Live review of the LimoLiner from Boston to New York City
I'm on my way (as I type this) to New York City for this month's in-person conspiring with Josh Darden. He's a long-time friend and newish client. I usually take the cheap Fung Wah Bus to and from NYC but this time I decided to try out the LimoLiner for the trip to NYC and then take the Fung Wah bus ($15) back home. The biggest perk with LimoLiner is that they have internet access (ethernet and WiFi) included with the $69 (each way) ticket price. It's $10 less than Amtrak, too. I was going to take a photo of the setup at my seat and upload it but I put the USB cable for Michael's camera in the bag that's under the bus. Oops!
They just served lunch which was actually edible: ham and cheese sandwich (other choices were turkey and veggie), pasta salad and a chocolate chip coookie. The sticker on the outside of the bag said Boston Cafe and Catering. The beverage choices were the typical juice, sodas, iced tea and coffee served in a plastic medium-sized cup.
We stopped at the Hilton in Framingham where they picked up additional passengers. A small television in front of me is playing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I can't remember what the second movie is going to be.
There's a small meeting room in the back where a handful of people are seated at a table and the comfy chairs we've got in the rest of the bus.
It's pretty damn amazing to be able to do work while online enroute to New York. I'm surprised that no one around me has a computer in front of them. The age range of most people on the bus seems to be 40-60. There might be one or two people closer to my age (31). I'll upload a few photos tonight.
[The Life & Times of Sooz
278 9:44:06 PM
While you were out: changes in the global design industry
by Niti Bhan
Brad Nemer saw the future of the design industry when he arrived at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago in January 2002. Next week during his commencement exercises, Brad will not only receive a Master of Design degree but also a Master of Business Administration degree. After completing this grueling and unique dual degree in only three years, he will work in portfolio planning at Motorola.
"I chose the dual-degree path for two reasons. After working in several high-tech startups, where the product essentially is the company, it became clear that no matter how grand the vision, design is managed in the context of business." He said as he explained his choice of degrees, "So it is critical to understand the basic forces of accounting, marketing, and organizational management, because otherwise even the best designs in the world will go nowhere. The much-celebrated divide between "designers" and "suits" is not only counter-productive to success all around, it's inaccurate. Once you demystify business fundamentals, they become just like any other design constraint, and are no more insurmountable."
And he isn't the only one recognizing the changes occurring rapidly in the design industry. Victor Lombardi, a consultant in New York, resigned his fulltime design management job to co-found The Management Innovation Group, a new breed of management consulting firm. "My partners and I view design as a way of thinking which is applicable far beyond the design of products" he explained. "Our clients want to explore innovative business strategies, ways of collaborating, and ultimately to develop their own innovation capabilities." So while Lombardi's firm thinks like designers, they work with executives to help them explore the options a more creative approach can offer. "It's not easy for people to stretch their thinking to encompass both business- and customer-centric points of view, but ultimately this is what we need to do to create innovative, human-centered organizations." His blog has an area earmarked for the intersection of business and design.
Increased competition in the industry, improvements in the global technology infrastructure, relentless pressure to lower costs in every industry are just a few of the forces leading a major shift in the field of design. Where earlier, design was the department brought in after marketing or sales or the advertising agency decided that a "new and improved" product or brand extension was required to penetrate a target market or increase profits for a brand. This usually resulted in incremental improvements in product and profits. Notes Sharon Reier in her article When looks count the most, companies are now increasingly seeking to integrate design as a strategic tool for creating shareholder value. These companies understand that the real value in design is using it to improve the entire user experience, where advertising specialists and marketing managers focus more on the buying decision alone.
In Redesigning American Business, BusinessWeek's Bruce Nussbaum underscores this shift, he says, "Design in America isn't about form but innovation, in the guise of new products and services." With the design industry's shift in core competencies from drawing to thinking, from styling to innovating, from shaping things to visualizing new paradigms, what are the opportunities for designers today?
Traditionally, the majority of the design profession considered itself above and apart from "big business", perceiving it as obsessed with numbers, dollars and the bottom line. To successfully pitch themselves as an innovation resource, as consultants for change, this thinking is the biggest hurdle to overcome. The language of design itself is evolving to incorporate terms usually bandied in the halls of business schools, such as ROI (return on investment), NPV (net present value), Porter's five forces and Kotler's 4 P's. Few design schools teach the basic elements of business, less so in undergraduate programs. In the meantime, business schools are quickly catching on to the importance of design thinking, and integrating parts of it into their curricula.
