SteamPunk Design – What is it exactly?


Firstly I must say that I absolutely love this genre of design. As a way of inspiring and influencing students to think creatively with their design work it is brilliant. They have to:

  • Explore design and product history fully to understand
  • Make creative decisions about the mix of aesthetics and technology
  • Look carefully at the amalgam of materials and manufacturing methods
  • Be aware of the need for combining form and function in their work
  • Provides for some really cool sketch, concept and graphics work

What more do you need?

I first became aware of SteamPunk as a consequence of watching some very entertaining (in my opinion) films – ‘Mad Max’, ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentleman‘, ‘The Wild, Wild West‘ and the ‘Fifth Element’ to name a few.

  Image   Image

But what is SteamPunk exactly?

The genre seems to have originated during the 1980s and includes key design elements and influence from the areas of sci-fi, fantasy and history.  My design students have taken a lot of influence from the genre, and have used that influence successfully in their A-Level design work, but trying to hang a summative phrase to sum up the movement is not easy.

Image    Image

Having trawled ‘t’interweb’ and looked in some books the best single phrase that sums up SteamPunk design for me is this:

‘What the 21st century thinks that the Victorians thought the 21st century would be like’

There is no doubt that the opportunity to design products that embrace this genre facilitates that ‘creative juice’ flow. Kids get it; they run with it and, to a certain extent, are not constrained over and above the historical context.

cufflinks steam punksteampunk-usb






The opportunity to explore an eclectic range of traditional materials in their work (copper, brass, steel, wood….but remember NO plastics other than to create models that represent the genre 😉 ) means any manufacturing work that you do supports the theory with regard to design and making, using tools, machines and processes to fabricate their idea. Guys and girls are all motivated (jewellery, transport, fashion, tech products…) can all be tackled.

     Image  Image  steampunk laptop

If you are looking for a starting point to kick off a project then SteamPunk is a massively fun and creative way forward.


No links to key sites on this blog entry – Google is your friend. Go and have a look.

You’ll be inspired.

School Open Days – What Should You Look Out For?


I read an article some years ago that I bookmarked because it had some interesting points in it. The article appeared in the ‘Good Schools Guide’ and offered some advice to parents who were thinking of attending school ‘open days’.  As we look to start new terms and academic years I thought it might be prudent to revisit this topic adding from my own experience as someone who has worked in several independent schools nationally and internationally.

In reality ‘open days’ serve two purposes. Firstly to allow schools the opportunity to ‘show off’ what they have regarding facilities, campus and to a certain extent key staff (you could call it marketing opportunity) in the hope that they attract you, the paying customer, to buy in to their product.  The second purpose should be to allow prospective parents the opportunity to have a good ‘nose around’, to be able to ask key questions about the place and to facilitate the initial gathering of important information.

Independent schools pursue various open day strategies. According to the ‘Good Schools Guide’…

some aim to maintain a business-as-usual approach (Canford,) whilst others run a “cracking good day out” (Uppingham), offer flavoured milkshakes for younger siblings (Wellington) or strive towards “the look and feel of a wedding reception” (Marlborough)”.

Initial Research – Web and Social Media

Before any shortlist of possible ‘Open days’ is made (and once you have assimilated any other information you have available to you e.g. you were an ‘old boy’ of the school, your friends have kids there etc.) your initial research must start ‘on line’ first. In this day and age the School website is the equivalent to what was the main sign outside the school gates – it is the main signage point. Check out the schools web presence – what is the site like? Is it easy to navigate and get to the information you want? What do they value most on their home page? Is it all about the Head and his/her philosophies and ‘school aims & objectives’?  Is it all about sport, outdoor pursuits and music or does it flag academic achievement too? Does it grab you? Is the impression one of traditional and ‘old school’, contemporary and ‘current’ or a happy blend of ‘heritage and forward thinking’? What are YOU looking for?


Also, don’t forget to check out the other social media ports of call – primarily Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. The former is less likely to have an actual school page (but some do) whilst Twitter is certainly the most current method of circulating information by schools and it is growing all the time. Linkedin is a useful resource to gather more information about staff and can offer insight into the nature of human resources that a school has (where they came from, how long they have been there etc.).

So, once that initial research has been made…

How do you get the most out of a school open day?

