Aden Davies

Infrequent Inanity

Design of Understanding 2014

My first conference of 2014 was the majestic Design Of Understanding, otherwise known as the Max Gadney show. A personal selection of what he thinks is interesting and he clearly has good taste.

Will Hudson of ‘It’s nice that‘ started the day with a talk about something born out of a university idea to gather and publish things that make people feel good about themselves. He spoke of how the name frames their approach to content and editorial (you can’t be snarky when your reason for being is showing something nice). He also spoke of the challenges of growth, now he has a staff in double figures he worries about his attitude to risk and does everything he can to not kill the youthful exuberance of ideas. He referenced the young entrepreneurs of today the Zuckerberg’s, Karp’s, etc. but also said age and freedom of thinking is not just a product of age…which is a a relief.

Inadvertent Yorkshire

Inadvertent Yorkshire

Tony Quinlan constructed a narrative about how companies keep trying to construct narratives….and failing. ‘The moment a company writes down their values they have failed’. The obsession with companies to craft a story, the management version of story, normally where the product or the service or culture was the hero. Most companies avoid stories of failure when most resonance and learning came from those very stories. The micro stories from the water cooler would carry more weight for the brand especially with staff but they are never considered for such corporate messaging. Terry gave a brilliant example of taking the light from stories and applying them in a different context. The sanitation issues of Bangladesh. Villages happy to have a field set aside for defecation needed to be taught about the latrine. The more experts said you should have them the less they wanted to hear it. The key was social status. The message that worked was ‘Marriages where the home had a latrine were more successful’ The use of social status and shaming had a bigger impact than instruction ever could.

 

David Sheldon-Hicks had the coolest job by far. He designed fake computer interfaces for films and games. His company, Territory Studio, produced the interfaces in the film Prometheus and his insight into how the creation of those interfaces made for a fascinating tale even though he was not the greatest of presenters. The balance of fake/post shoot effects vs real working computer scream on set, Prometheus was more of the latter and the ship had over 100 working screens  meaning a lot of cabling and a lot of computers. The amount of craft and skill that went into something that could be on screen for seconds, cropped in the shot or even blurred, was astounding. When asked how they used data to feed the fake UI’s he said

‘As long as you give NASA credit at the end of the film they are happy to give you pretty much whatever data you want’

 

Andy Kirk gave an excellent statement union of data visualisation. I have attended one of Andy’s data design courses and his knowledge of the subject is exceptional. He spoke of the big data viz events and trends of the year. The New York Times look at how the US speaks, Gun Deaths and lost years, the age of cites and the mesmerising Earth by Cameron Beccario which beautifully visualises wind patterns on out planet. Andy has published his slides so you can see all the work he referenced.

He also explained the state of the ecosystem and it was clear he had a very negative view of the infauxgraphics (mega long scroll nonsense), visual.ly marketplace (a space for the crap to gravitate toward). He was however more positive on the state of tooling and how the wealth of tools were starting to talk to each other more, holding Tableau and R up as a good example. More work to be done on the explanation of the space from a recruitment and understanding point of view but clearly a real growth area.

 

Jo Roach the cofounder of Makies, the 3D printed dolls talked of the struggles of being one of use first 3D printing manufacturers and the value of great PR and the luck of timing in the rise of 3D printing and media interest. From 3D printer David Cameron and Prince Harry to the tactic of sharing wildly what they had tried, built and envisioned helped them find a solution to the most random of problems eg the wear and tear on the doll joints being solved by silicone injection. The challenges facing a toy retailer of getting across the ethics and value of design for a £70 item vs a £10 Barbie was their big challenge for the future. I wish them luck and hope they succeed.

 

I felt that a strange sort of hushed reverence befell St brides for the talk of Durrell Bishop of Berg. Whether that was because people knew of his past or just realised they were in the presence of a great mind it was an interesting phenomenon and one that was cruelly hampered by AV issues. He spoke of the need to face the design challenges of today, rather than the creation of beautiful static things of yesteryear, the vase, the chair, today the need was for the explanation of the technical and the graphical. His way of looking at the humble VCR thought the use of simple kitchen implements (the sieve a screen, a tap for the tuner, a bottle as the recording mechanism etc.) helped see the workings in anew light. A new language for the interaction and behaviour of the machine. We cannot understand that which we cannot see. He called for a need for new designers. We are faced with the new mega systems in the world primarily designed by software engineers. Graphic designers have not been able to step up…who will?

