playful cubes for storytelling, brainstorming ideas or playing games in three dimensions

Community & Events

Diffusion engaging with the community, online and out in the world.


an ongoing programme enabling residents at Proboscis studio to create eBooks and StoryCubes for their own projects.

Learning, Schools & Education

eBooks & StoryCubes created for learning and educational purposes


Browse the collection of Diffusion Shareables: eBooks & StoryCubes

Articles tagged with: sharing

Home » Publishing on Demand
Generator developments
Submitted by on January 16, 2009 – 3:34 pmNo Comment

In Autumn 2008 Proboscis won a Feasibility Study grant from the Technology Strategy Board to investigate the potential for third party sites to add access to our Diffusion Generator online software to their systems, enabling their own users to be able to create and publish eBooks and StoryCubes directly from their sites. Over the next couple of months we will be developing a re-engineered prototype of the Generator designed to allow 3rd parties to hook into it through an open API (Application Programming Interface) and offer their own users eBook and StoryCube creation. 

As the popularity of Diffusion grows – we have now passed an average of 110,000 downloads per year – Proboscis needs to develop sustainable revenue streams (e.g. from licensing the API to 3rd parties) to keep Diffusion going, and to create successful and meaningful partnerships with potential users (museums, galleries, universities, companies etc) who wish to add this unique publishing system to their own sites. The feasibility study and the re-engineered Generator will enable us to model these potential revenue streams and demonstrate a functioning service to other potential partners.

Later this year we aim to unveil the new Diffusion Generator and welcome expressions of interest from organisations and institutions who would like to test the API. I’ll be at BookCamp on January 17th and would be delighted to hear from anyone interested in working with us.

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Home » StoryCubes
A Proboscis StoryBox
Submitted by on July 7, 2008 – 1:57 pm3 Comments

Proboscis StoryBox 2008 Proboscis StoryBox 2008

Download A4 only PDF 5.6Mb

Proboscis is proud to announce our first ‘StoryBox’ of digitally printed and die-cut StoryCubes: an 8 cube set printed on both sides which enables people to explore Proboscis, our projects, themes and ideas in three dimensions. 

We have a limited number available to buy from our webstore.

This is the first of a number of StoryBoxes which we will be publishing in the next year. Future ones include creative works by sound artist, Loren Chasse; a special set on our Snout project; a 27 cube set about Social Tapestries and a new edition of the Gordon Pask cubes, first shown last year in the Maverick Machines exhibition,  Edinburgh.

Custom Printed StoryCubes
Proboscis is now offering a service to design and manufacture custom printed StoryCubes – e.g. for marketing campaigns or communication projects – for single or double-sided cubes with as many different StoryCube designs as you like.
Please contact us for pricing at sales(at) 

 Survey Sampling StoryCubes
A set of 7 StoryCubes created for Survey Sampling International Ltd as marketing tools for their offices in the UK, France, Spain, Holland, Germany and Scandinavia.

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Home » StoryCubes
StoryCubes at b.TWEEN08
Submitted by on June 20, 2008 – 1:25 am2 Comments


As part of b.TWEEN08 in Manchester, Proboscis is facilitating a StoryCubes ‘landscape of ideas’ to help Just b. Productions and the Manchester Beacon Project define the brief for a new commission to create an online public engagement service that maps connections between people, places, knowledge and creative activity in Manchester. Starting with an initial day-long workshop to scope out the wider issues, aspirations and challenges for the design brief, a series of questions are being posed to the delegates of b.TWEEN to add their comments ideas and suggestions to:

 – Who are the key people and networks that engagement tools should target?
 – What makes engagement tools sustainable?
 – What themes would inspire people to connect using engagement tools?
 – What opportunities should engagement tools offer their participants?
 – What shouldn’t engagement tools be or do?
 – What are reasonable and achievable expectations for engagement tools?
 – What local communities should benefit most from engagement tools?
 – What kinds of links to the physical world should engagement tools have? 

b.tween StoryCube landscapeb.tween StoryCube landscapeb.tween StoryCube landscapeb.tween StoryCube landscapeb.tween StoryCube landscape

The word cloud (created using Wordle) above was generated from StoryCubes created during the workshop (June 17th) and on the first day of b.TWEEN08 (June 19th). The StoryCubes will be scanned in and shared online as inspirations for creative teams wishing to pitch concept proposals for the commission…

Update: the word cloud after day two

btween_word cloud_2_v2

Update 2 : We are really excited to be able to say that the delegates of b.TWEEN voted StoryCubes the Best Interactive Gallery Installation.

