Posts tagged “product”

Where Credit Is Due

card
Magnises is a new sort-of-credit-card that evokes an ultra-elite black card. It’s not actually a credit card, though. As they describe it

Each Magnises member carries our distinctive metal membership card, which extends and enhances their pre-existing credit or debit card, and provides perks, benefits, and access to numerous high-end brands. Upon admittance, Magnises will construct a card for each new member. Magnises will then extend the magnetic signature from the member’s personally owned credit or debit card onto their new Magnises card.

Yep, that’s right. You get a metal card that looks like a credit card but simply has the credit card data copied onto it – from the credit card you already own. While there are perks, no doubt, with this card, it is not actually the thing it denotes. It’s merely a gussied-up package for the quotidian plastic in your wallet (well, maybe not your wallet, if you are reading this it’s unlikely you are cool enough to qualify).

As a species, our ability to create meaning out of almost nothing – and then charge money for the performance of that meaning – is astonishing.

For more, see

Magnises Black Card Has Its Privileges (Well, Sort Of) [NYT]

The Color of Money

money
A report from a University of Guelph study explains that

People are more likely to spend dirty, crumpled currency and hold on to new bills. [But] in social situations, people reach for new bills even when they have older higher-denomination currency on hand.

Researcher Theodore Noseworthy explains

We tend to regard currency as a means to consumption and not a product itself. It should not matter if it’s dirty or worn because it has the same value regardless. But money is a vehicle for social utility, and it’s subject to the same inferences and biases as the products it can buy.

This suggests some design opportunities for digital money. I recently tried Square’s new service that lets you email cash to anyone (US only). The user experience was so minimalist and utterly delightful – and such a change from the dirge of PayPal (even without the frequent frustrations). If I’m sending someone an experience as part of sending them money, the quality of that experience may be something to consider (also, it’s free; also it’s a good experience for me as the sender).

Phoenix Design Summit: Facilitating for good

While we often have the chance to facilitate ideation and strategy sessions for our clients, I recently got to bring those skills to a different context. I had the fortune of facilitating for social good a few weeks ago at the Phoenix Design Summit, an extension of the AIGA Design For Good initiative focused on using design to ignite, accelerate and amplify social change. Previous summits have been held in Birmingham, Aspen, and Savannah.

The Phoenix summit was focused on three different areas that significantly impact our future (broadly) and youth (specifically): Education, Health & Wellness, and the Arts. Three teams of designers and local champions spent three days using design thinking to tackle these challenges. I worked with Team Activating Arts, eight volunteers including designers, arts advocates and conscious entrepreneurs.

On Day 1 all the teams took field trips to organizations and sites related to their topic. We visited three different Arts-focused organizations around the metro area including Free Arts of Arizona that provides healing art experiences to abused and homeless children, the Phoenix Center for the Arts which offers arts and theatre classes in a fantastic old building in central Phoenix, and the ASU Art Museum where we visited the Miracle Report exhibit and Emerge: Redesigning the Future.

The team captured observations, insights, questions, and passions on sticky notes as we debriefed on the visits and identified common strengths, challenges and opportunities for overlap. One idea present at every site we visited was a commitment to the incredible value of art making. Everyone we spoke to emphasized the process of art being just as important as the end product.

On Day 2 we reconvened and set out to make meaning of the mess and clarify the team’s vision: Wouldn’t it be sweet to create systems for Arizona Arts organizations to bring together their unique talents to create opportunities?

Of all three teams, ours clearly had an advantage in delivering a solution that truly modeled community engagement because we had a representative from the Phoenix Center for the Arts on our team. This truly made the difference in being able to create a plan with a champion who has the passion and means to implement it. As the team spent the second day brainstorming what kinds of problems they could solve, they were able to focus on activating alliances and engagement among various arts organizations and citizens with the help of our key stakeholder, Joseph. The end of the day brought convergence and a rapid Pecha Kucha-style presentation by each of the 3 teams about their progress so far. Team Activating Arts offered both long term strategies and short term tactics that were actionable for the local arts community.

Day 3 was all about action and implementation. A key element (and challenge) of the Summit was the concept of community engagement. While our creative team was overflowing with solutions, they understood that the outcome of the summit would be most valuable if it enabled the community to generate their own solutions (rather than a small group of designers determining what they should be). So the team devised a 3-part strategy for facilitating community engagement with Phoenix arts organization that is being spearheaded by Joseph, someone with the resources and passion to see it through.

