Is ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not!’ attraction a museum?

15 Nov

Is ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not!’ a museum?

Introduction Situated on the corner of Shaftsbury Avenue and formally the London Pavilion Music Hall, 1 Piccadilly Circus has been the home to ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not!’ since August 2008. It is listed in the London yellow pages under ‘tourist attractions’; ambiguously in the Time Out London directory under ‘family friendly days out; it’s American counterparts call it an ‘odditorium’; yet the entrance to 1 Piccadilly Circus has the word ‘museum’ emblazoned above the front entrance.

This essay seeks to unpick this confusion and critically assess if ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not!’ can be considered a ‘museum’, by looking at the relationship between Museums and tourism; how the franchise considers and represents itself in the arts and heritage sector; the origins of the attractions; it’s curatorship and commerciality.

Heritage Tourism- The Statistics

On 9th September 2012, an impassioned Lord Sebastian Coe closed the London Paralympic games by delivering a speech culminating in the familiar phrase, “Made in Britain” (Channel 4, 2012). In a year that has seen seven years of Olympic funding and planning come to fruition, not to mention a diamond jubilee, Coe paid homage to this by stamping his seal of approval on the legacy of the ‘British Brand’.

The UK currently lies in third place in the Anholt-GfK Roper National Brands Index 2011(GfKAmerica.com, 2011), which ranks 50 countries in their global perceptions and appeal of six areas, to include Culture and Heritage, and Tourism. In this research, a distinction is made between the two areas, even though it is widely thought that culture, heritage and the arts have long contributed to the appeal of tourist destinations (Hall and Weiler, 1992). Catherine Palmer goes as far as to say that national identity, in fact, relies upon the ‘historic symbols of the nation as a means of attracting tourists’ (Tourism Management, 1999). The proof of the UKs reliance on this so called ‘heritage tourism’ is in the numbers; one of the three defined areas of the UK visitor economy is arts and culture, and tourism contributes £115 billion to the UK economy (Deloitte, 2010), making it the 5th largest industry in the country.

It is no coincidence, then, that the top 5 visitor attractions in the UK in 2011 were all Museums (Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, 2011) with the British Museum ranked in first place with 5.8 million visits last year. The popularity of our national museums can be partly explained by the fact that in 2001, admission fees were abolished, which saw attendance more than double in the first year. This reflects the Museums Associations official definition of a ‘museum’ as an instrument of accessibility to artifacts and specimens, for the general public (MA Online, 2012). Having no admission fees ultimately means that access to our culture and national collections are available to everyone and not just the privileged few (Serota, 2011).

However, the psychology of tourists being more likely to attend free attractions cannot be the only factor to blame for the popularity of museums. After all, even pre 2001, millions of visitors flocked to these institutions each year and what is not charged in admission fees is spent two or threefold in museum bookshops, cafes and restaurants (Serota, 2011). In fact, it has been suggested that very few of the approximate 2,500 museums in the UK (1,800 of which are accredited by the MLA (Museums Association Online, 2012)) are without some form of commercial proposition.

It is exactly this fact that characterizes the “Superstar Museum”, which, because of their status, are urged to offer the visitor a “total experience” including the latest technologies, audio visual advancements, politics and history. This conflict can have a negative effect on museum policy (S.Frey, 1998). In these instances, the shop, restaurant or other entertainment is offered as complimentary to the exhibits themselves. The Victoria and Albert Museum is currently hosting the Hollywood Costume blockbuster for 99 days and with it has come tenuously related film posters and red ruby slipper brooches, the ‘best seller’ in 2012 (V&A Online, 2012).

Perhaps, the Ripley’s franchise is just more honest to its approach to heritage tourism. The question remains, whether an unapologetic commercial proposition like ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not!’ is any less of a museum because it embraces and exploits the tug-of-war relationship between heritage tourism, the revenue that comes with it, and whether this contradicts a museum’s inherent mission statement.

Origins

The origins of all museums in their contemporary form are derived from the cabinets of curiosity, born into the 17th Century (Mauries, 2011). At this time, owning, collecting and filling special rooms with an assembled cacophony of artifacts from nature and history and experimenting with arranging and re-arranging, was seen as a status symbol, celebrating the wealth and intellectual power of their owners (Grolier Club, 2012.) Their primary function though was that they sought to provoke a sense of wonder in the viewer, allowing them to make connections across the entire field of human knowledge. These microcosms of the world proved the perfect vessel.

It is worth noting that in many ways they represented a world-view that valued the ‘wonder’ in an artifact much more than the need to analyze and classify the artifact (Middlestreet.org, 2012), redefining the historical meanings of the term ‘curiosity’. An ambiguous term at that time, it had been associated with a ‘sinful lusting after knowledge’. However, taking a less sinister guise, to be ‘curious’ was thought of as having a fascination with unexplained, and ‘…a restless childlike passion for anything novel, that could challenge notions of rational or divine order and existing knowledge systems’ (J. Delbourgo, 2000).

