Silent Cards, or how to have that awkward conversation

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In February, I attended a Swarm for D&AD‘s White Pencil initiative called ‘Break The Silence’. We were asked to come up with creative ways to engage the advertising industry on the subject of climate change.

These ‘Silent Cards’, are a customised Artefact deck with facts and figures about climate change that any strategist, planner, or creative could use in client meetings, if only they could find the courage to do so. Until then, they’ll just be useful for flicking through in those quiet moments of reflection when you’re really wondering what you can possibly do to help the situation.

The illustration above and text below were exhibited this week with other Break The Silence proposals at the D&AD Awards judging event at Olympia Exhibition Centre.

You know that conversation? Yeah, the one you keep having with yourself, but no one else. You’re not having it with your friends, or with your boss, and especially not with your clients. It’s a niggling voice in your head that keeps asking inconvenient questions. Is this the best way forward? Is this really what we need right now? What kind of impact is this having? Imagine having prompter cards for that awkward conversation. With the facts at your fingers tips would you raise your voice on climate change? Probably not, right? But you flick through the deck furtively, anyway, just out of curiosity. You’ll likely never use them, but then again… one day, you might just feel compelled to ask an awkward question out loud.

Creating a one-day installation at Kew Gardens


This week I did the fastest design installation of my life. I was commissioned by the foresight and innovation agency Your Future to design a space for their one-day workshop on natural health for their client. The location was the beautiful Kew Gardens and I took inspiration from the botanical nature of the setting.


With the help of my collaborator Lucy Rose I created the The Natural Health Breakfast Exploratorium, which included  a ‘Kitchen Garden’ room where the client attendees could gather, eat and make their final presentations. Next door we created a ‘Library Lab’, where the attendees could work in their break out groups through the day.

This speedy installation, done in just two hours, was mostly an exercise in ‘dressing the set’ so to speak, but I did have fun creating bespoke botanical explorers’ workbooks and then recreating them as enormous working presentation boards for the actual workshop.


Case Study on Elio Studio in new book: Sustainable Thinking


I’m delighted to say that Elio Studio is featured in a new book by Aaris Sherin called Sustainable Thinking. My good friend and collaborator Chris Haughton is also featured for his amazing fair trade work with Node rugs.

During the writing of the book, Chris very kindly suggested that Aaris speak to me about my design storytelling work with Elio Studio. And so it came to pass that Chris and I are case study neighbours in this excellent book on design thinking and management in sustainability, published by Bloomsbury.

The case study on Elio Studio is a full six pages long (whoop!) and features several of our projects, including The Butterfly Effect and One Planet Living. You can find the link to a PDF of the case study below, but here is a quick excerpt.


Creating solutions

‘Collaboration is important because the issues surrounding sustainable innovation are complex,’ says Oppenheim. To create the most relevant solutions, she suggests that ‘a networked systems approach is needed and the best way to do that is to leave our disciplinary silos and cross pollinate with others.’ Not every designer is suited to working in multidisciplinary, less-defined situations. Connectors, translators and managers are needed. To that end, Oppenheim acts like a ringmaster for Elio Studio. Different types of projects require distinct expertise and the number of people working on a job will vary depending on a project’s scope, budget and the skill sets needed to produce the intended outputs.

PDF: Sustainable-Thinking-Elio-Studio-Case-Study

You can buy the book on Amazon or direct from Bloomsbury.

As well as Chris Haughton and Elio Studio, Sustainable Thinking features other brilliant people who have inspired me over the years including Valerie Casey of The Designers Accord, Safia Minney of People Tree, Emily Pilloton of Project H Design and Duke Stump of The North Star Manifesto and Do Lectures USA – it’s choca block with brilliant design ideas to make the world a better place.

Jonathan Chapman, Course Leader MA Sustainable Design, University of Brighton – says this about it:

“Sustainable Thinking jettisons the tired rhetoric of sustainable design debate; boldly repositioning design-thinkers of all disciplines at the creative and intellectual heart of our search for solutions.”



