Vancouver Maker Faire

I took the kids to the Vancouver Maker Faire this past weekend. It was pretty much what I expected. My summary of the event would be “overpriced, under good, but worth going to”.

Maker Faire

There are so many things I want to love about Maker culture but I can’t get past the fact that the majority of the stuff there is kitschy at best. Now, what The Faire has in spades is fun. It also has clever. The fun and clever mashed together is what makes The Faire worth going to. I also have to take into consideration that other cities have a much richer Maker community based on reviews I’ve read.

The core of the problem that I find with most things like Maker Faire and other tech cultures is that the focus is always on the tech. The why behind the tech is typically non-existent. I am a firm believer that the why behind a product is far more important than the tech. Good tech alone, if it doesn’t tap into why people will love it is…well…kitschy.

So, I walked away from the Maker Faire knowing that my job as a design and innovation consultant is not in jeopardy from the Maker world in the near future. But what does the future hold for the Maker Culture? There is no doubt that technologies like 3D printing will change our world. The irony in all the hubbub surrounding 3D printing is that it is the perfect case study for my comments about meaning. The 3D printing world has been a bustling industry for close to 20 years. The technology has finally reached a point, similar to Desktop Publishing in the 90s, where it is now accessible by the masses. Anyone, literally, can have a 3D printer on their desk.

But why?

As a designer, I know exactly why I need one. I know exactly what value it brings. 3D printing is going to be a geek tech until someone figures out why Mom and Dad need a 3D printer. The other thing that comes to mind as I wander down this thought hole, is that maybe the tech has already found its “why”. It is to enable more garage geeks to invent some cool gadget. There is going to be a lot of crap to sort through, but accessibility to tech like 3D printing in conjunction with things like Arduino can create some great ideas. Making those ideas businesses, that’s a whole other can of worms. I didn’t see that problem being solved by the Maker Faire. But then again, I don’t think it should.

 

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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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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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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 RI..er...Blackberry'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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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.

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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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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