Nico Macdonald | Spy   Communication, facilitation, research and consultancy around design and technology

Writing and speaking on design, technology and business

102 Seddon House
Barbican, London
United Kingdom

 Online map (from Google)


Reporting on and critiquing current developments and debates – building on events, and experience in consulting

I am the author of What is Web Design? (RotoVision, 2003), published in the UK, North America, France and Italy. More information on the book on this screen. The book Web site is at

I have written for BBC News Online, the RSA Journal, DCM (the UK Design Council magazine),, the Guardian newspaper, Core77, Blueprint, Eye (which I helped launch), PRINT magazine, Creative Review,, The Register, The Architects’ Journal, spiked-IT, the Online Journalism Review, Voice: AIGA Journal, Gain (formerly the AIGA Journal of Design For the Network Economy), Loop (the AIGA Journal of Interaction Design Education), Design Week, I.D. (US), New Media Creative, Create Online, Design (the Design Council publication) and its successor New Design, Graphics International (now Grafik), and World Link.


I keep four journals (aka Weblogs) that are still experimental, and will eventually be incorporated into this site. They are Design and Society, Future Media; Nico Macdonald Reporting (in which I report on design, technology and media conferences, events, and exhibitions) and Technology and Society (not currently active).

Future activities

I have posted a piece for the new New York-based publication A Brief Message, created by Khoi Vinh and Liz Danzico. I am also writing a critical opinion piece on HCI and design conferences and bodies for Usability News.

Current activities

5 March 2009 Presented a ‘thought for the day’ on innovation beyond the crisis at an Editorial Intelligence Network Breakfast at One Alfred Place. I have published a Facebook Note on based on my contribution.

March 2008 NESTA has published my counterblast on corporate open innovation [shared bookmark]. The article critiques the current boosterism for open innovation in companies and the damning of old style ‘closed’ innovation. It was inspired by a workshop with Berkeley professor Henry Chesbrough that took place at NESTA. I am keen to receive critical feedback on the article, which will inform whether a second part is published. The page includes a comment section.

February 2009 Presented a round table introduction at We Are Names Not Numbers 2009, a new international ‘thought leadership’ Symposium focused on individuality and creativity in business and society. Presenters and participants (who were really one and the same) came from across the media, politics, academia, research, entrepreneurship and business. See the programme and speakers and panelists. See the overview of my introduction.

11 June 2008 I presented at the Made in Brunel Pecha Kucha on the theme ‘People & Inspiration’ at the Business Design Centre in London. Participants include: Flo Heiss, Founder Dare Digital; Marcus Abbott, BY62x leader, Bentley Motors; Professor Tony Anson, Brunel University and Anson Medical Ltd; and Alastair Curtis, Global Head of Design, Nokia. See the overview of my presentation.

29 April 2008 Took part in a panel entitled ‘Translating your brand values online’ in the Business Editorial strand of the PPA annual conference Magazines and Business Media 2008: Fit for the Future at the Grosvenor House Hotel. I talked about overall approaches to the design of online publication, while the other panelists – Damian Wild of Incisive Media, Kasper de Graaf of AIG London, and Graeme Palmer of Abacus e-media – focused on case studies. See my talk outline... [Communication]

18 April 2008 Wrote a piece for the new online version of the RSA Journal on whether (online) networks are the answer to problems as diverse as apathetic memberships, creaking hierarchies, non-innovative organisations, privatised lives, and divided communities. The piece was published as Do web networks work in the real world?.

April 2008 In November, as part of the Service Licence Review being conducted by the BBC Trust, the BBC (not the Trust) commissioned a number short essays from ‘leading thinkers and practitioners in the new media space’ and I agreed to contribute a piece on ‘The BBC’s distinctive role in the internet space in the next 4-5 years’. The piece was submitted as part of the Review, and it was subsequently decided to include it in a book with a broader focus, entitled Public Service Broadcasting and the Creative Community, which will be published in May. I will have copies to distribute to anyone interested in the publication. Please contact me if you would be interested in receiving a copy.

January 2008 Writing an opinion article on corporate open innovation for NESTA. This is based on a workshop with Berkeley professor Henry Chesbrough that took place at NESTA in December.

Recent activities

25 March 2008 My piece on design and social networking for DCM (the UK Design Council magazine), reporting on and analysing developments, and presenting some forecasting, was published in Issue 3 (the blue ‘air hostess’ issue). I have now also posted it to this site. (The piece can also be found on pp38–41 of the issue.) The posted piece is as submitted and prior to cutting and editing. (I have also made available, with the permission of the publisher, an Acrobat facsimile of the published article.) The piece is extensively endnoted and I have also included the un-published sidebars. See my notes on it in my related journal entry.

29 Feburary 2008 Spoke at an Icelandic Marketing Association conference in Reykjavík on ‘Real innovation in the Internet age’.

16 November 2007 Reporting on the 2007 London Media Summit entitled ‘Future Media Technologies: Disruption or Opportunity?’, which took place at the London Business School. It was a surprisingly interesting event considering it was programmed by LBS students (clearly a talented bunch), and both the audience and speakers were smart. You can see my notes posted during the event.

