Category Archives: News

UX Boot Camp at ustwo in the heart of Tech City

Last Wednesday, 16 July, another batch of developers and designers experienced the intensive 1-day boot camp run by ustwo. As a regular collaborator with the ITaaU Network+ ustwo share many ideals about new technology and new approaches to developing and providing services and applications. Ustwo were recently rated as the top digital company in Design magazine and have also just received the Apple Design award for this year.

Dem Gerolemou, one of the participants at the UX boot camp has written a great blog post which captures the day perfectly:

Ustwo UX Boot Camp report by Tom Lodge

Tom Lodge, one of our Pilot Project funding recipients, attended the last ustwo UX Boot Camp that we sponsored on behalf of the Network+

Here’s what he had to say about the event:

We’re starting to flesh out the design of prototype deployments that we’re aiming to put in front of users in high-rise residential communities.  When the IT as a Utility Network advertised a UX Bootcamp at ustwo, in London’s Silicon Roundabout, I was delighted – is seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn how the professionals approach to the design process.   Actually I have to admit, I had no idea who, the ‘professionals’ were until I turned up at ustwo’s studios.  What a place!  This is hallowed ground – a carefully designed space, with all the accoutrements expected of a start-up (table football, juice bar and a variety of comfy places to lounge), but humming with activity.  Most spaces – pillars, walls, cabinets – were covered in examples of ustwo’s successes, or sketches and mock-ups / ideas related to (god knows how many) current projects.

The workshop kicked off in a large room on the second floor.  It was immediately obvious that the ustwo staff cared a great deal about their craft, and a great deal about getting it across to us.  On the wall was a minutely crafted schedule for the day which was kept to with unwavering precision.   The schedule was intended to take us right the way through the design process – and crucially – was a faithful reflection of ustwo’s own way of working.  Everything is geared to failing fast; get the ideas out there as soon as possible, scrutinise, iterate, iterate, iterate (elaborate and reduce in design parlance).  Our task:  to design an app to help users during a tube strike.   We were split into three teams then quickly began the process of creating personas, empathy maps, storyboards and even wireframe prototypes to test our ideas against. We were watched, nudged and gently rebuked by ustwo staff throughout the process.  At the end of the day each team had filled a wall with ideas and designs.  We each presented our final concept (and evolution of our ideas) to the rest of the participants.    Perhaps the most striking part of the day was the final tour of the third floor of the studio, where we saw evidence of the very same processes we’d been though plastering walls and offices.  Quite definitely the most useful and rewarding workshop I’ve been to so far…

Originally posted here:

The next ustwo UX Boot Camp will be run on the 16th July:

People Count by Erinma Ochu

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing phone call interviews to find ‘people stories’ behind what motivates researchers to get involved in designing these technologies. When I looked at most of the researchers websites, it talks about the technology, but not about the people behind it. It has been insightful and inspiring to hear why researchers came up with their ideas.

Each project seems to address a social need by providing simple, technology and skills to provide an innovative solution to the problem. The researchers clearly engage with potential users to design and test the solutions. Techniques include creating networks, spaces (e.g. virtual platforms and maps) to help people to communicate, relate and share information.

So for example, Aberdeen researcher, Edoardo Pignotti’s GetThereBus app (, crowd sources information from bus users to provide real-time bus schedules in rural areas where travel information is often sparse or out of date.

Common themes seem to be emerging in making low cost, simple solutions to enable skills development, communication and access to information, often in remote areas.

The other projects I’ve been in touch with, include Mike Santer and Blupoint (, Mike Wright and Anna Kronenburg who worked on Cloudmaker ( and I visited Pat Langdon who is working on the Upland Rescue and Resilience project.

It will be interesting to discover what else people have learned as a result of being involved in their projects – but that might be beyond the scope of a ten minute film.

Filming is scheduled for the two weeks in June and includes, weather permitting, a visit to the Lake District to see the Upland Rescue team in action with the Coniston Mountain rescue team and volunteers, doing a field test.

Sense and sensibility by Erinma Ochu

Caroline filming

Caroline filming

After an initial meeting with Steve and Jeremy in Southampton I got started quickly. The goal is to screen the film at the annual conference in June.