Part 1: Organize a Phoenix Art Summit in October to engage the local Arts organizations and community (this summit will be hosted by Joseph and is modeled after the very summit we participated in!)

Part 2: Create an umbrella organization for all of the Arizona Arts organizations that allows them to share valuable resources and collaborate more efficiently (potential output of summit)

Part 3: Promote Everyday Art in Phoenix (the team went wild ideating dozens of specific activities for this initiative and even implemented a few of them for their final presentation)

By day’s end the team had created a summit agenda, a detailed “how to host your own summit” workbook and guide for Joseph to use in planning, and a Phoenix Art Summit website to collect information from interested individuals and organizations. In this way the team’s solution resonated with what we heard during our site visits, that the process of art making is just as important as the product. The Art summit is a process, a creative vehicle for generating outcomes that are meaningful and engaging to those they seek to impact, align, and serve.

 

I was extremely impressed with the team’s relentless creative efforts over the three days. I was also inspired as they committed to continuing to help Joseph in the future and being authentic participants in nurturing a cohesive arts community to support the youth of Phoenix and Arizona. If you are in the Phoenix area and in interested in the arts, please check out these organizations and sign up for summit announcements. And perhaps I will see you in Phoenix in October!

*for more eye candy and images of stickie notes, please visit the summit Flickr page here.

Welcome to the product marketing battleground

Yes, it turns out that All This Chittah Chattah is the place to wrestle for the hearts and minds of today’s consumers. With our frequent discussions of the consumer’s perspective as well as innovative technologies that respond to cultural shifts, we’ve developed a reputation as the place to be seen and read by the alpha-influencers who make any product a success.

Three years ago I blogged about a dual-flush toilet (and it’s explanatory memo).

What followed were a number of “comments” from people championing this product or its competitor, sometimes with a less-than-transparent reveal of their identity as someone who works for the company itself.




And in a similar vein, just the other day, I blogged about a device that would let you open a bathroom door with your toe. Immediately a competitor jumped in to defend his product as the “original” (and while you can’t tell from here, he posted from the domain name he’s championing).

A few days later, a devastating riposte from someone who is clearly not a fan.

Now, we don’t know if Elise (who goes by fuzzygirl89) is authentic or not, but I’m definitely suspicious (extraneous specific detail rings false to me). The gloves are definitely off here in the Chittah Chattah Product Death Match. Seriously, is this what it means to be an entrepreneur (or worse, a sales guy)? Sitting at home with your alerts, fingers in the ready position, inches above the keyboard, ready to pounce on any mention of your product in any corner of the web?

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] America: Land of Loners? [The Wilson Quarterly] – [Thoughtful commentary on the notion of "friends," a watered-down word these days, thanks to Facebook.] Friendship, like baseball, always seems to send intellectuals off the deep end. Yet there is more biological justification for our predecessors’ paeans to friendship than for our modern-day tepidity. Friendship exists in all the world’s cultures, likely as a result of natural selection. People have always needed allies to help out in times of trouble, raise their status, and join with them against their enemies. It doesn’t seem much of a stretch to conclude that a talent for making friends would bestow an evolutionary advantage by corralling others into the project of promoting and protecting one’s kids—and thereby ensuring the survival of one’s genes.
  • [from julienorvaisas] Ewwwwwwwww! [The Boston Globe] – [Scientists are working on unpacking the psychology of physical disgust and it's role in moral decisions, which are obviously also based in powerful socio-cultural factors. Food for thought on just how layered the decision-making process is.] Just as our teeth and tongue first evolved to process food, then were enlisted for complex communication, disgust first arose as an emotional response to ensure that our ancestors steered clear of rancid meat and contagion. But over time, that response was co-opted by the social brain to help police the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Today, some psychologists argue, we recoil at the wrong just as we do at the rancid, and when someone says that a politician’s chronic dishonesty makes her sick, she is feeling the same revulsion she might get from a brimming plate of cockroaches.
  • [from steve_portigal] iPad/Kindle combo proving deadly to rest of e-reader market [ars technica] – The show floor of January's Consumer Electronics Show was swamped with E-Ink-based e-readers of all shapes and sizes, to the point that it seemed that a tsunami of Kindle knock-offs was going to hit the US market in the first quarter of 2010. But in hindsight, it turns out that the wave actually crested at CES, and has now almost entirely subsided. The problem for these products is that the e-reader market appears to consist almost exclusively of people who want to use the devices to read, which means that they don't really care about being able to bend or flex the e-reader a little bit, nor are they willing to pay the huge premium that a touchscreen commands. Neither of these features enhances the basic reading experience that's at the core of why people pick an E-Ink device over a reader with an LCD screen. For those who just want to read, the Kindle is now very cheap. And if you're going to pay for a touchscreen, you might as well spend a bit extra get an iPad.
  • [from steve_portigal] Persona [a set on Flickr] – [An ongoing series of photographs of people, and the stuff they are carrying with them. This sort of raw documentationism is without explicit analysis or articulated insight but of course the act of creation and the act of editing/selecting introduces a curatorial voice and implicit point of view on the world. It's just up to us to figure out what that is]

