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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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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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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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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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.

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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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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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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