Robin Howie

Fieldnotes: Week 432

We’ve been on the move a lot this week so I’d like to share with you the podcasts that have been filling the space between my ears with ideas and inspiration.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts … For me, the following can all relate back to design practice in some way or other; they feed and inform an evolving outlook on the world and in turn how to be a better designer in this world. That said… only a couple of them are actually “design podcasts” (phew!). Perhaps a common thread is that they all do a fantastic job at shining a broader lens on creativity and/or culture. I think there is likely to be something for everyone in here. Hope you enjoy…

Still processing.

Consistently excellent. Two New York Times critics (Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris) typically in conversation and dissecting a story from the week… In essence it’s critical thought on pop culture; often through a lens that unpacks the complicated layers of colour and gender around the weeks most interesting stories in pop culture. It sounds high brow but it’s really not… our click bait ecosystem of culture should not be without reflection of what really matters and what needs a little bit more prodding. Recent topics include Beyonce and Jay Z’s music video in the Louvre, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (twenty years on). Spike Lee’s latest film Black KKKlansmann and Gwyneth Paltrow’s brand GOOP. My favourite episode of late was a two-part special where Asian-Americans talk about the racism they experience and how that stacks up against the racism experienced by other people of colour.
Web | Apple podcasts

Song Exploder

Some exploder is such a simple format. Each episode is only around 15 minutes long, the episode takes one musician or band and gets them to take one of their recorded songs and tell its full story… from the kernel of inspiration through to the recording process. Typically you here a song being built track by track. It’s an extraordinary insight into the creative process… If you appreciate play and perseverance in creativity dive right in. The Michael Kiwanuka episode was a recent favourite.
Web | Apple podcasts

The David Chang Show

I’ll be honest, I’ve never eaten his food but I love this chef, I’ll go further… lately I’ve been thinking that if you want a finger on the pulse of culture you’d do better to look away from art and design and look towards the kitchen… Chef’s like David Chang, Rene Redzepi and Alex Atala are a huge inspiration for me… The first few episodes of this podcast follow Dave struggling with the ins and outs as he opens a new restaurant in LA (‘The pre-opening diaries’). It’s a really interesting portrait of a creative bringing a major project into the world, the inspiration, the motivation and what happens along the way… ethics, obstacles, vision and drive. The episode that touched on dealing with critics was especially interesting.
Web | Apple podcasts

The Observatory and The design of business the business of design

Double Whammy! I love these two podcasts, both are created by designers Jessica Helfand and Michael BierutThe Observatory is similar to the Still Processing… observations and thoughts on a story or event from the week just passed, however this time from a design perspective. The business of design the design of business is an extension of Helfand and Bierut’s teaching at Yale… typically a guest joins the two to discuss from an executive level the impact of design on their organisation. If radio was like this I’d give up my television.
The observatory: Web | Apple podcasts
The business of design the design of business:
Web | Apple podcasts


Serial is back with a really interesting third season unpacking the American criminal justice system by spending an entire year at one courthouse in Cleveland. I’m assuming if you haven’t listened to a podcast before you probably did hear the hype around it’s first season… Believe the hype this is a really good production and a great entry point to podcasts. Start at episode one and binge your way through.
Web | Apple podcasts

99% Invisible

Another design related podcast… though not design with a capital D which is entirely welcome. Each episode in one way or another takes an artefact that on the surface seems simple enough but given a closer look unfolds into a microcosm of interesting stories. Recent episodes unpack The Shipping Forecast, How doctors break bad news and post-narco urbanism.
Web | Apple podcasts

This American Life

This American Life is running it’s own race, you really just have to tune in, this is storytelling at its finest. Pick an episode title that takes your fancy and start there.
Web | Apple podcasts

How I built this & The Entrepreneurs

I’m a bit of a sucker for startup stories, whilst this can be a bit formulaic it certainly does a great job at giving a human face to big success stories… memorable episodes are Airbnb, Patagonia, WeWork and Kate Spade… on the startup stories front Monocle 24’s The Entrepreneurs is often good… check out the David Hieatt or Patagonia episodes, both incredibly inspiring.
How I built this: Web | Apple podcasts
The Entrepreneurs:
Web | Apple podcasts

Mothers of Invention

I have just started listening to this one, it’s about women driving powerful solutions around climate change. It is both hilarious and incredibly timely…I imagine it would be easy for a climate change podcast to feel like a soapbox but this is full of real people doing simple things that make impactful waves…from the family who decided in one year they would change their habits to only make one trashcan of rubbish (for the entire year!!!) to the Kenyan Environmental Minister who changed the law to stop plastic bag use and manufacture in the country… (fines starting at $38,000!).
Web | Apple podcasts