  • Upon arrival, as you drive up to the gates and on through, what does your initial gut reaction tell you? Are they well kept and organised surroundings? Clear and concise directions? Pleasant and friendly ushers/guides/parking attendants?


  • Once herded in (I use the term loosely) and with a glass in hand listen attentively to any of the initial talks/speeches given by the Head/Headmistress. How do they present themselves? Look around at the other staff that are present (normally Senior Management, HODs – Heads Of Departments – and House staff) and gauge their responses to the speech. Are they smiling and nodding approvingly or not paying attention and standing there disinterested? You can learn a lot from how the other staff react to their boss talking.
  • Talk to as many pupils as you can around the place. Asking them which subjects are best is not always a good call (although it will offer you some insight). If they are senior pupils they may not have come up all the way through the school and will only be studying three to five out of the fifteen or so subjects on offer. That said, do ask what they do during breaks and (if it is a boarding school) what they do in the evenings. Also, if you feel a little ‘Harry Potterish’, ask them what they would change about the school if they had a magic wand.  You can get some good responses to that.
  • Try not to judge the entire school on the basis of one shy boy or over gregarious girl who shows you around. The flip side to this is that some schools do use first or second year pupils to do tours as they offer quite a fresh and honest approach to your questioning and are not yet caught up in the deep rooted school rhetoric. If schools do this – they have confidence in what they do (Cranleigh does this for example).
  • Try to chat to some other parents at the initial drinks/refreshments upon arrival. What do you think of them? Are they ‘your kind’ of people? Would you be happy for your children to mix with theirs?  It may sound very sad but you need to be honest with yourself here. It’s a big investment and needs careful consideration, as socially there is a lot to be gained for yourselves as much as for your kids.
  • Seek out the school noticeboards. Are they well kept, neat and current? Is there a lot of diverse activity going? For example, Music, Art, Design, Theatre, Sports (including details of matches), details of chapel and pastoral care, commendations/merits and awards etc. Is there a board showing all the staff photos and department heads? Do they look happy?


  • For me one of the most important (and most underused) marketing tools in a school is its loo’s. Nothing is more revealing about a school’s priorities than its lavatories. Is there information up on the walls about recent achievements (academic and sporting) up and coming events and so forth? Are they clean and fresh looking – well kept?
  • If your child will be boarding, try to get around to a couple of boarding houses at least. Admittedly most schools allow Housemasters/Housemistresses to stamp their own feel on a place so hopefully the boarding houses will have their own individual feel but do try to take a close look at the sleeping accommodation to see what it is like. Single rooms? Dormitories? Social areas? Amid all the tours, lectures and wine, this is the part of the visit most easily neglected.
  • If your child is to be a day pupil what facilities do they have (as above minus the sleeping arrangements)?
  • If you have the time don’t be afraid to wander off-piste: you’re not a pupil, nobody is going to tell you off.

Most importantly NEVER judge the school by its open day alone!

Use it solely as a starting point. You will probably be able to drop one or two off your radar at this juncture – but then you must arrange to pop back for a more personally tailored visit or one-to-one chat with the Head/Headmistress and other key staff as you, and your child, sees fit.

Remember that a school open day is the time for that first initial contact. It should give you, the parent, an initial feel for the school and provide you with enough information to be able to make some pretty important judgement calls. If you have not got what you need don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and ask.  They should be only too keen to help.

Marketing vs. Advertising – Doing it Right in Schools…


It is often the case that schools know too much about their product (education) and not enough about their customers (the parents).

There is a monumental difference between why you think someone should invest in your school and why someone does not invest.

This gap between the two is bridged by what we can refer to commonly as ‘marketing’.


So what are we really talking about here?

If your first thought is advertising – ‘getting the word out’ and letting people know you exist/what you can offer them, then you may well be missing the most important point.

Let me give you an example of a School Head who was able to multiply their return on their efforts with parents by shifting that initial focus from advertising to marketing.

Paddling Without A Paddle


My client, let us refer to him as ‘James’, is a colleague of longstanding who had recently taken over the Headship of a small prep school that offers a unique and diverse curriculum. He emailed me a copy of a promotional flyer he was working on. He asked for my feedback.

“So, what did you think?”  He asked.

“To be honest, I haven’t a clue.” I said.

Although a tad perturbed by my response I then asked him two critical questions:

  1. Who, exactly, are you trying to reach with this flyer?
  2. Why do you think that the main bullet points on the flyer are what your customers want to know?

