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Feeling jaded with design?

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[THIS WEEK] Befriend a techie, advises James Pallister

BERG, the poster boys of Silicon Roundabout, know the benefits of polymathy. This gang of coders, architects and designers was formed by Matt Webb and Jack Schulze in 2005. BERG’s first big hit was the ‘Availabot’, a collapsible model of a person, using the wire-pull technology of kids’ toys of yore. Linked via USB to a user’s computer, the bot stood rigid when the selected person came online on Instant Messenger.

Berg's Availobot

Berg’s Availobot

Webb and Schulze have since become strong advocates for London’s burgeoning tech sector and of the transformational power of design. For someone unfamiliar with the coding community, it’s great discovering the infectious zeal, optimism, group norms and shared language of this community: I hope newcomers to architecture find the same process as exhilarating.


BERG’s latest product, the Little Printer, is an anthropomorphised cube on legs which prints short messages onto a till-roll of paper. The BERG-designed printer connects wirelessly to a BERG-designed Ethernet connector, which in turn connects to the BERGCLOUD, BERG-designed web-based servers. Here publishers can add documents, and Little Printer users subscribe to them, deciding at what time of the day they will ‘arrive’. A softly glowing light alerts the user to the presence of new material, and pressing the button prints out what has been delivered, be it a feed from BBC Parliament, short fiction of the week, or a guide to butterflies of the UK.

Beneath the simplicity and charm, there’s sophistication. Using product design as research, BERG learns valuable lessons about technology and, just as importantly, the social usage of technology, which then feeds back into their software development, a growing part of their business.

I do recommend befriending a techie, it’s invigorating. You may have lost faith in design changing the world, but they haven’t.

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