I’m Underrated

underratedLast week I was declared underrated….again. I was declared underrated and I loved it….again. I’ve gone through my life considered underrated and I have always revelled in the designation. The reason I revel in it is because for whatever reason people don’t think I’m capable of doing what I am capable of and yet I still do it. This time, the title came from my friends I play floor hockey with. The title was given to me at our end-of-season awards ceremony. The awards are given out in good fun and my award was no different. But the it reminded me that I have always considered myself more capable than what people seem to think of me. It’s done me well so far.

A long, long time ago I walked on to the Purdue Track and Field Team. I am pretty confident that none of my teammates at the time thought that I was going to make the team. My underrated moment came at a time trial late in the fall not long before the winter indoor season began. The look on the faces of my teammates after that time trial is indelibly inked into the back of my brain. The underrated walk-on dude just beat out two or three full scholarship athletes to make the travelling team.

Between that moment twenty four-odd years ago and last week’s declaration of underratedness by my friends I’ve had many other moments of being considered underrated. I don’t know where it comes from. Part of me thinks I should explore that more. Maybe if I change my behavior in some manner I will stop being considered underrated and will begin being considered a leader. But I don’t believe in the idea that one can write their own story. I am pretty satisfied with seeing the look of surprise on people’s faces when I end up proving them wrong.

Now, let’s not ignore the fact that there have been plenty of moments along the way that have proven the doubters correct. I’ve had my share of screw-ups and let downs. When I look back at those moments, there are very few of them that I haven’t recovered from. I’ve corrected the problem or bounced back and learned from the screw up.

Hurdler Studios

Which leaves me where I am now. As of last week, I am no longer a partner in a company I helped found. It was completely my choice. I made the decision because I started believing I was not capable of doing what I thought I was capable within the constraints of my current career path. I needed to regain that swagger I’ve always had that I believe, to the core, that I am capable of doing things I never imagined I was capable of – let alone surprising everyone else around me. The only way for me to do that again is to start taking risks. To put myself out there without a safety net and just run my ass onto the team just like I did twenty four years ago.

What I am doing with my new company (aptly named Hurdler Studios) is helping people get past the barriers that are preventing them from getting their new product idea to market. I feel that after twenty plus years of doing that with my own life, it is time to start realizing the value of what I’ve been doing and start helping others figure out how to surprise the world around them.

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

ElectricVehicleI had my first up close and personal confrontation with an electric vehicle charging station this past weekend. Having lived in Vancouver and having Ballard Power Systems be the darling little tech company that could change the world….and hasn’t…yet….leaves me with a wee bit less optimism than I would have otherwise had when it comes to alternative fuel systems for vehicles. It has little to do with the fact that I don’t believe electric vehicles can elicit a change in driving and fuel possibilities. It has more to do with the fact that I have a much better understanding of the limitations of distribution of new fuel systems.

There are some serious flaws in the use case from top to bottom of the electric vehicle (EV) that I don’t think most people think about when talking about how amazing electric vehicles are. The first is purely the convenience of use for the end user. At the end of the day, a vehicle is an object of convenience. Until batteries are able to be topped up in 5 minutes or less like a traditional gasoline engine is capable of, it will always be a novelty. Five minutes might be a bit too low of a tipping point, but it absolutely has to be less than 10 minutes. We’ve all been trained for the past 50 years or so that if that if I’m running late for a meeting and that fuel light comes on, I can swing into a gas station and be on my way again in 5 minutes. Even faster if I don’t fill the tank all the way.

chargingStation

The next issue to overcome is infrastructure. This is where the EV has an advantage over hydrogen fuel cells. We already have a solid distribution grid that is able to fuel up our soon to be herd of electric vehicles. But can it handle the load? Imagine it dinner time rolls around and 25 electric vehicles pull into driveways up and down your block. Every driver jumps out and the first thing they are going to do, after they shake the kids off their legs, is plug in their vehicle. That is 25 high amperage charging stations pumping from the grid all at once….on your block alone. Imagine this is happening on every block in your neighbourhood, in every neighbourhood in the city, in every city in north america. Trust me, I am no electrical engineer, but I have enough understanding to see the flaw in the plan here.

