Dundee’s Daltrey data dilemma


YouGov has a massive database of consumer and voter and lifestyle preferences based on 200,000 people which they have made available online for ‘profile’ access. You can’t drill into the data, for that you have to pay upward of £4,000 – but it’s a taste of the data that they have.

Visitors to the YouGov Profiles website are invited to type in “any brand, person or thing” – and will be presented with a typical persona of a consumer, fan or user. Using it we discover that the owner of an Apple iPhone is more likely to be a professional woman with politics in the centre. An Android user is more likely to be male, lower middle class and left wing in their politics.

So, what sort of typical person has an interest in Dundee? A male around 30, working class, with voting preferences bordering on the Marxist. Lorne sausage and Madeira cake are amongst their favourite foods, they are keen on tennis and possibly keep a budgie. They drive a Kia, shop at Tesco and Burton is their tailor of choice. They read The Scotsman and Reveal Magazine, and favourite entertainment includes Gary: Tank Commander and Roger Daltrey. 

But people who like the University of Dundee are more likely to be professional women aged over 40, conservative in politics with a taste for brown rice and horse racing, driving a Peugeot and reading The Herald.

Admirers of Alex Salmond shop at Lidl and drive a Skoda. If they invite you to dinner it’s likely there’ll be a Forfar Bridie involved. They like watching Braveheart, listen to The Stranglers and are regular readers of New Scientist. Yes, I too began to doubt the veracity of this when it got onto reading preferences.

But they’re bang on when it comes to the typical Arsenal fan: a posh woman in her early 20s who shops at Waitrose and John Lewis and reads The Guardian and The Economist. She has a taste for empanadas and probably keeps a goldfish.

I myself am broadly in the demographic of the wearer of Paul Smith (although my salary only really stretches to the socks, and I got given those as a present), a professional male of a certain age with a taste for Jack White, Morrissey, and Apple computers. However the real oddity is this: their politics are clearly left of centre, but they read The Telegraph. Go figure that one out.

YouGov profiles are probably a useful starting point for developing personas and I can see a role for it in teaching. They help to demonstrate differences in values as expressed by brands. As a starting point for other research I feel there us much to commend it. But if I was V&A Dundee planning their launch campaign, I probably wouldn’t rush to sign up Roger Daltrey.



Design Transitions

The Design Transitions book (co-authored by Joyce Yee, Emma Jefferies and Lauren Tan) captures stories of how design practices are changing from different perspectives and context, featuring 42 stories covering 6 design disciplines and 16 countries. The book is about conversations on how design is changing.

At the Design Transitions book launch, held in London in December, there was a panel discussion with some of those included in the book: Dan Harris from Fjord, Lulu Kitololu from Asilia, Tori Flower from We are what we do, Joanna Choukier from Uscreates, Andrea Siodmok from Design Synthesis and me. This is included in full in this video:

Transframers – a research tool prototype


Transframers is a tool to support the design research process. It helps you to understand your changing role as a design researcher. It is applicable from research students to large research teams. It helps you position yourself and your practice.

This tool was the outcome of a two day DFG Roundtable on Design Research held in March 2013 at the Design Research Lab, University of Arts, Berlin. The organisers invited a combination of German and international design researchers to meet and explore four key themes that lie at the heart of design research.

I was part of team that included Cameron Tonkinwise, Rachel Cooper, Chris Rust, Klaus Krippendorff, Michael Hohl, Sabine Foraita, Tom Bieling, and others. We explored the relationship between design and other academic disciplines. Early on in our discussions we considered it important to focus on an ‘end product’ – a concrete outcome that we could adapt and explore further. In that sense we tried to incorporate the best elements of design jams into this academic discourse. One of the issues that emerged was that of the variety of roles that the design researcher (or indeed the design practioner) can take on during the research process. We wanted to develop a tool that helps define these roles, provide alternatives and act as a diagnostic.

Transframers was proposed as a highly rough prototype. In the spirit of prototypes we invite you to explore it and use it, and help us refine it. We are laying out the basic idea and some suggestion on how it can be used.

