Tom Harman is a Designer

A community of creators

In February I joined a friend to look around a space he was considering signing a lease on. He wanted a physical location to work from and had the ambition of creating an environment that brought together like-minded creators in producing independent projects. The possibilities were plentiful but the space was huge and the commitment intimidating. Despite my cautious feedback, leaning more heavily on the latter two realities, he went for it.

I started spending my days there in March, seeing more and more people join and helping out where I could. The community that’s starting to emerge is one full of energy and ambition to contribute and create. The environment reminds me of my formative years at the Cavern Club in Exeter, a punk-rock community focused on the DIY ethic and excitement to form bands, play shows and create anything on the periphery. That experience informed so much of what I wanted to do with my life and how to do it, even if the things I’m creating have shifted slightly.

This summer, Gary is running a "launch your project" bootcamp from the space. It’s a more refined version of the program I took part in that resulted in coming up with, building and launching Coastermatic. If you have an idea you’ve been thinking about doing, or want to be surrounded by positive energy from people launching their own thing, I can’t think of a better environment to do that in. For further information, check out Orbital or the Boot Camp, which you can sign up for before May 30.

“We aim to spend 99.9% of our time making one of four things: a video, poster, comp or prototype. We optimize everything for making something a person in the real world can see, there are no awards for great decks. Thinking through execution allows us to bake the strategy work into the output.”

—Paraphrasing Robert Wong (CCO @ Google Creative Lab) discussing process at creativity roundtable.

Laurie Frick uses self-tracking data as a source material for the large scale artworks she creates, framing her artistic process as one of self-reflection and self-discovery. This talk at Creative Mornings Austin goes into more detail about her journey and why being more conscious of your data sheds a new light on how to think about your identity. Lovely work.



Wearables versus there-ables.

What if we’ve got it all wrong?

What if we’re not actually supposed to wear all sorts of technology on our bodies and on our clothes? What if we didn’t have to / weren’t meant to carry our technology with us as we moved around town?

What if the technology was actually already in the room when we got there? Maybe that’s the kind of Internet-of-things that will be more sustainable and will win long-term. read more



Wearables versus there-ables.
What if we’ve got it all wrong?
What if we’re not actually supposed to wear all sorts of technology on our bodies and on our clothes? What if we didn’t have to / weren’t meant to carry our technology with us as we moved around town?
What if the technology was actually already in the room when we got there? Maybe that’s the kind of Internet-of-things that will be more sustainable and will win long-term. read more

We already have early indications that this is a product category that is succeeding and sees more engagement long-term than the types we carry around. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve personally experienced or heard anecdotes about the typical wearable drop-off: you stop using a device or service after four to six weeks of breaking-in. On the other hand, the most successful types of hardware I’ve seen recently are Nest Thermostat and Withings Wi-Fi Scale, both of which you plug in and use, perhaps not multiple times a day, but every once in a while for many days and years to come.
It’s true that both tap into something that we were doing for years as opposed to having us learn about and track something new. (The Nest tracks temperature; the Withings, weight). But there are other smart devices that are around the corner that fit my proposal too: a bed that tracks you and vibrates to wake you up gently; a smart toilet or shower that tracks your body’s physiology, diet and illnesses; a smart kitchen that…well, you get the picture.
That’s not to say that wearables have no place in our future – perhaps the way they should evolve is to become really cheap, incredibly dumb single-feature sensors that actually need another layer like our phone or like a pairing with a there-able device.
Wearables know it’s us because we exclusively wear them and sync them with our phones. That’s the authentication: our phones and the identity handoff that resides in that exchange.
There-ables infer identity based on how you interact with them. There-ables know it’s us because, well, they are smarter: Nest knows our heat signature. Withings knows our body composition.
There-ables have fewer power restrictions; they’re often just plugged right into the power grid and, therefore, don’t need to have batteries charged everyday.
Meanwhile, by being battery powered, wearables can be smaller, cheaper and more abundant all over your body. Perhaps wearables can become like the zippers in our clothing: cheap enough and standardized enough to be in basically every piece of clothing we have on. Or perhaps wearables will take the form of the “smart pill” we keep hearing about: you take it and the results are later calculated by your futuristic toilet and zoomed to the cloud for review.
Here’s a final thought in this argument: that we may not want to carry more than one device with us when we move around. Currently, that is our phone. Yes, it’s a whole bunch of other things too (wallet, keys, …) but, more than likely, these things will all just continue to collapse into one thing: our phone.
And then maybe, besides our phones, the best technology is one that’s already present where we are going.

These are interesting and valuable thoughts refreshingly outside the current trends.

Some songs, mostly released in March, that have been pleasing my ears

(Source: Spotify)

25 Project Ideas

Over the past couple of years I’ve cultivated the habit of jotting down the smallest of ideas and storing them in an Evernote notebook. Those moments of inspiration that strike when you least expect them (although, this is actually a myth, the environments are all quite predictable) such as when you’re falling asleep, stepping into the shower, or just feeling exasperated by the world around you. I’ve considered this notebook a one-way street, a black-hole that ideas are thrown into allowing my brain to move onto other more productive things. That is, until now. Inspired by Mischa’s discarded ideas post, I thought it time to re-visit my list and put some of those ideas into the world too.

