Posted by Fosta
| 17 Jun 2013
In every job there is a line between personal time and employment. In some roles, the line is very clear, demarcated by a klaxon, punch card or timesheet. In other fields of work, the line is blurred, sometimes to the point of vanishing altogether. Design is one of those fields.
Every designer is a cultural voyeur—a perpetual sponge for inspiration and a running faucet for ideas. When we design, we draw on experiences from our private lives, from our travels and observations. Design is a lifestyle, the method acting of careers. Design doesn't stop at 5pm.
When individuals take jobs with design firms, they sign contracts and begin to serve their clients. With that step comes a disconnect between employment and personal time. Contracts typically draw hard lines around the two with a variety of privacy and commitment clauses. Personal projects are often relegated to second place in the hierarchy of creativity, and referred to euphemistically as moonlighting. This is a thorny issue with some Paleolithic attitudes, but one which would benefit from open discussion.
Genera of Moonlighting
As I see it, all moonlighting work sits upon a sliding scale:
- A blog or other public writing
- Public speaking or conference appearances
- Work for friends, family or self
- External client work
Every case is different, but at some point in the scale, every company draws a line. Some are more flexible, some are more regimented, but every contract has a clause referring to this behavior. Let's take a quick look at the key drivers behind these clauses (followed by a quick debunking of each):
Continuing our journey through Design @ Your Service, the article below is a contribution from service thinker Luis Alt (founder of live|work in Brazil). Good read!
Take a look around. It is very likely that right now you are surrounded by objects that in some way or another make your life better and more pleasant. All those objects have been in some degree designed—some nicely, others not so much.
Now, if you start thinking about the way you interact with the world around you, you will notice one other common pattern: you access your life through services. Private services, governmental services, local services, global services, digital services, physical services. You use the world around through the services that somewhat are available to you. When you interact with a product, very often someone has put a lot of thought into figuring out beforehand how your experience should be when dealing with this object. Product and interaction designers take into consideration users desires and needs, materials and processes that are available for manufacturing the product and they run a series of anthropometric and ergonomic studies to come up with the final object. Everything is done in order to make sure that you will get the best experience possible when in contact with this product—which also makes it easier to sell it in the first place.
But let's take a look at the different services that we access. Who is behind the solutions we use on a daily basis? Who is thinking about our experience when we order something at a restaurant, don't receive a package at home or forget to pay a bill that never got to us in the first place? Unfortunately the answer is, in most cases, no one. We are using everyday services that have not been thought to our benefit as customers, but instead to be easy and, most of all, efficient to its providers. The business must run efficiently and it's up to the user to 'deal' with it.
Much has been said in marketing theories that we get to use products by interacting with a whole range of services that exist around it. If I want to use my phone, for instance, I have to buy it in a retail store, pay my monthly bills and then I'm ready to, well, use the device. We think the opposite. Service thinking teaches us that any product is just one mean to access a set of services (or a main service). Take the mobile phone, for instance: in the essence of everything is the service. The bill, the store, the mobile phone, etc. are just products or services that help me to communicate with others or access information through a connected network. In the core of everything, there is the service.
Now the really good question is, "What exactly should be designed in a service?" And our answer to that is: what shouldn't? Service designers have to take an important role in the new service order, given they are the ones with the capacity to navigate between the broad and strategic aspects of the service and to translate the business purpose into user journeys that are useful, usable and desirable, thinking on the overall experiences of clients and service providers that are connected throughout different touchpoints.
It has been said over and over again that we now live in a service economy. For most developed countries, that means more than 70% of their GDP is driven by the service sector. For the not so developed ones, the number can range from 60–70%—still pretty high. In fact, the lowest sector-based GDP income countries are Saudi Arabia (31.1%) , Indonesia (38.8%), United Arab Emirates (39.8%), China (44.6%) and Iran (48.2%). Meanwhile, the rest of the globe is running more than half of its economic machine solely on service oil.
Before you act surprised about China being on the lower-end of this list, I should add that they expect a 4.5 points increase on their service sector GDP by the end of 2015. That, in numbers, is huge. This is not a coincidence—rather, it is a pattern that runs on top of every economy that is serious about putting itself on the development runaway. There's a clear product-to-services economic shift taking place and it is silently, or not so, affecting the way we live and work.
In some ways, we do know what that means. Metaphorically speaking, it means that we are becoming a software-based economy while industry steadily moves away from its manufacture smoky days and grabs a slice of the digital-era pie in nearly every sector. It also means that we, as consumers, are more willing to trade possession for access and that we expect to engage in relationships instead of short-term transactions when we buy.
What about design?
Economical shifts are not new to design. In fact, industrial design was born out of a shockwave caused by the mother of all economical shifts: the Industrial Revolution. The early Bauhaus movement was about creating a new breed of professionals called industrial designers. These were people who could both look back at the artisan mindset and look forward to the new industry, not aside or against it. In order to do that, this new breed had to integrate arts and business thinking, yes, business thinking, as production was the imperative business model those days. Ok, let's call it "production thinking."
Despite the recent explosion of fancy design suffixes, real design was never alienated from business. No, I'm not talking about art or the shallow exploration of design in advertising. Instead, real design, since its early days, has always been about bringing a human perspective to any system in order to find opportunities to create positive impact, and, at the same time, keep a steady and sharp eye on business profitability and/or execution viability.
Returning to the present, we are now living the next shockwave. I'm talking about an economy that has moved from the commercialization of hard-goods to a more dematerialized state where people exchange electrons and borrow thing from one another instead of owning it—an economic system where it is possible to thrive whether or not you sit at an industrial plant. A system where David-like startups are seriously threatening gigantic marble dinosaurs by rethinking the way they serve their customers.
Alright. It is what it is, and gosh, thanks for the most of it. But that being said, what are the new skills and knowledge we are going to need in order to keep designing for this new world?
Posted by Roland Boal
| 29 Mar 2013
Note: The Latin script versions of Chinese names contained in this article are for illustrative purposes only and are not intended to be accurate Pinyin (the official Latin script version of Chinese characters.
It is not a novel observation to say that names, whether they belong to people or to brands, are important, but in China they assume an even greater level of significance than they do in the West. Amazingly, this is sometimes overlooked by companies moving into the Chinese market, sometimes to their cost.
In China, names always mean something descriptive. Take popular girl's name 丽娟 (pronounced Li Juan) for example. Its popularity stems not just from its agreeable sound, but also because it means 'beautiful and gracious.' Brand names are no different: to succeed they must not only sound appealing but provide some kind of suggestion as to what the product or service is offering the consumer.
A foreign company looking to launch their brand in China must overcome several challenges before settling on a suitable name. Insisting on using a Western one implies a lack of respect for the local market as much as it misses the opportunity to communicate something 'on brand' to consumers unfamiliar with the name.
That is quite apart from the fact that anything written in Latin characters will be illegible to many people.
Instead, a name needs to be found that does at least some (but preferably all) of the following:
1.) It can be written using Chinese characters
2.) The chosen characters result in a name that sounds enough like the original as to be convincing
3.) The characters sound pleasing in and of themselves
4.) The characters mean something appropriate to the brand, either an expression of the values of the brand or the performance of the product or service.
I first became aware of these layers of subtlety when I was learning to introduce Priestmangoode in Chinese. The name 'Priestmangoode' is a combination of the family names of two of our directors and, as such, doesn't actually mean anything. We needed a version of our name that could be written in Chinese, and eventually settled on 普睿谷. Pronounced 'Pu Rae Gu,' it sounds enough like our original name to be convincing and can be translated as: 普 - universal, popular; 睿 - wise, astute; 谷 - valley. Whilst this may not immediately appear to be a perfect match for a product and transport design consultancy, each word does reflect a value of our brand. We believe that good design should be universal and available to all. Our experience of designing products and services all over the world over many years means we offer design solutions sensible to their environment. As for the translation of 谷 to valley, this actually means 'a place where treasure can be found.' Not unlike Silicon Valley.
