Posts tagged “ideas”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • One Hour Design Challenge: The Trapper Kindle – Core77 – A much better post on what makes the Trapper-Kindle such a great response to the Reading Ahead research. Nice concepting and nice storytelling, all!
  • An error from a previous edition has been corrected – A rather aspirational piece on the power of digital books to support corrections after publication. Although we've got this with news already and the argument presented about the amount of fact-checking doesn't seem to be relevant – even if you have the ability to post new corrections technically doesn't mean you have the human resource to find those corrections.
  • Core-Toons: The Trapper-Kindle – While intended as humor, this is also the sort of design concepts we love, as they take an observation, or an insight about people and visualize a solution. We asked Core77's community to make the book more sensual, and here's a great example! Looking forward to more great design ideas for Reading Ahead!

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • 'Magic Fingers Vibrating Bed' inventor dies at 92 – The inventor of the "Magic Fingers Vibrating Bed," which brought weary travelers 15 minutes of "tingling relaxation and ease" for a quarter in hotel rooms across America during its heyday as a pop culture icon in the 1960s and '70s, has died.
  • Vending machines for Gold? – While it's just a plan at this point, it seems that the idea is more about disruption and promotion than simply "vending."
  • Let’s Embrace Open-Mindedness – My article published at Johnny Holland, considering the challenges in living up to the standard we set for ourselves. And there's a story about cheese, too!
  • Why some cultural products and styles die out faster than others – To investigate how cultural tastes change over time, Berger and Le Mens analyzed thousands of baby names from the past 100 years in France and the US. (Because there is less of an influence of technology or advertising on name choice, baby names provide a way to study how adoption depends on primarily internal factors.) The researchers found a consistent symmetry in the rise and fall of individual names; in other words, the longer it took for a name to become popular, the longer it took for the name to fade out of popularity, and thus the more staying power it had compared to names that quickly rose and fell. The effect was robust, occurring in both countries and across various time windows.

    According to the results, the quicker a cultural item rockets to popularity, the quicker it dies. This pattern occurs because people believe that items that are adopted quickly will become fads, leading them to avoid these items, thus causing these items to die out.

    (via Lone Gunman)

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Mass Customization of the Fiat 500 – A number of folks we recently met in Europe mentioned this new (although an updated classic) car as being perfect for their needs. The variation and customizing, while perhaps not unique in today's marketplace (I'm imaging the Mini's variability is similar if not beyond) was still striking: "The 500 is available with four different trim levels: Naked, Pop, Lounge, and Sport. Customers can choose also between 15 interior trims, 9 wheel options, 19 decals, and 12 body colours. There are over 500,000 different personalized combinations of the 500 that can be made by adding all kinds of accessories, decals, interior and exterior colours, and trims."
  • Searching for Value in Ludicrous Ideas – Allison Arieff writes about "inventor/author/cartoonist/former urban planner Steven M. Johnson" whose "work tends toward the nodes where social issues intersect with design and urban planning issues." I'm reminded of my formative experiences with Al Jaffee features from MAD magazine where he's describe future products or technologies, or explain (fancifully) the workings of some current product (i.e. bars of soap that are made with quick disappearing stuff on the outside and then a small interior core that takes a long long time to dissolve).
  • Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt – Suggested to me by René Vendrig at the Amsterdam UX Cocktail Hour, after my talk on looking at cultural differences based on everyday observations. He tells me "It is about traffic, but the real subject is human psychology and how we deal with that kind of situations."
  • It's Not TV, It's HBO – HBO's standard-creating slogan, giving words to the premium experience of their programming.
  • It's not just coffee, it's Starbucks. – New ad campaign for Starbucks attempts to differentiate on quality, but sounds just a bit familiar.
  • All This ChittahChattah | Flying the sneaky skies – (see link for screen grab)

    While checking in online for a United Airlines flight, you may be offered the opportunity to upgrade to Economy Plus. It’s likely that most people decline upsells in many situations, though. The default would be to click “no thanks” and move on to completing the transaction. But United has done some tricky and manipulative interface design. The bright yellow arrow with bold text placed on the right is almost irresistible. E-commerce sites have trained us to envision a transaction moving from left to right (granted that they’ve landed on that model since it corresponds to how we read and other cultural factors); it’s very easy to click on the arrow and make a purchase you didn’t want. It takes cognitive work to search for the preferred option which is a lowly blue-underlined unbolded text link off to the left.

