The following is a mix of a founding statement, public thinking, and personal writing. Thanks for reading. Please email me if you have reactions, collaboration opportunities, or guiding thoughts.
Over the past several weeks, the shape of Public Good Studio has come into view - we are an outsourced research and design shop for libraries, educational organizations, and those working for the public good.
We help people create tools and products that live on the web and in the physical world. We create physical computing devices, applications for web and mobile, interactive storefront installations, novel algorithms, object and metadata repositories, public display and signage systems, web archiving tools, document indexing and searching software, whimsical experiences, and loosely defined, speculative systems.
Today, Public Good Studio is just me, Matt Phillips, focusing energy on one project, Private Talking Spaces. But, the Studio wants to be more - it wants to support many people and many projects over many years.
Over the last six years, I contributed to projects large and small in the Harvard Library Innovation Lab. LIL is a special place, and is certainly the best spot I’ve ever worked - smart, kind, driven people dreaming and building in libraries, law, and technology.
At LIL, I was fortunate enough to collaborate with amazing people to build things I’m deeply proud of - Perma.cc, AwesomeBox, StackLife, The Fellows Program, Private Talking Spaces, and many, many more. The Lab taught me how to think big, and get prototypes in front of people quickly.
The past three years in the Lab were especially rewarding - I was able to work daily with LIL’s managing director, Adam Ziegler, to expand and define the Lab. With Adam, I learned how to hire and manage a team of people, raise money, grow a culture and a physical space, and think a couple of steps into the future. I learned how to focus a group’s energy on a large problem, while still contributing technically and creatively.
I can’t say enough good things about my years in the Lab. That place fundamentally shaped the way I think and behave. It introduced me to amazing people, and greatly expanded my field of view. Long live LIL!
LIL was and is golden, but in the summer of 2016 I started feeling pretty restless in Boston. For many years, I’d wanted to build my own thing - my own shop. I had tried in the past and failed - right before LIL, I cofounded a biotech startup with a fellow grad student. Our little venture didn’t make it, but the desire to develop my own thing persisted.
I was restless geographically too, I wanted to move west, to Colorado, to ride bicycles, ski, and explore the big mountains.
One Saturday in late July, 2017, I realized that my lease was almost up. I’d need to sign up for another year of my Boston apartment by September 1st. That forced me to think about what I wanted to accomplish and how I wanted to spend my time over the next 12 months. Like strong magnets, my mind was constantly drawn to two recent encounters, Blue Origin and Work-Shop.
Blue Origin is a private aerospace company in Kent, WA. I was fortunate enough to tour Blue Origin last year, and it left a deep impression on me - here, a group of people, are working to create a space tourism service, and launch private satellites into orbit! I had a sense of what Blue Origin was pursuing, but its influence wasn’t felt until I walked through the shop - people gather here to solve big physical and non-physical engineering and design problems. They want to sell tickets to space!
In 2015 (and still), I was thinking a lot about aural privacy and security, and phone call spaces for folks working in libraries - the energy that would become Private Talking Spaces. The project needed shape and fortunately, Work-Shop was willing to help. The months I spent collaborating with Work-Shop on PTS showed me so much - one small shop, with just a few folks, can design and fabricate delightful physical and digital objects. Across domains and across media.
Blue Origin inspired me, and Private Talking Spaces was constant in my thoughts - if Blue Origin can figure out how to sell tickets to space, I can spin up a studio and use Private Talking Spaces as a launching pad. And, I know it can be done at a scale I can approach, because I’ve observed Work-Shop do it!
Within four weeks of realizing my lease would be due, I had purchased a car, tossed the cats in, and started the roadtrip to my new home, Denver, CO. Thank you, Harvard Library Innovation Lab. Thank you, Boston. Love you. I’m off to explore something new!
The Studio will generate revenue by selling products we create on the open market. We’ll help public good organizations create and share too, by offering our design and development resources as services.
Making and selling our own products will keep us sharp as practitioners. Collaborating with others through services will keep us connected to our community and help us explore new domains and new ways of thinking. Plus, it’s just plain fun to develop new ideas with new people.
By selling goods and services, we can explore scale. Internally, and externally with clients, we’ll observe the 0 to 1 leap that occurs when an idea is turned into software, physical object, or experience. On the open market, we’ll sell our goods and explore the 1 to N leap that occurs when anyone with web connection can get the object you created. Commercialization.
We’re big fans of Adam Grant’s ideas about giving and how the pie isn’t fixed - we can create value. We believe that we can make money while making good. We are a for-profit Limited Liability Corporation that sells value generating, socially beneficial services and goods at fair prices.
During product development, both internal and external, we always keep the exit strategy in focus. We want to decide where we’re going, and walk in that direction purposefully. The walks meet a range of possibilities, from putting the deliverable in the public domain, to productizing the effort and selling it on the open market.
One of the Studio’s loftiest aspirations is to create a reproducible pattern of productization that can be applied widely in the public good space. We’re solving for that pattern now with Private Talking Spaces. With PTS, we think we can add privacy and boost focus in open environments, and create a steady revenue stream for ourselves - one that can float speculative development and fuel additional collaborations.
We want to enable new opportunities by supporting efforts and organizations, large and small. We lower the organizational risk attached to tool and product creation - we bill for one discrete set of deliverables, which is often a safer bet, and an easier sell to the checkwriters, when compared to adding FTEs.
We create physical computing devices by first prototyping with the Arduino and Raspberry Pi platforms, then by fabricating PCBs that can withstand real world excursions.
We build loosely coupled modules of logic that can be distributed across multiple caching, storage, and computing infrastructures.
We build interactive displays and delightful storefront installations using acrylic, wood, and cardboard precisely cut on a laser cutter.
We use InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop to create web assets, and to design booklets, posters, and other printed collateral.
We spend time behind the curtain too. We ship software that indexes documents, and connects people to them using search interfaces. We make organizational schemes for large datasets, and we deliver tools that help web archivists and their WARC files.
We value and create well packaged deliverables, with delightful design and usability that feels natural. We aim to draw from the tapered edges of the bell curve when we build.
While we’re making Private Talking Spaces into a sellable good, we want to, in parallel, develop the service side of the Studio too. We want to co-develop with you - please drop us an email and let’s build something amazing together. Thank you.
December 6, 2017
Public Good Studio