When deciding upon a Chinese brand name, it is possible to take one of several approaches. The simplest of these is to identify a straight phonetic translation that means nothing. Cadillac, for example, are known in China as 凯迪拉克 (Ka Di La Ke), which sounds spot-on, but has no meaning: an approach that would only work for an already well-known brand.
Another solution is to choose a name that means something but bears no relation to the pronunciation of the original name. It would be hard to argue that 佳能 (Jia Neng) has much in common with Canon, or that 路虎 (Lu Hu) really does sound like Land Rover. But they do mean largely brand-appropriate things: 'Good and Capable' for Canon and 'Tiger on the Road' for Land Rover.
However, the strongest examples are those where all four criteria are satisfied, and there is an almost poetic symmetry to some of them. Coca-Cola, for instance, known as 可口可乐 (Ke Kou Ke Le), works on every level by also meaning 'delicious and joyful.' Even with tens of thousands of Chinese characters to choose from, that is either very lucky or very clever.
Subway, the high-street sandwich chain, have also been successful. 赛百味 (pronounced Sai Bai Wei) means 'better than a hundred other tastes.' Whilst off-road vehicle manufacturer Hummer are 悍马 (Han Ma) or 'Tough and Strong Horse.'
Posted by Don Norman
| 19 Mar 2013
OK, I take it back. Well, some of it anyway.
In June, 2010, I posted an essay on Core77 entitled "Design Thinking: A Useful Myth." (Got a lot of responses, that one did.) Since my essay was posted, I keep encountering people who jump to solutions and who fail to question assumptions—engineers, business people, and yes, designers (and design students). These encounters made me reconsider. I observed design students who were acting mindlessly, simply doing their assignments as presented. No creativity, no imagination, no questioning. That's not what design thinking is about. As a result, I have changed my mind: Design Thinking really is special. Alas, it isn't embraced by all designers, but where it exists, it is powerful. However, if we call this "design thinking," then shouldn't all designers do it?
I am here to say that I now have rethought my position. I still stand by the major points of the earlier essay, but I have changed the conclusion. As a result, the essay should really be titled: Design Thinking: An Essential Tool. Let me explain.
Posted by Jeroen van Geel
| 26 Feb 2013
Image courtesy of smashingbuzz
Jeroen van Geel was invited to participate in the Redux at Interaction 13 in Toronto. Speakers were invited to reflect upon the conference content on the last day of the conference. This is part of his reflection, combined with some after thoughts.
Interaction design is a young field. At least, that's what we as interaction designers keep telling ourselves. And of course, in comparison to many other fields we are respectfully young. But I get the feeling that we use it more as an excuse to permit ourselves to have an unclear definition of who we are—and who we aren't.
At this year's Interaction Design Association (IxDA) conference, Interaction 13, you got a good overview of the topics that are of interest to interaction designers. And I can tell you that, as long as it has something to do with human behaviour, it seems of interest. In four days time there were talks and discussions around data, food design, social, health, gaming, personas, storytelling, lean, business and even changing the world. The topics ranged from the very specific task of creation of attributes to having an impact on a global scale. It shows that interaction designers have a great curiosity and want to understand many aspects of life. When we think we have an understanding of how things work, we have the feeling that we can impact everything. Of course this is great and we all know that curiosity should be stimulated, but at the same time this energy and endless search for knowledge can be a curse. Before we know it we become the jack of all trades, master of none. Interaction designers already have a lot of difficulty explaining their exact value. But where does it end? I don't know the answer, because I myself understand this endless curiosity and see how it helps me to improve my skills. Maybe the question is: are we becoming more a belief than a field?
The theme of Interaction 13 was 'social innovation with impact.' From this topic there were several presentations that focused on the role of interaction designers making the world a better place. Almost all designers in general, but every interaction designer specifically, wants to have this kind of impact. Over the last few years I've seen quite a few presentations at 'User Experience' conferences where a speaker enthusiastically puts his fist in the air and proclaimed that the time has come for the interaction designer to make the world more livable. Everybody cheered, interaction designers rallied up with their sharpies and thought they could solve every possible wicked problem. They enthusiastically went back to their huge corporation or agency in the hope that the next day they would finally get this world-changing assignment from their boss. But of course it didn't work that way.
Posted by Bruce M. Tharp
| 7 Jan 2013
This is the third column in a series on product licensing from materious' Bruce Tharp.
So let's say that you have decided to pursue a licensing contract for your new product idea instead of trying to go into the production and distribution business yourself. You are OK with losing control of the final product outcome, and you are comfortable with the tradeoff of much-less-work for (potentially) much-less-compensation. I say "potentially" because even though going it alone affords a greater percentage of the profit, there is still the issue of "percentage of what?" If you choose the right licensing partner, their ability to sell product through their well-established distribution channels is likely much better than yours. A bigger share of smaller sales can be worse than a smaller share of much bigger sales.
But after the decision to license, the first question that I am almost always asked is, "What's to keep a company from stealing my idea after I show it to them?" Enter the confidentiality conundrum...
The Buddhist notion of the "beginner's mind" is a great way to approach the design of a product; similarly, the Licensor's Mind is also predicated upon an inherent humility. Three of its many tenets are:
- Your idea is not as unique as you might think
- Even if some aspect is particularly unique, profitability does not necessarily follow novelty
- The licensee has more to lose than you do
I know of many designers that are so worried about someone stealing their ideas that they do nothing with their ideas—they remain buried in their sketchbook (and by "buried," I mean dead). The licensor's mind is comfortable with risk, knowing that there is no reward without at least a modicum of risk. And generally the risk of disclosing your idea to a potential licensee should be far less daunting than risking hundreds, if not thousands of work-hours, and tens of thousands of dollars when going into business yourself.
Of course, willingness to risk does not imply naïveté. For the licensor, there are two fundamental tools of the trade that predicate the opening of the kimono: the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) and the provisional patent application (PPA). In this article we will discuss the NDA, while the PPA will be discussed in a future column.
The NDA, or Confidentiality Agreement (CA), is a tried and true contract through which two parties agree to handle the secrecy of disclosed information. A simple web search will produce many examples, or you can download a few telling contracts from my own experience with actual companies here.
Posted by Roland Boal
| 18 Dec 2012
The change in perception of goods being 'made in China' to 'designed in China' is very important to Chinese industry. Whereas the former is indelibly associated with high volume, low quality production, the latter signals a long-overdue transition from decades spent as a producer of throwaway objects to the creator and manufacturer of world-class products.
At least, it should do. When it comes to China, instead of defining 'design' as a broad discipline, encompassing mass-produced products to hand crafted objects (and everything in-between), the global design press often seems to be focusing on arts and craft, to the exclusion of almost anything else. Any mention of the nascent design scene in China on design blogs or in magazines invariably focus on 3D designer/makers and 3D artifacts that are products only in the loosest sense of the word: that they are physical things that have been man-made. That this is not the be-all and end-all of what is being designed in China seems to be going largely unnoticed.
I am conscious that as an industrial designer I am tempted, by default, to define design as being limited to products like consumer electronics or vehicles. There is no such limitation, of course, but it is true that if you were to stop someone in the street and ask them what 'design in Italy' means, they would undoubtedly say: Ferraris, suits, handbags, stylish homewares, yachts... all consumer products.
