what we am are

speaking words at dare conference 2013

(tl;dr: video is here)

I think I did a good thing™ at the dare conference in London this month. I was asked to do a 5 minute lightning talk on overcoming a fear. I chose to speak on the fear of becoming an artist which is really the fear of calling yourself an artist without adding ‘a bit of a wanker’ in the same sentence.

I was very happy to do this. I like lightning talks. I like the format, the excitement, the tension, the clarity, the medium, the message, the constraint, the openness, the execution, the delivery, the focus, the rigour, the directness, the fear. the wit. the mischief.

I had a particular vision for how this talk could be delivered. I’d harboured a fantasy for the last year or so about curating a event about design delivered entirely in spoken word format. like, you know, poetry. words. with structure and meaning and context and life and narrative and darkness and cadence and rhyme and passion and space and pace and pathos and pain and light and heat. and wit. and mischief.

I knew the dare conference would be the right place to try this out. and it very much was. taking a risk was all part of the deal. so many thanks to the dare conference team and particularly to jonathan kahn for his efforts in making the thing happen.

most of these words came together in about 90 minutes on a train to somewhere in a haze of impulse I’ll never forget. if you’re interested in playing along, lightning style, they don’t actually start until slide 2. you’ll get the idea.

in addition, the event was recorded, which means you have the dubious pleasure of witnessing me reading the words out loud on a stage and everything. I included dramatic pauses, because I know you like those. many thanks to the folks at dare for the recording, and to Michael Adcock for extracting and hosting the 5 minutes that you can find here (note, the official version now included – thanks Dare Conf).

if you feel like taking part in a spoken word event with a focus on design, let me know. it would be awesome. find me at tim at timcaynes dot com. or on the twitter. or here. or anywhere.

I said it’s art, it don’t look like much, but it’s the way that I see and I think about stuff
I said it’s art, and it don’t look like much, but it’s the way that I see and I think about stuff

and you said, I don’t get it, what’s that meant to be? what’s that thing right there? it that supposed to be trees? if this is your art then I ain’t buying. it’s just a bit shit mate, you’re not even trying.

I said that’s not the point. it’s a manifestation. not some allegory on deforestation. just a representation. an approximation. the way that I deal with life’s complications. it’s the way that I see things, life through my lens. I put it on paper to see how it ends.

and you said all I’m saying is don’t give up the day job. I said I’m 8 years old. I don’t have a day job. but the words they cut through me, I took them to heart. and I put away childish things I called art.

and this is music, it don’t sound like much, but it’s the way that I wish I could speak about stuff.
and this is music, and it don’t sound like much, but it’s the way that I wish I could speak about stuff.

just listen a minute, I wish I could say, cos these notes and these lyrics I arranged in this way are the sounds of my fears slowly drifting away, if only today I could make you press play. if only today I could make you press play.

but I’m being a idiot. who’d want to listen? who’d want to put themselves through the embarrassment? it’s just miserable teenage artistic pretensions when narcissism is the mother of all your inventions. don’t worry, it’s nothing, I’ll put it away. I’ll keep to myself the things I want to say.

and what is an artist anyway? cos I think I might be one, but I just couldn’t say. could I take this one line, just six seconds of time, to define in a rhyme my perception of artist as somebody who, just believes what they do. would that work for you?

and the thing I feel most, much stronger than fear, is the desire to confront it, the very idea, that being an artist will somehow expose the things about me that nobody knows. there’s things about me that nobody knows.

and since I’ve started, the artist: creative catharsis, the role that we play to frame what we say art is, the channel, the filter, the lightning conductor, the creator, the canvas, the wilful disruptor. protagonist, lover.

the artist. it’s just a label. don’t worry. it doesn’t matter.

I said it’s me. I don’t look like much, but let’s start with that and move on a touch.
I said it’s me. I don’t look like much, but let’s start with that and move on a touch.

and wait, before you say, yes it is supposed to look that way. you don’t like it? that’s fine, I’m learning to deal with the things you might say and the way that I feel, because taking the risk is all part of the deal. taking the risk is all part of the deal.

and thanks for coming, this exhibition was hard. three hundred and sixty-five days have gone past but of this thing I’ve created, I’m immensely proud. it’s lifted a burden. it’s lifted a cloud.

see the thing that I’ve learned, the one thing that’s true, is noone can tell you what might get you through because art is in everything, the words that you say, the pictures you make or the music you play, the simple and beautiful you do every day

in the pieces of you in the trail that you leave as you touch and you see and you feel and believe, as you pass through this world seeking meaning and wonder, at times you’ll feel desperate, at times you’ll go under, but fuck it if this isn’t why we try harder, fuck it if this isn’t why we try harder

an apology. no, not for the language, but for using this book like some kind of appendage.
but I’m not really reading, it could just be blank. it’s an act, it’s my art, since we’re on the south bank.

see, art is expression, it just needs some arrangement. it needs curation as a personal statement and when I thought to do that, I was over the fear. when I thought to do that, it all became clear.

art is in all of the things that you do. and being an artist is just knowing that’s true.
art is in all of the things that you do. and being an artist is just knowing that’s true.

the glorious IA summit

it feels like it’s been a lifetime since I returned from Baltimore after the glorious IA summit at the beginning of April. it’s the event that leaves you feeling like that when its over, like the end of a long hot summer where you gambolled through the shimmering and abundant fields of learning, dancing like a teenager with your new best friends dipping your toes in the stream of enlightenment and talking like you don’t know the words for the things you have to say, watching the proud and beautiful stags of truth barking atop the mountain as if to say THERE IS NO TRUTH, JUST THE ONTOLOGY OF TRUTHS, COME HEAR ME, FOR I AM THE STAG OF BEAUTY AND I SPEAK OF THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO MAKE AND BY THE WAY SINCE I’M A PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION OF ALL YOUR ENDEAVOURS I REALLY AM THE MISSING LINK BETWEEN THE COGNITIVE AND SPATIAL DEFINITION OF CONTEXT THAT DEFINES IT ALL. HURRAH!