In order to scope out the film’s vision and get a sense of how things work, I wanted to understand how the network works in practice. I visited the ITaaU team in Southampton and sat in on a May workshop about Healthcare apps with my cameraperson, Caroline Ward, who also filmed the Everyday Growing Futures film.  We filmed some of the workshop, interviewed Jeremy Frey, the lead investigator and got some voxpops from network members.

Whilst we might not use all of this footage in the film (the film is only going to be ten minutes long!), it’s helped us to scope out the film, think things through in pictures and understand in simple terms what we mean by IT as a Utility. Jeremy and network members helpfully come up with some simple metaphors, to explain the term.

We also thought more about the kind of locations we needed for filming the projects.

Sky through plane window

Sky through plane window

Now, with a sense of how the network works and getting our heads around the jargon and buzz words, our ideas that were a bit up in the sky, can come back to earth as we hit the ground and start interviewing people about their projects.

As yet – no title for the film…. Ideas welcome! The current favourite and working title is: “The social life of data”.



Story as utility by Erinma Ochu

IMAGE 1 - erinma

I’m Erinma (, a filmmaker and science communicator based at The University of Manchester. I like to tell stories about technology research – the people behind it and how it might make a difference to society – the upsides and the downsides. I am also interested in how, by telling stories, it can help researchers communicate their work more simply, reflect on their work and its impact on society and maybe even help generate new uses of the technology, create connections between ideas, people and places and perhaps help unlock new questions.

IMAGE 2 - everyday growing futures

I met Steve Brewer, the ITaaU network coordinator quite a while back at the annual conference of sister network, Communities and Culture Network+ ( I screened a film at the conference from a project I’d worked on called Everyday Growing Cultures ( It was all about what happens when two communities come together, wannabe urban vegetable growers and open data technologists, and how they work together to find a way to digitally map places nearby to grow food. It explored ideas of community resilience, sustainability and making open data useful to people. Steve liked the film and told me a bit about the ITaaU network.

I then met Steve again after attending an ITaaU network meeting exploring human data interaction ( and what happens when big data gets personal. This was a great meeting, where I met a lot of people, got a feel for the network, and I met one of my citizen social science heroes, Professor Muki Haklay, who runs the Extreme Citizen Science group ( at University College London. Muki and his team develop technology with people to help solve social and environmental challenges. This is something I am particularly passionate about that technology is developed with people and that it’s useful to society, can help people in their everyday lives. I guess it’s a theme running through the stories I tell. I even got invited by Muki to speak at The Citizen CyberScience Summit ( after meeting him informally at the ITaaU event. If it had been too formal, well who knows!?

After that I applied to one of ITaaU’s funding calls to explore my practice of using film to tell personal stories about novel technology and its relevance to society. It would draw on the human data interaction theme, by getting personal and telling more of the human side. I wanted to explore the idea of using story as a utility to connect people, ideas and place and to share knowledge creating through the storytelling process by talking about the film, blogging about it and screening it.

I always make these films available under a creative commons licence ( so others can share the film and the ideas more widely than I might do alone.

After discussing it with Steve, it made sense to make a film about the ITaaU process and projects and to try and articulate what we mean by IT as a Utility through the different projects that have been funded in locations around the UK – from Southampton to Cambridge, Aberdeen and the Lake District – and even Rural Africa.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be blogging about making the film. Time is tight but stories matter.

About the author.

Erinma is a Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow based in Life Sciences at The University of Manchester.


3D printers in UK schools

What could we gain by putting a 3D printer in every school in the UK? This was the fascinating question posed by entrepreneur Luke Johnson in the Financial Times yesterday. Johnson’s premise is that such an act, redolent of the move to put computers in schools all those years ago, would help spawn a generation of teenage makers who could become fully fledged inventors and fabricators.

So could this be achieved and would it work?

The simple answer is that we won’t know unless we try. Johnson’s response is to lead a challenge to try and achieve this. He has issued an invitation to anyone who can contribute to a task force to organise the logistics.

