innovations (1-3)

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 2.24.27 AM

The armchair innovatrix, hard at work on your behalf.

My institution is big on innovation, being as it is “a place of mind” with lots going on that is lively, dynamic, engaging and engaged, rich and enriching, giving and giving back, saving the world, and being creative. Especially creating fame and fortune, “from here” as the historic slogan goes. (We arrived here at the start of that campaign, which I guess in its own terms was “historic” and “epic.”)

This piece brings together UBC’s brand identity and some ideas for some actual innovation. It is part of a sequence. It follows on directly—as an application into material practice—from a first piece about innovation and sustainable renovation, “readings on reading” (2014-01-13) which in turn continues in “innovation: exciting updates!” (2014-02-05), featuring news about UBC’s Innovation Strategy and a new Innovation Catalyst. Suggestions for actual innovations resume in “innovations (4-5)” (2014-02-05) and in  some of the other posts tagged innovatively, such as “inhuman lacks of resources” (2014-11-05).

Here follows the UBC innovative brand identity:

1. Supporting Brand Messaging

UBC is the Tier One international research-intensive university that, better than any other, offers a fresh, open environment that provides the freedom to learn, discover and contribute in one’s own way. Aside from its research excellence, the most distinct and powerful aspects of the UBC Brand lie in its emotional attributes. Brand research indicates that UBC is perceived to have an appealing, open environment that welcomes bold ideas, fresh thinking, and creative approaches. Proof points for the UBC Brand positioning strategy exist as specific words, namely: Bold, Open, Connected, Fun, Adventurous, Globally Aware and Globally Respected. Like the ideas that come from UBC, the communication tone is bold and fresh. Our stories consistently and unabashedly remind others of the influence that UBC’s expansive environment and refreshing openness have on how we learn, explore, and give back.

(—from: UBC Brand > About our brand > Brand Communication and Design Principles)

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 12.55.57 PM

2. Distinguishing Our Brand

UBC’s Brand, a place of mind, was developed over a two-year consultative process (2007-09) that engaged students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, and donors. The challenge: to discover what makes UBC unique.

The process wasn’t about creating a new logo. It focused on articulating the big idea about UBC that encapsulates the sense of energy and possibility on our campuses.

Feedback consistently identified three strengths about UBC:

  • UBC’s high-performing, self-actualizing students
  • UBC’s globally influential research
  • UBC’s location in the West, a unique, almost pioneering mentality that results in a sense of unusual openness to fresh, new ways of thinking and tackling tough questions.

Many participants emphasized UBC’s environment of openness that has helped create a dynamic sense of place no other university can claim.

(—from: Distinguishing our Brand)

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 12.56.17 PM

3. A Place of Mind & Place and Promise

What’s the difference between a place of mind and Place and Promise: The UBC Plan? They are closely aligned but they have different purposes in advancing UBC as a Tier One university.

  • A brand is the emotional essence of an organization; it’s what sets it apart from others organizations.
  • A strategic plan is an operational roadmap that sets goals, actions, and evaluations for the organization.

The UBC Brand requires internal understanding and commitment, although its audiences are mainly external. The brand helps external audiences engage with UBC by differentiating us positively from comparable institutions.

Place and Promise: The UBC Plan marshals university talent and resources to accomplish our mission in the most effective manner possible.

Think of the UBC Brand as encapsulating the unique combination of qualities that allow UBC to do what it does so well. The brand is the why. Place and Promise: The UBC Plan provides the what and how.

How can the two work together?
The nine commitments outlined in Place and Promise are a tremendous guide to sourcing stories that exemplify the brand attributes. The commitments are the major initiatives on which UBC will focus in the foreseeable future.

For example, sustainability is one of the nine commitments. So if you want to communicate advances in sustainability, for example, look for stories that speak to how the sense of openness at UBC has been a contributing factor to our people providing global leadership in this field. Commitments from the university’s strategic plan:

  • Student learning
  • Research excellence
  • Community engagement
  • Aboriginal engagement
  • Alumni engagement
  • Intercultural understanding
  • International engagement
  • Outstanding work environment
  • Sustainability

For more information on UBC’s vision, commitments and strategic plans, see Place and Promise: The UBC Plan.

