Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Musing on models

Photo: Matt Ward

As someone who’s just turned 35, for some a few years younger than me, and for many many years older, it wasn’t unusual to find models of cars displayed proudly on our shelves or strewn across the floor.

Aside from inviting a collision with an adult foot, they were also an invitation to imagine another world.

I remember well the bedroom races I’d conduct, pitting F40 against 993, C111 against E-Type, A110 against Countach; improbably paired in my adult mind, but impossibly evocative to my child one.

I’d spend hours studying details like NACA ducts. I’d blow through them and imagine what it would feel like to enter at the front as air, and emerge somewhere near the back. Or was it the side? The fogging of the F40’s plastic rear screen was inconclusive.

I’d imagine engine sounds and suspension movement. I’d simulate bumpy roads to the point of destroying delicate plastic hubs. These models -representations of real-world cars- enchanted me.

While I was car mad, even my less car mad friends had these models. Cars, as Chris Bangle has pointed out, were our avatars. They were powerful symbols of other, more exotic lives. The were objects of escape and potential. Together, we invested hours in the alternative worlds to which these cars gave us access.

But things started to change. For while F1, XJ220, 928, 850, 500 E and 600 SEL was the code from which I compiled my fantasies, for some of my friends and many of their younger siblings, virtual worlds coded by programmers became the escape of choice.

Mario, Sonic and their friends became their avatars. They were portable, sharable, and mutable. Younger siblings no longer drove the models on their shelves with the characters of their imagination. The switch of a cartridge, CD-ROM or app and the configuration of a character allowed them to be almost anything they wanted to be, wherever they wanted to be.

Then, with the advent of social networks, opportunities for self-expression and the creation of multiple identities exploded. We could all, adults and children alike, be many versions of ourselves all at once. Before us were the tools to shape new identities, share them with the world and kill them off in the space of an hour.

Model cars, much like their life-sized equivalents, must feel emotionally static and identity-constricting.

Sales figures of Mattel’s “Wheels” category, which includes the Matchbox and Hotwheels brands showed modest growth between 2015 and 2016. But a quick glance at their respective websites show only the slightest nods given to contemporary production brands and cars.

BMW’s collaboration with Hotwheels, for example, has produced 5 models, only one of them current: the M4. Matchbox does better with 6 contemporary models, although why anyone thought a Fiat 500X was worthy of a die cast is beyond me.

Otherwise, Mattel “Wheels” is focussed on collaborations with game, animation, comic and film franchises.

With this in mind, I’d posit that the childhood connection that we once built with car brands through their scale models is on the wane.

If that’s the case, then it surely follows that car brands are losing early access to their future advocates.

And it probably means the end of the era in which, once you’d grown up and made some money, you went and reaffirmed your loyalty and love for a brand by buying one of its products.

If this is all true, it feels like another nail in the coffin of the car as avatar. It also feels like another signal that the industry that fuelled so much imagination is seriously adrift in the face of technology and entertainment companies.

Audi advertising: changing the conversation.

Over at Pistonheads, there’s a lovely little dissection of the current state of performance car advertising.

Gone are the days when out-and-out hooliganism could be used to highlight the dynamic virtues of a vehicle, the advertising censors have made it so.

So what does Audi do to sell the sex without the speed?

Put your headphones on, turn up the volume and clap your peepers on this:

Sexy, non?

It’s all there: 4-wheel traction, grumbling V10 engine, full-bore acceleration, rapid-fire gear shifts, screaming V10 engine (oh, the induction noise!), glowing manifolds and flames-freaking-flames on the downshifts.

It’s a brutal, all-out assault, all conducted while standing still.

Full credit to the ad agency: they couldn’t change the rules, so they changed the conversation in a marvellously subversive way.

But I wonder if it’s a little too subversive for its own good. It seems to undermine the very premise of the car itself, the sad reality being that the majority of owners will never experience the performance portrayed with any great regularity.

No matter, I guess. The ad is like the car is like the dream: both sublime and ridiculous.

And all the better for it.



CreativeMornings/London Interviews: Rodrigo Bautista & Anna Warrington from Forum for the Future

To speak on the theme of Future, we felt it only appropriate that Forum for the Future be included as part of the global, CreativeMornings mix.

