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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RIM/Blackberry Just Jumped the Shark

If you’re standing, please sit down before you read this. If you’re part of the tech world, you know that RIM has officially changed their name to Blackberry. You also know that they have just released their latest smartphone on the Blackberry 10 OS. They have two immediate releases they are calling the Z10 and the B10. The Z10 is a touchscreen only iPhone-type phone. It is to be the first released. The B10 is a smartphone that uses the QWERTY keypad that made RI.err…Blackberry famous in the first place.

Now, this is where it starts to get stupid and you need to sit down. Seriously.

Okay, there are two more items that are showing that RI…er…Blackberry are going the way of Henry Winkler and first thing isn’t THAT bad. It was simply the canary in the coal mine for the moronocity that is coming out of Ontario right now. I was drinking my morning coffee the other day and was reading about the launch of RI…er…Blackberry’s new phones and this single sentence from the article stood out:

A QWERTY keyboard version is coming and RIM is promising at least six different BB10 devices by the end of the year.

It’s the last part of the quote that kills me. RI…er….Blackberry is promising not two, not three….but SIX new devices by the end of the year! Not only are they wading back into the big-boy pool after getting their assess handed to them upon the release of their Playbook tablet, but their wading back into the pool trying to get SIX variations of phones right. Six? Really RI…er….Blackberry? How about you kibosh the other four models you are trying to flood the market with and focus on making your two products you’ve already announced really, really damn good? Because, something tells me they’re not.

Now, here’s where I want to hop on a plane to Ontario so I can kick RI…er….Blackberry’s Chief Marketing Officer, Frank Boulben, in the nuts.

Alicia Keys as's Global Creative Director


Tada! Alicia Keys is RI…er…Blackberry’s new Global Creative Director!!! How’s that for a crapping in your design team’s Corn Flakes? I can just imagine the discussions that are going on in RI…er….BlackBerry headquarters right now.

On behalf of the executive team at RI…er…BlackBerry, I officially apologize to each and every designer, engineer, and other working grunt that has busted their ass to bring out these, presumably, six new phones in the next year. I was hoping RI…err…BlackBerry was going to pull this off. I was cheering for them. I wanted them to come back. But, this is simply too offensive. It is Marketing run amok pulling out acts of desperation. They haven’t learned a thing from the past 5 or 6 years of getting their butts kicked.

It’s time to move on.


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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.


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.


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.


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


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.

Who is the Curator for Industrial Design?

I’ve been pondering the question of who is the curator for Industrial Design. The question comes up often enough in my head, that I can’t help but think that it is one that has to be going through other designers’ heads as well. It was brought even more front and center recently when I was invited to interview for the IDSA‘s recent opening for Executive Director. For years, I’ve thought of IDSA as the industry’s curator. But that definitely does not seem to be the case….at least if you use what my observations lean towards as a general malaise whenever the topic of IDSA comes up.

IDSA went outside of the design industry for the Executive Director position. I have yet to decide whether I think this a good thing or a bad thing. On the good side, IDSA needs a fresh perspective. We’re in changing times and I believe that the industry is hungry for leadership. Someone coming in with the experience of leading industry organizations could very well be the thing that’s needed.

My problem is all the grey on top of Mr. Martinage’s head. If there’s an industry that I believe belongs to youth it is industrial design. In an era of shifting communication methods and less bandwidth than ever with ever shorting time frames to keep people’s attention….I’m not convinced it is someone north of 50 who should be taking on this job. But, time will tell. The one thing I do believe from my time speaking with IDSA, is that they understand that they are behind the eight ball and they believe change is needed.

Another item that makes me question who the curator for our industry is comes from a recent 60 minutes spot about IDEO. As quoted from the spot, Charlie Rose states:

IDEO may be the most influential product design company in the world

The lines start to blur in a world of Twitter, Facebook, and PR spins at every turn. We have “design supersites” like Core77, and design management groups (DMI). Slather a layer of global organizations on top of it all with the International Council for the Society of Industrial Deign (ICSID) and then sprinkle in a dusting of local organizations like we have here in Canada (BCID, ACID, Design Exchange, etc.) and you have a veritable quagmire of voices all trying to angle for the position of Curator.

So, who is the curator for Industrial Design? I for one hope an organization like IDSA can take up the mantle. I find it disconcerting when a corporation like IDEO is in the position of being the voice of an industry. I’d love for someone to prove me wrong on this observation.

What do you think? Who is curator for industrial design?

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Life is Supposed to be Exceptional

Leave it to me to find the take away quote from a great 18 minute TED talk to be:

Taking jobs to build a resume is like saving sex for old age

– Warren Buffett

But, that’s my brain.

What this post is really about is something I’m immensely interested in right now. How to make life exceptional. I’ve spent far to long doing what I’m supposed to do and it has gotten me right where I’m supposed to be. For me, that’s not good enough.

If you’re like me and needing a kick in the ass. The above video will be worth 18 minutes of your life.

Our Lease on Life

We all carry a different lease on life. Unlike most leases, we have no idea when this lease expires. Someone can live a healthy life full of exercise and vegetables and will die of a heart attack at 38 while another can smoke 80 cigarettes a day while punishing their liver with scotch and die at a ripe old age of 97. Fairness plays zero part in it.

I watched my father die of lung cancer when I was 14. Since the day of his death I’ve felt as though my lease has an expiry date somewhere around the age of 44 (the age my father was when he died). Now that I’m less than 3 years from that age, I’ve been spending a bit of time reconsidering my thoughts on the idea of my lease on life. What happens if I tear it up? What happens if I stop reading the fine print that tells me that the lease expires on or around May of 2015. Hell, what if that fine print is something that I can renegotiate?

It happened for Ric Elias:

Ric is a guy who survived a plan crash. A well publicized one, at that. He walked away from it with a few choice thoughts. Three of which he briefly talks about in the above TED Talk.

My story doesn’t really jive with Ric’s story. I realize that. He speaks about learning that being a good father is his top priority. This was never an issue for me. Ever since the day my daughter was born, the idea that might not get to see her (and subsequently my son) grow up has haunted me. I know first hand, that this is a very real possibility.

So, the real question, is what do I do with a new lease on life if I allow myself to have it? If I can strip away my self-imposed expiration date. Does it change anything? Should it change anything? This has been something I’ve been carrying around the majority of my life. How does one dismantle that kind of mental junk pile?

We shall see.

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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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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