Weeknote 14: History lessons, user-centred design and the state of LinkedIn

A flowerpot, with roses, overlooking a large lawn with trees and shrubs.

The patio at the Manor House at Howbery Park.

Things I have learnt this week:

1. Writing was invented in at least four different places. I was taught at school about Mesopotamian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphs but there’s also evidence of writing systems in China,  Mesoamerica and possibly other places such as the Indus River valley and Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

This was just the first thing I found out from the British Library’s exhibition Writing – Making your mark, a fascinating look at how culture, politics and technology have influenced the evolution of writing across the world. It includes some wonderful artefacts, from examples of writing that are 4,000 years old to a Chinese typewriter and an early Apple computer.

2. Howbery Park is 25 years old. Howbery Business Park, just outside Wallingford, is the UK’s first solar-powered business park and probably the prettiest too. It’s also the venue for the Creative Meetup, one of my favourite networking groups. At this week’s meeting I noticed the anniversary posters and later checked out the history on their website – where I learnt that there was once a water flume for hydraulic research in what is now the coffee lounge.

3. ‘User-centred design’ is a new trend in the humanitarian sector. I’m all for user-centred approaches to making things – and an advocate for this on web projects – but this context was new to me. In relation to ‘humanitarian innovation’, it’s about creating products and services in a way that involves the end users (the people actually affected by disasters) in the development process.

I’m copy-editing a series of research reports about the Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP) Innovation Labs, which take this approach. It’s been interesting to see how ideas about start-ups that began in Silicon Valley transfer to places like Jordan, Kenya and Bangladesh, and the steps needed to translate concepts such as ‘bootcamp’ and ‘design sprint’ in different languages.

4. We can all learn from each other. At the Creative Meeetup this week, I learnt from my fellow creative types:

  • the difference between audio for podcasts and for video
  • tips on improving your LinkedIn presence
  • recommendations for business books to read.

I also learnt that there is a Twitter account called The State of LinkedIn. This made me laugh a lot.

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