Posts tagged “ideo”

Whither goes Design?

Walking along the coast in Santa Cruz last weekend, Theresa and I and saw a plethora of unusual human-powered vehicles, including a variety of recumbent bikes, a crew of unicyclists, and several of these “camber-thrust” powered scooters.

Theresa commented on how odd it is that we’ve reached a stage of technical mastery where people are actually inventing things to make tasks harder, rather than easier.

To me, that says a particular design problem has been well-solved. While there’s value in further exploring that area, there’s also space to move on and tackle something else.

I think, writ large, there’s a relationship here to Nathan Shedroff’s thoughts on post-consumerism and what appears to be a wave of design-towards-social-good. Project H’s Emily Pilloton has been doing all kinds of press, including appearing on The Colbert Report. Jon Kolko recently launched the Austin Center for Design, whose mission is “to transform society through design and design education.” And IDEO’s Tim Brown continues to bring the message of design thinking to events like the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos.

So while there are still many consumer-facing design problems to solve, it seems Design has some headroom to take on non-commercial issues. For those who believe in design as a problem-solving approach, this is good news, and the interaction with players and systems beyond commerce will surely push the further evolution of our field.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Can’t tell exactly what this is, but it seems IDEO is offering cultural immersion tours, location-specific books, and a user-generated content web-project about noticing things in your environment.
  • Tired of all the unpleasant and troubling news about Tibet? Then check out, and catch up with the all the news and opinions about Tina and Bette, the on-and-off couple on Showtime’s The L Word.

Designing for Emergence

A recent BayCHI panel on Designing systems with emergent behavior featured Tim Brown (IDEO), Peter Merholz (Adaptive Path), Larry Cornett (Yahoo), and Joy Mountford (Yahoo), and was moderated by Rashmi Sinha.

My notes are up on Core77

Tim: Contrast that with physical design where you have more chances to test prototypes, with rapidly changing software, it’s too easy to do something new. Seems like a new feature got launched before a design process happened. Maybe they didn’t get to test it a little bit. Not referring to Beta, in videogames they are always testing all the time. It’s part of the design process. He prefers that to the classic Alpha Beta approach


A product I worked on a few years ago has launched! I worked with IDEO on what became the Avaya one-X Deskphone. I helped out a team of designers in doing some upfront research on how knowledge workers were using their various communication platforms (email, phone, cell phone, IM, and beyond). (Of course IDEO has tons of people that do this stuff, but they were all busy doing other projects at the time). They designed what seems like a pretty nice form (a significant upgrade from their previous phones) and a smart interface, at least from the demo on Avaya’s site.

It’s always cool when some work hits the market!

BW on ethno

BusinessWeek has a new article about ethnography. The author posted a blurb about it on a mailing list I’m on, asking for feedback (I guess some on the list provided input into the piece) and expressing interest continuing the conversation. So far my comments have gone unanswered, so I’m summarizing them here.

It’s nice to see some fresh examples of success in the application of ethnography. The GE example is very cool and goes beyond the usual fix a product case study and into the evolve a business’s culture that really rang true from my own experience.

However, I was disappointed to see the article buy into the ethnography = anthropology myth and the corollary that all ethnographers are anthropologists. Indeed, the article incorrectly attributes the anthropology credential to some people such as Tony Salvador who I believe was trained as a psychologist, or the people at Steelcase, some of whom I know as graduates of the Institute of Design, and are definitely not anthropologists. IDEO may have anthropologists, but a great deal of their people involved in “human factors” (as they term it) are coming with other educational backgrounds.

It’s tempting to see a conspiracy of highly-placed anthropologists who work behind the scenes to ensure that any conversation about user research in product development and consulting succumbs helplessly to this myth, but I think really sloppy reporting is more likely the culprit here.

John Thackera Thackara writes about the article in his typical sanctimonious style (seriously – I will have to give up on In The Bubble because it’s filled with mean-spirited judgment of one profession or endeavor on one page, and then a capricious about-face on the next page to drool over another effort that meets his opaque standards).

Do ethnographers need exotic names to do well in business? A story in Business Week features two guys called ‘J. Wilton L. Agatstein Jr’ (who runs Intel’s new emerging-markets unit) and ‘Timothy deWaal Malefyt’ (an anthropologist who runs ‘cultural discovery’ at ad firm BBDO Worldwide).

Whoah. Racist much, John? Portigal is a pretty funny name. So is Thackera Thackara. What of it?

Big Blue Consults 4 U

IBM Design Consulting Services offers strategic design, product design and customer experience design. Read the press release

IBM said today it will launch a new service that allows companies to tap into IBM’s award-winning product design and usability expertise, creating breakthrough products for other companies that offer more impact and user satisfaction in everything from consumer electronics to medical devices, like those that transmit data from pulse rate, heart rate and glucose level monitors over cellular networks.
With this new service, IBM design experts will consult directly with clients who want deep insight into how their consumers or business customers might interact with future products or services. IBM experts will also assist companies with the building blocks needed to move from design concepts to actual offerings.

Karl Long points out that this is competing directly with IDEO.


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