Archive for June, 2007

Another week, another report on how much the creative industries are worth…

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Here’s news of (yet another) report on how, surprise surprise, the creative sectors contribute a jolly big amount of money to the economy.

Presumably running a close second to the ‘we’ve heard it all before’ report writing industry. Seriously, this has to be the fourth or fifth such report in the last twelve months. Stop reporting already – can we just move on? It’s nearly ten years since then Government Minister Chris Smith wrote a book about this, and nothing seems to have changed as a result, other than free entry to museums and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Personally I worry about the phrase ‘the flow of creativity worth commercialising’ here, as though creativity needs to be assessed in economic rather than cultural terms, and ignoring the way that creativity (beyond the carefully planned demographically-targetted TV shows and films) actually percolates throughout society.

It also worries me that reports like this tend to be used as amunition to regulate the creative sector and gain control over academia – the argument that if we’re to benefit from creative industries the industries should take over courses just doesn’t make any sense. The two sectors are entirely different, despite their shared focus. It’s like Borders telling JK Rowling how to write.


The Guardian article on the report is below. For an alternative take on this see Mike Press’s review of ‘Fantasy Island’, a book that The Guardian seems to have forgotten it has published an extract on its site.

The value of Britain’s creative industries to the economy is now broadly comparable to that of the financial services sector, according to a report published today.
Commissioned by the department for culture, media and sport, the report calls Britain’s creative economy – including publishing, broadcasting and advertising – the country’s ‘great unsung success story’, generating £4bn of exports annually.

This, the report by the Work Foundation concludes, represents around 7.3% of the annual revenue generated by the entire UK economy.

Entitled Staying Ahead: The Economic Performance of the UK’s Creative Industries, the 266-page report estimates that 13 creative industry sectors – which include advertising, publishing, radio and TV, computer services and computer games – employ 1.8 million people and generate more ‘cultural goods’ for export than any other nation in the world.

The report, which took six months to compile, cites findings from the United Nations educational and cultural organisation, Unesco, that the UK exported $8.5bn (£4.25bn) of cultural goods in the 13 creative sectors in 2002 compared with $7.6bn (£3.8bn) billion by the US and $5.2 billion (£2.6bn) from China.

The other sectors in the creative industries list are architecture, design, film, music, software, designer fashion, crafts, performing arts and the arts and antiques market.

This value of exports is thought to be in line with amount generated by the UK’s financial services sector, according to Unesco analysis from 2004.

However, a Work Foundation spokesman admitted that ‘hard data’ is ‘difficult to come by’ due to the nature of the various creative sectors analysed in the report.

Today’s report also warns that ‘without careful policy-making, targeted public investment and a supportive institutional architecture, the flow of creativity worth commercialising may begin to slow’.

Will Hutton, the Observer columnist and chief executive of the Work Foundation, said: ‘There is no doubt that Britain’s creative knack is something to celebrate. The stuff that creates new insights, delights and experiences, that stirs our senses and enriches our lives, is also the stuff that is propelling a larger slice of our economic output.

‘The question is can we continue to supply this growing demand? How we create the architecture that will incubate rather than stunt creative industry growth is a major policy question.’

The culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, welcomed the report, adding: ‘This analysis shows just how vibrant – and how economically important – our creative industries are.

‘The report is a key part of our work towards publishing a green paper on the creative industries later this year, and we will consider its findings carefully.'”

(Via The Guardian.)

Chickens versus rabbits

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

I don’t want to tourn this blog in to a ‘look what I found on YouTube’ thing, and so far I’ve resisted the whole ‘spend my day watching people being stupid’ habit. But I mean, this is funny:

What have I been doing for the last twenty years?

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

Lawrence Miles (an excellent writer) sums up exactly my own take on the recent 40th anniversary of Sgt Pepper. I wasn’t so much celebrating the album as remembering watching a documentary on it in 1987:

in 1987, ITV broadcast a documentary called It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, marking the twentieth anniversary of Sergeant Pepper. In those days, 1967 seemed to exist in the same “times that never really happened” bracket as Jason and the Argonauts or films about dinosaurs fighting cavemen, and probably featured stop-motion hippies courtesy of Ray Harryhausen. But a few months from now, it’ll be twenty years since the documentary, forty years since the album, and – logically – sixty years since Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. It wouldn’t be so bad, if I’d actually done anything useful in those twenty years. I turned thirty-five last month, for Christ’s sake, I’m entitled to a midlife crisis.