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] No E-Books Allowed in This Establishment [NYTimes.com] – [In which the blogger goes to a cafe with a No Computers rule and tries to use his e-Reader, then gets into a debate about whether an e-Reader is really a computer or not. A bit of a tempest in a teapot; looking to connect to a larger social crisis which isn't occurring]
  • [from steve_portigal] Skill Building for Design Innovators (from CHIFOO) [All This ChittahChattah] – Steve will take a look at some fundamental skills that underlie the creation and launch of innovative goods and services. He will discuss the personal skills that he considers to be “the muscles of innovators” and the ways you can build these important muscles, including noticing, understanding cultural context, maintaining exposure to pop culture, synthesizing, drawing, wordsmithing, listening, and prototyping.
  • [from steve_portigal] Five Indispensable Skills for UX Mastery [UIE Tips] – [This makes a good companion piece to my recent CHIFOO presentation "Skill Building for Design Innovations"]
  • [from steve_portigal] An interview with Eric Ludlum of Core77 [All This ChittahChattah] – The Dutch Master project is a natural extension for Core and also myself. Having gone through the industrial design program at Pratt Institute, and then founding Core77, covering industrial design, with Stu Constantine and myself always being on the outside of the industry in terms of actually participating, but then covering it, watching it from the inside. The Dutch Master, and previous to the Dutch Master, the Blu Fom shoe have been our attempts at doing some product development and design.
  • [from steve_portigal] Announcing the Core77 Flagship Retail Store in Portland Oregon! [Core77] – [Eric Ludlum of Core77 takes some of the themes he shared with us in the recent Ambidextrous interview and pushes them further with the opening of a Core77 retail space. I was surprised to visit it recently and see that it wasn't a curated museum store, but instead a 'Hand-Eye Supply' outlet] If there is a poster-boy, a hero, of Hand-Eye Design, it is Bucky Fuller. Who practiced sustainability, who advocated design-thinking, who studied the needs of the human being, but who understood these as parts of the whole enterprise of doing. He is the guy who, as good designers do, kept all that in his head and in his heart and used it as he MADE THINGS -not for the sake of self-expression or commercialism but because they had to be done. And that work was not birthed effortlessly from within but dragged out of the world in handfuls, built-up slowly into something meaningful through sketches and prototypes, mock-ups and fabrication. That is the design philosophy of Core77's Hand-Eye Supply.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Check-In On Foursquare Without Taking Your Phone Out Of Your Pocket [TechCrunch] – [Solutions tell you a lot about the culture you are looking at because they indirectly – or directly – announce a problem – in this case a real First World Problem] Future Checkin is an app that allows you to check-in to your favorite Foursquare venues automatically when you’re near them. You don’t have to do a thing besides simply have your phone on you and this app will check you in while running in the background with iOS 4. Check-in fatigue in particular is a growing problem. A number of heavy users of Foursquare that I know (myself included) have been complaining in recent months that it’s getting a bit tedious to have to pull out your phone each time to check-in to a venue. This app is really designed for people who are getting check-in fatigue, who often forget to check-in to places, or who don’t want to be rude by pulling out their phone in social settings.
  • [from steve_portigal] Cameo Stars | Have Celebrities Come Over…To Your Facebook Page! – It’s always been fun to see celebrities in unexpected places – whether playing themselves in a cameo TV or movie role, or just being themselves in their everyday lives. Cameo Stars takes the fun of celebrity cameos to a whole new level by enabling today’s top entertainers and athletes to make virtual cameo appearances right in your and your friends’ everyday lives, where they come to life right in your social network profile or mobile device! Launched in 2010, Cameo Stars is partnering with today’s top personalities in entertainment and sports to break new ground in the burgeoning virtual goods market by enabling celebrities to make virtual cameo appearances in the everyday lives of fans online. These “social cameos”, invented, created, and distributed by the company, transform exclusive celebrity content into virtual goods designed expressly for the intimate stage that social media provides.
  • [from steve_portigal] Delhi Police Use Facebook to Track Scofflaw Drivers [NYTimes.com] – Almost immediately residents became digital informants, posting photos of their fellow drivers violating traffic laws. As of Sunday more than 17,000 people had become fans of the page and posted almost 3,000 photographs and dozens of videos. The online rap sheet was impressive. There are photos of people on motorcycles without helmets, cars stopped in crosswalks, drivers on cellphones, drivers in the middle of illegal turns and improperly parked vehicles. Using the pictures, the Delhi Traffic Police have issued 665 tickets, using the license plate numbers shown in the photos to track vehicle owners, said the city’s joint commissioner of traffic, Satyendra Garg. With just 5,000 traffic officers in this city of 12 million people, the social networking site is filling a useful role, he said. “Traffic police can’t be present everywhere, but rules are always being broken,” Mr. Garg said. “If people want to report it, we welcome it. A violation is a violation.”
  • [from steve_portigal] 1962 glass could be Corning’s next bonanza seller [The Associated Press] – An ultra-strong glass that has been looking for a purpose since its invention in 1962 is poised to become a multibillion-dollar bonanza for Corning Inc., expecting it to be the hot new face of touch-screen tablets and high-end TVs. Gorilla showed early promise in the '60s, but failed to find a commercial use, so it's been biding its time in a hilltop research lab for almost a half-century. It picked up its first customer in 2008 and has quickly become a $170 million a year business as a protective layer over the screens of 40 million-plus cell phones and other mobile devices. Now, the latest trend in TVs could catapult it to a billion-dollar business: Frameless flat-screens that could be mistaken for chic glass artwork on a living-room wall. Because Gorilla is very hard to break, dent or scratch, Corning is betting it will be the glass of choice as TV-set manufacturers dispense with protective rims or bezels for their sets, in search of an elegant look.