A thread of commercialism runs through the history of the ‘cabinet of curiosity’. Physicians, botanists, apothecaries, and other Wunderkammer collectors bequeathed their collections to family members or to state organizations, just as Hans Sloane did to the nation, which in turn formed the foundations of The British Museum. Leroy ‘Robert’ Ripley’ bequeathed his collection, the most precious and valuable of all of his assets, to his business colleague which led to the launch of the ‘Ripley’s’ franchise as we know it today. He was a self-penned chronicler of the unusual and devoted his entire life to the ‘amazement’ He could provoke in an audience via his cartoons and artifacts.

In December 2012, The Grolier Club in New York, are running the “Rooms of Wonder: From Wunderkammer to Museum” exhibition, which will chronicle the evolution of the ideas around the modern museum. They suggest that the generational act of bequeathing collections and holding in trust was the seismic shift that saw a turn away from the seeming chaos of Wunderkammer and developed a more ordered and human (Bowker and Star, 1999) approach to classifying objects, both natural and man-made.

There is a debate around whether Ripley’s original collection and what He documented in his newspaper illustrations was partly or completely fictitious. After all, He did not travel until much later in his life and employed a large team of thorough researchers to ensure that his articles and cartoons were never proven wrong (NNDB Online, 2012.) Whether elaborate fairytale or not, it is still the idea of the collection that is intrinsic to modern institution, and in this sense it is no less a museum than 221b Baker Street London, The Sherlock Holmes Museum.

Curatorship Edward Meyer has for over thirty years collected 20,000 museum artifacts to fill Riley’s attractions. They call him a historian, author, raconteur and curator. Similarly, Leroy “Robert” Ripley’s occupation is listed as ‘Curator, Cartoonist’ on the NNDB database, terms chosen from all of his other guises including journalist, explorer and entrepreneur. A pattern has arisen from the emergence of commercial museums and galleries of staff having ‘schizophrenic’ roles, to cope with the ever changing work environment. In a discussion around the rise of female directors leading commercial art galleries, Marian Goodman put it best when she said that she felt she was the perfect ‘combination of curator, entrepreneur and nanny…’ (Rawsthorn, 2006)

It is clear that press and public relations responsibilities do not fall under Meyer’s remit, as his response to questions surrounding whether ‘Ripley’s London’ would stand out amongst other more well established tourist attractions, including the wealth of museums and galleries, He is quoted to have said ‘Because we are unique — 500 exhibits you can’t see anywhere else. And importantly, they are all true and genuine!’ (London, 2008) He fails to understand the irony of his comments and perhaps this is an indication of the business brain which runs as an undercurrent in his approach to his ‘museums’. It is clear from this statement that the difficulty with defining Ripley’s Attractions’ as museums is as base and runs as deep as its very staff maintaining hybrid roles.

Self-Perception

Perhaps the answer lies within the ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” marketing strategy. Museums are operating in a changing and competitive market. They have a key role to play in education, the leisure industry, regional development, community cohesion and attracting visitors to Britain (Williams, 2009). There is a rolling debate around ‘museum marketing’ strategies that was first significantly pondered by Kotler and Levy who mused that up until that point, museum directors interpreted their primary responsibility as ‘the proper presentation of an artistic heritage for prosperity” (1969). This left people feeling disinterested and uninspired by their mausolemic nature.

It is fair to say, that museum marketing strategies have completely changed the way viewers engage with content, in the last forty years. In their role as a ‘super museum’ the V&A go as far as to exhibit their marketing manifesto on their website, and interestingly offer the opportunity for visitors to discover how this institution has evolved its visual and verbal identity by ‘…making an appointment with the V&A archive to see past posters and leaflets.’ (VAM Online 2012) A museum of a museum, no less.

Some critics even go as far as to say that application of commercial marketing methods is unquestioningly the reason for this success, and so called ‘museum-marketing’ as a subset, does not exist (Bradford, 1994). Whatever position that we consider, ‘Ripley’s’ seem to have clouded their marketing messages, and despite this being critical for the majority of commercial propositions, their company continues to develop and grow; by the close of 2012, they will have over ninety attractions worldwide, including ‘Odditorium’s’, Aquariums, ‘Guinness World Record Museums’ and ‘Louise Tussaud’s Wax Works’ (Ripley’s Online, 2012).

There are blatant and shameless inconsistencies, when it comes to simply defining what ‘Ripley’s’ is. Across the RipleysLondon.com website, they refer to themselves using 6 different nouns; including ‘Odditorium’, ‘Attraction’, ‘Museum-type experience’, ‘Collection’, ‘World’ and ‘Museum’. It also holds a mass of mixed up secondary signifiers with the word ‘show’ permeating, ‘exhibitions’, ‘exhibits’, ‘legacy’, ‘heritage’ and ‘artifacts’. The global website is again a mass of contradictions with Ripley’s Publishing, Entertainment, Attractions and ‘Believe It Or Not!’ considered as separate departments under the Ripley’s name.

The most interesting quotation from their marketing paraphernalia is that they define themselves as ‘the fastest growing international chain of museum-type tourist attractions in the world’ (2012). This feeling of the unresolved is key; after all, how are the public to critically define what category Ripley’s fall into if they themselves have left it a very grey area commercially? The addition of the word ‘type’ leaves a feeling of doubt in the public’s mind. With ‘Ripley’s London’ in particular, there is a stark contrast between this type of attraction and some of the world’s finest museums of art, history and nature residing only a short distance away.

