Album of the Week: The Dead Bears - Newworldaquarium

I’ve been digging through my old hard drives for a while now, a few months back I started sorting the music folders. The aim is get rid of all the crap and discover some gold along the way. My memory is patchy, but I think I bought this album when I was living in Manchester and Chris was working at Boomkat. The more I try and access that memory the more clearly I can picture him telling me I needed to buy it.

It was an instant heart warmer, still is today.

Quick notes: Pleasing distortion. Dub techno signature sounds. House kicks. Phasic shuffle style. Haunting keys and melodic sample sprinkles. Some tracks feel like an intermission or passing soundtrack through moments. The build on every track is wonderfully subtle. Kicks are blaring at the front. Delightful panning across the sequencing – I’d savour this on headphones for sure. There is a strong diversity in mood across the album, feels like a journey.

Tracks to concentrate on:

  • Avon Sparkle is a stand out track
  • The Tide You Can’t Feel is dreamy
  • Trespassers is a driving 4/4 banger

Looks like there was a reissue and an adapted red overlay added to the artwork for that. I’m a massive fan of the white original above.

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 7th May 2022


April Training

If you’re reading this and you’re not me, it probably won’t be that thrilling. There are plenty of other content nuggets more compelling and scientific to consume on exercise and health. I’m writing this down to clear it out my mind and refer back to later. These two things feel most important to me right now, clear a busy mind, keep myself on the horse. Hopefully, these monthly posts will be valuable to rewire habits and thinking if and when I’m not training like I have in the last month.


Goal: Reduce body fat and build a reliable base fitness for running Hackney Half marathon in 60 days. Start date 1st April, race date 22nd May.

Results: A solid start out the gate.

April 1st April 29th Change
Weight (kg) 73.1 69.8 -3.3
Fat (%) 25 22.6 -2.4
Muscle (%) 71.2 73.4 2.2
Fat Mass (kg) 18.3 15.8 -2.5

All round, I’m feeling stronger and faster. The training of 2-3 weights and 3-4 runs a week is a better mix than just the weights.


Context: I’ve got the Hackney Half coming up in a few weeks. It will be my fourth half marathon and I’ve gone into the last three with no training plan. The first quarter of this year was pretty focused. I chose to do an enjoyable weights routine, trained every Monday, Wednesday and Friday – covid and travel permitting. I started karate training for the first time as an adult and was at practice nearly every Monday and Thursday. The focus and discipline from that quarter feels banked, just like a savings account with a wedge of money in. It feels like it has potential.

However, I’d noticed my weight creeping up. When I caught a side view of my gut in the mirror it was depressingly large. Hollie and I had chatted about going to the beach in Mexico in March. It filled me with dread knowing that my pregnant milky belly would be joining us. That idea got scrapped.

So, I had a huge slice of motivation to feed the change. Perhaps destroying a few less huge slices of pizza might also help. Last year I reached around 68.6kg and 21.9% body fat when I focused on my food and training. I didn’t look amazing. But I looked and felt heaps better than I did going into April.


What has happened?

  • Skipping breakfast, dropping oat milk before 1pm
  • Added more protein back in to meals, cooking quick pan veg, brown rice, chicken
  • Watching booze, aiming for 1-2 drinks max on casual nights
  • Weight training is now full body routine, reps till failure on a few exercises
  • Started 50 min jogs 2-3 times a week, staying in heart rate zone 2
  • Started incremental fast runs 2 times a week, going off how my legs feel and sustainable pace for the time allocated (20, 30, 40 mins)
  • Focusing on form when running: mid foot strike, feet under knees, upper body leaning forward, quick steps
  • Weigh in every Tuesday and Friday, keep it on track but avoid the spiral of weekend fluctuations

Skipping breakfast most days makes sense. I find it easy and the benefits to insulin spikes are a massive win. I’m trying out removing coffee to improve my diverticular reactions. The experiment is to see if coffee alone (not caffeine) impacts my ability to form a 3-4 score Bristol stool scale poop. Oat milk has been dropped from tea before lunch. I don’t mind black tea but would like to find other teas to mix it up.