 

One of my favourite talks of the day was from Matt Sheret of the Government Digital Service talking about a subject I have no real interest in, comics. It is just a medium that has kind of passed me by but Matt’s interest, enthusiasm and knowledge for the subject just pulled you in. He explained how to read comics…a seemingly needless exercise but his explanation the gaps between the panels acting a context, making the reader work to fill in the story for the next scene. He spoke of the challenges of new methods of consumption effecting how comics were read, touch screens lending themselves to the flicking between panels and giving the capability of zooming into the scenes. The challenges of the form across new mediums, that morphed and jumped across new channels such a twitter, tumblr, YouTube and ending up at lost and broken urls on MySpace or trapped behind the broken iOS updates of apps. He gave a brilliant quote about the failing of the old world to adapt to the new

Middle aged future

Middle aged future

‘DC comics is a good example of how moribund an industry can become when you just have 40 year old white guys writing stories for 40 year old white guys.’

This resonates with me on may levels but as a soon to be 38 year old am I trapped in the same old narratives..it also seems I am worried about my age. I digress. It was a great talk. Matt has posted some notes/videos and links to further reading from his talk.

 

The last ‘talk’ of the day was actually Max interviewing Russell Davies while using a set of slides Max had created as some thinly veiled reference to his questions. Very thinly. It was of course brilliant. What follows is a lot of notes/quotes and rambling explanation from me.

Russell has lots of experience working with big organisations (Nike, Microsoft, W&K and now the Government) and he seems to effortlessly produce solid gold nuggets of insight every other sentence. I like to think these are a mix of the cuff thoughts beautifully worded mixed with some well honed bon mots crafted over many a plate of eggs, bacon, chips and beans. So here are the best quotes I managed to (hopefully correctly) capture;

On Nike Run London. A campaign for W&K to get non runners to do a 10k run. ‘no inspirational Nike shit, this will be hard, the first month will be hell but it will be worth it’. It was about helping people start, not becoming the very best athlete.

‘We advertised all over the underground to catch people at their bleakest moment’

He gave some great insights on why Nike were better than the other sporting goods manufacturers. They hired people who could get things done by any means. This meant they could deliver just an extra 10% more than the competitors.

‘The only hard problem in big organisations is getting something done’.

When Russell questioned why they did not try and fix the internal problems he received this amazing piece of wisdom about large organisations

‘No matter what you fix in big companies the crap always arrives’.

Nike also had some good habits that helped them immensely. Regional managers would be set the normal sales target but also if you could not show that you had done something new each quarter then you would be done for. Another example of doing differently was the brief for the World Cup. A series of pictures of Ronaldinho that just said things like ‘Fast’. No laborious guidelines and rules, pictures and a word. ‘Post literate’ A kernel of an idea and latitude.

BoJo, MaGa & RuDa

BoJo, MaGa & RuDa

On brands ‘The only people who believe in the power of brands are those that sell belief in brands and those that are really against brands.’

‘Brand is a poisonous word. Brand is just a side effect of an interesting project’

On the advertising industry and his time at Wieden’s.

‘A lot of my success has been making the type being big enough and not mumbling. Clarity is key.’

He spoke of how Wieden’s had a way of framing the work that made them stand out

‘Try and make it better than anything you could look at, at the time’.

On pitching he was a big believer in just saying what you really mean. An example he gave was an architectural firm that presented to some board and just stood up and said ‘look at this building it is beautiful’. A person with charisma and a clear message not laden in concept will more often than not win out.

‘Advertising is a brilliant industry to leave. It is like a foundation course for the creative industries’

Russell has also been lucky enough to present to Jobs and Gates….