18 July 2007 Presented at the Sichuan Media & Journalism Programme on a panel entitled ‘The Contemporary Media World’, organised by the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education Leadership Programmes for China.

3 July, 2007 My review of the Institute of Design Strategy Conference 2007 has been published in Core77. The review is divided into Reduction, Reactions, and Reflection. I am also writing a fuller, annotated report on this event. Please contact me if you are interested in purchasing the report.

3 July, 2007 Issue 165 of .net magazine (August 2007) includes a feature by Jason Walsh on social uses of the Web, entitled ‘Build the perfect web community’, for which I was interviewed, along with Jeff Roberto of Friendster, Kevin Rose of, Tom Coates of Yahoo!, Christian Ward of, Andrew Calcutt from the University of East London, and David Gerard of Wikipedia. Among my comments, which somewhat contradict the thrust implied by the title of the piece, I note that “People are wary of real-life encounters due to a decline in trust“ and “Online communities are not communities in a real sense”. The article is not available online, but the magazine is worth buying for anyone interested in Web design and development. (Having purchased the first issue in the mid-90s I was pleasantly surprised to see how it has evolved. And unlike many computing-related titles, it is well designed.)

25 May 2007 Participated in a panel entitled ‘Web 2.0 and Social Innovation’ at the RSA Conference The Social Impact of the Web: Society, Government and the Internet. Prior to the event I posted my draft response/remarks for the panel in my Journal, including an explanation of the panel brief. By the end of the week I will post notes from my introduction. An audio recording of the event will be made available soon after. See the Audio link from the event page.

19 March 2007 My article ‘London: still stuck in a jam’ has been published in spiked Environment, which reflects on its failure at the level of policy and imagination. Documentation on this article. “Ken Livingstone and New Labour”, I write, “are achieving what a Tory government failed to do over 17 years: get people to gracefully, even gratefully, accept an attack on their standard of living and freedoms”.

24 January 2007 My article ‘Competitiveness Summit ’06:
A review from the UK Design Council
’, a report and reflection on the Competitiveness Summit ’06, has been published on Core77. It has also been syndicated in the Innovation & Design section of as ‘Innovation and the Prosperity of Nations’. The article has aroused considerable interest in the design policy sector.

15 November 2006 I have posted the Media Futures article, ‘Not your father's media’, commissioned for the launch issue of the journal Wordrobe. Looking at the factors that fashion media forms and evolution, I argue that established publishers and broadcasters lack imagination in the use of online and digital platforms, and contend that their lack of understanding and exploitation of design is part of the problem.

15 November 2006 My review of Designing for Interaction by Dan Saffer (New Riders, 2006) has been published in the November 2006 issue of Blueprint magazine. Although the book struggles to work at the different levels of its intended readers, and takes a non-user-centred approach to ‘designing for good’, I conclude that “For the uninitiated Designing for Interaction is a good introduction to interaction design and design futures, and for anyone planning to practice it is a well-considered guide”.

17 August 2006 My article ‘‘Comment is Free,’ but designing communities is hard’ has been published in the Online Journalism Review. The piece anaylses the Guardian’s attempt to build an engaging group blog, suggests how the community might be more successfully designed, and considers the broader social trends driving online forums. Documentation on the article.

12 July 2006 Took part in a spiked-IT panel entitled ‘Why wi-fi?’, supported by Clarke Mulder Purdie, at the IBM South Bank centre. The other panelists were Chris Bruce, chief executive, BTOpenzone; Victor Keegan, columnist, Guardian; and Steve Watkins, senior consultant, IT Governance. Notes based on my remarks and on the discussion have been posted.

19 May 2006 Presented at a St Bride Library event on newspaper design, addressing newspaper design and the Internet. The other presenters included Guardian creative director Mark Porter and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. I have published an annotated outline of my talk, along with a copy of my presentation.

11 May 2006 Presented at the intersperience and the Centre for the Study of Media Technology & Culture Open Ideas event ‘Anyplace, Anytime, Anywhere! Moments of Contact’ at the RSA in London. I have posted the annotated text of my presentation.

7 February 2006 Panelist at the Centre for Creative Business event ‘Design or Die!’ at the RSA in London. The other panelists were Sir George Cox, Wayne Hemingway, and Sebastian Conran. I have posted notes based on my comments during the panel and audience discussion. The CCB has documented the event in its newsletter Grow! Edition 3, April 2006 (3.3MB file linked from the ‘Previous events’ section of the CCB Events site). One attendee noted by email that “It was fantastic to hear such well informed, enthusiastic and still firmly grounded voice on the panel”.

7 January 2005 Gave a seminar entitled ‘Designerly thinking and beyond’ on the RCA Interaction Design programme.

12 December 2005 Having attended John Thackara’s lecture at the RSA I have posted my review of his book In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World (The MIT Press, 2005), which I reviewed in the July issue of Blueprint. The review asks ‘to what question is this book the answer’, and points up its ‘heaviness’ and lack of theory. However, in its own terms it is a success, and represents a journalistic tour de force through emerging design practice.

