Posts tagged “sustainability”

Out and About: Tamara in LA

I am missing the sun and beaches of LA from our trip there last week. At least I have these fond memories to keep me warm…


I’ve read about airlines letting passengers choose their seats using social media profiles and finally got to experience a digital/analog collision first hand on our Virgin America flight. I accepted the offer from 12A (aka Vinnie)¬† to chat. Admittedly, I never talked to that stranger as I was engrossed in an inflight film.


I was not surprised by the proliferation of celebrity endorsements in every eating and dining establishment that we entered. I was surprised by what constitutes celebrity.


Dear lucky owner of this gorgeous Manhattan Beach home overlooking the ocean, thank you for using your prime position to promote a message of peace (in 4 different languages).


I am so fond of legacy establishments (like Pink’s Hot Dogs) that make explicit the rules of how to be a customer. I’m also fond of people like Julie’s dad, who insist that we stop at such locations to relive childhood memories when we are in town!


Julie and I both captured images from this Burbank dry cleaners. She focused on the environmental sustainability while I was enamored by the sustainability of their service!

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Facebook Policy Spurs Big Pharma to Rethink Social Media [Advertising Age] – [Beyond challenges such as authenticity, relevancy and voice, social media presence is a regulatory risk for brands in some industries.] Being forced to enable comments on its Facebook pages puts pharmaceutical companies at risk of running afoul of the current FDA regulations, even if it's just consumers making the comments. For instance, if a company has a branded page for an antacid, and a consumer comments that it helped lower his blood pressure as well, that's considered off-label promotion. "The Facebook decision is entirely consistent with what Facebook is designed to be — interactive. A Facebook page with the interactivity turned off is just a static web page residing on an interactive platform. And that isn't what Facebook is all about. It's time for regulated industry to step up to the plate and embrace the powerful tool that is real-time interactivity."
  • [from steve_portigal] Focus Groups That Look Like Play Groups [NYTimes.com] – [The lede, emphasizing focus groups, is misleading. The article explores a range of methods that market researchers are using. Maybe some novel ideas in here but also a good artifact of the popular press discourse about how we work.] Mr. Denari’s agency takes a different tack, interviewing consumers in their homes and leaving them with journals called “Little Truth Books” for a week or two. “It forces people to think a little more deeply than they normally would,” Mr. Denari said. When Ugly Mug Coffee wanted to retool its brand, Mr. Denari’s agency asked consumers to use the journals to draw family trees showing which family members were coffee drinkers. They were also asked to list some of the worst things about coffee, what their coffee “cut-off time” was and why they drank it at all. “The whole goal is the get to the heart,” Mr. Denari said. The research helped Ugly Mug create new packaging and expand distribution. [via @serota]
  • [from steve_portigal] A gelato-less June [Gelatobaby] – [Interesting to see how blogs can structure/support deliberate habit changes.] I wrote an essay pledging to fly less to reduce my environmental impact. (I’m actually only allowing myself one round-trip flight per month, compared to the 23 trips I took last year.) My friend Greg Lindsay, author of the new book Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next pointed out that my air miles were nothing compared to the footprint of my gelato habit. A United Nations report from last year noted that “agriculture accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.” I’m hoping that I can fill my gelato-less days with facts and information about where my dairy is coming from, how it’s produced, and if­if!­I might even come to love some dairy-free options. Suffice it to say, this is going to be an extremely enlightening 30 days. Especially since I have just discovered that the LA Weekly has embarked upon 30 Scoops in 30 Days project.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Forrester’s 2010 Customer Experience Rankings [Customer Experience Matters] – # Retailers take 12 out of the top 20 spots. Most of the top rated companies on the list are retailers. Hotels also grabbed three of the top 20 spots. Interestingly, three financial services firms also cracked the top 20: credit unions, SunTrust Bank, and Vanguard.
    # Healthcare, Internet and TV services dominate the bottom. The bottom 11 companies on the list came from only four industries: five health insurance plans (United Healthcare, Medicaid, Anthem, and CIGNA), three ISPs (Charter Communications, Comcast, and Qwest), two TV service providers (Charter Communications and Comcast), and one credit card provider (HSBC).
  • Can Design Change Behavior? [Stanford School of Engineering] – Because behavior can be influenced—not just observed—it provides an important opportunity for tackling complex challenges such as sustainability. That opportunity is perhaps best addressed with design…With this outlook, Banerjee says he is excited to be one of the principal investigators in a new project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy in which he is working with other Stanford professors who have expertise in behavioral sciences, communications, human-computer interaction, and behavioral economics. The team aims to create interventions that influence behavior to bring about significant reductions in energy use. But what designers understand well is that people are “predictably irrational” and influenced by emotional as well as rational criteria, Banerjee says.
  • The Art of Asking the Question [UIE Brain Sparks] – Steve Portigal will show your team the art of asking the question. You might visit the user in their office or home, have them come to you for a usability test, or even have a chance encounter at a trade show or while waiting for an airplane. Do you know what to ask? Do you know what to listen for, to extract the critical detail of what they can tell you about your design?

    Steve will help you prepare your team for any opportunity, be it formal user research or less structured, ad-hoc research. He’ll also give you tips on how to work with your stakeholders and executives, who may also be meeting potential customers and users, so they know what to ask and how to listen—integrating their efforts into the research team. (Wouldn’t it be great if they understood why you’re doing what you’re doing?)

