Worknote #8: Helix, American Interior and a new Brighton Office


The end of April saw a couple of really interesting Storythings projects come to fruition, and a couple more kick off. First of all, we’ve been building an app for Penguin as part of Gruff Rhys’ epic ‘investigative tour’ project American Interior. If you were at The Story conference in Feb you would have seen Gruff give an excerpt of his journey across America uncovering the story of John Evans, an 18th Century Welsh pioneer who searched for a mythical tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans.

The American Interior project is truly multi-platform, including an album, a book, a *gorgeous* film, a tour, and our app (available from early May on iOS and Android). We’ve based the app on one of the key songs from the project – 100 Unread Messages – and so the app tells the story of Gruff’s journey through 100 messages, mixing up video, audio, animated gifs and excerpts from the book.


Its a great way to tell a story, but we wanted to open up the app so it wasn’t just a hermetically sealed app sitting on your phone. So we’ve made all 100 messages shareable on social networks, and used Twitter’s deep-linking card format so that if you share the card on Twitter to a friend with the app installed, the link will take you directly to that message.

This is something we’re experimenting with on a couple of projects, and we’re really interested to see how we can use new behaviours and metaphors like Mobile Cards as part of our storytelling projects. We’re currently working with our partners Pulse Films on a new music-related product that takes this card structure even further. If you’d like to talk to us about these ideas, and how they might work for your projects, then please get in touch – we’d love to talk to you.



The second project we’ve just finished is Helix – a short web animation project for Lighthouse in Brighton. Helix came out of a residency at Lighthouse with artist David Blandy, illustrator Daniel Locke (no relation to Storythings’ Matt Locke!) and scientist Adam Rutherford. During the residency, David researched the history of DNA and genetics, and linked this to his personal interest in remixing culture, from the myths and legends of the past to contemporary hip-hop and manga. The result is a four-act story that uses the character of a 500 yr old man to reflect on how the core idea of remixing continually resurfaces through culture and science.

We started building the project as an ipad prototype for the launch of the project exhibition last year, then worked with Lighthouse to make a web version. It’s enabled us to develop more of the ideas we’ve had about episodic storytelling that we developed in earlier projects like Pepys Road and Diesel Days To Live. David and Daniel are currently appearing at science festivals across the country talking about the project, so if you get a chance, go and see them – they’re a great double act!

Finally – we’ve opened a second office in Brighton, alongside the space we share with our partners Pulse Films in Shoreditch. We’re very lucky to have a space at Lighthouse in the centre of Brighton, were there is an awesome mix of creative companies and delicious lunch venues. We’re working a lot more with local Brighton talent at the moment, so it made sense to open an office there, but we’ll continue to be in London every week as well. At the moment we’re working on a major new cross-platform TV format with Pulse Films for Channel 4, the new mobile music product we mentioned earlier, and new work for a couple of very big London-based media companies, so we needed more space to house our teams as we grow. Its all very exciting – if you’re in Brighton and want to talk about working with us, then please get in touch!


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.


New York Magazine on AMC

This is a great article from NY Magazine about the success of the AMC network in the US – home of Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Waking Dead. Its really interesting to see how they learnt from HBO about going for strong, cinematic storylines with no star power, and how this suited the tone of the rest of their Classic Hollwood schedule.

It’s also fascinating to see how the network is balancing commercial necessities with the demands of talent and the pressures of a more mainstream audience. I love the innovation of selling advertising around the original Mad Men series to only one advertiser – as was the case in 60s US TV. Its a pity this wasn’t maintained – I can imagine this kind of narrative/advertising integration is going to be a lot more common in the next few years.