Neon Jelly Chamber inspired by Napoleon’s head chef, Antonin Carême

I was recently introduced to the culinary capers of British foodsmiths Bompas & Parr. They create fine jellies, craft bespoke jelly moulds and curate immersive food installations. Obscuring the boundaries between food and art, I was also intrigued at their deep interest in the historical and cultural context of the subject of their fanciful creations.

“We are working hard to restore jelly to its culinary throne… Jelly is magical: it has the ability to make people laugh hysterically, is loaded with nostalgia and best of all, can taste wild. OK, we’re not giving a sermon here – but you get the idea: jelly rocks… Bompass & Parr has always been about creating culinary projects that explode people’s pre-conceived notions of food.” – from B&P’s Jelly


Recreation of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral

Bompas & Parr projects have often taken an architectural lens on food construction – with one of this playful pair having training in architecture. However their often light-hearted and quivering formations are underpinned by a rigor in culinary crafts of the highest order. In 2008 designers and architects were invited to create interpretations of their buildings or design style which Bompass & Parr offered to make jellies from. They used 3D printers to fabricate plastic moulds and displayed their array of colourful constructions at the Architectural Jelly Banquet of the London Festival of Architecture – which culminated in a impromptu and impassioned jelly fight.

Elsewhere the self confessed jelly-mongers and experience-extenders have devised a scratch ‘n’ sniff event for Peter Greenaway’s The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover which was introduced by the director, the Architectural Punchbowl in which a building was flooded with four tonnes of punch and guests ferried across it in rafts to indulge in further edible & quaffable revelry – and an expansive glowing jelly installation for San Francisco’s MOMA.

Flicking through their book – we were captivated by their black and gold leaf prosseco funeral jellies, elderflower and summer fruit wedding jellies and even a coffee & tobacco jelly. It inspired us to give jelly-making a go with a some handy tips from B&P. We even visited the local tip shop to scour for interesting mould-making shapes – which turned up gems like lemon squeezers and old-style cut glasses.

We dabbled in passionfruit and champagne layered jellies, suspended jelly-beans set in fluted glass moulds and even managed a flaming currant jelly which we set alight with a dash of vodka. The pick of the bunch though was jasmine tea set on top of pomegranate – with a lustful quiver and heart-throb glow:

Note: Sadly I didn’t have my full camera kit on me this weekend so have had to go with what I could manage on my iPhone. But check out Bompas & Parr’s Jelly book if you get the chance – the photography will get you salivating as much as their flavorsome follies.

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Raja Remixed

July 4, 2011

Earlier this year I stumbled on this skilled spot of street art, tucked away on a stair well in Haus Khaz Village complex in Delhi. On reflection I mused – not only was it undeniably hip – but also drew relevantly on the prolific costumed capers and adaptive character of it’s inspiration: the iconic Air India maharajah.

I was transported back to airline’s posters which I’d been in awe of as a child travelling to India. Was there any location where the maharajah didn’t feel at ease? Wasn’t he a great host, buddy, traveller – with elegant charm and worldly wit? A bit of digging round proved him to be the brainchild of in-house commercial director Bobby Kooka and illustrator Umesh Rao of JWT in 1946, way back when Air India was Tata Airlines. Initially their character was merely destined for an inflight memo pad, though he clearly had his sights on riding more than paper planes. Impressively the maharajah did not remain grounded as a static image as many brand front-figures of the day – but jetted zealously round the globe in dynamic and debonair style.

The maharajah still continues to make appearances – though he doesn’t seem to get up to quite his old high-flying hijinks, he’s not looking bad for 65! Great to see that at the hands of Delhi street artists, he still manages to show folks that he can spin it grand style.
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I recently hopped across the ditch to Queensland, Australia’s Sunshine State, for the Ideas Featival in Brisbane. We’ve been running a Local Food Challenge on OpenIDEO in conjunction with the festival and state government – featuring inspirations and innovative concepts from our spirited global community over the last couple of months. In Brisbane the OpenIDEO team were joined by policy-makers, food producers, farmers, retailers, researchers, educators, students, innovators and community connectors. Together, over two days of workshops, we explored behaviour change, customer journeys, environmental performance, health impact, community engagement, scalability and business models – alongside feasibility and implementation of the awesome shortlisted Local Food Challenge concepts.

Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer, IDEO

It was a particularly momentous occasion for me as I met a couple of my OpenIDEO colleagues for the first time after 6 months of working together from across our globally dispersed locations. Our co-founder, Tom Hulme, presented to a full house, asking How Do You Engage Those of the Edge? – celebrating the power of participation. IDEO’s Chief Creative Officer, Paul Bennett, provoked the crowd with Global Problem Solving: Can Small x Many = Big – confronting traditional interpretations of design to reveal how design thinking could be employed to address future social, ecological and political challenges.

Attendees were enthusiastic about the cross-disciplinary nature of the workshop teams. While we’re used to working in this way – it was refreshing for others who found it perspective building and got excited at the dynamic networks which formed around specific concepts. Read more on the workshops from our festival buddy, Ben Morgan, over at And here’s an assortment of festival chit-chat:

Festival rock-star & entrepreneur, Robert Pekin, Food Connect: “Gee Whizz! Amazing to watch how local folk have applied their specialist knowledge to adapting these exciting concepts to the Australian context.”

Backyard transformer, Ben Grub, Permablitz: ”There’s been a really good cross-section of players. I don’t usually interact with government, media and farmers and it was great to thrash out ideas from an online platform in an energised offline environment.”

Ray Palmer, Queensland Farmer with Symara Farms: “It was affirming to note that there’s a growing movement of folks who want to know the story behind what’s on their plate – across various sectors and communities.”

Jakob Trischler, Shortlisted OpenIDEATOR: “Awesome to get lively insights on a hot topic from such a diverse group from different disciplines.”

Ewan McEoin, Local Food Challenge Australian Lead: “Energy Central. Folks were amped to be building off such a diverse range of concepts supporting local goodness.”

Anna Bligh, Queensland Premier: “The Local Food Challenge has just gone gangbusters. You can actually go to the world with an idea and look for answers.”

Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer, IDEO: “Hundreds of great builds, amazing energy, long days with crazy jetlag but really, really worth it.Our first outreach OpenIDEO workshop was amazing and was powered by all your great input. Thank you all!”

Our local challenge collaborator will continue to pursue avenues to prototype a selection of concepts together with local government and those with relevant expertise, contacts and outreach capabilities on the ground. As always we’re keen to translate the stellar skills of our growing, global OpenIDEO community into real world action and change – to enhance resilience at a local level. We’ll be celebrating impact developments over on our newly launched Realisation Phases.

On the back of the intensity of the workshops we rounded off our energetic sessions with a spot of fun. We distributed stickers to participants and dispatched them across the gorgeously sprawling riverside area surrounding the State Library, to seek inspiration. The stickers prompted folks to Stick It & Show Us. They were encouraged to photograph their sighting and email it in to a website we’d quickly cobbled together – with a prize offered for the cleverest cookie on the day. Some have continued with submissions from further afield.

Check out more highlights over at (With a hat-tip to Candy Chang, whom I’ve featured on Random Specific before, for her ever-inventive public engagement initiatives which inspired us on this.)
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Divergent Symbol Norms

May 14, 2011

Foreign visitors to India are often startled by the prevalence of this symbol – featuring on temples to trucks, doorways to stairways, fabrics to food decoration and even electoral ballot papers. Many locals could enlighten them that the symbol is called svastika (स्वास्तिक). Some might add that it comes from the the Sanskrit word svasti – sv = well; asti = is – encompassing good fortune, luck and well-being. Others, noting a tourist’s repulsion, may offer that the symbol differs in rotation from the offending swastika by 45 degrees and mention that it’s local history predates Nazi Germany by over 5000 years.