22 September 2005 Appeared on the BBC 6 O’Clock News commenting on the convergence of devices into mobile products. The piece was hung on the O2 launch of live-TV-enabled mobile phones.

22 September 2005 Interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live about research showing users wanted better battery life from mobile phones.

15 September 2005 My piece on the MIT Media Lab researcher Kimiko Ryokai’s I/O Brush project has been published on the BBC News Technology site as ‘‘Magic brush’ paints visual world’. I first came across the project at the CHI2005 Design Expo. The intro reads: An electronic paint brush developed in the US is helping children understand the world around them.

6 September 2005 Took part in the ‘Insight: Meet The Customers’ panel of the MEX (mobile user experience) conference in London. I represented the ‘24/7’ persona of an advanced user. The other panelists represented the personas ‘Inc.’ (“for those who face the minor, but inevitable, physical challenge of ageing”), and ‘Essential’ (for “the many women, with busy, multi-faceted lives, who still don’t use their mobile much”).The panel was chaired by Gus Desbarats, chairman of Farnham, UK-based product designers The Alloy, which researched and developed these personas, and has developed product concepts around them. The conference sessions were well documented by the organisers. They are also selling a ‘report and presentation package’.

01 September 2005 My critique of graphic activism, ‘Practise, don’t preach’, has been published in the September 2005 issue of Creative Review, and is also the subject of the issue’s editorial. I argue that graphic activism represents bad politics and makes for bad design. It’s anti-humanist culture of complaint fails to present a cultural or political alternative to the targets it attacks. And the ethics it espouses is notably absent at home. Sadly, Creative Review doesn’t publish online. If you have a subscription to you may be able to read it online, and read letters published in response. You can comment on the article at the end of the post on my Design and Society journal.

16 August 2005 My piece on the interactive Lifeline at the Churchill Museum in London has been published in BBC News Online as ‘Lifeline From The Past To The Present’. The introduction reads: An interactive ‘Lifeline’ table is a key part of a new museum in London dedicated to the life of Sir Winston Churchill. Readers are invited to ‘Have Your Say’, and a number have commented.

09 August 2005 Appeared in a BBC Breakfast News item on the cycle of consumer technologies, hung on the demise of the film-based camera.

01 August 2005 My article ‘Better by Design’ has been published in the August 2005 issue of the RSA Journal, in print and online. The introduction reads: Design used to be associated purely with aesthetics. Today it has been embraced by business leaders and is advocated for social policy development. Nico Macdonald investigates these claims. I am keen to develop the discussion around this theme.

27 June 2005 My report on the 22 June Cass Creatives event ‘Read All About It! – News in the Internet Age’ has been published in Netimperative. The event turned out to be quite insightful, and rather more measured than much discussion about publishing from the ‘upstart’ Weblogging side.

29 April 2005 Panelist at the ICA Club² event on forecasting trends entitled ‘The Next Big Thing’, asking of trends “What are they, How does Technology influence then, What leads? Influence, Predicting the next big thing”. Other panelists were Lydia Crawford, Centre for Fashion Enterprise; Mark Rogers, CEO of Market Sentinel; Alan Moore, CEO of SMLXL; Tom Savigar, Sense Worldwide; and digital marketing specialist Jason Young. An outline of my introduction has been posted.

19 April 2005 My opinion piece ‘Adobe and Macromedia: bad news for online tools’, a reflection on the previous day’s announcement of the acquisition of Macromedia by Adobe, has been published in The Register. I observe that while Adobe has been unable to focus on the Internet its Acrobat strategy was a far-sighted play. Its print heritage and the conservatism of its corporate users has limited, and even undermined, its online activities and will have an adverse effect on Macromedia’s pioneering products. Comments welcome in my journal, or to The Register (link on the article page).

15 April 2005 Interviewed on BBC News 24 about post-industrial Britain and the demise of the MG Rover car company. The interview went out live around 21:20. I will try to post the video online, if I can get it off my TiVo. I am also planning an op-ed piece based on my research for the interview.

14 April 2005 Panelist at ‘Whither Wi-Fi’ event, programmed by spiked-IT, which takes place at the RSA in London. Other panelists were: Piers Bearne, managing director, Rock Media; Pierre Trudeau, co-founder and chief technology officer, Colubris Networks; and James Woudhuysen, professor of forecasting and innovation, De Montfort University. Notes on this panel have been posted.

7 April 2005 My feature on VoIP for SMEs and home users has been published in Guardian Online. Voice over IP (VoIP) is coming of age for home and SME users, with a plethora of software and hardware products. While most won’t save money, many will benefit from flexibility and interoperability, features and ease-of use, and value-added services. However, I conclude that current services are still primitive, and many suffer from poor ease of use.

