Category Archives: Design

How Deborah Sim is turning our sexual history into objects for your home

Sex+Objects_logoI met Deborah Sim a few months ago in BIPC St Pancras, researching the market for sex objects. Not having come across this concept before, I wanted to know more.

After studying the history of sex for a masters degree, using the British Library’s vast collection which I wrote about in 2013, (Private Case – Public Scandal – The secret books in the British Library), Deborah wanted to bring some of the amazing stories to life.

Gabriel Lawrence figurineA perfect example is this Rococo style figurine of Gabriel Lawrence. For  £550 you can purchase a 27cm high, hand decorated figurine of the famous cross-dressing milkman hanged for sodomy in 1726.

“This traditional figurine depicts Gabriel Lawrence, a burly milkman, who frequented the infamous molly houses of London in the early 1700s.

He was arrested during the infamous raid on Mother Clapp’s in Field Lane, as part of a movement by The Society of the Reformation of Manners to eradicate lewd, profane and immoral activities throughout the city.

Gabriel, and two companions, William Griffin and Thomas Wright, were convicted of sodomy and sentenced to death. All three were hanged on the gallows at Tyburn in the spring of 1726.”

Other opportunities to “Buy curious” on Deborah’s Sex Objects website include lampshades and cushions in her Soho Illuminations collection which document the iconic neon signs. I remember some of these garish lights from visits to 1970’s London, trying to lure in ‘punters’ from the Soho streets.Soho-neon

Or, how about this set of napkins sure to start a dinner party conversation…

“Based on an original design from London’s infamous Thélème Club the map is a thinly disguised guide to cottaging in 1930’s London. On them, public lavatories are marked alongside popular tourist attractions, such as London Zoo and Westminster Abbey. The toilets are charmingly represented by what appears to be jousting tents, perhaps intended to invoke a suggestion of two knights coming together wielding their erect lances. Mirroring this theme, two lavatory attendants, brandishing toilet brushes, can be seen reclining in the foreground.”

napkins

 

I was curious about how Deborah was going to test out the market for these intriguing gifts. Following the Lean Start-Up approach we are so keen on in the BIPC, she turned her flat into a museum shop. For the two weeks of the annual Heritage Open Days event in September she welcomed visitors into her home and tested the market for her Sex Objects.

Selling out almost all of her stock, it is safe to say the results were positive. Now she needs to move on to promoting her website sexobjectslondon.com to interested customers across the country.

Jump electric hire bike

The future of cycle hire is bright – really bright

This morning on my daily commute to work, pedaling hard on my Brompton bike, with its muted shade of blue, I spotted a really bright red bike across the road.

BlueBrompton

My ‘boring blue’ Brompton.

On closer inspection it turned out to be a brand new Jump electric cycle from innovative taxi company Uber.

Jump electric hire bike

A Jump bike in all its red glory.

As my eyeballs started to recover from the searingly bright red colour, I started thinking about how business like these really need to stand-out in order to be noticed by their potential customers. A rival to Jump is the Lime E electric hire bike scheme which started in San Francisco and launched here late last year.

lime-e-bike

The Lime E bike is also very eye-catching.

Based on non-scientific observations during my commute, I would say the lime green colour is slightly less noticeable than the red of Jump. And I wonder if potential hirers might be put off by the unfortunate similarity to Limey, the term of insult historically used by Americans about Brits.

The bright yellow Ofo bikes although very visible, failed after just a few months proving that although the market is growing it is also unstable.

ofo-bikeBright yellow, but not successful in the UK.

The original bike hire scheme in London is now called the Santander Cycle Scheme. And I first experienced it nearly ten years ago My first ride on a ‘Boris Bike’. Luckily for them they don’t need to be as noticeable as they can only be hired from fixed locations, unlike their ‘free roaming’ competitors above.

Santander hire bike scheme

The first bike hire scheme in London, incorrectly known as Boris Bike.

Update:
I was interested to read a comparison of Jump and Lime E in the Evening Standard on my way home last night, Uber vs Lime: London’s dockless electric bikes are put to the test.