A few weeks before the race and I’m not overthinking the food. I know chicken, veg and rice is very easy and quick to make. Hopefully the macronutrients are near enough. Once the race is done I might look at measuring macronutrients again, although there is more of a temptation to try skipping a day of food or two meals here and there instead.

Booze hasn’t seemed to have a massive impact on weight loss, however, a big however, it is messing up my sleep more than ever before. Lack of good sleep will only damage muscle recovery and kill opportunities for my body to shift weight. Three drinks (two beers and wine) was too much one night in April to get good sleep. FFS. Ideally I need a two drink limit on casual nights.

Weight training shifted from upper body only in Q1 to all body in Q2. I’ve been working my core a lot more and getting lunges and squats back in. Q1 routine was all about getting back on the horse, making it easy and doing exercises I enjoy. I didn’t push hard or challenge myself. The Q2 routine is about variation of muscle groups, core work, pushing a bit harder. I haven’t always met the three workouts a week goal I set, but, with adding running into the week I have needed rest days here and there. Morning workouts are best, any later in the day and my brain struggles to find deep concentration again. I’ve pushed the second round up to failure with reps or increase of weight.

While I was in Mexico I started researching and planning my running training. YouTube suggested Peter Attia’s podcast with Iñigo San-Millán on heart rate zone two training. A few aspects got my attention: lower resting heart rate, decrease in blood pressure, improving resilience and ability to deal with increasing load, improve zone four-five function and performance. I learnt for the first time about mitochondria and how zone two training improves the efficiency. I suck at keeping pace on the road, I need something to make it easier to just stay on the slow pace of heart rate zone two. A few months back Dan had showed me around his gym in Homerton. I bit the bullet and got a membership just to use a treadmill for jogging at zone two for 50 minute blocks.

My resting heart rate seems to have lowered from the mid sixties to mid fifties in the space of a month.

Faster running didn’t go exactly to plan. The plan has way too much volume. I dialled back the frequency to allow for recovery after listening to my legs. Nina and I had chatted about her shin splints, and remembering my history of injuries I just went off feel of legs alone. However, the results have been pretty good. Last training day of the month I held a 4:39 /km average for 60 minutes. Listening to the legs has been key and trying to get that heart rate sustainable on feel. I’ve not gone mad on the stats yet, guess I can tuck into those later when I’ve got my of a rhythm built up.

Form feels okay, I’m conscious that changing form before a race is a recipe for injury so I’m not forcing form when I run, just being mindful of easy stuff I can do to help my body: relaxed upper half, arms high and on beat, slight upper body lean, toes landing under knees.

Nothing exciting to say about weighing, expect it is essential to staying on the horse. I’ve been doing a couple of extra weighs here and there but only the Tuesday and Friday weigh ins get logged into the spreadsheet tracker. Think of it like checking your bank balance, you can wing it and guess that you’re doing okay or you can check it every few days and keep spending in check.

Plan for the next month

  • Drop at least 2 kg in weight
  • Sub 20% body fat, start focusing on shifting the teens
  • Reduce the impact on my body with a taper two weeks before the race, this means weight training will go down so I could see muscle staying at the same metrics I’m at now. This isn’t such a bother
  • Sleep as much possible, removing booze where possible or reducing it down to just one drink
  • Knee strengthening exercises every couple of days
  • Pull ups and chin ups
  • Film my running
  • Skip two meals in a day where possible

Links

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 3rd May 2022


Roland TR-909

In 2018 I put together a PechaKucha talk at NET-A-PORTER. I wanted to share my interest for music with the team and a journey down YouTube had led me to some pretty interesting stuff about this drum machine.

For a while I’d wanted to make a video version of the talk, below is a very rough first edit of that I’ve put together.