James admitted that although he had a general idea of the ‘type’ of parent he was trying to reach, he didn’t have a clear answer to the second question.  His mistake is a common one.

He had made the assumption that what was important to him was also important to his clients – the parents.

James’s boat was bobbing in the turbulent waters of the marketplace, but he only had one paddle in the water – the “advertising” paddle. As a consequence he was simply going around in circles and was in desperate need of that second paddle to even things up. We will call this the “marketing” paddle.

Marketing is that essential area of management attention that is determined through on-going observation, research, and analysis to answer key questions, questions such as:

  • Who are your customers (parents)?
  • How do they think?
  • Where are they located?
  • How do they choose which school to invest their money in?

In short, your marketing efforts drive your lead generation (advertising) by revealing what is most important to your best customers.

An Important Announcement, which carries No Value.

Consider, if you will, the idea of an audacious banner spanning the front page of the school website (or indeed hanging on the school gates…) proudly announcing that the school is “Under New Management


To a new Head, fulfilling a lifelong dream, this is an exciting and important message.

However, to a passer-by, that banner says nothing more than that there has probably been trouble in the past, an unsteady ship.  Think about it.

To a previously unsatisfied parent, that sign may deter them even more. “What? Same uncreative curriculum, delivered differently? New teachers teaching the same old stuff?”

Had more time been spent in marketing, you might have discovered that your customers are extremely interested in your expansion to ‘embrace a GCSE curriculum, your investment in new staff to cater for additional languages, the new sports hall proposals to cement stronger links with the local community…‘ and you could have more effectively used that web banner/front gate banner space to proclaim your developments.

There really is no ‘target market’ for “Under New Management.”

Clichés are exactly that; cliché

As we analysed James’s flyer, he began to see that he had created the equivalent of the “Under New Management” banner.  He had listed significant-sounding clichés that seemed to offer important benefits:  “Conveniently located,” “knowledgeable, friendly staff,” “competitive fees,” and “wide intake selection.

When we further considered where his customers were coming from, he understood that he was actually only conveniently located to some – and to others who might be his customers, he was on the wrong side of a constantly congested transport infrastructure.   And given that the alternative to “knowledgeable, friendly staff” is “unfriendly and clueless,” should his customers expect anything less?

‘Competitive fees’ might be important to his target market, but if James understands that his best customers come to him because of his ‘hard-to-find specialty curriculum in Design and Art’ or ‘excellent sporting facilities’, all things being equal fee pricing may not be of primary concern.

A key attraction to those parents looking at his school might be James’ ability to provide ‘products and services’ that are unavailable from his competitors. This is important.

  • Marketing is a collection of activities that go on internally, within your school.
  • Marketing is your on-going effort to question, observe, and understand your parents and their genuine attraction to your school.

In the rush to advertise, James ignored the most important key to effective lead generation:

Taking the time to understand what your parents care about, and how to most effectively communicate to them that you KNOW them.  

Marketing vs. Advertising

  • The marketing paddle is your understanding of who your parents are.
  • The advertising paddle is about clearly articulating the promises your school makes to them.

Effective lead generation comes from remaining hyper-aware of the balance between the two and maintaining that connection at every point of contact between you and your customers (your parents)

With proper marketing, advertising becomes a matter of broadcasting the fact that you know what your parents want and are ready to provide it.   It has to be based on what they are thinking, not what you are thinking.

Effective marketing efforts make your advertising decisions informed and strategic rather than solely based on your personal preference, happenstance, or what you see everyone else doing.  

The System of Marketing

Social media communication concept

As with any area of your school, you need a system for gathering data about your market.

There are plenty of methods out there that work; you just have to find the one that’s right for your school. Here are some examples:

  • Using appropriate social media to inform and involve your clientele is vital. For example, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are currently amongst the most obvious, important and widely used. This will open channels of communication with your parents in addition to phone calls and email (see below).
  • Create and establish a website presence, electronic newsletters, blogs or physical brochures with relevant and informative content that your parents can subscribe and respond to. This will also help to open channels of communication with your parents.
  • Conduct simple surveys. There are many great resources for creating electronic surveys out there such as
  • Install email marketing software such as or for reaching your clients. These services allow you to analyse and filter the results of your advertising efforts so you can immediately see what your clients respond to and what they don’t.