‘Billionaires are the best people to present to as they have no concept of constraints. To successfully present to company CEOs you have to realise their weakness, the gaps in their power’

Calling back to Will’s talk at the start of the day it was clear he was not a great fan of the Silicon Valley obsessed tech world and the fascination with young white startup stars.

‘Being young is not a sustainable business model…The privilege of being able to work 18 hour days with no commitments’

If you keep giving privileged young white men lots of money then some of them will make impressive things but clearly that is a limited strategy in many ways.

Although on he subject of age he wished he had started his Really Interesting Group collective when he was a younger man to benefit from that youthful lack of commitments especially the need to earn so much cash (I must admit I would like to see them reform as some sort of super group in their 60s and see what they would produce). Get a very smart bunch of people with differing but complementary skills and interests and get out of their way

‘The Magnificent Seven as a business model. Give them a mission and set them on their way’.

Either Russell did not talk too much about GDS or I was too busy listening and took lousy notes. What he did stress was the work that had gone into the writing. ‘We have writers, not interested in prose but in communication’ he mentioned that the Government used to write clearly but somewhere lost there way and brand experts got involved and messages got lost in concepts. What the world need was a return to the likes of Tom Eckersley

‘The government used to say things like tidy away your hammers’

Tidy Away Your Hammers

And on that note I shall end these very long notes. I could maybe do with a few years at Wieden’s & Kennedy to learn about brevity and clarity. Thanks again to Max for putting on a good show. A great day of increasing my understanding of a great many things.

Posted by Aden Davies on January 28, 2014 | Posted in Conferences | Comment

playful header

 

Sharna Jackson the compere for Playful 2013 called it ‘An amuse bouche of ludic geniosity’. I am not entirely sure what that means but I think it summed up the day perfectly. The sub heading for the conference was ‘playing with form’ and it focused on making and the materials used (A familiar pattern to my conference attendance lately). Here is my attempt to summarise my favourite talks of the day. I will probably not do them justice.

 

Duncan Fitzsimmons – Vitamin Design

Duncan is a designer at a firm made up of a random mix of people, electrical engineers alongside more traditional designers etc. an intriguing mix that informs and shapes their work. He spoke of using bananas to get elderly people to design their ideal mobile phone. The ‘silver phones’ as they are called today are usually Fisher price looking things with massive buttons and limited functions (he showed some that did not even have enough numbers to dial a new number, just store numbers. They took a different approach due to the fact they could see that elderly people were getting the exact same smartphones we all are. The problem is that no one reads the manual as it is more often than not, useless. They built the ideal manual, a book that the phone and its parts e.g. the SIM card, sat in the middle of. Each page revealed the next step in setting up the device, it then had pointers to the areas on the screen and instructions to follow. Building the device into a book meant it formed a much tighter bond with the device and increased the knowledge of the user to a different level. Watch the video.

The second project he showed was sensor design for snowboarders, he showed how they prototyped things in their labs, trying out the most Heath Robinson of contraptions and refining as they went until they actually tested them out at the snow centre in Leicester. The closer the sensors got to the real world and snow the more challenges presented themselves, they managed to make a kind of speedometer that tracked actual movement over snow, when they tested it on snow it worked perfectly up to about 4mph. Duncan then showed a video of it in real use. Watch it. Imagine what it would be like to hook it up to FX traders (while they trade FX rather than hurtle down a mountain)

Thirdly he showed how they designed a foldable wheel, a problem that has been tackled many times before but never truly cracked. They had been challenged with making a folding wheel to form part of a folding wheelchair to make travel easier. Again it was fascinating to see the prototypes and their progression from almost string and lollipop sticks through to printed metal forms and different types of solid tyre and innertube. The end result was amazing, award winning and in production now.

 

Anne Hollowday – The Makers of things

The talk I was most looking forward to was this one. Anne made a series of films about the makers of things which were released earlier this year. She interviewed a series of gentlemen who were part of the SMEE. They are dyed in the wool makers, electrical engineers, woodworkers, tinkerers and hobbyists with garages and workshops that had grown over a life time of making. One of the makers filmed, George, said he had been ‘making sawdust since he was 11’. I urge you to go and watch all the films, they are only 5-6 minutes long, there are 5 of them and they are beautiful.