An interview with Eric Ludlum of Core77


In 2009, Industrial Design supersite Core77 took the extraordinary step of launching its own product: the Dutch Master bicycle, made in New York City. While they had experimented with the Fila Blu Fom sneaker in 2006, this effort was marked by a more deliberate consideration for product design over mere cross-branding. I talked with Core77 partner Eric Ludlum about the Dutch Master effort and what it revealed. A condensed version of our conversation was published recently in Ambidextrous Magazine (view the PDF here) while the complete interview (which explores some other issues around craft production and craft consumption) is below.

Eric Ludlum: The Dutch Master project is a natural extension for Core and also myself. Having gone through the industrial design program at Pratt Institute, and then founding Core77, covering industrial design, with Stu Constantine and myself always being on the outside of the industry in terms of actually participating, but then covering it, watching it from the inside. The Dutch Master, and previous to the Dutch Master, the Blu Fom shoe have been our attempts at doing some product development and design.

In particular, the Dutch Master being more of a story than a product. Our background is as a magazine and place where design stories get told. So if there’s any kind of expertise we have it’s recognizing good stories and promoting them. With the Dutch Master, we actually got to write the story and promote it.

Steve Portigal: Was there an aspect of that with the story of the Blu Fom shoe?

EL: The Blu Fom was just a name, and actually, the concept behind it came from the model-making material designers used to use – mostly. There’s not too much use of it now, but the insulation foam that would be used to make the mock ups, either ergonomic models or actual look models of products. Definitely from my experience in school back in the mid-’90s, it was a staple of the process. With Core77, it was an insider take on industrial design. It was our insider wink-wink product. Very quintessential ID project. I think it was 2005 that we came out with it, and it had 300 pairs made by Fila. We worked with Phil Russo while he was there. Again, it really central to the story of it and the presentation on the web, pushing that out to other blogs, other web based media.

SP: So when you had this opportunity to write the story for Dutch Master, what is that story?

