Reflection and transparency are key in our work: 3 sculptures around the corner from 2 Bloomsbury Place
The first thing to say is that this website is one of several that are part of our close business ecosystem. These include:
On the personal front, I have been fairly early into areas like personal websites, blogging and tweeting, always interested to find new ways to learn and communicate. The origins of this website lay in a desire to capture what it was like in the relatively early days of the evolving environmental, social innovation and sustainability movements. The idea was also to explain to the wider world what we were doing and what was working, and what wasn’t.
It’s all very well for me to say the future is environmental excellence, green consumerism, the triple bottom line or breakthrough capitalism, but the many movements and communities of which we are part deserve a deeper explanation of the thinking and experiences that brought us to these conclusions.
Poster at our 2012 Breakthrough Capitalism Forum, highlighting a phrase used by Pamela Hartigan
A decade in, however, our original webmaster absconded to New Zealand and seemed to lose his sense of what was proper, and what not. Still, dark clouds and silver linings. I am immensely grateful to Geoff Kendall, Sam Lakha and Chris Wash for wading in and rescuing the bulk of the old content from under the nose of the New Zealand Minotaur.
As the process evolved, we changed the structure and integrated a number of new features. We hope you like the result. Either way, let me know at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, by way of background, here is some archive text from the old site which explains some of the original reasoning behind the site:
Archive text from 2003, updated 2008
THE BABELFISH AND THE WEBSITE
I am often asked what exactly it is that I do. Difficult. When filling in the ‘Please state profession’ line on passports and other forms I have long been tempted to write ‘Babelfish’, which I’ll explain in a moment.
But for 30 years the question I have been asked most often is what first switched me on to environmentalism and, later, sustainable development? Some answers can be found in my book A Year in the Greenhouse, in the Influences and Timelines sections of this website, and in an article I wrote some time ago for Jain Spirit magazine.
And the website? It’s a fairly natural outflow from work I have done under the guise of John Elkington Associates (JEA), founded by Elaine and I in 1983.
In compiling the original version of the website, with the help of Rupert Bassett and Lynne Elvins, I was forced to plumb my core values, powerfully shaped by pressures and opportunities described elsewhere on the site.
Eight values that bubbled to the surface were:
– Evolution Real change happens over generations
– Sustainability Future generations as stakeholders today
– Diversity Evolution feeds on difference
– Transparency Sustainable economies are see-through
– Conversation Wellspring of insight
– Memory Capture lessons of experience
– Intuition Facts only get you so far
– Serendipity Learn from mistakes and fortunate accidents.
These values also eddy through the visual aspects of the site, including the logo. Click here for Rupert’s explanation of how the original imagery evolved.
And the Babelfish? My work has often run counter-current, hence the imagery of fish swimming against the flow. At Volans and SustainAbility, too, we have aimed to drive the discussion of problems upstream – from symptoms to causes in pursuit of real cures.
But maybe the story runs deeper still. I was born in a mill-house cottage on an island in the Kennet, a tributary of the Thames. Later, as a child, I would find myself surrounded by elvers on a moonless night in Northern Ireland, or communing with wildlife along rivers in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset.
And once we had decided to use fish for our new logo, the imagery proved surprisingly apt. Fish, it turns out, symbolise reproduction, life, freedom, the emotions, our unconscious, the quest for enlightenment, flashes of intuition, prophecy, fertility, plenty, prosperity, good luck, longevity and rebirth. Salmon, the ultimate homing fish and recently returned to the upper Thames, near our London home, symbolise wisdom – vital in a world flooded with data and information.
And that’s where the Babelfish fits in. Brainchild of the late, great sci-fi author Douglas Adams, it was billed as the universal translator. Slip the creature into your ear, we were told, and you could suddenly understand all the Galaxy’s languages. If any one organism symbolises my aspirations, and my work across the turbulent, blurring boundaries between business, financial markets, governments and civil society, this is it.
And don’t get carried away by the hype: an EDF promotion in 2009
Finally, for the record, here is the text in which the original website designers, Rupert Bassett and Lynne Elvins, explained the origins of the fish logo:
Part of the original CounterCurrent design for this website, by Rupert Bassett
Pre 2008 Design by Rupert Bassett
John’s original design brief was to produce graphic imagery which would convey the idea of “swimming against the stream”, a strong metaphor for his campaigning lifestyle. In addition to this, as he communicates using many different forms of media, I was looking to create a flexible graphic system which could be applied quickly and consistently across multiple formats.
The Generic Form
The solution was to create a single generic graphic form, from which all other graphic imagery required could be built by the simple process of repetition. The generic form was constructed using two dynamic sweeping curves, giving an apparently organic and naturalistic shape, without closely representing any specific identifiable aquatic lifeform.
The curves of the generic form were very carefully located within a grid structure of regular squares. This grid structure is an essential device to facilitate the regular repetition of the generic form in the creation of graphic imagery, and for the integration of other design elements. Any typographic or photographic forms can be sized and positioned according to the dimensions of the grid.
Pre 2008 Production by Lynne Elvins
From a production point of view, there are aspects of this website that are particularly suited to John’s approach and others that have been incorporated as part of good website design practice.
To Blog or Not to Blog
Equally, ‘welcome pages’ are normally to be avoided as they just present a page-barrier between the visitor and the information they want to get at as quickly as possible. But as this site is personal rather than corporate, the welcome page offers an appropriate ‘pause’ before revealing the various paths on offer. John recently mentioned that his daughter Hania thought the site looked like an art gallery, which is praise indeed, and hopefully means an overall aim of creating a ‘reflective space’ was achieved.
Access for All
Incorporating these social issues into website design is just one of a whole range of approaches within the wider sustainable design field. The impact for this website is that the pages have been produced without tables, there is no text locked within images or ‘flash’, each image has a ‘description tag’, we have used ‘web-safe’ colours and you won’t find any links that say ‘click here’.