 

My editing skills need to come a long way to meet what I imagine this could be in my mind. I guess part of the creative process is learning to let go of the imagined quality level and putting your idea out, standing back and taking a breath.


Checklist for future edits

  • Add intro and ending, explain what a PechaKucha is
  • Link in all references and further reading
  • Create my own sound bed for voice over sections
  • Try swapping sound bed for music samples at lower volumes
  • Edit script to fit a regular pace for each slide
  • Move project from Screenflow to Adobe Premiere
  • Improve visual transitions and timeline
  • Research how to use samples in work for full referencing

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 27th August 2021


Did IKEA just kill UK Grime?

Do you remember when your parents started using slang words that were only used by your mates? It was awkward, right? You stopped using them.

Brands can have an equally awkward habit of the same weird flex, but ok.

18 years ago, the BRIT awards crowned UK Garage group So Solid Crew with the best video award for 21 Seconds. It is seen by some that this was a turning point for the cultural perception of the brand of UK Garage. It became commercial and destroyed its founding principles.

It’s 2019 and the IKEA Christmas Grime ad is here…

If you squint you can see the approach of this campaign. But something here is very awkward and we’re closing in on two brands—UK Grime and IKEA— destroying their own principles.

  • Ad Agency Pitch: It’s a funny ad with a dis grime battle rap from cuddly toys aimed at a family getting their home together for Christmas.
  • The Awkward: The word shame. This is a powerful word. A deep critique on your worth and representation to others. Multiply this by the toughest time of the year for some families. Mental wellbeing?
  • Subtext: Families are in continued tough times globally and they are more aware of the divide in wealth than ever before, it’s now our everyday spiral of political mess. Even the size of their house is up for grabs here
  • Distraction: We have all been sold to using the “show your best self” and everyone likes funny grime songs, right? Stormzy played Glasto this year guys! Come on. Also, it’s just a rapping T-Rex.
  • IKEA’s Problem: their vision is — “To create a better everyday life for the many people” — this campaign message isn’t for the many, it’s actually for the very few. Those with enough capital to do home upgrades while paying for presents, food, booze and more.
  • Grimes Problem: you just rapped about buying an IKEA folding table. Awkward. Who’s brand is next on your list? Pepsi?
    Perhaps it would have been less awkward to have an ad that focused on families upgrading their everyday lives not just a short lived shameful view on being judged at Christmas.
  • My pitch: Don’t buy yourself some AirPods you melt, buy your family something they can use all year round designed for a compact living space.
    It’s 2019, I doubt anyone will think Grime has peaked by rapping for IKEA, everything is a remix, re-memed and upside down. I just don’t think it’s that cool to rap about folding tables — a bit like being on the BRIT awards.

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 8th November 2019


An idea for augmented reality

The pitch: reporting damage to hire car clubs is slow and done over the phone when you need to get moving. You don’t want slow—that’s why you hired a car. Instead of phoning, use AR to overlay the known and already reported damage. If it is new damage, report it in the app before you start the journey. If it is existing — no need to wait on the to phone customer services and check it, off you go.

DriveNow is great, I’m a fan. Their customer service is super responsive and detailed too. However, when you’re renting a car you do need to check if it has damage — which in their London fleet seems to be quite common. If you force customers down this route in the app, checking damage becomes part of the rental journey process, it could be super quick and gives DriveNow more data. Saves the phone call too.

▲ I comped this dodgy screen together in a few minutes. Beep beep. 🚗💨


Update: The wonderful Annalisa Cividati — shared this company with me: https://www.ravin.ai

“Using most camera types, under most physical conditions, we detect more damages, reduce inspection costs and restore trust anywhere vehicles change hands”

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 23rd July 2019



What company mission do your customers actually remember?