So, how did we get to this? Well, we comprised a group of around 12 people (the composition of which slightly shifted over the two days) looking at the theme of translation.  Our interest was how design research worked at the interface with other disciplines. Rachel Cooper and I joined the group after it had already met for an hour or so. To begin with we explored and tried to define the principles of knowledge translation. These were:

  • Find and work with the best
  • Respect their knowledge
  • Become informed (informed by their knowledge, but you will never be an expert in it)
  • Understand where knowledge comes from and goes to
  • Understand the system you’re working in (systems thinking)
  • Find the way to work at the nexus
  • Value the unique value of the design approach
  • Reframe questions
  • Champion the design lens

As for the value of the design approach we saw it as this:

  • An insatiable sense of curiosity
  • An ability to use prototyping as a means of framing problems and defining questions
  • Visualising
  • Analysis and synthesising
  • Being opportunistic (finding the design opportunity)

The initial ‘napkin’ version of this is below.


At various points in the two days we would report back to the larger group of people. Below Cameron Tonkinwise is presenting our work. Clive Dilnot from Parsons in NYC looks on.


Discussions over dinner and outside the formal sessions fired us up to accelerate our process of discussion and link it to REAL research, rather than discuss in the abstract. The Berlin PhD students shared their work with us and provided a great focus for exploring how design researchers applied the principles we had defined the previous day. We also began to define some personas (as we initially described them) of how researchers behave in a research context. This evolved into a set of roles. The idea is that the role taken on by a researcher (whether a PhD student or a project director at the head of a large team) constantly shifts. It is important to be aware of how these shifts occur as this reframes our relationships with others and determines how we see the subject of our research.

We decided to move towards creating a real tool, a concrete outcome of the two days that we and others could go off and use and adapt further. The tool is about translation, but it is also about framing questions, and framing our own practices in research (and creative practice), hence transframers. I took on the task of creating a website in the final hour of our discussion, leading up to a public presentation of all the deliberations coming out of the two day event. That accounts for its very rough character.

We presented Transframers to an audience of 150 or so people as a drama, with Cameron as the sagely professor and Rachel and I as two very difficult and problematic PhD students. And we are all rather hoping that evidence of this never finds its way onto YouTube.

So what is design research? Find out

Today marked the start of my postgraduate module on design research for our new Masters students at Dundee. We have around 40 students from around the world (from Bahrain to Beijing, Romania to Rio, US to UK, etc) covering our three courses in Design for Services, Product Design and Design Ethnography. So far a great bunch of individuals who seemed not to mind about being lectured at for eight hours.

The way we teach at Dundee is to compress the taught delivery into one week blocks, followed by three week projects supported by tutorials. That makes the initial week somewhat intense. In addition to my own sessions, today we had short but inspiring and informative lectures from Catriona Macaulay, Hazel White and Jonathan Baldwin. The lectures comprise a vital element in the module in terms of setting the direction, providing the inspiration and energy and giving the personal insights based on our own experiences.

However, even without the lectures there’s a great deal that you can gain from the module – even if you’re not attending it. In common with most of our postgraduate design modules at Dundee, we make the content and supporting materials all available online. From the link on this post you can get access to the materials we provide our postgraduate students with. Explore the module website and follow up the further reading and links we provide.

Social design – research resources

Applying design thinking to complex social issues, such as those explored by our Masters students at Dundee, requires a critical, well informed understanding of the underlying issues, a grasp of the broad theoretical approaches and an awareness of where to find current research on relevant themes. This blog post is intended to develop over time into a useful resource on the research that is available. It may evolve into a wiki – but let’s see. To begin with I have grouped useful sources of research below.

Just to make clear – this is NOT a research guide to the skills, methods and perspectives of service design. This can be found elsewhere. The priority here is to equip students (and practitioners) with the contextual knowledge and understanding of social changes and challenges, together with some of the institutional/political issues involved in designing for public services and communities. As it currently stands it is far from comprehensive – and I welcome any comments to improve the scope of this listing. Also note that it is designed primarily for postgraduate students of design in Scotland – which accounts for an overwhelming UK bias, although I think that there is some value here for those outside the UK.

The role of design in public services

Design has a considerable role to play in the development of public services. At the start of your project it is worth familiarising yourself with some recent commentaries which are linked below. These help place your specific project into a broader context. As you will see, this new interest in design’s potential is in large part driven by the need to improve efficiencies in the delivery of services, and is also linked to policy frameworks such as the Big Society. Bear in mind that the Big Society is a highly contentious concept, and you should be familiar with some of the debates around it.

Role of social design in public services – Guardian article

Public services by Design – Design Council initiative

Public services by design – Guardian article

Innovation by design in public services – series of articles and excellent overview.

Public services by design: using design principles to improve local areas – Guardian article

What does it mean to design public services? – Guardian

Blog from the London School of Economics on design in public services.

Social by social – New technologies are changing the way we engage communities, run companies, deliver public services, participate in government and campaign for change – very useful resource.