Where does it leave the traditional product designer or studio? Michael Winnick, Head of Business Development at GravityTank, a strategic product development adds "..with the increasing commoditization of the back end, low intellectual investment portion, a service that most OEMs in China can now offer as part of their service, industrial design firms need to restructure to focus more on the product definition end, the early research, the strategic design planning and platform innovation end of the development cycle in order to generate revenue and stay profitable." Nussbaum implies an evolve-or-go-under scenario for smaller design firms. Evolution implies a strong willingness to adapt to changing scenarios, "prototyping" so to speak. As designers, change, flexibility and adaptability should be easier than most to achieve. While there are no quick fixes, there are short term and longer-term solutions worth considering.
In the short term, design firms can partner with business strategy consultants to offer new and expanded service offerings above and beyond the norm. Expanding their services, hiring marketing and product management professionals with business degrees and incorporating them into their design teams will allow them to present complete solutions to their existing clients as business cases for new products.
Along with retooling their service offerings, smaller firms can look at developing new markets for their areas of expertise. Most major research universities have technology transfer offices that specialize in the commercial applications of nascent technology emerging from their laboratories. Partnering with such local offices to offer product development services to shorten the path to market and commercial viability of inventions benefits both partners. Good design increases the likelihood of the patents being licensed by large corporations and leads to new avenues for revenue generation.
In the longer term, American and European firms can seek new clients and partners abroad. Increasingly, Asian OEM suppliers are moving towards building their own brands and leveraging their cost advantage to enter developed markets. A major opportunity exists in designing products for Asian manufacturers for the North American and European markets. Attending consumer electronic and consumer product trade shows in the Far East is one way to reach new clients. While local design talent may be cost effective, Asian manufacturers are limited by their lack of exposure to the American consumer and the American market. This experience is a significant advantage for American design firms.
Many options for continuing education exist for mid career design professionals seeking to enhance their professional skills for the changing market situation. There are short courses on business fundamentals available in local community colleges, focused workshops and classes at business schools, part time programs in business or for those really looking enhance their marketability, fulltime graduate programs such as an MBA or the Master of Design Methods.
Fresh graduates, already concerned with the increasing competition for product design jobs and shrinking design market for traditional services, can begin to apply the same skills they honed as designers to reposition themselves as innovators, creative thinkers with the ability to think out of the box, a trait in short supply in business at the best of times. Areas such as marketing, advertising, promotions, event management, while not traditional design jobs, are all avenues to gain valuable work experience if the right design job is not available. Meanwhile, these industries offer opportunities for creative work without the job title of "Designer", to build your portfolio, and to explore other areas of business, all of which can add value to the designer's resume. For example, Motorola's Consumer Experience Division has advertised a position titled "Marketing Manager" but the job description and requirements point towards a communication design professional with the ability to visually communicate brand and marketing concepts with clarity. Continuing on to graduate school is, of course, an option, and here is a quick look at what you need to consider if you take this path.
The playing field in the design industry is very different today than it was even ten years ago. If you are a current student you should take care to ensure that your education is not preparing you for a game of baseball, because upon graduation you'll be playing futbol. For young designers five to ten years into their careers, you should familiarize yourself with your employer's plan to remain competitive over the next five years, and make sure that the plan includes a position for you. And owners of design firms should understand the forces at play and take care to develop plan to remain viable, before your employees start asking about it.
Niti Bhan is a global nomad, neither fully immersed in the West nor entirely at home in the East. With background spanning engineering, business and design, Niti is most adept doing what no one does best. Her present incarnation is as Director of Admissions at the Institute of Design, IIT.
277 7:14:28 PM
One Response to the Elegant Hack post (below)
It seems like the 80s all over again. The focus on design in the to late 80s, mostly with unified branding and creative practices formally brought in-house. There was a lot of push around design, mostly labelled branding (nearly the exact same discussions, but slightly different terms). Much of this was around the brandhouses like Landor. The business community embraced the results and tried to incorporate the creative culture as part of their own.
