Design and the Cloud

Part of me thinks I might be a bit late to this party. But there’s a couple of new cloud offerings from major players that I can’t stay quiet on it anymore. The obvious connection with this whole Internet of Things discussion is that the platforms that open in the cloud, the more opportunities there are for hardware to interact with said platforms

Let’s start with the well known. Between Google Apps, Basecamp, Dropbox, and several other of The Cloud’s low-hanging fruit the idea of working locally and storing virtually is common enough that it can be called main stream. When grandmothers start throwing around a brand’s name like I’ve heard Dropbox’s name use, you know it is no longer just in the domain of geeks.

I’ve been using solutions like Basecamp for several years now. The premise makes sense. I am still hoping for solutions that are well designed (sorry, Basecamp, you’re not)…but the aesthetics aside, they’re doing many things right. Like most, I still hiccup on the whole what-about-when-I’m-not-connected anxiety. Because, let’s face it, we’re not at the place where data is always accessible…or affordable. Data roaming charges for me when I go down into the States are ridiculous.

What I saw recently that really made sense was Adobe’s latest suite of software that’s available in the cloud. They call it the Creative Cloud. For a monthly subscription I can access ALL of their software. For the equivalent of roughly $300 per year I can produce content for all facets of my creative needs. Web, Graphic, Video, Photo Editing, and even Acrobat functionality all in one place. That’s just a smattering of what’s available, frankly. I was agog at the list of software that is now available to anyone, anywhere. The part I love about it, is that I am not bound by connectivity. I still download and install the software to my machine. I get all of my licensing, and a big chunk of data storage all virtual. I can have designers working on the other side of the planet and all the data is stored with revisions in place.

I read this morning that Autodesk is taking a very similar approach to their 3D CAD solutions. Being that Autodesk has a full suite of software that starts with Sketchbook Pro and runs through 3D CAD solutions, I can see a full productivity process being adopted under one license. If they could wrap in PCB layout into that mix…that could be killer.

I’m curious what other solutions are out there for the design and technology industries? I feel late to this party…but maybe I’m just in time.

 

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Creators, Integrators, and Consumers

I wish I was able to find my post from many years ago on what I call the Creator, Integrator, and Consumer theory. I’m not sure theory is the right word for it. But it is simply the observation I see that there are three links the product development chain. The majority of us are Integrators (but I’ll get in to that shortly). Some might argue that we’re all integrators. For this discussion, however, there is a distinct break between the groups as it helps to define what kind of company you are, and what kind of design process you should be using.

CREATORS

The creators are the Intels of the world. They’re creating a new chip to go into our next gizmo. The people or companies out there that are creating a technology that gets used over and over again in the same form are The Creators. They are creating small pieces of the puzzle, a new technology, that allow The Integrators to make something new and unique which will subsequently be bought/used by The Consumer.

INTEGRATORS

As I said above, Integrators sums up most people in a design or engineering position. We aren’t spending our days creating a new technology, or material. We’re plucking pieces from the Creators and repackaging them in new and innovative ways. For example, Apple is integrating an LCD, a battery, connectors, buttons, processors, and other components into a smartphone. The same goes for HTC and Samsung and others in the industry.

CONSUMERS

This one is pretty straight forward. A consumer is the part of the food chain that buys what the Integrator is providing.

SO WHAT?

The delineation between these three likely doesn’t matter until you start talking about the processes of creation. I argue that Creators are doing Scientific Research & Development. Integrators believe they are doing research and development when in reality they SHOULD be doing User Research & Design. The former is using its research to find new ways to manipulate nature to create something new. The latter is taking insights from user behavior to inform the decision making process when choosing how to integrate parts into a new product.

It’s a subtle difference, but one that seems to get lost when a group starts looking at the development of a new process. There seems to be a general mistake of running to quantifiable research techniques, as opposed to more qualitative ethnographic research. Something that is of great interest to me these days.

Internet of Things and How It Is Being Used

Some call it Machine-to-Machine (M2M), others call it The Internet of Things. Either way you say it, it is about a critical mass that is occurring in the tech industry. Physical size of wireless hardware, increased battery capacity in conjunction with low power components, and the ubiquity of Internet connectivity (both wired and wireless) is allowing for a whole slough of product ideas to come to fruition.

Right now you can’t swing a cat without hitting a new kitschy concept for how to add connectivity to something. The ones that seem to be getting the most airplay coming out of tech circles are connected appliances. Think refrigerators with touchscreens that tweet if your milk is running low. The combination of all the different pieces of technology allowing for super tiny wireless devices is opening up a world of possibilities.