The quote that came out from those films and a similar thing was mentioned in other talks, was a quote from one of the makers featured, Mike Crisp and he said ‘Make what it is you want build and learn as you go’. There is a wonderful moment in the woodworker film where he talks about the grain of wood ‘Each bit of wood has its own destiny, which you don’t really know until you start digging into it and find out what’s inside there’

One of the downsides with playful is that they don’t film the talks (a purposeful decision to do with your own memory of things) but I really wish they did as I would have liked to watch this one again.

The films also made me think of James Bridle’s working shop where he tried to frame coding in a similar way (probably becasue the film is also by Anne). These digital things that we make might not have the same feel or the same detritus as wood or metal that shows work is being done here but they are one in the same.

 

John Wilshire – Putting things in things

John did a great talk that was about boxes both the physical and the metaphorical that was smart, witty, Scottish and featured molten brass being poured dangerously into a tin mould. Thankfully John himself has written his talk up over here. Go and read that.

 

Ben Reade – Nordic Food Lab

Ben strode onto the stage and he was a massive and blonde haired Nordic sterotype. Turns out he is Scottish but he has a weird scandianglo brogue that was as bemusing and mind bending as his brilliant talk. The Nordic Food Lab is a place where people experiment with food. Part funded by the famous Noma restaurant in Denmark it is a place where, in Ben’s words, people were free to experiment without judgement. I love that description. His first job upon joining the lab was to trap the smells created during the making of chicken stock. His experiments lead him to build a still, as in the type used to create alcohol, turns out this is illegal in Denmark unless you have a license but as he was distilling chicken and not alcohol he got round the rules.

In Denmark they have more than one word for play. They have the word ‘Spille’ which means play within the rules and they have the word ‘Lege’ which means to play with no rules. Ben’s work was certainly more about the latter.

His other experiments were even more bizarre. The food lab has a Nobel Rotting Room. This is a place where they play with fermentation, and mould growth and other forms of naturally occurring things in the hunt for new flavours and textures and experiences.

Ben spoke of his research into mummification ‘We could not easily get access to Egyptians but we did have some dear’. Using specific kinds of bacteria that make fruit break down in certain ways that would allow them to be coated in wax and preserved and infused with flavour as part of the process. They ended up making a kind of faux olive that was actually unripened plums that were waxed. From one of their experiments they discovered a form of wild spinach that when left to ferment with an odd mixture of other things tasted exactly like fine fois gras.

‘Zero method and all the madness’ was a memorable line Ben used to try and explain a whole host of failed techniques they had tried but that did not stop them trying over and over again with new combinations.

I will leave the last word to well known food critic/explorer, Anthony Bourdain, on a visit to the food lab and his encounters in the Nobel Rotting Room

‘You guys have got some seriously f***** up s*** down there’

 

Stef Posavec – Dancing at Facebook

Of all the people I have seen speak at conferences Stef might be the person I have seen the most and she is always brilliant. This time her talk was primarily about her recent stint at Facebook working at their analog research lab.

‘I had a guy who could basically get me any Facebook data I wanted’ was the position Stef found herself in and while I can imagine having something that vast must have been tempting to go big Stef did the opposite and went small. Stef mapped the Facebook campus bars…on a bar chart of course, looked at smaller and more personal interactions and visualised those using dance notation.

 

Stef had some smart rules for data visualisation

1. Represent data truthfully;

2. Always try to show subtle insight;

3. Provide an explanation;

4. Use meaningful data;

5. Context

 

Stef is one of those people that I would love to be able to say ‘If you had access to any banking data what would you choose and what would you make?’ one day perhaps.

 

Rev Dan Catt – The perfect game of snakes and ladders

Dan Catt is someone’s whose work and writing I have admired for some time. He is an ex-employee of Flickr and the Guardian and is now freelance building lots of wonderful things for money or fun or both.

For his talk he wanted to tell us about the best snakes and ladders board. This is it below.

Rev Dan Catt

What is so good about it is that this board allows him to play with his children and the game last round about 10 minutes each time, the perfect amount of time to have a fun time and keep your children’s attention span. The board was not created by hand in any traditional manner but by code and algorithms and cloud computing.