Perhaps, they are not comfortable with defining themselves in such certain terms because of the cost attached to visiting the attraction compared with the more recognized museums and galleries in London. Entrance for a family, the UK’s average remaining at 2 adults and 2 children (defined as 4 years old and upwards) is £87.95 with additional children and concessions costing at least an additional £20 each, and this is before supplements to ‘jump the queue’. In comparison, The British Museum has a number of free and paid for exhibits that run throughout the year. For the equivalent family, it would cost £30, with children under 16 attending free and concessions over the age of 16 paying just £12.50 (BM Online, 2012).

This cost base is typically reflective of patterns in the Not-For-Profit sector; ‘Ripley’s’ is a privately owned, for-profit business and The British Museum is funded by a combination of grant-in-aid from the government, via the department of Culture, Media and Sport, as well as sponsorship from patrons and donors and the on-site revenue raising activities (BBC News, 2001) It also typifies the essence of the NFP sector; the continuous improvement and enrichment of society, using surplus funding to achieve the goals of the institution, rather than for the profit or any individual(s). Meyer himself probably defined it best when He said ‘…and have been in the museum business for 75 years!’ (Londonist.com, 2008)

Despite this hybrid of economic concerns, the word “Museum” consciously adorns the main entrance, which overlooks Shaftsbury Avenue.

Conclusions

The questions surrounding defining ‘Ripley’s’ Believe It or Not!’ by the Arts and Heritage sector highlight a much wider discussion around the differences, similarities and cross-over of commerciality with NFP notions. To some, the attractions are just that; attractions, and are so obviously a gaudy and un-relentless tourist trap that they lose all credibility as a museum. This is to say that a museum is not a museum unless it resides in the NFP sector.

However, referring to the Museum Association’s definition; ‘Ripley’s’ serves this purpose, but charges you for the privilege. Considering this, I think it is safe to say that ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’ is a museum; but there are two different ways of interpreting what this means.

The first is that it could be seen to fall in the intermediary space where cabinets of curiosities ended and museums began. At once, it has the characteristics of the chaotic Technicolor cabinets, with all of their boastful grandeur and relentless barrage of relationships and connections to make, but also has the classification and curated element to it. The birth of the company was due to the bequest of Ripley himself, which is tantalizingly similar to the birth of The British Museum. However, Ripley’s Raison d’être was the amaze his audience and allow them to create their own narrative, which in keeping with those earlier Wunderkammer collectors. Perhaps the reason defining the attractions proves so difficult is because a proposition such as this has never existed; it borrows ideals from two established historic elements but its place resides within the transition period; the late 1700s when Sloane died and bequeathed his collection; the only existing ‘pre-museum’. In this way, Ripley’s remains as true to the origin of ‘the museum’ as the majority of our UK museums today and perhaps they are just more honest in their approach to heritage tourism.

Another way to consider the definition is to consider the company as forward thinking and visionary. With the ever changing tone of the heritage sector, and the continued emphasis on the organizations achieving the ‘total museum experience’ who is to say that in 50 years, NFP museums will not be leaning more towards the ‘Ripley’s’ model in their approach? The term ‘tourist attraction’ seems a derogatory phrase however The British Museum or the V&A or any other museum can be classified in this way, just as ‘Ripley’s can be. Considering the future museum, perhaps curators will be renamed ‘Business Development Managers’. The only existing ‘post-museum’.

This is not to say that the ‘Ripley’s’ method is the perfect schematic for exploiting heritage tourism. The amalgamated nature of the organization has led to an unclear marketing message, as well as discourse within even their most senior staff, baring hybrid jobs descriptions and cross purpose values. It’s clear from this that the team behind the attractions are dealing with an interesting paradigm; Positioning themselves at once as a Museum in the ‘For Profit’ sector and a tourist attraction in the Not-For-Profit Sector.

Word Count: 2,686

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Scoping Out The Truman Brewery

17 Jul

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So, I ventured (and got lost) down brick lane after work today, to scope out potential spaces for the 1%ers Exhibition in London which is going to run from 21st- 29th November 2012.

The Old Truman Brewery is a hub for creative businesses. I have walked passed those supposedly “empty shops” so many times and have not known that they belong to the Brewery complex.

For fifteen years the Old Truman Brewery has been regenerating its ten acres of vacant and derelict buildings into spectacular office, retail, leisure and event spaces. The finely tuned mix of business and leisure has created an environment unique in London, making the Old Truman Brewery ; a destination in its own right.

http://www.trumanbrewery.com [Accessed 17.07.2012]

There were four glass fronted buildings that were available  for the period that we have decided upon. As you can see from the slideshow, they vary in size, shape, light, foot fall, and general amenities.

I met Annabel Bowman, who has worked for the company for 10 years and she was kind enough to show me around the spaces. Below is a summary of the notes that I made today:

Space 1: Shop 12 (Smallest Space)

This space is small but in the heart of Brick Lane. It is £880 square feet. There are seven double electrical points but they are all down one wall. There are 4 x 4 bunches of lights, and one wall is a glass front. There is a mezzanine and steps. There is no toilet and no storage. It isn’t a perfectly square space, angling in as you get towards the back.

