Thursday, 19 February 2009


Ambaba is a company who are designing environmentally sound re-usable nappies that intend on lasting a child from birth to potty. This is to hopefully cut down the impact that the disposable nappy market is having on the environment with around 400 tonnes of them being sent to land fill every year.

I found Mel Woods talk about her company which she runs with partner with Roz Henderson very interesting, as it is something I am very interested and concerned about too. I spent a year working at a nature nursery, where the children were in real nappies so I understand the practical issues of sizing, folding and all the different layers that go into a reusable nappy that Mel talked about. The comfort and movement issues of these nappies also concerned me, while I believe re-usable are better for child and environment alike, they are at least three times bulkier than their disposable counter parts. For the early crawlers especially, it was a mission for them to get around, not to mention the elastic being too tight for the 'chubbier' of babies, or the ones that were 'between' sizes, and I wont go into the leaking issues if everything wasn't secured or folded correctly!

I think that the ambaba nappies are fantastic, especially if they are simpler to use than the ones on the market at the moment. Lots of parents I spoke to wouldn't use the reusable nappies at home because felt they were too complicated and bulky to fit under their babies clothes. Aesthetics are everything, even to a 10 month old baby it seems. So if ambaba can solve all the problems of the current reusable while injecting a seance of style and fun into the look I think that they can achieve their goal of bringing their nappies to mums across the country and persuade them to choose re-usable over disposable.

This company works well and their ideas are so successful because they take in to account all of the practicalities of a nappy. Mel and Roz have a lot of experience in the field of changing nappies, they are both mothers, due to this knowledge and having the passion to realise their vision they have the motivation to succeed.

Ambaba could be developed for use at the other end of the life scale proving that you never no who your market could include.

**Update on Ambaba - Mel is no longer with the company as she has taken up a full time position at Dundee University and Roz is now going it alone. In my above post I talked purely about Mel, as I had met her and herd her talk about the company. I have now had the opportunity to find out a bit more about Roz so here is her vital statistics Roz Henderson is a designer and fabricator with a background in film, theatre and animation. She previously lectured at The University of Northumbria and Dundee University, and was costume fabricator and sculptor on the films ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Mummy’. Roz is also the driving force behind New Leaf Naturals - the Perthshire based ethical grocery store.

I wish Roz well with the project and I cannot wait to see Ambaba products in stores.


What is the RESQROLL? Its a tool to aid medics or any person, to protect the spine, when trying to extricate and move an injured person, be it from car crashes or slipping and falling in the bathroom. Spinal injuries worsened by the incorrect movement of trauma victims are a real problem according to Brian Carling who invented the RESQROLL. This ingenuous invention which as Brian put it is a very simple design, and it has to be so people can use it with ease, retaining the knowledge a long period of time after training. (Brian pointed out that a doctor can louse up to 92% of skill retention after a year has elapsed from performing any given task, and here I thought it would be like riding a bike. The two years between my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees when I was out in the world gaining 'life experience' I rarely picked up a screen and a squidgy to print but I am still able to print with ease, all my tacit knowledge was retained... however this probably is not the best comparison as I am sure it takes far more skill and precision to administer injections or perform intricate surgeries than it does to print on a piece of fabric.

Brian was very professional in his talk and made a very engaging speaker, his business and design is very unique and seemed at the start of his journey to belong to a very niche market, however as it has evolved the possibilities of where this spine saving equipment could be used seem vast. Mike and Jonathan made the point yesterday that your market and target audience might not be who you think, and on reflection I guess this is what Brian was saying to, or at least that is what has happened to his business. He thought it would be used within the NHS but the armed forces have taken on the idea along with the oil industry, formula 1 and the possibility that everyone could have a RESQROLL in their boot.
I am sure the RESQROLL will continue to be a success preventing spinal trauma victims from permanent paralyzation, and for me the message is clear, that good ideas can make a difference with a lot of passion, nourishment, a bit of help and a lot of hard work.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Funding with Sara Keith

The nightmare that is the funding world was explained to us today by Sara Keith (who is a textile artist, currently finishing her PhD and she also works as a consultant on the panel for the Scottish Arts Council looking at grant applications) She was a very engaging speaker as she was able to give her advise and experiences from both sides of the proverbial funding coin. In the sense that she applied to the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) for funding for her PhD and also helps decide who should receive funding from the Scottish Arts Council.

