Think ‘Differently’ Tank

To put it simply, to think differently, is to innovate.

Montage of video clips from the two-days Think Differently Tank

Commissioned by theLancashire Forum Creative, the Think Differently Tank was designed to engaged digital and creative local SMEs to inspire, imagine, infuse and intrigue.

To put it simply, to think differently, is to innovate. Its focus is to change perceptions about something we find difficult or challenging. The tank explored the possibilities to break down barriers allowing delegates to imagine the possibilities to Think Differently. For us at the Media Innovation Studio (http://mediainnovationstudio.org/) and friends we feel innovation doesn’t start with technology, but pens and paper/low-fi materials. Technology comes as the by-product of innovation which ultimately is where we hoped to end up after the two days.

The Media Innovation Studio hosted a special two-day Think “Differently” Tank (TDT) focussed around Process, People and Prototyping. Exploring novel ways to think differently, through our two-day conference/un-conference hack.

Over the two days we welcomed experts from industry and academia to share their insights into process, methodologies and practice.

Brendan talking about process and prototyping

From industry we had Brendan Dawes, an artist exploring the interaction of objects, people, technology and art using form and code with an eclectic mix of digital and analogue materials. In a previous life Brendan headed up MagneticNorth as Creative Director before venturing out on his own. Author of two books on interaction design, his work is featured in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and has been honoured in awards including Fast Company Innovation by Design, Information is Beautiful and D&AD. Clients include Airbnb, Google, Twitter, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Intel, Cancer Research UK, Mailchimp, M&C Saatcci, EE, PWC, The Atlantic, and Arup. Brendan brings his unique style of process and knowledge of working for clients to the workshop.

I first met Brendan at one of the many Flash on the Beeches I attended. Later on I stumbled upon one of Brendan’s creations. It was a nifty little phone stand called MoviePeg. I loved this little thing, it’s beautiful, smart, compact, colourful, playful and did the job. It was the process in which this item was created that I fell in love with. How something could be imagined on a train journey home, realised through cardboard and prototyped with other materials then put into manufacture in such a short space of time. It was true rapid prototyping and deployment.

Brendans work: data visualised through lights and fabric
Dr. Adrian Gradinar — talking about his work in both academia and industry
Adrian’s work on process and prototyping: researching through design

Complementing Brendan is recently doctoral graduate Dr. Adrian Gradinar. I have known Adrian for some time now. we first crossed paths whilst I was teaching a lab for Lancaster Universities Communications department. Adrian soon became not only a top quality student, but someone whom would work for, with and alongside me. We still continue to work in academic circles, which is why I was thrilled to have him come speak and mentor at TDT.

Nowadays, Adrian is an Experience Designer and Researcher, currently employed as a Research Associate within Imagination Lancaster at Lancaster University. His main area of research lies in the intersection of the digital world we experience in our daily lives and the physical world we actually reside in, with a keen eye onto how to design better [more meaningful] experiences taking into account our mixed-reality environments. For the last 5 years, he’s also been running his own business as a technical consultant, delivering different products and solutions to a range of clients.

John Mills presenting his work on insight journalism

At the other end of the spectrum (industry to academic) we had John Mills, based at the Media Innovation Studio, University of Central Lancashire. John gave me the balance to my speakers. His talk on Insight Journalism was decided upon as an additionally methodology to consider. Currently undergoing his PhD, John’s research interests span journalism, the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented paper, mobile journalism, wearables, HCI, drone journalism and innovation theory. In recent years his research has focussed on the Internet of Things, and how news organisations could utilise physical platforms and experiences. This work includes the Google-funded NewsThings project, an IoT content management system and conductive ink and web-connected print, and work around augmented and connected print.

Ruben setting up for his masterclass

Part of my role and passions is to nurture new talent. I conduct this through many channels. One in particular is through the international internship. Where each year the Studio hosts a Belgium intern. This year I was lucky to have two fantastic students, who were keen, passionate, knowledgeable and inquisitive. Which always makes things a lot easier. I was excited to give these guys another oppotunity to visit the UK and Preston, by welcoming them back to the Studio to run their own masterclasses. Robin and Ruben are recent bachelor graduates of Applied Computer Science at Howest. During his internship Robin has shown an interest to explore the use of physical and digital computing with electronics.

Robin debugging code

During his internship in the Studio he built a range of devices that aim to nudge people into better habits — thinking about the technology that surrounds us and how they talk to one another, which is great but how does it affect us, by being notified about temperatures in our homes, or DM’s from friends on Twitter? Following the further graduation of his Applied Computer Science, Ruben Dejaegere has a vast experience working across technology platforms to prototype artistic experiences. During his time, he also learnt and created how to prototype with physical objects using the 3D printer. His works will be used in museum exhibitions to encourage music making, creating opportunities to provide access to music for everyone.