Posted by Tad Toulis
| 13 Nov 2012
The other night, I caught myself riveted to one of those blocks of cable programing one stumbles upon with increasing frequency: back-to-back episodes of some show you've never heard of. On this particular evening the focus was Animal Planet's Monster Inside Me. For those who haven't had the pleasure, each episode is a gruesome account of parasitic infestations and the effects they wreck on their human hosts. While not quite appointment viewingthe show is definitely compelling in an 'I-can't-believe-what-I'm-seeing' sort of way. On this night, as I settled into my 3rd straight episode, I found my thoughts drifting towards creativity; specifically to how organizational operations, like outsized autoimmune systems, often function in pitch-perfect opposition to creativity and innovation efforts.
This idea first started knocking about in my head a few months back when a client lent me a copy of The Other Side of Innovation by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble. The book presents some interesting arguments as to why innovation efforts frequently fail. It's not merely that these efforts generally traffic outside the norms of the organization, according to Govindarajan and Trimble, they operate in direct conflict with them. Think about it: an organization strives to achieve a certain measure of success and that success, if met, leads to growth. Overtime the organization necessarily figures its business out; they learn how to do what they do. Growth is the proof that they've cracked the code for doing it in a manner that's repeatable and in balance. This state of equilibrium, and the mechanism that keeps it all humming along smoothly and without frictionis the performance engine. A codified system of hard won practices and truths that keep the flywheel spinning 24/7. It's the recipe that works within the context of the business as it is.
Posted by Roland Boal
| 9 Oct 2012
Opening Ceremony of Beijing Design Week 2012
Having lived in Qingdao for a few months now, it has been interesting to observe and reflect on the differences in working cultures between the West and China. Watching the opening ceremony of this year's Olympic Games in particular led me to think about what these inaugural showpieces say about the host nations.
The London 2012 ceremony was quintessentially British: ingenious, rambling and bursting at the seams with creativity. Four years earlier, the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games was a beautiful and expansive showcase of impeccable timing, precision and immaculately orchestrated entertainment. Its sheer scale and splendour were unprecedented, even for an Olympic event. As one commentator pointed out, the Beijing ceremony was both 'awe-inspiring and perhaps a little intimidating'.
Interestingly, what I have been able to observe over recent months is that the scale and grandeur demonstrated in Beijing 2008 was just one example—albeit the biggest —of the way in which the Chinese use pomp to ensure an event gets underway with the most successful start possible.
I had another opportunity to witness this on a recent trip to the opening of an industrial design expo in a city near Shanghai. Having arrived early for an 8:30am start, I was somewhat taken aback to see over 3,000 people arrive en masse to listen to senior local dignitaries rhapsodize about the importance of the expo for the town's future, and convey how proud they were to be a part of it. After perhaps an hour of speeches, the theme from The Magnificent Seven rung out and an enormous explosion of fireworks lit up the sky. Following the display, everyone—including the politicians—promptly left the event on chartered coaches. Show over. Having never seen anything like this in Europe, I turned to my guide and asked if that was typical. 'Of course!' she eagerly replied, seemingly confused by my question.
Posted by Don Lehman
| 25 Sep 2012
Kickstarter made some interesting changes to the rules Project Creators must follow last week. What's really interesting about these rules, is that they mainly affect only Product Design and Hardware projects.
Let me take you through each rule change, tell you how I think they will effect Product Design projects, and then finish up with something I think Kickstarter should consider.
Change #1: Risks and Challenges section
Located at the bottom of a project's home page, this is a Creator written overview of the risks and challenges a project will/could face. It's now in effect for all Kickstarter projects.
This is a great idea. Backers should know upfront what needs to happen to make a project a reality and it reinforces the idea that Kickstarter is not a traditional store.
Ultimately, this rule will be more beneficial to Creators than Backers. The more you think through potential pitfalls, the better prepared you will be. Many of the Creators I see doing product design projects on Kickstarter are novices and don't think about this until it is way too late (crying to themselves at 2AM, ten months past their estimated delivery date).
I actually think Kickstarter should take this a couple steps further, with Backers receiving more background information on the Creators. Things such as the number of people on the project team, how far along in development they are, what their professional/educational background is, and how much manufacturing experience they have, should all be made available for Backers.
One thing I want to note: The projects I've seen use this new Risks & Challeneges section don't seem to have put enough thought into it. On one project I saw, the Creator wrote a three sentence description that boiled down to, "There are many steps to complete," with no explaination of those steps. Perhaps Kickstarter could give a basic outline that would help Creators fill this form out and make sure they answer important questions?
Verdict on Change #1: A good change that should go further.
Change #2: Product simulations and photorealistic renderings are prohibited. Pictures of prototypes in their current state, technical drawings, CAD designs, sketches, and other parts of the design process are allowed. This only effects Product Design and Hardware projects.
The problem Kickstarter is trying to address is the right one, but the way they're trying to solve it is wrong.
Here is what's currently happening: When Backers see a hot looking computer rendering, they (understandably) think what they are looking at already exists and support the project believing that the project will ship with no problem. This is bad.
The problem isn't renderings, it's that Backers don't know how to interpret renderings. Most of them probably don't even realize they're not photographs. However, you don't solve this communication problem by eliminating renderings, you just create new problems.
Kickstarter's solution is to only allow pictures of prototypes as they exist at the time of the project launch.
Prototypes are really important and should be required for all Product Design and Hardware Kickstarter projects. You learn more about how your design works and will be produced from making a physical mockup than you would from 100 renderings.
But here's the thing, prototypes can be just as misleading as renderings. It's easy to make a single prototype, just like it's easy to make a photorealistic rendering. The trick is actually mass producing that thing. I can't tell you the number of projects I've been on where we get what looks like a finished prototype back in a month but then it takes another year to get it through production.
Eliminating renderings does not make manufacturing easier, it just makes it harder to describe to Backers what you are trying to do.
Here's how I would solve the problem. Make prototypes required, but also allow renderings. The difference will be when Backers see images of those things, they need to be clearly labeled as to what they are with Kickstarter provided explanations of what a rendering is and what a prototype is. That way, Creators would still have the tools they need to tell their story and Backers would have an explanation of what they're looking at and a better understanding of the level of development that has gone into the project so far.
Verdict on Change #2: This rule doesn't solve the real issue: Backers need to be educated on what they are looking at.
My recommendation: Kickstarter should start requiring prototypes, but renderings and simulations should still be allowed. In either case, both must be clearly labeled as to help Backers understand what they are looking at.
Change #3: Offering multiple quantities of a reward is prohibited. This only effects Product Design and Hardware projects.
In the past, Creators were able to offer different quantities of a single product. Say my project is to develop a "widget". I could offer a reward tier that would allow you to purchase one "widget" and another reward tier where you could purchase five "widgets".
Kickstarter's hypothesis is that by limiting the quantity of "widgets" that are produced, it will help make life easier for Creators. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how to streamline manufacturing.
Producing large quantities of a single item actually helps Creators. It allows them to make larger purchases with their vendors, giving them more clout with that vendor, which keeps Vendors motivated to help the Creators. Smaller orders always get less priority, leading to delays. Larger orders can also mean more efficient use of a Vendor's equipment. Once a production line is up and running, the difference between producing 500 and 5,000 can be minimal.
For Creators, large quantities of a single item can lead to bulk discounts. If 1,000 "widgets" costs $1.00/unit to produce, 5,000 "widgets" might cost $0.50/unit to produce. This is hugely beneficial to Creators, especially when the unexpected happens. It's common on Kickstarter for shipping to end up costing more than estimated or a project turns out to need more development than anticipated. We shouldn't punish Creators for things that happen all of the time in even normal product development.
Posted by Kevin McCullagh
| 14 Sep 2012
Large sections of the British design industry will wearily greet the onset of London Design Festival today. The first LDF in 2003 felt like a coming of age, as London celebrated our profession with a pocket version of Milan's Furniture Fair. Do you remember when we got excited about Milan too? This year's frivolities are likely to leave most designers cold, although with a nagging sense that—what with so many parties going on—they should be having the time of their lives.