The Ass Saver that stops you getting a wet bum on your bike

Ass Savers logoSo many entrepreneurs I meet want to have a name that describes what their product does. But ironically the UK IPO may not allow you to register a name as a trade mark if “it is a descriptive word or term.”

For example Apple Inc would not be allowed to register their trade mark for fruit, as it would block everyone else from using the word apple. Much better is come up with a clever play on words that gets across what your product does. Even better if it achieves it in a fun way.

Now that autumn is here in London, it is time to think about trying to stay dry when travelling around the city. I wrote about Dry Patch – A BIPC success story with a great sense of humour a while ago. But more recently have spotted quite a few of these on my commute to work.

Ass saver

The name Ass Savers may not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly is short, simple and memorable – the most important aspects of a trade mark.

So far the owners have only registered the name under Nice Class 12, Vehicles and Conveyances for Bicycle mudguards. So it looks as though they aren’t ready to take over the world with their brand just yet.

Update! 24 October 2017

One of our clients designer Roderick Brosse at the Business & IP Centre has just won the the top award at this weekend’s British Invention Show with a minimal mudguard. His “Mud Bug” won the Diamond Award for British Invention.

Roderick has yet to find a manufacturer for his impressive invention, so watch this space.

mudbugpic

SpedDial

Speeding up my Brompton folding with SpedDial

Brompton from aboveI have been commuting to work on my Brompton for over three years now. Farewell Boris Bikes – hello to the Brompton folding-bike experience. I have written a few blog posts about my experience (15 learnings from a year of Brompton cycle commuting in London), and little ways I have tried to improve the bike (The safest thing on my bicycle is my Mirrycle).

This time I am experimenting with an improved Hinge Clamp Kit from SpedDial. I had already created something of a bodge solution using springs and plastic metal.

I came across the invention after recently joining the Brompton Hacks Group on Facebook. A post from SpedDial creator Stephan Bianchi piqued my interest. The link to his website included a video demonstrating a much improved version of the Brompton clamp.

SpēdDial Folds Fast from Stephan Bianchi on Vimeo.

The key is the dimpled handle which allows you spin it around really quickly.

SpedDial

I expressed my interest to Stephan and he explained he had sent a batch to Brilliant Bikes in Chobham. I rang them to order a set, but they hadn’t arrived. Soon after I received an email asking if I would like to test out SpedDial for them. I jumped at the chance, and a couple of days later received the little package below in the post.

Below is my amateur attempt at improving the clamp.

And here is the shiny new SpedDial replacement

So now for the big question… is it any good? And the answer is an emphatic yes. Actually it is brilliant.

It solves several problems:

  • It stops the metal bracket from twisting and blocking the fold
  • Using the finger dimple makes turning the knob much less fiddly
  • It saves time. I have set mine to just four turns from closed to open.
  • It prevents the bolt from falling out
  • The same lock nut gives you a predictable fold, so the handlebars no-longer fall on my leg.

My new Blazing Saddle ignited by my Burner light

Blaze logoI have been watching the Crowdfunding scene for quite a few years now. It has now grown into a important source of money for many start-ups. It is also a great way to test the market for new ideas. Following the Lean start-up approach we advocate in the Business & IP Centre.

I’ve seen lots of new exciting new products over the years, and I’ve been tempted in invest in quite a few. But it wasn’t until I saw the impressive Kickstarter campaign for the Blaze Burner rear bicycle light that I committed. The aim was to create the ultimate back light for cyclists. With 100 lumens of brightness to help make the rider visible to even the most distracted of London drivers.

blaze-bus-02-sAlso, it came from the Blaze company founded by Emily Brooke and Philip Ellisby. They had previously used crowdfunding to launch their revolutionary front safety light for cycles. The original Blaze light combines a very bright white light with a green laser, which projects a symbol of a bike onto the road several meters ahead. The idea is to make bikes more visible to cars and particularly large vehicles turning left at junctions. A high proportion of cycle accidents are caused by drivers being unaware of a rider coming-up on the inside.

The Blaze has been a spectacular success, and is about to be installed across the London Cycle Hire network – officially called Santander Cycles, but more popularly known as Boris Bikes, (despite being introduced by Ken Livingston the previous Mayor of London).