Cost: £2,400 + VAT for the week.

Thoughts: No storage, no toilet and it’s sizes worries me, although it really would be dependent on how much work we have. Private View would be a squeeze.

Space 2: Dray Walk Gallery 

This space is available from the 21st- 28th. It has already been booked from the 29th November 2012. The space is large 2,650 square foot and square, with two walls made of glass so the best lit of all of the spaces. Ample electrical sockets but only down one wall. Storage at the back but no toilet again. The most achitypal “White Cube” space there is.

Cost: £3,500 + VAT for the week.

Thoughts: Probably the space in the best condition, and VERY well lit. Also in a wonderful space for footfall as it’s just by the Big Chill Bar so a very busy part of the Brick Lane party-ness. The most expensive though, and all the same; as in all white walls, no character and not a very varied space. Is this good?

Space 3: Wilkes Street

A space in a much quieter part of the area. It is a residential area so nowhere near as much footfall. It is 2,000 square foot though and very, very cheap compared to the others. It also is VAT exempt. This is because there is a leak and it smells very strongly of damp. It is an ‘L’ shape as well, and has a partial glass front.

Cost: £1,500 (VAT Exempt)

Thoughts: This space is not without its charm and although it is an ‘L’ shape, they have had wonderful almost natural looking strip lights fitted on every wall so light isn’t necessarily a problem. The small may keep people away, and also the ‘L’ part of it, that runs into the toilet isn’t really useable because of the gaping ceiling.

Space 4: Osbourne Street (Elfes Stone Masons)

A very odd, disjointed space, although not without its charm and in a lot of ways, the most suitable. There is a toilet and a small amount of amp damage in the main room but it doesn’t smell and would be perfectly serviceable with a lick of paint. Lots of footfall, because nearer the Algate East Part of London and tube station rather than the Liverpool Street and Shoreditch end. It is busy, however the clientells may not be correct. It depends on how much emphasis we are putting on the sales part of this.

Cost: £1,500 + VAT

Thoughts: I love this space but it’s really disjointed and I don’t know if it would necessarily work with the work we have. The space is very long and thin (Only 14ft wide app) although Annabel didn’t know the exact square footage. The back room is almost perfectly set out as an AV room for video. It already has benched in place in front of a big white wall for a projector. The middle room is the largest. It has windows down one side, a white wall down the other and a small 2 x 2m approx. room contained in it. The entrance room would only be suitable for sculpture as there is a mosaic partisan wall, but lots of windows.

Other Points to Consider

  • All spaces are “dry hires”, as in we bring everything in.
  • No floor plans available.
  • We need our own public liability insurance for £5 million.
  • We are allowed to drill into the walls as long as we fill everything afterwards.
  • Sunday is the busiest day, followed by Saturday and then Friday.
  • Lets run from 9am- 9am.
  • Electric cost £100 per week for all spaces.
  • Damages deposit if £600 per week for all spaces.
  • We don’t have to take a full week, there are day rates.
  • We need to send a wish list for our Private View. Annabel Suggest that for the more residential spaces, we can run no later than 10:30pm.
  • If we need audio, the acoustics are tricky. She asked us to think about this carefully, and also if we have  music at the Private View to bare in mind the residents.

The deposit for all spaces to secure the date is 50% of the fee (excl. VAT) and then the total including the damages deposit and the remaining balance needs to be paid a month before hand.

In terms of what I think would be best, Space 4 probably excited me the most but it’s not in the right area really. I don’t think that Space 3 was appropriate just because of the smell. We want people to come in and ‘experience’ the work and they’ll want to run away!

1%ers, have a look over and leave your comments or email me. We’ll need to get the ball rolling on this if we want to secure the dates.

 

The Day I Pledged my 1%

24 Jun

I always love a spontaneous gathering. In my life there is so much that I have to plan for (ridiculous work schedules, MA unit deadlines, Weight Watchers Weigh Ins, My dissertation, The Gym etc. etc.) that I find it very difficult to make time for my friends; especially those who are based outside of London. I am lucky to have those people in my life where I could not see them at all for 2 years and then the next time I did, it would be exactly the same; as if no time had passed, and with no expectation or awkwardness.

The other day, I received a surreptitious FaceBook message from one such couple. Usually residing in the Midlands, they said that they were in London and that we should meet for a catch up and that they had an exciting opportunity for me. So last week, most glamorously we met in Costa Coffee at Kings Cross St. Pancras. 

As ever, it really was lovely to see (Pseudonym alert) Mr. Fantasy and Sweet but Sinister Gamble. I had not seen them for over 12 months in which time they had moved house, changed their practice beyond recognition (one from Film Making to Collages and One from Biro drawings to film installation), run an art project in India and had both decided on starting their own MAs. They are the types of people that have maintained a gloriously bohemian lifestyle and have not sold their souls to the rat race. I am jealous. 

We discuss their art collective, The 1%-ers.