The charging station I saw was at Thompson Community Centre in Richmond, BC. It was just sitting there in the corner of the parking lot. It felt a bit random. I’m guessing that there must be someone in the neighbourhood that owns an electric vehicle and it made some sense to have it there. But the humor I found in the situation was that the two parking spots that could be serviced by the charging station were occupied by two not-so-economic vehicles:

EV_parking

What I found the most intriguing about the set-up was the company behind the charging station. They have an interesting business model. The company is called Charge Point and they are building a charging station platform. They’re less focused on the hardware of the charging station, and more focused on the monitoring and data that is extracted from the charging station as it is being used. Their website graphically shows all the locations of the EV charging stations they’re hooked up to, and how many times they’ve been used. I have to admit to being a wee bit underwhelmed at the usage. At quick glance, the highest number of charges one of their stations has had was 962 at the time of writing. Considering the amount of vehicles on the road, that is a VERY small percentage for usage.

Alternative fuel is fantastic in principle. I want to see us all driving around in vehicles that don’t cough ozone depleting emissions into the air with every kilometer. But we are much further from alternative fuel Utopia than I think most people realize. We’re currently rushing towards a world that is going to have a gazillion electric vehicles sitting as status symbols in garages with nowhere to go because it simply isn’t as convenient to drive as my gas guzzler.

I’m not writing this to say that EVs are a bad idea or that we should stop developing them. What I hope is for people to realize that there is far more work to be done to make these vehicles a wide spread reality than just better battery systems or more vehicles. I want to see more companies like Charge Point solving the infrastructure from a human centric perspective beyond doing it in an “If we build it, they will come” manner . Building another vehicle to plug into the full system is the easy part. How we solve the real problems of distribution, that’s the hard part. As a designer, I also believe that’s the fun part.

 

 

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Design Thinking: How it Applies to Business

Design Thinking…..it is cropping up everywhere. I have accounting firms asking me about it. The Standford d.school and IDEO have harnessed the term into something of a cliche. I had an experience recently as to what it is that has always rubbed me the wrong way about the hubbub over Design Thinking. If you’re not familiar with Design Thinking, trust me when I say that there’s a hubbub. It is a topic that creates a division within design circles. What has always made me bristle about it is the fact that every time anyone uses the term, it is an advertisement for another design firm (IDEO). I know that IDEO doesn’t claim it to be only theirs to use. But they also don’t make any bones about the fact that the term/methodology started with them.

I’ve always been a believer in the basic thought process behind Design Thinking (DT). The fundamental premise behind DT is that the user is the focus of the design process not the technology. Human centric design is what designers have been circling around for a long time. The truly successful designers are the ones that have figured out how to find the clients that are ready to let go of the sales driven methodology of features and benefits which seems to drive very quickly to a focus on the product and/or technology. Addressing how the product is created based on asking what the users want from the product as opposed to basing the development on research that dives into how the device fits into a user’s life.

On the surface, the difference is quite subtle. You can, and many do, argue that there is no difference. Both are looking at the end user’s needs. Where the difference lies is that Design Thinking is based on observational research of how people interact with a product or service and use that research to inform how improvements can be made that, ideally, will surprise the user. This approach eschews the belief that it is the technology that creates the desired “surprise”. It is about the experience of the product and how it fits into a person’s life that brings meaning to the product. Not how many items it has on a features and benefits list or because it uses some “cool” technology.

What makes this methodology powerful is that it is now possible to design more than just a product. You can now design services and processes on top of the products that may fit within those services and process. As soon as you wrap your head around this subtle difference, you will start to see where the value lies in the having design on your side.

 

 

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Changing the World

It is interesting how little themes start to pop up everywhere you look when you start looking for it. It was really struck home for me when my 9 year old daughter who, while sitting in the back seat of our car, noticed the fact that she now notices dogs everywhere now that she really wants one. A simple example that demonstrates my point. I need to go and do a search through my archives, but I am quite sure I’ve mentioned that I have believed for a long time that I have a bigger role to play in “this life”. The idea of “changing the world” is a grandiose goal, but it is one that I believe I am capable of. More to that, I believe it is one that anyone is capable of if they have something they believe in strongly enough to do it.

The thing about “changing the world” is that it is a bit of a non sequitur. It is one of those sayings that is difficult for anyone to dispute. It is also nearly impossible  to measure.

I was recently involved in a conversation on the Core77 discussion forums where I first started noticing the recurring them of “changing the world” in my life. I have come to the belief that I have followed a meandering path through industrial design that has been leading me towards learning that I am capable of changing the world. As was stated in the above link to the Core77 discussion:

Then you hit 40-something and you realize that your skills truly can change the world and you’ve been wasting them on helping other assholes make a shit pile of money that want to nickel and dime you to the end.