3–4 April 2005, Portland, OR Presenting to the CHI 2005 Development Consortium on ‘Meeting the Needs of the Multidisciplinary Professional and of the Multiple Professional Associations and Events of Importance to Them’. (I chaired the CHI 2003 Development Consortium on Mass Communication.) Other participants are: Jonathan Grudin, Microsoft Research; Keith Instone, IBM; Fred Sampson, IBM Silicon Valley Lab; Whitney Quesenbery, Whitney Interactive Design; Richard Anderson, Riander (chair); Beth Mazur; Nigel Bevan, Serco Usability Services; Dennis Galletta, University of Pittsburgh; Ping Zhang, Syracuse University; Fiona Fui-Hoon Nah, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; John Zapolski, AIGA; Dirk Knemeyer, Involution Studios; Nick Finck, Digital Web Magazine; Matteo Penzo, Consultechnology, Idearium; Arnold M. Lund, Microsoft Corporation; Lynn Strother, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society; Wendy A. Rogers, Georgia Institute of Technology; Barbara Helfer, Capital University; Ian MaClelland, Philips Applied Technologies; Annie Archbold, Centers for Disease Control; Paul Sherman, Best Software, University of Texas at Dallas; Michelle Berryman, IDSA; David Heller, Intralinks; and Joe Konstan, University of Minnesota. I will document my contribution in due course.

02 March 2005 Graphic Design and the Future of the Web’. Presentation to University of Plymouth BA Graphic Design, BA Media Arts and MA Publishing students.

24 February 2005Cousins but not siblings: the relationship of Web and graphic design’. Talk at the University of Reading Department of Typography.

25 January 2005Interaction Design: The Bigger Picture’. Introduction to and seminar with Royal College of Art MA Interaction Design students.

28 December 2004 My collaborative report ‘HITS is a welcome Collaboration of Design and Business’, including contributions from Hugh Dubberly, S. Joy Mountford, and Ian McClelland, was published in Usability News [8 November 2004], and has been translated for the Chinese uiGarden site. I have also published the full version of the article.

13 December 2004 Following the launch event for What is Web Design?, I was interviewed by Netimperative, for a piece entitled ‘Web design: For humans, not machines’.

December 8, 2004 Gave an evening talk entitled ‘4D space: from aesthetics to interaction in Web design’ with Vassilios Alexiou of Less Rain at the Barbican Art Gallery. This talk was connected to the Communicate exhibition, for which I wrote a book chapter, and followed by a launch event for my book What is Web Design?

02 December 2004 My review of the RSA’s ‘Day of Inspiration’, which took place at the Royal Albert Hall on 11 October, has been published in the Architects’ Journal, 2 December 2004, p40.

11 November 2004 My review of the Jeremy Rifkin LIFT talk ‘The Hydrogen Economy: A Question of Culture?’, which was delivered at the LSE on 12 October, has been published in The Architects’ Journal, 11 November 2004, p45. I was also been involved in advising LIFT on this event.

01 November 2004 My review of the V&A Contemporary publication Interplay: Interactive Design has been published in Blueprint, November 2004, page 113.

16 September 2004 My essay on the impact of graphic design on design for the Web has been published in a book, Communicate, edited by Rick Poynor, that accompanies an exhibition that opened at the Barbican Art Gallery (London) on 16 September 2004. References and links to related articles and Weblog posts, including coverage of the book and exhibition, are being added as they are published.

09 September 2004 My latest Second Sight column on HCI and innovation has been published in the Online supplement of the Guardian. I argue that our obsession with the Web has obscured from us the lack of design innovation in graphical user interfaces. Instead I argue that we need to re-engage with human-computer interaction research and raise our ambitions. A number of people have responded to the article.

22 July 2004 My analysis of current developments in junk mail (and anti-junk mail systems), ‘Scamming the spammers’, has been published on spiked-IT. I argue that the spammers themselves are the main victims of online scams, and that as they wise up junk mail will tend to wither. I also critique the crass models of junk mail filtering implemented by corporate IT departments, and warn that in ‘dealing’ with spam we may destroy the ease-of-use that has made email so widely used. I conclude that we musn’t lose sight of the improvements needed in emails systems, at the front end as well as the back-end, some of which are highlighted by the proliferation of junk mail.

20 June 2004 My piece ‘Digital pen takes on mouse’ has been published on BBC News Online. It reviews the work of researchers at Sony’s Computer Science Laboratories in Tokyo, who have developed an interaction technique they call ‘pick and drop’ that addresses file exchange in physical space, building on and perhaps supplanting drag and drop and the mouse. Annotated article.

20 May 2004 My third Private View column in four years has been published in Design Week. Entitled ‘Real world sustainability’, the article asks why sustainable design is in vogue, and questions its proponents’ lack of ambition and understanding of human progress.

20 May 2004 I am writing a series of articles on HCI, design and mass communication for the Online Journalism Review. The first article, ‘Publishing by Design: Time to Make Human Factors a Concern’, has been published, and the series will run over the next few months. Documentation on the article.

