The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture



More Ideas, Less Stuff — London-based graphic designer Ben Terrett of the Really Interesting Group and Noisy Decent Graphics is in The Guardian today talking about Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet 2008, a limited-edition newspaper that collected together interesting stuff from the internet, and the idea of  ‘unproduct’, or creating more value but producing less stuff:

Originally coined by the designer Matt Jones and built upon by the strategist Russell Davies, among others, unproduct is basically maximum idea, minimum stuff… More than anything, unproduct is a new way of thinking about things. A new model. So is making something and giving it away. So are joint ventures. We’ve got people building stuff quickly, trying out new ideas, often for free. We have clients and agencies taking risks and more importantly sharing those risks. We’re creating maximum ideas and minimum stuff.

When people start talking to me about e-books, I have to confess there’s a small part of my brain that begins to shut down because I just don’t find them intrinsically interesting (inevitable and utilitarian yes, fun and interesting, no). But I love the idea of applying unproduct-type principles to publishing.

Sadly I don’t own a copy of Things Are Friends Have Written on the Internet 2008, but I gather that on the last page Russell Davies and Ben Terrett say: “2009 feels like a year for printing and making real stuff in the real world. Its going to be exciting”.

I hope so. I think this is fantastic.


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  1. I don’t if I entirely agree with this being the best idea. Personally, I think that the internet is a fantastic tool for sharing information (which is precisely the goal of publishing, sharing words). Why take things off the internet to print in volumes that a smaller group of people would be able to access?

    I can see your point that currenlty, e-books are graphically uninteresting, but I don’t think this means that e-books are inherently flawed, I just think that we’ve been thinking about them the wrong ways. I mean, think about how beautiful and fantastic websites can be. There’s no reason books couldn’t be that way too when printed online.

    Hopefully someone in the industry will realize this, but until then it looks like we’ll be stuck with the black and white screened Kindle. ::sigh::

  2. Hi Julie. Thanks for your comment.

    I’m going to try and post a bit more coherently about this sometime in the next few weeks. But just to clarify a bit – I don’t think that e-books are “inherently flawed” — I actually think they’re very important (and here to stay) — I just don’t find them particularly interesting.

    The debate we’re having about e-books right now is about mostly about format, devices, DRM, and pricing. It’s about practicalities and not creativity.

    And the basic assumption is that e-books will be just like paper books, only digital, and more efficiently produced and distributed. The more things change, the more things stay the same — only more so (and with bells on) — in effect.

    But you’re right to say that the internet is a fantastic tool for sharing and collaborating, and that’s actually part of why I like the idea of unproduct or “post-digital” thinking (to borrow from Russell Davies again).

    It seems to me that there’s amazing, unprecedented opportunity to connect creative people and spark interesting projects online, and then create things in the real world that surprise and delight — be that a limited edition newspaper or, perhaps a beautifully crafted book.

    Anyway, it may not be the future of publishing, but at least it sounds fun.

  3. Well it’s quite funny that people are still debating the logistics and the rationale behind e-books — that’s over. What needs to be talked about is what can we do with all this stuff :)

    I’m quite confident that there are plenty of possibilities to explore the way we can interact with content, books, and therefore a story or two. Smashing Magazine just announced a collaborative initiative for a book eh?

  4. Pingback: causual optimist unproduct |

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