Posts tagged “wired”

Changing lives in the developing world

From this article

WIRED: What innovation do you think is changing the most lives in the developing world?
MELINDA GATES: Human-centered design. Meeting people where they are and really taking their needs and feedback into account. When you let people participate in the design process, you find that they often have ingenious ideas about what would really help them. And it’s not a onetime thing; it’s an iterative process.

So great to see this.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Interview with Patricia Ryan Madson on How Improv Can Change the World [Priya Parker] – As often happens, the principles of improv give us a lens towards larger truths about how life – just being in the world – can or should work.

Trying produces tension and misdirects our focus away from what we are doing onto an obsession with the result. We are doomed to fail when we try to be smart or witty or amazing. It you think about it the people who actually are smart, etc. are focusing on what they are doing rather than how they are doing. I can make an average painting, story, etc. And if I put my attention on just doing what comes naturally, just making it the most obvious to me then the result is commonly pretty good. Trying is misplaced attention. The idea of excellence robs us of our common sense intelligence.

Snooping in the Age of E-book [NYT] – There are many reasons we advocate for studying people in their own environment. One of them is the richness of the cues you get from that environment. This short piece articulates those cues nicely.

A bit of gumshoe in someone’s cupboard or closet can reveal far more about them than an entire evening’s worth of chitchat. “Places reflect long series of behavior,” he told me during a recent visit to my home. “If I have a conversation with you, I just get snippets of behavior. Your books, your chairs, your wall hangings represent an accumulation over many years. A space distills repeated acts. That’s why it’s hard to fake.” Of the five major personality traits, three – openness, conscientiousness and extroversion – are clearly revealed in people’s spaces…Snooping, in other words, instead of being an antisocial activity, is actually prosocial. Our spaces are telling others what we’re like even when we’re not. These days, we need such boosts to communication, because as the demise of the bookshelf shows, our true selves are increasingly retreating from public display and disappearing inside our devices. We are becoming, as Ms. Fadiman lamented, more invisible. “Our obsession with privacy is somehow reflected in the fact that our taste is now locked up invisibly inside all of these little boxes.”

Can the Cult of Bang & Olufsen Last? [Wired] – Rob Walker catches up with the 2011 edition of this long-standing audio company, known for out of this world design and out of reach prices, as he says, “audiophiles lost out to audio audio files.” The closing paragraph is telling and compelling.