As I understand it, they are a nomadic artists commune who travel nationally and internationally in order to engage and respond to surrounding themes and environments, with a show called ‘Banality and Big Questions’. They invite collaboration from artists and encourage a hand’s on “DIY” Ethos; all artists are expected to engage fully with the space preparation and hanging work and take an active role in promoting the shows.

So far, they have had two shows in Nottingham, a residency and 3 exhibitions during a project in India, and they have an exhibition running in London this November, followed closely by another international show in Berlin in January.

Image

The ethos of this ragamuffin motorbike gang is simple; the work is more important than the artist, the whole is more important than the work. As such there are no titles on the works, nor are there floor plans. Works bleed into one another, rendering the gallery space as an ‘experience’. The work is produced in order to invoke questions in conjunction to the knotted relationship between ‘Banality’ and ‘Big Questions’.

I love this idea. It’s post modern at its core but doesn’t give a fuck and by all accounts people are lapping it up. In short, the 1%-ers are CHILDREN OF IRRESOLUTION.

And lucky me. The nature of ‘B&BQ’ is steeped in chaos and because of this, I have been invited to ‘curate’ and support their shows. This is a big deal, as Mr. Fantasy, the founder and director of the group, doesn’t like crowd scenes and I would imagine it was a wrench for him to share this project with anyone.

To get to the crux of the project, and to be able to manage it properly, I needed to map 1% activity, as in the wake of the India project, the core messages seem to have become diluted. 

Image

Image

What I have found so far is a lot of exciting stuff. Mr. Fantasy need not worry that the 1%-ers have lost their way. Everything makes perfect sense; I think the fundamental problem at the moment, is that as an exhibiting artist, its not always possible to make impartial decisions when you are acting curator as well. There always needs to be a project facilitator (as opposed to ‘project manager’ as creativity does not like being told what to do!’) in order to give perspective, and order, even when a project is at its core, chaotic.

http://www.1percenters.co.uk

Self Reflexive Essay: The Lazy Blogger

21 May

I want to begin by stating the obvious. I am a lazy blogger.

Back in September, on the first day of our Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship module, an enthusiastic Dr. Corinne Beaumont instructed an inquisitive class of 27 Masters Students that, for the duration of the course, we would be blogging our thoughts, for eventual assessment. “Knowledge should be freely available and shared”, she tells us, “so remember to share all of your thoughts and experiences through your entrepreneurial experiences”.

#Gulp.

I stand firmly on the fence between “digital native” and “digital immigrant” (Bayne. S, Ross. J. 2007); I am the kind of girl that keeps her security settings on high alert and would not know how to navigate a MySpace page. So, the thought of casting my thoughts out into the ether, or rather the “blogosphere”, for anyone to see, makes me feel like the ‘too-tall’, brace-faced teenager, standing before her school class, about to present her book report…

Reading back over what I have published this year, my posts have flitted from class summaries, to analysis of my own practice and everything in between. Either way, whether it is keeping record of my group’s meetings minutes or as a forum for discussing marketing strategy, I have found blogging to be extremely important in the business process.

FTSE100 Companies Use of Social Media (December 2011)

FTSE100 Companies Use of Social Media (December 2011)

Source: The Group.

So, why has blogging become so important, in changing face of business today? As you can see from the table above, corporate blogging still trails behind other social media usage, with only 16% of FTSE100 companies placing any importance on it by the end of 2011. Perhaps it is because updating a blog takes time and resources that companies feel would be better used elsewhere? Perhaps it is because they do not consider user engagement a number one priority? When pondering these questions at the beginning of the course, the answers were not obvious to my team and me, however now I have been through the process of taking a product to market; there are several uses that have been identified (Phil Szomszor, 2012).

To begin with, the aim of all of these social mediums is to drive and retain traffic to your business website.  In the most basic terms, a blog is more engaging and friendly than the press release; the social media for businesses of the “noughties”. Traditionally, companies paste media releases on their websites with the purpose of announcing something interesting or newsworthy. However this format is tired and users, whether they are customers, analysts or journalists, are looking for new ways of engagement (business2comunity.com, 2012). This also links nicely with the idea that the more engaging your blog, the more time users will spend on your site. Recent statistics released show that blog readers typically spend eight minutes longer than average on a site and view 11 more pages (Gaia Insight, 2012).

Over the last nine months, my blog statistics have grown exponentially as I have become more accustomed to ways of gaining traffic. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is another factor that gives blogging as far reach as possible, as search engines interact best with web pages with a frequent flow of fresh content (Phil Szomszor, 2012). This has been coupled with the fact that all of my other social networking activity is synchronized (my Tweets appear on Facebook and LinkedIn and vice versa) has proven a successful strategy as I have received comments from the United States of America, Nepal, Croatia, Indonesia and Brazil, contributing to the 1, 231 views that my blog has achieved so far. Fancy that; a lowly student reaching out to all corners of the globe.