2 comments - Latest by:
  • Giles Lane
    Ed, you can find out more about the StoryCubes here: and download a leaflet about uses of…
    Comment posted on 6-26-2008 at 11:47
  • Ed
    The story cubes look really really cool. is there an explanation of how they work and what they do anywhere?
    Comment posted on 6-26-2008 at 11:04

Home » Publishing on Demand
A brief history of Diffusion
Submitted by on November 10, 2007 – 1:10 amOne Comment

Diffusion began life back in 1999 as a response to the increasing difficulty that I was having in distributing the books and journals I was then publishing – both for Proboscis and for the Royal College of Art‘s Computer Related Design Research Studio. The bookselling world had been changing rapidly in the previous few years – from the collapse of the net book agreement to the increasing consolidation of bookshops into chains and closure of independent outlets and distributors. These shifts affected the practice of bookselling too – large chains became less willing to stock niche publications and ordering became computerised across the chain rather than by buyers in individual shops with responsibility for specific subjects. In short, our publications were becoming harder for our readers to find and more expensive to print, warehouse and distribute.

Working for an interaction design research lab and having previously investigated the nascent printing-on-demand systems then available, it occurred to me that it would be possible to create an ‘eBook’ that could be downloaded from the internet and printed out on home printers to be folded into a paper book format. I was also skeptical that electronic books would take off in the form that was then being touted – who would want an ugly device with a small screen and poor resolution costing hundreds of pounds, and then have to pay for the ‘books’ to read on it? It seemed so odd considering the obvious pleasure and tactile enjoyment that people derive from handling physical books, as well as their relative low cost, to replace them (as was being widely prophesied) with a much poorer experience.

Diffusion then became a research project to devise a paper folding and layout format that could be used to create small files using Adobe’s PDF file format. A conversation with an officer in the Arts Council of England’s Combined Arts department led to a funding proposal and grant to develop the format and a first series of commissioned publications – Performance Notations. In the Autumn of 1999 Paul Farrington (my design assistant at the RCA) and I set down to develop the format. Over the next six months we looked at a number of ideas before Paul devised the unique Diffusion folding format (experts at the British Library informed us later that they had nothing similar in their collection). The first series of eBooks was completed and published in September 2000.

From this beginning we began to develop ideas for many different uses that the eBooks could have, but lack of time, funding and other commitments meant that Diffusion developed slowly. With further assistance from the Arts Council’s Collaborative Arts Dept, we developed and published the design schematics for the eBooks as a way of ‘open sourcing’ the format in Spring 2002 (with the help of Nima Falatoori). However we quickly realised that very few people would be able to benefit from them as they needed some graphic design skills to interpret and make use of, not to mention access to costly professional desktop publishing software (such as Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress). This meant that very few of the people we thought might make most use of Diffusion could do so, as they would not likely be designers themselves.

So in 2003 I began researching whether we could create our own software application that would enable people to create eBooks simply and without needing graphic design expertise. I discovered the Reportlab open source software solution for creating PDF files and a summer intern from Kings College London’s computer science department (Diab Al-Kudairi) developed a working proof-of-concept prototype for the Diffusion Generator which we demonstrated at the People Inspired innovation conference in September 2003 (held at BT’s Adastral Park research campus). It then took a while to find a programmer who could use the prototype to develop a proper application, and in Spring 2004 I was introduced to Phil Ayres, who was teaching at the Bartlett School of Achitecture and developing a python-based intranet for the school. Phil soon began to develop a framework combining Zope, the Plone content management system and Reportlab. A first stage prototype was tested from March to June 2006, followed by a second stage in November 2006. The current prototype (stage 3) is in private ‘beta’ testing and has been used extensively during the 2007 case study residencies, which have been ably facilitated by Karen Martin, who also developed the new diffusion website.

Our next aims for Diffusion are to advance the Generator from its current state towards being a public online service and to focus on creative projects using it in the developing world.