Mantoni sounds intent on prodding B&O toward a less aloof attitude about the marketplace. “We need to go out and talk to customers,” he says. He recently told 30 of his top executives that they would be working in B&O stores for a while to meet customers face-to-face. There’s a message here about design: Of course the company has to keep producing distinctive wares-but these also have to fit shoppers’ actual lives.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] No.4 Secret Soles – Rosso Solini [I Am Hiawatha] – [Louboutin shoes start at $300 and go up to several thousand dollars. Their red sole is a distinctive design mark that signifies the wearer's brand choice. A 15-year old student has designed and is marketing an aftermarket red sole that can add that signifier to any pair of shoes.] Rosso Solini ‘Secret Soles’ is a shoe customisation kit that gives you the tools and equipment to turn any high-heel into a red soled, Louboutonesque shoe.
  • [from steve_portigal] WET Design and the Improv Approach to Listening [NYTimes.com] – [Mark Fuller, chief excellence officer of WET Design explains what is unusual about his company’s culture] Improv is really about listening to the other person, because there’s no script. It’s about responding. If you have an argument with [your] wife or husband, you are just waiting for the other person to finish so they can say what they’re waiting to say. So usually they’re these serial machine-gun monologues, and very little listening. That doesn’t work in improv. If we’re on the stage, I don’t know what goofball thing you’re going to say, so I can’t be planning anything. I have to really be listening to you so I can make an intelligent response….You’re sort of in this gray space of uncertainty. Most of us don’t like to be uncertain ­ you know, most of us like to be thinking what we’re going to say next. You get your mind into a space where you say, “I’m really enjoying that I don’t know what he’s going to ask me next, and I’m going to be open and listening and come back.
  • [from steve_portigal] Open Source Electronics Pioneer Limor Fried on the DIY Revolution [Wired Magazine] – [I've long wondered if our experiences consuming software have changed our expectations for the updatability and customizability of all products] People do want very specialized technology, and they just couldn’t get it. Now they’ll be able to get it. When I make stuff, I make it for only one person, myself. And, like, two of my friends. But it turns out that hundreds of thousands of people want the same thing. And I think that’s how good design starts. So instead of having to just put up with whatever Sony comes out with, consumers will have more choices made by people who are more like them. And they’re not just trying to manufacture as Sony; they’re manufacturing as a small company that is trying to fulfill the needs of a small community…We have no idea [where this movement will go]. It’s going to be weird and completely surprising, and we’re going to be just shocked, and it will be awesome.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Is the Web Dying? It Doesn’t Look That Way [Bits Blog – NYTimes.com] – [There's always a way to get the same data to tell a different story. ] Mr. Anderson of Wired magazine argues that a world of downloadable apps, which work through the Internet and arrive via gadgets like the iPhone or Xbox, are quickly cannibalizing the World Wide Web as consumers prefer buttoned-up, dedicated platforms, designed specifically for mobile screens. Is he right? Should we plaster R.I.P. signs all over the Web? Not exactly.
  • [from steve_portigal] The Tragic Death of Practically Everything [Technologizer] – [You can hum Jim Carroll while you read this short piece that tries to dehype tech media a teeny little bit] Wired Editor in Chief Chris Anderson is catching flack for the magazine’s current cover story, which declares that the Web is dead. I’m not sure what the controversy is. For years, once-vibrant technologies, products, and companies have been dropping like teenagers in a Freddy Krueger movie. Thank heavens that tech journalists have done such a good job of documenting the carnage as it happened. Without their diligent reporting, we might not be aware that the industry is pretty much an unrelenting bloodbath.
  • [from steve_portigal] BK to offer shareable Pizza Burger [Nation’s Restaurant News] – [While results won't appeal to all, exciting to see Burger King with an appetite for innovating – crazy-sounding products – and a place to sell those non-core products] Burger King plans to introduce a giant hamburger shaped and flavored like a pizza to its new Whopper Bar in NY, adding to the list of extreme sandwiches at restaurant chains. The NY Pizza Burger is made with four 1/4-pound Whopper patties, mozzarella, marinara and a Tuscan Herb Mayo. They are placed on a 9.5-inch bun, which is sliced into 6 wedges, selling at $12.99. Burger King said the pizza burger, which is intended to be shared, would likely be introduced next week. Each wedge is about 400 calories, they said. The NY Pizza Burger is currently planned just for the New York City Whopper Bar location, which opened July 31 near Times Square. The pizza burger will join the Meat Beast Whopper, also exclusive to the New York City Whopper Bar. The Meat Beast is a Whopper topped with pepperoni and bacon and sold for $6.99.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Master Planner: Fred Brooks Shows How to Design Anything [Wired] – WIRED: In your experience, what’s the best process for design? BROOKS: Great design does not come from great processes; it comes from great designers. WIRED: How has your thinking about design changed over the past decades? BROOKS: When I first wrote The Mythical Man-Month in 1975, I counseled programmers to “throw the first version away,” then build a second one. By the 20th-anniversary edition, I realized that constant incremental iteration is a far sounder approach. You build a quick prototype and get it in front of users to see what they do with it. You will always be surprised.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Facebook gained only 320,000 new U.S. users [Wired.com] – [Significant shift in uptake for Facebook. So…. what follows saturation?] Have we reached the Facebook saturation point? That’s one possibility suggested by monthly growth data from Inside Facebook, which reports that they gained only 320,000 new U.S. users in June after a gain in May of more than 7.8 million. Moreover, the net’s dominant social networking site lost active users in the 18-25, 26-34 and 35-44 ranges, while gaining users in their mid-teens and middle years. One possibility is that the May and June controversies over privacy policies and dominance have kept the company from tremendous new growth and even led some to curtail their use. Another possibility is that it’s just a statistical aberration, or a result of changes to the advertising system, where Inside Facebook says it gleans its numbers. But there’s also the possibility that almost every American who has any interest in joining Facebook already has.
  • [from steve_portigal] You Shouldn’t Have to Pay to Talk To Your Own Customers [AustinStartup] – [Emerging issues and best practices in online customer support forums] A focus on great customer care has become, in the era of Zappos, not just a requisite checkbox, but an opportunity for differentiation, and a primary means of acquiring and retaining users (customer care as a revenue generator, not just a cost center). Those interactions are not just happening on customer care platforms – they’re literally happening around the web…Whether you are a brand, a developer, an entrepreneur, or a well-meaning customer or user, welcome to the wild wild west of customer care and the nasty underbelly of passionate user communities, where who owns the data is a very political issue, and there are more questions than answers, unfortunately.

