Sense of Place – part three

electric theatre

I started using QR Codes in 2010 – firstly to see if I could add any value to advertising. I then became more interested in education and developing the ‘game’ element (of what were essentially digital treasure hunts) to engage children in learning activities.

Conveniently, in the middle of this diversion from advertising in education I was asked to create a trail for an eTouirsm PhD Summer School at the School of Computer Science at St Andrews University. One of the lecturers had been watching the NEoN Knights QR Game unfold on Twitter and got in touch.

QR page mini-banner

His brief was for my trail to achieve two things: 1) An example, on day one, of technology enabling tourism that would prompt discussion and encourage the students to design their own ‘products’ throughout the remainder of the week. 2) An ice breaker, an introduction for the students (most of whom would be travelling from across Scotland) to St Andrews and to each other.

The aim of the eTourism trail, from my perspective, was a combination of both advertising and education. For a city like St Andrews those tow things are inseparable because the majority of the tourism is heritage and history.

St Andrews Space Hop

It was also an opportunity to engage with a Twitter/Social Media active community of independent traders across St Andrews who would value the interaction with tourism in a technological way and boast about it through their online channels.

The combination of these three opportunities has prepared me with the experience to create at least two other trails (though their have been more) that both educate and entertain:


Dighty Water – A vital stretch of water in Dundee’s history; rich with stories that have been gathered and tagged to QR Codes that will be dotted along portions of the walkway that follows the water.

And now:


Sense of Place (SoP): The McManus, Dundee

The McManus has a fantastic permanent collection, curated under the title of The Making of Modern Dundee (MoMD). This collection is situated down stairs at The McManus includes remnants of the original Tay Bridge that collapsed in 1879, through to video games from the 1980s created in the city. Many of the objects in this collection inspired work created for Sense of Place. Without moving them, we wanted to acknowledge them as part of our exhibition. QR Codes were the simple solution.


Throughout the SoP exhibition programme visitors will find QR Codes alongside project descriptions. These codes deliver additional content and help visitors understand the connection to MoMD – you may even find a sample hide here…

However, should you wander into MoMD knowing nothing about SoP there are QR Codes on the display cases that point you to the relevant work in our exhibition.


For me, it is the richest combination of physical and digital artefacts that I have worked on and another accomplishment in the image of the model I established with my Masters ‘Mystery Boxes’ project during 2011.

As if this wasn’t enough, the content behind some of the QR Codes are pieces of work that could constitute an exhibition for themselves. Trips across the Tay Bridge replicating a journey made, captured and shared over 100 years ago. Besides that you can share in the tour of MoMD that we made as a group with Brian Cox and hear him recounting memories of growing up an living in 1950s Dundee.


The thread through all of this is a desire to preserve memories, stories and experiences. While this feels very new, because the technology is so ubiquitous in 2013, we learned that our capturing and sharing activity is no different, in practice, to that of 1897. More people have access to the tools but the majority of them are filming the mundane processes of daily life as the pioneering filmmakers of the late 19th Century had. Train journeys. People at work. Children at school.

So, I am very grateful to ‘Sense of Place’. As I’ve said before, working with the young people was rewarding/entertaining enough. But in addition to that, together we’ve worked on projects that we will talk about for the rest of our lives – Tay Bridge journey, SmallPetitKlein, Brian Cox, the BIG Print, and so on… Finally, the fact that we’ve had the opportunity to bring it all together for the exhibition is the icing on the cake. But not just any old icing. Elaborate, swirly, multicoloured icing with adornments of sweet decorations covering a beautifully hand-made cake. That’s what it’s like.

Go along. Have a look. Let me know what you think.

Thanks :)

Find out more about:

NEoN Knights (Digital Arts Festival) – St Andrews Space Hop (St Andrews Uni PhD Summer School) – Balmullo Primary School (Permanent Heritage Trail)

Why I am not a Service Designer

dementia Diary workshop 1

At the best of times it can be a challenge explaining to people what you do. But when they already have a perception of what you do..?!