  • Evil-interface design in airline website design spanked by European Commission – "Another common problem is the use of prechecked boxes offering services like travel insurance; consumers must uncheck the boxes to remove the unwanted charge." I've written before about United's website being slightly more subtle in their evilness, by offering an upgrade during check-in where the highly visible (colored graphic arrow) button in the default location will cost you tons of money; it's more effort to realize, locate, and decline the offer. Why do we live in a world where major brands want to sell us things that we don't want by tricking us? It's unconscionable that any company can claim to respect consumers and then pull crap like this.
  • Cyd Harrell of Bolt | Peters reacts to the ludicrous Dell campaign trying to sell computers to women, in 2009 – "…a woman, with the last Dell I will ever own. It’s my current laptop, and I chose it because I needed a computer powerful enough to run screensharing tools and high-res video; I needed mobile broadband to stay in touch with my clients and employees, and not just my kid (heresy!); I needed my screen to look great when I go to meetings with clients. That is to say, I needed it for work. Dell, let’s make it official: you can bite me and the millions of other women who take themselves and their technology seriously."

    I love the articulate passion here, as well as the insight into what may have happened organizationally/culturally at Dell (ahem, really crappy research) that leads to such a horrendously offensive sales pitch to HALF of their buying population

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • What comes after super-noticing power? Bionic noticing! – [Matt Jones] sees mobile as something of a super power device and described something he calls "bionic noticing" – obsessively recording curious things he sees around him, driven by this multi-capable device in his pocket. "Making maps and taking photos and sucking photons out of the city and putting them up on Flickr. It's the thing I can't do without now – this remembering machine."

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Dean Kamen: Be A Genius and Get It Wrong – This Esquire profile of Dean Kamen nicely supports with what I wrote in a previous interactions column (Some Different Approaches To Making Stuff).
    "A process that usually begins with Kamen fixating on a pressing human need and following his nose with little regard for precedent or practicality. One day he saw a man in a wheelchair struggling to get over a sidewalk curb. Instead of trying to build a better wheelchair, he asked himself what that man really needed. To be able to go up stairs, to cross rough terrain, to rise up and look normal people in the eye. [The solution:] Wheels that could spin back and forth so precisely and so fast, you could balance on just two of them.
    He made the iBOT come true. It's an amazing accomplishment, but the practical issues still dog him — at $26,100, it costs way too much for most wheelchair users. Same with the Segway, which he put $50 million of his own money into before giving any serious thought to the problem of selling it."

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • PETA (hopefully tongue-in-cheek) attempts to rebrand fish as "Sea Kittens" – Sorta reductio ad absurdum re: my latest interactions column, Poets, Priests, and Politicians
  • Rug company Nanimarquina brings global warming to your living room – "If there is an iconic image that represents the natural devastation of global warming, it is the lone polar bear stuck on a melting ice flow. Now eco rug company Nanimarquina has teamed up with NEL artists to create a beautiful ‘Global Warming Rug’ – complete with stranded polar bear floating in the middle of the sea – to represent the most pressing issue of our time. Rugs have been traditionally used throughout the ages to tell stories and communicate messages, and we think this is a lovely, poignant new take on a time-honored tradition." What effect does it have when an issue like global warming gets iconified and aestheticized like this? Does it drive home the seriousness of the situation, or make it more palatable?
  • Asch conformity experiments – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Asch asked people about similarity of height between several lines. Confederates answered incorrectly and this influenced the subject themselves to support this incorrect answer.
  • Confirmation bias: the tendency to seek out information that supports what we already believe – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) The 2-4-6 problem presented subjects with 3 numbers. Subjects were told that the triple conforms to a particular rule. They were asked to discover the rule by generating their own triples, where the experimenter would indicate whether or not the triple conformed to the rule. While the actual rule was simply “any ascending sequence”, the subjects often proposed rules that were far more complex. Subjects seemed to test only “positive” examples—triples the subjects believed would conform to their rule and confirm their hypothesis. What they did not do was attempt to challenge or falsify their hypotheses by testing triples that they believed would not conform to their rule.
  • Overcoming Bias – Blog by Eliezer Yudkowsky and others about (overcoming) biases in perception, decisions, etc.
  • Hindsight bias: when people who know the answer vastly overestimate its predictability or obviousness, – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky)
    Sometimes called the I-knew-it-all-along effect.
    "…A third experimental group was told the outcome and also explicitly instructed to avoid hindsight bias, which made no difference."
  • Planning fallacy – the tendency to underestimate task-completion times – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Asking people what they did last time turns out to be more accurate than what they either hope for or expect to happen this time
  • Cognitive Biases in the Assessment of Risk – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Another example of extensional neglect is scope insensitivity, which you will find in the Global Catastrophic Risks book. Another version of the same thing is where people would only pay slightly more to save all the wetlands in Oregon than to save one protected wetland in Oregon, or people would pay the same amount to save two thousand, twenty thousand, or two hundred thousand oil-stroked birds from perishing in ponds. What is going on there is when you say, “How much would you donate to save 20,000 birds from perishing in oil ponds,” they will visualize one bird trapped, struggling to get free. That creates some level of emotional arousal, then the actual quantity gets thrown right out the window.