So when I saw the very professionally produced video announcing the Kickstarter campaign for the Burner, I signed up the next day. By then it was already fully funded (in just one day). And went on to raise £153,636 from 2,208 backers, instead of the initial goal of £35,000.

blaze-burner-rear-light-1Since the campaign closed, the team have been on something of a roller-coaster ride. With quite a few technical and supplier problems along the way. This meant the original production date of April slipped by several months. The team kept the backers updated with the issues and delays. So it was with great delight that I finally got to open the package above this week. Just in time for use during the dark evening rides home.

Hopefully you can see from my photos, the light is a very high quality product. Which is one of the reasons the company delayed distribution. It is innovative, in that it shows you the level of battery charge each time you turn it on. It also has a setting to turn the light on automatically when the ambient light level is low, such as in a tunnel or tree-lined route.

blaze-burner-rear-light-4It is early days in terms of usage, but so far I am very happy with the light and the quality of its components, such as the flexible mounting bracket and powerful magnetic attachment.

For me the brightest setting is actually too bright, so I am using it on the normal steady mode, which is claimed lasts 60 hours per charge via the handy USB cable.

So I am feeling triply happy with myself. I own an innovative high quality product. I got a discount for being an early backer. And I am supporting a fledgling UK company, making a great UK designed and assembled product.

Update

I’m still happy with my Burner light, but perhaps if I’d had a bit more nerve I might have gone for Bike Balls instead.

bike-balls

I think they describe the product far better than I could:

In a world filled with disgruntled drivers who hate sharing the road, you need some pretty serious balls to ride a bicycle these days. The morning commute is crying out for a little humour to diffuse the tension, and as a cyclist you need to be noticed! It’s in this spirit that Bike Balls were created.

Bike Balls are a raunchy rear bike light designed to be mounted beneath your bicycle saddle – they dangle off the seat rail and playfully bob-around as you ride. The simple mounting system is secure enough to stay on during bumpy rides whilst remaining easy to attach and take off.

Made from waterproof silicone, this durable scrotum houses a powerful red LED to alert drivers to your presence. Just give them a gentle squeeze to turn them on (just like the real thing) and to switch between the various light modes. They’re as functional as they are hilarious.

Grab yourself a pair today.

More info
Product Features:
The World’s most over confident bike light
Turn them off and on (and switch modes) with a gentle a squeeze
High-grade silicone body with integrated strap and switch
Water/splash resistant construction, built to last
Super efficient red LED
Three light modes – solid light / slow flashing / fast flashing
Powered by 2xCR2032 replaceable batteries
Battery lasts for ~100 hours (solid light mode) or ~190 hours (flashing mode)
Includes 2 zip-ties for semi-permanent installation
Funded within 3 days on Kickstarter

 

 

 

The safest thing on my bicycle is my Mirrycle

mirrycle_logoDuring my year of cycle commuting across the capital (15 learnings from a year of Brompton cycle commuting in London) I have become increasingly safety conscious.

My first step was to buy a cheap and cheerful cycle helmet, mostly to placate my concerned partner. At that point I was still doubtful about its value as there was some evidence to the contrary (Cycle helmets are useless, says brain surgeon). However, after a few months mingling with cars, buses, lorries and other cyclists, I started to appreciate the fragility of the human head. Especially when it has the potential of coming into contact with any of these solid metal vehicles, or even just a patch of hard tarmacadam road. So recently I upgraded my helmet to an ‘urban’ model with more protection, and hopefully a tad more style.

giro-sutton-helmet

My Giro Sutton bash hat

Next came a choice that drops me off the bottom of the fashion scale. My fluorescent orange and yellow safety vest may be a faux-pas from a style perspective, but it certainly gets me noticed – which is the point of wearing it. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen car drivers and pedestrians glance in my direction, then doing a double-take and stopping their imminent move into my path, as the bright colours of my vest hit their brain receptors.

I spent my formative years riding a motorbike on London roads, so I know that anything on two wheels is effectively invisible to most other road users. I still remember the “I’m sorry – I didn’t see you” from when I was knocked down by a car in the Walworth Road in 1989. And I really want to avoid hearing it again.

In those days it was the engine driving the wheels rather than my legs, and the two rear-view mirrors were something of an irrelevance. The acceleration of my motorbike meant I needed to focus on what was in front of me, not behind me.