Deliveroo has changed. Businesses do change. The thing is, I remember the mission of the 2015 Deliveroo. I can order from amazing places that don’t actually do delivery and eat at my own kitchen table. “We are on a mission to bring the world’s best local restaurants to everyone’s home or office.” — Deliveroo 2015. View the early pitch deck here

Four years later I open the app when working from home, cupboards are empty and I get this beautiful selection shown below.

  • How much has the idea changed?
  • Why did the idea change?
  • Is this idea as good?

Let’s face it. It’s not is it? “Crap food at any time for a premium rate delivered by drivers making a tricky salary.” Why did this change? Scale, growth and greed. Perhaps, and hold onto your hat here, the idea was never meant to be as big as they are trying to make it.

There’s loads of add on ideas to try and keep companies like Deliveroo growing, all in the name of the future bet of big profits from tiny margins and questionable outsourced labour. Be it:


What company mission do your customers actually remember?

🖥 Designers tell you Apple isn’t in it for the creative professional anymore.
✈️ Travellers tell you British Airways isn’t a top-end experience anymore.
🏨 Soho House members will tell you it’s too much like WeWork now.

The problem is, these statements are somewhat false. One of the brand ideas of Apple is to be creative, the joy of making something easily. British Airways offer some of the best customer service whilst competing in an aggressive price war sector. Soho House value members having memorable and unique experiences in their houses.

🍔 I will tell you that Deliveroo isn’t the place for the world’s best restaurants.
But I’m wrong, you can still order from some of London’s best affordable restaurants. You can also order from some of the worst.

Protecting your brand idea and mission takes care, time and saying no. Saying no a lot. I wonder where the brand idea of Deliveroo will be in the next four years, is this just part of the growth struggle? This is true of Airbnb too.


What can brands do to protect their idea, their mission, their place in our mind?

  • Define your Brand Architecture. Deliveroo could make fast food a sub-brand, a category choice off the homescreen. The effort of making a portfolio of rules for your brand and products gives you a huge return in equity and clarity.
  • Set brand rules based on the idea, Art Directors — this is your design jurisdiction and you get to put your team and suppliers in time-out or jail for breaking these rules
  • Plan the journey for the brand. Yes, it will change. Look at the greats who have done this over time, Apple is often overused but damn, they are strategy hero’s of positioning, quality and delivery into music, phones, media, health, finance, education… what’s next?
  • Keep your business plan in check with your idea. My bet is growth greed has caused Deliveroo to compromise. Keep your brand, keep your customers, keep your idea.
  • Help suppliers, they are your weak point. Airbnb are cited for helping hosts photograph their homes and add finishing touches, again, set your standards to the experience and enforce it.

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 19th July 2019


The balance of your business operational models, brand and customer experience

Short story: I got fined by Uber JUMP because I parked a bicycle outside their operational zone. A few days later I got refunded and emailed the above automatically. This business rule was quite well managed, it created a feeling of trust in JUMP that I haven’t always felt with Uber Taxis & Uber Eats.

It got me wondering, what triggers, nudges and logic for your business can be optimised for a reliable operational model and great customer experience whilst strengthening your brand?

Are you looking at the big picture of customer journeys with a Service Designer, Brand Strategist and an Accountant?

📚Valuable Reading:
This is Service Design Doing
This is Service Design Thinking


Long story: Uber are here in London with their bicycle rental service; JUMP, it’s exactly the same as the others, except, the hybrid bikes are better. Although, I’m still a fan of City owned schemes for economic and sustainability reasons.

On my first ride I didn’t look up JUMP’s operational zones. With hindsight it’s an obvious thing to check, especially for rental and sharing services.

I pelted it across London from Hackney to Waterloo station, had 5 mins to spare until meeting someone, locked the bike up, opened the app and then… £10 parking fee (shown above, left). I’ve taken the bike out of its agreed area and this idiot just got fined 229.36% the cost of the journey.