EL: With the Dutch Master, we wanted to take the starting point with New York City manufacturing. The interest level was there for a bicycle in Core77 because we’re all very interested in bicycling. A few of us actually commute by bike, so it was a natural product choice for us. But once we started getting down to the actual decision about what it was going to be and what the story was going to be, we were looking at New York City and the disappearance of manufacturing, and how really stunning it is to find something still made there.

That was the Worksman frame, and made in New York City for over 100 years. It formed the basis of the project. From there, it was like how do we create a product around it and extend the idea of New York City manufacturing and local production, as well as trying to be saleable. Hit some market price points that would make the project economically viable for us.

SP: That makes me think about who is the target customer. Did you have a sense of that?

EL: I guess there would be two. To some degree, we knew that the bike itself wouldn’t a real profit center for us. There’s the market of the consumer of ideas that’s out there on the Internet. In that case, it’s like a branding exercise for us. To be like, “Here is something we feel represents our nature as a company. Here is a way to communicate it to people.” There’s one market there, which is the much broader market. People consume that product by just seeing it.

Then the actual market for the bike itself: Through the process of developing the bike, the market started to move higher and higher based on this being a craft process where there’s a lot of skilled labor involved with actually producing it. It naturally tends to push the market price point higher. That informs the aesthetics of the products as well. Once you start moving into that higher rent neighborhood, it means that certain things are going to have to look a certain way. So inclusion of other accents on the bike, or an overall aesthetic that matches the rough luck look that you’d see out there in trendy restaurants or hotels.

SP: I had this reaction when I saw the bike, and I saw what it was selling for. I was surprised. I’m not a connoisseur of bikes. I haven’t shopped for a bike. I haven’t bought a new bike in a very, very long time, if ever. It wasn’t an informed perspective, but in general, I think of a bicycle as a commodity product. When I saw that it was more of an exclusive product, with some of what you’re describing it and at that price point, I was really surprised.

It makes me wonder in general about commodities going exclusive. Someone was telling me about heirloom chickens. I believe as a consumer that there’s more quality in those things. I wonder if you have any thoughts about this general movement towards many things being created at a level of – I’ve got to be careful with the word – I’ll call it exclusivity.

EL: Yeah, I think maybe in the case of the chicken as well, but definitely in the bike, the marketplace dictates where the opportunities lie for small run manufacturing or small run production. So the people who are very expert consumers of chickens or bikes, they are a tiny fraction of the overall market. They’re the ones who are willing to pay a premium, so now whatever your product is, it’s going to be a fairly low volume item, meaning that if you were going to have it as a sustainable business, the prices are going to have to have a fairly high margin, so you can keep going.

In the case of the bike, we’re doing them build-to-order, and putting them out there for sale on an ongoing basis. We want orders to trickle in a bit, so that production of the bicycle isn’t a chore that we hate because we’re squeaking just a little bit of profit out of it instead of other things we should be doing that would be making money. For it to be a viable product, it has to have some kind of ongoing benefit to the producer.

I don’t know about the gap between craft production and mass-market, how people would be able to bridge that, some kind of manufactured bespoke or semi-exclusive product. It seems like if the market really does kind of push you to one side or the other.

SP: You’re bringing the the producers frame in. I’m glad to get the benefit of your perspective on it because I think of it as a consumer in categories that I’m involved in as a consumer, like chickens or bikes or ice cream. You made an interesting point early on where you said that looking at what the manufacturing process was going to do to the cost, that then informs the design, the details, the trim, the materials, and so on. It has to be chosen in a way that supported the price point. Is that right?

EL: Yeah, definitely.

SP: So if you’re going to choose to do it in a small manufacturing way, it needs to be done in a way that is beneficial to the producer, and then the sort of details of the design have to send a specific message to the consumer. So you create a coherent story. I hate to bring up chickens again, but kind of a chicken and egg between the whole set of decisions. I guess it comes from choosing to be small manufacturing.

EL: Yeah. As an example, perhaps sports cars or other performance related products. Maybe like high-end electronics. The aesthetic becomes one of communicating that added performance, as an exclusivity or surplus of its abilities. I think that’s something that mass manufacturing picks up on and imitates in the mid-market, like in vehicles, for instance.

SP: There’s a look to an organic farmers’ market. You go into your grocery store, you can find some of those visual cues being replicated.