The notebook includes 165 ideas ranging from pure art projects to potential businesses to miscellaneous creative explorations. Most are pretty mundane, or have already been done but I found 25 that seemed a bit more interesting, perhaps because of their ridiculousness or unlikely utility? In the spirit of transparency I wanted to share these with you. If you’re inspired by anything below, please help yourself, or let me know if you’d like to collaborate!

1. Topographic jelly moulds

Custom 3D-printed jelly moulds based on topographic data from a specific location. Make the Appalachian mountain trail into jelly!

2. Poop shoes

A stamp attachment that clips onto the bottom of your shoe. When you’re walking around a city and accidentally step in poop, you’ll leave a miniature sculpture for your fellow city dwellers.

3. Screaming Child Bike Bell

Drivers rarely notice a bike bell. Make it sound like a child screaming or the crunching of bones to really get people to notice the bike lane.

4. High society on the high seas

A name for a tv series featuring pirate hats + monocles. Or, a fashion week tumblr.

5. The Burrito Button

A big physical button on your kitchen table. It connects to your Seamless account via wifi. Whenever the button is pressed an order is placed at the nearest mexican restaurant for a randomly selected burrito. Press it twice if you have a guest. A dial would indicate how long since the button was last pressed.


Similar to the burrito button, except it’s a mariachi band on demand. An iPhone app with one button, press it and you’ll have a mariachi band serenading you, wherever you are, within the hour.

7. Pang

A video game like pong except the opposite. Each player is a mouth and it’s cheese balls bouncing between them. You get points for catching them, if you miss they bounce back off the wall behind you.


Dumb ideas. Illustrated.

9. RFID iPhone case

Melt down Oyster cards in acetone and incorporate the RFID chips into custom iPhone cases. Then you effectively have RFID functionality in your phone, assuming your phone doesn’t have this already.

10. Faux Bookshelf

Custom wall decals showing spines from your media collection. The decals are custom generated after connecting your, Amazon or Netflix accounts. Each item also features a small code so you can scan / enter it into your device to access that media item. It’s the aesthetic of an old bookshelf but without taking up the space or investment in time to create.

11. iSight Posture Monitor

This uses the laptop camera to check that your posture is balanced. The software gives on-screen feedback on how to adjust your position.

12. Trailer: Skip / Watch

Can’t decide what to watch on Netflix? This simple web app polls the Netflix API for a recent film that you haven’t seen then finds a 2 minute trailer on Youtube and starts playing it. You have two buttons: Skip / Watch. This way you’re only ever making a yes/no decision about the trailer you’re currently watching.

13. GTD for cooking

A cooking methodology for people who want to make food, really efficiently. This gives structure to your weekly shopping behavior and could hook into FreshDirect to order ingredients automatically.

14. DIY Scanner

A cardboard box with a hole optimally placed to sit your iPhone on top to “scan” papers.

15. Traffic rage

An iPhone app that records noise levels from car horns and GPS co-ordinates as you bike around the city. This results in a crowd-sourced heat map showing the most aggressive parts of the city for cyclists and at what times of day. A further iteration of the app could give haptic feedback while you’re cycling to warn of likely upcoming aggression.

16. Processing tour posters

Custom tour posters based on distances and locations of tour venues. This creates a unique design for each city but an overall coherent collection of designs.

17. House prices NY

Pull in data from recent craigslist ads to plot cost of neighborhood rents in NY over time.

18. Internet vacation summarizer

Receive a postcard at the end of a vacation telling you what happened on the Internet while you were away.

19. Moustache Stickers

Customize subway posters with a handy array of moustaches.


Print 3 cards. 10, 20 and 30 percent? Give them along with money when tipping. A way to provide honest service feedback without feeling obligated to always tip the same regardless of service. A revaluation of tipping culture?

21. Skies around the world

Photos taken by people around the world at consistent times looking straight up, so the entire image is sky. The result will be a crowd-sourced collection of images focusing on the color of different skies.

22. City colors

Use the Instagram API to extract the main color from photographs recently taken around a city. After thousands of photos are analyzed a crowd-sourced map of city colors is produced. This can then be compared across different cities. Perhaps London looks more grey and Hawaii more vibrantly colored?

23. Breakfast news

Spell out news headlines in granola and photograph them each day. Could be an educational exercise for kids.

24. Clothing size tracker

An app that allows you to track and share clothing sizes, useful for yourself as much as anyone else. You can also anonymously share so others can buy clothing gifts for you.


Souprisingly good soups delivered to your door 3 times a week.

A short burst of news

It’s been sixteen days since my routine flipped from one of 100-hour work weeks to one that can perhaps be best described by my last rescue time weekly email "Over the past week, you spent: 3h 5m at a computer". While my brain and body continue acclimatizing, i wanted to quickly mention three things:

1) Figuros

The final output of my thesis work is a product called Figuros – The Light of Your Life, designed from data, made with lasers. Based on the distance between you and someone you care about, the lamp is then laser-cut from wood, acrylic and colored card ready to take pride of place in your home. There’s also an online creation tool if you’d like to see what your relationships look like.