ChittahChattah Quickies

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Seen Reading – a "literary voyeruism blog" set mostly (I believe) in Toronto – What is Seen Reading?

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

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

    (Thanks Suzanne Long!)

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

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

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

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

    (thanks Avi and Anne)

  • Lego grabs ahold of customers with both hands – From 2006, great Wired piece about Lego's approach to involving ardent fans/customers in developing future products.
  • Noting:books – the simple yet dynamic way to track your reading, from the dates you start and finish a book, to your thoughts along the way.
  • CourseSmart brings textbooks to the iPhone in PDF; major readability challenges ensue – “It’s not the first place to go to read your textbook,” Mr. Lyman said of the iPhone app. But he said that it could be helpful if “you’re standing outside of the classroom, the quiz is in 10 minutes, and you want to go back to that end-of-chapter summary that helped you understand the material.”
  • Nice profile of Lego’s business culture and the tension between growth and losing track of their legacy – But the story of Lego’s renaissance — and its current expansion into new segments like virtual reality and video games — isn’t just a toy story. It’s also a reminder of how even the best brands can lose their luster but bounce back with a change in strategy and occasionally painful adaptation.

Building on what isn’t there

curved-shelf1
Sketch for curved shelf ©2007 Dan Soltzberg

There’s a testament to the power of openness as a spur to creative participation nestled in Scott Brown’s piece on early fan fiction in this month’s Wired.

Brown writes about the works Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s more avid readers created around his Sherlock Holmes novels, and how what were really continuity errors provided these folks with points of entry:

Sir Arthur, God bless him, didn’t write with an eye to what today’s nerd would call “continuity.” Crafting Holmes stories bored him, and he frequently lost track of details like the exact location of Watson’s Afghan war wound (was it the shoulder or the leg?) and the precise status of Mrs. Watson. But Sir Arthur’s table scraps, his inconsistencies and random allusions, made for a fan feast. From a throwaway line-a hilariously oblique reference such as “the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared”-scores of amateur yarns have been spun.

Conan Doyle’s omissions and errors left space for others to contribute. Less-than-fully-speced inputs–raw sketches, concept directions, overarching themes–can often leave more space for creative participation than a finely honed departure point.

Of course it depends on where in a development process one is and what the objectives are. (Sing, “a time to diverge, a time to converge” to the tune of The Byrds’ “Turn Turn Turn”).

In semi-related news, San Francisco IxDA will be exploring the use of prototypes at their May 26th event.

Related Posts:
Giving Away Time, and Moving with a Magic Thing (Quickies)
Human Behavior
Trying to find out things we didn’t even know to ask about