So what went awry? In short—benches, bloat and blogs.
Milan is unashamedly a furniture show, but at its best it showcased an array of design creativity that inspired the wider design community. While LDF doesn't feature furnishings in its title, it amounts to a straight down the line furniture and homeware trade show. Commerce trounces culture. Furniture designers make up a fraction of the profession, and most of us can only take so many of our four-legged friends. As Gadi Amit of NewDealDesign commented recently, "Why does every material innovation have to end in a chair?"
Posted by Bruce M. Tharp
| 11 Sep 2012
You may have to wait six months to a year to get on the shelves after a buyer agrees to sell your product
So let's talk money.
In the first article in this series about product licensing for industrial designers, I presented a vision of what is possible—positive, encouraging, optimistic but slightly cautionary. Here, I am interested in throwing out some numbers so that you can decide if licensing might make sense for you (or under what conditions it would).
It is important to understand that there is no "standard" contract across industries or even within a company. Everything is generally negotiable and there are many ways that compensation can pan out. The most common mode is for a company to compensate through royalties only, which helps mitigate their risk that the product may not sell well. It is also possible for the designer to receive up-front cash in addition to royalties, but often this is just an advance payment deducted from future royalties. But this is still good if you can get it, because there is no guarantee that there will be future royalties. Hence, companies usually only agree to advances if the amount is relatively small and/or if they are confident that the product will sell. Insisting on significant money up front is often a quick way to sour a deal.
OXO offers licensors both cash buyouts and royalty deals
Some companies prefer to buy the intellectual property outright in one lump sum—as with Ikea, for example. This is more of a gamble for the licensee, but saves the administrative hassle of calculating and cutting royalty checks, as well as the risk and cost of potential contract re-negotiation or disputes with the licensor (you). But with this risk comes the reward of saving all the royalties they would have paid out if the product proved particularly successful. Some companies like OXO consider both the royalty and cash-buyout options.
Companies can also offer an equity stake in the business that surrounds the product. This is much less common, however, and occurs usually when the designer brings more to the table than just a single new product idea (e.g. name cache, design services for a whole product line, expertise and connections, or even money). More established designers/consultancies do this, like Yves Behar's fuseproject that has had at least 18 equity partners including, more recently, with Core77 Design Awards 2012 Notable for Consumer Products, Sabi.
Fuseproject's recent joint venture, Sabi pill products
I am going to focus however on the most common approach—royalties-only. In doing so, I want to emphasize the need to understand the licensee's position. Being in the mass-manufacturing business is tough! There are high start-up costs with tooling and initial inventory, increasing pressures from mass retailers (like having to take back product if it does not sell!), overhead costs of product development and sales teams, stiff global competition, changing regulations, expensive and lengthy certifications, insurance, etc.
Posted by Don Norman
| 10 Jul 2012
"Drawing the Passage of Time" by Niek de Snoo; photo by Ray Hu
When What Is Natural for Some Is Not for Others: Culture and Design
I was in Asia, giving a talk. I was given a remote controller for advancing my slides. This one had with two buttons, one above the other. I dislike traditional slides with long streams of text that the speaker reads to the audience, so I have a rule: "No words." Most of my slides are photographs. I was all ready for the first photograph, but when I pushed the upper button to advance to the slide, I was flustered: I went backwards through my slide set, not forward.
"How could this happen?" I wondered. To me, top obviously means forward, bottom backwards. The mapping is clear and obvious. If the buttons had been side-by-side, then the control would have been ambiguous: which comes first, right or left? It isn't clear. But this controller used the correct mapping of top and bottom? Why was this control designed incorrectly?
I decided to use this as an example of design for the audience. I showed them the controller and asked: "to get to my next slide, which button should I push, the top or the button?" To my great surprise, the audience was split in their responses. Many thought that it should be the top button, just as I had thought. But a large number thought it should be the bottom.
What's the correct answer? I discovered that as I asked this question around the world that some people firmly believe that it is the top button and some, just as firmly, believe it is the bottom button. Each is surprised to learn that someone might think differently. Who is correct? Both are.
Posted by Roland Boal
| 1 Jul 2012
Bamboo Electric Vehicle, Professor Matsuhige Kazumi, Kyoto University from "Rethinking Bamboo" exhibition at the Beijing Design Triennale 2011
In February this year I decided to give up a cozy life in West London and move to Qingdao, China, to head up the first overseas office for one of the world's leading industrial design consultancies, Priestmangoode.
In recent years the design industry has become less narrowly focused on the West and increasingly global. From Sao Paulo to Beijing—which will be running its second Design Week later this year—design hubs are now dotted all around the world.
This is not so much a shift away from the West, but the creation of new design centres (especially in emerging markets) where previously there were none. The opportunities presented by this combination of rapid development (and nowhere has it been more rapid than in China) and the West's long history of using design, promise to be very exciting. It is wanting to be right at the meeting point of these two design cultures that motivated me to come to China in the first place: to both observe and have a part in shaping what will hopefully be a more globally inclusive industry.
At Priestmangoode, we have already been working in China for several years, and whilst there are some similarities between the way things are done there and in the West, there are many differences too. The scale of many of China's projects and companies is impressive (Qingdao is home to the world's longest bridge over water, electronics giant Huawei is the word's second largest supplier of mobile communications infrastructure, to name just two examples) but what is perhaps more interesting is the speed at which projects are completed and products launched.
Not unlike some other Asian electronics companies, the approach of many Chinese manufacturers is often to launch several models of a particular product type in quick succession, each either building on the last or exploring a different market niche. Whilst this does lead to vast product portfolios, and some lapses in quality, it does mean that the needs of small, otherwise alienated, consumer groups can be met, and products refined 'in-use', a process we are unfamiliar with in the West.
There are merits to both this approach and the West's focus on quality of choice rather than quantity, and the potential for a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge is very promising for the future of design.
This column will explore these and other issues surrounding not just design but also living and working in China. It is not meant to be a systematic portrait of, or be the defining authority on, doing business in China. Its intention is to provide some insight into the Chinese design industry from someone on the ground, as well as the differences in office culture and work ethic. I will consider the value of design in China, how consumer culture is so completely different and what misconceptions we have (and bad advice we are given) about working in China.
China is actively trying to shed its image as a country of cheap manufacture. Rather than 'Made in China', the future lies with products that are 'Designed in China'. I will be looking at how and where the changes necessary for this to happen manifest themselves. I will also be considering what challenges face a country with such vastly different regions when trying to establish a distinct design identity, more or less from scratch.
In doing so I hope to bring a little objective clarity into a fast-changing industry in a fascinating country, dropping in any interesting observations, thoughts on my favourite places and things to do in China along the way.
Posted by Bruce M. Tharp
| 29 Jun 2012
The designers at Orange22 landed a multi-million-dollar licensing deal for its Grid-It™ elastic storage technology, which is now in over 200 different products.
This is the first in a series of columns on product licensing for product designers.
Product Design students and recent graduates from across the country contact me for career advice. At some point, the conversation inevitably turns to entrepreneurialism. When I float the possibility of doing some product licensing, I have always gotten the same response: "What's that?"
After explaining that it's when you design a product, let someone else make and sell it, typically in exchange for royalties, I get: "Oh, yeah, of course." Then there is a pause followed by: "So...how do you do that?"
Despite design education's predicament of ever-expanding content areas within an already distended discipline, this seems to be a missed opportunity. But it's certainly not a new omission. I was never exposed to product licensing as a design student, nor had any other designer that I have known over the past 20 years. Design education has basically ignored it. In the Comments section below, I welcome readers' examples to the contrary (I do know of some recent guests/lectures at Art Center in Pasadena). And as a full-time educator for the last 7 years, I am also culpable; neither of the institutions where I have taught has dealt with the topic. That is until this fall when I will run a dedicated course on product licensing specifically for product designers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
ABC's television show, Shark Tank, mostly follows the venture model. The Food Network's, Invention Hunters, follows the licensing model.