Understanding society

It is essential that designers approach socially located projects with humility, respect and an admission of their own strengths and weaknesses. Designers have expertise in creative methods, visualisation and problem solving. These strengths can play a vital role in empowering communities, helping stakeholders to solve problems and develop their own creative thinking. However, without an understanding of the deeper context and dynamics of community development, healthcare or social change, then their work can be uninformed, misdirected or even dangerously naive. The inherent danger is of giving people a false sense of expectation.

We do not expect you to be experts in social science, but we do expect you to acquire an essential social literacy that is appropriate to your project domain. This will help you to understand and appreciate the perspectives of those other specialist professionals you will be working with, and the complexity of issues such as healthcare or poverty. A sense of history is also vital.

We recommend making use of the open access learning materials from The Open University as an essential prerequisite of undertaking your project.

Especially for students from outside Scotland and the UK, a basic understanding of social change in British communities is vital. The stories behind our streets looks at social change in cities such as Sheffield, Glasgow, Manchester and Cardiff. There is an archive of articles and learning materials on social policy that is worth browsing for your specific interests.

Understanding Scotland – An introduction to the history of Scotland including aspects of social change and social problems.

Poverty in Scotland – Contributions from leading academics, voluntary sector campaigners and practitioners, highlight the distinctive features of Scotland’s experience of poverty and the extent to which devolved and reserved policies have contributed to progress in tackling it.

The meaning of crime – Explores the attitudes to crime and how it is socially defined.

Problem populations, problem places – The entanglements of welfare, crime and society. It encourages you to think through these entanglements through a focus on ‘problem populations and problem places’.

The limits to primary care – Access to community services.

Introducing public health  – Introduces some key elements of public health and health promotion, using a video case study of Coventry. It focuses on the major determinants of health and ill health and the scope of public health work.

Understanding and engaging deprived communities – UK Home Office Report

In addition to the specific recommended materials above, we encourage you to browse the learning materials on social science for areas of more specific relevance to your project.

Think tanks

“A think tank (or policy institute) is an organization that conducts research and engages in advocacy in areas such as social policy, political strategy, economics, military, and technology issues.” Most of them are non-profit and non-governmental, although there are exceptions to this. They tend to have a political orientation, which you need to appreciate in order to understand the objectives that their research seeks to pursue. A full list of UK think tanks can be found here.

These organisations are a vital source of research on the issues you are dealing with. They are in most cases seeking to explore innovation in public service delivery, conduct high level robust research and – most importantly – make their work freely available. But it is vital that you understand the political and/or policy perspectives that they are seeking to pursue.

Alongside some of the Think Tanks listed below I have given some examples of recent publications as an indication of the type of research they publish.

Adam Smith Institute

A right of centre think tank (in the interests of balance!). Social and community issues is not a priority, but they have produced publications on health service reform that argues for a pro-market approach.

Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion

Claims to be “the UK’s leading not-for-profit company dedicated to tackling disadvantage and promoting social inclusion in the labour market.” They have published research on employment, social inclusion, poverty, welfare and welfare reform and other issues. All research available online.


Established in the early 1990s to address a perceived crisis in politics, it developed into a largely pro New Labour think tank, but has since returned to a less aligned organisation. It has undertaken some vital research in crime, citizenship, education, social mobility and capability building. All publications are online. Also includes the highly relevant Journey to the Interface project.

“Drawing on over 50 interviews with service innovators from the public, private and voluntary sectors The Journey to the Interface makes the case for a fresh approach to public service reform – an approach that is less about competition and contestability, and more about closing the gap between what people want and need, and what service organisations do.

The pamphlet argues that service design can offer policy makers and practitioners a vision for the transformation of public services, as well as a route to get there. It outlines an agenda for action which spells out how service design approaches can be applied systemically.”

Institute for Public Policy Research

Claims to be “the UK’s leading progressive thinktank. We produce rigorous research and innovative policy ideas for a fair, democratic and sustainable world.” Politically influential and broadly left of centre. Very useful publications which are largely all available online. You can also search by current research projects, which include work on communities.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

They conduct and commission research into poverty, housing, inequality, education, healthcare and other social issues. A respected, long established think tank that has respect across the political spectrum and has a comprehensive achive of online research reports and other publications.

Involving service users in shaping local services, a study by Age Concern London, brought commissioners and service users together to discuss how service users can be involved in shaping local services.

The project reflected on what’s happening at the moment and how user involvement in commissioning could work in practice.”