The inspiration for this came from the now defunct Kindle DX, The large screen kindle Amazon released for a short period in the US. Dan inspired by friends wondered if you could use it to create infinite game board. Taking traditional games and generating an infinite amount of new layouts but within controlled boundaries. For example for Snakes and Ladders he had to code rules that said do not place two snakes too closely together or to make sure the angle of the ladders was not too horizontal, code that returned both aesthetically pleasing and nice to game boards.

Dan ran nine free instances on Amazon Web Services to generate the boards and then one further machine to grade the boards. He had created over a billion boards so far. All this computing power for free (he keeps under the daily limits) means he can run these things continuously (I think he said he wanted to run it for five years to create perfection). A brilliant mind.

Another great day at Conway Hall.

Posted by Aden Davies on December 19, 2013 | Posted in Ramblings | Comment

Curated By…an event at the Sheffield Hallam University Graphic Design Department

 

Curated By is an event organised by Sheffield Hallam Universities Graphic Design Department. They bring together a small group of people in the design field and give them 30-40 minutes to entertain and inform the crowd of mainly horrifically young students and to a lesser extent middle aged people like me. I went to the first one earlier this year where Jack Schulze of Berg stole the show.

The second event was inspired by one of Jack’s slides from his talk. It showed Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind in front of the model of the mountain. The quote on the slide read ‘He had to make it because he had no other means of communicating what it was’. The day was about making things, the makers of things and the materials for making.

 

dreyfuss

 

There were five speakers. Joe Malia of Berg did an amalgamation of stories about Berg creations, their ways of working and more interestingly (I have seen the excellent Berg stuff quite a lot) a history of computing taking in the Lincoln Lab at MIT, The tech model railroad club, the donation of a computer to said club and how they hacked away at it to see what it could become. People like Ivan Sutherland who were pioneers at creating the first computing interfaces such as light pens, Doug Engelbart and his infamous mother of all demos where he showed word processing, the mouse and keyboard, video conferencing, the internet and collaborative editing in 1968 way before most people had even seen a computer. He talked of how these hackers had brought about the home computing revolution, showing a clip from the Jobs biopic showing Steve Jobs and Steve Wosniak having a heated debate about if normal people would ever use computers. Of course if you make them less like computers and more capable for normal people to use them to make things it turned out they would certainly use them.

 

Patrick Bergel of Animal Systems and one of the creators of Chirp talked about our interest in the visual over the audio, people would love to understand the great painters rather than the complexity of birdsong. Chirp allows data to be passed over the air via a series of beeps and chirps inspired by birdsong.

 

Max Whitby of Touchpress showed off some very beautiful iPad apps that visualised the periodic table, the films of Disney, the sonnets of Shakespeare etc. but his talk lacked much explanation into how they were built more just ‘here is a series of beautiful things look at them and marvel’. Well worth checking out the apps but as a talk I did not find I that engaging.

 

The best two talks of the day by some distance came from Brendan Dawes and Kate Moross

 

Brendan is someone I saw talk a few years ago and he was hilarious and inspiring. He has not got any less funny in the last few years and his work is still brilliant. He spoke of his history with computers and the day his dad brought home a Mac. His amazement at Photoshop and this machine that had basically pushed all the computer stuff backwards and allowed the creativity and capability of the deice come forwards.

He talked of his sadness that Photoshop had gone from a simple and powerful beauty to this bloated beast of today ‘Like if you only knew Elvis during his fat phase’. This failing of tools made by others lead him to make things that made things. Digital tools that helped him solve specific problems that he had. He had progressed beyond Paintshop and making things with the likes of Processing and using data as his main material.

He was scathing of creativity courses that sent middle managers off to axe sharpening courses when they should be learning to code and make using the machines of today. Nostalgia is fine to a point but we should only be slightly influenced by the past not bullied by it. Looking back fondly to a time when making things with metal and wood was the norm, yearning for the physicality of Polaroid cameras when you have these new amazing machines in front of us that we have only scratched the surface of their capability.

