Little Grey Cells #2… any implied 'how you should do it' – you should throw away

* Anthony Rose has been inventing since his teens. Having been hired by the BBC to execute the iPlayer and now having launched the Zeebox, Monty’s Outlook catches up with him for a look at his Little Grey Cells:

Good digital design is all about:

Creating propositions that fulfil their audience’s need, are easy for the man in the street to understand and use, and that never make you feel foolish or frustrated.

I got into technology when I was about 12 years old:

I made a hot belt surface mount reflow machine and a robot pick-and-place machine. It was a robot system to assemble circuit boards with miniaturised technology – probably not something the average school kid had in his bedroom.

I designed circuit-boards for Panasonic and Apple. I made ones that were explosion-proof and that could go down coal mines, and I made consumer electronics. I formed my own one-man company – and then at some point, I figured I needed to grow the company or figure out something else to do.

Maybe I was tired of getting my hair burnt with the soldering iron, but a friend said there was an opportunity to get into real-time 3D graphics, and put together a software team making interactive movies, for the SEGA platform.

In the 1990s I decided to switch from hardware to software. I have been in consumer media propositions since then. First with real-time 3D graphics, then with a digital music store, then Kazaa, then with BBC iPlayer and now on Zeebox.

Developing the iPlayer taught me that you should never do what people tell you to do:

I was hired by the BBC to take on the iPlayer. It had been developed but was not ready to be launched as a consumer proposition. I initially thought the problem was going to be with the technology choices – but I quickly realised that the tech-team were being pulled in different directions.

Whenever somebody asks you to make something, you should unpick the ‘what’ it is that they are asking for. Any implied ‘how you should do it’ – you should throw away. Once you do that, things become clearer.

With the software developers I work with now, I encourage them to listen to the spirit of what I want, to completely ignore the way that I tell them to do it and to come up with a way that surprises and delights me – even more than the way I had suggested.

The concept behind Zeebox:

It allows you to turn TV into a new type of two-way interactive experience. We used to watch TV, and it would wash over you. Those days are gone, everyone now has tablets and smartphones and they are doing stuff on them as they watch TV.

Zeebox converts TV from being a solitary experience that is not interactive into something that is social: it helps you find things to watch based on what is popular, what’s trending, what your friends are watching and server recommendations.

The person who inspired me most as a kid was Bertrand Russell:

He was an iconoclast, so different and so often happy to speak his mind even though it was at odds with what society expected at the time. I must admit re-reading him many years later, he was non-PC and somewhat outdated.

Many years ago thought, I found it inspiring to both read his entirely logical analysis of fuzzy philosophical areas and observe somebody who could be an expert in the completely different domains of philosophy and mathematics.

I love living in London:

It is the centre of the media world in Europe. Our office is in Covent Garden, and most of the media world is within walking distance. Compare that to Silicon Valley or LA, where you’ll spend hours driving around – in London you can move from Google to Facebook to Twitter – to a media agency to some start-ups – all within a 15-minute walk.

What I really love doing the most is working with smart team members turning ideas into reality:

Ideas are cheap and implementation is expensive. There are always more things that you can think of, than you can possibly execute. The thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, is the excitement I get when you brainstorm an idea and then figuring out how it can be implemented.

I also love making technology building blocks that can be used for today’s needs as well as the unknown needs of tomorrow. If you get it right you can innovate and deliver new features way faster than your competitors, and hopefully as fast as your users would like them.

* Anthony Rose tweets here, more information about Zeebox here

Tim Healey (15 Posts)

Tim is a DJ, music producer and digital advertiser.