James Roberston is a British-born and educated architectural designer based in Singapore – with experience working in Malaysia, Vietnam and Laos. James was a double winner on our recent Connecting Communities Challenge with his awesome Tool Library and Smart Grid Games concepts.
What first drew you to get involved in OpenIDEO?
I first heard about OpenIDEO through a TED talk – so signed up and dipped my toes in back in July. But when the Connecting Communities Challenge turned up, focused on Singapore, I decided it was time to get really stuck in. With an understanding of local context, I felt I could really contribute. I have a habit of coming up with madcap socio-entrepreneurial schemes in my head and failing to take them beyond invigorating conversations in the pub with friends – OpenIDEO seemed like the perfect place to take the next step and lay the foundations for any half-decent ideas, namely: WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN! And another bonus – get great feedback!
And how's the ride been so far?
It's been amazing. I was absolutely thrilled to get a couple of concepts through to Refinement on the Connecting Communities Challenge – and having them declared Winners has given me great encouragement to go out and make them happen. But I have to say, the best moment for me so far was the first time I realised that one of my concepts had been featured as 'onsite concept of the day' and subsequently tweeted. I woke up one morning to find over 200 more viewings. It took me a while to work out where they had come from! Equally gratifying was the presence of comments added from some of OpenIDEO's seasoned and decorated contributors, Kirk, Arjan and Johan. Being new to the whole experience, I suddenly felt really valued – and it only made me want to think and collaborate further with these very brainy people who had given their time and knowledge to help me understand the platform and build on my ideas.
I also get great pleasure from occasionally managing to link other people's concepts together... when you spot a plug-in possibility and both parties managed to build forwards together, its a great feeling.
Can you tell us a bit about your participation in the IDEO Singapore OpenSTORM?
I very nearly didn't make it! I only found out about this event the day before it was due to happen – and thanks to Shaun at SYINC, managed to beg myself through the door at short notice! This event happened about half way through Concepting for the Connecting Communities Challenge. I was able to meet a couple of people who I'd already been collaborating with online and it provided a great opportunity to learn a bit more about them and their perspectives. I couldn't believe that Desmond Hinkson who had come up with a similar idea to my DC/AC (Democratic Air-Conditioning) concept, was actually the game designer responsible for creating Goldeneye on the N64 – which I had spent half my teenage holidays playing whilst hiding from exam revision!
It also served to help me clarify or refine the thoughts behind the Tool Library for Every District concept that I'd already posted. The group I was a part of came up with something we called a Communal Repository – and in so doing brought together a number of other threads, such as a book exchange and skills listings, which I eventually incorporated into the existing Tool Library concept. I certainly wouldn't have thought of all those additions myself and it was great to have the idea evolve in collaboration with others other people.
[Editor: Check this lowdown on how to run your own OpenSTORM]
Has collaborating on OpenIDEO inspired you to approach your architectural work differently?
A couple of years ago I was heavily involved in researching the feasibility of Vertical Farming, and presented at the ICESC conference here in Singapore in 2010. I wish I'd known about OpenIDEO back then, as looking at the Local Food Challenge would have been an incredibly fertile ground for discussion, if you'll forgive the pun!
In terms of the way I approach my architectural work on a daily basis, Id have to answer honestly that currently the effects of participating in OpenIDEO are perhaps not tangible – many projects and clients aren't so comfortable with reconsidering their norms. However, coming to realise this has highlighted to me the need to find niches within the design of the build environment that ARE open to disruptive innovation. There are opportunities out there and with added confidence from my participation on OpenIDEO, I'm now more fired up than ever to go out there and find the projects that will allow me to bring more design thinking into my approach.
What are your future plans around design + social impact?
First things first, my immediate plans are to realise one or two of these concepts. Probably the Smart Grid Games and the Flash Sports App. I really need to make that step from talking to doing! Both of these concepts will be quite software-based –which I know virtually nothing about! – so if anybody is reading this and wants to join in, please climb onboard! OpenIDEO has given me access so many hundreds of people and skillsets, that I now have a real sense that anything is possible.
Cheers James. We hope to see more of your collaborative goodness in future!