He also spoke of how the tools he made and the materials he used were inspired by nature, the mathematical patterns found in things such as sunflowers and what is known as Fermat’s Spiral or as Brendan called it Vodel Spiral. Using data to form similar patterns but in a controlled way, he called it randomness but within constraints.

 

Brendan Vogel

 

One example shown was a series of concert posters that had a simple pattern that represented cities. They were created by algorithms and the digital forms were then printed in analogue methods which added a uniqueness to them as the screen printing process added the effects of ink on paper. Other examples shown included weaving Shakespeare quotations with news stories of today, the beautiful digital city portraits produced for EE, A data visualisationon the number of kills each James Bond made, A move into the physical realm with his 3D printed work around algorithmic shapes to represent musical forms, and making simple machines fed by data such as his weather machine and his happiness machine.

Brendan was a big advocate of putting your work out there, especially the stuff he had created that was just him playing around, the stuff that most people might say ‘but yeah what is the point?’ Because that is what he has found has led to more commercial work, things that people want him to try. That ability to just play and experiment and publish is something I think is what holds back most companies from truly innovating.

 

brendan kills

 

He ended with a great quote he had heard someone else say ‘If no one is getting hurt then it is not cutting edge’ which I loved and he also said that for all computers brilliance they still have no taste and it is up to us humans to make beautiful, inspiring and challenging things.

 

I had never heard of Kate Moross and I have to be honest as it was the last talk of the day and as Kate was dressed in bright yellow trousers, a bright red sweatshirt with a maze on it, an orange beanie hat and dyed pink hair I was making some judgements about the type of talk it would be and my assumed enjoyment levels. I could not have been more wrong or more of an idiot.

Like Brendan, Kate talked of creative freedoms in digital spaces, her start was not Photoshop and Macs but MySpace. Kate had learnt a bit about coding and designed her own portfolio page on the site but as this was several years ago before the proliferation of digital cameras and easy to use digital tools lot of people could not easily add creative designs. Kate ended up designing logos for bands and record labels to use on their MySpace pages. She published her drawings and art there. Her work got noticed and she ended up doing quite a bit of commercial work while still in her second year of university, the culmination of this was she ended up doing a fairly well known campaign for Cadbury’s at the age of 19.

With the money earned she decided to start her own record label, Isomorph, because she wanted to design record sleeves. This did not turn out to be the best idea commercially but actually lead her to realise what it is she was good at and what she wanted to do, ‘Make music look good’.

 

moross sleeve

 

Isomorph closed after 5 records were released, Kate built on what she had learnt and started Studio Moross with a view to building what she had done with the record label but concentrating on making music look good. She designed CD promo sleeves and packaging that would be sent to radio stations in the hope of airplay, this has progressed to more video related creations. Moross work a lot with independent labels and when songs are released they don’t have videos but they do need to be published on YouTube so they create looping animations and videos for these songs to represent them online. They have worked with one of my favourite beat combos, Simian Mobile Disco, and they produced a very trippy video where they bought £30 worth of insects, got a cheap SLR mount and macro lens, filmed said insects then added a load of digital effects after. Whole thing cost them a few hundred quid and looked great. Kate said it is about getting across the thing in your head in as creative a way as your budget allows.

Kate has a bewildering array of work in this space and her studio was progressing into making full on music videos such as the recent Jessie Ware track which has had over 16 million views on YouTube. She still illustrates though and had also had the chance to turn her illustrations into a more physical form in the shape of a club / party night for Ray Ban.

moross ware

He talk ended with some sage advice from this very young and very talented lady as she barracked the students (and others in attendance) to not be lazy, to get your work out there, to learn about the commercials realities of design, have no fear, learn how to improvise, make stuff even if you know your first attempts will be awful, make your own luck (the title of her book). A great talk, with a thumping soundtrack to end the day.

 

As someone rubbish at making stuff it was inspiring to hear from those who had done it and the lessons they had learnt. There were many parallels with the corporate world and lessons to learn especially around the restrictions it places on making and creativity both from a tools point of view but also more importantly a cultural one. That being said I think these maybe more of an excuse or just a symptom of fear.  It was a good way to spend an afternoon and I look forward to more curated by events.