However you decide to gather this relevant data, there are some essential key questions that do need to be addressed:

  1. Who is it you are trying to attract? Why?
  2. Who are your ‘favourite’ parents currently – the ones you would like to clone?
  3. What characteristics do they all have in common?  Age, income level, geographic clusters, family status, etc.
  4. What are their lives like and how do you fit in to what appeals to them?
  5. What problems is your school and its provision going to solve for them?
  6. What is the most important message for your parents to hear from you as a Head? How will you emotionally appeal to them?

Once you ask the right questions of your parents, you’ll start getting the right answers. These answers will tell you what your parents need to hear from you in order to feel connected to you and your school.

It’s funny how things turn out…cars, design, education or rock music?

I have had some really lovely comments back from folk who have stopped by to read a post from my blog. Thank you. 

Originally aiming to ‘drop stuff off’ mainly on design and education I have also thrown some other bits into the mix that relate to my passion for all things automotive (as can be seen from my header photo – the two toys in my life – a Caterham nee Lotus Seven and an Aprilia Moto 6.5 designed by Philippe Starck – one of my favourite designers).  I have had quite a few emails requesting some information on these two so I will be writing something about them shortly for you. In the meantime…




My point for this entry is this. Although I originally wanted to share my professional experiences and passion for design education (I am a Design Teacher by trade….) there is obviously a tide of interest in my passion for petrol-head stuff.  And I can write all day on that area of study too!  My other love is good-old-fashioned-toe-tapping-Rock-music such as AC/DC, Van Halen, ZZ-Top, Chickenfoot (and loads more besides…).

Oh, and I love the cartoon character ‘Wile E Coyote‘ too…(‘Wile7 is my car forum handle). So, I will diversify a little to include more on the ‘other stuff’ whilst retaining the design education focus as well.

Below is a photo of Brian Johnson (Lead singer with AC/DC) parking his beloved 1928 4.5 Litre Bentley Touring affectionately named ‘Thunder Guts’. A great mix of rock and automotive icons 🙂


Don’t forget to check out my ‘V2education Daily’ on Twitter for updated news.

Again – Thanks for reading – I really appreciate it!


Design Council – What is Good Design?

An excellent video from the Design Council in the UK that explains succinctly what, exactly, Good Design is.

Tutorial: Sketching the side view of a car using Markers

I have jumped a head a bit here with this marker tutorial (not mine I might add, but one from a very good YouTube channel I subscribe too – iDCreatures). I like this though and I will post the pencil sketching tutorials I use shortly.

Sketching with a pencil on paper is a key design skill. In my teaching I spend considerable time on honing basic sketching skills in both 2D and 3D with my students – starting off as soon as I can with them.

This video shows how you can work quickly with markers and ‘sketch’ just like you would with a pencil.

Having confidence is key…confidence to make mistakes and not worry about them on the paper. I hope you like it.

Want to know what INDUSTRIAL DESIGN is?

This is a short, simple, rather cool video that I stumbled upon that offers an overview of what INDUSTRIAL DESIGN is as a creative and academic discipline.

It’s kinda groovy….and very informative. Well, I liked it so I thought I’d share it 😉

Outstanding A-Level Results at Cranleigh School, UK

Outstanding A-Level Results at Cranleigh School, UK

Okay, I am slightly biased as for 4 years I have been working there as Design Director but some fantastic results nonetheless! Well done to all students and staff!

Design Fail? Poor Design? Or Just Plain Stupid?


This summer holiday we were once again enjoying the delights of hot weather, blue skies and wonderful cool seas whilst staying at my wife’s parents place down on the coast near Perpignan in the south of France (about 20 minutes up from the boarder with Spain).

My in-laws have a lovely modest home; comfy, cool and wonderfully located. They recently had some work done to increase the outside terrace area and part of this included the fitment of a brand new stair rail for the outside steps. Two reasons for this. Firstly, to stop young grand kids from possibly stumbling through the gaps in the old design and secondly to help the in-laws (both in their 80’s) to get up and down the steps.

The problem is this.

The stair rail is made out of extruded aluminium. Looks cool BUT when you can get temperatures that regularly reach 36 Centigrade (97 Fahrenheit) and sometimes more during the day, by 10.00am you can’t touch it. In fact, you can probably fry an egg on it.