Usually during the last semester of the senior year, design students take a "professional practice" class to ready them for what lies beyond. These courses involve developing portfolios, visiting local design firms, and having design-related professionals come lecture. Sometimes design entrepreneurship is taught, but from the perspective of going into business yourself (venturing). Most design students and young professionals are not aware that there are two fundamental modes of entrepreneurial practice—venturing and licensing. Those who watch the television shows, Shark Tank or Invention Hunters may have a leg up, as the bleak economy has sparked the popular imagination.
The tragedy of education's licensing lacuna is that the business world has entered an era of "open innovation." Over the last decade, companies have realized that they do not have a monopoly on the best ideas, and/or that it is really expensive to keep research and development teams in house. Overcoming their hubris, laziness, ignorance or risk-aversion, manufacturers/distributors are increasingly welcoming new product ideas from individuals outside of their corporate walls. For example, since 2008 over half of Procter & Gamble's new product offerings have come from outside the company. A powerful, new opportunity awaits independent product designers.
You may be thinking, "This is nothing new. Designers have been getting royalties from companies since the mid-20th century!" Certainly this is true, but there are some key distinctions. Early on, designers often received royalties in addition to work-for-hire design fees. As such, they were really consultants, and the royalty was a way of sharing the risk between designer and manufacturer especially when the start-up costs were high. Also, these designers were of some repute and the companies went looking for them.
Another common method, still today, is for less-well-known designers, to pitch their capabilities to a company in hopes of receiving a project brief. If successful, they are tasked with designing products that the company is already looking to produce—not necessarily a new idea or direction from the designer. And increasingly these briefs are done on speculation (no fee, just royalties if the idea makes it to market) because of an increasing supply of capable designers. So, yes, royalties have long been a means of recompense, but open innovation makes this more accessible because you do not have to have a big design name—or even a portfolio. And you don't need to try and schmooze your way to a brief (but it still is fun to go to Milan Design Week anyway).
Based on his award-winning Endo magnets, Scott Amron licensed his idea to OXO
Posted by Tad Toulis
| 19 Jun 2012
Watching last month's meteoric funding spike for Alerta's Pebble Smartwatch you no doubt caught your inner voice asking: Could I do that? The weekend of April 21st—as the project rocketed from roughly $3 million to $4.5 million and on to approximately $7 million by week's end—what was truly impressive wasn't that Alerta's ask was for a mere $100K, but rather that the project still had a 30-day drive left to go. As the funding surpassed $8 million then $9 million with little sign of abating, the blogosphere frothed with the predictable range of rants, encouragements and forebodings.
Ultimately the project raised $10.3 millionimpressive coin to be sure.
Coming on the heels of last year's TikTok/LunaTik storywhich earned a then impressive $950K, the Pebble story raises a slew of questions for any designer with even the most modest entrepreneurial urge. While the signs have been out there for a while, crowdfunding is now indisputably hitting its strideand its impact on design, and culture at large, is something all of us should be taking note of.
Everywhere one looks, whether it's the recent purchase of Instagram for $1billion, Facebook's mid-May IPO, Kickstarter success stories like Alerta's, or the simple fact that every other business article today seems written by, for or about some start-up founderentrepreneurial fever is in full effect. The slow-breaking realization of this fact got me reflecting on some longstanding opinions I'd held tightly to over the years. Historically, when asked for career advice, I've regularly encouraged young designers to get some consulting experience in under their belts before considering a stint in corporate. My logic being, you'll learn a lot, get stress-tested, work a variety of projects and come out the other side with some strong skills, good time management practices and a surer sense of what really matters to you. To this I'd usually reflect for a beat on my own corporate experience and add a bit about consulting being a sprint and corporate being a marathon. And for years that advice felt fairly legitimate.
Today, I don't know if that advice still holds true.
In a landscape of long odds, the chance to be an active agent for change in your own life wins out over being a bit player in a narrative of stasis.
Four years of mediocre economic performance served up with partisan bickering in Washington and stock price leadership in the boardroom has created what I imagine must add up to a rather un-inspiring 'now' for design school graduates. The majors, with a handful of exceptions, have proven they are either devoid of new ideas, or worse, have lost the will to gamble on them. Instead they sink millions into acquisitions and legal fees in an attempt to better position themselves in a seemingly endless game of patent collecting; a tightly scripted play in which building and creating takes a very public back seat to defensive maneuvering.
Posted by Panthea Lee
| 6 Jun 2012
This is the final post in a 7-part series from Panthea Lee of service design consultancy, Reboot. Lee is the jury captain for the 2012 Core77 Design Awards for the Service Design category. In The Messy Art of Saving the World, Lee will explore the role of design in international development.
Communications technology provides government with the tools to be more transparent and accountable to its citizens. But just as giving someone a hammer doesn't make them a carpenter, there's more to the accountability equation. Achieving accountability requires creating a successful relationship between people—those in the government and those on the outside. An accountability system, then, is a two-way street: not only is the government responsive to citizen needs, but citizens must also be able to effectively communicate their grievances to the government.
Nigeria is a country that is oil-rich but accountability-poor. This is partially due to a lack of connective infrastructure, such as roads (only about 10 to 15 percent of Nigerian roads are paved), Internet access (only available to 11 percent of the country), and electricity (most of the country only has access to a few hours' worth a day), upon which service delivery and social accountability systems rely. This lack of infrastructure doesn't just hinder people's daily lives and opportunities. It also prevents them from being able to demand better services, and over time, it undermines their confidence that they have power to make demands at all. For a social accountability framework to be successful, then, it must account for and overcome these deficiencies.
At Reboot, we're taking on that challenge right now, helping the Government of Nigeria to develop a social accountability and citizen feedback system, a project funded by the World Bank. We're designing a technological platform to collect citizen feedback on government-sponsored, Bank-funded healthcare and agriculture programs. Equally important, we're designing the supporting program that will make sure the feedback is put to use in improving those services.
We design projects for continued success long after we've left. To do this, Reboot takes a user-centered approach to our research, design, and implementation methodology. We start with developing a deep understanding of the communities we and our clients and partners seek to serve, and we work in close coordination with all stakeholders, including governments, NGOs and funders. The goal of our ethnographic research approach is get to know the context from as many angles as possible: to that end, we are spending half of our engagement time in Nigeria, far more than most international consultants, and are maintaining a field presence of local staff throughout.
Our research has helped us gain an understanding of people's existing technology habits, as well as norms around community policing and redress of grievances. Because most of these norms are not technology-based—our target populations resolve issues by seeking mediation from their village and/or religious leaders—we need to ensure that a technological solution will complement current habits and expectations.
Early on, we realized that mobile phones were the best tool available—51 percent of our target population owned mobile phones, and 31 percent of those who did not still had regular mobile access through friends or family. Though the quality of network signal is poor in the rural areas we are working in and mobile credit is costly for our target population, our users had creative techniques for overcoming these challenges. In areas with poor mobile signal, locals always knew the exact spots (under a particular mango tree, at the farthest corner of the church) where they could get good service. As mobile credit was expensive, users buy top-up cards daily: though more time-consuming, it helps limit the temptation to spend beyond a certain amount on any given day.
When a tool is valuable enough, people will find a way to use it. The value our target population placed on the mobile phone made it the best platform to build upon. Further, using the most common, inexpensive phones saves on procurement and training costs, and is more sustainable: success is more likely when you build on a tool people already use. Our technology partner, Dimagi, is building the tool along with a talented local Nigerian developer, who will maintain the system in-country over the long-term. We're testing a prototype right now with citizens, who use the tool to report on their experience with two government services: a series of public health clinics and an agricultural subsidy program, both funded by the World Bank.
