Wednesday, 3 June 2009

823 - Monkey High Soft Play Area

Did you guess right?

Monkseaton High School is sponsored by, among others, Microsoft. I use Microsoft. As it has a de facto monopoly on workplace and home software, I don't have a choice. It's okay, usually, but it's not brilliant.

So to see its branding scattered over the top of a school, where the bright colours and excess make it look like a fairy-cake decorated by a hyperactive five-year-old, packs a visceral punch. Unless it is toned down, this architectural statement says to me: you've got no choice in the brave new world we're building. Get used to it. You're globalised brand-fodder.

I guess it's not realistic, if Microsoft have put such money into the project, for no acknowledgement of their generosity to be made. I'd hate for local councillors to have to exercise their courage and actually stand up to the business. Who stands for genuinely unbiased education nowadays anyway?

But think of the scale of the branding. Not just how out of place it looks on top of a genuinely impressive new building, but how it lies across our field of vision, seventy or so feet up, as we look across green fields towards the coast, or out of our beds as we recuperate at North Tyneside NHS Hospital, or from miles around as we travel on the Metro to and from Newcastle. The only scale on which such an outsize logo could possibly seem appropriate is the one offered by the Google Earth Satellite. Oh. Maybe I see.

But look, Microsoft UK. You're shooting yourself in the foot. Do you really want to present yourself as perpetrators of an exercise in local disempowerment? Particularly when it's a school, with kids, for heavens's sake? Take a screen-grab from your own software. I'm looking at the Windows logo at the foot of my screen. It's tiny. It's plenty big enough to remind me whose software I'm using. But any bigger and it would get in the way.

Therefore, by all means leave four coloured blocks on top of Monkseaton High School to remind us of your investment - one red, one green, one yellow, one blue. But paint the other twenty or so grey, in keeping with the rest of the school. For enlightened self-interest, if nothing else.


adam said...

get over it steve, as much as I think microsoft makes rubbish software, as much I'm fed up of advertising everywhere I look, a generation of kids gets to go to a school probably full of technology that'll set them up not just jobs around them but for the best the chance to make their own futures in a networked world.
If Whitley Bay needed a future, the next generation joining it to the net and creating new local businesses is it.

heck the upside might even be that they disdain school, disdain microsoft for funding it and all switch to Linux or Mac! :)

B said...

gawd. i had no idea. can i pretend not to know still??

Steve Lancaster said...

Hi Adam and B!

Adam, you tell me to get over it. What's a blog for if you have to get over your issues before you write anything about them? And anyway I'm being fairer to Microsoft-ware than you are!

The way I see it is, a multinational company arranges to supply kids with relevant technology that will ensure said company remains the first choice for the next generation. That's the commercial transaction. I can cope with that. I can even cope with a decent logo on the roof, if it's to scale.

But anything on top really is bullying and an abuse of power. It does ruin some bold new architecture. It has stirred up anger locally. And it associates a global company not with high educational standards, but low advertising tricks and a lack of concern for the environment. It makes Microsoft look crass.

The point is surely that at this stage it is easily righted. Residents will be happier, students happier, local councillors happier, Microsoft happier, if a sense of proportion is introduced and the school can be held up to international media without the funders looking, frankly, foolish.

That's all. If Mac or Linux did the same thing, I'd have as big a problem!

B, what can I say? Now you do know. Sorry! Spread the word. But do it kindly. I hope Microsoft and the school governors are just having a momentary doolallyness. Adam might be right, and the whole thing end in anti-establishment feeling, but I still think there's time for the situation to be put right. I think that's healthier for Whitley Bay and its kids (and Microsoft too!!).

ColonelFazackerley said...

You say you have no choice?

I got a new laptop, which came with vista, which was unusably slow. I got it dual-booting linux (opensuse to be precise). Now I don't use windows on that machine at all.

At work, I am forced to use MS.

Claire O'Brien said...

Hi Steve,

I saw it the other day and didn't know anything about it, I didn't associate the coloured blocks with Microsoft, I just thought it was meant to be child-friendly design. It is aesthetically horrible and it would look nicer without them but I have high hopes for what goes on inside the building. Having worked in fundraising I know that donations and sponsorship are nearly always publicly acknowledged and displayed unless anonymity is requested. If the blocks pay homage to Microsoft without Microsoft's request then it is indeed a bad decision.

