Six wild years at Bright Signals: a retrospective

At the end of September I’m leaving Bright Signals to take up an exciting new role with Glasgow Life, the charity that runs Glasgow’s public museums, galleries, libraries, sports facilities, and numerous festivals, where I’ll be leading the future direction of their digital technology and platforms.

So, with just a couple of weeks to go, this feels like a good time to look back at what I’ve been doing with my time over the past six years. Here are some of my favourite projects.

The Watercooler

I was freelancing for Bright Signals for a while before I officially joined the team. I was mostly working on silly creative ideas, like a magic water-into-wine water dispenser and a ghostly wifi typewriter, two ideas which became the inspiration behind the Tennent’s Watercooler, our first physical build.

The Tennent’s Watercooler

The bicycle jukebox

I officially joined Bright Signals as Deputy MD in June 2015. One of my first projects was to develop a green energy mobile jukebox for the Summer Nights festival at Kelvingrove. We only had around a fortnight to plan and build both the hardware and software, but it turned out nice. In fact, the guitar sculpture is still in the Bright Signals office today!

Magners Six Stringer Guitar / Jukebox

T5s instant replay cameras

This was a fairly ambitious project to offer free-to-use instant replay cameras to 5-a-side football centres across Scotland. Tennent’s Lager funded the project and I designed and built both the camera hardware and software in-house.

At the height of T5s we had over 40 cameras running at centres across Scotland and the north of England. Clips from our cameras would regularly ‘go viral’, being shared by famous footballers and reaching millions of viewers around the world. Clips even made it onto the Late Late Show and Fox Sports in the US.

The high point for my home-grown technology was when the BBC asked to use it to film the epic, 57-hour match between Alan Shearer and Robbie Savage in aid of Sport Relief.

Alan Shearer and Robbie Savage playing at Media City, with my T5s button in shot

The mind reading machine

Explore are specialists in adventure travel. They offer hundreds of different itineraries to dozens of countries around the world, all led by their expert local guides. I identified a pain point in the consumer journey: the paralysis of too much choice. My solution: what if we could just read their minds and tell consumers what holiday they want?

The client loved it, but one challenge remained: how could we reliably read minds?! My research took me to an innovative California startup who had developed a reliable, non-invasive EEG brainwave scanning machine. Unlike existing medical systems, their technology didn’t require shaved heads and conductive jelly.

I developed custom software which interfaced with their cutting-edge hardware. The system showed consumers a two minute film — basically a highlights reel of all of their locations and activities around the world — all tracked and timecoded. The system worked brilliantly, regularly leaving customers and journalists stunned at the accuracy of its predictions. It got loads of positive press, including a cover story in the Daily Mail’s travel section.

The Explore Travel mind reading setup

Magners Mostly Haunted

Another fun/crazy one. To celebrate the launch of Magners Dark Fruits at Halloween, we took over the Drovers Inn — Scotland’s most haunted pub — and held a seance. I created a number of wireless gadgets and tricks for the night, including a self-ringing bell and a tape recorder which could magically channel ghostly voices in addition to what had been recorded in the room. I also built a number of low-cost infra-red cameras, allowing us to capture the terrified reactions of our guests in almost zero light.

Magners Mostly Haunted, at the Drovers Inn

Edinburgh Fringe

In 2019 we were commissioned to produce the Edinburgh Fringe creative campaign. As Creative Director, I led the overall campaign, commissioning Bruno Mangyoku to illustrate the iconic Fringe programme cover. I also came up with the concept and design for the Fringe Inspiration machine, which the talented Thom at Sorenzo built, while I wrote the software and produced the electronics.

For 2020 I had the privilege of working with one of my favourite modern artists, Butcher Billy. I’ve had Billy’s artwork in my house since 2014, and it was a real joy to get to meet him, fly him to Scotland, and work with him on the 2020 campaign.

It’s such a shame that the 2020 Fringe was cancelled due to the pandemic and his work didn’t get maximum exposure. One day we’ll collaborate again!

The Fringe Inspiration Machine

Edinburgh Gin’s ad campaign

This was another biggie for us. Bright Signals was commissioned to produce a TV ad and outdoor poster campaign for Edinburgh Gin. My role was Creative Director on the outdoor campaign and exec-CD on the TV ad.

Both projects were a load of fun: I worked with the amazing photographer Jonathan Knowles on the outdoor campaign, and we teamed up with Glassworks VFX for the TV ad, which was a seamless 40-second mix of real-life action and CG.

Edinburgh Gin, shot by JK

And a ton of other amazing projects…

…too many to mention, like a full animatronic reindeer head for Tennent’s, a beer-dispensing exercise bike for Menabrea, a Sjoelen machine for Heverlee, a full-size rugby scrum machine for the 6 Nations, and a series of coin-op arcade machines for Tennent’s, working with the talented crew at Studio Something. And then there was the commissioned stuff, like the Scotrail Flatterbox I built for John Doe, and the Jura Phone Boxes I created for Punk.

Away from physical builds, I had a lot of fun leading the design and development of an all-new web and app platform for STV News, websites for Linn Products and Innis & Gunn along with some great campaigns for Roku Gin, HarperCollins, and Tennent’s Lager.

We made some fun personal stuff too. Like Santa’s Claw, the Christmas present vending machine for our clients (featuring me as Santa). We made personalised present videos for many of our clients alongside this generic version.

What’s next?

I’m pleased to be leaving Bright Signals in great shape. Over my time as Deputy MD we’ve grown the team from around five permanent staff to 30 today, and we’ve moved from a frankly dangerous favela in the Hidden Lane to an amazing office within the former Trinity College building next to Park Circus.

I wish the company and team well, and I can’t wait to see what they achieve next.

For me, I hope that I can be of great service to Glasgow Life and the city I grew up in. It’ll be a genuine privilege working for the people of the city, and I hope I can make a real difference.

I’m still a hands-on maker at heart, so if you have a project in mind that sounds up my street then give me a shout. If I can help, I will. And if I can’t, I’m sure to know someone who can.

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