EL: Right now, it is a trend and will have a life cycle within the marketplace. It starts out as a fringe kind of happening, and then it will move, be adopted, and make its way through. I don’t know if we’re seeing that too much with actual consumer products, but we definitely see it with things like the chocolates or the craft brewing, like micro brews with the larger breweries. Budweiser or Michelob, even though they don’t replicate the taste of craft beers, they’re replicating the packaging and coloration.

SP: I read an article in the New Yorker about the craft brewing movement. They pointed out that micro brewing and craft brewing are actually very different. The scale of micro brewing is enormous relative to scale of craft brewing. You had mass breweries, and you had this micro‚Äëbrewery emerge that entered the public consciousness. That lasted for a while, and now you’ve got this even smaller business able to compete in some way for shelf space and for mind share. That wasn’t possible before.

EL: In that example, micro brews came out at a time when Internet wasn’t around. I feel that the Internet is what has helped drive a lot of the craft – the reemergence of interest in craft across the board. Just from DIY stuff that you see on the web to organizing small social groups or craft fairs or whatever. It seems like it really is the marketing or the communications, essentially. It’s the thing that has changed, where as even in the ’80s when you wanted to make alternative beer, if you wanted to continue to do it and make money off of it, you’d have to scale to a certain size to make it viable. Perhaps now, maybe the ethos of it has come around.

If you can just get by and consider “craft” as a profession and make enough money to support yourself with it, it’s a worthwhile thing to do with your time. Maybe it has gone hand in hand with the actual development of the communication channels that would allow you to sell your product or distribute it to a smaller set of stores or venues has gone hand in hand with emergence of that as a respectable or viable or attractive lifestyle.

SP: One of the threads I wanted to explore with this in the fact that we’re in a recession right now. Lots and lots of ink is being spilled about people giving up on this, not buying new stocks. They’re buying more Spam, or whatever it is we think people are doing.

At the same time, we’re learning about heirloom chickens and Core77 is putting out a higher priced bicycle, for example. Do you see any relationship between those two kinds of forces or events?

EL: With us and the Dutch Master, we knew that it wasn’t going to be a blockbuster for us. It wasn’t going to make a bunch of money. We’re doing it for the sake of doing it, being driven by the impulse to create. The economic climate, that contributed to that. If you’ve got a lack of options to really be productive economically, it is counter intuitive, but there’s a little less pressure for us to measure projects economically. Maybe it’s slightly defeatist, but I guess when it comes back to the value system, if the economic value system is being downplayed for companies or individuals within a certain economic time, you look for other value systems that can justify what you’re doing. In the case of the Dutch Master, the first audience that I mentioned that would consume the idea, if part of the idea was that a web magazine could produce a bike, why not. In a way, it’s an empowering idea. Creating things isn’t solely the domain of big companies or companies that have a focus on producing things. It’s just the idea that we’re pushing forward to that first audience – these things are possible. If you can put together a story behind it, you can probably do it on an individual level.

In our case, it’s throwing support behind the value system of craft, which is basically producing. There is value in making things by hand or just for the sake of producing. A form of expression via product. In our case the economic times have lead us to measure this project in those terms. A large part of it is not economic, it’s more ideas that it represents. I think in the case of crafts on the web, or with industrial design or furniture design, and people who are students or fresh out of school people who end up making projects that aren’t necessarily going to be produced ever, but will go out onto the blogosphere and get a fair amount of publicity, they’re being paid in “ego bucks.” Their idea is receiving some kind of play, not necessarily a direct relationship to some benefit to them in the future, either job offers or having their objects picked up. It’s rewarding itself because they do have this new venue that wasn’t there ten years ago. The web allows their ideas to receive some kind of feedback. It allows them to gather some momentum and enthusiasm from the audience. There’s certainly a part in Dutch Master of getting positive feedback. That’s just encouraging that there’s some kind of payment and producing something that people like. It’s untethered from economic – or the marketplace.

SP: A lot of the projects highlighted on Core77 are things that might fall under the label of bottom of the pyramid, really amazing design solutions where somebody takes materials that are worth nothing and solves some incredible problem through a real clever use of design. You guys have highlighted many of those stories. I don’t know what the price of the Nano car in India is, but it’s some manufacturing and design revolution that will create change in that society by producing this affordable vehicle. It makes me wonder about could Core77 create a story around a bicycle or something else. A $49.00 bicycle that has a story, showcases a different set of design values that you guys also champion.