Sara's talk has reinforced my belief that applications should be carefully checked over before submission to make sure that you are actually answering what is being asked and that it should be legible and not dogeared or late! As lets face it what sort of impression does it give off when you yourself receive something to that effect... in my case not a good one. It comes down to a trust issue and if you think someone is going to deliver or not as the case may be. Why would you give someone money when their application is late, creased and has a big coffee ring on it...? Doesn't give off the best first impression does it...? What would I do with it...? Well I have that answer, put it in the bin and not even consider them. A bit harsh I no but I think all these things come down to respect and professionalism. Last week we had a workshop on improving our CVs we were given one as an example, the credentials were impressive however it was submitted after the deadline, had a few obvious spelling mistakes, questions set were not answered correctly and over all presentation was poor. This gave me the impression that this person was unreliable and took very little pride in their work, or at least had little interest in the job they were applying for as little effort was made. So while a number of the class went on the credentials, I went on the feeling I got when looking at the presentation of the document. I wouldn't want to hire anyone who seemingly didn't take much time or effort in completing a task. Your application or CV is the first the first point of contact so it has to convey who you are and why you want to work at their company. I now understand why upon graduating and sending away what seemed like millions of CVs I got a very limited response, and all saying the same thing, thanks but no thanks. I had not tried to impress individual companies of how I could add to their team or the passion id bring for what I do, I simply sent in a list of credentials showing no personality or drive... I hope now I have had this revelation I will not fall into the same trap again... I had never considered it from the other side, I did not have the understanding to see this fact or the tools to counteract it. (the masters course is really helping me with all aspects of my professional life, I would now view myself as a designer where I never would have before... upon hearing 'that' dreaded question on meeting someone for the first time "so what do you do?" Id mumble something about working in a shop but that I had done textiles at university, but by this point the person I was talking to would have glazed over and wandered off).

As I am seriously thinking about doing a PhD it was good to have a chat with Sara after her talk about her experiences with funding, as forms like these always make me nervous, especially when having to sum up what you intend on doing in 500 words. A necessity though, as it outlines in a coherent way exactly what you want to achieve. Not only will this help the research council understand you and your work, it will help you to grab onto and be able to get across your main points. A task I struggle with, and always end up leaving something out, like last week when I was summing up my project I omitted to mention the disastrous effects the fast fashion industry is having on the world and the people producing it through every stage of production, which is why I'm doing my masters! So now I have made up a wee map of knowledge swatches at my desk which helps me to talk and think through my project in a clearer and ordered way. Something I am finding very useful as I can add notes when I find something new.

As I am moving through higher education it seems to get harder to gain funding, research has to be justified and everything down to contingency plans needs to be outlined. A far cry from when I filled in my SAAS forms for my undergraduate course, this while still an extensive form wasn't about justifying your work, it was more about showing your income or lack of it as a reason to obtain a loan and to get your fees paid (this was always seen as pretty much a certainty as long as you got your forms in on time, not like the highly competitive AHRC funding).
The competition for this scares me a lot, how do I make my proposal stand out from the crowd? With all the hints and tips from today as well as an extensive list of funding bodies and people to speak to for advice on the subject I think I will be OK. They are not scary forms trying to catch us out, just a list of questions carefully engineered to retrieve the information required to ascertain if you are an eligible candidate for funding. And at least I am aware that if I am not successful with one body their are other ones out there that I might be a better fit for me and my work.

Zippy Kit

Elena Corchero's Zippy Kit workshops, 'Innovative and fun DIY toys for all ages', are workshops where you are taught to learn basic electronics and innovative textiles skills (no previous experience is required). This seems like a fun way for all the family to be introduced to new technologies that are appearing, as well as giving them something special (that remind me of Donna Wilson's creatures) to take away which I'm sure will be a talking point among friends and family, widening the net of knowledge of what is possible and hopefully inspiring a new generation of creative minds.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Green Knickers

Ever wondered how to keep track of the disastrous problem that is global warming? Then fear not help is at hand by Green Knickers who have created these climate change pants. When you heat up the water level rises over the world engulfing it in oceans. A gimmicky product maybe, but it highlights the real issues facing human kind today (see Mark Lynas informative website on the six degrees phenomenon).

They are helping to raise awareness so while they may be a bit daft the thought is there and the message is clear:)

10.5 tips on how to sketch

Today we were set the challenge of coming up with 50 quick and dirty ideas for our projects. Developing on from last weeks balloon task we were to be less focused on what we were trying to achieve and more open to idea and suggestion. This should hopefully open up our minds and our ideas to new avenues we have not considered before.

