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David Barrie

London, United Kingdom

Project Executive Producer/Designer

Member since June 25, 2007


  • Go forth and aggregate

    Community, Communication Design

    20061011072715_3d_diffusion-limited_aggregation_177_

    One of the key business technology trends of 2008, according to The McKinsey Quarterly [registration required], is making businesses from capturing information.

    As we know from shopping sites and business-to-business product directories on the net, there's money to be made from accumulated pools of data.

    But something we're failing to do in parallel is understand and exploit the value of accumulation and - more importantly - aggregation to social and economic progress.

    A huge amount of information and relationships accumulate in national local government.

    Extensive networks of diverse social, economic and physical assets aggregate around the commercial redevelopment and regeneration of towns and cities.

    A vast diaspora of hopes and interests sit in devolved off and online groups of people, be it 5-a-side soccer leagues, Facebook groups, community gardeners or moderators of Wikipedia.

    There's a vast amount of dispersed energy, enthusiasm, activity and innovation out there. And it's brilliant.

    But a key challenge has to be how public managers - not just designers of online entertainment platforms - public initiatives - not just pressure groups - and central and local government - not just eccentric entrepreneurs or innovators - can aggregate this activity.

    Why bother?

    Because new value might be captured for the benefit of all.

    Go forth and aggregate.

    And start trading and packaging social, not just physical assets.

    ...
  • What's the point of community involvement?

    Community, Communication Design

    Dscn3338_177_

    ..as scribbled on a stickie at a recent event I ran in Chongqing, South-West China.

    But it's something more.

    An architecture of social relations, brilliantly expressed in a story told by Barack Obama in a speech inAtlanta on the eve of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday:

    "There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organizes for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She's been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and the other day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

    And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

    She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

    She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

    So Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they...

  • 1424996994_9ded040913_o_177_

    This is an image of the closing event of a participatory design initiative held in the North East of England earlier this year.

    In the project, over 1000 local people grew food across the town of Middlesbrough and over 6000 attended a final town meal of harvested produce.

    In his book on relational aesthetics, French curator and art critic Nicolas Bourriaud writes of

    the dawning of the society of extras where the individual develops as a part-time stand-in for freedom, signer and sealer of the public place.

    In discussing the work of artists like Rirkrit Tiravanija, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Carsten Holler, Bourriaud sees in their art a reintroduction of the idea of

    ...inventing ways of being together, forms of interaction that go beyond the inevitability of families, ghettos of technological user-friendliness, and collective institutions on offer.

    In Bourriard's mind, this is an urge towards creating new models of sociability.

    In our post-industrial societies, the most pressing thing is no longer the emancipation of individuals, but the freeing-up of inter-human communications, the dimensional emancipation of existence.

    More often than not, public involvement projects keep their creative and intellectual thrust hush-hush.

    But it's interesting to start to see them in the same frame as, say, Carsten Holler's metal slides at the Tate.

    It's great to be reminded that these projects are microscopic opportunities to transform society step-by-step.

    ...
  • An Edible Design Map

    Environment, Environmental Design

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    This is a map of an 'edible' town in the North of England.

    It was created by architects Bohn and Viljoen as part of an initiative called Dott07, a year of design projects in the North East of England devoted to examining and visioning a sustainable region and supported by the Design Council and One NorthEast.

    The map proposes a landscape plan for Middlesbrough that integrates food and water systems in to the future strategic planning of the town - and formed part of an urban agriculture project that I led there.

    This month's Blueprint design magazine calls the idea of urban farming deeply dotty.

    The magazine extols the virtues of globalised food production as a route to cheaper, affordable food and denies the value of home-grown food as a route to sustainable communities and economies.

    Saying no to blueberries, editor Vicky Richardson writes, is all about gesture...

    Just like putting a windmill on your roof, buying local food, or better still growing your own, shows that you are being responsible and 'doing your bit'.

    O.K.

    So what's the answer to global food price inflation, food shortages, the need for new controls and forthcoming water shortages?

    Should we just not bother to respond to the fact that in developed countries, it takes ten calories worth of energy from fossil fuels - in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation and transportation fuel - to get one calorie back in the form of food?

    I guess one answer is to go to the food hall at the swanky Harvey...

  • Who explodes the urban myths?

    Communication, Communication Design

    Several years ago, I was asked to research a documentary film on snuff movies. Problem was that because of obscenity laws, I couldn't watch what pretended to be 'the real thing' in the U.K., so had to fly to Amsterdam, book a hotel room, go down the video shop, then double-check that room service would be left at the door.