EL: Certainly. In that case, there’d be a different starting point for us. The starting point we took with the Dutch Master, which was the local manufacturing in New York. Our price point was predestined to creep higher and higher. Resetting it to the starting point of a rural Indian manufacturer and their capability, whether it’s metal forming or some other natural resource that is readily available that could be packaged into something, that would definitely lead into an entirely different product.

The story is that the first audience for that would be the same. Ultimately, with the Dutch Master, the story we were trying to tell to our audience, which we always focus on more of the insider aspect of our total audience. So the people who are actually involved in the design that we really want to speak to. I think the Dutch Master might have been one of trying to show that we have some affinity for the values of craft versus the values of mass-market manufacturing, whereas in the case of that project, more of a humanitarian aspect, it would be communicating to the audience that it’s a worthwhile application of design. I think both of those ideas are generally accepted already. It doesn’t need too much pushing from us, either of them. I guess if we do have any thought leadership role within the industry, it would probably be more on that side, the humanitarian side. So perhaps for the next project.

SP: I’m so interested in this idea of a story as a starting point. It’s not what I expected. I think about my own consumer perspective, say being in a grocery store and seeing 28 different kinds of eggs that are 99 cents or $1.29. Next to that on the shelf are eggs that are $7.00. They’re markedly different. When I look at A versus B, the producer of B has some explanation for me about why this thing is better. So my assumption is always that these are the best eggs possible. They’re healthier. They taste better. The chickens aren’t abused. They’re heirloom chickens. The thing you get for paying four or five X of the commodity solution is better. You’re going to experience that. That’s not the point you’re coming from. It’s been really clear that you’re not really thinking about it in terms of those things. You’re starting with a story and a vision for what you want to put out there.

EL: Yeah, I think that it’s the result of who we are as an organization. We’re a magazine. Stories are our strength. For some other organization it would actually be the manufacturing knowledge or the design skills of that. I think it’s the nature of the organization. We try to be self aware our own abilities, what we could actually pull off. Actually make something interesting out of it. Those people who are focused on the ten-cent price difference with their eggs, their organizational capabilities are distribution, efficiencies, or whatever else. Obviously, we’re in a position to just launch things, but they’re not essential to our core business. They have to have some revenue generating aspect to them, but the storytelling aspect, since we’re in the business of generating editorial, if they do have a strong story to them, it could come out of the editorial budget if we’re looking at it that way. The product development is the development of a story, which would then be told in the magazine.

I think I suffer and we suffer at Core77 from the solipsistic tendencies of designers in general. We want to make stuff because we want to make stuff. Your initial response to the bike with the price point and the use of our social capital in support of a cause being misdirected as you point out in your example of with India. We sometimes don’t tend to measure things along that kind of good of the whole, where as maybe we’re just focused on what is going to make our day-to-day more interesting, and what is going to maintain our interest level in something. Given that Core77 is a collection of people, Allan being a definite advocate of the green humanitarian side of things, but perhaps not being involved in the manufacture of something, like with the Dutch Master, this came from a different place. than the editorial face of the organization. It’s just a different thing. If it seems a little perhaps trite in its origin, I think that possibly it is.

