corporate posts

ChittahChattah Quickies January 25th, 2011
  • [from julienorvaisas] Japan’s Smokestacks Draw Industrial-Strength Sightseers [WSJ.com] – [This sub-culture is exerting economic influence. I'm looking for the American equivalent.] What started as a fringe subculture known as kojo moe, or "factory infatuation," is beginning to gain wider appeal in Japan, turning industrial zones into unlikely tourist attractions. It's the Japanese equivalent of going sightseeing at industrial stretches along the New Jersey Turnpike. Unlike the tourists who visit the factories of Toyota Motor Corp. and other Japanese manufacturers, the kojo moe crowd has little interest in the inner workings of the plants. They get excited by the maze of intricate piping around the exterior of a steel plant or the cylindrical smokestacks sending up steam. [A book on the topic] lists 19 questions to test one's kojo moe credentials, including "Do you like Blade Runner?" and "Can you stare at a factory you like all day long?" Now, industrial regions across Japan are working to create factory sightseeing tours.
  • [from steve_portigal] Stop Blaming Your Culture [Strategy + Business] – [A must-read. This could become the article on the topic, a companion to Porter's classic What is Strategy? REad it and pass it along.] Fortunately, there is an effective, accessible way to deal with cultural challenges. Don’t blame your culture; use it purposefully. View it as an asset: a source of energy, pride, and motivation. Learn to work with it and within it. Discern the elements of the culture that are congruent with your strategy. Figure out which of the old constructive behaviors embedded in your culture can be applied to accelerate the changes that you want. Find ways to counterbalance and diminish other elements of the culture that hinder you. In this way, you can initiate, accelerate, and sustain truly beneficial change — with far less effort, time, and expense, and with better results, than many executives expect.
  • [from steve_portigal] Steve Portigal to write book on interviewing users [Rosenfeld Media] – Interviewing users is fundamental to user experience work but, as Steve Portigal cautions, we tend to take it for granted. Because it's based on talking and listening, skills we think we have, we often wing it. Sadly, we miss out on many of the wonderful opportunities our interviews should reveal. So we're thrilled that Steve, who's contributed regular columns to interactins and Core77, has signed on to write a new Rosenfeld Media book, The Art and Craft of User Research Interviewing, to help UX practitioners really succeed with interviewing. Steve's book will focus on helping practitioners to better understand users' perspectives, and to rely upon rapport as the main ingredient in successful user interviews.
  • [from steve_portigal] Intel Teams with will.i.am, Black Eyed Peas Front Man [Intel] – [Is there a nomenclature convention emerging? If your corporate title is surrounded by quote marks, you may not receive the same HR benefits as others. Although it looks like he's got a badge? See you at Friday's Beer Bust!] He’s best known for being a multi-platinum music artist, producer and front man for The Black Eyed Peas, but will.i.am is also an innovator, technology fan, entrepreneur and philanthropist. With today’s announcement at the Anaheim Convention Center, the seven-time Grammy winner has added another title to his multi-faceted resume: “director of creative innovation.” As an extension of his insatiable fascination with technology, which plays a significant role in his professional and personal lives, will.i.am will engage in a multi-year, hands-on creative and technology collaboration with Intel Corporation. He already sports an Intel ID badge, which he proudly showed off at a news conference in Anaheim, where Intel is holding an internal sales and marketing conference.
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ChittahChattah Quickies September 6th, 2009
  • Seen Reading – a "literary voyeruism blog" set mostly (I believe) in Toronto – What is Seen Reading?

    1. I see you reading.
    2. I remember what page you’re on in the book.
    3. I head to the bookstore, and make a note of the text.
    4. I let my imagination rip.
    5. Readers become celebrities.
    6. People get giddy and buy more books.

    Why do you do this?
    Readers are cool. Authors work hard. Publishers take chances. And you all deserve to be seen!

    (Thanks Suzanne Long!)

  • Choose What You Read NY – Choose What You Read NY is a non profit organization that offers free books to New Yorkers, encouraging its residents to read more, giving them an alternative to the free papers that get tossed out and even the digi-trash that crowds our time. In doing so, we help to recycle used books that would have unfortunately been thrown away.

    You will find us near major subway stations on the first Tuesday of each month.The idea is that once someone is finished with a book, they either drop it off in one of our conveniently located drop boxes or back to us at a station. Unlike a library, there will be no due dates, penalties, fees or registrations. We only ask that you return it once you are done so that the same book can be enjoyed by another commuter.

  • What was the last book, magazine and newspaper you read on the subway? – 6000 people respond and the New York Times posts the results
  • How and what people read on the New York City subways – Plenty of detailed examples of people, their books, and their travels: "Reading on the subway is a New York ritual, for the masters of the intricately folded newspaper, as well as for teenage girls thumbing through magazines, aspiring actors memorizing lines, office workers devouring self-help inspiration, immigrants newly minted — or not — taking comfort in paragraphs in a familiar tongue. These days, among the tattered covers may be the occasional Kindle, but since most trains are still devoid of Internet access and cellphone reception, the subway ride remains a rare low-tech interlude in a city of inveterate multitasking workaholics. And so, we read.

