The Beginning, The Middle and The End

Simpler, Clearer, Faster by Russell Davies

Simpler, Clearer, Faster by Russell Davies

On May 30th we kick off the first of a series of events called The Beginning, The Middle and The End.

We’ve long been fascinated with how people tell stories on different platforms, an in particular what it feels like to be running a project and talking to the audience whilst a project is live.

We’re particularly fascinated by what we learn in different stages of a project – what works when you’re starting a project and trying to build a team and an audience? What does it feel like to be in the middle of a project, dealing with issues that you couldn’t have predicted at the start? And how on earth do you elegantly end projects and bring them to a satisfying resolution?

The Beginning, The Middle and The End is an opportunity to hear war stories, tips and design patterns from some of the most creative and innovative projects around. It will have a simple format – one speaker talking about how they started a project, one reflecting on what it feels like to be in the middle of a project, and one talking about something they’ve just finished. Each talk will last about 20mins, and there will be beer.

Beginning: Alex Fleetwood from Hide and Seek talks about being at the beginning of the excellent Tiny Games project.

Middle: Russell Davies talks about what life’s like at GDS which is in the middle of rethinking how the public engage with the Government via its digital services.

End: Nigel Smith, Digital Editor at Radio 4, talks about the difficulty of closing The Archers messageboards earlier this year.

Join us from 6.30 at our office at 17 Hanbury Street. Tickets are £10 and limited to just 40 – you can buy them now on Eventbrite. The ticket price will cover the costs (drinks for everyone attending/sound system) with the rest split between charities chosen by the speakers.

Do join us…

Meet Storythings at SXSW


When I asked Matt if he was going to SXSW he said that he has never fancied it. “But it’s like a Glastonbury for brainfood” I said. “Never liked Glastonbury” was his answer.

SXSW is not everyone’s cup of tea. I get that. It’s huge. They sell too many tickets. The choice of sessions can be overwhelming. And there are far too many giddy hipsters so desperate to find ‘the new Twitter’ that incredibly average ideas get unprecedented hype if they’re in clicking distance of the latest trend.


So here’s the thing. SXSW is all about the planning. All of the above can be swerved if you spend a little time before you arrive orchestrating the experience you want rather than just letting SXSW happen to you. As for the hipster thing you just get very good at learning how to spot hype – which isn’t a bad skill to have in your toolbox.

For most it’s all about the parties but in six years I’ve still not been to one yet (having DJ’d and run my own parties in the UK and Ibiza I’m sure I’m missing little). For me it’s about the sessions. Before I go I spend what probably amounts to a full day researching the speakers then going through the schedule marking off the one I’m interested in.  When you get there and start speaking to people the plan inevitably changes, but a good grip of the schedule in advance is essential.

I usually split my sessions into 3 groups.

The first relating closely to what I do – helping people tell their stories and making digital culture. The second being about what I don’t do. Taking in talks about subjects I have little knowledge of is a great way of feeding the curiosity muscle.

And finally I’m looking for sessions in the area of ‘my thing’ – that being a particular subject I’ve been thinking a lot about recently.

At the moment ‘my thing’ is looking at how people are using big data in interesting ways. I love data but want to make sure we use it alongside other approaches to understanding human behaviour. My belief is better insights will come from a combination of approaches rather than just relying on a bunch of numbers.

As ever I’m really looking forward to meeting new people so if you’re in Austin and fancy a brew and a chat get hold of me on Twitter (@huey).

So here are a few of the sessions I’m really looking forward to seeing:

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Chuck Lorre in Conversation with Neil Gaiman
I’m fascinated by the creative processes of others so I’m happy to miss Al Gore speaking about future fears in favour of this excellent session that sees Chuck Lorre, the man behind ‘Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Two and a Half Men’ in conversation with author Neil Gaiman (“Stardust,” “Coraline,” and the acclaimed comic book series “The Sandman”). Two great tellers of very different stories chewing over their craft for an hour should be fun.

The Signal and The Noise
Political forecaster Nate Silver may well be an outlier when it comes to making strong predictions – he has this habit of getting it right every time. I’m yet to get around to reading his book but have read enough about him to know this will be fascinating. Should I have made that prediction? According to Nate most predictions fail because of our poor understanding of possibility and uncertainty. If we can improve our appreciation of uncertainty then our ability to predict gets better. It’s what he calls ‘the prediction paradox’. OK, I’ll hold back on my prediction for this one then.