I’ve been a designer for a long time. A Graphic Designer. To many I will probably be a Graphic Designer until the day… well, you get the idea.

I’m a Designer still. But of a kind that many haven’t heard of. For you lucky people that’s about to change.
I work in Service Design.

PostIts workshop 1

Perhaps (mildly) controversially I’m going to say that I’m NOT a ‘Service Designer‘. That’s because I’m not sure that there is any such thing. Service Design (to me) is a collaboration between the designer (equipped with the tools and methods of design thinking), and the professional (armed with expert knowledge of their field, service or system – e.g. Social Services, Education, Health Care).

Within the collaboration my role is that of facilitator. I bring tools and methods that will facilitate the drawing out (pun intended) of ideas and visualisations to innovate, improve or completely change existing methods of working.

Maybe within that process we’re ALL service designers – what a utopia that would be!
On the outside, however, I’m just a designer, doing what I’ve always done – but with a new bag of fancy pencils.

Although the principles that hold Service Design together have been around for a while, the idea of designers doing something this useful still appears to shock. But if ever we needed proof that SD was edging into the mainstream, we find that even the BBC are in on it. Radio Four‘s ‘In Business had a programme dedicated to Design Thinking and how it is being applied to designing public services. It’s a very good overview and well worth a listen.

BBC 4 In Business

Conveniently there is also a new web platform around the idea of helping the general public understand what Service Design is and how businesses and public services can benefit from implementing its methods. Tereza Procházková recently graduated from Dundee University‘s Masters of Design for Services course at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design – Translating Service Design is her Masters project where she has taken the novel idea of creating short videos to introduce some of the concepts and methods of, you guessed it, Service Design.

So, expect to see Service Design installed into your place of work anytime soon! Well, maybe the next couple of years anyway.
Do you see Service Design solving issues for your workplace? Do you have ‘Service Designer‘ written on your business card and want your money back?
Tell me what you think…

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

During the last two years Jon Gill has worked as a designer with public service organisations such as Dundee City Council, The Young Foundation, People Can and the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) – not on posters and leaflets or physical products, but on services. Services such as delivery of services to homeless people in Westminster and Hackney, Public Consultation on Council Housing in Dundee and piloting new Social Service ideas for SSSC across Scotland (Borders Council, Moray Council, Alzheimer Scotland).

Jesse (in a nut) Schell

Gamepocalypse with Jesse Schell

Excited..?! Excited doen’t come close!!

I was on my way into Dundee on the train this morning when I spotted a Tweet:

@DareToBeDigital Excited for the @jesseschell talk at the Dare Jam at Dare ProtoPlay! Did you get your ticket?  #Dare2013

Excited doesn’t cover it – Jesse Schell is the chap I watched endlessly while completing my Masters project and wrote about at length on my Masters blog, Mysteryboxes and since, here on “Playful…“!
Disclaimer: If you are in no way interested in games, their value in play and education and plain ‘what-the-heck’ fun, then by-al-means leave now. This is kind of a geek-fest!
Dare To Be Digital - City Square - Dundee
So Jesse Schell is in town! The man who brought us the Gamepocalypse, the engaging and articulate vision of a ‘gamified’ future and, – as I drew to your attention only two months ago – his predictions are coming true!
So, if you’re unaware of his work but into your games then read the article above, read the stuff I’m about to post below and then go get your tickets for tomorrow morning at Dare! I don’t know what he has planned for you but I’m sure you’ll have a ball!
Incidentally, I dropped into the Dare tent today, in Dundee’s City Square. I’m going to write a little later on about a handful of games that I played; genuinely great games that, given the time to polish them up, will be on your mobiles and tablets in no time! 
So, here’s a digest (Jesse in a nut-Schell, if you will) of posts on MysteryBoxes that relate to Jesse Schell – they include a couple of YouTube videos on his Transformational Games theories and The Gamepocalypse talk itself. It’s long, but soooo worth it!
Enjoy! And let me know how you get on!!

Note to self…

Kids playing video games

Guest post today! It’s me… but me two years ago..!

Do you or your kids play video/computer games?