    There are those whose commutes are carefully timed to the length of a Talk of the Town section of The New Yorker, those who methodically page their way through the classics, and those who always carry a second trash novel in case they unexpectedly make it to the end of the first on a glacial F train."

    (thanks Avi and Anne)

  • Lego grabs ahold of customers with both hands – From 2006, great Wired piece about Lego's approach to involving ardent fans/customers in developing future products.
  • Noting:books – the simple yet dynamic way to track your reading, from the dates you start and finish a book, to your thoughts along the way.
  • CourseSmart brings textbooks to the iPhone in PDF; major readability challenges ensue – “It’s not the first place to go to read your textbook,” Mr. Lyman said of the iPhone app. But he said that it could be helpful if “you’re standing outside of the classroom, the quiz is in 10 minutes, and you want to go back to that end-of-chapter summary that helped you understand the material.”
  • Nice profile of Lego’s business culture and the tension between growth and losing track of their legacy – But the story of Lego’s renaissance — and its current expansion into new segments like virtual reality and video games — isn’t just a toy story. It’s also a reminder of how even the best brands can lose their luster but bounce back with a change in strategy and occasionally painful adaptation.
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ChittahChattah Quickies June 29th, 2009
  • Robert Fabricant of frogdesign considers whether understanding users means that design is or isn't persuasive/manipulative – How do we decide what the user really 'wants to achieve'? The fact is that there are a host of different influences that come to bear in any experience. And a host of different needs that drive user behavior. Designers are constantly making judgment calls about which 'needs' we choose to privilege in our designs. In fact, you could argue that this is the central function of design: to sort through the mess of user needs and prioritize the 'right' ones, the most valuable, meaningful…and profitable.

    But according to what criteria? These decisions, necessarily, value judgments, no matter how much design research you do. And few designers want to be accountable for these decisions. From that perspective, UCD, starts to seem a bit naive, possibly even a way to avoid accountability for these value judgments.

    [Obviously no easy answers here; even defining the terms for the discussion is challenging, but the dialog between Robert and others is provocative]

  • Dave Blum, treasure hunt designer, offers 100 treasure hunts around the world – I was always a puzzle and a game kid. I had a friend when I was growing up in Millbrae, Mike Savasta, and he and I were just board game and card game fanatics. Monopoly, Life, Sorry, Stratego.

    In college, I played thousands of games of cribbage. I like the intellectual challenge, the analytical challenge. I'm very much a "play-it-by-ear" kind of guy, so I like a game where you have to think on your feet.

    After college, I lived in Japan for 3 1/2 years and taught English. Then I spent 11 months traveling through Asia and Europe, and when I came back to San Francisco, I worked in tourism for a while. I said, "I need to find a career that I really love." I thought if I could combine group work, travel, games and puzzles – that would be the ultimate job. I started Dr. Clue in 1995.

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ChittahChattah Quickies June 7th, 2009
  • UX guy complains about AA.com being crap and UX guy from AA.com responds – UX guy reprints email and then attempts to address corporate culture issue; strong opinions follow but most compelling part is the insight from the AA.com UX guy himself (known as Mr. X)

    "But—and I guess here’s the thing I most wanted to get across—simply doing a home page redesign is a piece of cake. You want a redesign? I’ve got six of them in my archives. It only takes a few hours to put together a really good-looking one, as you demonstrated in your post. But doing the design isn’t the hard part, and I think that’s what a lot of outsiders don’t really get, probably because many of them actually do belong to small, just-get-it-done organizations. But those of us who work in enterprise-level situations realize the momentum even a simple redesign must overcome, and not many, I’ll bet, are jumping on this same bandwagon. They know what it’s like."

  • Health management goes for ethnic marketing/customization: Asians and diabetes – Rice is a carbohydrate that is particularly unhealthy in large quantities for people with diabetes. That's why doctors and other health care providers are increasingly trying to develop culturally sensitive ways to treat Asians with diabetes – programs that take into account Asian diets, exercise preferences and even personality traits. "Diabetes is primarily a self-managed disease, and you have to try multiple approaches with different patients. But many of those are not culturally appropriate for Asians."
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Mom and Pop as a target for innovation January 12th, 2007

Earlier this week I met with some young entrepreneurs who are trying to apply their design school education to solve a social/business/design problem. They are interested in ways to help “mom and pop” (i.e., small, independent) businesses in a specific category remain viable. They’ve done a bit of research and ideation, but were feeling stuck, so they asked me to meet them and critique what they had done so far.

The timing was interesting, because I had just writen about my Mom and Pop failure experience (ironically, thinking about this upcoming meeting the whole time). Their response to my story was to comment on the on-demand nature of our culture that seems to be escalating; that’s fair enough, I was certainly looking for my paint right then; we’ve been trained that it’s indeed possible, and we do want that.

There’s a lot of conventional political perspective on why one should shop locally and small, and they are hoping to get beyond that, to motivate people not for moral reasons but to create real benefit. (Virginia Postrel challenges at least one of the shoulds in her comment here.)