2) Fresh Blood

Following our exhibition and presentation on May 4th, i’ve been given the honor of representing SVA IxD at this years AIGA: Freshblood evening on Thursday at the SVA theatre here in NYC.


"Fresh Blood is our 4th annual student event, capturing the most talented, most original, most awesome graduate design students before they’re unleashed on the wider world."

If you’re in New York i’d suggest exploring tickets and further details at the AIGA site. Also, if you’d like me to come and chat about the project at your company / event please get in touch.

3) Leaving NY

After almost 4 years in New York, it’s time to explore some new ground. On June 11, I’ll be heading to Hawaii before ending up in San Francisco in the fall. Tash and I will be continuing the SVA IxD collaboration by focusing our time on growing Coastermatic and exploring new possibilities in co-created products and tropical cocktails.

I will save a more considered sum up for another day, as i’m about to head over to the Internet Tash Party, but that’s it for now!

Finding meaning in an API

The final piece of my data lamp exploration has been in making a simple and elegant way to create your own. The flexibility of uploading a CSV makes the format open to interpretation, but who wants to create a CSV file? APIs allow for a much smoother user experience but are generally more limited in scope.

"how does the data set you select relate to the form of the lamp and the light it emits in a more meaningful way?"

This was a provocation from Chloe in a recent thesis critique. It got me thinking about APIs and where I might be able to find meaning in the data people are already generating. I started thinking about social data APIs such as Twitter,, Instagram, Facebook and Foursquare. I printed out JSON data objects to see what interesting information may be hidden out of sight from the typical perception of a service.

Generically meaningful data is tricky. Some people like music so place a lot of value in services such as, where others really don’t care. How could I find a data source that could be meaningful yet still embody the qualities of freedom and interpretation inherent in the openness of a CSV file?

People. People are meaningful to people. People are also data, at least, they generate it. Spending the last 3.5 years in NYC has left me with a love/hate relationship toward the distance from family and friends in England. This physical proximity provides a backdrop to the meaningful experiences i’m having here without them and vice versa (like my friend, Prachi’s collaborative photo project), so I decided to think about how I document these “significant moments”. For me, that service is Instagram, the images I take represent the moments of note that I want friends and family to know about, even if they are not physically with me to witness them. Instagram captures the time and GPS co-ordinates of each photo you take (unless you turn it off), so if you could compare this with another person, you’d effectively have a shared timeline of these moments and how far apart you were at each. This also becomes time-sensitive, so a lamp generated after a week of spending a lot of time together generates a spikier, more dramatic form, whereas one generated between two people who have less variation in their distances from one another will be smoother.

Perhaps this will be interesting to long-distance couples? or family who live in different countries? or those obsessed with Justin Beiber? or simply people who really enjoy their favorite restaurant? Who knows, but hopefully, there is enough room to encourage creativity in how to think about the story you’re embedding into your lamp.

Creating space for nuance

Nuance is a subtle artform. Reducing a product to it’s essence creates space for nuance to enhance the potential for a compelling experience. As I iterate on wireframes I find that i’m cutting and deleting, reducing as much as possible to reach the core of what i’m attempting to communicate. The eraser is my primary tool. Although i’m working in the medium of digital and physical products, i’m trying to approach this more like a minimalist illustrator, asking myself, what are the essential marks, without which an expression no longer communicates a feeling?

Designing with intent

Throughout the thesis process I’ve been thinking a lot about physical possessions. As bookshelves shrink to the size of Kindles and CD collections migrate to Spotify/Rdio playlists, what does it mean to live with less physical stuff? Is this a desirable future? These questions require more consideration than this quickly jotted blog post, but it helps frame the next few paragraphs.

This morning I re-visited a minimalism blog I started reading as part of my thesis research. I found myself drawn to a particular post called The Consumption Continuum. Here’s an excerpt:

“consumption alone isn’t an inherently bad or evil thing. Actually, it isn’t a thing at all—it’s an action … minimalism itself is far more concerned with living intentionally, living elegantly through simplicity, living meaningfully while enjoying the material possessions you own without giving those possessions too much significance.”

I’d always associated minimalism with “less”, and when you’re living with less, surely adding more products to the world is not helping? On reflection, perhaps there’s a way of designing products that embody these principles in the way users act toward their creation. I’m not talking about the traditional aesthetic & functional qualities of minimalism, as beautiful as they are, I’m referring to the process of object definition and creation. I started thinking about my intentions behind the lamp project. Of course, I’d like the design of the object and experience to be elegant and simple, but words like intent and meaning are aspects i’m actively trying to avoid putting into the physical output myself. My goal is for users to bring their own intent and meaning to these objects. In a way, these lamps are blank canvases, they are void of design intent until they are completed by their user.

One of my lofty goals is to create an object that replaces other possessions rather than adding to them, I want users to replace their xyz lamp with my lamp. I’m sure this is very unlikely to happen in reality, but my hunch is that people will have more satisfying experiences with objects that carry more personal meaning. So, perhaps adding a new physical thing to the world is more minimalist than I’d previously considered?