I wrote this during my Masters year (on ‘Mysteryboxes’, my Masters blog) when I was looking into video games and what we can learn from them about learning and engagement. At the same time I was a concerned parent… What should my kids play? How long should they play them?

Over the course of a year, by paying a little attention, I learned a few things that I felt were worth remembering – so I wrote a ‘note to self’! Having just read it for the first time in a couple of years I stand by it… especially the stuff about “better than TV” and “tantrums”!

I think games can be valuable in learning, but like everything else there needs to be a balance! But I feel as a parent I need to have some control, or sense, of what that balance should be.

So, if any of this sounds familiar please, click here, have a read, and let me know what you think!


Right Brain/Left Brain

During my Masters I took part in a focus group for a PHD student studying the relationship to Right and Left Brain functions in relation to creativity.
The aim of his study was “…to better understand the impact of interactive technology on the creative process.” In order to do this he also needed to “understand how creative practitioners make sense of their own creative practice.

For as long as I’ve been using a computer for Photoshop, Illustrator, etc., I’d been told that, in order to be truly creative, ideas must be generated on paper first and that creativity could not, cannot, originate at the keyboard or mouse.

I always struggled with this. Rewind a few years back to the 10 years I had spent working full-time as a graphic designer in a various local authority art departments. Rarely was there time to get the sketchbooks out and spend a morning doodling before gathering into a creative huddle and spend a week deliberating over a leaflet. I wouldn’t say that everything we put out was a creative masterpiece, but as individuals and as a team we were creative, we had to be!

The key argument for zero-creativity at the computer is because we engage the wrong side of our brain…

The left hemisphere specializes in analytical thought. It is responsible for dealing with “hard” facts such as abstractions, structure, discipline, rules, time sequences, mathematics, categorizing, logic…
The right hemisphere specializes in “softer” aspects than the left hemisphere. The right hemisphere is responsible for intuition, feelings, sensitivity, emotions, daydreaming, visualizing, creativity… (the old belief that left-handed people are more creative does hold some scientific credence). The right hemisphere also has a holistic method of perception that is able to recognize patterns and similarities and combines those elements into new forms.
Taken from The Art Institute of Vancouver website

So at first glance one can understand the argument but, with more and more creatives sat in front of computer screens, does it tally with the reality of peoples processes and creative output?

One of the conclusions the PHD student had come to was based on the observation of his girlfriend, an architect used to using a tablet for creating plans as well as concept sketches. Her feeling was that this ‘idea’ of stunted creativity at the PC was historically linked to older, slower computers, there wasn’t the immediate creative feedback that occurred with pencil and paper. But that’s not as true today. Modern professional level computers are powerful enough that filters, brush strokes, etc., are as instantaneous as their analogue counterparts. So perhaps the original theory outdated!?

That’s not to say that I can do without a sketchbook, it’s nice to have the option, but similarly some things can be done more quickly on the computer. I also found that I would create ‘digital sketchbooks’, creating multiple variants of my work during the creative process that I could go back to and contrast with later pieces. So, in effect there’s not a right or wrong way, they are just different processes.

So, I was reminded of these theories recently while using a new (to me) photo editing app on the iPad called Snapseed. The interface is so intuitive – stroke up and down for men pallets and left to right for intensity of the filter.

The relationship between the movement of my finger and the changes in the image are instantaneous and because of the touch screen there is nothing between me and the work. Not even a pencil!
In particular I like that the menus are where ever my finger happens to be, as opposed to the iPad edition of Photoshop where I’m still navigating via specific sections of the screen and the delay between what I want to do and how long it takes me to get there feels too long in comparison to Snapseed where it’s just there!
After a week of using Snapseed I found myself craving an A2 sized iPad so that I could get to work on my DSLR images and see more of the detail at one time. Surely this is the future!?

Obviously, this is only one area of what Photoshop is used for, but there is no escaping the fact that for colour correction, cropping, and filters, my workflow is quicker and more creative on the iPad than it could be on my MacBookPro.

