Posts tagged “cca”

MC SP was in da house

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(thanks Katie for the photo)
Friday was the Bay Area’s Best awards, where local winners of the BusinessWeek/IDSA IDEA Awards were feted. I presented the awards. Below are my opening remarks.

In preparing for tonight I’ve been doing some thinking about design in the Bay Area. I’m sure we’ve all had that same experience where we’re on call to our friends and colleagues in other places to try and offer some detailed overview of the local economy for design, consulting, innovation, or whatever. “What’s going on with business out there?” they’ll ask us.

Ummm, well, let’s see.

I mean, how do you answer that?

If you’re like me, you can really only answer it from your own narrow perspective. If you’re having a busy week, you might tell them “The Valley is back!” or if you’re feeling some economic crunch from your employer or your clients, you might just pause and inhale skeptically….”hisssssssssssssssssss. I dunno….”

Of course, we’re all optimists in Sunny (make that Foggy) California, so there’s probably a tendency to lean a bit harder on the “We’re back, baby” side of the equation.

So while I’m sure there’s someone with bar charts, and pie charts, showing the quarterly delta of the Gross Regional Product, design dollars spent per hard good, the macroeconomic tracking index of supply-and-demand curve adjusted for inflation, that’s not me. I can only tell you what I see and hear.

So if you will allow, let’s consider three different aspects of design: people, ideas, and stuff.

Okay, “people”. First of all, look at all of us. A bunch of people who are here tonight for outa-control alcohol fueled mayhem, to raise the roof with each other, for camaraderie, and celebration. To be out with each other and share the connection as part of the scene. We’re here for ourselves, but we’re here for each other. That’s a community. That’s something we know that people move here be part of. If you’ve got friends in other countries or other parts of the US, they may be jealous of that elusive “activity” that goes on here, at events like this and others. If you look at resumes you know that people definitely want to come HERE to work.

One of the largest employers of designers in the world is here…IDEO. With most of their designers here in the Bay Area. Just by mass alone, IDEO puts us all on the map.

We’ve got design students here, with programs at Academy of Art University, California College of the Arts (where I teach), San Francisco State, San Jose State, Stanford and probably someplace else I missed. Those schools are destination schools, and this area is a destination. And certainly the changes going on at CCA and Stanford are well-publicized in the design press, and even in the business press.

So, what about ideas? With Silicon Valley, we’ve got a tremendous history as a place of ideas, ideas that get turned into technologies and of course stuff that people end up using, in other words, design. If you aren’t getting a chunk of the money, you might not think at first that the $1.65 BILLION that Google paid for YouTube doesn’t really affect you, but don’t be mistaken – that’s a dramatic sign about money, content, media, information, entertainment, you name it. Oh, and of course, design.

But the air is thick with ideas here in the Bay Area. Earlier this week I saw a panel discussion with Larry Cornett and Joy Mountford from Yahoo, Peter Merholz from Adaptive Path, and Tim Brown from IDEO. They were considering the design challenges in creating a new class of product: systems with emergent behavior. In other words, where the way the product or system will be used isn’t known before it is created, and the design must allow for that flexibility to emerge over time. Maybe you’d like to dismiss all this as website stuff, but Tim Brown was very clear that he didn’t distinguish; it was all design to him.

And people from outside this area are hungry to bring their ideas here to teach us, and to get our reactions. Just in the last few weeks, we’ve had MOMA design curator Paola Anontelli at Stanford talking about designing the user experience of design exhibits, author and visionary Bruce Sterling at CCA talking about modernism, futurism, and design, Molly Steenson at Giant Ant talking about an ethnographic study she did with Microsoft in Bangalore, India, looking at how people use mobile phones. Turns out that whereas we see the phones as personal devices, for many in India they are shared devices. The design implications for software and hardware in the global marketplace are significant.

And last but absolutely not least comes the stuff. Consider that the talk about emergent systems I mentioned before was held in an overflowing auditorium at PARC, the famous R&D lab in Palo Alto that brought us word processing, the desktop interface, Ethernet, the laser printer, and helped to productize the mouse. We are residents in the ancestral home of revolutionary products, services, technologies – in other words, stuff – the personal computer, the internet, the iPod, the search engine. Revolutionary in that they change how people live, how they work, they create entire economies and destroy others.

