BERG: Overview

2009-2013

Role: Principal

BERG was a design consultancy, working hands-on with companies to research and develop their technologies and strategy, primarily by finding opportunities in networks and physical things.

Jack Schulze and Matt Webb formed a small design consultancy in 2004. It was like nothing else I’d seen in design – marrying design and technical exploration with a playfulness and progressive curiosity. At first I was their client at Nokia and then I joined them in 2009.

Schulze & Webb in 2008 (Image: Timo Arnall)
I joined as a partner with Schulze & Webb in 2009 – and we formed BERG (original image: Timo Arnall)

We expanded the studio and renamed to BERG, continuing to explore both self-initiated projects and product invention consultancy for clients including the BBC, Bonnier, Dentsu, Google, Intel and Nespresso amongst others.

My role as a ‘Principal’ and partner in the studio was primarily in the client consultancy – finding and winning new work, then running/directing the projects with studio teams. These consultancy projects often started with what we called a ‘Product Invention Workshop‘ that I usually co-ran and organised – which looking back seems like a looser, more creative ancestor of the modern UX design sprint.

We ran a model of always having two of the three principals on all projects – one as the ‘lead principal’ – and the other principal as a critic/interrogator of the work and process – keeping it ‘honest’ and the standard as high as possible for all our studio’s output commercial or otherwise.

The briefs for products that came from these workshops were often representations of abstract new technologies, roadmaps or strategies turned into tangible, concrete objects that had to have an appeal on their surface, be legible, be desirable.

As a result they could lead to more meaningful conversations about larger systems they were embedded in.

William Burroughs vs Argos Catalogue: What happens when cutting-edge technology gets cheap was a studio preoccupation.

This tactic of ‘strategy as object’ led us to consult with senior decision makers in companies, and also quickly produce outputs that had internal and external appeal – leading to attention, traction and change.

We subscribed to Alan Kay’s famous mantra of ‘the best way to predict the future is to invent it’ but also wanted to create a popular language and grammar for understanding it – making it legible to as many people as possible through designing media and objects that explain themselves playfully and clearly.

BERG’s London studio on Scrutton Street in 2011 (Image: Timo Arnall)

The studio culture and communications output was an experiment in design also – actively writing about our work in what we called ‘weeknotes‘, hosting talks, giving talks, making films and curating links being a big part of our ability to ‘punch above our weight’ globally.

Jack Schulze on BERG’s view of modern design, 2010 (Image: Timo Arnall)
BERG featured in Icon Issue #99 on AI, September 2011

We were rewarded with the most interesting work opportunities, gallery / speaking / media appearances for our projects (as diverse as the Royal Institution, MoMA, the FT and Marvel Comics) and perhaps most importantly a legacy of alumni and impact in design/R&D at Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google and beyond.

iPad light-painting experiments for Dentsu, 2010 (Image: Timo Arnall)
A studio experiment on facial / ’emotion’ recognition in early 2012
Early demos of Little Printer to the studio, 2011 (Image: Timo Arnall)

BERG morphed into BERGcloud – concentrating on its product/platform business centred on Little Printer and I left to join Google in New York City in 2013.

The studio and business ceased operating in 2014.

https://twitter.com/GreatDismal/status/509335307859529728?s=20
The studio’s philosophy (as summed-up/written by me) for a talk in 2012

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