TEDxBrighton 2016 Live Blog Pt. Two: ‘Making the Cut’
Written by guest blogger Joe Buzzard
Photo credit: Clive Andrews @
…and we’re back for part two!
Kicking off the second session (somewhat literally) with some dance moves are dance troupe Street Funk…lots of applause from the audience as they strut their stuff. Few whoops thrown in for good measure as well. Quite right too.
“Brighton’s got talent, am I right?” says compere and TEDx Sensei Mark. Thank you, Sensei. We couldn’t agree more!
This next batch of speakers are all grouped around the theme ‘Making the Cut’. They’re a diverse bunch encompassing an artist, a brand strategist, a teenage entrepreneur and an innovative, problem-solving inventor.
Down come the lights…and away we go…
First up, we welcome Alberto Martinez to the stage.
“¡Buenos dias!” smiles the affable Cuban artist.
Behind and above him is projected a glorious, slightly surreal picture of Brighton Pier suspended in the distance, framed through a car windshield from a driver’s perspective. You get the feeling this kind of encapsulates Alberto’s style – the car, dashboard, steering wheel and all seem Cuban in nature, but the vista ahead is clearly Brighton. A Cuban view of our city by the sea, indeed.
He was born and grew up in a small village in Cuba, which was by his own admission “in the middle of nowhere”. His father was a taxi driver, and he used to play by hunting and riding horses and – yes, really – driving tractors as a kid with his brothers. Humble origins indeed – rich soil for an artist, and whatsmore, a hero.
Enraptured, the audience listens on.
For 3 months, he cycled 30 miles to go to and learn at a nearby art school. There wasn’t another option. He just did it. And in 1996, he got into an art college in Trinidad. He was following his dreams.
But dreams have a habit of being a bit different in reality
The collapse of the Soviet bloc meant bad things for Cuba. The economy was awful, Alberto tells us. And after just 3 months, he just wanted to go home. Eating, sleeping and producing art in the academy, Alberto grew disillusioned with the ‘same’ environment all around him. Luckily, his head teacher convinced him not to go back to his country life. Thank goodness for that head teacher!
Looking back, the 4 amazing years he spent there was “a bit like the Matrix – I felt like I’d had to choose between the red pill or the blue pill!” His teachers pushed all of them as students, and eventually…he decided to come to England.
The differences shook him
For 3 years, his inspiration dried up. Totally. He spent a lot of time doing decorating jobs here and there, among other things. He couldn’t do it anymore. He thought he’d lost that artistic spark of inspiration.
But in 2007, he was invited to a Brighton festival. Other Cuban artists attended, and caught Alberto’s eye. One thing led to another, and an art festival a year later pushed him to have to make five more paintings, just so he had some art to sell. And that’s when he discovered a creative process; his reason for producing art:
“When we encounter art we see a story – this is what it’s for.”
Right back to caveman times, Alberto points out, you can see this in the cave paintings. The act of creating art is for the purpose of trying to depict what is around us.
Art is needed, Alberto explains, because it takes note of our surroundings. His art all has traces of people he has encountered because art is just an old way of communicating. This is how artists communicate, and needs to think about where we are, and where we are going. Art can be heroic because you can learn and take something from art. And Alberto is determined to provide that.
As for his methods?
He creates an idea in his head, then transfers it to paper. Nothing unusual there, right? But much to the crowd’s delight, he admits listening to heavy metal a lot when drawing in pencil. “I’m probably deaf by this point…” he says. He paints only with natural daylight, and then just relaxes:
“I have a sip of rum, and just chill” he shrugs disarmingly. Plenty of approval for that here!
“Oh, and by the way – I can still drive a tractor!” he finishes with a flourish. The audience laps it up.
With a quick handover, we’re now with Tom Cartmale – a brand strategist, creative director and occasional road cyclist. The latter is a bit of an understatement, but we’ll get to that all in good time.
Tom specialises in creative storytelling – getting to the heart of what a brand really is, and making it sing for its audience. And this is where the cycling comes in.
A picture of Tom flashes up on the screen, astride a bike in…an interesting choice of clothing. He relays tales of taking part in a California cycle ride that required he wear woollen shorts. And yeah, it was very warm. He doesn’t sound like he enjoyed that part all that much, and the crowd giggles at the implication as to why.