Taking a pragmatic view that a sustainable future for all will be underpinned by sustainable business (both in the financial and environmental senses), they work with corporations, governments and NGOs to co-create new approaches to delivering products and services. Putting systems innovation at the heart of their work, they’re now focussed on transforming the man-made organisms that underpin our society: finance, food and energy.

Speaking will be Rodrigo Bauista, a designer and teacher specialised in sustainable innovation, and Anna Warrington, an advisor within the Sustainable Business Team, who spends her time bringing together different industries to collaboratively develop sustainability solutions.

The usual interview is below, but we hope you can make it to our new venue partner, MRM Meteorite on April 26th to hear Rodrigo and Anna in full flight.

CreativeMornings/London on Friday April 26th is generously sponsored by MRM meteorite and will be held at MRM meteorite, 76-80 Southwark Street, London, SE1 0PN.


Where do you go when you need to concentrate?

A: The swimming pool.

R: I normally take the train heading south.

Is it about what you know or who you know?

A: Both.

R: It’s more about what you do. However every little helps, so, be kind to people and share your wisdom.

What’s been the most pivotal point in your life thus far?

A: Getting my first bike. The sense of freedom has never diminished.

R: Professionally, quitting my job for the richest man in the world.

Do you think there’s enough discourse between disciplines?

A: Some connections are stronger than others. I’d like to see more conversations between seemingly unrelated disciplines.

R: No. It depends of the organisation some are very good at it and some need help to have interdisciplinary dialogue.

Can you teach innovation?

A: Honestly, I don’t know. You can teach the theory. You can definitely create the right environment. And you can inspire it without doubt. And you can bring people along with you so that they experience it. Does that add up to people then being able to do it? Who knows. But I hope so.

R: Yes. But you need to live it too.

Dollar or Yuan?

A: Both at the moment. But for how long?

R: Amero

Do you believe in an afterlife?

A: I have a sneaking suspicion that there’s more to this life thing than we know…

R: No

Negative or positive freedom? 

A: Positive. In the main.

R: Positive freedom

Ideal holiday?

A: I love our tiny family campervan!

R: Shared with family, people are the places.

Can you draw?

A: Yes. Badly.

R: Yes

Can you draw us a wave?

A: Yes. Ask me when I see you and I’ll show you

R: A Mexican wave?

Individual or state (or both)?

A: A world where individuals are the state but somehow better than Big Society…

R: Society and community?

Favourite LP?

A: Depends on my mood. Could be Take That one minute, Eagles the next, followed by Ibrahim Ferrer and then Chris Wood after that. A tad eclectic.

R: Tough one…

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (2009). HBE

The bends. Radiohead

Helville deluxe E. Bunbury

Last book read?

A: Behind the beautiful forevers. Read it, I tell you.

R: Vivir. Julio Scherer.

The best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A: Pretend you’re a car when you cycle on London roads. Never squeeze yourself into the side.

R: Never give up, just… follow the energy.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be where you are?

A: Get involved!

R: Don’t listen to me, go out and do what you love.

CreativeMornings/London Interviews: Adil Abrar

We often hear about reusing goods, but what about reusing people?

Thanks to London startup The Amazings, the concept isn’t as incongruous as it might first sound.

We’re faced with a rapidly aging population that, on the one hand, is hobbled by an employment market that looks unkindly on advancing years.

On the other hand, our amazing elders are finding that they have to work longer to make up for an increasing shortfall in social care.

The Amazings is working to bridge that gap, matching skilled elders to a younger audience that is keen to benefit from an Amazing’s years of experience and willing to pay for it.

It’s gives us huge pleasure to present Adil Abrar, co-founder of The Amazings, at this month’s CreativeMornings/London, where he’ll be speaking to our 3rd global theme for 2013, Reuse.

We’re also overjoyed to announce our partnership with The Goldsmiths Centre in Farringdon, who’ll be hosting this event for us. It’s a stunning venue and they’ll be special offer for CreativeMornings/London fans announced in due course.

In the mean time, be sure to check out our interview with Adil below and set your calendar to catch a ticket to hear the story of The Amazings.

Adil Abrar will be appearing at CreativeMornings/London, hosted and sponsored by The Goldsmiths Centre, on Friday, March 22nd. Doors open at 8:30am. Tickets will become available on the CreativeMornings/London Eventbrite page at 11am on Monday, March 18th.