So, to answer the initial argument – can I be creative on a Mac without a sketchbook? Yes I think so. But there are clearly ways possible now that are better and are a glimpse of what’s just around the corner!

It’s all very exciting.

Get Snapseed from the App Store for £2.99 (worth it!) – or if you took part in the Apple 12 Days of Christmas giveaways you might find that you’ve already downloaded it for FREE (even better value!!) and just not used it yet.

And if you want to find out more about ‘Right Brained Vs Left Brained’ then visit the website of the Arts Institute of Vancouver or do their test here… :)

Taylor Haig

Late last year, along with three other DJCAD Masters of Design graduates, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the initial stages of a project being managed by Taylor Haig. Taylor Haig specialise in Service Design and have led several key service redesign projects for local authorities across the UK. Lucy Kimbell (now of The Young Foundation) was their lead ‘design thinker’ and the DJCAD team worked closely with her in person and via Skype over several weeks.

The ongoing project is aimed at ‘children’s’ services within Dundee City. From the Taylor Haig blog:

Taylor Haig is advising the Dundee Partnership (Dundee City Council and its partners) who are using a Total Place approach to redesigning services. The aims include understanding more about local citizens’ lived experiences and looking to co-design services.

Gaining access to young people in the system to get a handle on the issues that face services and their clients daily can present challenges but the service workers and young people that we spoke to were incredibly generous with their time, willing to talk openly and frankly about their circumstances, their experiences and how the ‘system’ was supporting or failing them.  Part of my role in all of this was as documentarian, in video and stills, of the processes and outcomes of collecting and sorting of data and facilitation of workshops. Below is an initial rough-cut of early research carried out on Lochee High street. For obvious reasons I can’t/don’t want to show the faces of our interviewees but I did want to capture something of the people and their environment, their story. Primarily I achieved this through footage of hands and feet as well as the audio of the interviews. The audio, for now, has been removed, but hopefully you’ll get a sense of how, visually, the theme could be developed.

Additionally I was able to put my graphics background to good use by putting together an identity for the project – entitled, ‘Be The One’ – which would be included our clipboard sheets, posters, badges and icons for Twitter and Facebook.

The object of the badges was to have two designs; one stating ‘Be The One’, (a call, a challenge, to make a significant difference in someone’s life); the second design proclaims ‘I’m the One’. This badge was to be hand delivered by our young people to those who HAD made a significant impact on their life… who were those people?

As part of our on street research we asked that very question, ‘Who’s the one?’ in your life… the answers varied: “Mum”, “Steve at…” , “No one!”

But as if to illustrate to us the potential and the urgency in getting these services ‘exactly right’, we witnessed, first hand, a genuine success. At our first workshop with representatives from services involved with youth work in Dundee, one of the participants present was in fact one of the ‘names’ written down by an on street interviewee. It was a powerful and genuinely moving moment as we handed out our first ‘I’m the One’ badge to “Lorna from Careers Scotland, Dundee”. (Below is the photo taken of our interviewee and her hand written answer to “Who’s The One?’ several weeks earlier)

It was a great opportunity to be invited to witness experienced Service Designers work. It was especially encouraging to see that the tools and methods we had developed during our Masters projects were so compatible to Taylor Haig’s ‘tried and tested’ methods and that our team was a truly collaborative partner in the process. So thank you to Lucy, Lynne and Richard of Taylor Haig.

Work on the project will continue during 2012 so keep an eye out for updates.

Happy New Year..!

Slightly late start to the New Year perhaps but there has been a lot going on!

Just about a year ago I started blogging on MysteryBoxes. That blog primarily led you through the research and processes of my Masters Degree (@DJCAD) from which I graduated in November.  This site has taken the key projects and information from that blog and presents it (hopefully) in a more legible structure.

MysteryBoxes will remain live but will not be update anymore – this is the place to be.

So, have a look around and look out for projects rolling out over the next couple of weeks including a the return of BMEDay, a QR Code history trail project that I’m designing with a group of Primary School children and the latest information on the Dighty Burn!

Can’t wait to get you up-to-date! :)