Bring The Woo!

The Woo is the moment during a sporting event when the fingertip grab is made or the big open ice hit is laid on someone and the crowd goes “Wooooooo”. It is a moment every athlete strives for. Those moments are very easy to come by in the day to day. They’re usually more subtle and far more difficult to define because The Woo moment is a very subjective one and will change from person to person. The one thing that I’m realizing for me is that The Woo isn’t brought by playing it safe.

The Woo, in the context of business, is the product that creates a moment of magic for the user. There are examples all over the place. I remember the first time I put on a pair of headphones and listened to a Walkman. That was a Woo moment. So much so, that I can remember where I was and what I was listening to. The opening of Queen’s “The Game” poured out of those odd foam covered discs that I pressed against my ears. Sounds hopped from one ear to the other and Freddy Mercury sounded like he was singing right there on the street with me. I could still hear the birds and cars in the background. It was magic.

Too much time in corporate world is spent playing the equivalent of a prevent defence. Some might argue that The Woo is brought because you saved the win. But in reality, nobody brings The Woo trying to save the win. Nolan Richardson, ex-Coach of the Arkansas Basketball Team, summed up Woo with the analogy of “Forty Minutes of Hell”. He coached his teams to bring The Woo every single game, for a full forty minutes.

I’m seeking The Woo. I’m trying to remember the last time I brought The Woo and I’m struggling…which is a bad sign.

When was the last time you either experienced The Woo, or brought it yourself?

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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 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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Research and Design as The New R&D

I’ve been contemplating the direction of product development. Traditional technology companies follow the idea of R&D meaning Research and Development. They follow the premise that both Research AND Development are quantitative offerings. Research that is based on quantifiable and actionable steps towards proving (or disproving) a hypothesis. The design industry is a very subjective industry. One that is based as much on historical accounting that informs product decisions moving forward as it is based in ethnographic studies of human behavior that inform product decisions.

The issue I run into when discussing R&D with colleagues and prospective clients is that Research is generally lumped into the quantitative model described above. It is engineering driven and follows a linear path to a solution. The reality of product development, especially when one is trying to crack a new market or product category, is that there is no way to quantitatively assess.

Let’s explore this just a smidge:

I was at a Deloitte Predictions presentation yesterday for the wireless and mobile industries. The one shocker piece of (quantitative) research that came out of it was that the majority of youth under 24 are NOT using tablets. They are predominately using PCs over tablets. In other words, tablets are not going to take over the world (yet?). So, how do we use that? If you go strictly by the numbers, you should be considering abandoning the long term development of tablets. But the reality of it is the quantitative research put out by Deloitte should be triggering a while pile of qualitative ethnographic research into user behavior in this realm to explore the WHY this demographic aren’t using the tablets. The WHY would then open the door to information that could lead to new product niches moving forward.

In short, one form of research is not a panacea. Neither types of research is better than the other, in reality, they compliment each other. Based on my qualitative assessment of the tech industry, especially in Vancouver, there is very little qualitative research being conducted BEFORE product development even commences.

This is a subject that is becoming very front and center for me. I’d love to chat with anyone who might be on either side of this discussion to help me better understand it.

 

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Google Provides Colossal Win for Design

If you don’t believe design is an important part of your business, here’s exhibit 1 why you should be running for the Mayor of Wrongville for holding on to those beliefs. Design, no matter how you design it, is about the creation of a culture within your company. So many companies run around bragging about being engineering/tech/market(ing) driven and wonder why they either don’t succeed or why they reach critical mass very quickly. There was no other company that epitomized this engineering (or in their case data) driven thought process than Google.

Watch the video and hopefully you will see the power of design and, even more to the point, the power of storytelling that video can bring for you and your company.

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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