It is a bit of a jaded approach to the issue at hand, but it is also a pretty liberating thought process. I’ve spent the past 20 years of my life learning skills that, if I apply them the way I know I can, I have the ability to change the world. I’m envious of those who learn this at a younger age. There are people all over the world that are learning…or more to the point, believing….they have the ability to change the world. I love that we seem to be entering an era that is dedicated to rising the tide for us all. It is well demonstrated in a discussion with Ken Banks and Desmond Tutu (shown below, or you can go to Vimeo here). They participated in a social entrepreneurship course that took place on a cruise ship that travelled the world visiting sites where there are problems to be solved for those living in poverty. A pretty amazing concept.  A boat full of people that may not yet know that they can change the world, but they want to learn. Simply Awesome.

 

 

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Design and Policy Management

I’ve been considering the thoughts around the curation of the design industry for a couple years now. It started about 2 years ago when I got involved in the International Council for the Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID). I’ve been using the word “curator” because it seems that the design industry requires someone that can manage the discussion of the industry. It currently seems that the curator of the design industry is IDEO. They seem to have have the most voice and attract the most public attention when it comes to the discussion(s) surrounding the design industry.

The realization I am coming to is that the term I should be using is “Policy”. Who manages policy for the design industry…specifically the Industrial Design industry? I would think that organizations like IDSA (Industrial Design Society of America) or ACID (Association of Canadian Industrial Designers). I know that ACID does some policy management, but it is not particularly transparent. The same goes for IDSA. I don’t see any indication of policy management. Even more to the point, I don’t see the driving of design policy.

I will be the first to admit that just because I don’t “see it” doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I do know, however, that most government policy makers I speak with (still) don’t seem to understand the value of Industrial Design, and therefore are not gaining benefits of tax credits (e.g. SR&ED in Canada) that other R&D fields get.

This thought process comes from the AVC.com blog where Fred Wilson speaks about his Venture Capital company and their focus on managing policy for their portfolio of investments.

So, if you’re involved with any of these professional industries I’m referring to, I’d love to hear how you’re driving policy.

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Plant Some Shit

Ron Finley provides, hands down, the most inspiring presentation I’ve seen that speaks to how we can contribute to “unfucking the world”. This topic of “unfucking the world” is huge in my mind right now. I’ve said to many people lately that I’m a doer. I am the kind of personality that needs a mission. I’m looking for people that want to help me to do my part in “unfucking the world”.

Not once did Mr. Finley use the words “unfuck the world”. He wore it on a tee shirt that was displayed in one of his slides. I love it and it will likely be rattling around in my head for quite some time. Because I need something that will allow me to move out of this place where I feel as though I’m just wading through the mire of crap around me. Mr. Finley’s purpose isn’t mine. But it is similarly motivated. It is motivated by wanting to act on something bigger than  ourselves. It is motivated by wanting to do something more than sit back and watch what feels like the world crumbling around us.

I’ve tried the garden thing. It isn’t “me”. So, while I applaud Ron Finley and his actions to try and help reimagine South Central Los Angeles…I don’t see me planting some shit. I see me building some shit and I need help doing so. I need a donor funder.

If you have some cash that is burning a hole in your pocket and you want to put it towards something that could, conceivably, help change the world. Please get in touch with me. You will be hearing more about Kijani Technology in the near future. But until then, watch Ron Finley’s video and see if it inspires you to plant some shit:

 

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Design & Thinking

I’m down in Seattle for a screening of the documentary “Design & Thinking“. It is a Kickstarter-funded movie that gets into the discussion of “what is design” and how it applies to the world around us. My company (OneOak Design) in conjunction with Analytic Design Group organized the event. I am moderating a discussion panel after the movie that has Alysha Naples (TEAGUE), Carl Ledbetter (Microsoft XBox), and Karyn Zuidinga (Analytic Design Group).

It is completely sold out which is very exciting. 300 people coming to the Seattle Art Museum to discuss design, have a few appies, a few drinks, and some good conversations.

 

Design is Sales

I’ve been rummaging this thought through my brain for several months now. It was reinforced to such a strong degree this morning that it has me needing to get it out there. Design is Sales in both a literal and figurative sense. Here’s what I mean:

Design is Sales in that if your product is poorly designed it won’t sell. Especially in the consumer realm, good design is simply table stakes for product development. So, design translates to sales.

Design is Sales is also figurative. As in, the role of a designer is similar to that of salesman. Selling your idea to someone is what design is all about. As a design contractor, your job starts by trying to sell the design process to a client before it quickly proceeds to designing a series of viable product design concepts that need to be sold to the client.

