Museum of Foolproof

By Tom Wood @Foolproofer

As part of our celebration of Foolproof’s first decade we have collected together artefacts which tell the story of the business from its humble beginnings to multi-national design superpower.

For a short time we will exhibit the collection at our London office. Viewing may be arranged by request.

Foolproof’s first office

Foolproof's first office

Foolproof opened for business on Monday 2nd September 2002 at these premises in the Bracondale area of Norwich, UK.

The offices comprised a large Portakabin® offered at a peppercorn rent by the local digital agency Studio Soup, in whose office gardens the structure stood. Later condemned as an asbestos risk and demolished, this rather poor external shot is the only photographic record of Foolproof’s first home.

Foolproof’s first mobile phone

Foolproof's first mobile phone

This model 8310 Nokia mobile phone handset was one of the first assets acquired by the new business in 2002.

Though it shows signs of considerable wear we are still able to appreciate its remarkable form factor. From a time before data services placed a greater emphasis on screen size, the focus here is on minimising size and weight. Its ivory and cherry-red casing reminds us of a happier era before phones came in only silver or black, and perhaps is a nod to the stylings of the colourful Apple desktops popular at the time.

Mobile testing kit

Mobile testing kit

This is the company’s first mobile testing kit for field research outside the lab. It travelled thousands of miles across the UK and Europe in a working life between 2002 and 2008.

It contains various pieces of equipment and wiring. The purpose of many of these is lost to history. The most notable item is a SHARP Viewcam. The bulky Hi-8 film cassettes it used were the bain of Foolproof consultants, who were delighted when the digital era of recording finally dawned.

The case’s combination, 766-800, is the last six digits of the company’s original telephone number.

Tom’s first payslip

Tom's first payslip

This hand-written payslip, numbered 02, records the first salary payment to Tom Wood. It was written by Bev Ballard, wife of founder Peter Ballard, while she helped as a part-time finance assistant. Payslip 01 was written for Peter on the same date, but we have been unable to locate it within his private archives.

Shortly after receiving payment for Foolproof’s first projects for Alliance & Leicester and the Nationwide Building Society the partners agreed to start drawing a modest salary. This poignant exhibit reminds us of the sacrifice and humble rewards of the start-up entrepreneur.

Dual-location clocks

Dual location clocks

Foolproof opened its first London office in July 2006. The Folgate Street offices were our London home for just under two years before the move to Hoxton and then to Clerkenwell.

Part of the original decor at Folgate Street was this pair of matching clocks; one showing the time in London, the other showing the time in Norwich. It was a visual reminder that the team was separated by distance, but not time. The clocks reminded us to keep the whole team in mind and underlined the importance of good communication between the offices.

Assorted tat

Assorted tat

Foolproof conducted its first international research for HSBC in March 2005. Since then we have conducted research and consulting engagements across the globe including North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

It’s an unwritten rule that any consultant returning from a foreign assignment must bring back a gaudy memento: partly to brighten the office, mostly to brag about the glamorous assignment they’ve just completed. This group of objects represents a relatively small sample of the collection we have built over the years.

OSS reports

OSs reports

The Online Shopping Survey (OSS) series remains one of Foolproof’s most abiding achievements. These ethnographic research studies follow consumers as they find, evaluate and then buy products in some of the UK’s most competitive online marketplaces.

The reports helped us identify and understand what are now widely accepted challenges like: the inefficiency of search; the impact of aggregators; the multi-channel dimensions of online shopping; the causes of inertia in switching providers.

Note: All of the OSS reports are now available for free download from the Insights section.

Vision and mission statements

Vision and mission statements

These statements were developed in 2008 to focus the development and activities of the business over the following five years.

Their impact was profound. They frame the business challenges that Foolproof has overcome in the last few years: developing design capabilities to complement our research and design advice offering; the internationalisation of the business; showing leadership not only in the user experience community, but also in marketing and management thinking; diversification beyond our strength in financial services.

Foolproof is currently working on a new set of statements to guide the business in the next five years of its growth.

Screen shots from

Screenshots of

These screengrabs from the company website show the development of our visual identity and communications platform.

The earliest pages show the focus on sales optimisation that was particularly suited to the dotbomb era in the early 2000s. Later we see a growing emphasis on more sophisticated forms of research, experience design services, and our growing practice in strategy & planning.

Foosball table

Foosball table

This Garlando foosball table was an asset of Flow Interactive at the time of the merger with Foolproof in January 2011. It is representative of the transition Foolproof has made towards design services over the last five years.

Nothing signals that you’ve walked into a design agency as clearly as the presence of a foosball table, and this object has acted as a visual reminder of the journey the company has been on.

Particularly popular with staff from continental Europe, the foosball table has been instrumental in creating awareness of swear words and vernacular phraseology in a variety of languages from Italian to Russian.

Animal totem

Animal totem

This primitive horsehead figure, nicknamed ‘Blaze’, has been part of the popular culture in the Norwich office since it came into the business as a Secret Santa gift in 2009.

The ritual role of the totem is to move mysteriously from place to place within the office, as if by some mystic power. Its placement is most effective when it remains unnoticed for days before being re-discovered.

The totem’s current incarnation is to commemorate the departure of the last Norwich office manager, Sofia Hjelm, who has recently moved back to Sweden.

Tom Wood

I’m one of the two founders of Foolproof. Within projects I usually take a role both in planning our approach and in the generative phases of design. I’m also active in gathering client and customer needs into the design space. My particular talent is helping senior stakeholders see and understand the customer’s world in richer detail, and helping them work out how to respond.

View Tom's profile

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