Giles Lane
London, November 2007

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  • eBook Observer – Diffusion categories | bookleteer blog
    [...] [...]
    Comment posted on 10-27-2010 at 09:07

Home » Publishing on Demand
Making sharing easier?
Submitted by on October 23, 2007 – 10:17 pmOne Comment

Proboscis has been looking at additional ways to share eBooks and StoryCubes that use mobile phones as the medium. In particular we have been experimenting with matrix or 2D barcodesShotcodes in this instance – enabling a mobile cameraphone to navigate to the URL of the eBook without its owner having to type in anything.

The reason behind this experiment is to consider ways that people could access and share the URL of the eBook (or StoryCube) without having to use a computer with an internet connection. We are especially interested in the potential benefit of the eBooks and StoryCubes in developing countries as publishing media that can move either digitally or as tangible goods (paper publications) and recognise that in many developing nations mobile phones are far more pervasive than internet-connected computers. Offering new opportunities for eBooks to be shared simply by capturing the eBook’s URL from a 2D barcode, could enable a much more viral re-distribution than if it was just emailed, downloaded or shared as a printed book.

Shotcode encodes the URL in a 2D barcode (other types include QR codes, Semacodes etc) which a mobile phone can read and access via a mobile internet connection. It is not even necessary to download the PDF to the phone – the URL can be saved as a bookmark and shared via SMS, something particularly important given the cost of mobile internet access. However, should the PDF be accessed and saved to the phone it could then be shared in a number of ways; by downloading to a PC for printing (via bluetooth or USB cable); by sending to other bluetooth enabled devices; printing direct on a bluetooth-enabled printer. All these options rely on the mobiles having a camera with bluetooth for connectivity, however it may be sufficient for people simply to share the URLs by SMS and then manually type them into an internet-enabled computer to download the PDF.

We are wondering whether the addition of both the eBook’s individual URL and a 2D barcode of the URL to the back cover of each Generator created eBook would facilitate even easier sharing, especially in places where mobiles are more prevalent than computers and broadband internet? Should a future version of the Generator include these features and, if so, what of the many 2D barcodes would be the most appropriate? Below are two eBooks we have created Shotcodes for – we’d love to have any thoughts, comments or suggestions about this idea (to test the Shotcodes you may need to download the Shotcode Reader for your cameraphone).

This is not a book A4 This is not a book US
thisisnotabook A4 shotcode thisisnotabook shotcode
Peckham Rising A4 Peckham Rising US
Peckham Rising A4 shotcode Peckham Rising US shotcode

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Home » CODE
CODE – Collaboration and Ownership in the Digital Economy (2001-2002)
Submitted by on September 5, 2007 – 4:02 pmNo Comment

Non-proprietary or free approaches to creating and distributing digital tools and content have come increasingly into the public eye. The Free Software and Open Source movements – centred around operating systems, programming languages, and other utilities – have inspired (and been inspired by) a diverse group of initiatives. Apparent in all these movements is a tendency to reinforce the breadth and richness of the public domain in cyberspace. They create new kinds of collective goods, while at the same time challenging traditional copyright regimes, and questioning more individualistic modes of authorship.

To consider these issues the Collaborative Arts Unit of the Arts Council of England and the Academia Europaea, in partnership with the new Crucible agency at the Computer Laboratory, Cambridge and the Cambridge University Law Faculty’s Intellectual Property Unit, held a Conference at Queen’s College, Cambridge, in April 2001. The conference, CODE – Collaboration and Ownership in the Digital Economy – brought together leading theorists and practitioners in the media, software, law, technology and the arts to ask: How do non-proprietary principles contribute to creativity and collective action? What problems may be encountered in the legal domain? Will the current efforts of established IP rights holders to extend copyright enforcement eventually be reconciled with this emerging world of free-flowing, network-based collaboration? What lessons may be gained from alternative concepts of ownership? How can these movements interface with regular commercial practice?

The Arts Council of England’s Collaborative Arts Unit has commissioned a series of new texts from leading, UK-based researchers and writers, which contribute different perspectives and views to the issues raised by the CODE Conference, providing both a background resource and a location for the continuation of these debates. These books are published in the Diffusion eBook format, and are available both from this site, and from Metamute.

Tony White
February 2002

Publisher: The Arts Council of England
Publication Date: April 4th 2001
Series Editor: Tony White
Production: Giles Lane
Design: Paul Farrington & Nima Falatoori

Michael Atavar, Joe Banks, Steve Beard, Stewart Home and Matt Locke.

