I’ve been prompted to look at the common loo lately, mainly because of some client work.  But loo’s have been front of mind recently because I’ve also been looking at public, private and intimate spaces for some other research and discovered that many people value the bathroom / toilet space as somehow sacred – it allows them time and to territorialize space.  Many working people especially parents find that the loo is the only space in the house where they can have some sanctuary from other duties.  Public loos in privatised spaces – e.g. airports, train stations, universities, corporate offices etc. are increasingly used as media spaces – "toilet media" – undermining that sense of sanctuary.  The use here seems far more functional. 

But the public loo has it’s own history – as a space of subversion, be this in the form of sexual activity or inscription / graffiti.  Perhaps due to this public loos are increasingly subject to measures of control and territorialization.  Payment being a key mechanism – filter out the loiterers.  But new ‘sanitory’ tools and products are deployed to control ‘us’: how much loo paper we use; how much time we spend in the loo – design of flows of movement; how much water we use etc.  This is often so that facilities managers can measure and predict cost per use and manage their resources effectively [which is fair enough as one estimate says we use around 83 million rolls a day around the world].  Promoting these developments often as improvements in ‘hygiene’ is just a convenient way of packaging  control. Electronic sensors on hand driers, taps and even all-in-one sanitory solutions – those hole in the wall things which give you soap, then water, then hot air whilst you desperately try to gauge where each is coming from next – are popular in Yorkshire. The message is: we’re not trusted to wash our own hands, we need to be controlled and managed along with the resources we use. The cult of hygiene allows us to perceive this as a benefit and sell the odd product – ‘sanitary seat covers’ anyone?

A new product we’re working with attempts to control the amount of paper people use and manage hygiene factors.  As part of the research I’ve just done around toilet paper I find a proliferation of interest around whether people scrunch or fold their paper [I fold].  But this isn’t just a fun question for student forums – it’s a fundamental design issue for new products.  Dispensers of toilet paper have also had to deal with the problem of replenishing supplies before the paper runs out.  I found an article which actually analysed the problem of placing two rolls side by side and found that they both ran out at the same time.  This due to the fact that people generally take from the roll that has most paper on [and confirmed by our own dispenser at work which has two rolls and always runs out simultaneously].

I find it interesting that the recent use of ‘open loos’ in central London – due to the problem of people urinating in public late at night – ha s proved to be quite successful.  But this is the only innovation in terms of the ‘experience’ of using a loo that I have seen in recent years.  How could the experience of taking a shit  / urinating be improved?  Is it too taboo to take seriously?



I’d forgotten about the "fly in the urinal design" in Schipol airport, Amsterdam, by influenza, as commented on by Kim Vicente as an  example of ‘intuitive design’

"If you go to the
men’s washrooms at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam
you may notice there’s a fly in the urinals. So what do you think most
men do? That’s right, they aim at the fly when they urinate. They don’t
even think about it, and they don’t need to read a user’s manual; it’s
just an instinctive reaction. The interesting feature of these urinals
is that they’re deliberately designed to take advantage of this
inherent human male tendency."

Also, Bathroom Mania’s ‘kiss’ urinal is one fun approach to innovation


Link: Guardian Unlimited Technology | Technology | Growing up with the wired generation.

Some choice quotes from a Guardian article based on an MTV report:

One in three children who
use the internet makes friends online. Children in the UK aged between
10 and 19 own approximately 7.5m mobile phones, on which they send many
of the 89m text messages written daily. And one pound in every 10 of
disposable income was spent by teenagers on mobile products and
services this year.

"Word of mouth as a
source of information has always been trusted, especially by younger
generations," says the report. "The speed of the internet means that
websites can provide information quicker, and its size means that a far
greater pool of talent can potentially be accessed in a single sitting.
Its information is trusted more because it is perceived to resemble
word of mouth… This is why viral marketing campaigns work so well."

I’m not sure that all internet is any more effective than traditional media at conveying word-of-mouth, that is a more trustworthy communication.  Is the internet as medium percieved to resemble word-of-mouth?  Surely it depends on the nature of the website and the context in which it is read?  I can see corporate clients jumping on this as justification for viral marketing and then producing another lame execution.  Viral marketing works when it pushes the brand beyond its comfort zone, i.e. the content and/or context involve some disjuncture from what you would expect, rather than the mechanism itself being the answer.

see also: textually.