Not all M2M products are being made for logging data. Some are being made for data on logging. GigaOm reported about a company that is helping the Brazilian Government track down illegal logging organizations. They’re strapping low power radio transmitters to trees that sense when the tree has fallen over. The article doesn’t go into detail on this, but you can extrapolate out of it, that these things are small enough that they likely will be overlooked by the loggers. The tree will get loaded onto a truck, and eventually will reach a location where there is cellular coverage.

There’s a bit of a Wild West mentality right now on this whole Internet of Things topic. The main thing I see falling out of it all, is that the tech industry is going to have to start remembering that hardware is just as much of the equation as software. If you can’t swing a cat without hitting a kitschy M2M concept, you can’t swing a boa constrictor without hitting an new app accelerator or web-based start-up. Web and app software development has overwhelmed every discussion I’ve been part of in tech circles for the past 5 years. “Wireless” forums aren’t talking about wireless, they’re talking about apps that reside on hardware that utilizes wireless connectivity. This shift of discussion towards The Internet of Things is bringing hardware back to the center of the discussion.
My barometer is reading that we’re on the cusp of an explosion of hardware development and investment. The world has far more Things that can, and will, be connecting to the Internet that use more than a smartphone. To be clear, app development isn’t going away. It will be companies that know how to create a product that can blend meaningful software development with connected hardware that will be the focus in the future.
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What Kind of Car are You?

I was lucky enough to work with Ziba Design many years back during a smartphone project I was working on as the lead designer while at Sierra Wireless. The Voq project alone was, in business terms, a colossal failure. For me, it was a failure that provided such a wealth of learning that it is near impossible to fathom my career being where it is now without that project (be that what it may).

The reason I bring up Ziba is that a good chunk of my learning during the failed smartphone project came from getting an outsider-looking-in view of how a world renowned design firm goes about their business. The secret to their success isn’t really a secret. Well, it’s a secret because it seems everybody wants to believe there’s a magic elixir to being a successful company. The reality of it is, they work hard and they do good work. The same goes for every other successful company I’ve been lucky enough to be witness to.

The real reason I bring all of the above up, is because during the many hours we spent on this project we also had many conversations that had nothing to do with the project itself. They design geekery conversations. One such conversation came to mind when I saw this video about a cool new automotive tail light concept by Audi:

One of the design geek conversations we had was about cars. More specifically, we were talking about how the type of car you drive, in conjunction with the type of care you want to drive, speaks a lot about you as a person. The Audi video reminded me of this conversation because I have always pictured myself behind the wheel of an Audi. At the time, I was driving a Nissan Xterra. Now, I am driving a Honda Civic and a Honda Odyssey (mini-van). they speak volumes to what was/is going on in my life while driving each vehicle. I was a DINK (dual-income, no kids) while driving the Xterra. I like(d) to go camping, skiing, and mountain biking. I generally liked playing outside. I now am married with two kids, a mortgage and a small business that rides the sine wave that is a service industry company. You tell me if I’m right or not in how well the vehicles I have driven in the past speak to who I am and my lifestyle at the time of driving.

All car companies do good work. Mercedes, BMW, Honda, etc. are all making great cars and all do their share of concept vehicles. There is something about Audi that has always spoken to me, however. I drive, or have driven a Honda most of my legal driving-age life. But I’ve driven them for their practicality more than how I picture myself in them. I think this is what attracts many designers to the world of automotive design. There is more to the storytelling behind a vehicle. The mystique of a BMW, for example comes from stories like the GINA concept from several years ago:

So, I wonder…what car do you drive and what car do you envision yourself in. Do they tell a story about you?

 

 

 

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I Think About Africa…a lot

I am bordering on obsessed with Africa. Ever since I was in Tanzania in 2001, I’ve been trying to think of a way to get back. Recently, I’ve even been working with a few good friends of mine trying to bring together a project that could see me going to Africa. My friend, Matthew Davis, is a designer/inventor that has created some solar technology that I believe would be perfectly suited for the African environment. The discussion at the moment is to work with a University in Ghana to set up a studio class that would teach design thinking as it would apply to solar energy development to be implemented in rural Africa.

I was again tweaked by my thoughts about Africa by a colleague of mine (Melissa Breker). She forwaded me a video that was created by another Vancouver Design colleague of mine, Kara Pecknold. I had a recent discussion with Kara while we were at the reception for the Vancouver Premiere of the Design & Thinking Documentary. She’s done some cool stuff in Africa, as this video shows:

 

I don’t know what it is about the continent of Africa that draws me back. If you haven’t been there, you probably won’t understand how/why this would be an obsession. But, if you are interested in assisting in the development of some interesting technology that could have some very significant impact in Africa…let me know.