Frenemies: Fanning the Flames of Fandom
At Storythings we talk a lot about designing for new behaviours. Understanding those behaviours is at the heart of what we do. The continued conflict between media producers and fandoms comes from a failure to understand how an audience’s behaviour changes over time. This is a growing problem that becomes more complex as new technologies develop.

Spreadable Media: Value, Meaning and Networked Culture
I’m a big fan of the work of Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green who are at the forefront of thinking around spreadable media. I generally tend to avoid sessions in this area because I’ve been to so many that turn into ‘How to use Social Media 1.0′ once you are in there. Thankfully there’s no mistaking with Henry whose work is focused more in understanding the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how’ things spread. All three speakers are incredibly brilliant at what they do and the book ‘Spreadable Media‘ is as an important read today as ‘Convergence Culture‘ was when written.

Hack You: The Body is the Next Interface
Hacking the human body is exciting and terrifying in equal measure. This session looks at the moral implications of robotics, smart medicines and new bodytech developments such as mobile-enabled biofeedback apps and “spray-on” micro sensors.

Julie Uhrman and Josh Topolsky Keynote
At the heart of SXSW is indie development and disruption so it’s no surprise to see Julie Uhrman appearing as keynote speaker. Julie is founder and CEO of OUYA, the Kickstarter funded $99 free-to-play game console built on Android. While it’s too early to talk about the impact of OUYA on the games industry her story has all the ingredients of a great Keynote.

Building the Touchy-Feely World of Tearaway
Media Molecule, the guys behind Little Big Planet have built a new game called Tearaway that requires users to make things with paper. Little Big Planet was one of the first console games to tap into the creativity of the players. With Tearaway they encourage a creativity-loop outside of the game world. Their approach to the relationship between the player’s physical creativity skills and the console as an enabler is something I’d like to know much more about.

Follow me on Lanyrd to see all of my SXSW sessions.


Worknote #4: Working with good people, The Story and publishing a book

We’re growing rapidly at Storythings right now, and will soon be announcing some exciting news about a new partnership, and what this will mean for the work we do. At the moment we’re working on two production projects – one for a major global charity, and one for an equally famous fashion brand – and also doing some really interesting development work for two UK broadcasters.

We’ll publish some more info on these projects as they emerge, but we can say that we’re working with a roster of awesome talent on these projects. The Storythings core team now includes Kim Plowright and Andrew Birley, and on these projects we’re working with Dan Catt, Chris Thorpe, Hugh Garry, Layla West, Pete Fairhurst, Natalia Buckley, Adrian Bigland and Dean Vipond. It’s fantastic having so many incredible creative brains around the office.

Secondly, our annual event – The Story – will be happening next year on Friday, February 22nd 2013, at The Conway Hall, London. As usual, it will be an eclectic and inspiring collection of artists, scientists, directors, writers and others talking about their work and what inspires them. We’ll be announcing the speakers over the next few weeks – the first speakers are economist Diane Coyle, co-founder of Rob Manuel, and theatre director Alecky Blythe. Tickets for The Story 2013 go on sale on Monday, 1st October at noon. Be quick – the first batch went in under 5mins last year…

Finally, Storythings is very proud to announce its first publication – an art book edition of Vacuum Days, an online project by Tim Etchells, the renowned artist, writer and theatre director who spoke at the very first The Story in 2010. That year, we published a newspaper that Tim contributed to, creating imaginary posters for bizarre events/performances. He developed the format in Vacuum Days – a year-long online text-based project which ran live from 1 January till 31 December 2011.

Comprising a series of one-per-day posters reminiscent of live show lineup announcements, Vacuum Days proposed a rolling daily programme of imaginary events that responded to, reworked and distorted real-life events. Inhabiting and extending the zone of sensationalist media, news as pornography, hyped up current affairs, Internet spam, twitter-gossip and tabloid headlines, the project mixed reality, political and theatrical spectacle and in a stark combination of overzealous capitals and small-print conjured a set of unlikely, absurd and uncomfortable performances, lectures, contests, fights, film screenings and other kinds of public display.

We’re very pleased that the book version of Vacuum Days will be published by Storythings, on 5th November 2012. Buying a ticket for The Story on Eventbrite will give you the opportunity to get a copy at a special pre-launch price of £15, plus P&P (although you can choose to pick it up in person at The Story in February, and avoid paying any P&P at all!). One final note – as a comical and bitterly mischievous parody of sometimes shocking news events, Vacuum Days is only suitable for mature readers, and should not be purchased by the easily-offended. Any of you who saw Tim perform his monologue Star-Fucker at The Story in 2010 will know the power of his writing already.