    [I am not sure that's the reason why; I think there could be other explanations for the flawed mental model that leads to those responses]

  • Conjunction fallacy – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) A logical fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that specific conditions are more probable than a single general one. Example: Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

    Which is more probable?

    1. Linda is a bank teller.
    2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

    85% of those asked chose option 2 [2]. However, mathematically, the probability of two events occurring together (in "conjunction") will always be less than or equal to the probability of either one occurring alone.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Toilet seat covers, upgraded – Dora Cardenas, Toletta's cofounder and VP of communications, explains: “The product concept came to me and my husband while we were trying to find small travel packs of disposable paper toilet seat covers to use ourselves. Not only was I shocked to learn that travel packs are hard to find, but the products we did find didn’t have any ounce of style or quality tissues. All the products we found looked and felt like something you would find in a camping supply store—not exactly something retail stores and supermarkets would be proud to carry on their shelves.”
  • TOLETTA – Because you never know – TOLETTA is the world's first premium brand of paper toilet seat covers. From the funky music to the edgy and stylish packaging, it's easy to see that we're not your ordinary toilet seat covers. Not only do our products look great, the premium tissue helps women feel better about using public washrooms. So for all you señoras, señoritas, and diva fashionistas, you'll never have to settle for those cheap and flimsy paper toilet seat covers again.
  • John Maeda's mini-manifesto in Esquire – I don't convulse with joy every time Maeda utters something, but I did enjoy this brief piece (despite his use of "the consumer"):

    "Technology is outpacing our ability to use it. And it's the job of designers to restore balance to this equation. Technological advances have always been driven more by a mind-set of "I can" than "I should," and never more so than today. Technologists love to cram maximum functionality into their products. That's "I can" thinking, which is driven by peer competition and market forces. (It's easier to sell a device with ten features than one.) But this approach ignores the far more important question of how the consumer will actually use the device."

  • Nussbaum says "Innovation" is dead but "Transformation" is the new black – The conflation between talking about ideas and discussing their labels is kinda frightening. Glad to see someone cited my latest interactions articles about the power of words to clarify our interactions.
  • Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable, on KQED Forum – What I heard was very exciting; Pallotta considers the unquestioned framework (and its history) around how charities operate and challenges these principles. He's extremely knowledgeable, thoughtful, and passionate. This was one of the best discussions of innovation – and its barriers – that I've heard in a long time.
  • Katherine Bennett explores design research methods and find the journey is at least part of the reward – "I'm two-thirds through with my MSID in design research at Art Center, and I feel the need to take stock of where I am. I've been teaching design research to product design students at Art Center since 1991, but since my journey down the path of getting this additional degree I have been traveling over some interesting ground."
  • I only started a blog because steve portigal told me to – "My name is Bria and I am a designer." Nice to see my writing having impact

Turn It On Again

Stephen Anderson’s musings on collaboration and attribution reminded me that a project we worked on for BIC has gone live:

From Business Week

[BIC is] designing disposable cartridges for fuel cells, a kind of power supply that could someday eliminate the need to constantly recharge mobile phones or laptop computers. Electronics makers are drawn to fuel cells because today’s rechargeable batteries can’t keep up with the demands users place on portable gadgets.