We brainstormed for a couple of hours, building up some possible scenarios, solutions, and I think most importantly for them, the research they should do next if they really want to understand their problem in an actionable fashion.

It’s all about triangulation; trying to get enough different perspectives on the situation, to bring differences out as contrasts, and to do that you need to look at different stuff. They had been mostly talking to the types of proprietors they wanted to help, and they had a really nice segmentation that came out of that. But they hadn’t looked at why customers shopped at those smaller stores. Or why customers didn’t shop at those smaller stores. What do people like about mom-and-pops? What do they like about chains? Both in the category they are looking at, but also other ones?

The second area I recommended they focus on is a deeper understanding of success and failure in other categories of retail. Brainstorm a list of different categories where large retailers have come in, but some small businesses remain. Look at what has made them successful, or what has prevented them from being successful.

In each of those ways of pulling back from the problem, they may see some interesting strategies that can be adapted to their target, as well as develop a more nuanced take on the challenge for their target.

I look forward to seeing where they go with it and I will be sure to publish anything that goes live here.

Also: they told me about a new doc called Independent America where the filmmakers drive across the country talking to people in different small businesses. Sounds interesting.

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Dirk sez Yahoo! = Wal-Mart March 12th, 2006


In Yahoo! = Wal-Mart, Dirk takes Yahoo! to task for all the crappy things they do; or more for their failure to do the great things that they could do with all their assets. And draws a comparison to Wal-Mart in the process.

I actually had to check a few times on the actual thesis of the post, because, of course, != is computer code for “not equals” so Yahoo!= suggests that Yahoo is NOT Wal-Mart. But in fact, Dirk is saying that they are.

I think his screed against Yahoo! is pretty well-founded, but I think (especially in a conversation about brand meaning), the Wal-Mart comparison is a bit distracting. Wal-Mart’s brand includes a number of powerful attributes that aren’t part of the argument – the stuff that engenders hatred towards Wal-Mart (squeezing out local businesses, screwing over employees) doesn’t apply to Yahoo. It’s hard to look at the two company’s brands without acknowledging this other aspect of their public face (despite Wal-Mart’s large efforts to divert from that). Google may own “Don’t Be Evil” (although no one believes them at all anymore and their hubris in claiming and then ignoring that may lead to some sort of downfall, if only a brand/meaning downfall), Yahoo! has not really ever stepped into that, but Wal-Mart (regardless of your feeling about the politics, and acknowledging that they have many many customers, some of whom undoubtedly love them unswervingly) definitely treads into (perception-wise) “Be Evil, You’ll Get Money” territory.

Wal-Mart also is a model for other companies in (some aspects of) how to do business. Their technological innovations in tracking inventory and shipping stuff around and adjusting prices dynamically is studied and perhaps copied (or lusted after) by other companies. What infrastructure or operational innovation of Yahoo’s is copied?

One commonality I do see is the great discomfort I felt upon entering both. A Wal-Mart store in Mountain View a few years ago was just…uncomfortable, and Yahoo’s main reception area a couple of years ago was twitch-inducing. The Yahoo! story is a bit funnier, I guess…the main reception area in their Silicon Valley HQ is a heavily branded environment. Lots of photos of previous marketing initiatives where, as far as I can tell, big stuff was covered with the Yahoo logo. Buses. Trains. Etc. A Yahoo store. Examples of co-branded Yahoo products in display cases.

Ahhhh, Yahoo is a marketing company, not a technology company. And meanwhile the lobby is filled with people awaiting their meetings, dressed up, tight smiles on their faces as the person with the checkbook comes down to great them chummily. Pheromones of fear and greed were flooding over me as I waited someplace safe. I stood near the reception desk and overhead a conversation “….I’m sorry. Mr. Potato Head is not available on Tuesday at that time. Not available until after 3.” Eventually I realized that they were talking about the name of a conference room!

Of course, once my friend showed up and we went into a normal building and the cafeteria and so on, my comfort increased to a normal level. But whoah, that reception area.

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Serving Good Intentions by the Bowlful – New York Times January 11th, 2006


The New York Times looks more closely at the “alternative” breakfast cereals, including where the money goes, what ingredients they contain, what those ingredients do or don’t deliver, and who really owns these companies.

General Mills owns Cascadian Farm, and the name behind Kashi is Kellogg. Barbara’s Bakery is owned by Weetabix, the leading British cereal company, which is owned by a private investment firm there. Mother’s makes clear that it is owned by Quaker Oats (which is owned by PepsiCo). Health Valley and Arrowhead Mills are owned by a natural food company traded on the Nasdaq, Hain Celestial Group; H. J. Heinz owns 16 percent of that company.

The cereals sold under the Peace label are owned by Golden Temple, a for-profit company owned by a nonprofit group founded by the late Yogi Bhajan, who made his fortune from Yogi Tea, Kettle Chips and a company that provides security services.

Of the companies that made the cereals tested, only Nature’s Path, a Canadian company, has no parent company.

Don Sayles, a retired manufacturer and typical New York skeptic, was recently shopping in the cereal aisle at a Whole Foods in New York. He buys alternative cereals ‘because we believe the hype to a certain extent about whole grains.’

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