The King’s Fund

This is a well established and highly respected organisation that researches and campaigns on health and social care. All publications online and a good search system.

The New Economics Foundation

“An independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being. We aim to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions that challenge mainstream thinking on economic, environment and social issues.” Publications cover a range of issues, including social policy and well being.

Creating Stronger and More Inclusive Communities provides some lessons for positive action in the context of austerity.

This report is about innovations which unlock communities’ strengths and recognising that people with support needs can also be assets to their communities. It outlines seven principles for empowerment and inclusion for an age of austerity.”


“An independent charity with a mission to help people and organisations bring great ideas to life.” A considerable amount of highly relevant research available, including the co-production catalogue, examples of collaborative public services in action, with a particular focus on health and social care.

The co-production catalogue brings together some inspiring examples of collaborative public services in action, with a particular focus on health and social care.

The purpose of the catalogue is to enable practitioners to reflect on their own practice and the extent to which that represents co-production; and to enable them to learn about co-production practice. It combines a range of case studies, resources and other information on co-production in health settings as well as in other sectors, in the UK and internationally.”

The Nuffield Trust

Undertakes research on healthcare with an extensive archive of research reports.

The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce)

“An enlightenment organisation committed to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges.” A long standing commitment to applying design to social issues, and a range of publications and research reports available.

Social Market Foundation

“Cross-party think tank, developing innovative ideas across a broad range of economic and social policy.” Publications available on a range of issues including housing and communities, poverty, education, health and social care.

The Young Foundation

“Brings together insights, innovation and entrepreneurship to meet social needs. We have a track record of over 50 years’ success with ventures such as the Open University, Which?, the School for Social Entrepreneurs and Healthline (the precursor of NHS Direct).” Valuable range of publications that include social design.

The Open Book of Social Innovation is about the many ways in which people are creating new and more effective answers to the biggest challenges of our times: how to cut our carbon footprint; how to keep people healthy; how to end poverty. It describes the methods and tools for innovation being used across the world and across the different sectors – the public and private sectors, civil society and the household – and in the overlapping fields of the social economy, social entrepreneurship and social enterprise. It draws on inputs from hundreds of organisations around the world to document the many methods currently being used.”

The Work Foundation

“Research focuses on innovation and economic change, the role of cities, labour market disadvantage, health and wellbeing at work and how organisational change can promote good work.” Excellent archive of research reports.

Digital library

Having downloaded reports on relevant aspects of healthcare, social policy, crime prevention or whatever area of literature is most relevant, you need to archive this most appropriately and make sense of it in a way to inform your work. I recommend either Devonthink or Papers as excellent Mac applications for developing a digital library.

Arty farty’s contribution to science and technology research

On 15 July 2010, Vince Cable – the coalition government’s Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills – set out the choices facing the UK higher education sector in a speech. This included extensive reference to STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) disciplines, and how they are vital to economic competitiveness, research and scientific and technological progress. Then, in passing, he said that “what my father used to describe as ‘arty farty’ subjects feed into the rapidly growing and successful industries like creative design, publishing and music.” Really? Well, he is Secretary of State, so I am sure he has pored over the evidence on the subject. But here is some evidence that Vince Cable may be less familiar with.

The annual Morgan Stanley ‘Great Briton’ awards celebrated the highest achievements in the arts, business, sport, public life, and science and innovation. Each year four people were shortlisted for each of the awards. 2007’s shortlist for the Great Briton in Science and Innovation included a theoretical physicist from Imperial College, an international expert in the pathology of dinosaur bones and John McGhee, an Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded research student based in an art school. His digital animation research on 3D visualization strategies to improve disease understanding among patient groups has twice featured on BBC News and secured the front page of the Guardian’s education supplement (30 October 2007). John is an animator with a background in 3D design.

When crop geneticists provided printmaker Elaine Shemilt with their DNA data, their expectation of the science-art project was that it would result in some striking decorative prints that would liven up the walls of their research institute. However, the resulting prints revealed to them the occurrence of new elements and data patterns that they had previously been unable to perceive. The prints led directly to a whole new externally funded research project examining gene progression in pathogens. Within the decorative patterns, new knowledge became visible. Vital research in crop genetics was triggered by the work and insights of a fine art printmaker.

With a background in craft-making and product design, Graham Whiteley brought a highly idiosyncratic approach to his doctoral research on prosthetic design. To begin with, the medical physics specialist who was part of the supervisory team saw dubious value in Graham’s emphasis on life-drawing and model-making as his key research methods. Six years later, his research contributed to a new bionic arm and hand that has been hailed as one of the most significant breakthroughs in prosthetics.