    Another time, while making a film in West Africa, the looney tunes former President of Liberia refused requests to be interviewed, telling the country's national newspaper that my camera was a laser gun fully armed for his assassination.

    Both of these experiences are about nonsense behaviour and popular fiction. But they're also about the persistence and ingenuity required to promote or defeat cynicism.

    On 17th July 2003, Tony Blair's 'Efficiency Czar' made a presentation to the Cabinet of the U.K. Government on their progress on targets. The presentation by Michael Barber centered on ten key lessons - and is reproduced in his new memoirs.

    Lesson 9 holds more than a useful thought for anyone involved in laying the cables of social, economic and cultural change. You may even think of having it sewn to the inside of your pocket.

    Under the heading

    Lesson 9: Extraordinary discipline and persistence are required to defeat the cynics

    Barber's first bullet point:

    Who explodes urban myths?

  • The idea of civil society has been at the center of public service reform for several years.

    Its promotion has been encouraged by the rise of third-party government and need to provide higher-quality, more citizen and choice-centered public services.

    Government has celebrated people as agents of change and created opportunities for committed citizens and motivated amateurs to take centre stage and make public policy.

    Cultural and commercial accomplices have included user-friendly, user-generated media platforms.

    And the feeling of a citizen revolution has been promoted by calls to arms of events like Making Poverty History and Earth Aid.

    What's followed in public management is a boom in 'public consultation' by service providers, the rise of initiatives such as participatory budgeting and the positioning of the Third Sector as a deliverer of public services.

    But for every step forward in giving 'power to the people', there appears to be ever-increasing powerless-ness or people behaving in ways that increase the 'democratic deficit'.

    In Unlocking Innovation, a recent paper by the policy think tank Demos, writer Melissa Mean gets under the lid of the dilemma.

    Over the last year, Demos has been running a participatory planning initiative in Glasgow, Scotland, in which people have visioned the future of their city.

    Understanding the value of her project, Melissa writes:

    The problem with official futures is that they swallow people's sense of agency.

    Everywhere you loo...

  • From software online news service Beta News comes the inevitable question "Was Wikipedia Just a Fad?"

    According to research by one user

    new account registrations are down a quarter since earlier this year. This decline in new editors has also resulted in a decline in the editing of articles -- some 17 percent -- and article deletions, down about 25 percent. Also down were user blocks, down 30 percent, and uploads, down 10 percent.

    This may simply be Cassandra-ness that screams when things like Facebook usage declines and faddists move on to new climes like Web 3.o - whatever that this.

    But I do wonder whether, when it comes to participatory projects, have we reached a moment to ask the question "when does the tent get too big?" or "does the tent get so big that it hits entrophy - and declines?"

    I've just run a public design project in the U.K. in which a thousand people grew food in public places and shared it at a closing event that was attended by 8000 people. The total population of the town is 140,000. That's a 6% participation rate. Amazing.

    We structured the project in a way that carefully drew a basket of over 60 'cellular' groups together and they came together into a final epic (ish) moment. But what does the high closing hit-rate mean?

    Would the entire town be prepared to grow its own food? Or is there a moment when production would hit capacity, then steady and simply decline?

    Is something fundamental going on in the public ...

  • Designing gardens and houses

    Environment, Environmental Design

    "You cannot design a garden until you know where the house will be."

    So says the London Financial Times in a recent critique of the Government's lack of movement on committing to deliver Crossrail, a major new proposed development of London's transport system.

    This may be true when it comes to major infrastructure development but the F.T.'s comment assumes a sequential mindset that has slowed progress of improvement of the public realm throughout the world.

    In city development, the idea is to wait until decisions are made about structures and buildings, then worry about the ground that surrounds it. And in life, wait until all the ducks are lined up before making a move.

    There is little doubt that investment requires firm ground and context within which to pitch.

    There is also little doubt that society has suffered greatly from roads which lead nowhere, chaotic planning and beautiful but useless acts of isolated expression.

    But the mindset expressed by the F.T. ultimately disables entrepreneurship, marginalises the incremental and lays the ground for analysis paralysis.

    Why not start with the design of the garden? Why not apply the ethos of incremental development that we apply to our daily lives to the business of making change? Why not tear a leaf out of Reyner Banham and others' ideas of Non-Plan for a moment and think the unthinkable: a world without planning?

    Social-networking and software development have shown the power and value of open, evolutio...

David Barrie

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My Interests

  • Industrial Design
  • Environmental Design
  • Communication Design
  • Fashion Design
  • Audio/Visual Design