Our work in the field uncovered unique challenges that our accountability program must overcome. For instance, we found that among our target populations, those who can read are taught to do so in English in school (even though speaking and reading comprehension are poor), and remain illiterate in their native tongue; deciding what language to use for our tool and for program communications is tricky. We continue to develop the program with these challenges well in mind, exploring the use of visual aids and employing a network of agents/reporters to enable access to and usage of the tool.
On our most recent trip, we spent three weeks testing the prototype with users and iterating—rapidly—to improve it. Each night, we updated the software as well as our communications materials based on that day's user feedback, improving both the technology as well as the content. Every day, we had a new, better iteration to test. In the coming months, we will be rolling out a late-stage, high-fidelity prototype of the tool. Once the pilot has launched, we will further test and iterate the platform, ensuring that the final tool has the best possible configuration for collecting and recording citizen feedback.
As the project develops, we are designing the platform for the World Bank and the Nigerian government to process the citizen data-stream, and use it to support improvements in service delivery. Fast and meaningful feedback is vital to showing citizens that their input matters, and is critical for their continued engagement. But providing immediate feedback is also costly for the government. The challenge, then, comes in balancing the two. While quick service improvements are ideal, there are also other, interim solutions service providers can deploy as they vet, prioritize, and implement ideas for improvement.
But without a robust, people-centric system to handle and resolve grievances, any technology tool will fall short of its potential. Thus, we continue to work with the World Bank and the Nigerian government to design a program that ensures the feedback provided by citizens is put to good use.
When one of their community's youth gets a post with a local government, Nigerian villagers celebrate the new—and seemingly only—means to finally have their grievances heard by someone with the power to address them. We are excited and hopeful for the success of this program at scale, and for what Nigerians can create with their government when the promise of accountability is literally at their fingertips.
Posted by Don Norman
| 31 May 2012
Like many of you, I live in the 21st century, a time when society is recognizing the damage done to the environment through our inattention to the side effects of our technologies. But one specialized niche of the world still lives in the 20th century: those who write the automobile reviews for magazines and newspapers.
Why do automobile reviewers still emphasize appearance (styling), speed, and performance at high speed, often to the exclusion of all else? Where have they been living? Don't they understand about environmental concerns? Don't they have families or for that matter, lives, where the auto is not just a performance engine but a practical means of pets, required to carry families with children, groceries, and children? Where crowded streets and highways make speed and performance irrelevant, and increasing gasoline costs and environmental concerns make efficiency and safety prime considerations?
I enjoy high-performance driving. I've worked with the major automobile companies and I enjoy the feel of a well-tuned sports car as it maneuvers tight curves. But today I worry about the environment, about the huge cost of energy and its atmospheric side effects, to say nothing of the political consequences of our dependence upon oil. I look forward to the day our vehicles will be completely automated, reducing deaths and injury, reducing the mental stress of navigating today's crowded highways and streets. Those who enjoy high-performance driving can do so at the track or special driving courses, much as horse lovers get to deploy their skills on special riding paths and venues. Meanwhile, we have an obligation to develop sensible purchasing and driving habits.
When I buy my next car (which will be either hybrid or electric), I will evaluate its efficiency and safety. I will want to know how well it suits my family's transportation needs. Alas, the auto reviews in popular magazines and newspapers seldom deliver this kind of information.
Posted by Steve Portigal
| 14 May 2012
I'm not bad I'm just drawn that way - Jessica Rabbit
Ideation, or if you prefer, brainstorming, is a structured activity with many degrees of freedom within that structure. When leading sessions, I emphasize divergent, generative thinking, and ask participants to defer evaluation and prioritization. Defer, not disregard. Of course we need to bring convergence into the process, but not until later. As you'd expect, much of the energy and focus for these ideation sessions is on the creation of good ideas. But there's an interesting important role for bad ideas to play.
In my team of user researchers, we deliver not only a report (you can see an example from a few years ago here), but also an ideation workshop. In this session, we pass the baton to our client team. Together, we not only generate a broad set of things for the business to make, sell or do, but the team really takes ownership of the research insights by repeatedly applying them. The act of repeatedly translating insights into possible actions builds up a neural pathway, where the implications of those insights become burnt into their thinking. Bad ideas serve both masters, as sacrificial elements that lead to breakthroughs and as pitches for insight batting practice.
Creative activities often follow a double-hump model. At first you'll hit all the obvious ideas. These aren't a waste of time; sometimes the obvious ideas have been neglected and you can treat those as low-hanging fruit: obvious, easy to implement, incremental improvement. But you'll find that you run out of steam with those ideas. Like the false ending in a '80s rock song, don't think this fadeout means it's time to start applauding. There's still more. Push on, and this is when you get to the transgressive, weird, crazy and sometimes innovative ideas. That's the place you want to get to, where you are truly butting up against the edges of what's allowable.
Posted by Jan Chipchase
| 2 May 2012
I'll begin my fourth and final installment of my long essay addressing the debate on "design imperialism" by admitting that it doesn't take much effort to find something about globalization to be incensed about. Starbucks is pricing your favorite coffee shop out of the neighborhood; riots in Indonesia were triggered by the Asian financial crisis. Apple imposes its corporate values to the worldwide availability of adult content on their application platform**; Coke and Pepsi logos have been painted onto remote pristine mountain ranges.
Or perhaps you prefer to take the profit-at-any-cost argument to the next level. You can cite Nestle's aggressive sale of milk-powder in markets where doing so is likely to inhibit the lactation of mothers; Facebook and Google endlessly exploring and re-defining privacy in their race to monetize you through new services; Monsanto's development and apparent halting of sterile seeds to force farmers to make repeat purchases every year; the very visible suicide rate of Foxconn factory workers in China (most likely some of you will be reading this on a Foxconn assembled device); companies that are benefitting from the sale of monitoring equipment in countries like Syria or Egypt; and accusations of racism in the advertising of Unilever's Fair & Lovely Skin Whitening creams. (For a good background on the latter read this paper.) Make no mistake—governments***, BigCorps, organisations, agencies need watching, need to be held to account, and in many markets there are players that hold a disproportionate amount of power.
But as consumers, employers and employees, I, you, we, they are complicit in this relationship in the products we make and consume, as well as in the lifestyles we aspire to and the moment-to-moment decisions we make in how the products we buy are used. Sure, we demand privacy, but we are willing to let personal ethics slide when a photo worthy situation presents itself. We have grown used to free e-mail, but (momentarily) rally against our e-mail being read by an algorithm so that Google can serve us more contextualized advertising. We roll up to a remote mountain village and mutter expletives at being woken by a ringtone—but get the jitters at the mere thought of giving up our own connectivity. We complain of global warming and then jet-off to another conference that espouses amongst other things sustainable living. We are highly vocal about the price of new electronics but vote with our wallets when it comes to disposing of them in an slightly-more-costly but environmentally less impactful manner. Or we fly half-way around the world to conduct business but not track every source of income that enables that business to occur, the many different players in global network that allows us to get there, stay there, communicate with collaborators and loved ones while we are there.