And the stuff is why we’re here tonight, after all. Each of the firms we are honoring tonight have a “thing” that we’ll show, a thing that can be seen and touched. But each of those tangible things should mean so much more than the thing itself. The people in our winning firms have taken big ideas, new ideas, and put them into stuff. People, ideas, and stuff, and that’s how we got here, with our Bay Area’s Best.

The event was a lot of fun, although they ran out of beer (I was saving myself until after the awards, and made a dash for the bar only to find they were pushing this malt-beverage-with-caffeine that would have turned me into Portigolio with my shirt over my head) and I had to make do with a churro instead. It was really a party, more than a ceremony, and so lots of people continued to chat, loudly, while we began to speak through the PA. It’s very hard to speak when there’s so much background chatter, and I heard from others afterwards that it was a struggle for some to hear the presentations. I don’t begrudge anyone the desire to continue talking (that’s what’s great about parties) but it would be great if it could be managed so that the speaking-and-listening stuff could also go on as well.

Bruce Sterling at CCA


Bruce Sterling gave a talk at CCA last Tuesday. Part of the talk came from Shaping Things (although he didn’t mention SPIMES directly), but much of it was fresh, presumably influenced by his visit that same afternoon to the scenario planners and futurists at the Global Business Network.

I’ve since finished reading Shaping Things and hope to write up something about it before too long, but meanwhile my notes from the talk are posted at Core77.

The day of the talk I was at MarCamp and had to rush to get to CCA in time to hopefully eat and get a seat (after getting lost on Stanford campus and ending up in the back of a crowded and hot room for the Antonelli talk the day before, I was trying to plan). I walked into the school’s cafe thinking I’d grab something and wolf it down and then go to the auditorium. And there’s Bruce Sterling sitting quietly at a table working on his laptop. He looks up and sees me and as I walk over to re-introduce myself (we met once at an IDSA West event where I had recommended him as the keynote) he seems to know who I am and invites me to sit down. And then another man joins us, and Sterling introduces me to Rudy Rucker, telling him how great my blog is. Rucker gets out a pen and paper to write the details down, Sterling tells him to Google me, and I just hand him a business card.

I then start saying really stupid things to Rudy Rucker; remembering that I read one of his books many years ago but I can’t remember what it is (since figuring out that it was probably Wetware). I don’t know why I did that; it’s not like anyone ever wants to hear that sort of thing even when it’s expressed non-moronically. It’s funny now, I guess. They showed me pictures from some crazy vault in the basement of the building that the Global Business Network is in, discussed Web 2.0, asked me to save seats and so on. I see someone else had a slightly similar experience.

Eventually I went in to get seats (though being early meant I had plenty of choice) and looked up Rudy Rucker online, only to realize that I had purchased a few of his books recently! I gave up on one; and am currently about 10% through another, on my bedside table at home. Moron-forehead slap number 2. When Rucker showed up he asked if I could drive him to the train station afterwards, and mentioned he was going to write a story about giant ants with Bruce Sterling (who was sitting and writing away on his laptop, wordsmithing, I presume, the talk he was about to give). Sitting behind us was Brenda Laurel, newly at CCA, but of course I didn’t realize that until afterwards. What a big evening of famous people that I can act like a clueless goofball in front of…it’s all blog fodder, I guess.

Sterling’s talk was entertaining and provocative. His ability to craft phrases for a verbal presentation is unique, and he manages this semi-sarcastic riffing drawl that brings his written prose back into the realm of the spoken. This lets him rant about some techno-groovy possibility and use geeky phrases about “bluetooth-enabled devices crawling through our skin” (not an actual phrase he used) that don’t thunder demandingly but almost mock the idea while still wildly considering the possibility real and even necessary. It’s engaging as hell, sneaking ideas past your defenses with a dry cloaking device.

And maybe that’s why he’s been a Visionary-in-Residence at Art Center – it’s not that his ideas are entirely clear or convincing or that his logic follows simply and persuasively, but he takes on you and a ride and you may notice that you are off the road sometimes, but you’re still along for the ride. [I hope someone is counting the fallen metaphors here].

