Category Archives: Design

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.

Rihanna wins rights to her image over Topshop

No, this isn’t about a tabloid newspaper controversy involving the rather racy Barbadian pop star. Instead it is about a recent High Court case where Rihanna took on the high street fashion chain Topshop over the use of unauthorised photos of her on their T-shirts.

The dispute centred on the issue of ‘passing off’, a fascinating aspect of Intellectual Property law due to the way it depends, not on some arcane legal technicality, but on what an ordinary person would think.

During my seven years working in the Business & IP Centre I have learnt that Intellectual Property can be immensely technical and complex, but also has aspects that rely on good old-fashioned common sense.

The test for passing off is quite simple, would an ordinary person think the item they are buying was either produced or authorised by someone other than who they thought it was. Wikipedia defines it as; The law of passing off prevents one person from misrepresenting his/her goods or services as being the goods and services of the claimant, and also prevents one person from holding out his or her goods or services as having some association or connection with the plaintiff when this is not true.

Not surprisingly the most frequent cases of passing off tend to involve household brands. In April Which? magazine conducted a survey that found ‘a fifth of Which? members have bought an own-label product by mistake because it looked so much like a big brand. They found more than 150 own-label products they thought borrowed elements of their packaging from branded competitors. Own-label ‘copycat’ products: can you spot the difference?

One of the most well-known involves the best-selling dandruff shampoo brand Head & Shoulders. They have taken numerous supermarket chains to court for producing own label shampoos which are too similar to the their brand. The supermarkets tend to mimic the shape of the Head & Shoulders bottle, their colours and font styles. Each time the supermarkets lose the case, they go back to their designers and make slight changes to their bottles, leading to another round of court action.

Head&Shoulders_vs_Boots

Next time you are in a supermarket, have a look along the shelves and see if you can see any ‘look alike’ packaging from own label brands. In my experience cereal boxes make for rich pickings. Put yourself in the shoes of the busy shopper (or in my case reluctant shopper) rushing along the aisles with only time to glance at the packages as they zoom past. It is all too easy to grab the ‘wrong’ one and drop it into your basket.

In the case of the T-shirt with Rihanna’s photo, the judge Mr Justice Birss said the “mere sale” of a T-shirt with an image of a celebrity did not automatically amount to passing off. But in this instance he thought that a “substantial number” of buyers were likely to have been deceived into buying it because of a “false belief” Rihanna had authorised it.

He said it was damaging to her “goodwill” and represented a loss of control over her reputation in the “fashion sphere”. It was for Rihanna not Topshop to choose what clothes the public thought were endorsed by her.

 

Anorak – now a cool brand and a Success Story

anorak_logo I have blogged in the past about the importance of using a ‘made-up’ name for your trademark, but there are other ways to establish a distinctive but protected presence in the market place.

I was recently helping a couple of customers in the Centre find some useful market research reports on home wares. In conversation I discovered they were the founders of Anorak, a company who make and sell ‘functional products inspired by the great outdoors’. I also learned that we had helped them along their journey to success over the last four years, so they qualify as one of our Success Stories.

For me, the story here is the ingenuity of taking a widely used slang term with negative connotations, and subverted it into something cool and trendy.

trainspotter

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mattbuck

According to Wikipedia the term anorak came from the Observer newspaper’s description of UK trainspotters, based on their preferred form of clothing. Allegedly members of this group often wore, the by then very unfashionable anorak jackets, when standing for hours on chilly railway station platforms noting down details of passing trains.

However according to the Guardian Newspaper’s Notes and Queries column, the term was was originally created by Radio Caroline Disk Jockey Andy Archer in the early 70′. He used the word anoraks on air, to describe the boatloads of fans who came out to visit the pirate radio ships anchored off the Dutch coast.

During the 1980’s it became a general derogatory term for a someone with an obsessive interest in unfashionable and largely solitary interests. 1980’s UK rock group Marillion called one of their albums Anoraknophobia, referring to the long running in-joke that Marillion fans were sometimes called freaks or anoraks.

isle of wight computer geek iow

www.theisleofwightcomputergeek.co.uk

In the United States the term geek or nerd is often used instead, but is not associated with a particular item of clothing as far as I am aware. The exception might be the wearing of large unfashionable glasses. The US based company GeekSquad have also attempted to exploit the label to their own advantage.

The word anorak is derived from Greenland Eskimo ‘anoraq’, used to describe a waterproof jacket, typically with a hood, of a kind originally used in polar regions.

I am aware that this post may be in danger of straying into anorak territory itself with this level of obsessive detail, so I will stop here.

 

Anorak_fox_mugAbout Us

Introducing Anorak. A British brand with its heart planted firmly in the great outdoors. Inspired by childhood camping adventures (in a bright orange campervan), Anorak’s founder and Creative Director Laurie Robertson uses striking silhouettes to bring a touch of fun and whimsy to homewares and outdoor lifestyle accessories.

From Kissing Rabbits to Proud Foxes, Anorak’s animal designs are bold, bright and a good deal less timid than their real life relatives. But looks aren’t everything, so the entire Anorak product range has function at its heart. The wash bags are wipe clean, the sleeping bags have leg room a plenty, the picnic blankets are light enough to carry on the longest of country strolls. So if you’re a fan of the great outdoors (even when you’re indoors) and think fun should follow function, remember to pack your Anorak.

Your New Year’s resolution – a new website?

Arganic oil bottleFor many small business their website is the key element of their marketing strategy. So I am often surprised just how poor some of these are. One of the worst consisted of white text on a bright red website which meant I couldn’t look at it for more than a few seconds without hurting my eyes.