18 April 2004 My first article on Weblogging has been published on The Register. I will be publishing a number of complementary articles in the near future. It concludes with a radical proposal for the future of Weblogging and online publishing.

13 April 2004 My critique of recent reports on broadband for has been published.

01 March 2004 My introduction to the special issue of the ACM publication interactions based on the work of the Development Consortium on Mass Communication at CHI2003 has been published.

10 February 2004 The Register has published my piece reporting on the realities of using WiFi in London, based on my itinerant activity during BT OpenZone’s recent Wireless Broadband week.

I have written ten white papers for BT Wholesale looking at specific aspects of SME business activity. They are available in its Marketing Resource Centre.

Proposed activities


I have developed a proposal for a series of television programmes that would take examples of good design and investigate how they came about, looking at customer needs, social trends, business models, technology possibilities, and market adoption.

Articles seeking commission

The problem solving culture What happened to our problem identifying and solving culture? We should remind ourselves what we have achieved in all areas of society, and challenge the idea that people are a problem, a barrier to solutions, or unworthy of a better life.

What is an IT revolution? It is a truism to say that the talk about the Internet revolution was hype, but that when things really change those changes will be more profound than had been anticipated. I would like to reflect on the design and publishing industries, which truly have been transformed by digital tools and the Internet, to give people a sense of what real transformation looks like. (I worked as a consultant in this area from the mid-80s to the mid-90s.)

Anticipative design Digital and networked products often fail to offer much advantage over other ways of doing things. For instance it is quicker (and usually more convenient) to call directories or national rail enquiries than to use their respective Web services. Some digital and networked services will only come into their own when they can anticipate what you might want (based on context, activity, location, plans, or known preferences) and deliver information as you need it.


What is Web Design?

RotoVision (published in the UK, North America and France in autumn 2003. Also published in Italy.)

'What is Web Design?' coverAfter the hype, this book puts design for the Web firmly in the context of established design thinking and business practice. French and Italian co-editions are being prepared and a Spanish edition will probably follow soon. It can be ordered from or

Communicate: Independent British Graphic Design since the Sixties

Laurence King Publishing [Order from] and Yale University Press [not yet published]

Communicate coverMy essay on the impact of graphic design on design for the Web appears in the book Communicate, edited by Rick Poynor, that accompanies an exhibition that opened at the Barbican Art Gallery (London) on 16 September 2004. The exhibition explores recent developments in British graphic design, focusing on the smaller independent studios and teams that are credited with producing the most creative, innovative and highly regarded design work over the past four decades.

Looking Closer 4

Allworth Press (2002) [Order from] [Order from]

Looking Closer coverIncluding my essay Can designers save the world? (and should they try?). This edition is edited by Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, and Steven Heller. Contributors include Rick Poynor, Kathy McCoy, Lorraine Wild, Jessica Helfand, Marty Neumejer, Michael Worthington, and Veronique Vienne. Themes include the rise and fall of the dot.coms and its influence on salary expectations, the ongoing controversy over the First Things First Manifesto, the call for greater responsibility in the design profession, and the anti-branding protests.

New Media Art: Practice and Context 1994-2004

Arts Council of England and Cornerhouse, 2004 [Order from]

New Media Art coverContributed a chapter on innovation and ICT, looking at the origins and features of current information technologies, to a publication reviewing ten years of funding digital arts projects, edited by Lucy Kimbell. Other contrbiutors include: Geoffrey Batchen and Charlie Gere, on the early history of new media; Matt Locke, on the cultural importance of text messaging; Sadie Plant, on gaming and play; Heath Bunting and Rachel Baker, with practitioners’ first-hand accounts; and Jon Ippoliti, Lawrence Lessig and John Naughton, on the complexities and politics of intellectual property. The book was launched at at coneference at Tate Britain on 3 April 2004.


In with the New

Creative Review, September 2004

My reflection on the relationship of British graphic design to design for the Web. I argue that, surprisingly, British graphic designers have has held new media at arms length, and the people who have lead the discipline have come from everywhere but graphic design. This contrasts starkly with the history of US new media design, and I investigate the related factors. I argue that British graphic design (rather than designers) has influenced Web design, and that as new media goes beyond the Web the input of British graphic designers is needed more than ever.

British Evasion

PRINT, November/December 2004

Why have British graphic designers failed to embrace interactive media while US designers often lead the way? I argue for a number of causes: techno-fear, obsession with branding and esthetics; inability of graphic designers to re-apply their (unconscious) understanding of design process; lack of appreciation for technical collaborators; and the disinterest of the design media and bodies. I conclude that if British designers are serious about making a difference with design as well as bringing design to centre stage in society they will need to get to grips with design for interactive media.

ICT wusses

spiked-IT, 28 January 2004

A review and critique of the 2003 World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva.

Apple bytes: The Mac at 20, 23 January 2004

My piece reflecting on what we can learn from twenty years of Apple’s innovation around the Macintosh. Some well-considered comments on the article were posted, to which I replied.

Does sustainability smother innovation?