It has been said that the svastika’s angled arms indicate that the path of our aspirations is seldom straight and takes unexpected turns. They also convey the indirect road to faith – in which intuition superceds intellect. Four dots are often included which symbolise North, South, East and West – or in Hindi: Uttar, Dakshin, Purab and Pachim. Reverence of the symbol is given by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists across the nation.

Travellers who pay attention to the widespread veneration for the svastika are likely to reassess their symbolic norms – and appreciate they’ve encountered a case of cross-cultural same-same-but-oh-so-very-different.

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Same, Same but Different
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Sweet Redemption

April 24, 2011

I’ve been kidnapped for Easter and held hostage somewhere with no broadband and (yipes!) no electricity. But I’m pre-scheduling this post to come out on Easter Sunday so some of you can enjoy it’s timely fresh-baked goodness.

Last week I had dropped by the Assyrian Christian Church Hall in Strathmore to check in on my adoptive aunties that I’d met during the Death & Diversity project. There was no way I was going to escape without eating – and once I discovered what they were up to, I stayed on for a few hours to delve further into the tradition of Easter Collachi.

Baked collachi and collachi mould

Collachi encompass a selection of sweet, baked treats – stuffed dough featuring bursts of walnut, coconut, date and other heavenly fillings. They are eaten after the lengthy chanted Easter holy mass which concludes at 3am. Collachi continue to be enjoyed throughout Easter Sunday to celebrate the sweetness of Christ rising.

Preparing collachi – flanked by the Assyrian Christian flag
Collachi mould, handled by Laya
Assorted collachi, ready to be baked

The Assyrian Christian community in Wellington are largely from Iraq and originally arrived to New Zealand in waves as refugees in the 80s and 90s. My adoptive aunties have an active community life which centers around the church hall. It’s from there that they have been preparing collachi for the past few weeks.

Across three generations – Laya, Gevan and Lana – join others to make collachi. Laya remembers making them in Iraq in the company of her nomadic sheep herding community. Lana, who came to New Zealand as a baby, is keen to return to Iraq one day and make collachi there – “and I’m sure they’ll taste sweeter when peace comes to our land.”

Heart-felt thanks to all my Assyrian aunties: Laya, Jinna, Asia, Yoneeh, both Maryams, Sara and Yooneeh. And Lana + Gevan who did a stellar job on translation

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Less is More, set in unadorned typeface Helvetica (more for Helvetica fetishists)

We’re so used to global transport networks featuring unimbellished typography in their signage and way-finding systems. Fair enough given that commuters require information to be legible, especially at high-speed interchanges or at unfamiliar junctions where there maybe all manner of other distractions. Fonts in the context of transit tend to be of the less-is-more, non-decorative, minimalist variety.

Frutiger pops up on Swiss road signs, at London’s Heathrow airport, on the Dutch national railways, and more. Univers strikes signage on the Montreal Metro, San Francisco’s BART and the Frankfurt Airport. Helvetica graces the NYC Subway system, my former regular transits on Hong Kong’s MTR, the Madrid Metro and beyond. (Its unobstrusivenss promoted typographic creator and critic, Jonathan Hoefler, to quip on it’s elusiveness to being evaluated: “Its like being asked what you think about off-white paint?”) If you’re a transit-type nut – you can check out more wiki-liciousness yourself, while everyone else reads on.

“Dilli-Metro” hacked in typeface Shree 715 (thanks to local type-geek Ghate)

On my recent trip to Delhi I encountered more of the uniform minimalism associated with mass public transit signage. Though tracking down the typefaces used proved to be a much tougher journey. I started by consulting with my cluster of global type-recognition experts, who all drew frustrated and occasional blushing blanks. My obsessive typo-curiousity evetually led me to Mudra Max’s wayfinding consultant, Sanjeev Hajela, who had led the team which devised signage for the Delhi Metro. The Hindi is Shree 715. The English is Brunel (Positive). Again, if you’re type-obsessed, you can venture on to Brunel’s relative obscurity yet public prominence and leave everyone else to stay with my train of thought.