It’s here that he started taking notice of the myriad types of cycling water bottles – the artistry and homemade quality of some, the sheer variety of others, and of course, the vintage cycling water bottles. Of course.
The forgotten brand that nobody wanted, but everybody loved
Coloral has a cult following among cyclists, and who could blame them?
Intrigued, Tom and his team investigated. But they couldn’t trace who owned it, or owned its rights. It lay neglected, no longer owned or in use. So what did Tom and his team do? They bought and became custodians of this great brand.
“But what did we want it to be?”
He explains the importance of keeping the same original, functional design – the same reason that the brand developed its cult following in the first place. But times have changed, and there are easier solutions than making a handcrafted metal bottle. Why not use plastic? Surely, it’s cheaper and more workable?
You can almost see Tom visibly shudder at the thought.
Currently, he explains, there is enough wasted plastic to circle the earth four times. There’s an audible gasp from the audience. And a general feel of disgust that we’ve allowed this to happen. And Tom wants no part of this endemic: he wants to be actively ethical with this product as much as he wants it to be functional. That means no plastic bags, and an upgrade from aluminium to a food-grade stainless steel. And to do so, they had to utilise steel spinning.
“We became experts in getting rejection letters from factories in Europe”, Tom says, a wry smile crossing is lips. The audience can’t help but laugh with him.
And as Tom’s story unravels, it’s clear this uncompromising quest has not been without yet more massive bumps in the road:
First, they found a factory willing to produce…but it’s costly.
They then set up a Kickstarter project, which gets loads of interest – including an endorsement from Team GB’s very own Olympic cycling medallist Victoria Pendleton on Twitter, and GQ featuring the product.
But the pricing was too expensive and the goal too ambitious. Their Kickstarter failed to reach its goal, and they were back to square one. Or so they thought.
Going up a gear
Thankfully they learned their lessons, and discovered they had actually earned a significant amount of credibility off the back of this ‘failure’. People, retailers, factories, and brands came to them and wanted to help get the project off the ground at last.
A big brand even agreed to work with them, much to their excitement. Everything was going great until the final stage, explains Tom, but something happened that tested his principles once again:
The designs came back, and showed the ‘Coloral’ name…had been removed.
After everything they had worked for, a simple change had removed the story, and therefore the whole point that they took the brand on – to revive it, and improve on it. It was the only offer on the table, but Tom stuck to his guns, and broke from the brand.
But as he delightedly tells the awed audience, it’s now almost ready for production. They’ve finally done it. Approving cheers from the crowd!
“Turns out, it was more of a hillclimb than a sprint” laughs Tom. Nice cycling analogy there Tom. So much for ‘occasional road cyclist’ with that knowledge!
Regardless, we bet it was worth the effort Tom. What a hero! We bet the original owners of Coloral would be proud to see their fine brand back from the dead.
“We don’t usually approve of products being pitched from the TEDx stage,” jokes compere Mark ruefully, “But if I can be his agent…anyone fancy one?”
Now here’s a story you may already be familiar with. Teenage girl studying her A-Levels sets up a website for Chinese parents to choose an English name for their babies, and in four short months names 237,000 Chinese babies at 60p per time.
The girl in question is the rather modest 17-year-old Beau Jessup, who hits it out of the park with this talk around her website Specialname.cn, and the experiences she has had as a result of it.
She explains that it all started because her Dad’s work meant the family often visited China on holiday. A business colleague of her Dad’s, Mrs. Wang, had a baby girl, but no English name yet. And Mrs. Wang asked Beau to name her. A big responsibility.
Why would Chinese parents want to give their children English names?
It’s important to Chinese people for them to have an English name, Beau explains, because email addresses cannot contain the characters which make up Chinese names. It also helps with foreign business opportunities to have an English name.
But the problem is, Chinese people don’t necessarily understand what is an appropriate English name, Beau tells us…
And up pop ‘Goofy Li’ and ‘Gandalf Wu’ on the screen behind her. Snorts of disbelief and derision from the audience – and Beau agrees it is amusing, but this shouldn’t mean we look down on them for this. As this snap shows, this man tried to get a fancy looking Chinese tattoo…
…but she doubts he meant to get characters which translate as ‘Angry Goldfish’ emblazoned on his arm. Brilliant delivery from the young entrepreneur which really rebalances the scales with some well-placed humour.