Where do you go when you need to concentrate?
My whole career has been built on not concentrating.

Is it about what you know or who you know?
They’re both important. But ‘why’ is more important. If you have a purpose, everything else will become easier.

What’s been the most pivotal point in your life thus far?
Passing my 11+ and leaving the Estate I grew up in and heading to grammar school to hang out with well-fed kids who go skiing every year.

Do you think there’s enough discourse between disciplines?
Nowadays, definitely. It’s rarer to find a specialist than a generalist. The pendulum has probably gone too far towards broad, rather than, deep knowledge.

Can you teach innovation?
You can affect people with the spirit, confidence and attitude to experiment, take risks and be brave. Innovation is the result of that.

Dollar or Yuan?

Do you believe in an afterlife?
Ask me when I’m dead

Negative or positive freedom?

Ideal holiday?
Climbing a (small) mountain

Can you draw?
Only flowers

Can you draw us a wave?
Not on my phone

Individual or state (or both)?

Favourite LP?
Neil Young – Decade

Last book read?
Dirt – Mötley Crüe

The best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Marriage is like a shirt. You have to put it on to know whether it fits.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be where you are?
Do something you love, with the people you love.

CreativeMornings/London Interviews: Paul Ormorod

The Zürich chapter, situated in one of the more understated money capitals of the world, chose Money as the global theme for CreativeMornings in February.

Given London’s all-together more challenging take on that which makes capitalism go ’round, we knew that – for us – any old money man (or woman) wouldn’t do.

One only has to look at the titles of Paul Ormorod’s books to get a sense that he’s no classical economist. Starting with The Death of Economics, moving through Butterfly Economics and Why Most Things Fail: Evolution, Extinction and Economics and concluding (for now) with Positive Linking: How Networks Can Revolutionise the World, Ormorod has tirelessly challenged the economic orthodoxy. In it’s place, he argues for a model that more closely aligns with our irrational, networked selves and the natural systems we are beholden to.

Whoever said economics, creativity and desire to be more in tune with the world around us were mutually exclusive should get stuck in to Paul’s books.

Or, if you’re a CreativeMornings fan, come along to his talk. Hosted locally by LBi and supported globally by Squarespace, it will a fantastic opportunity to engage with a topic that we creatives rarely enjoy discussing.

Our usual interview is below for some further insight into Paul’s way of thinking. Otherwise, we’ll look forward to seeing you on the 22nd of February.

Paul Ormorod will be appearing at CreativeMornings/London, hosted and sponsored by LBi, on Friday, February 22nd. Doors open at 8:30am. Tickets will become available on the CreativeMornings/London Eventbrite page at 11am on Monday, February 18th.


Where do you go when you need to concentrate?
Anywhere where I can’t be interrupted and I have space to pace around when necessary

Is it about what you know or who you know?
This seems a pretty cynical question

What’s been the most pivotal point in your life thus far?
I grew up on a council estate in Rochdale, and getting into Cambridge was pivotal

Do you think there’s enough discourse between disciplines?
No, nowhere near enough. I liaise with a wide range of disciplines, anthropology,
psychology, economics, physics, for example. This is really important if we want to get a
better understanding of social and economic problems.

Can you teach innovation?

Dollar or Yuan?

Do you believe in an afterlife?

Negative or positive freedom?

Ideal holiday?
I am a keen hillwalker, so a cottage in the Scottish Highlands, ideally on the North West
coast. I would also like uninterrupted fine weather, but that is just a fantasy.

Can you draw?

Can you draw us a wave?

Individual or state (or both)?
Mainly individual

Favourite LP?
The Velvet Underground and Nico

Last book read?
Irvine Welch’s Skag Boys

The best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
During the 1980s and early 1990s I had become increasingly critical of mainstream, free
market economics. I was approached by Faber and Faber to write what became the Death
of Economics. But I had never written a non-academic book and I was very nervous about
agreeing to do it. But several people really pressed me. Worldwide, it sold over 1 million.
More importantly, it opened up whole new intellectual avenues and contacts which I would
never have come across if I had not written the book.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be where you are?
Start off doing academic work, with a strong quant emphasis, but then get out after a few
years and use your innovative ideas in your own business

CreativeMornings/London Interviews: Mark Stevenson

It gives me enormous pleasure to introduce our inaugural speaker for 2013, Mark Stevenson.