We look to our art schools to produce great art and design, and their broader value is always pitched in terms of their contribution to Britain’s Creative Industries. However, their recently emergent research culture is producing something else as well: unique contributions to science, technology and innovation in fields far removed from ‘creative industries’. The examples above are taken from a book chapter I am working on that will be published later this year on The Hidden Value of Art & Design. The chapter explores art and design’s contribution to other specialist disciplines, to industrial competitiveness and innovation, and to social policy. In exploring this value, the chapter ventures from hospital wards to the suboceanic world; we will examine the role of designers in defining advanced manufacturing processes and the role of artists in scientific research; we will see how art and design researchers can contribute to crime prevention, prosthetic technologies and urban planning.

The cases I draw upon are not particularly new – but as Vince Cable’s comments suggest, this message on the wider value of art and design is simply not getting through. Recent research by Mary Schwarz and Dr Karen Yair for the Crafts Council is one recent addition to a growing literature on the wider economic and social value of creative disciplines, in the case of their research, craft specifically. So we need to marshal more evidence, more positive cases, and tell the story more effectively. Comments to this post that include other cases are most welcome, so that we can begin to assemble an up-to-date broad based and accessible listing that can help to strengthen research on this issue, and help tell our stories in a more powerful way.

The iPad as a research tool

This is a reworked version (April 2011) of an earlier post, which benefits from further dedicated time of trying hard to justify the iPad as a serious work tool for the jobbing academic.

So, you’re a research student or academic who has just laid their hands on a new iPad. How useful is it as a research tool? What advantages does it have over a laptop? Is it just a clever shiny gadget for watching movies on long train rides? Having been given one ten months ago, my initial impression was that it would prove more useful as a leisure device than as an essential work tool, but now it has found a unique and valuable role in my work flow as a jobbing academic researcher. This post sets out my observations in the hope that they will prove useful to others. I have downloaded all kinds of research and writing related apps, and tried them out. What this focuses on are either the ones that work for me – or which I know work for others, but for whatever reason do not quite fit my own way of working. My reflections are, of course, based on the original iPad, rather than the iPad 2. But if anyone would like to give me one of those, then I’d be more than happy to evaluate it.

Let us start with its key advantages over the laptop. Clearly, it’s smaller, lighter and with a longer battery life. For researchers these are important assets, particularly in research gathering settings where you want to be less obtrusive. Taking notes behind the dramatic sweep of a MacBook Pro’s 17″ lid does tend to draw attention to one’s self. So whether doing research in the field, or simply writing stuff up on the train, the iPad has certain physical advantages. The keypad takes some getting used to, but as a note taking tool it is very useful. However, the optional Apple iPad keyboard transforms the device into a serious writing machine for which there are some very good apps. A recent research trip to Africa made heavy use of the iPad and convinced me of its value.

Below I focus on four research uses for an iPad – as a research gathering tool, an idea development tool, a reading and browsing tool and as a research dissemination tool.

The iPad as a research gathering tool

Let us say that you’re doing research in the field. No, more specific: you’re doing research in a field. Unlikely, I know, but if you’re doing an ethnographic study of farm workers, or a survey of urban gardening, or surveying your locality for a Green Map, then this is possible. A laptop would work, although a bit clunky. Now let’s introduce an extra dimension: rain. At this point the laptop becomes a potentially disastrous liability – but not your iPad in a waterproof bag. A number of companies provide waterproof covers that enable the iPad to continue being operated. TrendyDigital is one such supplier, and there are others. So, we can safely gather data in all weather conditions, or just have the option of operating the iPad with our tongue.

I have used the iPad for note taking in meetings (inside, rather than in rain drenched fields), and have found the main key advantage is that the iPad is relatively unobtrusive. Well, that’s not strictly true. For the first ten minutes everyone gathers around and demands turns playing with it, but that’s just new gadgets for you. Eventually the novelty wears off and people forget that it’s an iPad. For note taking you have a considerable number of apps available, and I’ve tried many of them. Two, however, stand out.