What happened? The innovators were bought by large advertising or public relation firms and the firms changed their industry term to communication companies. Companies created corporate communication divisions (comprised of adversising, PR, branding, and other creative endevors) and had high level management visability.
By the early 90s the corporate environment had largely subsumed the communication into marketing and business schools that has embraced the creative mindset followed suit. Today marketing is often what trumps design and there is no creative in marketing. The creative departments by the late 90s had been gutted by the web craze. This left business types with little creative craft understanding as those driving what was once good.
It is not suprising that currently named "design" is taking off, as what was good about the creative was gutted and most companies lack central design plans. There is tremendous waste in cross medium design, as few sites are built with an understanding of the digital medium, let alone cross platform design or true cross media design. Part of the problem is far too few designers actually understan cross-platform and/or cross-media design. There is millions wasted in bandwidth on poor web design that is using best practices from the late 90s not those from today. There is no integration of mobile, with a few exceptions in the travel industry. There is still heavy focus on print, but very little smart integration of design in the digital medium. This even applies to AIGA, which is a great offender of applying print design techniques on the web. How can we expect business design to get better if one of the pillars of the design profession has not seemed to catch on?
276 7:06:39 PM
Posted in :: User Centered Design ::
Reading OK/Cancel: The User Experience Community is Thinking Too Big all I could think was dudes, can we collectively move on now? How small and petty is the community if we even ask questions like "who owns user experience?" (though admittedly it packs the seats) At the multi-organization panel on the previous question, I joked that fairly often IA has owned it, mostly because they tend to do what nobody else is doing (like neatly organzing pages), and often no one has bothered to think about the overarching experience. Odd, that.
But does the discipline of IA own UX? Nah, it's not possible. In fact, UX doesn't own UX. The best work ever for the "user's experience" is done by multidisciplinary teams and by multidisciplinary team I don't mean a designer and IA and a researcher, I mean the real kind in which programmers and product managers and marketing gets their hands dirty in the brainstorming and visioning and making and playing.
Still worried about the ROI of design? It's done, people-- read businessweek as well as alistapart for a change, and you'll see everyone is already on board! Hass and Standford are adding design to their curriculum, the MFA is the new MBA, and so on and so on.... They are sold on what you do: now you have to actually live up to their expectations. Scared yet?
It's time for all the usual suspects to stop sniping at their neighbor in the next cube, and start making-- making new products, making new relationships, making new learnings, making new markets, making new ways of business.
Don't worry about the professional organizations that are blooming like mushrooms in the rain-- enjoy them, and grab some of the juicy templates and articles that show up on AIGA and AIFIA and so on. Don't bag on the usability people, ask them to find out some new stuff for you to work with, and hey, ask them what they think of blue, anyhow. Design's not so precious a power that you can't ask for someone's two cents.
YOU AREN'T YOUR TITLE, and if IA becomes the standard title, or ID, or IxD or whatever, who cares... let's go design some cool new stuff.
The presentation I gave in Scandinavia reminded me of how exciting things are right now.... not since '99 have we seen so many new interesting applications of data, technology and knowledge. Do you really want to be wasting your time fighting over who gets to choose if it's a drop-down or a radio button when you could be jamming on the next flickr or newsmap?
275 6:47:52 PM
Posted in :: Information Design ::
274 6:43:58 PM
music networks (last.FM and Audioscrobbler)
One of my favorite parts of the academic interim period is that i can catch up on all of the things that i have put on the queue as unacceptable procrastination devices. I sent my computer in to be fixed (damn optical drive), bought a new iPod and have been organizing my music.
Amidst this, i finally dove into Last.FM and Audioscrobbler (even later than Liz). Aside from the fact that it's fascinating to see what all i listen to, it's absolutely intriguing to see what others are listening to and to be able to listen to their music as "radio." I've already found two new DJs that i *love*.