Speaking at Data Visualisation workshop at NESTA


In October I was invited to speak at a data visualisation workshop organised by Rachel Jones of the Creative Industries KTN. The event was a showcase of interesting data visualisation practitioners as inspiration for the new Technology Strategy Board data exploration competition – launching at the beginning of 2014.

I was honoured to be selected as part of the evening’s line up of speakers, which ranged from artists like Michael Magruder Takeo to graphic designers like Information is Beautiful to more commercial practitioners such as Hal Bertram of Ito World.

I spoke about Elio Studio’s Creative Data initiative, which seeks to bring designers and scientists together to communicate data and research to the public through installations, exhibitions and creative learning programmes. I focused on The Butterfly Effect project as the pilot study for Creative Data, about the future of The Norfolk Broads.

It was super interesting to hear other speakers deliver their speedy Pecha Kucha formatted presentations and see what kind of work is going on in the art world, the academic world and the business world.

We saw that there’s been a lot of focus on maps as a default visualisation tool and that a lot of visualisation of data remains in a traditionally graphic space – often in graphs and sometimes overly complicated visuals which aren’t easily readable. There’s certainly room for more creativity and more engaging communications.

The most interesting work for me, unsurprisingly perhaps, were the examples of sculptural installations and public engagement work. I particularly enjoyed presentations from Rachel Jones of Active Ingredient and her project A Conversation Between Trees and Julie Freeman’s work on Translating Nature.

Speaking at the RCA about Creative Data


In January of 2013 I was invited to speak at the Royal College of Art to the first year students on the IDE Platform. I have worked with Clare Brass as a visiting tutor for the IDE platform in previous years, so I understand quite a bit of what their ‘Innovation, Design, Engineering’ course is about. I spoke as part of the department’s Inspire Lecture series, where practitioners come in to speak about their recent work.

I spoke to the students about The Butterfly Effect Project – a project about the future of The Norfolk Broads in collaboration with the University of East Anglia, The Broads Authority and Anglian Water. This was the pilot project for the Creative Data initiative I started in order to bring designers and scientists together to communicate social and environmental issues to the public.

Redesigning the future with The Great Recovery


In October 2012 I started working with the co-directors of design at the RSA , Sophie Thomas and Nat Hunter, on The Great Recovery project as a design observer. This involved documenting workshops and visits to material recovery centres around the UK.

These events brought designers, manufacturers and policy makers together to explore issues, investigate innovation gaps and incubate new partnerships in the circular economy. It has been a fascinating experience all round, where we’ve learned so much about the materials economy and the systems design involved in recycling.

We visited some incredible places, a tin mine in Cornwall, a plastic bottle recycling factory, an e-waste facility, and even the Caterpillar Remanufacturing plant in Shrewesbury where we watched engines being repurposed to the quality of brand new engines.

My role involved building up a body of documentary content for the project using photography, process observation and participant interviews. I was then to distill this content into the Great Recovery report, working in collaboration with Sophie Thomas.

Founding the Hive Mind Collective


In October 2012 I opened the Hive Mind Collective in Westbourne Studios in West London. For a long time I had wanted to create a shared studio space with other creatives and suddenly I had the chance.

After working a home for some years (too isolating) and then in co-working spaces in central London for several more years (too distracting) I was looking for the right balance between good company, and opportunities for collaboration, and a peaceful space where I could concentrate on my work and not always have to be moving around every day.

There is a certain focus and calm that comes with having your own desk space I find. Also I think there is an optimum number of people to share a space with. I found working in Hub Westminster just too much with dozens of people bustling around. Under ten seems comfortable to me. We have 8 desks in the studio, but due to everyone’s different schedules, we are 4 to 5 people most days.