SoundPaper gives you the option of taking a sound recording as you type your notes. Afterwards, when you click at a particular point in your notes, so it will play back from that same point in the recording. As the developers claim: “SoundPaper is perfect for students. If you ever fall asleep in class, don’t worry — SoundPaper’s got your back. Just tap what you wrote while you were awake, and SoundPaper will play the audio to help you fill in the blanks.” This does not apply to students here at Duncan of Jordanstone College, given the highly engaging quality of our lecturing staff, and on the odd occasion that students do nod off, we throw hard objects at them. As my colleague Catriona Macaulay, who runs our MSc Design Ethnography programme suggests, SoundPaper has great potential in design ethnography research. Having used it in several different settings, I find it one of the most useful and distinctive apps for the iPad. The only downside is its reliance on email as the sole method of transferring your notes to your Mac.

Notebooks is much more a research and writing tool than merely a note taking tool, and is an essential app if you are going to do any serious work. There is a detailed review here, but I will add a few observations of my own. You can integrate it with Safari, organise your notes in various ways, import and export in a range of formats, and do this wirelessly if you wish. You can use it to set up to-do lists, which can also be integrated with OmniFocus and other applications. Hugely well featured and very well designed. In short, an essential app for research and writing. I have found it much more useful than Apple’s own Pages for iPad, which I cannot really see the point of. A good iPad app should work to the distinctiveness of the iPad, and overcome some of its inherent shortcomings. Pages, which you have to sync via iTunes, just makes the whole process clunky.

Evernote is another research tool for the iPad. To be honest, I never really took to Evernote on the Mac, so I have not used it on the iPad. Hoever, some people I know have done, and swear by it. So, in the interests of balance, here is a review that sets out many of Evernote’s positive qualities.

Note Taker HD lets you take handwritten notes and sketch. It is a well designed app, and could work for people who prefer writing to typing. I’m not one of them. The interesting thing about it is that it is developed by Dan Bricklin, who 30 years ago designed VisiCalc, the ground-breaking spreadsheet programme. The thing that really really didn’t work for me was writing with my finger. It just feels wrong. So, I made my own stylus for the iPad based on this DIY design. Instead of adapting a biro, I found that a paintbrush that has a metal casing for the bristles works better for holding the conductive foam. If all this means nothing to you, then watching the video in the last link will make all things crystal like. The interface is cumbersome and complicated, as the screengrab below demonstrates.

MUJI Notebook is a very recently launched app that, like Note Taker HD, allows you to write on screen. However it also incorporates handwriting recognition – although to be honest either the software is a little wanting, or my handwriting is somewhat illegible: I’ve yet to get it to work well. It has some advantages over Note Taker in that you can import PDFs and photos and annotate them, and the interface is very intuitive.

The iPad as an idea development tool

The iPad has great potential as a tool to capture visual thinking – ie: the visualisation of complex ideas, and the relationship between them. But I have yet to find an app that really hits this potential. Notebooks is great for playing with ideas as text, but there is no visual dimension. On the Mac I use Mind Node alongside the brilliant Scrivener, which has a corkboard for restructuring the main elements of a writing project.

It was my desire to find some Scrivener-like thinking environment on the iPad that drew me to Corkulous.

As the image above shows, Corkulous provides a corkboard for tasks, notes and images, and the flexibility to move them around freely and have boards nested within other boards. As a basic idea it holds promise, but is not yet fully featured sufficiently to do much more than plan a shopping trip. But what the app does suggest is the potential for visual thinking on the iPad.

Popplet builds on this in a more visually useful way, incorporating aspects of mindmapping. Like Corkulous, it is a promising app, but it falls down in terms of export options – which are limited – and not fully using the distinctive interface of the iPad. It is also overpriced.

iThoughtsHD is by far the best visual thinking tool for the iPad. Unlike Corkulous and Popplet, it recognises that the user will, at some point, want to transfer the ideas developed into another application and work on them further. The export options are comprehensive, and overall the app has a real sense of quality to it.

I use writing as a way of developing ideas, so a good writing app is essential. Right now there is only one serious contender – Writer. Steven Fry loves it, which may or may not persuade you, but as a former Rector of the University of Dundee it should! A beautiful writing environment, uncluttered, simple, focussed.

The iPad for reading and browsing

This is where the iPad excels, and proves itself as far more usable than a laptop. It is, simply, a brilliant device for reading and navigating. So, I’m off to a conference in London. All the files I need – PDFs, DOCs, Pages and image files, etc. – I transfer onto the iPad with GoodReader. It’s a very simple but effective document reader, keeping everything accessible in one place, such as conference agenda, maps, hotel bookings, etc. Any file I think I’ll need to edit, such as speaking notes, I transfer into Notebooks. On the way down on the train, I use the time to read some articles and academic papers.

