Archive: derby

Mudlark + The City of Steel

We are very excited to announce that we’ve moved to Sheffield. A city with a long history of creativity, industry, digital culture and independent spirit. It’s a city with a personality and warmth.

For the last three years, we have been based in an old Victorian mill in Derby. It was a wonderful place — where we dreamt up Such Tweet Sorrow, Chromaroma, Derby 2061 and many other gems — but the time has come to move on, to get out of the romance.

So, farewell old mill. Farewell to your blazing summer sun and your blue-fingered winters. Farewell to your leaking roof and the smell of hops from the brewery below. Farewell to the dojo, upholsterers and men who make tiny things for airplanes. Farewell to Derby.

Hello, then, to our lovely new base in Sheffield. Hello to the Site Gallery, where Mudlark now nests. Hello to Other People To Talk To, hello to Andrew Motion’s poetry, hello to shimmering silver balls. Hello to a new lease of life.

Hello to you, particularly.

And if you’re in town, drop in and we’ll say hello to you. We’re here to meet people and businesses with different ideas, fresh approaches, new horizons — and hopefully bring a bit of Mudlark to the city. We are always around, pop in and say hello.

See you soon,
Mudlark of Sheffield.

This is Arts Derbyshire

Last year we worked on a Making Future Work commission from Broadway Nottingham and Arts Council England.

We looked into Open Public Data in the East Midlands. We talked to data owners and compiled research (which we’re still compiling) with a view to making something with the data. We also wanted to help data owners see the value in opening their databases as well as artists, designers and developers see the potential for making new works and services out of them.

One dataset that we were successful in partially unlocking was the Arts Derbyshire membership database. This is a spreadsheet of artists, their practice and their location within the county. We were allowed to use the arts practice and location but not the name of the artist or organisation.

So, we made This Is Arts Derbyshire – a mapped visualisation of artists in the creative county.

Picture of the This is Arts Derbyshire website.

It shows clusters of artists in a location. The more you zoom in, the more granular it becomes. You can browse by ‘Artist’ or ‘Organisation’ as well as by all the different practices that are registered.

There are a few interesting uses for this kind of thing that we can see already…

For one, it shows how creative the county is. In our experience working with people like the Creative Industries Network in Derby, the creative output of an area is intrinsic to its value – both in the appeal for people thinking about moving there and for the fiscal benefits of small businesses.

It can help people thinking about doing business there. The map can show a strong network or the lack of a service, depending on the business needs.

It can help local businesses find other businesses to work with nearby.

We’re interested to hear about other uses you can think of. Leave us a comment is you can think of anything.

We’re also interested in hearing from any other holders of data who would like to explore ways in which they can present their data like This Is Arts Derbyshire or our work on the Birmingham Civic Dashboard.

Dream Society

A few weeks ago I was invited to talk at a PechaKucha Night in Derby. I took the opportunity to talk about a few things I had recently read about — seeing it as a chance to combine some ideas and see whether they could relate back to design in some way.

The first book I introduced was the late 70s best seller Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which I had read a few months back. I focused on its exploration of the ‘Classical / Romantic’ philosophical concept — an idea that says we see the world in these two different ways.

I used a clock to explain the Classical point of view;  to describe its’ functions, facts and things you could actually prove. I used the same clock to demonstrate that you could see the same object from a Romantic point of view; to appreciate its’ craft and beauty as an object, maybe even how it made you feel.

I transposed this Classical / Romantic duality to an interpersonal level where I talked about how some people are logically minded (Classical) and others conceptually minded (Romantic).

At this point I introduced the second book — The Dream Society — a book I had read more recently.

James at PechaKucha Derby

Imagine hundreds and hundreds of years from now when global economies equalise and wealth is more-or-less evenly distributed — this may mean that material things will come to have less value. And so future economies will revolve around evoking a strong emotional connection to stay relevant.

The book points out present-day examples of this emotional connection. These were Disney with its ‘magical’ attributes. Sporting events as they are aspirational (as humans we aspire to achieve great things: Esteem, part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). And also tourism with its’ natural, enduring beauty.

I then took the Classical / Romantic duality to industry and used the technology industry as an example. I described the fact that there has been a definite shift from the IBM days where computing was all about features, specs and crunching numbers (Classical) to the recent years with the success of Apple and their focus on usability, humanness (Romantic).

I concluded that what matters — now, but more increasingly in the future — is this emotional value. Having advanced technology, automation and everything that comes with it is great, but there will still be a need for us to be human, not merely machines.

My closing words for the talk were “Be romantic”.

Derby 2061

Today we’re ‘releasing’ a new ‘thing’. It’s an experiment…. a prototype… we’re not sure what it is yet…

Throughout the summer we’ve been playing with existing locative platforms. A lot of the time we get asked by clients to build them something using location, but a lot of the time it’s either just too damn expensive for the project, or would take away from the project by being tacked on to an otherwise nice tight package. Frustrated by the cost of new development, we decided to spend time messing around with what’s already out there. Even though we don’t like them so much, we started playing with QR codes to create contextual portals of interactivity, rather than strictly GPS-enabled gubbins. These were cheap, quick, easy like digital sketches. We tried out SCVNGR in a museum (in the V&A!).

Two of my favourite things are stories and time-travel. Everyone at Mudlark knows this. I like the layer that historical knowledge can apply to the everyday. It’s what Augmented Reality endeavours to do. Sometimes you don’t need apps, and sometimes you do. There are a few out there that have tackled history, so we thought we’d have a go at the future.

'Girl X' from Derby 2061
‘Girl X’ from Derby 2061

It started with Derby Train Station. I think we were just testing to see if Foursquare would let you make something up. It did. So we made an alternate version of the train station “location”. It was some time in the future, when a Monorail (the first sign of the future) arrives in town, and Toby started adding ‘tips’ about Memory Ports in the carriages (this set ended up setting the tone for the whole of the project).

On the next trip out of town, I checked into the future Derby Monorail Station on Foursquare instead of the present day version. The ‘Tip’, rather than a commercial for something around me, felt more like a story. It felt like a nugget of another layer. It made me want to find more. Add to that a healthy dose of Pat Cadigan and Philip K. Dick and the next thing you know there’s a spreadsheet and collaborative Google Map open and we’re barn-storming what Derby will be like in fifty years.

A bit of time and a fair bit of thinking later, and it’s ready to road test. Fifty locations scattered around Derby city-centre and Darley Abbey (where our studio is) exploring what the city might be like in fifty years’ time. There’s a story in it to find. In fact there are a few. There’s the story of new industry, of civilian life in a new culture changed by it, the story of buildings being repurposed, of politics, of clock-making and time. All told by a female guide from the future.

Luckily, Foursquare have just released ‘Lists’, providing us with an easy way to share the whole story with users. Click here for that. We’re also making a Wiki for all the bits of story we’ve invented, and hope to add more to it if people add nuggets of their own to the locations.

Greg’s still on the fence about this project. He keeps asking me what ‘it’ is. So, for Greg:

It’s an experiment to find out the following:

  • Can you tell a story on Foursquare?
  • Will users engage with it?
  • Will Foursquare and it’s user base let you mess with the program?
  • How does it square up as the surface layer of a deeper story (tested out on the Wiki but possibly transferable to long-form print)?
  • Is it just me being me, or can checking in to things that aren’t there feel like the future (or past)?

It’s right on time to be something for a load of southerners to play with when they come to Derbyshire this week to immerse themselves in old industry at our Laptops & Looms three-day event, where we visit the historical heart of the Industrial Revolution, sitting in silk mills pondering the future.