A few days and rides later I got the email above (middle and right), refunding me and explaining a bit more about their service terms. I’m guessing a few pieces of programmed logic are happening here. It’s a designed service journey that is carefully balancing operational costs, lifetime customer value (LCV) and the brand experience.

The blind spot is booking a bike away from an exclusion zone shows you a regular map. Book it near the edges of the zones and you see greyed out regions. You’ll quickly get where you can and can’t finish your ride. I didn’t get that where I started my ride.

Logistics and sharing app experiences are deliberately paired back, they have minimal controls, snippets of information and rarely can you access all your data. Product Designers want simplicity and therefore hopefully more bookings.

Let’s go. Let’s book. 🚙 🚲 🛴 📈

There isn’t even a cancel button for reserving a JUMP bike. So you get £1 fall out your wallet if you change your mind, which you can get back by emailing them.

As an industry, we Designers are removing or masking more in the name of simplicity and usability, but we’re not always in it for the customer, especially when the revenue model is precarious (ride sharing, food delivery, etc). This will be at the cost of the brand. Experience = brand.

Still, I believe JUMP made a fair call on the charge here, definitely not the lack of cancel button. It appears to be the careful balance of business sense and customer experience.

One of the big tasks we’re undertaking at NET-A-PORTER & MR PORTER is to fully map out all service journeys. We want to understand them not only from an interface perspective but from a deeper business analysis — we need that careful balance to our customer service, returns policy, logistics promises, stock control… and so on. I know the challenge will always be make sure every function here feels remunerated whilst the customer feels great too.

To wrap up, a few examples I’ve seen or been thinking about

  • Strava ask if you want to join a local running club a few days after a run logged — it leads customers to see the value in a paid account.
  • BOLD hotels surprise you with free drinks at check-in if you say yes to your room not having sheets cleaned every night
  • 💡DriveNow should add an AR feature to check car damage before you drive (I’ve been stung a few times by forgetting to check, they could make it fun and easy and logged)

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 18th July 2019


Decision nuggets

▼ This got me thinking. Damn I want some chicken nuggets. Would I ever go to Burger King for them though? Wait. But why? I haven’t even tried BK’s nuggets.

You’ve got to love a strategy that can have a place in our mind the second before we commit to a competitor. They are your doubt. They are your wake up call. At this point, they own questioning a decision, if only for a second.

BK are notable for a variety of interesting marketing ideas, stunts and executions, I wouldn’t say this is one of them.

Although, there’s something wonderfully childish about this. It’s cheeky and we all know BK’s brand is too. Often you hear marketeers talk about “brand positioning” – a place in a consumers mind. They have nailed it here just by the physical positioning and opportunity, with added bonus of not having to worry about any smart ass copywriting.

Questions I’m thinking about

  • Where is your companies brand positioned literally and strategically?
  • Will you get this close to influencing your customer during a decision?
  • How can you deliver brand voice without needing copy?
  • What are BK’s chicken nuggets actually like?

Written by
Lawrence Brown on 17th July 2019


Make it more uncomfortable

Recently, I’ve been thinking about when is the best time to get someones attention. How could your message be interpreted and received by editing simple variables?

I walk past this campaign / idea / initiative(?) every day

It’s very pretty. Well done Design team. Pretty stuff is the big idea of the Westfield mall. However, I can’t help feeling there are two huge opportunities missed here, and perhaps a vacant mall unit is not the place for this…

  1. Why are there no actual signs of homelessness here — just this sign?
  2. Why isn’t this positioned where dwell time meets audiences consideration — paying for your parking, walking out of the mall, next to the actual pavement?

I’m going to take a bet why.

Because it’s too uncomfortable for these brands to have these reminders next to your shopping session, the brief was about being pretty next to the other pretty retailers +use RFID please.

How effective is this thing if it’s not actually stopping people?

The space should be used to rotate a real story, a real person and real objects, that you have to really deal with as you pass through.

Make it more uncomfortable.


Written by
Lawrence Brown on 16th July 2019