Papers is an application for the Mac, iPad and iPhone by Mekentosj that describes itself as “your personal library of research”. As I written elsewhere, it is an outstanding application that lets you find, download, file and tag research papers. The parts of your library you want to transfer to the iPad are then accessible for reading. You can also search online and download them from the iPad version of Papers, although – to be honest – it’s easier to do this from the Mac version. And the iPad is just great for reading. Other tools I use on on the Mac, such as Instapaper, are also available as iPad apps.

As for an RSS feed reader, Pulse is easily the best. It was designed in five weeks by two graduate students and has a beautiful mosaic type interface to browse items in your feeds. It has such a well considered design which many other apps could usefully learn from. It costs around two pounds, and is worth every penny.

Flipboard – like Pulse – is one of the few apps so far that really ‘gets’ the iPad. It’s a twitter and facebook reader that turns the content into a magazine style output that totally enhances readability. Just use it – you’ll see how it makes a difference to your use of twitter.

The iPad as a research dissemination tool

Let’s begin with micro-dissemination via twitter. On the Mac I use TweetDeck, and had tried with the iPad version, but it kept crashing and appears fairly buggy. I’ll try it again if another version is released, but in the meantime I’ve become a fan of Osfoora HD. Like Pulse, it has a beautiful, elegant design with great usability and all the functionality that you need. Next, blogging – and given the location of my blog – WordPress for iPad – is a useful app that works well.

Overall the iPad is good for informal presentations of work. All singing and dancing Keynote presentations do not work – so little of the Mac’s Keynote functionality transfers over to the iPad – but I have found that slideshows of images, or playing videos works very well, with people gathered around to see. It provides more informality to ‘presenting your work’.

In summary….

The great thing about the iPad is getting away from bloated, over specified software that simply gets in the way of doing things. The apps above, especially the outstanding ones, do only one thing, but do it spectacularly well, making full use of the iPad’s interface.

And who am I to write all this? Well, I do research and writing for a living, so I’ve some justification for sharing my views. Also, I have a bit of experience using such devices. Back in 1985, when computers were small on memory and functionality, and their users were big on hair and shoulder pads, I bought a Tandy TRS-80 – a little laptop with 32K memory and a tiny text only screen. But it was mobile and had a built in modem, and I thought it was magic. It synced with my Amstrad PCW. Well, I say “sync”. Back then “sync” was just a fancy way of describing an avocado coloured washbasin. I actually wrote part of a book chapter on it, and remember sitting in Hyde Park on a sunny day with the Tandy on my lap thinking that this was the way to go. Of course, the 32K of memory filled pretty quickly so after an hour’s work in the park, all I could do was feed the ducks. It’s taken 25 years, but now it really is the way to go. Does anyone know of a virtual duck feeding app?

Recent publications

Two recent publications. First is a small piece in Homes and Interiors Scotland, May/June 2010 as part of their “I Love This….” series. I was asked to write about a Scottish building that I love. I chose to write about the red telephone box, which is an iconic and highly effective example of public design. You can read the piece here. The second is an interview with me entitled designing a better world – a profile piece in a newspaper.

Craft research

This post follows up references made in the craft research lecture.


The following books were referred to:

Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capitalism includes references to craft working, from the context of industrial sociology in a highly readable analysis of labour process theory.

E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class provides a spirited and highly rigorous case for how craft skills and knowledge provided the foundation of industrial culture and development.

David Pye’s The Nature and Art of Workmanship provides the argument on the workmanship of risk and the workmanship of certainty.

Jeremy Rifkin’s The End of Work, argues for the emergence and significance of the Third Sector.

Malcolm McCullough’s Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand is an excellent read which argues for a correspondence between digital process and traditional craft.

Randall White, based at New York University, was one of the first to recognize the evolutionary importance of personal adornment and its critical role in the organization and demographic expansion of modern humans – in other words, how jewellery was a defining issue in the development of human culture. His book on Prehistoric Art, argues this more fully.

Learning through making

The Crafts Council sponsored Learning Through Making Project brought together research teams from Loughborough, Middlesex and Sheffield Hallam Universities to explore and define the value and nature of craft learning. The research also tackled the nature, relevance and value of contemporary craft practices. The project, which was conducted as three separate but related strands, has produced a considerable number of publications. Some of those that are available on-line are listed below:

The Craft’s Council’s own extensive end of project final report.

A transcript of the two day conference held at the British Library which included presentations by the research teams and other invited speakers on the theme of learning through making.

A follow-up report published by the Arts Council: from learning to earning.