I understand how you see it as 'local disempowerment' from your anti-institution viewpoint, but from mine as teacher/geek, it's quite prestigious (and difficult) to get funding from Microsoft and the teachers and students who work there will certainly be digitally empowered.

In terms of software choice, there are only three contenders that have been mentioned here in the comments. Yes Microsoft do have the monopoly so if the students don't learn how to use it then they may be at a disadvantage in later life. In my experience using Microsoft software gives you transferable skills to use Macs and Linux, I've seen it in myself and some of the children I have worked with. And, like it or not, Microsoft will be with us until the next Windows-like phenomenon happens.


PS. If Microsoft is bugging you, you could always use the Macbook you've got sitting there instead. (Sorry, couldn't resist :)

Steve Lancaster said...

Hi all,

There's a part of me, yes, that says, 'These things happen - live with it.'

There's a (peaceful) part of me that says, 'Bring on the revolution...'.

There's a (very small) part of me that says, 'Microsoft are just great and hugely generous, and Monkseaton High is in their debt, etc. etc.'

And there's a (voluble) part of me that says, 'More people see the outside of the building than will ever see the inside. It is ugly. Microsoft may be giving grants, but it is a pittance beside what they earn (and what they hope to get from exploiting such grant-giving - for example, more kudos to put money into a relatively deprived area than an affluent one). This is supposed to appeal to young adults, not children. And four blocks on the roof will actually communicate the brand identity better than the scattergun effect anyway (as this will replicate the logo more faithfully).'

I'm right, and you all know it!

Put yourselves in Microsoft's shoes. Is it better for them to:

1. Identify with an act of aesthetic vandalism which will alienate at least as many people as it attracts, so that any positives are mitigated by a 'shame about the exterior'?


2. Celebrate the positives their educational grant brings, in a bold building, with their logo in proportion on the roof, but minimal environmental impact beyond that?

Look, I lived for three years up the road from the McDonalds UK Headquarters in East Finchley. They called it McDonalds University. The road leading into it was even named College Road. Beyond a reasonable logo, there was no sign that this was a global company. If McDonalds doesn't need the show, why does Microsoft?

'Nuff said. I've made my point.

Off now to use my Mac. It's just the right height to prop my book up at an aesthetically pleasing angle.

this too will pass said...

I think the building looks great and if you hadn't mentioned the Microsoft angle I would never have known ; kind regards, Charles

Steve Lancaster said...

Hi Charles,

Does knowing the Microsoft angle change your perception of the building? Genuinely interested -


Dominic said...

Oh Man,

I had been kidding myself that these were just some sort of temporary cover while they were finishing the roof.

Regardless of who has sponsored it (and believe me I find it hard to say that because of my affiliations with all things penguin related) it is a genuine eyesore. As I drive past that roundabout that leads to rake lane, the coast looms up and reminds me of how lucky I am to live by the sea. Currently I don't feel that every time I see the LEGO TURD.

I am absolutely gutted it is there. It has had absolutely no aesthetic forethought, it has no balance with its surroundings. They have sold our kids for a few shiny coins. What is next will our young people be walking round in clothes sponsored by Nike or Adidas.. Oh wait, they already do. Its too late.


In terms of the whole 'sponsorship' deal. I want my children to understand how a computer works. That is never going to happen via microsoft. At best they will become software literate.

My 4 year old daughter already understands the importance of sudo rather than root. In the mornings when she is being stroppy I say ' hurry up and eat your breakfast' she says 'in a minute' I say sudo eat your breakfast and she does it straight away.

Ross said...

It's just an identity. Don't let it bother you. Global companies have earned the right to embellish a building with their logo if they have had a part in creating it. Most people won't know the colours are associated with Microsoft and if anything, it's more subtle than having the Microsoft logo stuck on the facia for all to see.

I think it's pathetic you've created a post on this subject. There's always someone out there who'll criticise something which is good in so many ways. The building looks brilliant and will be the envy of other schools around the country. Not to mention profound in Monkseaton's future as a leader in education.

I'd suggest getting a life and stop moaning about some blocks of colour on top of a building.