* * *
I conduct a fair amount of community facing activities—from spending time in universities to doing talks around the world, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share and learn from the intellect in the room. But on occasion the assumptions behind the questions miss the mark to the point where a step back is necessary. There are a number of misconceptions about consumers in highly income/resource constrained (or "poor") communities that seem to repeat themselves with a depressing regularity and is often directed from passionate minds with a particular, accusatory venom:
- Consumers on low levels of income are incapable of making rational or "right" choices for themselves
- These same consumers are duty bound only to make rational choices ("rational" as in on things that have an immediate benefit to their current socio-economic situation, as defined by the person making the argument)
- Any time a consumer makes an "irrational" choice the "fault" lies with the company providing the products
- Companies that target consumers in countries with very low levels of income are inherently evil
Let's go through each in turn:
Posted by Jan Chipchase
| 13 Apr 2012
There are a numerous additional "soft" benefits to conducting design research, that are often overlooked. As we continue to explore how design research works, and how it might relate to the ongoing public discussion of "design imperialism," I'd like to begin by listing these soft—yet very important—benefits. Here they are:
- Design research sets a more appropriate tone for the relationship between the organization commissioning it and its existing or future customers. Ever walked into a group discussion where the gulf between their assumptions and yours was so large that you felt like you were in a different world? In multinational organizations, where there is both a cultural and physical gulf, this happens all the time, and it is acute in organizations that for the first time want to address markets of very low income consumers.
- The process generates rich, storied material that is excellent at raising awareness across an organization of the broader opportunity space. A well run project will engage people in the topic well beyond the scope of the project.
- It builds a more tightly knit team. A highly immersive approach puts the design team in situations where they learn more about one another, motivations, family life, each other's cultural perspectives. The impact of this is especially effective when team members are arriving from very different cultural landscapes.
- Hiring a local team lays the groundwork for a meaningful, extended network of practitioners that can be drawn on later. Every study I've done over the past decade has led to a rich network of fixers, guides and practitioners that can be tapped on future studies—some of whom I've worked with for a number of years.
While everyone likes to focus on the tangible outcomes—things that were made as a result of the research, design research is also good at helping organizations understand the folly of going in a particular direction at the expense of others. The opportunity cost of bringing product A to market is that products B, C and D are less likely to get a look in.
In 2005, while at Nokia, I was asked whether the company should design a mobile phone for illiterate consumers—many illiterate people were already buying Nokia's products that were designed for people who could read and write—and the current experience was recognized as being suboptimal. After a few rounds of design research, my answer was that it was better to sell another half a billion phones of the models that were already being sold to literate consumers (with a few subtle but important user interface tweaks) than to develop something fully optimized but new.
There are many reasons why a dedicated product for illiterate consumers was not appropriate at that time: the social stigma associated with buying a device that was seen as being for "disadvantaged" consumers would be a disincentive to purchase—they wanted a device like "everyone else" because they aspired to be treated like "everyone else;" the cost of a new device, versus the economies of scale of selling a few hundred million more of those that were already on the market; the challenge of designing something that made a genuine difference to illiterate consumers is non-trivial. I like to think of illiterate consumers as "just like the rest of us, only more so." There is also what I refer to as proximate literacy—that it is better for illiterate consumers to be able to turn to their neighbor and ask them for help because they own the same or similar device, than to struggle with a new interface that needs to be learned. And there are many types of illiteracy. The classic definition refers to textual illiteracy, but it might be technical, mobile, financial, numerical—all of which impact use.
Whilst the outcome sticks in the craw of the purists and ideologues—a notionally sub-optimal device is better than a "good enough" one that is engineered/designed better but misses the bigger picture. An obvious example? I'm writing this on a suboptimal QWERTY keyboard, but do benefit from the standardization of suboptimal QWERTY keyboards on many of the laptops I come in contact with. My recommendation back then, when I was at Nokia, was that a dedicated device for illiterate consumers was the suboptimal choice.
It's worth pointing out that my answer today would be different for a number of reasons. Many of these illiterate consumers are now on their 3rd, 4th or 5th phone; connectivity is both more reliable and faster—which makes the learning experience easier. The cost of devices is significantly lower. And because touch screen technology—which Huawei and Nokia are increasingly putting into the hands of lower income consumers in emerging markets enables far more direct manipulation. That makes more complex tasks easier for an illiterate person to accomplish. (My research on designing for illiteracy is a few years old but the fundamentals are still sound—you can read it here.)
* * *
You might think that conducting research in a country halfway around the world, in languages and dialects that the core team doesn't speak, would present the biggest challenge. Or that pulling a project together at a week's notice, gathering sufficiently meaningful data in the few days the team is on the ground, struggling with trying to have a life outside work when you spend half the time on the road/in the skies/on hi-alt mountain trails are the biggest tests a design researcher faces. But the real challenge is setting the right tone for the relationship between the team that is going in, and the people they are going to be interacting with.
There are four things that I've found consistently set the "right" tone for the research:
- Stay and spend local
- Build a trusted local team
- Recruit through extended networks, rather than go through a recruiting agency
- Provide participants with sufficient control of the research process.
Posted by Panthea Lee
| 9 Apr 2012
All Photos courtesy of Reboot
This is the 6th post in a 7-part series from Panthea Lee of service design consultancy, Reboot. Lee is the jury captain for the 2012 Core77 Design Awards for the Service Design category. In The Messy Art of Saving the World, Lee will explore the role of design in international development.
Sometimes you start working on a problem, only to find an entirely separate issue you've got to deal with first. I faced this on a recent project in Sudan; in international development, it happens all too frequently.
But in the immersive, field-based work we do at Reboot, I take uncovering deeper problems as a sign that we're on the right track.
I was called in by UNICEF for a project to support the education of marginalized children and youth in the rural areas of Sudan. Most of these kids are out of school, many are former child soldiers. UNICEF had had some early success with an eLearning pilot, and there were plenty of examples from other regions of the impact of using technology for development (Tech4Dev) in the education sector.
UNICEF is one of the most forward-thinking leaders in the exciting Tech4Dev field. In Uganda, for example, UNICEF has designed and deployed the Digital Drum to support rural education. Chosen by TIME as one of the best inventions of 2011, the Digital Drums are made from readily-available oil drums and converted into computer kiosks—a durable, cheap information hub for rural kids to access multimedia content on health, education, employment training and other services. [Ed Note: See Core77's report on Digital Drum from Cooper-Hewitt's Design with the Other 90% exhibition] A leader in user-centered international development, UNICEF is developing a Child Friendly Technology Framework to guide its offices in the use of appropriate technology in education programs.
Technological advances like the Digital Drum are, without a doubt, changing the world. So we went to Sudan looking for opportunities where technology could improve marginalized children's access to quality education.
What we found was surprising: Right now, before we can offer support to the children and youth of Sudan, we've got to first support their teachers.
Teachers: Overworked and Underappreciated
My work is always based on user-centric, field-based ethnographic investigation; deep contextual research drives and informs our designs. In Sudan, we interviewed countless students, educators, teachers and parents, and heard again and again how difficult life is for Sudanese teachers, especially in the poor, rural areas.
Under tough conditions, it's incredibly hard to attract and retain teachers. As a result, many countries require all new teachers to take a rural posting for their first job. Young, far from their families, and often unable to speak the tribal languages of their village assignments, it's unsurprising how many of these teachers get discouraged and fail to make an impact. Further, many teachers we met in Sudan were assigned to teach subjects in which they have no training.
In short, teachers in Sudan feel overworked and underappreciated—like many teachers I know in New York. New technological innovations can help students, but there will likely be a much greater impact from innovations that help teachers, who can in turn better support their students.
Posted by Jan Chipchase
| 2 Apr 2012
Photo by Jan Chipchase
At the Pop!Tech conference last fall, I gave a talk that focused on the social tension that occurs with the introduction of new technologies, including turn-of-the-second-to-last-century portable cameras, and could have applied equally to the Walkman (remember them?) and mobile phones. My talk touched on technology use and whether "adoption" is pro-active, passive or even conscious. I also discussed the consequences of near-time facial recognition; how DNA testing reveals parental discrepancy and will for many change the notion of "family," how public displays are increasingly monitoring the world around us, and what all this means for designers who are creating products, services and systems in which consumption, use and adoption is sometimes conscious, sometimes not. A central tenet of the talk was that as more of what we design is jacked into our social network, the option of whether to use or opt-into a technology or service becomes one of opting into or out of society. (Download my entire Pop!Tech presentation here [PDF, 12MB].)