Green Futures, 01 January 2004

‘Exchange of fire’ debate with Rob Webb of XCO2 on the question ‘Does sustainability smother innovation?’. Green Futures is the journal of the Forum for the Future.

Second sight

Guardian Online, 23 October 2003

I argue that although user-centred design is now widely accepted, the emphasis on its usability component limits innovation. Additionally, I contend that designers should trust their skills and design for what people deserve, not what consumer research tells us they need, or usability tells us they are capable of.

Information visualisation

Eye magazine, No 49, Vol 13, October 2003

Explaining and advocating a more extensive application of information visualisation.

An ethnography of English life

TRIBE, Issue 03, 1 October 2003

A photo piece that looks at how people use their spaces to track what they are doing or have to get done. Published in of the Web Coast-based magazine TRIBE.

Endstop: The great leap forward

Blueprint, September 2003

A critique of design for sustainability thinking. Provoked letters and a counterblast. Subsequently I was invited by Green Futures magazine to take part in an ‘Exchange of Fire’ debate.

Design for eGovernment

eGov monitor, 15 September 2003

Why is design important in eGovernment? How does the design process work, and what should eGovernment clients expect from designers? And are eGovernment design solutions sufficiently ambitious, or suffering from lowered expectations?

Doors of Perception 5 Flow

Eye, No 48, Vol 12, Summer 2003

Review of a conference that I describe as “a strange and generally wonderful beast” with “a contradiction at the heart of its programming, in which it attempts to present a big theme but doesn’t attempt to tie together these disparate and variably grounded contributions”.

CHI2002|AIGA Experience Design Forum

Create Online, issue 027, July 2002

The annual CHI conference was a source of many novel insights. And it was well complemented by the first collaboration between ACM SIGCHI and AIGA Experience Design.

Web Wizards: Designers Who Define The Web

Eye magazine, No 43, Vol 11, Spring 2002

My review of the Design Museum’s Web Wizards exhibition, which I describe as “a design show that is not about design”.

TiVo: Now you see it, now you don’t

Interfaces, Spring 2002

The TiVo personal video recorder has rightly generated much debate about the future of broadcast media. This piece reflects on the quality of its user interface appears. Interfaces is a publication of the British HCI Group.

The missing link

New Design, January/February 2002

Britain used to be a nation of engineers, then we became ‘creative Britain’. Can engineering and design come together? This piece reviews the joint RCA-Imperial College Industrial Design Engineering course on its 21st anniversary.

How to catch a buyer

Guardian Online, January 10, 2002

This piece draws on the Web Design for Business project. Sadly the editors omitted my ‘Ten tips for managing Web design’ in the online version.

Web sight is out of focus

Design Week, 29 November 2001

My Private View piece on evaluating interaction design for the Web. Strangely elicited not one letter. Roll on design awards!

After the Fall

Gain, Vol. 1, Number 2, 2001

Commissioned on the back of the DIS2000 panel on mergers and acquisitions in the Internet design business, I interviewed around 20 industry figures in the US, UK and beyond to investigate what had happened and what the future trends might be.

Experience Design: After the Crash

Knowledge Circuits, 2001

Looking at the significance of the AIGA Experience Design initiative. In the University of Minnesota Institute of Design publication.

Can designers save the world? (and should they try?)

New Design, September/October 2001

The 2001 SuperHumanism conference showed that designers are increasingly self-conscious about their social role, but we shouldn’t take the new design ethics at face value.

Action, interaction, reaction

Blueprint, August 2001

Overview of interaction design, including an extensive reference section.

A renaissance man’s mission

Eye, No 39, Vol 10, Spring 2001

A profile of MIT Media Lab professor John Maeda that celebrates his approach while providing a much needed critique of his thinking.

Jakob’s Ladder

New Media Creative, pp38-43, March 2001

Profile of Jakob Nielsen. While I come out in favour of Nielsen’s contribution to the development of Web design I take the time to critique his approach, unlike many more hagiographic profiles.

Peak Practice

New Media Creative, September 2001

Review of the 4th Advance for Design Summit, which attempted to define the disciplines that make up experience design.

Challenging Times

New Media Creative, pp36-37, August 2001

This piece picks up on the theme of Gregg Vanderheiden’s closing plenary at CHI2001, the Include 2001 conference at the RCA, and the first ACM Conference on Universal Usability. I endorse the concept of inclusive design and questions the concept of design-for-all. I also argue for focusing on creating products that improve abilities for everyone.

Doors of Perception 6 Lightness

Loop Number 2

Review of the April 2001 conference held in Amsterdam. Notes that “many of the arguments presented at Lightness relied on shocking the audience with big numbers, while others elevated the nebulous concept of ‘the environment’ above clear human needs, but neither approach enlightens us about the dimensions and scale of the issues”.

ACM SIGCHI Designing Interactive Systems 2000

Loop, November 2000, Number 1

Review of the August 2000 conference held in New York. Argues that, in the context of the conference theme of bridging professional differences, if we “focus less on technology and raise the stakes to the level of humanity territorial defensiveness will tend to disappear”.