Finally getting to the point – what really sung out at me during my own stop-hopping Delhi Metro experience, in India’s crowded yet colorful capital, was this exuberent diversion from standardised norms. Guys – don’t you just feel like you’re missing out on the party?

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A fellow rickshaw-enthusiast requested I dig up this piece I penned sometime back about Tuk Tuks in Sri Lanka. Given it was my first piece of paid writing – for a Hong Kong lifestyle mag back in 2004 – I thought I’d post here for legacy’s sake.

“And is madam married?” queried our charmer of a tuk-tuk driver. I did the usual swapping of my ring to the appropriate finger and waved it in his face with a triumphant smile. “But in Sri Lanka you have your Number-One-Husband” he announced and then with a wink in the rear view mirror “but you also have a Tuk-Tuk Husband!” He collapsed in laughter at his own joke leaving my friend and I hoping the vehicle would guide itself through Colombo’s chaotic innards in this momentary lapse of our driver’s attention.

Travellers to Asia have long patronised the humble tuk-tuk. From Bangkok to Mumbai and throughout our adventures in Sri Lanka, the three-wheeled taxis are indispensable for negotiating traffic-choked inner-city streets. Hopping between seaside villages, fort towns and up-country tea estates, we found them the ideal way to experience the true diversity of Sri Lanka. Colourful, cheap, semi-open and providing drivers ranging from rogues to most hospitable hosts – the tuk-tuk soon became our mode of choice leading to all manner of insights to this unique island.

The tuk-tuk’s older sibling: Cycle Rickshaw (Delhi)

The tuk-tuk traces it’s origins to nineteenth century Thailand where King Rama V was presented with a rickshaw by a wealthy Chinese resident. This evolved into the three-wheeled cycle rickshaw or samlor that is still seen in many Asian countries today. In the 50s, amid growing traffic congestion, Thailand banned the samlor. Its desirable manoeuverability however, led to a motorised upgrade: the tuk-tuk. Many Asian cities quickly adopted the tuk-tuk in response to the need for faster short haul passenger transport in increasingly inhabited urban districts.

The current tuk-tuk format is a modification of a Japanese delivery vehicle popular in the 60s. Drivers straddle the engine bay using a motorcycle style steering mechanism to guide the three-wheelers. Originally 2 stroke engines, 4 stroke versions are now available with delivery and pick-up models on offer as well.

Mudflap customisation (Ahmedabad)

The name tuk-tuk quaintly mimics the sound of their idling engines – a familiar accompaniment to the soundtrack of Asian city life. With their often customised signage and kitsch interiors, tuk-tuks provide colourful character to an array of locales.

Warnings are rife in Asia, Sri Lanka included, of the hazards of tuk-tuk travel. Passenger safety, exposure to pollution, rigged meters, commission scams are issues that pepper guide books. However we found that fortified with a suitable dose of street-wise savvy that tuk-tuk experiences were indeed a many splendored thing. Miscommunications and potential scams were interwoven with avid haggling and hilarity. After a particularly engaging bargaining dual we boarded one tuk-tuk only to find that the driver had no idea where we were actually headed – a testament to the fact that the deal can be as entertaining as the destination.

Fuel and Font Pit Stop + Photo Opp (Sri Lanka)

Our most pleasant excursion was with the easy going Ranjit of the southern town, Matara. We hired him for a day at a fixed rate to take us to surrounding fishing villages, swimming spots and sights along the south western coast. Despite my glowing appraisal of tuk-tuk travel in Sri Lanka, the roads can be truly testing on ones nerves but Ranjit had us calmly and expertly venturing through it all. He didn’t try any of the tourist scams we’d heard about but happily stopped to our shouts over minor roadside attractions and obscure photo-opportunities. In fact, when we asked him to take us for lunch to the kind of place he would frequent, he squirmed at the suggestion. After a bit of earnest encouragement we landed up at a humble road- side eatery which easily rated amongst our top Sri Lankan dining experiences.