Rucker ended up sticking around and not riding in the new RX8, and I finally got to eat my dinner sandwhich when I got home later that evening!

Events Next Week in SF

On Monday is Paola Antonelli at Stanford.

Tuesday, after MarCamp wraps up, is Bruce Sterling at CCA.

Let me know if you’ll be at any of these?

Throw in Pho in Daly City on Monday, dinner at Le Charm on Wednesday, a presentation to the San Francisco branch of the Taiwan Design Center, and our class at CCA…next week promises to be busy in a few different directions.

I’m tired

On Friday I became a first-time uncle as Talia Elyse Todd arrived. We’ll be headed up to Vancouver in a few weeks to check her out!

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I’ve been running around evenings and weekends the last few days doing fieldwork. We did find a fun place for a debrief (listed as “Java on Judah” in my GPS) with a gregarious San Francisco-type proprietor.

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Sunday was 3 hours of driving, to Bolinas and back, for an all-day faculty retreat for the CCA ID department. Really great session and I feel excited about this and upcoming semesters, but still.

Designer Gods

Disclosure/disclaimer – I teach in the Industrial Design program at CCA, where Yves Behar is the co-chair.

This Wired article may not be the most egregious example, but it was the one that tipped things for me. It describes the work of fuseproject on the $100 laptop. But like many articles about fuseproject, and indeed many articles about design firms in general, it casts the firm as the manifestation of a single person’s talent, skllls, and vision. I don’t know how they work at fuseproject; I would imagine you’ve got to be pretty damn good to get a job there (given the reputation and output of the firm). This management of public image using Yves exclusively may be part of a deliberate attempt to build a brand around an individual, it may be ego, it may accurately represent how things work. I’m working hard not to make too many unfounded assumptions.

As soon as they accepted the challenge, Béhar and a handful of his 28 staffers began a stretch of late nights at the studio, sketching shapes on tracing paper. They reviewed 20 or 30 models that other designers had proposed at various points in the project. They gave special attention to Design Continuum’s original version, a boxy green laptop with a prominent power crank.

“There were too many parts flapping around, too many open places. It wasn’t realistic,” Béhar says. “It should be compact and sealed, like a suitcase. And it should really look and feel different. It shouldn’t look like something for business that’s been colored for kids.” (That’s more than an aesthetic concern: An unmistakable, childlike design will be the laptop’s only real defense against theft and resale.)

“My temptation as a designer was to explore a lot of options,” Béhar says. He looked into electronic ink displays, which run on very low power and could allow for smaller, lighter batteries. (The laptop must be light, since kids are meant to carry it everywhere.) He liked the idea of a soft keyboard, connected to the screen with something called a living hinge (think of the way a cap attaches to a shampoo bottle), which would be cheap and practically indestructible. But E Ink technology is not mature enough, and kids who have no desks at school would find a floppy hinge awkward to balance in their laps. Besides, the laptop was supposed to roll off an assembly line at Quanta, the world’s largest laptop manufacturer, by the end of 2006. He had to move quickly. “A lot of concept ideas I eliminated pretty early on,” Béhar says.


Figuring out how to protect everything from dust and moisture was harder. Béhar replaced the traditional keyboard on Design Continuum’s model with a sealed rubber one and built a sensor right into the palm rest to eliminate the seam between it and the trackpad found on a regular laptop. Other problems: The USB ports were exposed to the elements, and a pair of radio antennas had to stay outside the machine. (The Media Lab wanted the antennas to have a half-mile range for building a city- or village-wide mesh network, with each laptop acting as a node.) Solving one problem solved the other: Béhar turned the antennas into a pair of playful “ears”that swivel up for reception or down to cover the laptop’s naked ports.

“Everything on the laptop serves at least two purposes,” he says.

In March, Béhar’s team presented two models to the One Laptop per Child panel of researchers, engineers, and former Media Labbers. Members of the Design Continuum team also presented two versions. Only one design would survive to a final round of revisions. After Béhar showed off his work, he wandered out to the hall for a glass of water. Fifteen minutes later, he walked back into the room and was greeted with a round of applause.

At least there is an acknowledgement of this as a team effort in a couple of places. But the writer (and Yves himself) attributes decisions and actions to Behar alone.