So as well as emphasising the importance of a blog in bringing in visitors, I always encourage people to get a professional looking website that matches their product or service.

Dana Elemara’s Arganic website is an excellent example of how to use high quality photos and illustrations along with consistent page design and text fonts.

Which brings me to Sarah Warsop the British Library’s jewellery designer in residence. My colleague Fran Taylor our Marketing Manager for Creative Industries has been helping Sarah to discover inspirational collection items in the library.

My job has been to help Sarah develop the business side of her creative activities.Her previous website was more focussed on her dance practice and her other creative projects. She wanted a site that would be easy to setup and maintain, and to better show her amazing jewellery designs. And of course I suggested she include a blog.

So I was really excited to see this week that she had taken the plunge and moved to a new site using SquareSpace. In my opinion the result is simply stunning. http://sarahwarsop.com/

Sarah Warsop new website

 

The perfect Christmas present – the gift of time

Mondaine watch

I guess in this ‘time poor’ era we could all do with an extra couple of hours a day, but in the meantime for me, a new watch will have to do.

For some years I have aspired to own a Mondaine watch. Based on the iconic official Swiss Railways clock-face, they are simple and elegant. The design with its distinctive red second-hand have indicated the famously punctual Swiss trains at their stations for more than 60 years.

So I was more than a little surprised, and extremely happy to be given one as a Christmas present from my partner. Especially as I hadn’t mentioned my interest in owning one.

Canary Wharf ClockIf you want to see an example ‘in the flesh’ in the UK there is a little cluster of them at Canary Wharf in London Docklands.

My intellectual property expert colleague Phil mentioned that the design was the cause of  court case between Mondaine and the giant Apple computer company. The story was covered by the Daily Mail website in October and November of last year.

Bet Apple wish they could turn the clock back: Swiss firm accuses iPhone 5 of copying their iconic face design.

Apple ‘paid £13million to Swiss national rail operator’ after using its iconic clock design without permission

There is some irony here, as this was the same time that Apple was suing Samsung in the United States for copying elements of the iPhone screen design.

 

Mondaine clock face

Image from DailyMail.co.uk

The secret doors of the British Library

BL DoorsBefore you get too excited, this is not a post about our collection of ‘naughty’ books. I have been at the library for seven years now and have yet to discover where they are located (not that I have been looking you understand).

This is about a secret contained within – not behind the doors of the British Library. At the entrance to each of the seven reading rooms in the St Pancras building stand pairs of impressively large wooden doors.

Colin St John Wilson who made the architecturally controversial building his life’s work, demanded only the best materials for the fixtures and fittings. Consequently the sheer weight of the Canadian oak that these impressive doors were constructed from, meant they could not be opened by ordinary mortals. This created something of a dilemma as the opening of the building  approached. I’m afraid I can’t prevent images entering my mind of stereotypically puny academics and weedy librarians breaking into a sweat, as they struggled with these mighty doors in vain.

To address this actually rather serious accessibility issue, building engineers came up with an ingenious and virtually invisible mechanical solution to the problem.

A small copper wire is curled in a spiral around each door handle. When grasped by a visitor the natural electrical charge within their body triggers a switch which is located in the door hinges. This powers an electric motor to push the door open. However this action is silent and so subtle that almost no one notices the assistance they are being given by the mechanism.

As a fan of ergonomic design and Cyborg Anthropology, I am impressed by this clever solution.

So the next time you encounter one of these magical doors, I suggest you touch the handle and stand back to give yourself time to admire this technological marvel of the British Library.

Apple is the most successful brand in history because it is meaningless

ohyo_bottleDuring this years Global Enterprise Week I finally had a chance to catch-up with Guy Jeremiah one of our Success Stories.

Although his collapsible bottle was becoming a great success in the UK under the brand Aquitina, Guy was advised he should change its name before taking on the United States market.

Unfortunately Aquatina is quite similar to Aquafina, a brand of bottled water owned by PepsiCo. Naturally Guy’s advisor was concerned that the cost of going through the courts would bankrupt the business, even though he would win the case.

So a new name was needed for the brand, and the advice was to use a made-up word. By definition, no one would be able to claim ‘prior-art‘ with a newly invented name. After much experimenting Guy and his team came up with the name ohyo (pronounced yoyo).

We had a chat about the importance of the Ronseal (says what it does on the tin) approach to a name, versus the advantages of using anonymous name like ohyo. My feeling is that a descriptive name is great when you are starting out, such as Man and Transit Van. But you never really know where your business will go, or how diversified it will become. In which case your expressive name can become unhelpful. For instance Carphone Warehouse, is no longer a warehouse and doesn’t sell phones for cars.

In the case of Apple Computer, the name was effectively pulled out of a hat the day before it was needed for company registration. Its generic nature meant that once the Computer bit was dropped, the company was free to make anything they liked and stick an Apple logo on it.

According to Walter Isaacson’s recent biography of Steve Jobs, “I was on one of my fruitarian diets,” he explained. “I had just come back from the apple farm. It sounded fun, spirited, and not intimidating. Apple took the edge off the word ‘computer.’ Plus, it would get us ahead of Atari in the phone book.” He told Wozniak that if a better name did not hit them by the next afternoon, they would just stick with Apple. And they did.

You may notice a similar looking collapsible bottle at the checkout of you local Marks & Spencer branch, as ohyo have licensed their product to M&S.

ohyo_bottles