Music is a social tool. Most people get their music through their friends and social networks say more about music than anything else. Of course, many of my older friends are still listening to what they loved when they were in college because they no longer have access the diverse networks that introduce them to new music. And we're not even going to begin discussing the weaknesses of radio. When Napster collapsed, my music explorations collapsed. The only thing that fixed that was a server my friends have that allows you to stream music. Folks in our crew upload music and we can all stream it. That is a fantastic way of connecting to interesting music that my friends have found. This is effectively what Last.FM is doing on a larger scale
Of course, i found songs that i liked, tried to buy them at the iTunes store, realized that they didn't exist (because they aren't so mainstream) and then re-downloaded LimeWire to find them. It's frustrating because many of the CDs i listen to go out of stock relatively quickly or only have a few runs. It's sooo important for me to find other people that have them and i'm still cranky with the RIAA for making it hard for me to find rare songs that they don't even cover anyhow.
I'm very curious what will happen once more folks get on it (particularly youth and alternative cultures). I'm already pleased to find out that there are more than 100 psychonauts out there. This certainly looks like the type of sharing-driven social networking tools that i love.
273 5:57:22 PM
In this post by Apophenia - there is the sense that Genrefication is the solution - but I think the "would you make me a dub-mix" line is the key - it is the play list you want to listen too - not just the Genre's - genre's cannot be specific enough if there's only one field of information - even within one artist - there's too much variety to pack into a single genre, let alone mood, and setting.
Someone in a position of authority (read Steve Jobs? or an appropriate iPod minion) needs to think about this for a while and come up with a list of fields - 2.0. I know there are a few solutions out there, but none seem to do it quite right. So maybe there's an opportunity for Apple or Creative, or Red Chair, to come up with the solution that will take this whole thang to a new level.
music genres and moods.
One of the reasons that i loved Napster was that you could see how people labeled their music, particularly the genre. In music, i use genre like i use tagging in Gmail, del.icio.us and Flickr, only i'm a bit more obsessive about keeping them organized. My playlists are all automatically created based on my idiosyncratic genre labels. The labels are not for you, but for me and i don't care if PsyChill doesn't really exist - it's the label that ties together things like bluetech and Shpongle.
Due to 1) my new iPod, 2) the barfing of my Mac, 3) the scanning of CDs and 4) my obsession with last.FM, i am diving deeply into my music collection to re-genrify things. It is this attribute of last.FM that is given me the greatest curiosity. Last.FM is full of people with - shall we say - "interesting" tastes. I'm sorry but there is no playlist in the world that should have Gwar and Nina Simone together. Wrong wrong wrong. And why is Elliott Smith on the top artists page of the genre Breaks? No no no.
Of course, i'm part of fucking this up. I love Elliott Smith and i love breaks. Since i am in the breaks group, my listening to Elliott Smith is affecting that genre page. This is a problem. I know better when i manually genrify my music. Elliott Smith is is the MaleNeuvoFolk genre (which is effectively equivalent to Sadcore except can also be listened to when not depressed). I would never recommend Elliott Smith to a breaks aficionado.
I'm worried that this diverse listening pattern is messing up all the data. After three days of listening to non-stop chillout, goa and breaks, i should not be getting recommendations for Rancid and Ludacris. The problem is that there's a big gap between Beth Orton and Son Kite and i fear that trying to resolve those two listening patterns will result in abysmal results. The system should know that i'm listening with two different faceted patterns - the chill danah and the dancey danah.
When i ask a friend for music advice, i don't simply say "give me anything you listen to." I know better. But i would ask "could you make me a dub mix?" or "what would complement Dr Toast?" Or think about the Back to Mine series (collections based on what musicians chill out to). I want my last.FM to understand that there are moods. All of my playlists get this. All of my genrification gets this. Now it's time for last.FM. I should be able to play everything that userx thinks makes for "coding music" or for "chill out" or for "getting ready to go out." I want to be able to cluster my music. I want to be able to inform Audioscrobbler to only tell the genre group "PsyTrance" about things that i've marked Full-On, Melodic, Scando or PsyChill. Or tell them about a playlist or two. Tag the genres so that i don't blush when i see my love of Johnny Cash appear as appropriate for other Trip-Hop fiends.
272 2:09:50 PM
Just a quick happy new years message.
I had the delightful and surreal experience this year of running into my high-school girlfriend and her family while on Chirstmas vacation with my wife and family. Everyone was on their best behavior and it was not too awkward - my guess is that once the ice was broken, and everyone hugged everyone else then the tension was released. But in fact it was a wonderful gift to see her again after all these years. She looked great, and her family (parents and daugters) looked great - it was like no time had passed at all.
271 1:46:31 PM