I feel the same when I watch old episodes of Doctor Who (which is the link between me and Lawrence – who I just realised is a year younger than me but in many ways seems to have had the life I was supposed to, the bastard). Take Robot, Tom Baker’s first story, which I saw on DVD the other day. I remember watching that when it was first on, about 8 weeks after my fourth birthday. Do you know how sad (in an emotional, not, you know, ‘sad’ way) this made me feel?
Not long ago I saw Logopolis, Baker’s last story and again it made me sad, both in an ‘end of an era’ way and in a more complex mathematical way.

Let me see if I can explain. A few months after they first showed Logopolis, the BBC did something we Doctor Who fans could only dream of in those days: they showed a season of old stories beginning with the very first, An Unearthly Child from November 23 1963.
Now to someone born in 1970 (hello) 1963 is, as Lawrence puts it: ‘in the same “times that never really happened” bracket as Jason and the Argonauts or films about dinosaurs fighting cavemen’. In 1981, 1963 was nearly 20 years ago (you see, I can do maths!) which was pre-history as far as I was concerned. So last year, when I watched An Unearthly Child again (on DVD – you get the impression I was lying about the ‘sad’ don’t you?) I couldn’t help working out that (and stick with me here) the gap between my first viewing it and seeing it now was actually longer than the gap between it first being shown and my seeing it in 1981…

That’s mind-bending.

I remember when my dad turned 40 and we thought he was old. Apparently, 60 is the new 40 which is just as well – this is one goal post I don’t mind them moving. But like Lawrence I reckon I had my midlife crisis far too early (unless it’s God’s way of telling you you’ve only got another 30 years to live in which case I may cash in my pension now). Why do we seem to have our mid-life crises earlier than ever, despite the fact our life expectancy is longer? Simple. It’s down to cheap TV channels showing programmes you dimly remember from your childhood, and it’s down to the BBC releasing its entire archive (the stuff it didn’t wipe to record new episodes of Hetty Wainthrop Investigates) on DVD.
I’m looking at a video of the entire series of Willow The Wisp that a friend bought me one Christmas because they presumably thought I was of the age that I would find it amusingly nostalgic, when in fact it made me want to go and bury my head in a pillow and cry like a baby.

People ask me why I teach, or what I like about it. They rarely ask me what I don’t like about it. It’s the fact that every year, the people I teach become 12 months more detached from my own experience. I used to use the rescue of Princess Leia from the Death Star to introduce the concpet of project management (try it: produce a Gantt Chart of the rescue plan) but I stopped doing that when the number of people who’d never seen Star Wars came dangerously close to making me faint.

I was on the phone to a friend yesterday reporting on a recent visit to the doctor. ‘It was frightening’ I told her, ‘suddenly all the leaflets I used to ignore now seem to be aimed at me’. The day you reach 35 the list of things you have to be worried about, check and stare at before flushing away increases dramatically.

So maybe this is why I haven’t played Sgt Pepper in homage to its creation. Not because I don’t like it (I do) but because I can’t stomach the fact that the first line ‘It was twenty years ago today’ might be a temporal jolt too far.

A tour round Stanford

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

A tour of Stanford’s

Via The Graphic Student

Visualisation Methods

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

An interesting collection of visualisation techniques – well worth visiting to look around. When you get there, just hover your mouse over the tiles to see an example of each technique.

Chinese letter finds right character

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

A letter sent from China to Britain’s oldest driver reached her despite featuring the wrong name and address on the envelope.

The mail, thought to be from a Chinese journalist, was intended for 105-year-old Sheila Thomson, who was recently named as Britain’s oldest driver.

But the inscription on the front of the envelope identified the intended recipient only as ‘Sherry Thomson, 105-year-old driver’. It gave her address as ‘Angus County, Scotland, England’.

The letter was mailed by Ding Hanning from Zhen Jiang, Jingsu, China.

Despite the wrong name and address, a Royal Mail postman managed to fulfil the task by asking around if anyone knew Britain’s oldest driver.

After many inquiries, the postie managed to slip the letter through the correct door and has now been praised by his bosses.

Yesterday at her home in Broughty Ferry, Dundee, Mrs Thomson, who has been driving since 1936, paid tribute to the postman.