Private View: Designing for usability

Design Week, 31 March 2000

Makes a case for usability, but argues that it should not be used as are reason to ‘dumb down’ design to some lowest common denominator, perhaps in pursuit of universal accessibility, unless a product is really intended to be used by everyone on the planet.

Some final thoughts on ‘First Things First’

AIGA Journal, 2000, Vol.18, No.1

The ideas expressed in the re-issued ‘First Things First’ manifesto haven’t moved on. The manifesto represents a diminished view of what it is to be human, and the value of consumption in helping us realise our humanity.


If/Then, 0.1, 1999

Reflections on the future of personal digital assistants (PDAs, or DataButlers) drawing on a decade of using various incarnations. This article was based on a talk I gave in the Netherlands Design Institute’s Getting On! series.

Review of ‘New Rules for the New Economy’

Blueprint, January 1999 [check]

Kelly’s book represents the height of technological-determinism we reached in the Internet boom. In retrospect it ambition, and thoughtfulness about putting computing power (and ‘dumbness’) in context, are quite refreshing.

Review of ‘The Invisible Computer’ Donald A. Norman

Design magazine, 1999

My review of Don Norman’s critique of the IT industry points up the naive tech enthusiasm of the late 90s. Today this is muted, if not disdained, and Norman’s own view of users is somewhat less progressive.

Digital dilemmas

World Link, March/April 1998

Esther Dyson’s book Release 2.0 demonstrates that she is head and shoulders above other IT commentators. She presents clear explanations and elegant solutions but sometimes misses the bigger context.

Not as other media

Eye No 26, Vol 7, Autumn 1997

This piece was originally written as critique of design awards, but became a proposal for how design awards might evaluate interaction design work on the Web. It rightly identified the importance of the people who will maintain a Web site as users. The quality of awards hasn’t improved considerably since, and I address this in a Private View in Design Week.

Key concepts: evaluating design, design awards

From IMP to Net

World Link, January/February 1997, p109

Review of 'Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet' Katie Hafner, Matthew Lyon (Simon & Schuster Inc, 1998), which reminds us of the possibilities of human ingenuity when the formula is right.

How to untangle the Web

Blueprint, December 1996

A review of new media design practice in the UK. My key insight was the innovative way companies in this sector were acting as their own clients and developing independent projects. This trend was subsumed by the investment bubble, though companies such as ATG and Plumb Design developed important software products that have been very successful.

Go in at the top and redefine the project

Eye No 20, Vol. 6, Spring 1996

One of the first significant investigations into the way design practice was adapting to networked media. Interviewees, many who had participated in the ACD’s second Living Surfaces conference in the autumn of 1995, included Jessica Helfand, Razorfish co-founder Craig Kanarick, Andrew Zolli, Avalanche co-founder Peter Seidler, and UK agency pioneer Steve Bowbrick. The article title expresses an early insight that is still largely honoured in its breach.


September 2004 A draft report on the ACM SIGCHI Designing Interactive Systems 2004 conference in Cambridge, Mass., has been prepared and is available on request.

January 2004 Report on the The Oxford Media Convention 2004 written for The Work Foundation iSociety project.

April 2003 A report on the CHI2003 conference, organised by the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI) is available on request.

Summer 2002 In late June 2002 I was invited by the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea (located in the North-West of Italy) to act as a rapporteur at its end of year events, which included its show and a meeting of its (illustrious) advisory Explorers’ Club. My extensive report is published on the Institute’s Web site.

Talks and Broadcasts

New Media Design

4 May 2005 (Design Museum)

This talk was part of the Design Museum’s Discovering Contemporary Design series, programmed by Libby Sellers, which will took place over six evenings between 6 April and 11 May 2004. I presented an extensive overview of interaction and Web design theory and practice. Notes from my talk.

Imagining the future of the Web

20 November 2003 (Universidad del Pacífico, Santiago, Chile)

Delivered the opening keynote at the 2nd International Design Encounter. My talk looked at the role of imagery in networked media; the relationship of art, design and engineering; and considered the issues around designers and social activism. The closing talk was delivered by Lodovico Gualzetti of Magutdesign (Italy). Other speakers included Marco Gatica, art director of El Mercurio (Chile) and Zenaida Osorio from the Universidad Externado de Colombia (Colombia). Notes from the talk are available.

The Emperor’s New Trend

April 12-14, 2000 (Equitable Center, New York City)

Presentation at the AIGA ‘Collision’ conference, programmed by Alice Twemlow and Peter Girardi. Talk transcript (produced by AIGA). My core thesis, that while convergence is important at the back-end real people want divergence of means of accessing information and services – has been more than

Pinning down the Weightless Economy: can designers count on the digital society?

