Recent adventures


A few weeks ago I met Holly Benyon from Changeworks with a view to partnering on an Interface Innovation Voucher. We’re hoping to find innovative ways to upcycle artefacts from cleared offices, but also we’re looking at solar roofs, smartboard technologies, palette and vertical gardens.

Merchiston Library Garden

I took a walk around the Merchiston library garden with Sally Jorjani (Academic & Business Liaison (A&BL) Team) on Friday 9th – who is keen to help with the development of this space as a sustainable place. We discussed access to the garden from the library and the provision of strong wi-fi. Another positive response to the project.

New School of Computing Research and Innovation Officer

I met with Alison McIlveen, new SoC Research and Innovation Officer to discuss the development of the Merchsiton Interactive Garden. She was very supportive of the project and had also spoken to the Merchsiton Estates manager about it (who also was keen). It seems that Catering too are eager to have a herb and vegetable plot (as Queen Margaret already have). Alison showed me some Merchiston spaces via printed Google Earth graphics that Estates are already discussing in terms of a garden. Again, a very positive response.

Funding proposals

Currently I’m a part of three funding applications:

  • As UX designer on the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation Permaculture Knowledge Base Project
  • As co-investigator on Research Funding Competition 2016/17 bid: An Interactive Garden at Merchsiton (iGarden), and
  • A Santander Staff Mobility Grant for funding of a permaculture design course

Design Dialogues Workshop: Understanding

On Thursday  8th November I ran the first of four Design Dialogues workshops for Masters students on the topic of ‘understanding’ with a mock brief requiring students to come up with designs for a mobile sustainability garden for Edinburgh primary schools.

Project brief

In light of the challenges of Climate Change, Edinburgh City Council invite tenders to design a mobile, responsive, sustainability garden that can be moved around Edinburgh primary schools to demonstrate the principles of sustainable design.

The garden could include elements such as (but not restricted to):

  • a fruit tree guild
  • a pond
  • water and energy harvesting (e.g. water-butts, solar panels etc)
  • a herb and vegetable plot
  • a food forest
  • a well-being/chill zone,
  • a meeting place
  • a composter
  • tools, structures (e.g. greenhouses, sheds, gates, ovens, etc)

Crucially the garden should also be augmented digitally with appropriate technology – how, is up to the designers but the computational augmentations should deepen understanding of ecological processes, or provide insights into sustainable living.

Some technologies that could be utilized are, (but not restricted to):

  • sensors and actuators
  • projectors
  • audio systems
  • video
  • arduino
  • websites/social media
  • smart phones/watches/tablets
  • displays
  • lighting
  • gaming

Proposers should keep in mind:

  • the carbon footprint of any technologies utilized – the materials used to realize the garden
  • how power to the digital technologies will be supplied?
  • how the garden will be transported?

The students responded well to the challenge, and after brainstorming lots of ideas such as; revealing what is hidden, buddy benches connected to similar projects in the developing world, augmented reality histories of plants, monitored terrariums or ant farms or bee hives, virtual animals, interactive lighting, real-life tamagochis, remote participation, loose parts workshops – they split into three groups to further understand the brief. The plan is for them to further develop their ideas in week two (Envisionment) and three (Design) and present and critique their designs in week four (Evaluation).

Having reviewed their PACT (People, Activities, Contexts, Technologies) analyses – my hope is for the students to develop:

  • a non-screen based interaction design
  • a multimedia sensory, herb-table-garden design
  • an audio/lighting interaction design.

Here’s some images of the session, whiteboards and posters:

Placemaking #1

My hope is that the Estates department of Edinburgh Napier will allocate some land at the Merchiston Campus for a Responsive Permaculture Garden, that also functions as; a living sustainability lab, an outdoor learning and meeting zone, a chill/performance space, and food forest (providing edibles for catering) – but which also connects (appropriately), to digital resources and networks that inspire people to work and live in balance with nature. A garden that gives meaning to the Napier 2020 research themes of – Sustainable Communities, Information Society and Well-being. However, I’m also still pursuing the idea of a garden exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show or the Royal Highland Show.

Following conversations with David Benyon (CiD), Brian Davison (CAVES) and Tom Flint (CiD), I hope to start working with students at undergraduate and post-graduate level to develop ideas about how a responsive permaculture garden could work – I’ve even been given an Arduino UNO to muck about with (thanks Tom). There are considerable technical and design challenges to overcome. At this juncture I’m keen to make the interaction screen-less. I like the idea of the physicalisation and sonification of data, and also developing the garden as an ever-evolving interactive documentary.

Looking to permaculture for inspiration – the first thing to do is to understand the space in which the intervention takes place, so observing, and interacting with the particular environment of the Merchiston Campus is the priority.

There are many spaces that would benefit from a permaculture design intervention at Merchiston – so over the last few days I’ve been photographing some of them with my smart phone (thanks to Jamie Pearson (Napier Sustainability Office), library and security staff for their interest and help):

Sustainable HCI: Insights from Permaculture Workshop

On the 1st September 2016 at Edinburgh Napier University, Prof. David Benyon and I hosted a workshop sponsored by the Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance (SICSA) and the Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction United Kingdom (SIGCHI UK) titled: Sustainability in Human-Computer Interaction: Insights from Permaculture.

Dr. Mike Hazas (Lancaster University) delivered a keynote on “Sustainable Human-Computer Interaction: Current approaches and future directions”, that included startling figures on the energy demands of digital technology. Following this keynote Graham Bell (author, teacher, gardener, agent for change) discussed “Work less, waste nothing, share abundance. – an overview of the permaculture design perspective.

In between the keynotes Dr. Nick Taylor (University of Dundee) informed on the GROW Observatory – a citizens’ observatory for family farmers, gardeners and growers funded by the EC Horizon 2020 program (visit to get involved), and Prof. Shaun Lawson (University of Northumbria) reflected on doing an art-digital tech show garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show (his team won a Gold Medal in 2013!).

Participants contributed enthusiastically to the workshop throughout, and after lunch brainstormed what a permaculture garden supplemented with appropriate digital technology might be like?

There was talk of a modular, mobile permaculture garden that could travel around the country; pop-up permaculture gardens; community technology; gardening as research; augmented-reality gardens, the internet of fungi; presence in gardens; technology-powered by plants; and the blend of digital and real-world permaculture.

Our hope is to develop a computationally enhanced garden in the Edinburgh area that provides a reflective and engaging blended space (a mixed media place) for learning about permaculture, sustainable systems design and encouraging activism.

If you’d like to get involved with the development of this regenerative blended space please contact me at:

Presentations from the workshop

Work less, Waste nothing, Share abundance – Graham Bell
Reflections on doing a show garden at Chelsea RHS Flower Show – Shaun Lawson
The GROW Observatory – Nick Taylor

Northern Soil

In May this year I visited Garden Cottage, Coldstream, Scotland (the oldest food forest garden in the UK) – for a meeting with Andy Goldring (CEO Permaculture Association), Lesley Anderson (Permaculture Scotland) and Graham Bell (author, teacher, gardener).

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the development of a Permaculture KnowledgeBase – an online, location specific, globally distributed permaculture resource and network. More on this at a later date.

Garden Cottage is a magical and inspirational place. The garden, which for many years was an extension of just the Bell family’s living room, has lately been open to visitors too. I don’t want to say too much about it as the film below reveals more than I could put into words.

Graham was kind enough to answer a few questions to camera, and take me on a guided walkabout:

More films are in the offing, so watch this space.