We could talk about page views, unique users and page impressions forever, however from my business blog experience; this is definitely not the most important benefit of it. It is estimated that currently there are 4.5 million small businesses in the UK (Federation of Small Businesses, 2011) and with so much choice, especially online, customer segments will be drawn to those companies with whom they have a connection with. A blog is the perfect way of adding personality to your brand. You can showcase your organisations personalities independently from the logos and strap lines that are traditionally the only intended interaction that the customer has. It is direct communication with people who want to know about you, a genuine opportunity to interact and gives the business a human touch (Saunders, P. 2012)

It was my intention that my blog had a dual responsibility; to document important highlights of our business process but also to show people what activities I undertake as an artist and free-thinker, so they may understand reasoning behind the choices I make. In our first term, I stuck very much to summarising our lectures and finding a personal link within them. I was perhaps a little scared to post anything personal or controversial and in some of the earlier publishing, I think I was so hell-bent on writing a “good” post that satisfied the correct criteria, I did not always make the personal connections as obvious as I needed to.

In the second term, I took a much freer and easier approach to updating my blogging, and from a time management point of view, I think I should have been more organised. For example, at one point I had five drafts saved, and I was finding that by the time I published them, some of what I had written was no longer relevant. As if the moment had passed. Blogging needs to be representative of the time it was written and as with a diary; a retrospective stand point does not really work and was not conducive to a successful, dynamic, punchy blog post.

I counteracted this by making sure that I accompanied each post with something visual. There are videos of prototyping, animations, and trade fairs as well as dozens of photographs that I have collected of art, architecture, business propositions and window displays. It is important to use the blog as a multimedia canvas, allowing it to be as dynamic as possible.

What I have enjoyed about blogging is the idea of thought leadership, in other words the perceived advantage a company achieves in the minds of its stakeholders in relation to a theme or topic that is of central importance to its business (Lark. A. 2009), and the notion of the blog’s permanence. After all, when we graduate we lose access to all of the other resources that we have used, and the blog will remain, and grow. Long after my paper notes have faded and been recycled, the connections that I have made to lectures, guest speakers and the activities this year will still be in the digital cosmos.

There are two lectures that I hope continue to be discovered because the lessons that I learned in them have remained with me. The first was in our preliminary discussions about design thinking, and each of us was asked to disable one of our senses in order to make us approach mundane tasks in a different, adapted way. It enabled us to identify problems; gaps in design and the impact of poor design; things that hardly occur to us in everyday life, but were evident in this simple task as design eludes reduction and remains a surprisingly flexible activity (Buchanan. R, 1992).

The second was a resonating sound bite that I scribbled down, in our discussion with Alison Coward from Bracket Projects. We were talking about creative collaboration and how companies within the creative industries are favouring commissioned projects, using a freelance team of experts, instead of full-time staff on their payroll. She said ‘Projects needs to be facilitated, not managed, as creativity does not like being told what to do” (Bracket Projects, 2012).

I adore the sentiment of this statement. Creativity does not like management; it is chaotic and unpredictable, even in business, and requires facilitators in every organisation to make sure it has direction and is constructive. This was certainly true of our business project, and perhaps we needed a facilitator to ensure we achieved all of our goals.

When thinking about the future and life after Kingston, I always approach with trepidation for two reasons. The first is that I am one of a few part-time MACE students, so I still have a year to go, and ample to learn; the second is that ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ and spontaneity are what I thrive on.

However, I am at present considering two new intertwined ventures.

The first is that I am currently compiling proposals to apply for PhD courses that will be due for submission in January 2013. The research that I am planning is a study of recruitment patterns within the creative industries, and why the usual rules do not seem to apply to the vacancies or the candidates themselves. Particular points of interest for discussion are the apprenticeship mentality, the lack of specific recruitment consultancies within the sector and also a possible employment survey of the most senior figure-heads in each creative industries to date, covering issues like education, employment history, and a salary breakdown. I think that it is a very under researched area, and it is my view that it would then help the cultural worker in realising their worth and place in their chosen industries.

This may sound as though I am leaving the world of Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship behind. On the contrary; during the course of my research I plan to launch a creative industry specific recruitment consultancy in an attempt to affirm the findings of my research.  There are so many lessons that I will take from this module and apply within my business. The User Model and Activity Theory in particular will be of use as recruitment is a prime example of a user centric business model, as will storytelling with the use of personas (The ticking clock of ‘The Girl Effect’ is still ringing in my ears), as the service is definitely a people business and it will be important for clients to identify with my brand as ‘the missing link’.

I understand what Corrine meant about how all knowledge should be shared and so, if I could advise the 2013 Design Thinkers anything, it would be do not be a lazy blogger like me. Embrace blogging. DO NOT bury your head in the sand. Read other blogs. Ask people for comments and criticisms. Post your essays on there and ask for peer marking. Integrate music, photography, film, social networking. Share in the collective knowledge.

#sorted.