Contrast this with a piece of Kevin Smith’s My Boring Ass Life

My apologies for the lack of updates, but we’ve been pretty fucking busy. Week 3 is wrapped, and tomorrow, we start our second to last week on the show. Both cast and crew continue to dazzle. I continue to dream about getting more sleep, as I spend all day on set, then lock myself in the editing room ’til usually two or three in the morning. I may be sleepy, but I’ve cut every frame of film we’ve shot already, resulting in one hour of the movie completely assembled. The simultaneous-to-shooting editorial has been tremendously helpful in allowing us to go back to scenes and shoot any missing pieces I didn’t know we’d need, or allow me to revisit scenes I feel need a bit more (or less) detail. If you’re ever gonna make a flick, cut it (yourself) while you’re shooting, kids; you won’t regret it.

We went an extra day last week, shooting on Saturday to get Lee on his “Earl”-free day. The Randal/Lance showdown is a real highlight of the flick, but the award for scene-of-the-week goes to Mewes. When you see the film, you’ll know what I mean.

If you’ve seen Smith interviewed (or giving those entertaining convention or college campus talks), he surprisingly uses “we” to refer to the filmmaking process. He will also use “I” regularly to talk about writing or other things he alone does, but he seems to have made a conscious choice to keep language collective and plural as much as possible.

It’s certainly apples and oranges and I think it’s too easy to draw ridiculously simplistic conclusions from the comparision here. I think the contrast is interesting, however, because it suggests that either way of presenting the creative head is not the only way it can or needs to be done.

[Additionally, I thought the Wired piece was blogworthy because it offers the rare-for-press snippy stuff that always goes around designer conferences around which firm screwed up this for that client and who came in and saved ’em. I always hear those stories but never see ’em in print.]

Blog/flickr project for class

For my class in Design Research Methods at CCA, I’ve asked the students to start either blogging or adding pictures to flickr. They are ideally doing this regularly, at least weekly, but I think it’s taking some time to ramp up.

I’ve asked them to think like design researchers and use this as a way to practice noticing stuff, and telling stories. They can blog whatever they want, but at least one piece per week should be something interesting they noticed – something funny or odd or curious or unusual – in their daily lives. An experience, a design, a need, a person doing something odd. Just to learn to pay attention to that alerting part of our judging selves. Ideally, this will help build the muscles they’ll need for making sense out of the fieldwork they start doing.

Anyway, I’m going to link to ’em all here and maybe some of the folks who read this blog will check out what the class has done. Maybe offer some comments or encouragement. Once they got their feet wet, the hope is that having an audience will actually provide some inspiration, motivation, momentum.

http://blurr1e.blogspot.com/
http://cupanoodle.blogspot.com/
http://dcarchitect.blogspot.com/
http://shambacca.blogspot.com/
http://thegumbyproject.blogspot.com
http://thenbalmer.blogspot.com
http://www.flickr.com/photos/weberdesign/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/dearjy NEW
http://www.flickr.com/photos/12187480@N00/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/14812574@N00/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/37212535@N00/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/74386819@N00/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/91006549@N00/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/benbassat
http://www.flickr.com/photos/justjump/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/samdidnotknow/
http://www.myspace.com/homelesswombat
http://www.optionsf.com/blog/

Laugh of the day

Here’s my laugh of the day, from Maslow and Branding

Remember back in your Psych 101 class when you learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Bet you never expected to see it again in the business world

WHAT? Maslow is an overwhelmingly cliched and over-used structure in the business world. I wish I had a nickel for every variation and reapplication of Maslow that I’ve seen. I don’t take issue with Jennifer’s points specific to branding (frankly it was hard to really get to them, with that intro), but to claim some sort of clever uniqueness for bringing this into branding (or anything) is really silly.

Cliche aside, I did present a basic version of the hierarchy to my Design Research students this week, showing them that they can (and should) design for all sorts of needs, and as they do research, they’ll see interesting ways that the needs are related. One group is looking at nutrition, and obviously food is an amazing category for physical, emotional, and other types of needs all occurring at once. I’ll note that I went through a whole thing about how it is indeed cliched and once I had shown it to them they were guaranteed to see it a dozen other times in short order, and that it was absolutely over-used in business.

Funny, then, to see it presented this way so soon after.

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