We started the day by looking at Rory Hamilton's website and his 10.5 tips on how to sketch a dos and donts guide to help facilitate fast idea generation in an imprecise way. I started off quickly but most of the ideas I was putting down were ones I had had for a while... this was kind of missing the point as we were supposed to be open to all sort of weird and wonderful things that would take us off on crazy tangents.

This would prove to be useful as not only would it help us to generate a lot more ideas, it could create discussion between us, and could possibly help us narrow down and define our ideas further and further.

I think I came up with a lot of daft ideas on how my project could evolve over time, but this gave me good insight into what the possibilities 'could be' and the implications of this. How people would feel about these garments or services and how ultimately they might be put into practice to help people relate more with their clothes, so they are more connected to them and see them as something special instead of throwaway.

Whilst summing up my ideas, (which I like to do as little sketches surrounded by a box, storyboard style for some unknown reason-I think that I simply cannot deal with a blank sheet, plus drawing out all the boxes in advance gives me something to aim for... then I can push and challenge myself to finish the task. Not that I would class myself as a perfectionist in any sense of the word but I simply cannot rest until a task is completed... often seen as a bit anal from friends and family members... still my sketches are not all tied up in neat little bows so I still maintain the fact that I am far from being a perfectionist...) one of my class mates Lauren (check out her renowned blog redjotter) asked if I had seen the new Howies line of Jackets and bags 'Hand-Me-Down', a beautiful idea that you are buying something that you intend to love and pass on to someone else, sharing with them the history and story of the adventures you have undertaken whilst it has been in your possession. It is an idea that I have become evermore interested in over the last few years as I have struggled with becoming more environmentally responsible in my work and the way I live my life. That in order to not deem something as throwaway we must find a personal connect with it. We must see it as special, valuable (not in the monetary sense, but that we have a strong attachment to it) and realy bond with it. If we can do this then we will have more respect for the item, cherish it and want to give it a new life when we no longer have need for it, either in giving it to someone else or making it into something new...
The cost of these items is rather high but they are made to last and to be timeless... I love the idea and agree that buying a £400 jacket that lasts you 40 years+ than can go on to last someone else a similar time scale is better value for money and for the planet than 20 £20 jackets that probably wouldn't last you a year each... It is a challenging dilemma as in our culture we have been programmed to want the, newest, latest, shiniest thing, I hope that as companies like Howies undertaking projects like Hand-Me-Down, that this become more widespread, their message might be heard and understood, not just buy the consumers but by the big corporations working within the fashion industry at large.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Facilitating Communication

This morning we had a talk by Norman Alm who talked to us about his Circa project which deals with Facilitating Communication For People With Dementia Using Multimedia Technology.

Even though this is a subject matter that I am not engaging within my project this year I found his lecture to be very insightful and surprising. You never no what information you with find out when doing user studies. And indeed what insights into your own project or life you will get when reading, listening or watching something you view as totally unrelated.

This brings me on to what Hazel and Jonathan were saying about being aware and just letting yourself be subject to all sorts of things as somethings might prove to be very useful.

Something Norman said really struck a cord with me in that interaction is work, hard work sometimes... he noted in some of his user testing that stress levels went up when participants had conversations, even when that conversation was with a friend. I found this to be very enlightening and a useful piece of information. It is difficult to convey meaning when talking to someone, and sometimes the most mundane of conversations still require thought and careful execution, and as a friend told me on the way in this morning, this process can be exhausting. This answer was given when I asked how he could have stayed up so late last night watching back to back films that must not have finished till well after 1am, when at times he falls asleep when visiting me at 9pm! In response he told me that when he is on his own in his room he does not waste energy talking to anyone, so is less tired than when he is in company. That mere conversation, no matter how seemingly unremarkable actually demands a lot of energy and concentration! Just fascinating! I have now realised that I have been in the same situation. Sometimes when amongst friends I can become increasingly tired. At least now I wont seem rude or bored I can tell them they have tired me out with conversation.

The fact that interactions between people can raise stress levels is good to be aware of, especially when undertaking such tasks as cultural probes or any type of user studies. We need to be aware of the possible stress we may impart upon our users and be empathic to their needs.

Monday, 2 February 2009

A good design brief should...

Today as part of our mindful design module we were set the task of answering a number of questions that every good design brief should cover. Like the whys and suspected outcomes from a project. However this was with a twist, we were each given 15 white balloons to blow up and draw on an image to envision our answers.

This was a fun task to undertake and really got me thinking about some of the more serious questions that I should be are of in my project like the costings, competition and how it will ultimately be implemented. So I found today to be very useful in visulising my project as a whole and has given me a lot to think about in terms of moving my project forward to the next stage.