Lunchtime talk at Pervasive Media Studio

A few weeks ago we gave a lunchtime talk at the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol about how we created Mayfly. Here is studio produce, Verity McIntosh's write-up. 

On Friday 6 May Studio residents Barney Heywood and Lucy Telling from Stand + Stare joined us to share the story behind their beautiful Mayfly sound journals. 

I made my own Mayfly journal on a recent trip to New York and I love the fact that alongside my usual scribbles, notes and sketches, are a number of hidden treasures. I can return to my Mayfly journal to unlock the sound of a very American Scotsman delivering the ‘address to the haggis’ that we discovered on a snowy Burns Night in Brooklyn; and pictures of the awesome people that I met at the New York Media Center who were hosting us during our stay. 

Mayfly allows me, and others to associate digital content like photos and sound recordings, with the physical pages of a real book, via delicately drawn illustrations that can be understood as distinctive markers by an app on a phone.

As Mayfly’s are poised to start turning up in shops in the next few months, it was the perfect time to find out more about how the project came into being. Here are five things I learnt:

  1. Clues to other people’s lives are captivating. The seed of the idea was sown when Barney and Lucy came across as well-thumbed travel guide to Morocco in a charity shop. It was stuffed with ticket stubs, receipts and personal notes that made it so much richer and more fascinating than the standard guidebook. They wondered how much richer still it would be if you could access audio from the mysterious traveller to unlock the sounds of their adventures. From here they developed ‘Turning the Page’, a clever machine-vision camera hidden in a desk lamp that would look for pre-programmed familiar markers in a book and play snippets of related audio to the reader.
  2. It turns out machine vision is tricky. Whilst markers like QR codes are easy enough for a camera and computer to recognise, more nuanced, detailed images like aging receipts and battered bookmarks are harder to detect in a reliable and robust way. Turning the Page was a beautiful experience in controlled conditions for one person at a time, but Barney and Lucy wanted this to be an experience you could extend to your own life and travels. Using found objects, or your own travel detritus as triggers to audio storytelling was going to be tricky. In making Mayfly, Barney and Lucy found a perfect compromise between unpredictable images and ugly QR codes by turning to family friend and illustrator, Laurie Clark . Laurie drew a series of fine lined, delicate images of mayflies in different postures that could live on each page of a personal journal. Distinctive, high contrast and detailed enough to be identified by a phone camera, whilst maintaining a very hand-drawn, natural aesthetic, the mayflies become the keepers and triggers of your own digital recordings.
  3. A Mayfly is the perfect metaphor. Barney and Lucy chose ‘Mayfly’ as both the name of the journal and the subject of the illustrations as they liked the notion of capturing ephemera. A Mayfly is only expected to live for one day. It is delicate. Catch it now, or it will be gone. The mayfly makes the perfect companion for a day-by-day journal with the expectation that it will naturally expire after one day; but in a sort of reversal of roles it also becomes the long-term keeper of these otherwise ephemeral encounters such as the sounds of your day or those fleeting moments that might otherwise have been lost. 
  4. There are some wonderful craftspeople just down the lane. Barney and Lucy are keen, wherever possible; to make use of the extraordinary skills of local craftspeople and businesses. Their ultimate aim is for Mayfly to be produced to the highest standards entirely in the UK. They are currently working with printmakers Opal in Midsomer Norton, seGames and Mobile Pie for app development in Bristol, and their illustrator Laurie Clark is based in Stroud. The book covers are made from the finest G F Smith paper made in Hull. The only element that they haven’t been able to source in the UK at the right quality and cost point is the white paper of the inside of the book…so if you know of any amazing UK suppliers…do get in touch!
  5. "Stories are a communal currency of humanity." --Tahir Shah, in Arabian Nights. Barney and Lucy recognise that as well as using Mayfly to capture and chronicle your own life, many people would like to use it to make journals to share with others, sending a book full of secret messages, images, stories and memories as a gift to a loved one, or an expanded postcard home. They are working on a version of the Mayfly book and app for the future that will allow you to do exactly that. For now, they have started a small experiment, giving away mini collections of Mayfly stickers that you can attach to any object, and in doing so tether images and sounds to that object to tell a story. They are excited to see what people do with this new variation during the summer experiment. 

Mayfly journals can be purchased online at

The Mayfly team comprises Barney Heywood, Lucy Telling and Tim Cole, all of whom are residents here at the Pervasive Media Studio.

- Verity McIntosh

Follow the link below to see it on the Pervasive Media Studio website

Barney Heywood