26-29 March 1998 (Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA)

Talk presented at the International Institute for Information Design (IIID) Vision Plus 4 conference ‘The Republic of Information’. My talk looked at the impact that information technology was having on the US economy and examined whether IT is able to take it forward in the way described by those who argue that a ‘new economy’ had been created, and argued that designers needed to be sanguine with their clients about the real state of things. Coming two years before the Internet bubble burst, this talk appears to have been far-sighted. Other presenters included Sally Grisedale, Thomas Mueller, David Small and Andrew Zolli. The event was chaired by Erik Spiekermann. Speaker list. If you would like a copy of my talk please email me.

28 September 2004 Presented at a Foreign & Commonwealth Office Web Editorial Board lunchtime seminar. [Notes from the presentation.]

7 September 2004 Presented on experience design to Brazilian students on an International Branding Week course based at Brunel University. The students were from the Design Strategy Módulo Internacional do MBA – Branding – Gestão de Marcas ITAE – Instituto de Tecnologia Avançada em Educação and Branding, in Sao Paolo. Notes from talk.

19 May 2004 Took part in a debate on the BBC Radio 4 program You and Yours in an item about the ‘Throwaway Society’ [includes link to RealAudio archive of the discussion]. The progam notes contend that “the ‘built in obsolescence’ approach to manufacturing has been blamed for our overflowing land-fill sites. Dr Tim Cooper and his team from Sheffield Hallam University are looking at ways of making cars, furniture, clothes and household appliances more durable. He discusses with Karl Schneider of Computer Weekly and design strategy consultant, Nico McDonald [sic] whether there really was a golden age when things were built to last”.

March 17, 2004 Presentation to MA Multimedia students at the University of Huddersfield on the theme of ‘Ten lessons from ten years working with the Web’. I also took part in the validation of the MSc Interaction Design for Media Technologies programme.

23 February 2004 Interviewed about What is Web Design? on the BBC World Service programme Go Digital!, hosted by Tracey Logan with regular studio guest Bill Thompson. Can be listened to as streamed audio from the Go Digital! archive site (23 February show).

25 Nov 2003 Was the invited guest at the e-consultancy roundtable on ‘Creativity Online’ in London. A transcript is available for e-consultancy subscribers.

24 October 2003 I appeared on BBC Breakfast (broadcast on BBC1) to discuss whether the end of Concorde marked the end of Britain's industrial revolution. I appeared along with former Concorde pilot John Hutchinson. The show is documented on the BBC Breakfast site.

10 June 2003 Talk on information visualisation Central St Martins MA Communication Design students. Notes from talk.

5 December 2001 Presentation from the British Computer Society North London event ‘Website Design – Build Today, Rich Tomorrow?’.


10 March 2005 [The uses described] might not be what the mobile operators had in mind when they launched their picture-messaging services, but it does at least generate traffic and revenue for them. Nico MacDonald [sic], a design and technology strategist with Spy, a consultancy based in London, notes that technologies often thrive when people start using them for purposes beyond those for which they were originally intended. Monitor Phones with eyes The Economist Technology Quarterly, Mar 10th 2005 [subscription required]

February 2004 “The way we collaborate online at present is essentially 19th Century” “Computers in most people’s homes are not associated with relaxation, nor are they in locations where relaxation takes place. People’s existing associations with the character of a device should not be underestimated” “The extent to which telcos promote P2P communication reflects a lack of ambition, and the absence of the belief that they can create worthwhile services and products for their consumers” Taken from an expert interview for the Henley Centre research project Drivers of Broadband, 12 Feb 2004, (cited in ‘The Future of the Broadband Industry’ section). Available from the BT Wholesale broadband site, following the Marketshare link [registration may be required].

Autumn 2003 [In an article looking at the role of design conferences] ‘Conferences need to be designed in the way that any other product or service is designed,’ thinks design writer Nico Macdonald. He is an advocate of using technology such as WiFi Weblogging... and live collaborative editing on to projected Hydra documents... to elicit more contribution from attendees and to extend the life of a conference discussion before and after its allotted timeframe. ‘Conference madness’ Alice Twemlow, Eye issue 49, Autumn 2003

16 September 2002 Quoted in ‘Store the front page’ Mike Butcher, Media Guardian. Yes, the picture of me in the print edition is ludicrously large and doesn’t add to the story. (I had suggested it be illustrated with an interface to the New York Times that Organic had created for a Lucent research project.) Also, I am not a design consultant, which should be clear if you have read this far.

6 December 2001 Quoted in New York Times article on 30 years of email by Katie Hafner (free, but registration required).

9 February 1997 Quoted in the the Independent on the demise of the UK edition of Wired magazine. ‘Nico MacDonald [sic], 30, design manager for an Internet company, comments: “I don’t think the UK would have produced that magazine on its own.” From his base in Clerkenwell – which is rapidly turning into Silicon Alley – he remarks: “The US is a consumer society, a service society. It’s pizza at 2am if you want it. That’s not about technology, it’s an aspect of life. People don’t take that seriously here.”’ ‘ Magazine of the US digerati fails to hack it here’ Charles Arthur, Independent, Feb 9, 1997. [Archived on]

Last updated:
Nico Macdonald | Spy 2007