The breezy semi open air tuk-tuks allowed us to explore, pursue, meander and back-track much of Sri Lanka inaccessible to other forms of transport. They allowed us to take in the sights and scenery but also the markets, alleyways, colourful characters and slices of life not evident otherwise. Not in the least our delightful, self-proclaimed Tuk-Tuk Husband.

Related posts:
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Today is World Water Day and Random Specific is taking the opportunity to feature a very special clip by Andrew Hinton for Tippy Tap. I was lucky enough to meet Andrew at the UnBox Festival last month in Delhi – where he gave me an impromptu private screening. He went on to become a winner in the esteemed Do Gooder Non Profit Video Awards a few days back.

I’m not going to tell you any more than that folks.
Just watch it, dig it, share it.

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Typocentric: Bazaar

March 12, 2011

Last month I had a blast hosting the Typocentric: Bazaar workshop at Delhi’s UnBox Festival. We had global players join local folk to construct typographic forms from objects commonly found in Indian markets – buttons, bindis, decorative mirrors, candles, textile embellishments, match-boxes and more. I had initially proposed the workshop to run over three days which somehow got condensed to three hours – but much fun emerged on this insane time frame. Having graphic designers joined by those with backgrounds in anthropology, education and finance led to a random-specific blend of capacities which kept everyone typo-ventilating throughout.

I got a particular kick out of working alongside my gifted former student and pixel-pro, Abishek Ghate, who experimented with constructing typographic forms out of various elements to devise the intense workshop format.

We started out by having small groups create Hindi words in Devanagari script out of bindis. For those of you who are in the dark, bindis are the red or coloured forehead markings worn by many South Asian women – often but not always signifying marriage.

Bram Pitoyo, Digital Strategist at Weiden + Kennedy, collaborated with others to form Usha (उषा) meaning the first ray of light from the rising sun.

Another group took a different path to create the same word. And that’s the arm of Kriti Monga from Tumeric Design – a typographic doyenne – who wears it on her sleeve. Some of you may recall her superb visual journal from Design Yatra which featured in Creative Review.

Workings + resolutions for Sakhi (सखी) – an endearing term for a girl, a friend, a confidante.

Babe (बेब) – phonetically from English and peppered through Hindi conversations when hotties are on the radar.

We then switched to a smorgasbord of elements from local bazaars. The pressure mounted and creativity escalated as teams raced against the clock to follow typographic guidelines while exploring the limits and opportunities that their designated objects presented.

Decorative mirrors, often used for textile ornamentation, were used artfully form the word Chhavi (छवि) which means reflection or image.

A team working with matchboxes experimented with multiple approaches to celebrate the name of our hosts: The UnBox Festival.

Impressive collaboration from those who worked with coloured buttons to create the name of our host city: Dilli/Delhi (दिल्ली)

Decorative flourishes from a group working with gotas – pleated fabric embellishments used to adorn sarees and other traditional clothing.

And pyromania ensued to give justice to the word Lau (लौ) or flame, built with candles.

Ghate and I were joined in energising participants by Codesign founder and UnBox spearhead, Rajesh Dahiya – who was a former colleague of mine at India’s National Institute of Design, where he continues to teach typography as adjunct faculty. My Design Observer co-contributor and by now close conference-buddy, John Thackara, had to put up with our fervored racket from his more earnest workshop which took place a just few paces away – luckily I made up for it the next day by swinging us a table at the ever popular dining spot Gunpowder. With it’s scenic view, this was a great vantage point to reflect on the UnBox Festival – where I had also presented as Community Manager on OpenIDEO. It had indeed lived up to it’s promise to encompass work and play across contexts and mediums plus “rethink and stretch design practice through imagination, provocation and stimulation for those interested in social and cultural change.” While many of the conference sessions were focused on more worthy pursuits, we’d like to think that Typocentric: Bazaar ignited a hankering for the handmade, a love of the local, a craving for collaboration – all within the alluring hype of type.
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Overlap: Intersection of Desi & Diasporic
Viva Vernacular


Youth in the slums of Nairobi. Future readers of literature delivered by mobile phone?