or something like that. to be clear, there is a reason I allocate 100% of my available budget to attend this one event each year. it’s because I get a year’s worth of worth from it. I mean, I go to quite a few smaller events throughout the year and meet splendid and lovely people and see inspiring and challenging speakers and learn so much about things that are totally relevant to me. but the IA summit is quite different. without wishing to get weirdly evangelical and creepy about it (and not the dan willis kind of creepy), I believe it’s an event that changes lives. overstating it? maybe. but I know that attending for the last few years has changed me for the better. and I’ve spoken to many people who have attended, often for the first time, who are so touched and moved and surprised and enlivened by their attendance that they can’t quite express what it is that it’s done to them. I’m not about to qualify what ‘better’ means, because that’s not the point. I don’t do definitions. but what better means to me is what counts. the change for the better is what I recognise in myself and how I attribute that change to my attendance at the IA summit is up to me. nobody can alter that.

in the grand scheme of things, with so much going in the world, and so many demands and so little time and so much to do and so much to say and so many responsibilities and so on and so on it is perhaps easy to say fuck’s sake it’s only a conference for people who get weirdly obsessed about the structure of things and why are you getting so worked up about it there’s more important things to worry about but whatever. let me bark this at you. THIS EVENT IS AN OASIS OF AWESOME. IT CHANGES LIVES. I AM THE STAG OF TRUTH SO HEAR ME ROAR.

thank you to the beautiful people, old and new, that make the change happen. I love you. if anyone would like to tell me to calm down, don’t bother.


My first speaking gig was at the IA summit. I mean, I didn’t piss about, I went for it. In the end, it was actually a good place to do your first proper public speaking event, because those IA summit folks really know how to look after first timers. But it was rather a deep-end approach to learning the public speaking thing and a pretty expensive and nerve-wracking one too.

Tonight I’ve spent a most agreeable few hours in the company of some other people having their first go at standing up in front of a room full of their peers, talking out loud, and wondering if the words that are coming out are actually being heard by the people in front of them or they are just being thrown into the air and intercepted by some cognitive unbalance field that catches them, turns them into unintelligible arse and thrusts them backwards into the ears of blank-faced gibbons who are suspended in some alternate time universe where the only facial expressions available are wholly blank or mildly indifferent and the occasional metaphor for insignificance in the face of the impenetrable vastness of the vacuum of space gently drift before your eyes like the last dying leaf of the relevance tree as it flutters downwards amidst the eternity of the silent, slow, nod of the donkey of empathy. Maybe that’s just me.

The untapped event, organised with some impressive vigour by Sophie Freiermuth and Richard Wand at Possible, in London, was an admirable showcase for unheard UX voices from within the community. You know, those people you actually work with who say interesting things, have interesting views, and can have a conversation like real adults do, but don’t seem to have a good place to share that with a wider audience of their peers. Or, if you like, it’s a chance to hear from people you’ve never heard of speaking about things that you’ve often thought of. Or, if you like, it’s just not Jason Mesut again. Honestly, that’s not a dig at Jason Mesut, but he would acknowledge, I’m sure, that he is become one of the UX circuit in the UK, and there is room for others. I might say that say of myself. I dunno. WHATEVER. I’m stuck on a train right now waiting for the fire brigade and national rail to assess a chemical spill just outside Hatfield Peveril, north of Chelmsford and my train hasn’t moved for 30 minutes and I won’t be home until at least 2:30 am and I’m suddenly getting a bit stabby.

Notwithstanding that, the reason for my involvement with the event, and, indeed, Jason’s, was that I had volunteered to help out as a mentor for one of the new speakers. I thought that maybe what I’ve learned from my short tenure as ‘most famous speaker from Norwich who occasionally stays on-topic about UX but generally arses about with long words to try and look clever and simply resorts to cheap jokes to see if the audience are still awake’ might be useful to others in some shape or form, and so I was very lucky to included as part of the mentoring team. For each speaker, a mentor. A one-to-one relationship. A chance to pass on some of the things I’d learned over the years to someone who might even find it useful.

And it all turned out lovely. Alex Ng, who is currently working with me at Flow, was to benefit from my exacting principles about literal, metaphorical and unintelligible jokes, slide subversion, easter eggs, audience poking and general narrative intensity. We spent some nice times together, and it was all a bit like that bit in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where they ride around on bicycles, laughing in the sunshine to a sensory backdrop of instagrammed Jimmy Webb and teal. At least, he took my point about full-bleed images. And proceeded to smash it out of the park when it came to it. To be fair, all the speakers, including another colleague of mine, Matt Radbourne, did an excellent job for a first speaking gig, but, you know, I only cried into my free white wine following Alex’s 20 minutes, because, like , THAT’S MY BOY! (he’s 33 you know. Yes, that’s what I said.)

Untapped was a hugely enjoyable event. It encouraged those with an idea to come forward and add to it a voice. That voice was their own. New, unheard, untapped. I played a very small part in contributing to the success of the evening. Sophie and Richard incepted, inspired and, um, envisioned, or something, the evening. If I had hats, I would take them off to them, suffice to say, I think I love them. Looking forward to looking forward to the next time.