The centenarian said: ‘That’s about three weeks they’ve been trying. It’s really very funny. The postman has done a fine job.

‘The letter doesn’t have a word of English in it. I was thinking I will have to get someone from the university to translate it.’

A spokeswoman for the Royal Mail said the account proved how postmen often go ‘beyond the call of duty’ to deliver all mail.

She said: ‘They do everything in their power to deliver items correctly, even when the address that is given appears more like a cryptic puzzle. In cases such as this, they succeed due to their dedication, pride in their work and their unique local knowledge of the communities they serve.’

Mrs Thomson hit the headlines earlier this year when she emerged as a candidate for Britain’s oldest driver.

She still drives her Peugeot 106 to church in a 15-mile round trip that she has repeated every Sunday for more than six decades.

Before Mrs Thomson’s case attracted attention, it was believed that Britain’s oldest driver was Charlie Howarth, of West Yorkshire, who renewed his licence in March at the age of 101.

In May, Mrs Thomson lost the no-claims bonus she had built up for 71 years after she had a bump on the way to church.”

(Via The Scotsman.)

Meanwhile I had to fight Dundee council tooth and nail against a £16 fine for not paying the final installment of my council tax because the letter they sent me revising my original bill never arrived. Their office is about two miles away.

A case of bad, bad design

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

Quick question:

What would be the simplest design solution to stop things like this happening again?

Annoyed, hospitalized teen unplugs neighbor’s life support: “It should probably go without saying that anything connected to a power source within the confines of a hospital has a fair shot at being pertinent to the livelihood of at least one individual, but obviously a 17-year old teenager in Germany needed the memo. After the perpetual noise of what would prove to be his neighbor’s life support machine ‘got on his nerves,’ he proceeded to simply unplug the device without precaution in order to ensure that ‘he got his peace and quiet.’ Of course, we can only assume that the sirens and squeals that were emitted due to his misreckoning were immensely louder than the prior hum, but some folks just love to learn the hard way. Thankfully, medical personnel stepped in and saved the man from perishing, but the teen at fault lost a lot more sleep after that whilst being questioned by police.”

[Via The Register]

(Via Engadget.)

Suggested answers: Hard wiring (i.e. no plugs), a big sign, not putting teenagers in the bed next to anyone…

Big Ass Table

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

New design blog

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

I’ve set up a new blog for the course I teach at the University of Dundee, which those of you interested in design might want to subscribe to and, if so inclined, comment on.

Design Cultures is a place to post articles I find around the interweb about design that I think students might be interested in, that might spark debate, controversy or even ridicule…

It’s quiet at the moment as the students are away, so not many comments. Hopefully that will change come September.

Greece bans sexy roadside ads to prevent deaths

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

From The Guardian (18 June 2007)

Greece is mounting a nationwide effort to remove “eye candy” billboards from roadsides, amid growing evidence that images of women wearing not very much contribute to Europe’s worst road accident figures.
With 15,000 hoardings in the capital alone, drivers are distracted by “unacceptable levels of eye candy”, say campaigners who have convinced the courts to rule that all roadside adverts be dismantled.

Billboards invariably depict svelte females in outre poses. “Many of them not only hide traffic lights and road signs, they are put up illegally,” said an Athens traffic police official.

“We believe they are the cause of 10% of all accidents in the city.”
Driving in Greece is not for the faint-hearted. More than 2,000 people die on the roads annually; another 4,000 are seriously injured in 22,000 car accidents a year – one every 24 minutes.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London even highlights the issue in its travel advice for Greece.

This month, drivers faced a new highway code, with fines of up to €700 (£490) for ignoring a stop sign or running through a red light.

The adverse effects of billboards have been highlighted due to the efforts of an Athenian lawyer, Athanasios Tsiokos, who killed his son when he crashed into a billboard on a busy avenue in the capital. He has since campaigned to punish advertising companies, and this year his complaint was upheld by the State Council, which ordered the billboards removed.

Municipalities have begun dismantling them. “This is an issue of public safety and it only happens in our country,” said Aris Stathakis, MP for the ruling New Democracy party. “All the dangerous advertising billboards have to be removed.”

The campaign has not been easy. Corrupt local government officials have long ensured that billboards have flourished. Recently, campaigners have woken up to find that those removed frequently have been re-erected overnight.