So how did Beau name Mrs Wang’s daughter?
Beau points out she names around 650 babies per day now with the help of her website and algorithm, asking the parents to choose five characteristics for their child which then helps generate a suitable name that holds these meanings. The seed for this was when she asked Mrs. Wang to tell her about her daughter before she could suggest a name. Mrs. Wang gave her three themes, and Beau named Mrs. Wang’s child Eliza after Eliza Doolittle.
Explaining why she gives three choices of name at the end of the 60p process, Beau is upfront and humble:
“I’m 17. I don’t know you…I can’t name your baby!”
Doing so leaves some choice, and allows the parents to make the decision. It’s a thoughtful approach to a really personal social activity. And Beau seems very much aware of the responsibility what she does has. She genuinely wants people to be happy as a result of what she and her website do.
How did she cope with going viral?
The story of Specialname.cn and Beau Jessup of course went viral, and was featured in 187 newspapers in 17 different countries. Naturally shy, she admits she genuinely doesn’t really like the spotlight, so the viral experience was kind of overwhelming. A refreshing voice then, amidst today’s disposable society, so obsessed with the next big thing.
Pacing her story well, she relays the story of how she has become a measuring stick for parents to judge her peers against, and she’s not fond of it. In a surreal situation, one of her friends even had Business Studies homework on her!
“I didn’t feel comfortable becoming a ‘project’” Beau sighs.
Heroes come in all sizes and languages
Beau quickly found herself inundated with requests after she went viral – from teenagers asking for advice, to adults asking for her to employ them, and even a Russian man wanting to buy the rights to her website!!
In many ways, this genuine awe and bemusement at the idolisation of what she has done makes her a perfect example of a hero – and a reluctant one at that. She didn’t even tell her school what she was doing with Specialname.cn before it went viral because she “didn’t think they’d be interested.”
She just thought it was a nice thing that might just happen to be profitable to help with. And one thing she noticed while trying to make sense of everything that has happened so far is that the worldwide news coverage gave a 24-hour period where people could be distracted from all the war, rage and unhappiness.
“We are all more the same than we are different” she closes. We can all find joy in these things – so why not focus on creating events that we are universally happy about?
“The future is not just digital. We encounter problems every day.”
These are the words of Sarah Giblin, the final speaker of this section. She’s the inventor behind RiutBag – effectively a solution to urban backpacks as an unnecessary stressor. Why are they stressors? Because of our innate fear that someone can access them better than you can. Sarah’s storytelling is comedic, timed to perfection, and paints a picture of human ridiculousness that everyone in the room warms to.
And the truly revolutionary nature of her design? That it’s such an obvious solution that she’s brought to life. “I think backpacks are the wrong way around…” she announced to a friend.
Surely someone must have solved this problem already, then, right?
Google says ‘nope’
After coming up with this idea over breakfast one day (much to her friends’ confusion and the audience’s amusement), Sarah went searching for the product to meet her needs.
But nothing came up. The closest thing was a net bag to go around your backpack, and a padlock through that! Sounds like the naffest idea ever if you ask us, and you can bet Sarah agreed.
She explains how this further illustrates that products are still rarely being made with enough customer centricity. In which case, why should they buy it? Which is what Sarah’s number one goal for this project has always been: to source, directly from the user, what the product needs to do. Such a simple, blindingly obvious concept, and yet so casually overlooked and alien to most product design, it would seem.
So Sarah asked the audience
With tons of unanswered questions but little cash to pay for ways to get these answers, Sarah turned to the best people she knew: the general public.
Sarah’s use of SurveyMonkey to garner user feedback on the product meant that she was not just creating a product – she was changing a mindset. She wants to stop people seeing each other as potential thieves by removing this opportunity with a simple solution. And this commitment to social change through focusing on customer – and let’s face it, human – centricity is what makes her a real hero. She just wants to see less paranoia in the world!
Time for a lunch break…and a bit of dancing
That’s all for this section of TEDxBrighton, as delegates head out into the foyer and fresh air for a bite to eat on this crisp late October day. Or alternatively, mosey on over to the silent disco to bust out those achey legs with some dance moves of their own. We’ll be back just before 2 O’Clock. See you in a bit!
*We hope you enjoyed section 2 of our ‘live blog’, updates from the rest of the day will be published soon*