Posted by Aden Davies on November 25, 2013 | Posted in Ramblings | Comment

#BarclaysGlitch – Branded bank outages?

Yesterday it seems Barclays suffered a serious technical problem resulting in the loss of several critical services inluding ATM’s and Online Banking. What caught my eye about this was that well known Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis tweeted about the outage and used a specific hashtag, #BarclaysGlitch.

 

 

Martin has a healthy following of around 260 thousand followers and is very influential in the financial services world in the UK. A lot of people started to use the hashtag to talk about the outage. Barclays themselves then also used the hashtag which is what was really interesting (for me anyway).

 

 

I think this was smart work by Barclays. I wonder if we will see journalists/influencers (ugh) looking to brand bank outages in the future? A race to have the hashtag most used in an outage? Will banks themselves try and add unique hashtags to outages? Does anyone normal use the word outage?

Posted by Aden Davies on November 1, 2013 | Posted in Banking, Social | Comment

FinTechBot Roundup – Week 37

A pretty big week in the Fintech world, the launch of latest iPhone (Will it or won’t it have NFC? Will it have a fingerprint scanner? Will it still be ridiculously expensive?) and it was Finovate in New York i.e. the biggest fintech conference in the world. That is where we will start.

 

Finovate Fall in NYC

For those unaware Finovate is a large conference dedicated to the new and innovative in the world of Fintech. The format is a brutal 7 minutes, no powerpoint i.e. only demo/actual screenshots/words. If you go over time you are cut off, stray too far from the path and you are gonged! Following from afar via Twitter (one day I will get to go / be able to justify the ridiculous ticket price) there were a few companies that people I trust on Twitter were very positive about. mBank an online bank that has been redesigned from the ground up with the help of Accenture and Meniga (seen before but still impressive). TipRanks a way of rating financial analysts on the accuracy of data they publish. Yodlee for their excellent sounding family focused product, Tandem, which allows differing access levels to be set to account information. Identity provider Miicard launched digitally certified bank statements which is a big step on the digital identity ladder. The videos from all the demos should be available by the end of the month (I will link to them when I have them)

Bank Innovation dot net posted a review of every presenting company, a brief paragraph and 3 scores for each. FinTech tweeter extraordinaire Bradley Leimer wrote a great roundup of the event. There is a short write up from Javelin Research.

This week it is corporate banking megabash, Sibos, which is being held in Dubai this year and is also the home of the excellent Innotribe strand. Follow the #innotribe hashtag to keep tabs on what is going on but expect design, data, platforms, organisational culture etc to be the topics of choice. More on this next week.

 

iPhone 5S & 5C launch

With much fanfare and it transpired very little secrecy the Cupertino giant officially announced the 5C and 5S variants of the iPhone. From a Fintech point of view every year it is about whether or not NFC will feature in the handsets. The answer was most definitely no. There were no specific payments announcements but there were several pointers to Apples future strategy. The well and truly leaked fingerprint sensor made it’s official appearance in the iPhone 5S. Building the sensor into devices at scale may be the boost biometrics has needed. It is only in the flagship model though so scale may be a way off yet. This article by Peter Nixey lays out why it will be an important part of Apple’s ecosystem. Following the announcement their were a lot of worried people tweeting about the NSA and also the risk of people lopping off fingers during iPhone muggings. Apple assured users the sensor only works with living tissue…no word on the NSA yet though.

More interesting was the quiet launch of iBeacons. A single line on one of the slides used to present, this little device brings new capability to Apple and merchants. These little devices can be installed in stores to give microlocation i.e. tell you exactly where a customers phone is. NFC require very close proximity to enable, less than 4cm, it seems something a bit more tap free is seen as the future by Apple. That will be an interesting change in behaviour for customers so used to a physical exchange to indicate money has changed hands. This article on iBeacon by GigaOm gives a good overview as does this one from Fast Company.

