experience, and they are still doing a pretty good job at it today. I sometimes wonder if Steve Jobs would have survived his fight with pancreatic cancer had these fine ladies and gentlemen not been doing this so diligently over the years? I think not. When you crack open an ipod, the warranty is void. A severe deterrent for anyone that has just dished out a shedload of cash for the latest advancement in technological innovation. Is a persons warranty void when a surgeon slices them open to perform a triple heart bypass? Or remove a tumour? Or  install a pacemaker? Or merely to make something better or know more about it? Luckily, people don’t come with a warranty, but they do come with orifices. Loads of em. If they didn’t, the world would be a rather strange place.

So anyway, I decided to do a bit of my own Ipod anatomy with an old ipod photo rendered obsolete by its multi faceted offspring, the iphone. It was an interesting experience. A gentle bit of prying with a flathead screwdriver popped the little box apart with an audible ‘pooof’ as my warranty dissapeared into the ether. Everything was going dandy untill I met with the little box of doom… the hard drive. The toshiba hard drive to be precise. All the components up to this point were easy as pie to reduce to there single entities, it was only when I came across the 2mm 5point screw that I hit a wall. The hard drive has ‘do not open’ printed on it and theyve done a pretty good job on keeping it that way. After traversing London looking for a mysterious mini  5point screwdriver, I ended up in Maplins electronics who informed me that Toshiba would purposefully use screws of this kind to keep people from getting into their little boxes. Lovely chaps.

Leading innovation for a select few.

So anyway, I ended up filing down  small flathead into a few more points to get into the thing and get into it I did. I have to say, it is quite beautiful. I then photographed each part individually and to scale and printed them on an A2 piece of paper so it looked something like this:

To conclude, I can see why they may seal everything up in nice wee boxes. If I had made something as ubiquitous and revolutionary as the ipod I would not want every Tom, Dick and Harry getting their greasy little mits on its insides. Especially when it reveals its not all that ‘magic’ after all. What the hell is a piece of sponge doing in my ipod? Its a bit like those incredibly beautiful girls you may sometimes see. The type you fall in love with immediately and decide you are going to spend the rest of your life with before even having actually met them. The type that just thinking about makes you happy when your sad and makes any sort of mundane crap seem like the best thing in the world. The type that, just like an ipod, you just want to stroke in circular motions.

Then, when you finally pluck up the courage to go and speak to them, you realise they think they are infinitely more beautiful than you are, therefore they can pretty much ignore you and if they do have anything to say, it usually revolves around who was crap in x-factor last nite or how much her billionaire boyfriend spent on a bottle of champagne which he drank out of a pint glass, for the lads like. At this point you wish you had never spoken to her at all. Life was grand and full of glee when you could do the dishes whilst dreaming hazily of tumbling through fields of daisies with your new love. But now all is lost. The ugly truth is staring you in the face. Your mum always said its whats inside that counts and now once again, much to your disapproval, she’s right. Buggar. So what do you do? Change yourself and shower the lady in lavish gifts untill she can find it in her hard drive to love you? No. You innovate, learn from it, move on, become less superficial and become more attracted to the things on the inside. Not in a jack the ripper sort of way, just in a sort of greater knowledge of what you are interacting with sort of way. Although, i quite like the idea of being the jack the ripper of domestic consumer products. Let them quake on their fluorescently lit shelves.

Sourcey crowd

25/10/2010 § Leave a comment

Right, so I thought Id do a wee crowd sourcing mini project of my own…..

I got 10 ( But I lost one of the drawings) of the hottest design talents in all of the land to pop on some blackout tron goggles and draw silly pictures whilst listening to a bit of Tchaikovsky and thinking of the word : MANUFACTURING.


This is what they came up with:

True turner prize winners if ever I saw them. More to the point however, it was interesting to see the fruits of everyone’s labor all together and pick out some the re-occurring themes that people tend to associate with manufacturing…

Look at all the :





Does this mean we are all actually the same and life is essentially futile? YEY!

