As an artefact, the swallows’ nest is not exactly the Taj Mahal. It’s a ramshackle structure, made of mud pellets and straw, that’s stuck crookedly to the wall. But it seems to suit them well – or rather, the surrounding habitat does.

swallow nests

I’m sad. The family of swallows that spent the summer in the eaves behind my office have headed south for the winter. Most of them will follow the west coast of Africa to avoid the Sahara; a few may travel further east down the Nile Valley. They’ll take it easy and stop every few miles at first to build up their fat reserves – but then they’ll speed up. In four months, as Christmas beckons here in the north, they’ll reach their destinations: Botswana, Namibia or South Africa. After just two months gorging on insects, they’ll begin the epic journey back. The strongest among them will make it back in just five weeks, traveling 200 miles a day.

And I thought my air travel was profligate. Read More »

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Connecting With The Other

A hand, a map, a story: In each of 30 photographs made by Céline Boyer, a cartographic fragment of someone’s country of origin is projected onto the subject’s own hand. Cities, seas, rivers, roads and borders are glimpsed.

13010114 PARENTHESES R°-9

“I arrived in Toulon at the age of 29 with my seven year old daughter”

“I was born in Burkina Faso but came to France when I was four following a coup d’etat” Read More »

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Between Sorrel And Supertanker

aa XSKL FP herbs presentation

In what ways can design help people interact with living systems in ways that help both of them thrive? And, what small practical steps might one take to test the effect of small actions on the system as a whole?

These two questions informed our Doors of Perception xskool last week; a partnership with Konstfack – and with the Read More »

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Of Change Labs and Living Systems: Doors of Perception Newsletter, July 2013

On Getting Out Of The Tent
Xskool in Sweden: Design Within Living Systems
How To Use A Fringe-Dwelling Change Agent
Most-Read Stories
Recent Publications

Doors at 20: On getting out of the tent
Nearly twenty years ago, in November 1993, the year the web was invented, the first Doors of Perception conference took place in Amsterdam. Our starter question was: “wow, this Internet thing is amazing – but what is it for?” Two years later, at Doors 3, we proposed an answer: “Info, meet Eco” – and spent the next decade exploring how the internet, plus design, might contribute to sustainability. We concluded, after eight super-cool events in Amsterdam, that darkened conference halls trapped us in the ‘desert of the real’. We needed to get out more. So we left Amsterdam – moving first to India – and evolved a new kind of encounter. An xskool, as we call it, is a curated, context-specific, two-way learning exchange between a host project, or place, and expert but respectful visitors. By re-connecting people with places, and with each other, we believe, xskools can be an early catalyst for system transformation. To do this work well, new ways of knowing, and new ways of meeting, are needed. These are intriguing tasks for design. Read More »

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Xskool, Sweden, August

[Above: somewhere on the island of Grinda in the Stockholm Archipelago., where FuturePerfect takes place 14-18 August).

What are social-ecological systems? How do you design in them? What new skills do we need to do so? These three questions inform a Doors of Perception xskool that takes place in August as part of the FuturePerfect Festival in Sweden. Read More »

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Green Tourism: Why It Failed And How It Can Succeed

Packaged mass tours account for 80 percent of journeys to so-called developing countries, but destination regions receive five percent or less of the amount paid by the traveller. For local people on the ground, the injustice is absurd: if I were to pay e1,200 for a week long trek in Morocco’s Atlas mountains, just e50 would go to the cook and the mule driver who do the work. The mule, who works hardest, gets zilch. Can green travel be reformed?

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 12.49.03

The green cup I’m holding (above) contains elderflower cordial, freshly-made by the nuns who live in a 16th century convent in Wernberg, Austria. One of their number, Sister Monika-Maria, has guided us barefoot on a circular “Path of Consciousness” over the lush Carinthian meadows you see in the background. Every few hundred metres, we stop for a short discussion about man’s changing relationship with nature.

Back in the convent’s enormous herb-garden (below), one of Sister Monika-Maria’s colleagues helps us Read More »

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Trust Is Not An Algorithm: Big Data Are Hot, But They Also Miss A Lot

[Illustration from]

By some accounts the world’s information is doubling every two years. This impressive if unprovable fact has got many people wondering: what to do with it?

Many big brands hope that the analysis of Big Data will give them a ‘360 degree view’ of customers: Who they’re interacting with, where they shop, how they think about a bank, hotel, or store.

Banks and insurance companies are especially fired up by the prospect that Big Data will yield more accurate and profitable pricing models. They’re also keeping a nervous eye on start-up land where a queue of newbies perceive an opportunity to Read More »

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Diseñando Para un mundo complejo. Acciones para lograr la sustentabilidad


I’m totally thrilled that my book has just been published in Spanish by my fabulous friends at Editorial Disegnio in Mexico City. Please tell everyone you know, once met, or vaguely heard of, who is Spanish-speaking, and who might be interested. Health warning: the “$” price shown means Mexican pesos, not US$.

Oh, and did I mention? Please tell *everyone*…..


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Cycle Commerce As An Ecosystem

(Illustration: Sameer Kulavoor Ghoda Bicycle Project)

At a workshop in Delhi a few weeks back, during the UnBox Festival, Arjun Mehta and myself posed the following question to a group of 20 professionals from diverse backgrounds: What new products, services or ingredients are needed to help a cycle commerce ecosystem flourish in India’s cities, towns and villages? Read More »

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