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Wired on the big big money being made selling virtual items in online games – With about 30 workers on staff, Liu was able to keep a gold-farming setup running around the clock. While the night shift slept upstairs on plywood bunks, day-shift workers sat in the hot, dimly lit workshop, each tending three or four computers. They were "playing" World of Warcraft, farming gold at an impressive clip by hunting and looting monsters, their productivity greatly abetted by automated bots that allowed them to handle multiple characters with little effort. They worked 84-hour weeks, got a couple of days off per month, and earned about $4 a day, which even for China was not a stellar wage.
  • Wired on Ray Ozzie and cultural change at MSFT: At first, the skunk works-like nature of Ozzie's operation engendered suspicion and resentment – Previously, a big part of any development team at Microsoft was making sure its new product worked in lockstep with everything else the company produced. While that approach avoided annoying conflicts, it also tended to smother innovation. "This philosophy of independent innovation…is something Ray pushed very strongly," Ozzie's approach was to encourage people to rush ahead and build things. Then he'd have a team of what he calls the spacklers fill in the gaps and get things ready for release.
    He spent a lot of time on the physical workspace for his team. He had workers rip down the labyrinthine corridors on one floor and called in architects to create a more open design. Now, walking into the Windows Live Core group is like leaving Microsoft and visiting a Futurama set. Office windows open onto hallways so that quick eye contact can trigger spontaneous discussions. Whiteboards are everywhere. Pool tables, mini-lounges, and snack zones draw people toward the center of the space.

This Is Your Brain On Hype

I’m so fed up with market research gimmicks that claim to produce an objective provable truth about what’s in someone’s mind. It really runs counter to notions of empathy, listening, and understanding that I feel so passionately about.

It was with some pleasure, therefore, to see the typically exuberant Wired run a story explaining that while lie detecting may be on the horizon,

My journey through the land of functional neuroimaging has helped me to understand how spectacularly meaningless these images are likely to be.

Most neuromarketers are using these scans as a way of sprinkling glitter over their products, so that customers will be persuaded that the pictures are giving them a deeper understanding of their mind. In fact, imaging technologies are still in their infancy. And while overenthusiastic practitioners may try to leapfrog over the science, real progress, which will take decades, will be made by patient and methodical researchers, not by entrepreneurs looking to make a buck.

The vibration of truth

ff_232_lonelygirl2_f.jpg
The Secret World of Lonelygirl is a pretty interesting summary of much that happened with this YouTube phenom. But separate from that, a passage caught my interest.

When the show started in June with a two-minute YouTube posting by Bree — played by actress Jessica Rose — Flinders would rearrange his room after each shoot. He’d take down the pictures of Rose as a baby, stash the stuffed animals, and swap out the girly bedspread for his more masculine blue-and-white-striped blanket. Now, three months into the project and with hundreds of thousands of regular viewers, he doesn’t bother. It’s too much work, even though it has blown some great opportunities for him. Last week, he spotted his neighbors — two Playboy playmates — and invited them in. They glanced at his room, got suspicious, and quickly left.

That playmate bit…do you believe him? I don’t.

It reads strongly like bluster reported as fact.

I’ve done enough ethnographies over the years to know that often you can tell when someone is embellishing or making up a story. It’s fine that people do that; the goal as an ethnographer is try and filter for that; to try and understand why. But what about for a journalist? Do they have a sensitivity to veracity? For non-hard-news, do they have an ethical journalistic responsibility to question or seek corroboration? Or do they simply need to type into their story, presented as fact, whatever their subjects tell them?

0.01% of a bazillion is still quite a bit

Clay Shirky writes in Wired about the meganiche, a narrowly focused area on the web that can still be very active and significantly popular

I first encountered the meganiche concept by chance: I was examining the top few thousand sites listed by Alexa. Once I had culled the well-known media outlets, famous brands, Web marketing firms, and porn venues, I was left with an unfamiliar, difficult-to-characterize residue. There were focused communities (HowardForums and Gaia, plus sites like CollarMe, LifeTips, and SwapperNet), silly diversions (Consumption Junction, Funny Junk, I-Am-Bored.com, Shoosh Time), narrow commercial offerings (NextPimp, YachtWorld), and creative forums (4Chan, FanFiction.net, and YTMND.com).

Many of these sites are unconventional in their approach, content, and design, but all garner substantial traffic. And traffic means potential revenue, which makes the meganiche a good business bet as well as a cultural phenomenon. User-generated content is the Web-biz buzzword of the day, and meganiche sites tend to produce lots of it.

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.]

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