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Design Thinking Open University course U101

I’ve recently enrolled on an Open University course: U101 Design Thinking.

‘Design Thinking’ is something of a buzz phrase at the moment, at least in my social and professional circles. Had I paid more attention to the course title, I may well have decided against enrolling, on the basis that I’m a contrary bugger and don’t want to be seen doing something that’s in vogue. ((The same kind of childish thinking that used to make me dislike some bands as soon as they started selling more than a few records. Now I hate bands who go mainstream on the more rational basis that they’re only selling more records because they started writing formulaic bland anthemic crap. Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Athlete, I’m looking at you hiding behind your admittedly impressive piles of cash.)) Fortunately, I made my decision to sign up from reading the course description. It’s something I’m interested in just out of personal interest but it also happens to be useful to me professionally, as well.

Now, last year I took two courses at what was supposed to be equivalent to first year degree level (it felt more like GCSE), following advice from the local OU support centre. Given that these courses were supposed to be about current uses of technology, I was appalled that I was sent a huge number of printed text books (most of which got sent to the recycling centre unopened). To be fair, PDFs were provided online but for some reason, when corrections to course material needed to be made, they sent an email out about it, and didn’t update the PDFs to reflect the correction. Absolute madness. The walled garden software (email, forums, IM) used by the OU was also terribly designed, as was the browser version of it. All in all, the impression given was ‘do as we say, not as we do’.

So when another big box from the OU arrived last week, I thought, “Oh, here’s another lot of stuff for me to recycle.” I finally got round to opening the box about ten days later, and was pleasantly surprised to find a t-shirt, masking tape, a ruler, some transfer paper, a pencil and other bits and pieces that had labels encouraging me to think about them as something more than a t-shirt, pencil, &c. No text book destined to remain unopened – just objects and a few words that made me think that the OU has really thought about this course thoroughly and applied, well, design thinking.

So with just a few items and a few words, the Open University has already got me infinitely more excited and positive about than I ever was about the courses I took last year. The fact that I’m bothering to take pictures of the course material and write this blog post is evidence of that. I hope the course lives up to the early promise.

eBay auction: Personal song written by Damon Albarn on eBay (end time 01-Feb-10 11:23:12 GMT)

Personal song written by Damon Albarn on eBay (end time 01-Feb-10 11:23:12 GMT).

Oxfam’s got a fantastic auction up on eBay: “The sucessful bidder will own a recording of a composition especially written performed and recorded by Damon Albarn for their exclusive personal use.”

At the time of writing, the highest bid is £1,650 but there’s still nearly 10 days to go. This, and other auctions, is all to support Oxfam’s Haiti Earthquake appeal.

Me, myself, and Blur

I went to see ‘No Distance Left to Run’, the documentary about Blur, at the cinema last night and was absolutely blown away. Even if you’re not a big Blur fan, I think it’s worth getting hold of the DVD – out in a month, I think – and finding as big a screen as possible to watch it. Visually, it’s stunning, and as a story, it’s compelling, surprisingly funny in places, and poignant.

It’s not simply a history of the band. It’s the true story of how a friendship fell apart through unfortunate circumstances and miscommunication, but was strong enough to be repaired, to have a positive effect beyond the two people directly involved. It’s also about not being afraid to rebuild relationships before it’s too late, because life’s too short to hold grudges. In my youth, I used to be proud of the fact that I could hold a grudge. Now that I’m older and wiser, I can see what an idiotic thing that is. ‘No Distance Left To Run’ has inspired me to make even more of an effort to rebuild bridges with people I’ve lost touch with.

And that’s yet another reason why Blur are more than just a band for me. I love the music, obviously, but I also love the attitude that’s guided it. The style (such that it exists) of my clothes and hair since 1993 is a direct result of the anti-grunge, pro-British, Mod-inspired ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ Blur. I learnt to play guitar by playing along to ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’. Even the fact that my work occasionally involves me striking out Americanisms from copy meant for a British readership has its roots in the rallying against ‘coca-colonisation’ ((‘coca-colonisation’ is still a phrase I still trot out from time to time)) of British culture.

I don’t pretend that Blur are unique in that sense. They just happen to be my band, and I love that even now, 17 years after I first saw them and fell in love with the whole package, they can still influence me in such a positive way.

Lucky Soul – record of the week on Radcliffe and Maconie

White Russian Doll, the latest single by my slight obsession and favourite independent band, Lucky Soul, has been voted Record of the Week on my favourite radio programme, Radcliffe and Maconie.

From the latest Lucky Soul email:

Thank you, thank you and thank you again to everyone who voted for ‘White Russian Doll’ for the ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ Single of the Week slot on Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie’s BBC Radio 2 show. We’ll be on every night this week here:

You can now hear ‘Cryin in the Morning’ the rousing b-side to ‘WRD’ on our myspace and order the digital bundle here: Why not write a review while you’re there?

And barring ill fortune or injury we’ll be in session on Absolute Radio, on the Geoff Lloyd show on Feburary 2nd.

I thought I was too old to be thrilled when ‘small’ bands I love get picked up on national radio, but I’m not – I’m chuffed to pieces for the band.

(Yes, I’m aware that, at the time of writing, the video is spilling outside this post’s container. I still need to tweak the design here.) 20/1: Fixed by not relying on the WordPress auto-embed function.