Posts tagged “cluetrain”

How are you enjoying your FLDRV, Steve Portigal?

Today I received an email from online tech goods vendor Newegg with the subject line “ – Product Voting Invitation.” The message reads, in part:

Dear steve portigal,
Thank you for shopping at

We thought you’d like to know that your recent purchase contains one or more items currently nominated for Newegg’s Customer Choice Award:

Sales Order Number:
Sales Order Date: 12/31/2010 11:30:09 AM


We’d like you to rate your satisfaction level for the nominated product(s) that you have purchased.

I’m not sure I remember ordering a FLDRV, especially a 16G|OCZ FLDRV OCZUSBDSL16G R.

Who talks to their customers like this?

Also see a similar experience with Lenovo

Agency “Tour,”

PSFK Agency “Tour”

We’ve started a series of agency visits in New York. If you’d like us to come in and say present at, say, a team meeting we’d be happy to. Our 30 minute conversation includes a break down of PSFK, a look at three critical global trends and a Q&A.

*Flash* Portigal Consulting to launch 4-Star Eatery Tour. We’ve started a series of high-profile power lunches at exquisite restaurants. If’d you’d like us to join you, say, for a meal, such as lunch, or perhaps brunch, we’d be glad to do that. We’d order a selection of appetizers, and regale you with funny (and relevant!) stories from episodes of the Simpsons and Kids in the Hall while we share some dessert after the entree plates are cleared.

If you are an influential player with an expense account, get in touch at steve AT portigal DOT com and we’ll set up our nosh-fest.

FreshMeat #21: The More The Merrier

FreshMeat #21 from Steve Portigal

               (oo) Fresh
                \\/  Meat

People, put your hands together now for FreshMeat!
There’s a party in my mind and everyone’s invited
At the dawn of the eighties, I looked towards my imminent
ritual transition to manhood – my Bar Mitzvah. My
preparations began with the acquisition of a portable
tape recorder (used for listening and practicing the
Torah portion I would eventually chant). My friends and I
immediately put this device to use, creating fake radio
programs, with interviews, songs, commercials, and
closing credits. The post-modern media parodies of
National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live were well-
established at that point, but not to a 13-year-old. To
us, presented with a new enabling technology, pretending
to be on the radio seemed the natural thing to do.

These new technologies continue to appear. Within recent
memory, some products that put previously unachievable
professional-grade abilities in the hands of ordinary
people include video cameras, desktop publishing, teeth
whitening, home theater, hairstyling products, and home
dry-cleaning. Further, consider some of the brands that
offer “professional” as part of their promise: Hummer,
Jeep, Viking, Thermador, SubZero, Bosch, Nikon, and Smart
and Final.

In our culture there is a growing interest in trying to
be like the professionals. As consumers, we’re interested
in how business is done. The popular press reports the
amount of money that a new movie makes in its opening
weekend. Advertisements (most recently Dell) profile the
product designers, user researchers, usability testers,
and others who are behind the scenes for the products we
buy. Many of the ubiquitous reality-TV shows are simply
pulling back the veil on a previously hidden process
(MTV’s Cribs documents the homes of the famous, Take This
Job- tracks the work activities of people with unique
occupations, Airline shows the minutiae of getting
passengers boarded for an on-time departure, and Family
Plots tells all about a family-owned funeral home). The
boundaries between consumer and producer continue to
blur, a change that was massively accelerated by the
Internet. For more about this, check out The Cluetrain
. Customers (really, fans) of companies form
communities to debate how those companies and their
products should evolve. For example, Google’s social
networking site Orkut includes two communities with over
1000 subscribers: What Should Google Do? and What Should
Orkut Do?

But beyond simply acting upon that sense of ownership by
talking about the companies, many people are taking
advantage of new enabling technology (i.e., Photoshop) to
go one step further – to create new “products.” And, with
a distribution channel like the Internet, they can also
share their creation with an enormous audience, just like
the professionals.

Fan-created fiction (or “Fanfic”) is artifact of fandom
in general, but the quantity and breadth of Internet
sources further demonstrates the extent of consumers
acting, literally, like producers. The “Lois and Clark”
Fanfic archive
has over 2300 stories and is updated
regularly. There are other fanfic sites devoted to NYPD
Blue, Law and Order SVU, Felicity, anime characters such
as Sailor Moon, and video games including Max Payne and
Zork. As well as many, many Star Trek sites.

Similarly, DVD Tracks is a site that was set up to host
alternative commentary tracks for DVDs, recorded as MP3
files by ordinary viewers.

For products, specifically, one of the most popular
formats for consumer-developed concepts is the parody. runs a regular forum where
participants create realistic, disturbing, obscene,
bombastic and hilarious product concepts, ads, book
covers, movie posters, and more. Check out this for
fictitious recalled food products like Nestle Boogers, or
this for fake religious toys such as Biblical MadLibs and
Erotic Dreidels.