Link: Etsy – Your place to buy and sell all things handmade.

Etsy_2I’ve been toying with the idea for a while now of developing a means through which people can sell what they make.  And ask for things for other, experts, to make for them.  A kind of eBay for products that are handmade.  It taps into lots of things I’m currently researching around the rise of craft based practices and community based politics and interest groups and the DIY movement generally.  And it harks back to markets and the vibrancy and fun of market stalls that I grew up with [a story for another time].

But I’ve just seen Etsy. [via wonderland] And it’s right royally pissed in my pint.  It’s fabulous and it serves fantastically well the growing abundance of people producing things in their own home, with their own fair hands and marries this enterprise with cutting edge navigation – location, materials, seller name, product name etc. which makes it really gratifying to browse around and shop ‘in’.

However, it’s not perfect – it doesn’t actually enable you to request something that suppliers could bid to provide – which i think is something that would work incredibly well for the home suppliers [don’t try and second guess your market – just make want they ask for!] because of the dynamics of the market they’ll able to do this – they’ll as flexible and JIT and responsive as any supplier could hope to be.   Individual producers don’t scale well and that’s why the service is great – you’re getting something quite unique at often less than high street prices.  The Long Tail rocks doesn’t it?


The benefits of XML for me were in database [dynamic] driven content.  I never took an interest in ecommerce applications.  Until now.  I recently came across some press releases from BASDA [the British Application Software Developers Association] which stated that a new XML standard had been created in agreement with house-builders and suppliers.  Moreover in turns out that this agreement was one of the first, if not the first open XML standard in business in the UK. 

The XML standard is ebuild and is based upon eBIS-XML the BASDA standard, but has also been officially adopted by government departments in the form of the e-GIF schema. So it would seem that the construction industry, not particularly known for its innovation, is leading the way in terms of ecommerce. 

As anyone involved in ecommerce will know there are a host of ‘solutions’ to different document data types.  For company X and Company Y to trade electronically they need to speak the same language.  Of course most don’t.  Most use different terms to describe different things and some don’t specify certain details at all so orders and invoices can often have a great deal of mismatch due to human error [and this matters a lot for businesses when invoices aren’t paid and orders turn up incorrect].  Consequently ASPs [Application Service Providers] created solutions using closed standards like EDI [Electronic Data Interchange] which has have become very powerful as a  ‘translator’ of different document types [requiring the implementation of their own EDI translation software].  This translation comes at a cost, of course, and software companies can look to make a lot of money out of such a service, often calculating the cost based on savings made like postage, print, ink etc. 

Open standards also mean that companies can keep bespoke IT solutions [different companies have different needs depending on size, complexity of supply chain etc.] yet speak the same language.  It’s a breakthrough for ecommerce.  Implementing this XML will not be easy, I’m sure, especially for smaller companies for whom IT involves disproportionate training costs etc. relative to the possible gains to be had, but nonetheless it’s a big step.

The crux of maintaining a standard is to have trust in the governing body.  A non-commercial ‘neutral’ body like BASDA manages and regulates the ‘language’ resolving any disputes and agreeing on any revisions as arbiter.

XML is no panacea as tabilizer makes clear, but is the parameters for business are quite clear then it represents, as an open standard, a lot of clear benefits to the adoption of electronic administrative solutions for B2B.

So in all the hype around innovation in software and design I wonder if we’re losing sight of some real innovation in the small print of trade journals and in the grubby back streets of what’s left of industrial Britain?


Link: Cash Usability – Signal vs. Noise (by 37signals).

Picking up from this post on 37 signals around cash usability and the colour of Australian dollars being so much more effective as a design attribute than any figurehead in knowing how much cash you have in your wallet, I wonder if anyone is thinking around this area for debit/credit cards ?