Bibliography

Anonymous. Dove’s thought leadership platform changes the face of advertising. Available at http://www.thoughtleadershipstrategy.net/. [Accessed 12.05.2012]

Anonymous. How to Draft a Press Release for the Digital Age. Available at http://www.business2community.com/public-relations/how-to-draft-a-press-release-for-the-digital-age-0155225 [Accessed 13.05.2012]

Bates, P. 2011. What is a business blog anyway? Available at http://marketing.yell.com/web-design/what-is-a-business-blog-anyway/. [Accessed 12.05.2012]

Bayne. S, Ross. J. 2007 The ‘Digital Native’ and ‘Digital Immigrant’:  A Dangerous Opposition . Available at http://www.malts.ed.ac.uk/staff/sian/natives_final.pdf [Accessed 04.05.2012]

Brown, D. 2012. Creating a Corporate Blog People Want to Read. Available at http://www.customerthink.com/blog/creating_a_corporate_blog_people_want_to_read. [Accessed on 11.05.2012]

Buchanan, R. 1992. Wicked Problems in Design Thinking from Design Issues Vol. 8, No. 2 (Spring, 1992), pp. 5-21

Falkow, S. 2012. To blog or not to blog- that is the question. Available at http://www.proactivereport.com/c/pr/to-blog-or-not-to-blog-that-is-the-question-2/ [Accessed 11.05.2012]

Federation of Small Businesses, 2011. Small Business Statistics. Available at http://www.fsb.org.uk/stats [Accessed 20.05.2012]

Gaia Insight, 2011. Understand your online environment  Available at http://www.gaiainsight.com/marketing/index.asp [Accessed 20.05.2012]

Hepburn, H. 2012 Corporate Blogging on the decline? Don’t read too much into it. Available at http://www.mediaemerging.com/2012/02/09/corporate-blogging-on-the-decline-dont-read-too-much-into-it/ [Accessed 04.05.2012]

Porterfield, A. 2011. 10 Top Business Blogs and Why They Are Successful. Available at http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/10-top-business-blogs-and-why-they-are-successful/ [Accessed 12.05.2012]

Saunders, P. 2012 Benefits of adding personality to your business brand Available at http://www.afterhourscreative.co.uk/blog-adding-personality-to-your-business-brand.asp [Accessed 15.05.2012]

Shorr, B. 2012. What’s the Best Social Media Platform for Business? Available at http://www.pamil-visions.net/whats-the-best-social-media-platform-for-business/233527/. [Accessed  on 12.05.2012]

Szomszor. P. 2012 Why should businesses bother with blogging? Available at http://www.theredrocket.co.uk/blog/?p=1960 {Accessed 15.05.2012]

Social Networking Report

Commission: GM Magazine Cover Illustrations x 12

18 May

In December 2010 I was approached by one of the magazines at the company that I work at. They wanted me to design a series of covers for a monthly publication called GM Magazine (http://www.gerimed.co.uk)

They have a long-standing tradition of having all 12 issues of the year sharing a common link with their front covers. In 2010 they had 12 microscopic images of plants from which medicines are derived. They were brightly coloured and abstract and the publisher wanted a complete change so that 2011 issues were totally distinguishable as readers archive copies, as with other journals.

At the time I was heavily into portraiture and so obviously I veered towards this format however the medium, size and poses were completely left up to me.

The subjects were proposed as “medical founders” so they could have been any medical professional who made a break through in the field of geriatric medicine. From an illustrators point of view, although the concept was sound, there was a massive problem with this; I was going to have to use “borrowed” photography. The problem with this is that you can never depend on the quality of photography that you are going to find, so even after the publisher had agreed the person for that month, there were no guarantee that we would be able to source a good quality image in order to produce a good quality drawing.

Also, in the briefing, some of the medical founders that the team were very keen on, dated back to before photography (100 years or so) and in the end, with every issue we had to approach it with a group of people in mind.

The publisher, also had no idea of the medium that they wanted me to use. He left the first January issue up to me to figure out, and I have to admit, going in blind was really difficult. After a couple of tries, I settles on a biro drawing with a colour wash background. The team liked this and we decided that all of the 2011 covers would follow this pattern.

GM January 2011- Alois Alzeimer

GM January 2011- Alois Alzeimer

The biro was a great way of disguising the fact that some of these images are grainy and bad quality. It is also versatile enough to lend itself to the subtlety of skin tone, as well as the rough texture of his tweed jacket.

For a look at the complete set of 2011 covers, and the 3 supporting supplements, please click the following: 2011 GM and GM2 covers

The reason that the publisher feels that it is important to have a common theme running through the magazine from covers, is for reader interaction. The world of publishing has changed beyond recognition in the last 5 years. Sam Missingham, of The Book Seller’s digital publishing blog Future Book (http://futurebook.net/) probably put’s it best in an interview with the BBC.

2012 is the year that digital has become embedded into publishers’ thinking and is no longer “just an interesting experimental playground for the cool kids”.

“Ebooks are the bread and butter stuff,” she says.

“Publishers are seeing huge growth in this bit of their business. One of the big leaps in digital is that publishers are able to communicate with their customers directly.”

BBC News [Accessed 18.05.2012]

The covers were designed to act like a competition, a “Guess The Cover” for the chance to win a coveted medical volume was introduced and as well as a shameless marketing ploy to build a database of its readers, this saw hundreds of entrants interacting with the paper copy of the magazine; something which is practically dying out.

Luckily the medical profession enjoys the quaint traditions of print publishing and hand drawn images, and the campaign was very successful.