But wait, A ship of hope on the horizon (second picture down, right hand column) manifests in the form of Rossanes beautiful drawing of a boat! See, this is of profound interest to me as Rossane is from China.  The difference in meaning of the word ‘manufacturing’ is dependant on cultural contexts! Woohoo! Design is context, driven by a boat.


Thanks to Chris for the pic and Hen for unknowingly posing and thanks to all for participating.

The cottage electric.

25/10/2010 § Leave a comment

So far I  have talked a bit  about the potentials of adjusting and transforming domestic products into smaller, compact versions of industrial processes and tools of production, in order to explore the possibilities of domesticated manufacturing. For example using the bi-product of a rice cooker (steam) to steam bend wood. I also mentioned using a drill to perform the various rotational behaviors of a variety of domestic products in the home. On reflection these two examples present a dichotomy.  One (the rice cooker) uses the bi-product of a domestic artifact to produce additional product, whereas the other (the drill) serves as a means to reduce the number of artifacts in the home through having a single entity provide a variety of functions (like the transforming owl). Whichever way I look at it, the method of production is defined by the existing functions and secondary functions of the the primary object. Which leads to the notion that although this model would be independent and separate  of established manufacturing processes, it would still solely rely on those processes.

I also had a number of other variations knocking around in my head such as an iron/hoover combo to create a vacuum former, an insulated domesticated oven which may act as a kiln, a modified washing machine to create rotation molds, a hob as a micro-foundry, etc etc.

This could be likened  to the  model of cottage industry seen  2oo years ago as one of the precursors to the industrial revolution and the formation of the nuclear family (The improved income derived from cottage industries reduced the reliance upon the extended family as a source of income and made use of the time that could not be spent farming i.e winter). This cottage industry was mainly initiated by merchants who would provide the families with the raw materials and apparatus to manufacture goods at home in their own time, and would return to the home at a later date to pick up the goods produced by the family ready for sale or assembly at market. This process was known as ‘out-putting’ and is commonly referred to today as ‘outsourcing’.  The subsequent centralisation of factories and the industrial era laid waste to this model of production and also affected early modern schooling in the form of the covert curriculum which insisted upon punctuality, the acceptance of learning through repetition, and complete compliance to authority. All of which were critical factors in the successful operation of capital intensive industry.

However, it now seems that some sectors of industry are once again returning to a model not so dissimilar from that of the cottage industries, although this time it is not a mere villages potential labor at their disposal, but vast global networks of dedicated and willing individuals eager to contribute to a process they have for so long been denied access to. The apparatus is already ubiquitous in most western homes. It is portable and already connected to all the other cottages of production and the merchants that rely on them. It is the computer. The cottage is electric.

The new term for this is ‘crowdsourcing’, coined by former Wired editor Jeff Howe in 2006. Its success is mainly due to the rise of social networks the data mining that comes with them. Mountain dew recently ran a campaign in the states known as the ‘dewmocracy’ in which they  recruited the adoring american public to basically come up with their whole campaign under the guise of it being democratic or elective. Essentially, this is just another means of streamlining the manufacturing and marketing process whilst integrating the consumer at fromthe very conception of the product. I can understand that this may be a more relevant way to give the poeple what they want, but were those people rearded in any way shape or form? Not a penny, but you can guarentee every siingle one of them who had the even slightest of hand in the creation of that fair drink went out and bought a few bottles.

I do however reckon that this model has incredible potential. Id like to imagine a platform (and bear with me on this) where the collective wants and needs of all consuming individuals are collated, refined, designed and manufactured all from the collective effort of those that want those things to exist. If there was some system in place that enabled a return to parties involved (monetarily or materially) I think this could pave way for a more democratic, sociable and justified means of producing products and services. What I would truly love about this sort of platform is the amount of superfluous crap this process would leave in its wake. No advertising, no consumer groups, no trend forecaster or wanky bollock lingo.