What is John doing with those two stacked glasses of water?

From the Faculty of Culture and the Creative Industries and colleague within the Studio, John’s role at UCLan involves mentoring colleagues to build a more structured and strategic approach to engaging with research and tendering activities. I was delighted to have the reliable, insightful and professionalism of John’s presence to add to my team. John assisted in facilitation and ran his own workshop in day two that focussed on the ‘5W1H’.

Setting some context for the next today days

And finally myself. I headed up the Think Differently Tank from the Media Innovation Studio where my role was to bring people together, organise the two days activities and set the tone for delegates. Based in the Studio as a creative technologist and researcher. My work lies between computing and design focusing on the Human-‘istc’ side of Computer Interaction. Exploring the interactions of users through the design of meaningful blended experiences. I also have many years of experience as a technical consultant in the digital and creative sectors. Supporting SME’s achieve and realise their goals through the design, development and deployment of digital platforms.


Day 1: Inspire / Imagine / Intrigue / Infuse

Marshmallow challenge set by Adrian

It was important to set the tone and context for the two-days, ee had researchers, designers, technologists and industry experts who shared insights into various approaches to process, methodology, creativity, research and innovation that provided insight, inspiration, and intrigue, to transfer new ways of thinking into participants own businesses/practice.

I was important to get the right balance of talks and interaction. Each talk consisted of a small group exercise — where each presenter set a task and provided resources and materials to assist in the exercise.

Day 2: Ideate / Innovate / Interact / Insight

The structure for day two was determined from the themes extracted from day one combined with who’s in the room. We drove deeper into the types of talks from the previous days, with further masterclasses where participants gained a hands on experience with physical/analogue/digital technologies, playing with data and novel insights into storytelling. Delegates had the experiences to make, create, design and discuss ideas with mentors. This session will provide an opportunity to engage, inspire, interact and up-skill.

Welcoming people back to day 2 with a quick Remerge session to capture feedback from the previous day

We had some much going on for all four mentors. Each masterclass focussed on a different output and learning activity. These included;

  • Adrian guided delegates through low-fi prototyping. What can you do with pieces of card, string and spaghetti mixed with low powered technology and simple interactions? Adrian encourages play — like you did as a child. Show your creativity in his masterclass and learn new processes and ways of thinking to prototype ideas.
Adrian’s lo-fi prototyping in action
  • Brendan got participants sketching with code. They got to play around with Brendans own library — Dawesome — where he expertly guided through the uses of his tool set in order to create visually appealing pieces of code. He talked about how he uses the technology to explore the interaction of objects, people, art and technology — Using a combination of materials such as form, code and analogue and digital components.
‘This is what sketching with code looks like’ Brendan 2018.
Making robots to rule the world — well maybe not yet
  • Robin and Ruben infused technology platforms to reimagine what’s possible. What can you do with lights and sounds, their creative coding masterclass demonstrated this. Participants made LED rings light up based on an interaction or data from social media and played a sound when a target is reached. Think about if you get a message on social media what could your tech do to notify you about it?
The aha moment — lighting up the neopixel using data
  • John (Law) helped to unravel concepts and demonstrate ways in which to expand your thinking in different directions, to fully explore the potential of an idea, before focusing down to achieve clarity in the expression and presentation of your thinking to others, whether that be potential partners, stakeholders, or external funders. Large sheets of paper, nice marker pens, post-its and of course the leadership of John. He got participants to directly apply techniques and processes to their own themes and contexts, to reveal the power of ‘Thinking Differently’.
Dr. John Law getting his students to expand their thinking

The two days generated a great buzz on social media from both the social media team (Amy, Elliot and Oliver) but also from the delegates (see a collection of tweets below). Without the help from the social media team we wouldn’t have the insightful interviews, artistic videoing and awesome photography. Which was all brought together in the live blog.

If you are interested in seeing more photos from the two days — head over to my Flickr page.

On day-two I even managed to find some downtime to participate. Here’s a snap of me and Debbie reading, cutting, debating, sticking and of course cheering. Teamwork at it’s finest.

Pressure was on to complete the Paper Signals — pressured by time as I had to get back to the duties of running the day!
Getting feedback via Remerge

Great team effort from my team, Lancashire Forum Creative and of course you the

Think Differently Tank — Summer 2018