Final Business Presentation and Dragon’s Den (May 3rd 2012)

4 May

Wow. It seems like only yesterday that we had our first lecture with Corrine. She told us that Design thinking was about design being intrinsic to a products function and not just the pretty bow around the outside. She also told us that in order to identify a problem and generate a solution, we have to look at the world in a different way. I was then blindfolded and taken to the bathrooms, and it is really strange how much more you notice when you become disabled in some way. For example, whoever designed the bathrooms in Kingston, put the sinks and the hand-dryers too far apart, making the floor damp and damaged. This lecture will stay with me as it opened my eyes (pardon the inverse pun) to the possibilities that we encounter everyday.

And now here we are. The day after judgement day. Our Dragon’s Den style business presentation and submission of our business report. Never before has the term ‘labour of love’ seemed so poignant.

Right now I feel completely drained. Within our group, 2 of us work and none of us live particularly close to each other, so it has been a hard slog to find time for it and get this far.

I am proud of what we submitted. It is always difficult putting a group project together and having a consistent flow of information; every one has their own writing styles and formats, and, let’s face it, 98% of the students in our MACE class have English as a second or third language. I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t do anywhere near as well as the girls in my group, if I had to do the same thing, in Italian, or any of the Chinese or Korean languages. When we started to collate the information, it was clear that we had done SO MUCh more than we thought we had, and because of the page limit on the plans, our ‘Appendix’ is the longest known to man! We just simply had to include, the market research questionnaires and statistics, the price breakdowns, and all of the wonderful PopCup branded marketing paraphernalia!

In terms of the Dragon’s Den, I was the most nervous, Mrs. Nervous from nervous town, which is strange because I am totally used to presenting through my job. There was a lot riding on this though, as it’s not just your progress and mark that you have to consider, it’s the entire groups. We began with a small act, complete with sound effects, and then ran through the presentation systematically.

Unfortunately, we did not get completely through what we’d intended to do. I’m still not convinced that we had our complete 10 mins. For a presentation that we’d times so perfectly, by the time you walk across the room and then the Dragons introduce themselves and then the team does the same, you are 3 minutes in, then after you elevator pitch/ executive summary, you are 6 minutes in and still have 8 points to cover!

However, the judges were fair and asked us good questions, so in the end, any points that we didn’t get to cover, came out in the Q and A. Most of their queries were to do with the finance section (the part that I was looking after, the joy) but I feel that we were well prepared and we knew our product inside out.

I can’t believe it’s all over now. What is the future for PopCup? Who knows. We havent discussed as a group what we are going to do, although there would need to be changes made to the manufacturing process if we did continue. Either way, we have learnt how to build a profitable, successful and award-winning company, with very little start-up capital and no prior experience. We should be very proud of ourselves, as should the whole of MACE11.

I hope we do as well as our team deserves.

The Bauhaus: The Original Design Thinkers

19 Apr

So, I’m sorry to keep going on about how much I loved Berlin, however, I decided that I needed to have a separate blog post to talk about the Bauhaus Archive, that I visited when I was there.

Staatliches Bauhaus commonly known simply as Bauhaus, was a school in Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts, and was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught. It operated from 1919 to 1933. At that time the German term Bauhaus, literally “house of construction” stood for “School of Building”.

[Accessed 17.04.2012]

The Bauhaus school was interested in developing a new kind of artist; one that was primarily an expert craftsman and in the new highly mechanised society that they found themselves in, art and technology needed to develop a unity.

There needed to be a function to product design; it had to meet educational and societal needs. The school implemented new concepts by methods of teaching that transcended purely artistic or the strictly technical.

From the outset, there was a preliminary course that taught scholars basic techniques of craftsmanship and the skilled handling of a number of materials that were a necessary precursor to making successful designs. Above all, this section encouraged the students in the art of self discovery, inclination and skill.

The Students must eventually free themselves from all dead conventions.

Breathing is important. The way we breath is the way we think.

Rythm is the most basic principle.

Johannas Ittens

At the core of the course was to recognise and create contrasts. This could have been between light and dark or between different materials and juxtaposing shapes, hard and soft, light and heavy. Ittens believed that a work of art must be sensed.

Although Ittens was only director of the Bauhaus for a short while his ethos was very mush to plunge his students into chaos to encourage play and free thinking. This all links rather nicely to the modern idea of “design thinking”.

When we talk about design thinking these days, we think about ill-defined problems, acquiring information, analyzing knowledge, and positing solutions. Design should be intrinsic to the function of the piece of work rather than the pretty bow that goes around the outside. This is further concreted in the development of the Bauhaus, as the emphasis shifted to intuition in the design process.

The best and probably the most famous example of this within the Bauhaus and tying my thoughts together is that of the Cantilevered chair.

You will be accustomed to this seemingly “Ikea” design of Bruer’s Tubular steel chair, however back at its inception, this piece of design was seen as visionary, as the designer experimented with the essence of the chair. The rules that chairs had always abided by ie: to have for legs in contact with the floor at all times, no longer applied, and this piece of design is both iconic and has paved the way for modern furniture design.

For all its influence on generations of artists and crafts people, The Bauhaus school was not open for very long at all, however it is massively important for all modern designers to understand the birth place of functional product design.