The Tipoff

Really ace concept … investigative journalists discuss how they chased a story… there is some great analogous insight into better design research here.
Apple podcasts

On Margins

Essentially this is designer Craig Mod inviting guests to talk about the production and future of books. the Jan Chipchase episode is particularly ace.
Web | Apple podcasts

The Butterfly Effect

Writer Jon Ronson follows the impact of a porn website and the ripples (and shockwaves) it produces across lives across the world.
Web | Apple podcasts

See you next week.

Robin Howie

Fieldnotes: Weeks 426–431

I’m going to quickly glaze over the fact there’s been an absence of weeknotes over the last few weeks and dive right into a bumper version of what’s been inspiring and motivating us the past few weeks:

The UK in 100 seconds

I met Dan Raven-Ellison a while back — he was one half of Crafty Explorers (one of the teams on the Design Councils Knee High Design Challenge which we designed the branding, publications, and event space for).

Dan is a Guerrilla Geographer & Creative Explorer (how jealous are you right now)… you could lose quite a bit of time delving into his projects but his most recent one will only take 100 seconds to explore. This short film uses one second to show each 1% of what the UK looks like from the air… all of the time a drone dutifully follows Dan; the camera trailing just behind – almost like your playing a video game willing the adventurer to keep exploring. The first time I watched this was with the sound off and it’s utterly beautiful, the woodlands provide a perfect but far to short a punctuation… but I strongly recommend watching with audio for commentary by Benjamin Zephaniah.

More on the project in partnership with Friends of the Earth here.

Be my eyes app

I’m yet to try this out but the proposition of this app humbles me. Be My Eyes is a free app that connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call.

Warby Parkers story

I seem to be forever sharing the Warby Parker story with clients, specifically this video… WP is one of those businesses that kind of makes me go ‘I wish I did that’, its a wonderfully principled and successful business, all of the business decisions from the outset almost seem like design decisions. This talk at Columbia Business School is co-founder Neil Blumenthal talking about the first couple of years of the business. Its an amazing resource for how to design the way your product or service gets to market. Enjoy.

Building Number 20 (MIT)

On a podcast I recently heard Bjarke Ingels (BIG — Bjarke Ingels Group) talk about creating spaces that incubate innovation, in particular Bjarke was talking about Googles Mountain View HQ that his company is designing

Apparently in the briefing Sergey and Larry talked about MIT’s ‘Building 20’ in revered tones. I did some digging and this building really was quite special… entirely unremarkable perhaps from its outward appearance but entirely incredible in what it facilitated.

Essentially Building 20 was intended to be a temporary building at MIT erected in 1943… it was intended to last just the remainder of the war and then 6 months thereafter. It was however used for decades and only knocked down in 1998 to make way for a new campus building. Building 20 was built in a hurry, pretty much a timber construction with windows that would periodically fall out and a timber roof quickly covered in tar. The building was far from precious and allowed inhabitants to reconfigure the space exponentially… A DIY attitude prevailed throughout the building for decades allowing the interiors to morph and recalibrate. It seems to be a bit of a dynamite incubator… the DIY attitude and adaptable space led to a community that fostered notable research project after notable research project… I stopped counting the nobel prizes that were incubated in this space after I hit double digits.

“Walls were torn down without permission; equipment was stored in the courtyards and bolted to the roof. … The space also forced solitary scientists to mix and mingle … The building’s horizontal layout also spurred interaction.”
This slightly kooky documentary by MIT is an endearing love letter to the building:

Forest by Numbers

Staggeringly beautiful. Forest by Numbers an installation by Emmanuelle Moureaux.

AR comics

AR comics need to become a reality. I want to explore the city and watch a story unfold around me… If you could combine this with something like Detour (an app for location enabled audio walking tours) I think you could make something really special. Let’s unlock location, movement and story in new ways.


I had the pleasure of seeing david hieatt (co-founder of Hiut Denim, The Do Lectures and previously Howies) talk recently, what a legend. If only more people in business could be as earnest as this man in having a sense of Purpose and using business as a force for good. He’s a brilliant speaker, his books and newsletter are also inspiring reads.

Isle of Dogs

Earlier this year I popped into the Isle of Dogs exhibition and saw all of the models and sets of Wes Andersons latest movie… I only just caught the film and its absolutely delightful… I wish that I had caught it on the big screen.