The talk prompted questions related to the design imperialism discussion that has preoccupied some in the design community, and a rally against globalization (for a related interview, click here). In previous instances when I've been asked questions along these lines, the motivation for asking was driven by an anger against the all-trampling BigCorps and me as an agent of the BigCorp, a fear/recognition of not being in sufficient control, and on occasion also guilt (where the person asking the question has trouble balancing their own consumption habits with the injustice of other people not having the same economic opportunities).
Whereas the design imperialism debate honed in on local interventions, this essay will focus on my experiences working with multi-national corporations and organisations. I'm not suggesting that the lessons outlined here are the same as for more local initiatives, nor am I making a judgment on the pros or cons of local or global design solutions—that would need to be visited on a case by case basis. And yes, I recognize that the international aid / donor community has for many years overlooked locally sustainable solutions often at the detriment of communities that they were there to serve—this imbalance has been a personal driver to understand for myself for much of my career. I do assume that the benefits of globalization in the short term (~20 years) outweighs the costs and the opportunity costs.
In this second installation of my "Imperialist Tendencies" essay, I'd like to present a backgrounder on the role of design research / ethnography that was referred to in the talk and some of the nuances of the approach that I think make the process one that is rewarding for the individuals concerned, their communities, our teams that conduct the research and employer, and ultimately the client.
Research for Design
The basic premise of design research is that spending time in the contexts where people do the things that they do can inform and inspire the design process with a nuanced understanding of what drives people's behavior—which can then be used as a foundation for understanding and exploring the opportunities for new products and services.
More often than not the process leads to innovating on what already exists. The practice is mostly associated with up-front research at the beginning of the design process, but in my experience it is valuable to think of it as a state of mind that can infuse, inform and inspire across and often beyond the project. Often researchers get ahead of themselves and talk about the opportunities they perceived after uncovering unmet needs. The fact is in many cases needs are being met, just not particularly well. The process assumes, of course, that the project is aligned to the client's organisation and goals, and that the team knows how to apply the right mix of methods, understands how to make sense of what they are collecting and can articulate the opportunities that comes from this. Some people and/or agencies are good at parts of the process, far fewer can carry off the whole. Just as there are many different ways to design, there are many ways to run design research. For my clients, design research is particularly effective when it explores the collision of people, technology, culture, and business models to inform what, when and how to make something and understand how best to get there.
Corporate research studies are often about a 2-month sprint: a week or two to ramp up; a week each in two or three research locations; two weeks of pure synthesis; and two weeks to write and deliver a report. Most projects have some form of hand-over workshop with the client, and for a larger consultancy like frog, this is usually the bridge to a design phase—where the ideas/concepts are further explored and evaluated, before being refined with increasing levels of fidelity. A research + design project can run for 6+ months, but I'll focus on the research phase here since it is most relevant. The client often wants the research yesterday and it is common for the team to be working 24/7 with only a couple of days break over the course of the research—stepping back only after its all done and dusted.
Common criticisms of this format of corporate research include: the time on the ground is so limited that the breadth and quality of the data is likely to be suspect; that the incoming team is insensitive to how things are done locally; that the broad range of locations and limited total time span doesn't allow for building meaning relationships with local partners; that the team suffers burn-out; that engagements with participants and local partners is at best superficial and at worst disrespectful; and that the opportunity areas/concepts/ideas that come out of this process bear little or no acknowledgement to local needs.
All are valid concerns.
All can be mitigated.
Mitigation is not always the smartest move.
Posted by Jan Chipchase
| 16 Mar 2012
Photo by Jan Chipchase
I enjoyed going to the recent Pop!Tech conference—the combination of bright minds, warm hearts and the Maine autumn is highly conducive to reflecting on what has been and imagining on what will be next.
During the event, I gave a talk to the audience about my research work. And in the panel session at the end of my talk I took two questions from a member of the audience, which both related to the personal motivations of doing this kind of research and whether anyone has the moral right to extract knowledge from a community for corporate gain.
Given the asker's frustrated politeness, I'll paraphrase what I (and a bunch of folks that came up to me after the talk) took as the intent of his questions:
- What is it like working for BigCorps pillaging the intellect of people around the world for commercial gain?
- How do you sleep at night as the corporations you work for pump their worthless products into the world?
The short answer is that I sleep just fine.*
Over the next month, in this space, I will confront and address arguments that tend to surface in deep discussions on the role of design research in the context of creating or improving products and services intended for use by resource-challenged communities.
I'll do so by starting with a backgrounder on the role of design research. Then, I will look at the often-overlooked "soft" benefits of design research. Finally, I'll conclude with defining, and examining, the true definition of design imperialism.
But let's start with the catalyst for this four-part essay: the Pop!Tech presentation I mentioned above. You can download it here [PDF, 12MB].
* Give or take permaphuck, the onset of altitude sickness, when there's midnight interviews to run or data to synthesize or it's Saturday night and we're holed up next to drunken, arguing lovers in a Seoul love hotel.
» Part 1: Introduction
» Part 2: A Backgrounder for Corporate Design Research
» Part 3: Local/Global
» Part 4: The Real Design Imperialism
About Jan Chipchase
Jan Chipchase is Executive Creative Director of Global Insights at frog.
You can subscribe to his Facebook feed here or follow him on Twitter @janchip.
This article first appeared here.
Posted by Panthea Lee
| 15 Mar 2012
All Photos courtesy of Reboot
This is the fifth post in a 7-part series from Panthea Lee of service design consultancy, Reboot. Lee is the jury captain for the 2012 Core77 Design Awards for the Service Design category. In The Messy Art of Saving the World, Lee will explore the role of design in international development.
After all the protests of 2011, from Cairo to Damascus, Moscow to Wall Street, it's easy to forget that the "Arab Spring" began in Tunisia. The country remains the most coherent example of how revolution can happen in the 21st century: The autocratic regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali had ruled for 23 years, deeply corrupt and largely unchallenged. The Tunisian people's long-simmering frustration exponentially increased—and found new outlets—with the Internet, social networking and text messaging. When a fruit vendor, angry at government mistreatment, set himself on fire, his story catalyzed the collective outrage. Ben Ali was gone in a month.
Demonstrations spread from Tunisia to over 16 countries, but none was as peaceful, or resulted as quick a deposition. And today, none is as far down the road as Tunisia in building a new, more representative and more equal post-revolutionary society.
For this reason, many eyes around the world are watching the country, including the World Bank, which recently commissioned Reboot to report on its evolution.
Today, I'm so excited to announce the release of our findings: "Tunisia: From Revolutions to Institutions" is launching at the Fifth International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development* and is also available for download here.
As the report shows (and as I've written before), design has an important role to play in global governance and development—especially in the context of today's rapidly changing world. The Arab Spring demonstrated a fundamental change in the relationships between governments and citizens. Never before have people had so much power to demand accountability and fairness from their leaders.
And that power is only going to grow. As technology makes us all more connected to each other, populations are gaining new ways to demand opportunity, fairness and justice. If policy makers are going to serve the world's increasingly vocal populations, they've got to be prepared to listen.
But too often, there's a gap between the people who fund and create economic and development policies and those on the receiving end. Too often, development policies are based on site visits in major cities, or survey reports that may be outdated, or on commonly-accepted wisdom about what a certain region is like. These methods fall short in the face of real life (as any designer might predict).
Policymakers need deep, nuanced understandings of what citizens want and need. In short, the global governance and development community can benefit from better design.