(—from: A place of Mind & Place and Promise)

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 1.01.50 PM

There is also a gallery of inspiration.

Excuse me briefly while, as a part of a “sub-brand person who actually actively lives, breathes, and works with stories and “histoire(s)”, I barf take a moment so as to have a personal crisis about the usual marketeering abuse of “story.”
kicks things and swears
Thanks. Back now. Deep breath.

Mkay. Will do my best.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 1.04.22 PM

And, at long last, a story-telling chair that includes all participants in the story and its telling, in three-dimensional dynamic movement, and that itself tells a story

Ideas and innovation, research and development.

I work in a department and fields that work with ideas. In, you know, books and stuff. Teaching means innovation, always, even on the inspired spur of the moment. Research? Those books again, and all that talking and conferring we do. Development? Nope. We need to work on that one, band together with other people in other fields to apply for The Big Money.

All of the following would be ideal projects:

  • necessary
  • immediately useful
  • increasing the sum total of human knowledge, and knowledge about the universe
  • cross-  and inter-disciplinary: arts, medicine, engineering, and sciences and numerous fields within them (plus opportunities for commentary and theorising c/o anthropology, sociology, politics, cultural and critical theory, comparative literature, history, etc…)

I don’t have any answers. I am merely offering ideas. I work well on teams and am open to offers of co-operation as a consultant.


Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 1.18.12 PM

Driftwood, Wreck Beach, UBC: reconceptualising story-telling chairs back to their source


Thélème re-envisioned, repurposed, repackaged, and put to good proper practical use.


I was going to start with the wheel, but that’s already been done. I mean, reinvented. No kidding: a friend from my grad school days was a postdoc working partly in academe, partly in industry on redesigning the wheel. He also had great taste in fancy fast cars.

We desperately need chairs that work. Chairs for working in. Chairs for learning in.

The chair is in desperate need of being rethought and redesigned from the ground up. Or, perhaps, from the human brain outwards: from the head, neck, and spinal column downwards and outwards. Heck, maybe sideways and on all three axes, hammock-style.

Rather than with the gluteus maximus as the core and seat. Metaphors are marvellous, but they are not magical. The current arrangement does not necessarily correspond to, let alone cause, foundational knowledge or profound wisdom.

The chair is a perfect multi-department cross-faculty inter-disciplinary project. It could be funded by all our government agencies; it’s an immediate candidate for NSRC big money.

It would improve the quality of life and learning of all our students.

More importantly, from a UBC strategic initiatives point of view, it would bring in money from making and selling the product, and through patents for the idea and designs.

Here are some current so-called “chairs” in which our students are supposed to learn, starting with the mid-century classic Fred Lasserre building–where Architecture lives: a beautiful building and rooms, lovely Jetsons seating, but this one was allocated to me a couple of years back for a language class. It came supplied with two ten-foot long wooden poles, for poking students, jousting, enhancing gesticulation, and I guess other more mundane things with the giant blackboards. Fun room.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 1.36.48 AM

Education with a stick

The standard chairs in Arts

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 1.33.22 AM

also appearing elsewhere in massed ranks

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 1.40.20 AM

The standard other sorts, again with those stupid armlet-things that are barely sufficient for holding a smartphone, and this even in some of our fanciest classrooms:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 1.37.59 AM

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 1.39.45 AM

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 1.38.43 AM

Some without armlets, but looking very like the medieval pew / workbench arrangement, plus ça change


—except that the medieval version was actually more ergonomically adapted to reading and note-taking than our current 21st-century desks. The image above depicts angled surfaces—like a draughtsman’s or architect’s desk—that maintain the correct 90° angle at the elbow and mean less leaning down and hunching. Backs, necks, shoulders, and core remain straighter. Our current version, on the other hand, is contributing to poor posture and physiological damage, and many years of continuing bad sitting may result in heavy physiotherapy bills, possible surgery, and other impacts on health and well-being.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 1.34.32 AM

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 1.39.12 AM

The need for total redesign may even be observed in the high-end chairs of the new Law faculty and the home of all things educational (and much apparent innovation) here on campus, the Ike Barber Learning Centre:

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 1.40.48 AM

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 1.41.05 AM

I rest my case.