Playing the part of polymath to a tee, Mark could be considered a comedian, an author, musician and futurologist all rolled in to one. Happily, his wikipedia entry also calls him out as a public speaker.

Which is perfect really, because -in combination with the knowledge he’s gained researching optimism and setting up the League of Pragmatic Optimists– he’s perfectly poised to talk to our first global theme of 2013: Happiness.

Mark will be appearing at CreativeMornings favourite North London venue, Forward Technology, on January 25th. But if you’d like the down-low ahead of time, we have our usual interview below. We’d also recommend that you check out his series of posts for The School of Life and his latest book, An Optimists Tour of the Future.

Mark Stevenson will be appearing at CreativeMornings/London, hosted and sponsored by Forward Technology, on Friday, January 25th. Doors open at 8:30am. Tickets will become available on the CreativeMornings/London Eventbrite pageat 11am on Monday, January 21st.

Where do you go when you need to concentrate?
Anywhere quiet.

Is it about what you know or who you know?
It’s about what you ask and who you ask it of.

What’s been the most pivotal point in your life thus far?
Every point in your life can be pivotal.

Do you think there’s enough discourse between disciplines?
No, a thousand times no.

Can you teach innovation?
You can teach people the techniques that might lead to innovation. Better though is not to have an education system that teaches people out of their creativity in the first place.

Dollar or Yuan?
My preferred currency is the currency of ideas.

Do you believe in an afterlife?
I’ll let you know if I get there.

Negative or positive freedom?
The latter.

Ideal holiday?
Wherever my girlfriend is going.

Can you draw?
I have played Pictionary.

Can you draw us a wave?
Will you draw me a beach?

Individual or state (or both)?
It’s a negotiation.

Favourite LP?
I don’t do favourites. To say something is a favourite is to put it above all others, whereas I like lots of things equally but for different reasons. Seriously, you want me to put Stevie Wonder and Black Sabbath in the same race?

Last book read?
I tend to read several books simultaneously – so, Comedy Rules by Jonathan Lynn, Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson, The Leaderless Revolution by Carne Ross and Debt, The First 5,000 years by David Graeber.

The best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t be tempted into putting your experiences into hierarchies.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be where you are?
Come on over. We have wine.

CreativeMornings/London Interviews: Rory Sutherland

To attempt an introduction to Rory Sutherland is to risk seriously underwhelming his legion of followers, not to mention the man himself.

So in the interests of avoiding disappointment, we’ll keep it brief.

Testament to the fact that being written off as a crap graduate is no barrier to stellar success, Rory’s contribution to the world of advertising and its move into the digital space is the stuff of global renown.

Currently vice-chariman of Ogilvy UK, he’s as fervent an advocate of getting the small stuff right as he is luke-warm on the preponderance of crap strategy. We can’t wait to be held in thrall by whatever he choses to hold forth on or, indeed, whatever he choses to wear.

Making sure you set your alarms for 11am on Monday the 19th of November and head to our Eventbrite page for tickets. You wont want to miss this.

CreativeMornings/London on Friday November 23rd is generously sponsored by Carat and will be held in The Johannes Gutenburg Room, 10 Triton Street NW1 3BF London. The nearest tube stations are Regents Park, Great Portland Street, Euston Square, and Warren Street.

Where do you go when you need to concentrate?

A cafe or train – you are undisturbed, but benefit from the stochastic resonance of background noise.

Read the rest of this entry »

CreativeMornings/London Interviews: Daniel Lewington & Christian Miccio (updated)

Over the last few weeks, the hot topic of conversation in CreativeMornings circles has been the sometimes awkward relationship between the tech and design communities in London.

This month, we have the pleasure of presenting two chaps that have bridged the design/technology gap in a dizzying display of entrepreneurial endeavour.

Daniel Lewington worked for a who’s who of digital, design, branding, product and service agencies before chucking it all in to join London start-up Apsmart. Here, as Head of Strategy & User Experience, he joined members of the original development team behind music discovery app Shazam.