Bic’s big adventure with fuel cells began in 2002. Ken Cooper, the company’s U.S.-based director of strategic business development, was in a New Haven (Conn.) drugstore and spotted a cordless travel hair dryer with a tiny motor that ran on butane. This got Cooper thinking about fuel cells for handheld gadgets-a hot topic in consumer electronics circles. Few companies in the world package as much fuel every day as Bic does in its butane lighters, he reasoned. So Cooper decided Bic should take a gamble and develop fuel-cell cartridges that are “lighter-like, pocketable, yet safe.”

I know Ken worked with a series of small consultancies over that period. From our workshop, I remember strongly that fuel cells were a key takeway. But was that concept extant before the workshop, or did we generate it? I honestly can’t remember, and ultimately, (as Stephen addresses) it’s not a worthwhile pursuit to frame it that way. In most of our engagements we are trying to inform and inspire talented business people to develop and refine ideas and move them further along, and seeing this story in BusinessWeek 6 years later confirms that indeed we did.

Well, okay, as long as you’ve got a graph for it

I signed up for a webinar but was unable to attend. But I got a copy of the presentation, and although I’m sure it made a lot more sense when the presenter was explaining it, I had to laugh at this screen


The source is Productscan, so one can assume it has something to do with the success of new product introductions. But a product launch and an idea are not the same, are they? And how are they using innovative vs. not-so-innovative? And what’s the vertical axis, exactly?

I wanna push you around, well I will, I will

Recently, Rob Walker posted about Wal-Mart greenly pushing the the single-bulb-fluorescent (from the NYT) while Mike Wagner posted about how to help the Des Moines Kiwanis Club grow. The substance of the NYT piece and the response to the Wagner entry typify something that is increasingly surprising to me (but maybe shouldn’t be). People (at least in the corners of the blogosphere that I hang in) want to sell ideas. They want to persuade, influence, advertise, manipulate. I sometimes feel a lone voice in asking for i) a user-centered view of what the product or service could evolve to and ii) innovation and development to fix the problems in the product or service.

It’s easier to talk about how to push the idea out there, it seems.

Wal-Mart is working to get these bulbs adopted. But they know what people don’t like about the bulbs. How’s about working on that? I mean, jeez, you already know what the problem is! That seems like an easy one. And the suggestions for the Kiwanis group are strongly focused on how to attract members, without anyone trying to understand what (just to take one of many questions they need to be asking) the current members love about their experience with the organization. No doubt there’s a mismatch between what story is being told to prospective members and what story is desired by those prospective members, as another angle. But no, let’s just focus on how to shout about the existing story.

Push, push.

MC SP was in da house


(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.

Son of designer-y jargon


A bricoleur is a person who creates things from scratch, is creative and resourceful: a person who collects information and things and then puts them together in a way that they were not originally designed to do.

This can apply to actual stuff, but also to ideas or concepts. I certainly resonate with this approach to synthesis. Thanks to Stacy Surla for this one!

InnovateWithKraft, as they are now taking ideas from anyone who’s got one to send in

Kraft is accepting ideas under this policy for new products, packaging, and business processes/systems only. We are most interested in ideas that are more than a concept, in particular new products & packages that are ready to be brought to market (or can be brought to market quickly).
Although we very much appreciate: recipes, entertainment ideas, ideas for line extensions for existing Kraft products or packages, ideas for advertising/promotions and the like, such ideas fall outside the scope of this policy–and thus will not be reviewed by our Innovations Team or considered for compensation.

There is more information about how it works (IP and compensation) in their PDF submission packet. You’ll notice the contact info for the SVP of Open Innovation. I’d link to Friday’s WSJ article that brought this initiative to my attention, but of course the WSJ online content is mostly pay-only, so I can’t link to it. Instead, you may want to read this anlysis of Kraft’s efforts by Frank Piller, presumably a specialist in Open Innovation (admittedly a new term to me – can’t we just call it Innovation 2.0?).

10 Greatest Gadget Ideas of the Year – New York Times

Here’s a year’s best gadget list from David Pogue who skips overall gnarylness to consider “small, sweet improvements in our electronic lives” such as a digital camera with automatic bracketing in self-timer mode, downloadable TV episodes, and front-side connectors for everything on TV sets. It’s a bit of a relief to see a best list that deals with features and usability rather than form, finish, technolust, or cool.


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