Some of the best solutions I’ve seen have been from a temporary exhibition of student work. Here is what happens when you combine Balenciage with architecture students in the Basque Country: Balenziaga EzartenSitting with Balenciaga c/o Irenebriation.

Some more, based on the sphere, and I guess descendants of the hammock and the egg-chair; morphing through to the wonderful cradling humanoid body-rests at the University of Victoria (the one across the water, not NZ):

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 2.08.29 AM

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 2.09.07 AM

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 2.10.36 AM

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 2.12.32 AM Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 2.12.48 AM

I’ve read in those, and I swear you’re not only more comfortable but you are in more touch with your reading-matter and retain more of it. Integrated haptic memory, full-body learning, extreme embodiment.

carolingian approach

a Carolingian solution


Too little of it: in the form of drinking fountains everywhere, as in no more than one minute’s walk from any given location.

We don’t need yet more vending machines (nor necessarily sponsored by Coca-Cola neither).

We don’t need these expensive and ecologically-unsound bottles water stations, the kind with giant vats of “glacier” demineralised stuff, with vats replaced periodically. Their replacement is non-good for several reasons: further environmental expenditure via delivery trucks, and noise pollution when trucks reverse.

The tap water here is good; a colleague in one of the sciences got his department to switch from the vats back to eau de robinet because the latter was chemically and biologically better, as well as cheaper and more environmentally sound (to persuade others, one could also use the “say it in French, it sounds more chic” marketing strategy).

Too much of it: Our campus is in a place where it rains quite a lot. Climate-wise, we are in a temperate rainforest. Drainage on campus grounds is a disgrace.

Here are the people who can help, and who should be approached with open arms and pockets, and teaching release, research assistants, armfuls of book tokens, and free coffee for life:

  • engineering: mechanical, construction, aeronautical, materials
  • environmental and sustainability sciences
  • interdisciplinary colleagues working on water: we have Canada Research Chairs in the area…
  • scholars in Classics, Near Eastern Studies, Archaeology and Anthropology, First Nations Studies, East Asian Studies, African Studies, Latin American Studies, and History: to advise on ancient approaches that work better than anything done here in the current and previous century. Like any major university, we have a wealth of scholarly expertise on a wide range of ancient civilisations from all around the globe, and on the history of their sciences and technologies; all of these civilisations have dealt with (and some are currently still dealing with) water issues in intelligent and ingenious ways


Those of us up in Buchanan Tower suffer from inadequate heating. It is not regulatable in individual offices. In winter, it is boiling (and dry) in the early morning, then freezing from mid-afternoon. Windows can be opened to solve the first problem. For the second, space-heaters (but energy-consumptive). I have not yet tried my usual home solution of a hot water bottle (or two) and an eiderdown. My best so far is extra clothing, including typing with fingerless gloves, the Cambridge trick. Some people have been known to use alcohol. And cats or other furry companion animals on their feet.

Needed: a new evolved thing that combines aspects of the blanket, extra clothes, a tent, an emergency blanket (you know, the metallic sheet things), and that is ideally both inflatable and fluffy.

The Dream Team who can rescue us and gain fame and fortune:

  • experts on ancient civilizations, as above
  • artists, architects, performance artists, costume and set designers, environmental scientists, medics, kinesiologists, and materials and civil engineers; we could maybe use some chemists and physicists too? why not some food and nutrition people too, maybe molecular gastronomy techniques can help here, on the insulating, light, fluffy-frothy front?

balenciaga basque

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.