I’m hopeless at managing money.  Especially when I don’t know how much I have at any one time, which is er, just about all the time.  With cash I knew and found it easier to budget.  But with more purchases now made with plastic rather than cash, how could we develop a way to know how much we have "in our pocket" [or available on ‘credit’]?  Surely this would be a fantastic service if a major bank managed to pull it off – you could create coloured bars or some other representation on cards that indicate
how much ‘money’ you have available everytime you use the card? Though any such development may mean that people become far more money conscious in knowing what they don’t have to spend and consequently there’d be less incentive for any bank to provide the service – unless it were a bank that created value from it’s customer service offering and charged accordingly for that – the co-op bank with its ethical consumer driven values would be idea wouldn’t it. 

WOMMA is interesting – The Word of Mouth Marketing Association.  Word of Mouth advertising – the kind of marketing as conversation thing that’s been doing the rounds for what seems like ages now and fits in neatly with the move to Long Tail blah blah, web as platform and even the Architecture of Participation – and just seems plain common sense to anyone plugged into www: honesty, trasparency, good products and engagement with the customer.   WOMMA have a seminar coming up in NYC on the 28th at which Seth God [like] in is speaking, and should be good.  Anyone want to spot me the airfare?  Please?

Anywhows, I like their image, above and the whole sentiment behind it.  But has anyone thought that people, me included, actually like to be treated as brainless and gullible sometimes?  The image on the left looks a bit intense doesn’t it?  Whereas the image on the right…


  • The Difference is Why [1]
  • The Difference is Why [2] 
  • The Difference is Why [3]
  • Link: Google takes ad sales to print | CNET News.com.

    via Gary Stein

    I’ve been a bit slow on the uptake about this one and hadn’t realised the potential of Google’s move into offline activity in terms of revenue generation.  As Stein says:

    Satellite maps are cool and all, but this is where you should pay
    attention, when thinking about Google. This is development around the
    way they make all their money.

    Google makes 99% of its revenue from online advertising – $3billion last year [2004].  So what’s the deal?  Even though online ad revenue is growing at a phenomenal rate it still only accounts for around 10% of all advertising.  So Google is moving into print, trying to eek some of the huge potential revenue open to it and in the process pushing out the media agencies/buyers that make a living from deciding on appropriate advertising and planning ad campaigns. 

    How is it moving into print?  One experiment with PC World saw it buy a page of advertising and then cut this up and in effect sub-let it to others:

    The issue has a full page of Google-facilitated ads with the URL of an online version of the page
    at the top. Fine text also appears at the top saying "Ads by Google,"
    and "Google advertisers offer these products and services" at the
    bottom. However, there is no Google logo.

    So Google  is leveraging the fact that product search online is key to advertising.  People want to check out a product, compare it and get the best price online, yet awareness is often gained offline through the myriad of niche [and mainstream] publications.  Why is this so important?  Because people using the URL in the print advert can be measured – the "offline" URLs are redirected through Google servers.  This is important.  It allows Google to take their online business model into the offline world of brand advertising a move which is upsetting traditional media buyers.

    The result is that publishing partners such as PC World would only get paid according to how many people "clicked through" no matter what "brand value" the advert had in raising awareness.  It’s a model which is high in risk especially for publishing partners who would lose some of the ability to plan around revenue streams – as spots are often booked up 3-6+ months in advance.  It could also change the nature of creative work to more product focused rather than brand focused benefits and values.

    It’s potentially a major shake-up for the ad industry and marketing in general.

    Link: MediaGuardian.co.uk | New media | Fancy a Kumars curry?.

    Later this month a website will enable customers to buy products such as a Martha Stewart-style The Kumars at No 42 book or Father Ted cards online.

    Thanks to the new terms of trade with the BBC, which gives independents the majority of secondary rights revenue, producers are looking for more ways to exploit their brands.

    About a year ago Hat Trick sat down to think of new ways of earning money.

    The Hat Trick group business director, Hilary Strong, said: "I think we’re the first indie to do this. We decided to look at the programmes we have made in the way other industries do, as brands in their own right, rather than just re-formatting them or other traditional ways the TV industry has dealt with brands, such as DVDs or books.

    "Apart from children’s television there’s very little else that has been done with merchandising," she said.