Yoza publishes short, hip novels and classic literature on mobile phones for African youth. Designed to encourage reading, writing and responding, Yoza engages African youth with stories and social issues. The project, which was spearheaded by Steve Vosloo – a technology researcher in Cape Town – and financed by South Africa’s Shuttleworth Foundation, is dedicated to a participatory culture hungry for micro-doses of literature that are accessible as pixels not paper.

Officially launched last September, Yoza is based on Vosloo’s observations that African youth are book-poor yet mobile-rich. An estimated 90 percent of urban South African youth have access to cell phones and 70 percent of those phones are web-enabled. In stark contrast, more than half of South African households own no leisure books and only 7 percent of public schools have functional libraries.

Illustrations from Yoza’s premiere edition: Kontax

Yoza’s first story, Kontax, followed the adventures of a local graffiti crew around Cape Town. Its 20 pages were initially published over a month of daily dispatches via a mobisite and later on the popular MXit social network. Each episode, released in both English and isiXhosha, was around 400 words long. Prizes were offered for the best comments and sequel ideas from Kontax readers.

Via Yoza, 17,000 users accessed the full premiere Kontax series for free — well eclipsing the South African “best-seller” standard of 5,000 book sales. Each chapter costs the reader around 1 US cent to download. Explains Vosloo, “Mobile data is cheap relative to voice and SMS — and of course, books. It’s also about access.” According to Vosloo, readership exploded when Yoza was made available to MXit’s 15 million local subscribers — a share currently far greater than Facebook’s.

Yoza content on MXit social network and on a mobisite (Image courtesy of Yoza)

The comments feature allows Vosloo to stay in touch with what readers want. “It’s become clear that youth are keen to be both educated and entertained,” he notes. “We get many requests for stories which are relevant to their lives. We’ve had requests for story lines which cover drugs and teen pregnancy, careers, money and more.” Feedback has helped to shape onwards content which includes Streetskillz, set during the football World Cup, Sisterz which explores dark family secrets and teenage life plus Confessions of a Virgin Loser which follows a boy steering his way through a complicated world of peer pressure, teenage sex and HIV/AIDS. Social issues provide a further avenue for interaction. A story which touched on domestic violence elicited a slew of comments in support of the affected character and posts of personal accounts which empathised with her situation.

South African students read and respond to Yoza content. (Image courtesy of Yoza)

Alongside popular culture content, Yoza has also been adding episodic versions of classics from Shakespeare to Wordsworth and other curriculum related texts. Feedback from teachers in low-income schools tells of class assignments given in conjunction with Yoza content and applauds the access to classic literature which the platform has provided. While some may criticise the informal use of language by readers – comments across the site also highlight an engaged audience ready to amend mistakes which have eluded Yoza’s editors. Although youthful readers may comment in text-speak, they eagerly respond with corrections on errors which creep into stories.

Looking to the future, Vosloo has been speaking with various potential sponsors who understand the bridge he has created between reading, response and social issues. One such discussion has been with a bank around the notion of a series featuring elements of financial literacy within its storyline. An aspect which is attractive to sponsors is the appetite created through releasing stories in installments but also that the entire series is then available on the Yoza site and continues to attract commentary. “It’s a bit like the transition from a box-office to DVD release,” adds Vosloo. “There’s the initial rush to devour a fresh feature yet the legacy contributes to a growing library of accessible content.”

An edited version of this article appears in my Change Observer Report on Design Observer.

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Amplifying African Ingenuity

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