In June of this year, Thomson Reuters acquired Apsmart , with Daniel becoming their Director of Mobile User Interface. But before the sale, Daniel had a hand in developing a serendipitous internet radio app for iPad called Mpme, which is where Christian comes in.

As an early joiner at Shazam, Christian’s responsibilities included building the technical team, the content management system and what has become one of the largest music databases around.

He then spent almost 5 years at Google as a product developer, rolling out core features in Gmail and Maps while also looking after market research and recruiting activities.

He’s now CEO of MPme, where they’re continuing to refine their iPad app, widely considered the most beautiful radio app going.

We’re looking forward to welcoming you to CreativeMornings/London October with Daniel and Christian on the 2nd of November at Forward Technology in Camden.

In the meantime, get yourself acquainted with Daniel via our usual interview and set your alarms for 11am, October 29th when we’ll release tickets to this event.

Daniel Lewington & Christian Miccio will be appearing at CreativeMornings/London on Friday November 2nd – sponsored by Forward Technology – at Floor 2, Centro 3, 19 Mandela Street, London, NW1 0DU. The nearest tubes are Camden Town or Mornington Crescent. For more information and to reserve tickets, please go to the CreativeMornings London Eventbrite page.

Where do you go when you need to concentrate?
DL: Home.

CM: Into my own place in my head. Generally in a coffee shop so I have only anonymous chatter around me that I can ignore, while getting enough external input to come up with new ideas.

Read the rest of this entry »

CreativeMornings/London Interviews: Tom Foulkes & Michael Johnson

Back in July 2011, when CreativeMornings/London launched, we had the honour of Michael Johnson of Johnson Banks as our first speaker.

September 2012 sees him take the stage again, this time with long-time collaborator and friend Tom Foulkes.

Until recently, Tom was UKMEA Marketing Director at Arup, preceded by senior marketing roles at Buro Happold and Land Securities. He’s also Global Creative Ambassador for the D&AD White Pencil, and the Chair and founding member of the Design Business Association’s Client Membership Panel.

Which makes him ideally placed to talk about his creative partnership with Michael. With a double act looking at who directs the creative process and how they go about it, it will a rollicking exploration of the client/agency relationship, how it can go right and what happens when it goes wrong.

Our usual interview with Tom is below and Michael’s is still available here.

We’re looking forward to welcoming you to the St. Martins Lane hotel on September 28th.

Tom Foulkes & Michael Johnson will be appearing at CreativeMornings/London on Friday September 28th – sponsored by the St. Martins Lane hotel – at 45 Saint Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4HX. The nearest tube is Leicester Square. For more information and to reserve tickets, please go to the CreativeMornings London Eventbrite page.

Where do you go when you need to concentrate?
Anywhere with my iPod, as long as I can shut out the world with music I can concentrate…

Read the rest of this entry »

CreativeMornings/London Interviews: Adam Savage of FutureBrand London

We simply couldn’t let August slip by without paying some kind of homage to the London 2012 Olympics.

Fittingly, we managed to secure two fellows who’ve been at the heart of creating the look and feel of this marvellous event.

Matt Buckhurst and Adam Savage, respectively Creative Director and Design Director at FutureBrand London, have led the team responsible for delivering design and branding projects across the Olympic project.

Specific outputs have included the torch relay, the London 2012 festival, the Olympic Park environment and many other projects besides.

We tried to get their answers to our traditional interview but they’re already pitching for their next piece of work. No rest and all that.

Please read our interview with Adam below and join us on August 31st for this very special event with our new partners General Assembly.

Where do you go when you need to concentrate?
A leafy park

Read the rest of this entry »

About DownSideUp Design

I'm Drew Smith and I'm an ethnographer and strategist. By day I shape culture and strategy at Westpac. By night I sleep (mostly). And once a month, I help teams host an event called Rising Minds in London, New York, Toronto and Sydney.

DownsideUpDesign is a place for me to collect stuff that I like, often love and sometimes hate for safe keeping. All views represented here are mine and mine alone and do not represent those of anyone else.

Get in touch at drewpasmith (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet me (@drewpasmith) to rant, contribute or collaborate!

Want DownsideUpdates sent to your email address? Click here:



© Andrew Philip Artois Smith and DownsideUpDesign, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew/Drew Smith and DownsideUpDesign with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.