Storytime for Books & Print

Yesterday was our second Sandbox workshop (not including our two day kick off meeting) and it was a cracker. The enthusiasm, energy and real engagement of the teams and advisors is just fantastic. We had tweaked the format a bit this time, in response from some super helpful feedback from everyone, and invited adviser Kim Plowright to lead the afternoon with a focus on stories and endings. One of the things highlighted was the importance of the classic beginning, middle and end narrative structure so....

The beginning:

We started with some brief updates from all of the projects, hearing about what they have been up to since we last met. The short answer was 'a lot'. As reflected in my last post it is clear that the teams have accelerated the pace over the last few weeks. Noticeably most of the updates were marked by a concern with the practicalities of making the projects. Laura spoke about how The Secret Lives of Books team are making progress and solving problems but it's a case of two steps forward, one back as yet more problems become apparent the deeper into the project they get. Likewise, there is a clear frustration in Nicola’s most recent post that was reflected in Charlotte’s update. Digitising the Dollar Princess is being marred with administrative issues, some of which are the inevitable results of trying to do something ambitious fast and some of which are associated with University bureaucracy and REACT’s struggle to change cultures. We are working hard behind the scenes to try and improve this and remain grateful for the team’s enduring cheer (‘great workshop’ Nicola grinned at me yesterday ‘I love workshops!).

The middle:

The best thing for me about yesterday was the palpable sense that Books & Print feels like a community. That means that people are genuinely interested in each other, they share willingly, they support each other but also they are starting to argue. We had a great discussion following the updates around how the publishing sector is evolving, whether children’s books are in some way ahead of the curve and what the relationship between physical and digital is. Clare questioned whether there is a danger of the teams fetishizing the physical object as a way to comfort themselves through the scariest part of their projects. There was some recognition of this tendency but in general the teams rejected the characterisation.  Anthony and Simon see the interplay between digital and physical as fundamental to Jekyll 2.0 and have consciously chosen a method for approaching the ‘embodiment’ process. Similarly Tom defended the recent focus of ‘these pages fall like ash’ on producing their (beautiful) wooden notebook. Not only do physical books take longer to make, it is a false dichotomy to pitch the two forms against each other. In exploring the many futures of publishing, we should embrace both, carry people with us and select the tools which serve the experience best. This will help create meaning, both narrative and experiential, personal and social.

All good arguments are improved by food and drink so we headed out for a good lunch nearby to continue the discussion and fill our very own middles.

The  afternoon sessions were led by Kim Plowright, freelance producer of many brilliant narrative led projects. Kim talked to us about the importance of story, both within projects and in an audience’s interaction with them. There are the things that you do and that your audience will do and then there is how you feel and how you want your audience to feel.  In discussing, she highlighted a particular danger around endings. Often you are planning the ending for your audience when you are at your lowest ebb as a team (tired, wired, pleading with each other to ‘make it stop’). Plus the ending is what people remember from their experience so you need to lead people all the way to where you want them to be and then make it satisfying for them when they get there. We spent the remainder of the afternoon revisiting each project’s audience personas and plotting a time line of their journey through the experience from first interaction to exit moment, thinking about their possible reactions along the way. I’ve rarely seen such a joyful catharsis as when Kim got them to write the worst possible tweets that this might provoke!

In the story of the projects, they are nearing the plummeting low that Kim predicts can follow the first round of testing so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for their sanity and practising some comforting phrases. Alex of The Next Time(line) describes their current stage of mid build, ready to start the testing as a ‘hopeful moment’ which suddenly seems a bit ominous. Testing is a necessary evil though, tremendously useful in shaping the design and saving time and money in the long term. So if you have a sec do sign up to help Little j: Hyper local News with their beta stage.

The end:

As if to prove the importance of both testing and endings, Book Kernel ran their first test at the workshop, they have loads to work out with further dates planned, but the culmination was pretty special. Ben had been mysteriously busy at his laptop during the project updates and I spotted Bambo on the phone a couple of times. Then, in our afternoon coffee break, a flushed and slightly baffled cycle courier arrived and (to a spontaneous round of applause) produced a bound book of our morning session from his bag - complete with context, blog posts, photos, tweets and discussion. It was a very exciting shared moment (just moments before Bambo and I had been discussing whether users might share their receipt of their Book Kernel book online and sure enough, out the phones came and up the tweets went). As ever our day finished in the bar, the mood was good, the end feels in sight but there is a lot to do to get there.

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