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Home » Publishing on Demand
What is the Diffusion Generator?
Submitted by on September 5, 2007 – 3:45 pmNo Comment

Proboscis has created an online application which enables people to create their own DIFFUSION eBooks without needing graphic design skills or access to professional DTP software. The service is currently in ‘beta’ testing by invitation only. However, if you would like to participate please write to us describing what you would like to use it for.

DIFFUSION offers exciting possibilties for sharing of knowledge and information, especially in developing countries where lack of physical infrastructure means shipping bulky objects (like books) is difficult and expensive, but where internet communications are beginning to proliferate and low cost paper publications are still easier for most people to access and read than computer screens. For instance, DIFFUSION could be used to provide low-cost, easily updateable manuals for intermediate technologies; for promoting health awareness; for creating teching and learning resources or as a publishing platform for citizen journalism. DIFFUSION provides an alternative to traditional print and online publishing – bridging analogue and digital media. The eBooks can be shared electronically (as PDF files), by photocopy or as hand-made paper books – samizdat for the digital age.

The DIFFUSION format is extremely flexible and can be used in many ways, such as for:

  • publishing essays, short stories or poems
  • creating simple, easy to distribute manuals and instructions
  • distributing lecture notes to students
  • creating lesson plans and learning diaries for students
  • creating a portable family picture album
  • creating a visual record of a journey
  • makinga personal diary or journal
  • creating a mini-portfolio for artists
  • notebooks & diaries for fieldwork (e.g. for anthropology or ethnography)
  • local newsletters or pamphlets
  • an iterative tool for brainstorming & innovation workshops

Please note that at present the Generator is only available for testing by invitation

Development Team:
Giles Lane, Phil Ayres & Karen Martin

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Home » Publishing on Demand, StoryCubes
What are Story Cubes?
Submitted by on September 5, 2007 – 3:41 pmOne Comment

StoryCubes are a tactile thinking and storytelling tool for exploring relationships and narratives. Each face of the cube can illustrate or describe an idea, a thing or an action, placed together it is possible to build up multiple narratives or explore the relationships between them in a novel three-dimensional way. StoryCubes can be folded in two different ways, giving each cube twelve possible faces – and thus two different ways of telling a story, two musings around an idea. Like books turned inside out and upside down they are read by turning and twisting in your hand and combining in vertical and horizontal constructions.


How can StoryCubes be used?
At Proboscis we use StoryCubes as poetic and playful devices for exploring ideas in three dimensions, allowing us to reveal different perspectives and make new connections and associations. We also use them as an engagement tool in our public projects, where they are particularly helpful in enabling groups of people to build shared narratives that allow them to see new perspectives. In this way they assist with storytelling and discussion in conjunction with bodystorming and other research processes that we use.

We have found StoryCubes to be very effective in stimulating group discussions and have used them successfully in our work in schools (see our Everyday Archaeology project). The process that a group of people engage in when building a StoryCube ‘landscape’ creates a tactile and tangible environment for negotiation and sharing, for seeing the different implications and connections that the stories we tell have from the perspectives of others.

StoryCubes Flick Group

StoryCubes tagged in Flickr

Buy StoryCubes from Proboscis Webstore

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Home » eBooks, Publishing on Demand
What are eBooks?
Submitted by on September 5, 2007 – 3:37 pm2 Comments

samizdat for the digital age
DIFFUSION eBooks are shareable paper books that are free to download, print and make up (in A4 and US Letter PDF formats). Designed for viral distribution at almost no cost to readers, Proboscis regularly commissions new writing and creative publications which broaden discussion and debate around themes relating to our own projects and research. Proboscis also provides online design schematics, welcoming anyone, anywhere to adopt or re-interpret the format for their own uses.

Sharing Creativity
By using the internet as the distribution mechanism, DIFFUSION eBooks are accessible to a diverse readership across parts of the world that it would not be economical, or physically possible, to distribute traditional books to. Readers are encouraged to share the eBooks electronically or as material objects. DIFFUSION aims to bridge analogue and digital media by taking the reader away from the computer screen and engaging them in the process of making with their hands. Through the physical act of making the eBook, a dynamic is created that blurs the distinctions between producers and consumers.

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