Note: Since this interview was conducted, Core77 has alluded to plans to open a retail space in Portland, OR. I can’t wait to see how the ideas Eric was talking about do or don’t manifest in the new store.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Learnvest: Our mission is to provide unbiased financial information to all women – Women have come a long way financially over the last three decades. Women today make up half of the professional work force and are found to buy or influence 80% of all consumer purchases in the United States yet they continue to lag behind men when it comes to managing their personal finances. According to a 2006 Prudential financial poll, 80% of women say that they plan to depend on Social Security to support them in their golden years and 38% of women 30-55 years old are worried they will live at or near the poverty level because they cannot adequately save for retirement. So even today–despite coming so far in many ways–too many women are still ignoring their finances. LearnVest provides a solution that is relevant and timely – it is something women need.
  • Some Queries Prompt Google To Offer Suicide Hotline [NYTimes.com] – Last week Google started automatically giving a suggestion of where to call after receiving a search seemingly focused on suicide. Among the searches that result in an icon of a red phone and the toll-free number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are “ways to commit suicide” and “suicidal thoughts.” The information takes precedence over the linked results and is different and more prominent than an advertisement. Guidance on suicide prevention was suggested internally and was put in place on Wednesday.
  • Virginia Heffernan – The Medium – Online Marketing [NYTimes.com] – An online group becomes formally classified when it comprises an advertising category. That’s the magic point in e-commerce: when the members of an online group turn eager to purchase, say, tank tops or bottles of sauvignon blanc as badges of membership in communities like the ones that flourish at Burton.com or Wine.com. The voluminous content that these sites produce — blogs, videos, articles, reviews, forums — becomes the main event. To sell actual products, the company then “merchandises” that content, the way museums and concert halls and, increasingly, online newspapers hawk souvenirs, including art books and hoodies and framed front pages. At the moment when content can be seamlessly merchandised, a group has generally developed robust forums in which the members (hoarders, mothers of twins, bodybuilders) develop codes and hierarchies and a firm notion that this is a place where they can finally be themselves.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • DEVO – Focus Group Testing the Future [YouTube] – Filled with brilliantly sarcastic soundbites, this is definitely pushing on post-modernism/post-irony. DEVO doing focus group testing (or so they say) on every aspect of their 2010 offering (brand, logotype, instrumentation, clothing). Interesting also to see how this appears in the press with varying amounts of the irony removed.
  • Theater Preshow Announcements Take Aim at Cellphones [NYTimes.com] – In a production of “Our Town” the director, David Cromer, who played the Stage Manager, took a minimal approach because he wanted to stay true to Thornton Wilder’s desire to forgo conventional theatrics. “In that show we had this issue, which is that there was to be no theater technology. The whole act of my entrance was that you were supposed to think it was someone from the theater,” Mr. Cromer explained. “We didn’t want the Stage Manager to come out and say, ‘Please turn your cellphones off,’ because that would be rewriting Wilder.” Instead Mr. Cromer simply held up a cellphone upon entering at the beginning of each act and then turned it off and put it away, casually showing the audience what to do without talking about it. “The first time I was watching another actor take over in the show as the Stage Manager,” Mr. Cromer said, “he came out, held his cellphone in the air, and the woman next to me said, ‘Oh, someone lost their cellphone.’ ”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • "Hack things better" with malleable silicone SUGRU – "Why are so many products just so bad? Uncomfortable tin openers, leaky trainers, they get our goat! Why should you have to spend £20 on a designer tin opener? You shouldn't! Hack the one you have instead. Power to the (handy) people! Sugru is like modeling clay when you take it from its pack. Once it's exposed to air, it cures to a tough flexible silicone overnight using the moisture in the air. Working time = 30 mins. Cure time = 24hrs (3-5mm deep)" The sugru website includes a blog that features product improvements achieved through its use.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Electric Bicycles Are Gaining a Toehold in the U.S. [NYTimes.com] – But there may be a greater challenge for companies like Sanyo and other e-bike makers. People tend to think of their transportation, like their clothes or cellphones, as an expression of their identity. In China, riding an electric bike conveys professional achievement, even a certain degree of wealth. People in the United States, said Ed Benjamin, an independent consultant in the bike business, don’t quite know whether these bikes are fashionable. The e-bike is “an ambiguous statement,” Mr. Benjamin said.

Grassroots product development

In our blog’s grand tradition of posts about bathrooms and toilets, here’s a bit of local small-scale innovation, spied at a neighborhood coffee shop.

p knot 3 (Custom)
The explanatory sign in the bathroom

p knot 2 (Custom)
The product in use

p knot 1 (Custom)
Get yours here!

Related posts:
Steve investigates the bathroom for Core77
Fair warning
The toilet flusher that comes with a memo
Semiotics of toilet signs
Explaining your product puts you ahead of the pack

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Book Review: Deconstructing Product Design, by William Lidwell and Gerry Manacsa – …the color commentary from design thinkers such as interaction designer Jon Kolko, product designer Scott Henderson and design researcher Steve Portigal….While I never imagined that product design would have a sounding board to rival the judges of American Idol, Deconstructing Product Design provides exactly such a chorus. So while Tickle Me Elmo himself is lavished with product love worthy of Paula Abdul, the oversexed and strangely hydrocephalic-headed Bratz dolls spark diverse criticism and discussion. As a writer for a design blog, critiquing a book that brings together disparate voices critiquing products is (a) rather meta, and (b) totally hypocritical, but the remarkable thing about observing the way culture is observed is that it rarely fails to entertain.

Series

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