Now, im pretty sure I could say some real wanky stuff about the social implications and all that, but quite frankly, its getting late and I cant be arsed and  this is already a MASSIVE post so it boils down to this:

I dont know about you, but in the past few years Ive had a growing sense of deep seathing hate for the ‘man’ and all his big corporate cronies. Now, Im not a particularly angry man and Im not down with all this hating on stuff and moaning about it and not doing anything about it. Im the sort of person that admittedly hates coca cola but will gladly dish out 2quid for a glass bottle of the stuff whenever im remotely hungover or just need a hit. It does however feel like, for one fleeting second, the internet presented to us an oppurtunity to make cool stuff together, and I dont want that to go the fat cats too. Theyve got enough bloody milk. Thats it really. Its like BUFU: By Us, Fuck You.

Jesus, this is not a teen angst blog. I promise.

Good Transformers

11/10/2010 § Leave a comment

Ok so I have somewhat  refined my thoughts about what the devil I was on about in the rather late night post about baby incubators, mechanics, Africa, Hoovers and wood. The krooks of the matter seem to be that I have a profound interest in re-apropriating what might be called ‘consumer’ products for functions outside of their typical use with a particular focus on their utilisation within industrial models.

We as consumers, have access to a vast plethora of consumer products.  The vast majority of these products tend to be marketed on the basis that they will provide a very certain set of results in their use. A toothbrush will brush teeth, a toaster will toast bread, a razor will enable you to  shave. However, somewhere along the line products have become more than their mere function. Toothbrushes will help you get laid, toasters will provide you with a caring loving family and I wont even get started on what Razors can do.tim Jackson put it fairly succinctly in saying “We are being persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that wont last, on people we don’t care about”

This is the stomping ground of commodity fetishism, mystification and gratification, however I would like to approach this subject from the context of the domesticated industry I  mentioned in the previous Buck I-T post.

Marx suggested that capitalist society was based on the production of commodities by the means of commodities. Thus enabling economic growth. This implies a system where the consumer is outside of the production loop, only to be active as the largest source of profit for said commodities, in order to perpetuate the production of yet more commodities, for  more profit. And so on and so forth. However, I am very interested in the idea of the consumer taking a far more active role in the production process, using the consumer products as means of production themselves.  Re-appropriating the functions assigned to domestic consumer products by marketing and advertising, is a more credible and realistic idea than imagining a world with a 3D printer in every living room, ready to print any product on demand.

For example, could the steam created when cooking rice in a rice cooker or boiling a kettle be used as a means of steam bending wood?. An oven is no different in function to a kiln, however one can achieve a greater temperature. A vacuum former is not that different from a toaster and hoover. On the other hand, a single standard 18v drill could perform a variety of tasks often assigned to multiple domestic gadgets such as blenders, juicers, electric whisks, ice-cream makers, and many other forms with a rotary function.


I am not entirely sure where this is going as it is all purely conjecture and needs to be experimented with. I suppose my main issue is that consumers have quite a bad rep, yet we all seem to be them and need them. Our economy practically relies on them. Mary Douglas, on an essay on poverty attempted to answer the question “what is the objective of the consumer?”, a question I am fascinated by. She answered something like this:

It is to help create the social world and to find a credible place in it”

The key word for me here is “help”. There just doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of helping going on when it comes to consumers. And I don’t know if making more stuff with what they buy would be helping any more. But I guess that’s the point of this blog, to see what helps, and what doesn’t.

In the meantime, I really wish our products could be more like this fine owl here…and get all transformer on our meagre singular form butt cheeks.

Also, I think this is quite a fine description of what I’m trying to get across, especially if you imagine the war as the current economic upheaval…

“”In the war, things were in terrible turmoil. What I had learned at the academy was of no use to me and the useful new ideas were still unready…. Everything had broken down and new things had to be made out of the fragments; and this is Merz. It was like a revolution within me, not as it was, but as it should have been.”.

Kurt Schwitters

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