Some people might look at those pages and groan, grimace
and think “Hardy-har, I’ve seen stuff just like that on
comedy TV shows.” That’s exactly the point! Now, ordinary
folks can create parodies of real products and services
as well as commercial media. Ironically (or
frustratingly, if you can’t handle too much recursion)
this trend was beautifully pegged in a Saturday Night
Live parody ad for computer they called McIntosh Jr.
Using the tagline “The Power to Crush the Other Kids” one
young boy earns the envy of his classmates by printing
out a fake brochure for the “pubic library.” See the ad

Beyond straight-up parodies, we can find people crafting
conceptual visions of the future. Look at this to see
wireless coffee delivery and payphones converted to
clean air dispensers, among other imaginings.

But what probably hits closest to home for many of us are
the proposed design evolutions of real products, created
by regular people. A beautiful iPod watch is here. You
can see 150 other iPod concepts – new form factors, new
finishes, skins, features, and more here.

These people obviously have real passion and enthusiasm
for the iPod. We also find a similar energy with an
eagerly anticipated product update, such as the Nintendo
DS. When the public has no idea what their future object
of desire will look like, fake images begin circulating
to feed that hunger., an excellent site for
information about the latest technology products, has
been soliciting concepts for the Nintendo DS (see some
examples here) as part of their campaign to obtain an
actual pre-release image of the product. They are even
offering a bounty (get the details here) for whoever can
provide this image.

A further variation is the how-to information created by
enthusiasts who not only share the result of their
project, but also publish detailed instructions for
others who may want to duplicate their example. They are
publishing their own designs, and the means for others to
complete that same design. Want to build a lit cityscape
for your kitchen window? See how Ryan Hoagland did it
. Mike Harrison tells you how to build a Nixie Tube
clock here. Physically modifying a PC (or “casemodding”)
has produced a entire subculture of DIY hardware
designers who no doubt are influencing manufacturers like
Alienware. See the process of building a casemod that
looks like an anime girl here, or visit to
see ultra-custom designs like a toaster, an Underwood
typerwriter, a V8 engine and others that evoke futuristic
technogeek wet dreams. The turn-your-Mac-Classic-into-an-
aquarium meme became so widespread that there is an
entire collection of Mac-based aquariums here.

Product designers may have a negative knee-jerk reaction
to all this. Who do these people think they are? Up to
this point, the limited availability of glorious tools
(and training needed to use them) placed this type of
speculative conceptual activity out of the reach of the
masses. Now the technology, if not the ability, is within
reach of millions. But for designers this is really a
“the-more-the-merrier” situation. These new enabling
technologies (i.e., PhotoShop and its brethren) further
the discourse about what is possible, and what is desired
– and that discourse is an essential ingredient in the
work we do for non-fake clients.

For example, consider how user research methods such as
participatory design (also known as PD) explicitly
harness this desire. PD asks regular people to help
design future products. The designers work directly with
users to identify needs, rapidly prototype solutions, and
iterate those solutions on-the-fly. Although some may
fear that bringing non-designers into the actual pencil-
and-paper moments of design may reduce the design to a
mere sketchmonkey, PD is not consumer-led design. The
designer takes the lead, informed by what the users know
best – the problems they have today with existing
products (of a lack of product). People will offer
alternatives to ideas suggested by designers, but the
biggest value for the designer is in understanding the
needs behind that input (i.e., it’s not clear that people
are ready for an emergency fresh air dispenser as
suggested above, but we can see the connection between
that concept and existing products such as the USB-based
personal ionizers that are sold online).

When someone says, “I want a handle,” that shouldn’t be
taken literally. The need being expressed is, “I need an
easy way to carry this device into another room.” The
designer is not simply implementing a wish-list but is
actively translating and transforming. That is what they
do best: act as a magic engine that takes in needs and
spits out wants – in a way that solves the need. No one
really “needs” an iPod watch, but they may “want” one.
Some people want one badly enough to create a picture of
what it would be like!

Participatory design is a significant shift in how we
approach user research – instead of focusing on the
problem we are now working with users to develop the
solutions. Of course, in the process of creating
products, needs, wants, and solutions are often just
proxies for each other as we struggle to articulate half-
baked ideas. But half-baked ideas are artifacts of the
creative process. It’s exciting that these regular people
are already creating partially cooked concepts on their
own, without a client, without a PD session, without a
designer, or a facilitator. For the designer who seeks to
center their solutions in the world of the user, rest
assured that the users are already headed out to meet you

If we ever wanted proof that such a thing is possible,
that everyone really is a designer, we need look no
further than these impassioned expressions of desire to
be involved with products we love.

A similar version of this article appears on the Core77
Industrial Design Supersite
. Check it out, with pictures
and everything, here.


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