Mirrycle-Barend-Mirror-MTB-2

I can see behind with my Mirrycle mirror

On a pedal powered bike it is more of a fifty-fifty front and rear. I still need to concentrate on the road ahead for rogue pedestrians and cars pulling out in front of me. But I also need to be aware of what is coming up behind me. Is it a taxi who is going to squeeze me into the kerb, or a bus desperately trying to get the stop in front of me, or a monster truck who’s air draft is going to blow me over.

I am even at risk from young Lycra clad cyclists, who I’m sure see an old codger like me riding a Brompton in a suit, as someone they can whiz past. So the ability to see them bearing down on me at speed, and so give them space to pass, is very helpful to both of us.

I still look round behind me quite a bit too, using what the Police call the lifesaver. This tends be before a manoeuvre, or to make eye contact with a driver who is about to cut me up.

Knowing what is going on behind me gives me choices and avoids dangerous surprises. So that makes my Mirrycle perhaps my most valuable investment in terms of safety on my trusty Brompton. In fact based on my experience I would recommend that every bike should be fitted with at least one mirror as a standard safety feature.

Update November 2015

Interesting to see Garmin have now come out with a radar system for detecting vehicles sneaking up behind you. I still think my mirror will do for now.

Lego jumps into the virtual world of Minecraft with a splash

lego_worlds_manI have written before about Lego’s remarkable comeback story, and how more recently they have adopted a crowdsourcing approach to developing new product ranges – Lego gets into bed with Dr Who. They have also spread their brand into the digital space over the years including Lego movies and television shows, and successful computer games such as Lego Batman which has been officially recognised as the best-selling superhero videogame of all time.

However, despite a previous attempt with  Lego Universe in 2010 (which only lasted a couple of years), they have allowed Minecraft to become the monopoly player in the digital building block market place. Started by Markus Persson in 2009 it has grown to a user base of 70 million, and in September of 2014 was taken over by Microsoft in a $2.5 billion deal.

But now It turns out that Lego has not been idle during the spectacular growth of Minecraft and recently ‘soft-launched’ Lego Worlds on Steam for beta testing.

Lego Worlds is an open-world construction and exploration game in which every single element is constructed from digital Lego components. Players can change the existing worlds, or construct their own. Each landscape contains Lego vehicles, mini-figures and creatures (including the essential dragon), and are all based on real-life play-sets.

My step-son is a Lego fanatic in all of its incarnations, as well as being a keen Minecraft player. So after seeing a rave review from the influential Nerd Cubed on his YouTube channel, he was keen to buy a copy for the relatively modest cost of £11.99.

Once the download was complete he was in seventh heaven exploring the vast Lego worlds available on the system. I was amazed by the superb quality of the graphics, with the tiniest details of the real-world Lego pieces recreated on the screen. In addition to being able to travel around the virtual worlds either on foot or by climbing on board available transport such as motorbikes and horses, it was possible to recreate entire models using a ‘magic’ wand. So a helicopter or house could be conjured up within seconds and put to use.

This virtual Lego world contained the by now traditional elements seen in Minecraft of the ability to mine and build, whilst having to fight off scary monsters in the shape of Lego skeletons. But it had the added attraction of the full set of models carried over from the real-world available to build and adapt.

The beta test is due to continue until early 2016, and it will be fascinating to see how successful this game will become once fully launched into the market.

15 learnings from a year of Brompton cycle commuting in London

It’s been over a year since I bought my Brompton folding bicycle to help cope with my long-distance commute from Eastbourne. I have to admit there was a steep learning curve to get the complex folding system (there is only one way to do it right – but lots of ways to do it wrong). And adapting to the hyper-sensitive steering (which does become something of an advantage once mastered), took much longer. But apart from these early niggles, the bike has been a joy to own and use.