So, not only can my in-laws not use it to help them get up and down (except at night…when it’s dark…and that can be a giggle…another ‘Design fail’ thought for discussion at some point…)

I am angry at this. As a teacher of Design (and Technology) the basic requirements and needs of the customer have been ignored. They were not well advised on what material to use (given the options extruded UPVC would have been better I think) and they were also sold the most expensive option.

I am now trying to source a paint finish that can be applied to reduce the levels of conduction…

But hey, it looks cool even if it does not feel cool – ever.

5 Top Tips For Starting Your First Education Website or Blog

Assuming, like me, your first website was made for ‘free’ initially (i.e. until you knew what you were doing/where you were going you just wanted to get something ‘out there’ before investing in a paid for template) then you will probably be using one of the many ‘free’ hosting providers like Wix (for example). These are great to get you started but what do you actually need to know to take that first step?

Here are the 5 tips I would pass on to anyone thinking of taking that first step based on my own experience.

1. Don’t use an ‘Education’ template

Keep clear of the ‘education’ or ‘teaching’ templates from the providers. I don’t know why (and it is very sad) but for some reason when these providers design for educational templates they seem to lose the will to live creatively and only give you the choice of very stereotypical, bland, uninspiring options that hark back to teachers in gowns and mortise boards, pictures of pencils and rulers and folk scribbling on chalk boards.

My first template for a school department website came from an ‘architectural resource’ selection if I remember correctly. Have a good nose around the options and see what’s there. You may find what you want in ‘Food and Cakes’ or ‘Photography’ or somewhere else….

2. White Space is Important

Try to avoid templates that have overuse of imagery, graphics and photos – to such an extent that the amount of ‘whitespace’ (the actual white surface of the page) is almost obscured. This can make your site appear cluttered and chaotic to initial page viewers.

Instead, choose something that keeps things simple and allows folk to see the information you want easily, quickly and clearly. You can always introduce more colour/photos/imagery as you go by upgrading to other web templates as your site develops (and you grow in confidence based on the feedback you receive!)

3. Font and Image Choice Is Crucial

Of course it can come down to the simple element of personal choice BUT on a ‘freebie’ web/blog template your choice will be limited (its one of those things that you pay for when you upgrade – greater choice).

Regarding fonts I would personally steer clear of Courier, Times New Roman and the such like. No, I am not saying they are ‘bad’ but it is important for your site to look fresh and current (and remember that the world is a fickle place – fashions and trends change especially within Graphic Design). Also, avoid chunky and cartoony fonts. Choose fonts that are crisp and clear and easy to read in a range of sizes. Calibri, Arial, Helvetica can work well to start with.

Use one font only and use the available tools to change its size, bold or italic it to give you presence on the page. Trust me. It works. As soon as you mix up fonts it looks terrible.

Regarding imagery, avoid ‘stock’ photos where possible. They can look ‘cheesy’ and unless you are very good at selecting them they will cheapen your site. If you must have a stock image to begin with try to keep to greyscale (black and white) photos to keep things subtle. Again, it’s your choice and maybe when you have something on the page it does look good and work well. Many free sites may not allow you to upload your own images though. Even if they do – do you actually have any ready to go? See point 4 below.

4. Prepare Copy in Advance

Get writing your text for your website/blog in advance using ‘Word’ or similar. Build up a few articles (and gather a few images/photos in a folder that you can use) that collate your thoughts so that you can easily upload over a period of time. That way you can update your site/blog easily and it looks like you are a prolific writer! In reality, you have spent every weekend of the past few months reading up on things and writing your thoughts down but hey, you have done the reading, learnt some things and are in a better position to put the proverbial pen to paper.

5. Be confident, be Accurate, be Honest

When you start writing for your site/blog you may well, like me, feel rather anxious about putting your thoughts out into the public domain. It does not matter what anyone says to you about it being ‘okay’ – it can be scary. You have made the decision to put your thoughts ‘out there’ (if only because you are reading this…) so go for it!

Whatever your discipline write honestly and with accuracy. If you take a phrase or quote from somewhere, acknowledge it. Likewise, if you post a complete article by someone else on your own site/blog that is normally fine PROVIDING you give due credit to the author in your post ( and never try to pass something on as your own if, in fact, you have taken it from somewhere else).

If you find this useful do please let me know – and if you have any questions at all fire them in and I will do my best to answer them for you.