The Sheffield Hallam project was concerned with exploring the value of higher education in crafts, providing data on employment destinations (including the first longitudinal study of the employment of craft design graduates) and an analysis of the nature and value of craft learning at degree level. Publications include: an executive summary of the whole project, a paper presented to a conference of EAD held in Stockholm, and a more polemical piece – A New Vision in the Making – published in Crafts Magazine.

Design and Technology Education

There is significant theory and research that arises from the field of pedagogy research in design and technology. This has considerable application to research in craft, as Peter Walters’ recent thesis demonstrated. Here are some links:

The Recycling Exhibition

Curated by Louise Taylor when she was at Craftspace Touring (before becoming Director of the Crafts Council), the Recycling Show opened at the Crafts Council gallery in 1996 before touring the UK. At the time it was the most visited exhibition that the Crafts Council had held, securing media coverage that included a half page in the FT, and reviews and features in much of the popular and specialist media. In many respects it was a significant show, demonstrating how makers can engage with the issue of recycling in different ways, and engaging the public in a highly imaginative way. An extended version of my essay for the exhibition catalogue is the only on-line record of the show.

Recycled glass research

The research project conducted at Sheffield Hallam University under the direction of Jim Roddis, is an exemplary project on how craft research can define a research agenda and develop new insights and applications that have more widespread environmental and commercial value. It has resulted in a material – Ttura – and there have been a number of papers published that describe the research process, including this one.

Craft-based research degrees

My paper – It’s Research, Jim… – drew heavily on the work of Carole Gray and Julian Malins, in particular this: Gray, C., & Malins, J. (1993). Research Procedures / Methodology for Artists and Designers. In Principles and Definitions, Winchester College of Art, on behalf of the European Postgraduate Art and Design Group (ISSN/ISBN: 095-159-043X).

Below I have grouped some links to work and publications by current and former research students whose approach could be classified as “craft-based”, although the extent to which they would agree on such a definition is another issue. This is clearly far from exhaustive and focusses on those who I have either supervised or examined. However, they are all outstanding researchers who have in different ways brought considerable innovation and insights to craft research.

Katie Bunnell, a research student at Gray’s supervised by Julian Malins, and currently based at Falmouth College of Art. Her research explored the integration of digital process within studio ceramics. Links include: summary overview of her PhD research, a further summary that has more detail on the visual nature of her electronic thesis, the transcript of an interview with her, and her current research project.

Graham Whiteley‘s PhD was entitled “An Articulated Skeletal Analogy of the Human Upper-Limb” – essentially he was tackling prosthetic design research through a methodology that made considerable use of craft techniques such as physical prototyping and drawing. The research output comprises a thesis which was structured as an annotated sketchbook and a series of models and components. On-line are photographs of his work, a Yorkshire Post article that explains how his research contributed to a 2005 Space Shuttle mission, and his current project. Chris Rust, his supervisor at Sheffield Hallam, is a highly significant researcher and writer in the field of pratice-centred research. Two papers that the two of them co-authored are available on-line: knowledge and the artefact, and experimental making in multi-disciplinary research.

Jayne Wallace‘s continuing research is in the field of digital jewellery. With a background as a jeweller, craft making has been an integral element of the methodology, which has also incorporated cultural probes research. Her research homepage provides a summary of the project, together with links to a number of publications. Like Graham, her research has demonstrated the value of craft research far outside the traditional domain of craft, in her case arising in publications in the field of HCI. Significant publications include the experience of enchantment in hci, co-authored with specialists from that field, craft knowledge for the digital age, and her keynote address to the 2004 Challenging Craft conference – sometimes I forget to remember.

Peter Walters has recently completed his PhD in human-centred design, that explores and demonstrates the value of physical prototyping to contemporary design practices. Weaving together theoretical and practical research, the thesis represents an epistomology of making. Again, as in the case of the two researchers above, Peter’s craft-based research has application outside the field of craft, having application to the problem of medical misconnection errors in healthcare. Peter’s research home page includes links to several publications and a summary of the research. There is also a link to the paper he presented to the EAD conference in Barcelona.

Other research students include Sarah Kettley, Jenny Downs and Katherine Townsend, and of course Jane Harris. It is only lack of time currently that precludes elaboration on the work of these (and other) excellent researchers.

Craft and digital process

This will also be expanded when there is more time. The essential links (referred to in the seminar) are:

Finally, the Craft Connexity paper written by Julian Malins, Chris McKillop and myself for the 2004 Challenging Craft Conference.

Finally, check out our blog on craft research, and the conference held in July 2007 at the University of Dundee.