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Creative Lessons in Mechanics for (ADHD) Kids

I have been putting a lot of thought to the fact that I think boys are completely screwed in today’s school system. Well, I think girls are too, but boys tend to be the ones with attention issues. Really, it’s any kid that has an active imagination and creativity coursing through their veins that are screwed. Before you get your pro-education tail in a knot, I’m not alone in this thought and people with far bigger brains than I have are talking about this very topic. In short, I agree with Sir Ken Robinson:

What I’ve been thinking about is how can I help my kids not lose their creativity in a system that is perfectly tailored for squashing creativity from them? About the only thing I think I can do is show them stuff like this:

I can bitch and complain about the system. I am not a believer that homeschooling is the solution. But I can do some schooling at home. I’ll be keeping my eye out for more fun little projects like the one above.

 

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I had a Shit Day

I had an absolute shit day at work recently. If you add up all the positive aspects of the day, you’d think I was insane. The office was empty. We’re busy as can be right now. Bills are being paid. Co-workers were on vacation or on site at a client’s. It was quiet, and I got a lot of stuff done. But my head. It was filled with all sorts of trash. And I couldn’t put a finger on why.

Then I saw a post by Hugh over at Gapingvoid.

“The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the assignment covers both bases, but not often.”

I’ve been lacking the sexy creative kind of work lately. The stuff that turns my knobs. As Hugh alludes to in his post, I am not looking the gift horse in the mouth. I’m realizing that the fuel for the cash work is the sexy work. And I haven’t sought the sexy work lately. That, or I haven’t created it for myself.

I think this idea of the Sex & Cash Theory that Hugh put forth years ago rings a serious bell for me in many ways. It ties in to my observations of ADHD. People with ADHD tend to have a restlessness to them. Or,in Hugh’s words, a tense duality. It’s a pretty easy jump to my beliefs that there are far more designers with ADHD than not and this balance between Sex & Cash feels….right. I can’t help but believe that only good can come from coming to terms with this tense duality part of the ADHD equation.

Some food for thought.

 

 

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The Design of Microsoft Surface

Microsoft Surface

I know I am a bit late to this party. It is pushing two weeks since the release of the Microsoft Surface and surely more eloquent individuals have stated what I am about to say. But some things you just have to address when they feel as though they’re a significant step forward for the design industry. The weekend after Microsoft announced its new Surface tablet and Windows 8, I happened to be in Seattle and decided to take an extra few minutes and stop in to the Bellevue Square Microsoft Store. If you’re not familiar with the Seattle area, basically I walked straight into Mordor. To get to the store I had to drive by the Microsoft campus. Normally, this wouldn’t have been something to mention, but my feelings for Microsoft have changed over the years. I have not been shy with my comments on the debacle that was Zune. Even in an era of “good enough”, they couldn’t get it right. Windows ME and Vista were veritable gong shows. Windows 7 felt as though it had them back on track to doing things right. But Surface….Surface is the first step Microsoft seems to have taken towards understanding that design is an integral part of their product offering(s).

Microsoft Surface

What I noticed first about Surface was that it is SOLID. As in, it is a rock solid piece of hardware. I picked it up and it instantly gave the impression that it is a well built piece of electronics. Tight tolerances everywhere. The right weight. My first reaction to the snap on keypad flexible keypad was that it would be better off without it. A simple cover on the tablet would be sufficient. If I really need to type, I’d go for their type-pad. The type-pad has spring loaded keys and feels like a keypad.

Microsoft Type Pad

This brings me to my problem with Surface, and subsequently Windows 8. It has an identity crisis. I get what Microsoft is doing. They’re trying to appeal to their old constituents that claim that they need things like a keyboard for productivity. The old constituents that can’t let go of the legacy of things like the Windows button bringing me to a desk top, and confusing me as to where I am within the OS. I tend to think that if I were to use a Surface for a week or two, I’d quickly get past this. But I can’t help but think on first blush that the Windows 8 interface is the Achilles heal of Surface. It is holding on too tightly to the past, and therefore keeping the product from being everything I expect from Microsoft.

My Expectations of Microsoft

I have very high expectations of Microsoft. I hated Zune because they could have done so much better than a me too version of a music player. I hated Windows ME and Vista because they were so tragically flawed and a company like Microsoft should not be putting out tragically flawed product. They’re better than that. They should want to be better than that.

That leaves me hoping that the current path that Microsoft is on, with the success of XBox and the strong design of Surface, that Microsoft is on track to being the world leader I expect them to be. I can’t put Windows 8 on that trajectory, yet. I definitely feel as though they’ve gotten it wrong having a touch screen on a laptop…but again, I need to get one in front of me for a while to allow myself to remain open to the vision they’re trying to bring to my laptop experience.

Oh, the last thing I have to say is that the Microsoft store was great. It felt just like an Apple Store (yes, that’s a back handed compliment). This plays into the same feelings of my expectations. I am tired of seeing Microsoft sliding in on other people’s successes. A group with as deep pockets as they have should be experimenting and putting out their own vision for the world. I guess I don’t see them as visionaries, but that’s what I want them to be.