 

More Beacon News

It was not just Apple launching something with the word Beacon in it, PayPal had a much more public and noisy launch the day before the iPhone launch, which was a stunning coincidence. More microlocation goodness, USB interface for the PayPal variant though meaning it needs a constant power source which could make things a bit trickier for installation in a theft free location. I do wonder how will this microlocation / interaction free method of payment play out with people.

 

 

Bumper roundup of security news

That Edward Snowden just keeps on giving. Last week saw the realese of documents that show that the NSA were/are spying on international payments via Visa and SWIFT, in a move that shocked no one. The NSA even have their own database called ‘TracFin’ which leaves little to the imagination.

The BBC went security mad this week…

Vodafone announced that they had suffered a hack and that 2 million customers banking details had been set free.

Argentina arrests teen hacker who netted $50,000 a month

Direct Debit security critiscised

and finally the best potential bank heist story of the week is the news that a group of men in London plotted to hack into a Santander Bank via the branch.

The cyber gang is alleged to have tried to use a “keyboard video mouse” to take control of all the branch’s computers.

Stay safe people.

 

Mini Bitcoin Roundup

The processing power of the BitCoin mining network reached a key milestone recently, It is now capable of a Petahash of processing every second i.e. 1000 trillion calculations per second. If you want to hear a young man explain what that means in a language you won’t understand while demonstrating some of the most painful camera angle switches I have ever seen you will love this video.

Someone has tried to put in real world context i.e. the physical requirements if that was in one data center. Apparently you would need 100,000 of the highest performing mining server, The ASCIMiner ($3,500 each), around 21 MW of power for the machines and the cooling required. It is a lot. Either way what these big numbers mean is the network is growing much faster than anticipated. Still a long, long way to go until all 21 million coins are mined though.

In other Bitcoin news, for all its libertarian underpinnings one thing is seemingly inescapable in economics, the rich get richer. This can be seen and proven inside the Bitcoin network.

and lastly I enjoyed this long read on Cypherpunks, Bitcoin & Satoshi Nakamoto. A lot of focus on privacy, which Bitcoin is feared for today even though it is not private i.e. transactions and users can be traced. The battle for this will be the key axis on which the success of Bitcoin hinges. Too much provacy and governements will squash it, not enough and will the interest in it remain?

 

A bunch of quickies

Facebook sunsets (closed in non sillicon valley speak) credits in a bid to increase its scope for international payments. I held naive hope that these virtual currencies e.g. Microsoft Points, would herald a new age in remittances, truth is regulation killed them as they had a single point of failure i.e. a central organsiation owning them, unlike Bitcoin.

Mobile payments in the UK is sahping up to be a big battle between Vocalink’s Zapp and Barclays Pingit. Pingit has a head start of 18 months, Vocalink has the backing of the other big banks in the form of a joint effort to build a mobile databse for payments but does that backing translate to Zapp? Who will win? Either way Zapp annouced they had partenered with World Pay which certainly adds some clout to their standing. Early days but an interesting battle is emerging.

7 day switching came into effect today in the UK. This measn all major banks must now switch customers over to new organisations inside 7 days. Any financial losses incurred as a failure by the transferring organisation will be covered by them. HM Treasury, like the hipsters they are, have produced an infographic (more a listographic that takes around 7 days to scroll) to explain it in nice simple terms. More importantly will anyone care if all the banks look the same?

Gateway Index have published a much nicer and more interactive infographic in the form of this nice chart showing relevant sizes of key online payment gateways. Stripe already a sizeable blip on this landscape. They seem to the ones on the rise to me.

Really interesting interview with Steve Hilton, CIO at Credit Suisse, on the public vs hybrid cloud, firewall complexity, why they won’t be building on Amazon and why IBM is too expensive and now you can get fired for buying it. More C level bank techies being open and honest like this please.

The most humourous tweet with the most tenuos link to Fintech this week was this beauty about Capital One’s head of customer service

richard rolls

Well I hope my handful of readers are never gonna give me up. All the links, and more, that I used this week can be found in this handy list. Feel free to follow my FinTechBot on Twitter to keep up to date with the latest Fintech news.

Posted by Aden Davies on September 16, 2013 | Posted in FintechBot Roundup | Comment