    I think the move described above is quite significant.  The BBC has relaxed it’s tight stranglehold on retaining different rights to content as it tries to keep it’s licence fee model in the face of a move toward greater ‘openess’ and more vocal opposition.  Freeing up secondary rights is also a signal, I believe, that BBC Worldwide [it’s money-making, rights-holding, commercial arm] is being marginalised as other revenue models are explored. 

    But what are the ramifications of this move toward freer secondary rights? Could you see a situation whereby TV programmes are produced as ‘loss leaders’ by Independents to gain secondary rights to games and other merchandising, for example?  Access to such an audience base as that reached by the BBC would surely push deals like this through despite the ‘fair trading’ required by the BBC. 

    And how will the BBC manage to maintain a sense of non-commercial [and Public Service] integrity in the face of brands being commercialised in such a way?  Even if there are restrictions on how these brands are marketed and distributed it poses an interesting problem for the BBC to address.

    This problem is not too dissimilar from the issue the BBC has with it’s content being distributed in peer-to-peer networks or even on third party platforms.  Research has shown that people viewing BBC content via Sky see it as  produced [and not just distributed] by Sky, with only ‘big’  brands  like Eastenders retaining their ‘BBCness’.  Likewise programmes removed from ‘traditional contexts’ of consumption – i.e. terrestrial  TV or analogue Radio to newer contexts where the BBC’s brand is disrupted such as proprietary EPGs on PVRs and media viewers like Real, Windows Media Player and the plethora of others that are springing up – poses a problem for the BBC.  How do they retain their visibility in the form of recollection and response rates by the audience when they have to justify their licence fee in years to come?

    The BBC as a ‘brand’ is changing, not in some abstract sense but in the very ‘real’ way that people engage with BBC products on an everyday basis.  The ‘disruption’ between the brand and the product experience pose some fascinating problems for the BBC and other organisations involved in production and distribution [in what is kind of a oligopoly of vertical players] and seeing what’s happening at the edges of consumption offers insight into where marketing, branding and advertising will be headed in years to come.  Keep looking.

    As an afterthought and as someone who has seen at first hand the chaos and the difficulty of trying to open up the broadcasting licencing model in the digital age I’m intrigued by how the BBC will look to ‘manage’ secondary rights and ‘futureproof’ the framework and the culture that grows up around them.  Broadcast rights were applied to much web content in the 1990s – so much so that deals would be struck per piece of content on a per page basis.  In the world of web 2.0 and XML dynamism, let alone Backstage style non-commercial re-use, that sort of model doesn’t work.  Unravelling that mess fell on some very forward thinking lawyers but the industry  [and particularly Equity] as a whole resisted and continues to resist moves to  other models. 

    The Future Foundation are undertaking a new study of The Assault on Pleasure.  They have apparently identified a new social trend away from the excesses in contemporary soociety.  Blurb:

    A total of 30% of people in the UK (35% of under-24s) now agree that : Pregnant women found smoking in a public place should be given a caution by a police officer.

    Commenting on the results, Paul Flatters, Chief Executive and Editor of the Future Foundation’s Assault on Pleasure study, said :-

    “Only a few years ago, these results would have been unimaginable.

    But these days, for whatever reasons, we are accumulating so many anxieties about our personal health and our public environment that ever more of us seem ready to accept new ideas about what we and our fellow consumer-citizens should not do – or not be permitted to do.

    It’s almost as if there is a new cromwellianism in the land, a new drive to regulate all manner of markets and behaviours. It is striking that support for so many regulatory propositions stretches across both age and income groups. In every sector of our society, there are now substantial pockets of what we have called the “neo-croms”, those who are motivated to extend the definition of anti-social behaviour into new areas and themes.

    This is the culture and the future that not just businesses but also political parties must face.

    Every activity involving an element of fun or escapism is falling under new scrutiny from health professionals, green lobbies and pressure groups of all kinds. Perhaps it is this which is feeding these new attitudes, attitudes which might well be seen, for good or ill, as a kind of modern puritanism.

    We can only imagine that this instinct to regulate-and-restrict will impact on more markets and more activities in the years ahead.