It has taken longer than I imagined to find the right people to share with, but I’m pretty delighted at the current combination of talented women in the space:

Laura Figueras – fashion – Sur Studio

Candida Wigan – architect and tile designer-  WigWork Tex-Tile

Caroline Beau de Lomenie – fashion dolls clothes – Fashionette

Sophie Camu – art consultant – Camu Art 

Lizzie Ballantyne -book designer – Lizzie B Design

Annabel Stringer – interior designer – Stringer Interiors

Getting to the point with Joel Bukiewicz of Cut Brooklyn


On my visit to New York in September 2012 I visited the knife maker Joel Bukiewicz in his workshop – Cut Brooklyn. I knew about Joel’s work through the beautiful Made by Hand short film and also because he spoke at The Do Lectures 2012. I wasn’t able to go to Do last year, so I was excited to get the chance to meet Joel on his home turf.

We had a great chat as he showed me around his studio and knife making workshop. I interviewed him about his views on craft, process,and beauty for my book project The Craftsmanship of Doing. More news on that soon.

Joel’s story about how he came to knife making is a really interesting one. For a long time he wanted to be a writer but in frustration at not getting anywhere with his book writing he turned to something more hands on. As he says himself, “It’s not always success that takes us to the place that we belong.”

Above is a portrait I took of Joel in his Brooklyn workshop on Friday 14th September 2012, and below is a great excerpt from our conversation about making.

“I think it’s about respect for the materials and tools. It’s far more important, rather than learning a task, to learn how to behave in a workshop environment, how to approach the machines. You have to have this constant terror mixed with a certain degree of confidence, because everything downstairs in the workshop will take your hand off in a second. One slip and you’re down to the bone on your knuckle. So having the right combination of fear and competence… well, it’s an attitude that’s most important.

One of the best skills I learnt very early on was when to walk away. If something goes wrong you hold your hands up, when a second thing goes wrong you take your headphones off and really pay attention, if three things go wrong you have to turn off all the machines and walk away.

Go outside, even for five minutes, to breathe some fresh air. When you come back you address your machines and materials a little bit differently. You have to be willing to step away and in order to be able to do that you really have to be in tune with the machines when everything is going well. This ‘shop sense’, understanding that it even exists, is the most important ‘talent’ for any knife maker.”

Transformational tales with Heroes & Super Villains at Burning Man


In August 2012 I went to the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert for the first time. It is hard to find the words to describe the extraordinary experience that spending seven days in the dust was, but I know that my time there was absolutely made by the fact I was in the Heroes & Super Villains camp.

Surviving in the desert can be really challenging, but thankfully this awesome, kind and loving group of people were long time burners and knew exactly what they were doing.

In the run up to arriving on the Playa I was put in charge of the camp’s online experience with my friend and digital guru Lea Simpson. Together we designed a site that explored the concept of transformation, specifically the moment when a Super hero/villain becomes their alter ego.

We asked each member of the camp to make a short film about their transformational experience which we collated together on H&SV TV. In this way we all got to know a little bit about each other before we hit the dust together. Without doubt this made our shared experience in the Heroes & Super Villains camp all the more special.

“Once Upon a Time”  is the film I made about my transformation and below is the mash up film of all the videos that Lea and I edited together and showed to the camp on our first night in the desert. Here are my photos on Flickr of Burning Man 2012 – truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Wild Thing / Good for Nothing proposal to be featured in film



I’m excited to announce that Out & About will be one of three featured campaign ideas in the Project Wild Thing documentary. All the ideas generated during the Good For Nothing weekend in July 2012 were tested in focus groups by the Green Lions production team.

Rather amazingly my proposal for a national programme for 0-8 yrs olds, to get them spending more time in nature, was one of the three most popular ideas amongst the public.

To develop the proposal for the documentary I developed an info card to be inserted into mother and baby Bounty Packs when they leave hospital. Chris Wilson of Scriberia brilliantly illustrated my card design, as you can see above.

Working with director David Bond’s friend Dr. DJ Brown we are now trying to develop a medical trial of the cards in the NHS to test their effectiveness on new parents behaviour.