We in the IT as a Utility Network+ have already been supporting activity in this area. We have held one workshop on 3D printing, or additive manufacturing as we now now that it should be called, and we are planning a follow up event very soon. We have also begun investigating relevant topics within this vision. One of the as yet under explored side issues is the use, reuse and disposal of the materials involved in 3D printing. Prof Jeremy Frey at Southampton is looking into these issues from a chemist’s perspective as well as from the engineering and economic perspective.

Mark Wright and colleagues at John Moores University in Liverpool have recently begun a project called Cloudmaker, partly funded by ITaaU, that is working with school children to use the game Minecraft to design 3D constructions within this gaming world and then print them out into the real world.

As a network we would certainly be interested in supporting other projects to investigate the further use of 3D printing as an IT utility for use by school children. What we have found though in these kind of ventures, is that it is not simply about the technology. For these initiatives to succeed, experts from diverse disciplines need to collaborate to share ideas and experience, and often develop a common language. The interdisciplinary workshops and pilot projects that we have been running have helped us develop such a model.

So, what happens next?

We wish Luke Johnson well with his mission and we will invite him to our next 3D printing workshop to pitch this vision to interested parties who might want to assist or challenge the bold concept of a 3D printer in every UK school.

Watch this space.

Cloudmaker launch story from Wired:


Libraries of the Future: the story so far

Why Libraries of the Future?

The forthcoming workshop at the Sir Duncan Rice Library at the University if Aberdeen is the next in a sequence of events exploring the theme Libraries of the Future. So why have we developed this theme and what are Libraries of the Future?

To answer these questions it is perhaps worth stepping back to consider the overarching theme of IT as a Utility and the objectives of the ITaaU Network+. The goal of the ITaaU Network+ was to bring together researchers and others interested in the issues and opportunities surrounding IT utilities in the context of the Digital Economy. With this challenge we purposefully set out to focus on users by exploring some specific use case scenarios such as Libraries of the Future, Emerging Economies, Security in the Food Chain, Smart Spaces and Media Production Platforms. Through these we have, and will, learn more about the technologies and issues inherent in achieving solutions. We have learnt that key issues that require deeper understanding are: design, accessibility, security and trust. We have held separate workshops and these cross-cutting topics. Finally, but not surprisingly the key technologies that are needed to deliver solutions in these areas include cloud and other distributed platforms, mobile apps, 3D printing, sensor networks plus Human data Interaction.

Reports and outputs

The Libraries of the Future theme clearly fitted well within this framework with its opportunities for examining knowledge production, knowledge storage and knowledge retrieval, and the associated technologies needed to manage and maintain such a space. This we knew. However, the seam proved to be richer than we anticipated and so we have be pleased to run more workshops exploring various aspects of what may become the Library of the Future. Information about previous workshops can be found in the Events section of this website and further material is being collected under the Outputs section. In a number of instances the reports from the workshops identify recommendations for future actions that should be taken forward.  For example, we currently have a call out to fund Embedded Librarians.

We are therefore looking for librarians or other information specialists to become, at least for a while, a fully-fledged member of a multidisciplinary research team, contributing to the research process, advising on how to capture, store and interpret information whilst still maintaining contact with their central library. The embedded librarian will also guide the researchers towards any supplementary training that might be needed as well as looking at the bits and bytes emerging from laboratory equipment. Further details can be found in the Calls section of this website.

Why Aberdeen?

We have chosen Aberdeen as the location for the next Libraries of the Future workshop for three reasons: the location, Aberdeen with its coincidental alignment with the dot Rural community; the building, an exemplary new library and finally, the community engagement expertise which we are keen to draw upon as we host our first workshop in Scotland.

So who should attend this event? We anticipate a number of individuals who have attended previous ITaaU workshops and not just the Library themed ones. We welcome librarians of all degrees if specialism, not just community outreach. Whilst we welcome those concerned with the technological aspects of librarianship, we should stress that, despite the name, we are not focussed on the technology. Rather the opposite. We want to explore the needs and opportunities inherent in Libraries of the Future so that we can inform providers and developers on what are the needs and dependencies of the knowledge production institutions of the future.


Further details about the event including registration can be found here:

Eventbrite - IT as a Utility - Libraries of the Future: Community Engagement