Brompton_Fold

So let’s start with a list of negatives from a year in the saddle:

  1. The almost daily stories of death and injury, often appearing on the cover of Evening Standard, make me question the risks I am taking.
    London_Evening_Standard_23_6_2015
  2. Having to share the road with tipper trucks, articulated lorries, and buses. They are noisy, big and scary for a cyclist.
  3. Fellow cyclists who blatantly ignore red lights. I can see the temptation to get going, but they give all of us such a bad name.
  4. Taxi drivers who squeeze you into the curb. I wonder if it is deliberate, or perhaps they just didn’t they see me? On reflection I would say a combination of their skill and experience, probably means it is a conscious action.
  5. Teenage scooter drivers with some kind of ‘death-wish’ who cut through the smallest of gaps and swerve across multiple lanes of traffic.
  6. Pot-holes, which seem to multiply nearer the edge of the road (where I want to cycle), forcing me out into the path of cars and vans.
  7. Pedestrians with headphones and tunnel vision, determined to cross their patch of road, often right in front of me. They seem entirely oblivious to the world around them.
    Southwark Bridge blue cycle lane
  8. Badly thought out and implemented cycle lanes. For instance my daily route takes me over Southwark Bridge with its blue cycle highway. On the bridge I feel nice and safe with a concrete bollard between me and the heavy construction lorries. But coming off the bridge, I have to filter through three lanes of those monsters, praying the lights don’t chance until I get to the safe haven of the cycle box at the front. It is genuinely scary.
  9. Cobbled back streets. I love the fact that London is steeped in history, but my bottom would appreciate some smoother tarmac please.

That was a bit depressing, so let’s end with some positives from the year of the Brompton:

  1. Mental health. According to an Evening Standard, one of the best ways of helping to develop a Mindfulness approach to live is to cycle regularly.Brompton from above
  2. Exercise. I can feel my legs getting stronger and my stomach getting a bit smaller every time I swing my leg over the Brompton’s saddle.
  3. Surprising pedestrians. My favourite trick is to stop for pedestrians as they step onto a zebra crossing. I usually have to wave them on, as they think it is some kind of trick, having become accustomed to cyclists cutting in front of them.
  4. Getting to work on time. I can usually get to work five minutes earlier than if I changed trains and relied on Thameslink to get me across central London.
  5. Knowing I can fold my bike up and get on the tube if necessary. So far I have only been ‘rained off’ once.
  6. Being able to get from Kings Cross to Oxford Circus in 15 minutes. It’s even quicker than the tube.

 

The Humble Cycle Clip

When I first started this blog back in 2006, my intention was to review a selection of significant product innovations and the impact they have had on our lives.

My post on the Paper Clip remains one of the most popular, but over the years I have rather neglected this topic.

But thanks to my daily ride aboard my Brompton folding bicycle, I found myself in need of one of the most simple products of all time – the humble bicycle clip.

This time the objective is not to hold pieces of paper together, but to prevent trousers getting caught in grubby oily cycle chains, ruining the sartorial elegance of the trouser owner.

Now, some simple hearted folk might say that socks were perfectly capable of fulfilling this important role, in addition to keeping feet warm. But having tested this approach thoroughly, I’m convinced there is a better way.

My first choice was the traditional steel sprung cycle clip available from ‘all good bicycle shops’. And I was happy with this method for a few weeks. But gradually I became annoyed at the way they often slipped down during riding, or how they pinched my growing calf-muscles. They are also quite fiddly to store between journeys. The temptation is to hook them over the handlebars. But this inevitably results in them rotating around and dropping to the ground with a clang, followed by scrabbling in the road to pick them up.

Steel cylce clip

I turned to Google for a better solution, and found a coalescence of positive reviews around the leather trouser strap from Brooks England. This long established British firm are known for making the best leather replacement seats for bicycles. The product is almost as simple as its shiny rivals, and consists of a steel band, which in this case is covered in soft leather. The difference is the band rolls up into a neat little ball when not in use.

Brooks cycle clip

The cost compared to a steel clip was a challenge, but I decided the potential benefit was worth the investment. And I was proved right. As with all well designed products, daily use is either almost unnoticed or a small pleasure. The way my Brompton folds away is an example of the latter.

Not only does the band fulfil its primary purpose of holding my trouser leg firmly in place, despite the jarring of London’s badly potholed roads, it is simplicity itself to fit, and sits nice and securely on my handlebar when not in use. What more could one ask of a product?