Plastic straws and disabilities

Tea Uglow highlighted something really interesting lately, I can’t quite remember where I saw her share this but it made me stop and think about what ‘good’ means. There is an undeniable rise in more conscientious consumerism, which is ace… removing our dependency on plastic is incredibly important and it’s entirely necessary that consumers share a role in reducing our reliance on plastic goods. The awareness over plastic straws has especially lately been become part of the public conversation. I have to admit that I probably was firmly on the ‘ban all plastic straws’ boat but hadn’t really considered for some people an artefact as simple as a plastic straw is incredibly useful. Tea pointed to an article highlighting just how useful plastic straws are to some disabled people.

This all reminds me of similar issues around ‘shared spaces’… shared spaces are where the road level is raised to the pedestrian level in an effort to calm traffic (the removal of a kerb encourages pedestrians and drivers to act with a shared responsibility for each others welfare… or rather a coerced shared liability for how they interact with each other)… all good in theory, however shared spaces are a real nuisance for some blind and visually impaired people people who use the pavements inner and outer shore lines as a navigation aid. The outer shore line is literally the kerb so without it a core piece of infrastructure that enables safe movement is missing for some people in shared spaces. So where do we draw the line on designing to do good? It’s far from black and white if you look hard enough.

By the way Tea has an excellent blog over here: tea uglow


I’ve been fascinated with drawing robots since first seeing Jurg Lehni’s Hektoraround 2008… Scribit is the latest, I love that it can write and erase… Not sure how this will fair as a consumer product but hell lets just find out, I wouldn’t mind one for client presentations!

Florence bins

On holiday in Florence I got a bit obsessed with bins. The thing is in Florence they are all underground. It doesn’t sound like a big deal but the impact of having no bins or refuse sacks hanging around on the pavement at street level is incredibly striking… Refuse collection for me has always just seemed like a fact of life — I had never really challenged the thought of taking the bins out for them to not sit on the street and await collection…

Is it not a bit mental that it is entirely normal (in the UK at least) for rubbish sacks and bins to act as a daily obstacle course in the urban realm?

‘Behind the mountains. More mountains’ — Haitian proverb

See you next week.

Robin Howie

Fieldnotes: Weeks 424 & 425

Two short weeks at FF… and we’ve largely been ideating in the field, or in particular amongst the trees for Project Canopy (back on track) and Project Lumière (near the finish line).

Friday Links

This weeks Friday links is a bit of a tree special.

Over in Melbourne the city is doing some good work in terms of creating a dataset of the cities urban forest. Oom Creative have done a lovely job of making the cities trees legible in terms of their species and health. My favourite aspect is through the website you can email any of the trees — the email is actually to the cities tree department and is a really smart way to report to the city on the trees health, vandalism etc.

See Melbourne’s entire Urban Forest here.

I’d heard before of early experiments in turning trees into antennaes for trans-atlantic communication — and it was a delight to discover Jalila Essaïdi a dutch artist re-exploring this and reinvigorating the ubiquity of trees as a medium of communication. Take a look at her ‘Living Network’ project here.

This project is utterly beautiful. I couldn’t find out much about it other than it appears to be an artist commission for a beer. To be fair it really doesn’t need an explanation as it really speaks for itself:

In a similar territory:

Another project that caught my attention was this: Dr Matthias Disney of UCL has been using terrestrial laser scanning to accurately weigh trees… interesting in it’s own right but the real value here is by measuring the carbon biomass stored within forests so we can better understand how important the forests of the world are in storing the increasing levels of carbon produced by man… We hope to see this research create a solid argument for halting unsustainable deforestation.

All of this is making me really obsessed with tree visualisation... I’d especially love to explore using LIDAR at some point in the future.

Meanwhile over the last two weeks we’ve been over to Walthamstow Wetlands where we saw some lovely looking bat-bricks.

We popped into the V&A to see The Future Starts Here. A really lovely show, well done Mariana and Rory.

We also swung by a second time to the Serpentine to see Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s London Mastaba in all it’s glory.

Finally a nice little surprise to find The Art of Campari at the Estorick Collection

This week we also wave goodbye to studiomates Comuzi — really sad to see them go but rumblings of a possible collaboration with Comuzi and Studio Lovesong down the line.

Next week we carry on with Canopy and Lumière and also kick off Jagger a small but potentially lovely new public realm project.

See you next week.