    Update: Use promotion code CHITTAHCHATTAH to get lifetime free access to the recording after the fact (normally a separate cost)

Getting around

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Man and boy, Chicago

The US auto industry now has its own crisis news page.

In a recent Daily Show interview, Jon Stewart and UC Davis transportation expert Daniel Sperling pondered the idea of using this crisis as an opportunity to put money into building a new, more sustainable transportation infrastructure.

A friend of mine has put down a deposit on the Aptera, but is unclear about when his car will be coming.

While all of the alternatives to gas-powered vehicles have their pros and cons, the current personal transportation model is providing clear feedback that it’s time for some divergent thinking on this topic.

What do people really want and need? Are there viable paradigms besides the “car-in-every-garage” (e.g. Zipcar, etc.)? How are systems as complex and socially/economically ingrained as the auto industry and vehicle infrastructure best addressed?

Related posts:
This year’s (business) models
Rage With The Machine
Cultural reverse engineering
Parody as time capsule

Listening vs. Hearing

In Fast Company’s Green Guru Gone Wrong there’s a sobering examination of sustainability architect William McDonough and the work that he’s doing. I am sure this type of investigation is highly contentious, especially when icons like McDonough are revealed to be less-than-perfect.

But it’s interesting to note that some the project failures are tied to a dramatic lack of understanding of the current behaviors and future needs of target customers.

Shannon May smelled the rot firsthand. An anthropology PhD student from UC Berkeley who lived in Huangbaiyu for nearly two years, May first met McDonough in 2005, the year the project broke ground. But within several months, it became apparent to May that everything from the village’s overall design to its construction was deeply flawed. The homes were suburban-tract style with garages, despite the fact that only four of the expected 1,400 villagers had cars. The backyards were too small for growing feed corn or raising animals, which the villagers needed to make their living. But most absurd to her eye was the plan to use agricultural waste to fuel the biogas plant to power the village: leftover corncobs and stalks were the winter food supply for the cashmere goats, the area’s leading source of cash. Using them meant the goats would starve.

“I started calling Bill and telling him these things, and he would be very responsive and concerned on the phone,” says May, the blonde seen standing behind McDonough in Friedman’s documentary. “What troubled me was that it was as if he knew nothing about the way these people lived. And he seemed concerned, but then nothing would happen after these phone calls.” May says McDonough visited the village only twice while she lived there “for one or two hours at a time, and only when there was a video camera following him.” The supposedly $3,500 homes were costing nearly $12,000 to build, more than 10 times the villagers’ median income. By 2006, only two families had moved in, and they did so because their previous homes had burned down. Even then, they had to use antiquated heating rigs because the renewable energy systems didn’t work.

And even more interesting is that the failure isn’t about a lack of information about these customers, it’s a failure of process to integrate that information into the project decisions.

Rage With The Machine

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Biodiesel-fueled coupe made from old semi truck, Half Moon Bay, California



lawnmower-race-sequence.jpgLawnmower Races, Half Moon Bay, California

I went to a huge auto and machine show recently at a small airfield down the coast from San Francisco. I really love this kind of stuff, but my machine lust was battling thoughts of carbon footprints, sustainability and global economics that made it a little difficult to see the event as entirely wholesome.

Living in and trying to navigate this consumption/sustainability paradox is the conundrum of the day for anyone who loves things.

Nokia’s Jan Chipchase gave a talk at Adaptive Path a couple of weeks ago, and showed a model of the Remade mobile phone concept. The Remade is produced almost entirely by upcycling, a Cradle to Cradle concept whereby potential trash is transformed into something valuable and useful.

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Appearance model, Remade mobile phone concept, Nokia. (picture from PhoneMag.com)

The extruded aluminum body of the Remade model seemed really tough, and made me think about what it would be like if products were built so well that they rarely broke.

Would that be the most sustainable approach to the object cycle-making things that lasted, and using them for as long as they lasted?

It’s a complex picture: there’s technological evolution constantly rendering our stuff obsolete, there’s the need for producers to continue to produce and sell what they make, and then there’s that crow/magpie thing-our persistent desire to add new objects to whatever we already have sequestered in our nests.

Thinking about a system this complex always leads to big questions. Here are some of mine for this round:


  • What is the relationship between remaking how objects are produced and shifting cultural attitudes toward consumption?

  • Can producers profitably focus on business models that take advantage of long use (for example by focusing more on post-purchase relationships and less on product replacement)?

  • Can it ever be as cool, sexy, and fun as buying new things to use our things for years and years, so that they acquire a patina, shape themselves to our bodies and our personalities, and bear scars that tell stories?

Or will that leave something fundamental in our natures (our crow-selves??) unsatisfied?

Sustainability Biz

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The Loft store in Tokyo has an entire section that offers a huge range of reusable grocery store bags. Do the Japanese values around “choice” and “sustainability” collide? Does it make sense within that culture? Does it make sense to outsiders?

I had an uncomfortable reaction along the lines of “Oh, crap, something else to buy.” It seemed to contradict my expectations of restraint in a product category that carries a meaning of “sustainable.” Of course, that may not be the meaning that these bags have in Japan.

Context is everything

Designing Sustainable Mobility is an event recently held at Art Center in Southern California. In Northern California (i.e., Silicon Valley) an design-y event about mobility (sustainable or otherwise), is going to be about wireless communications (i.e. cell phone stuff). In Southern California, it’s about cars.

Although, now that I think of it, a conference about sustainability and wireless mobility would be interesting, since I don’t ever hear of the two things put together.

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