    In five years time, will giving a Christmas box of chocolates attract the same odium as giving a pack of 200 cigarettes once did? Will all office parties be shandy-only? Will it be a dinner-party boast that one does not any longer go to the Lake District – for ecological reasons? How many other activities will go the way of smoking in pubs?

    If this is a new trend then it’s kind of ironic that many people are trying to regulate areas of society in the face of ineffectiveness around traditional forms of regulation in the case of ASBOs and the need for a new "Yob Tsar" and on a wider geographical scale the horror with which law and order broke down in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  Indeed puritanical tendencies could be seen to be a reaction to this moral panic now engulfing us on aspects of social order.

    How is marketing is adapting to the digital revolution and the effects of Long Tail economies?   How can companies evolve to survive? Can ‘old fashioned’ business models offer any insight? These are the questions I’ve been pondering in the last few weeks.  I feel I’m getting closer to working through them because I’m forcing myself to write my thoughts down here.

    It seems to me that
    ‘marketing’ was used to be about ‘ doing’ a service or selling a product, or both, really
    well. Developing a relationship with your customers was vital. Then what happens is you can’t scale your own
    skills, attributes and relationships so you use an intermediary, more people probably,
    who you then train to manage the customers in the same way you would.  And then you scale further and use something
    which stands in for the things that you do so it can replicate and be ‘transferable’.  One would be standard practices – Taylorist approaches perhaps, standard measures for your products or services so they ‘mean’ the same thing for every customer. Fine.  But you also need to communicate that you embody these same values and practices and the customer can enjoy the same ‘experience’.  You use your name, let’s say you use “Sarks and Mencer”. Sarks and Mencer then comes to define the
    innate qualities – the values – of your core services and products… but the rub
    is that it needs a lot of help to do this at
    a distance.
    It requires a strong
    ‘network’ [see my earlier post for what I mean by this].

    as an industry sprung up to help that network and to support that name that
    stood in for the qualities of whatever it was that was being sold, often
    intangible things like ‘wellbeing’ [health] or ‘risk’ [insurance]. It spawned ‘brands’ and ‘brand
    strategies’ and various methods and tools like ‘brand core’ for describing your

    However, where marketers dug their own
    grave was in believing that the network and the brand were more powerful than
    the service or the product or the network that they came to represent. Successful brands like Virgin that have managed to become transferable ‘values’ are the exception.  Brands do not make for strong
    associations in and of themselves – they need a *lot* of help.  Now we
    find we’ve come full circle because the move to marketing as conversation is really nothing more than an
    appreciation that the qualities of the service or the product and the
    relationship with the customer is the key. So new buzz terms like transparency
    are really nothing more than a realisation that you need to be honest and open
    about what you do. Otherwise people won’t trust you, they won’t engage with
    you.  Let advocates and evangelists sell
    your stuff for you and help them to do this.

    But how can this scale?  How can you ensure your values, services and products work ‘at a distance’ and are communicated to different audiences?  Does marketing as conversation only work for niche products?  And, if so, does this mean the end of big brands in the digital age?  Well, no, it can’t, but I believe it does mean that the underlying principles of old fashioned marketing as I described above have to be embedded within the service and the brand in digital companies, especially Long Tail companies .  Amazon, Yahoo!, eBay, Google, all exist as massive brands partly because of the sociality that they have built into their services.  It’s easier and, on the whole cheaper, to create systems that allow for a certain ‘sociality’ than it is to create good customer service – just look at the massive problems encountered around call centre service and customer satisfaction.  These digital giants recognise that it is the experience that drives the brand and not vice versa.  And their solutions do scale, partly because of the network effects themselves, with little noticeable detriment to the experience [Ben’s post on eBay’s Trust model is one example of when these monilthic companies and brands do get it wrong, however.] B&Q [British hardware store] are trying hard to create a brand that is recognised for its customer service – and their current ad campaign is based around there ‘human’ customner led approach.  But as anyone who actually goes to their store knows the experince never lives up to the image we are broadcast by the company – and that’s where old fashioned marketing priciples are being lost and why the new digital companies are winning out, because their models are inherently more social.  Of course I’m not saying this applies scross the board but I do see it as a underlying trend.  Who would have thought that 50 years ago we would be using online companies because they were better at customer service and being sociable?