12 amazing reasons why In through the Outfield is back and better than ever

Neil InfieldApologies for the rather hyperbolic headline above, but according to social media experts a catchy headline is the number one way of getting visitors to your blog. And as I have been rather neglecting In through the Outfield in recent months, I think it needs a bit of a boost.

In fact according to , Alasdair Inglis from Grow, Your online content must be more like terrible journalism.

Use clever, attention catching headlines

Headlines are probably the single most important aspect of your post. You could write mind-blowing, world changing content but if you don’t write good headlines, no one’s going to click through and read them. Therefore they need to be attractive and intriguing enough to make readers check out your blog.

Here are some great tips to help create better headlines:

  • Go with numbers or numbered lists. There’s a reason why your Facebook feed is choking on articles like “11 sexist cats that look like Ryan Gosling”. Learn from sites like Buzzfeed and maybe one day your content can annoy the whole of the internet, too.
  • Use compelling, emotive adjectives. Whilst this isn’t your high school creative writing class, using more engaging words like: “amazing”, “beautiful”, “inspiring” etc will make your article sound much more interesting.
  • Make your headlines are intriguing, but not too vague. Upworthy do a great job of this, giving you just enough information to whet your appetite, whilst not giving away the payload.
  • Use keyword research. Make sure you know what the most searched terms are for what you’re writing about and make sure that they’re in your headline. If your target audience is searching for “How to write better headlines”, make sure that your blog post headline will show up on their search.

Right – now that we have got that important information out of the way, I can explain why I am back in the blogging saddle after my unplanned sabbatical. I am now commuting to work at the British Library from Eastbourne, which has extended my daily journey to over two hours each way. However this gives me plenty of time for reading, snoozing or even blogging, as I cruise through the beautiful Sussex countryside alongside the South Downs at the mercy of the Southern railway service.

Sunset over Fulking Escarpment

Sunset over Fulking Escarpment in the South Downs National Park, England (© Matt Gibson/Loop Images)

The other factor enabling me to revive my blog is of course technology. I spent many weeks researching the best computer to support my newly extended commute. I looked at getting a bigger and smarter phone than my current almost perfect Motorola Razr I (small in size, long in battery life). The new breed of smart phones are amazing, but unless you have fingers much smaller and more nimble than my clunking great ones, typing anything more than a short note is too painful. And although the recent ones have pocket-stretching sized screens, they are still too small to work on a blog post or effectively surf the web. But the real killer blow, is when you actually use any of their amazing features for more than a few minutes, their battery life disappears to almost nothing.

Next came a choice of tablets, of Apple or Android flavours. They have long battery life, bigger screens and are nice a light and compact to carry around. However, they don’t have keyboards, and as a touch-typer since my teens I can’t stand typing on a screen. It’s a bit like having to ride a moped once you have experienced a proper motorbike – there is just no going back. Admittedly you can buy a keyboard attachments, but the keys are incredibly cramped and obviously an after-thought, rather than designed-in. Also I need to run Word and Powerpoint from time to time, which meant the Microsoft Surface came closest to my rather demanding requirements. However their poor battery life put paid to that.

That left laptops, or Ultrabooks, as the small, thin and powerful ones are now known. However, when not typing or editing presentations I liked the idea of some light entertainment to help pass the time on train. And I have watched fellow commuters struggling to get a good viewing position on their laptops to watch the latest instalment of Game of Thrones. More research led to the new breed of ‘hybrid’ machines, and the appropriately named Yoga series from Lenovo.

I finally settled on the Yoga Pro 2, with its 3,200×1,800-pixel touch screen, claimed nine hour battery life, backlit full size keyboard, and flexible screen.

lenovo-laptop-convertible-yoga-2-pro-orange-front-1

I have already tested out what Lenovo call the Stand mode to view BBC shows downloaded from iPlayer. And it works really well, with the keyboard tucked behind out of the way. I’m not sure how often I would get to use the Tent mode, and I have to admit that it makes a pretty clunky tablet when folded flat. This isn’t helped by Windows 8, which still needs some work to compete with Android as a touch interface.

So there you have it, new technology combined with an something of an epically long commute (nothing compared to these hardy Scots) are the keys to getting this blog back on its feet again.