Think about the premise that the sales process is all about finding the emotional reasons someone might want to buy. Every sale is based on an emotional need. One person might have their ass in a sling because they bit off more than they can chew and now they have to bring in more bodies. Someone else might want to hire a “rockstar” designer because it pumps their ego. There are myriad reasons why people buy things. It is no different from a TV to Design Services.

So, if every sale is an emotional one, and every designer is trying to make an emotional connection to a product….Design is Sales.

I’d love to see more designers get sales training and the first place designers need to start focusing those sales training courses is on their own profession. Designers suck at selling design. I’ve never understood why a profession that is so good as a whole at creating emotional connections with products, can’t turn those skills on their own profession.

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HackThings Presentation at Madrona VC in Seattle

I’m presenting on Thursday for a HackThings Meetup in Seattle at the offices of Madrona (a Seattle-based venture capital firm). I’ve been putting together the presentation for the past couple of days and I’m starting to get pretty excited about it.

The gist of the discussion is around my belief that hardware development is about to take off again. I see many signs in the tea leaves that make me believe that we’re on the verge of a huge uptick in hardware product development. My belief is that the majority of this uptick is going to happen behind the scenes. Non-consumer products will dominate the trend. Some call it Machine-to-Machine (M2M) others call it the Internet of Things. My belief is that the two terms are complimentary. M2M is the development of the back-end platform(s) that enable the front-end hardware (the Things of the Internet). One can’t happen without the other.

Companies like Deloitte are touting the boom of M2M as well. I’ve seen wildly varying projections when it comes to the connections of “Things” to the Internet. All of the numbers are in the Billions. Example:

By the year 2020 we will see 50,000,000,000 devices with connections to the Internet. – Wavefront AC

To put that number in perspective, there are 100,000,000,000 stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. It’s a pretty unfathomable number. Considering we’re poised to pass (if we haven’t already) the equivalent of one connected device per person on the planet in 2013 (7.067 as per Wikipedia), there is a lot of work to be done by 2020 to hit 50 Billion connected devices.

If my invitation to present down at Madrona is any indication, they’re paying attention to these numbers and are looking at hardware investments. If you’re a Designer, you should be seeing the same opportunities I am here. With the tight integration needed between hardware and software that will be needed there is a LOT of work to be done on the User Experience and Industrial Design fronts. Which is part of what I’m going to be espousing on Thursday.

If you’re a Designer, what opportunities do you see in the numbers being presented above? What concerns?

 

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Are Metrics the Foundations for Success?

Quantifying progress. It’s a thought process that I’ve always been on board with, but I’ve always struggled with when it comes to the discipline required to log the data that tracks success over time. I meet the deadlines, or other targets, but at the end of the day, I don’t really have any way of gauging how efficient…or more important, how effective I was over the course of time.

If you don’t have a plan, you’re guaranteed to lose. If you have a plan, it is guaranteed to change.

For my brain, the idea of goal setting is nebulous because things change as the quote above so deftly states. So many things at any given time feel as though they are important. Planning is a great thing, don’t get me wrong. It is one of the things that my company puts a lot of stock in. It’s part of our mandate. The thing about planning is that it sets the road map and you can hit every milestone along the way and even have the project deemed successful at the end because you launched your project. Metrics like release dates, or product cost targets, or whatever are (typically) easy to hit. But success is different from effectiveness. You could easily be successful in your project  because you hit a deadline when in reality the project was a failure because your effectiveness on, I don’t know, manpower was way off.

If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know how to get there. If you don’t track how you got there, you won’t know where you’ve been.

My brain works in a way that rebels against looking to the past. Looking over the shoulder feels like stalling progress. I’ve always known this is something that in the long run probably hurts my effectiveness. As I get older, I am finding I need to hone these skills more. It was pointed out, yet again, by Bill Gates’ annual letter written for the Gates Foundation. Gates states that he read a book called “The Most Powerful Idea in the World” by William Rosen. The book, Gates says, posits that the success of the Industrial Revolution came as a direct result of measurement. The invention of tools like the micrometer allowed for engineers to measure how effective incremental changes were in the development of steam engines. When you’re someone like Gates who is investing hundreds of millions of dollars towards charitable causes, you have to believe he’s not going to let that money go willy nilly. Metrics must play to how he’s going to provide that money to someone.

All food for thought as I consider the future.

 

 

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