 

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Dreaming

As an Industrial Designer, I can’t help but be a dreamer. I think everyone is a dreamer on many levels. I came across the video above recently and it resonated because I have been wondering where our fascination with the future seems to have disappeared to. As a young kid in the 70s, you couldn’t help but get consumed by the idea of going to the moon or beyond. We were inundated with shows like Star Wars, and Star Trek and futurists like Syd Mead were heralded for their visions of the future.

Then something seemed to happen. These dreams seemed to disappear. At the very least, the dreams weren’t woven into the fabric of society like it felt like it was when I was a kid.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, nor am I one that believes that we’re collectively hurtling headlong towards human extinction. But I do wonder why there is this feeling that dreaming has been quelled. It is merely a feeling for me because I don’t have any empirical data to support it. I have a video I found on YouTube that resonated. The term that comes to mind is correlation doesn’t equal causation.

On a similar note, though, I’ve been having discussions in some online discussion forums on the topic of why Vancouver’s tech industry can’t create larger companies in any sustainable fashion. Now this may be a stretch for supporting that our collective society has stopped dreaming, but I can’t help but believe that if our society tapped into the dreamer a bit more we things like investment capital would be far more prevalent. Focusing on a 2 – 5 year return on investment, while very logical and arguably practical, it doesn’t support the idea of the dreamer. Well, unless your dreams are based on the idea of a big payout and a BMW 5 series.

I’m not one to claim that the material aspect of our world is enticing. I want no less than anyone else to be free of the bonds of money. But is that the limit of our dreaming anymore?

I know, I know. There are things like the X-Prize, and people are being recruited for one way trips to Mars. So, maybe I’m simply lamenting on a moot point. But dreams are important to me. I love walking out of a Movie, or looking at my kids and being inspired to envision the future. I also think that dreaming is important to the fabric of a society. We need something to aspire to and hope for. I would love for our leaders to start investing again in dreams. Work with the people to tap into their imaginations and really envision the future for what it could be.

 

 

 

Creative Confidence

I look back to my childhood and I don’t know how or where I picked up my (over)confidence. I am sure a lot of it has to do with small, progressive successes that eventually reached a tipping point and started a snowball effect subsequently allowing for a deep seated believe that I am capable of achieving almost anything I put my mind towards. When it comes to creativity, I was never a particularly diligent artist as a child. I was more apt to copy my favorite artist’s work than to create my own (I’ve drawn more images of Calvin and Hobbes than I care to admit).

I find the topic of confidence, especially when it comes to creativity, to be an immensely interesting topic. Creativity, specifically, is something I believe is innate to the human condition. In other words, I believe we all have the capacity for creativity. Watching my children go through the struggles of finding their confidence and their place in this world is sometimes an exercise in frustration. I do everything I can to never undermine my kids’ creative confidence but I am a small voice in a cacophony of voices constantly attempting to squash their creativity. Like most things, when you have a topic that is interesting to you it isn’t long before you find other people that have the same kind of thoughts.

David Kelly is a renowned designer/engineer who in recent years became a cancer survivor. Upon his successful defeat of The C-Word, he made a promise that his life’s mission is to become a champion for the fight against the quelling of creative confidence that happens on a daily basis around us. You can view a talk he did on the subject of “How to Build your Creative Confidence” he did for TED Talks. The nugget that I took away from his talk was his observation of the biggest obstacle to the growth of creative confidence in children. It goes something like this:

Children have limitless creativity but it is constantly whittled away at by adults who have lost their ability to be creative. If a child draws a picture of an animal. That image on the piece of paper is that child’s vision of the whatever the creature might be. More often than not, someone will tell them that the animal doesn’t look right, or is the wrong color, or some other form of “that’s not quite right”.

Ken Robinson is another TED Fellow who has spoken a couple of times at the TED Conference. I have to say that he is high on my list of current heroes. You see, Mr. Robinson is a believer that our current education system is sucking the creativity out of our children. Everywhere you turn you see people talking about how the current school system is broken. We’re heading into a new era that requires more creative thinking and less rote learning and there are people, far smarter than me, calling for wholesale reform of our school system. Ken Robinson is one of those people.

For those of us with attention issues, an affliction that tends to align us more with the creative side of the brain, the school system as it exists has the ability to suck the marrow from the desire to learn. It wasn’t until I was older and out of High School and had built my confidence in other pursuits before I was allowed the ability to build my creative confidence muscle. If you’re one who struggles with creative confidence, all I can say is that you need to start tapping into your inner child. Remember back when a purple and pink zebra was OK. Remember that creativity is a very personal thing. It starts within and is an elusive creature. Fight back the grown up that tells you that Zebras can only be black and white and I promise you that you’ll start to see the world in a whole new light.

Ken Robinson’s Talks: