Posts tagged “mythology”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] User-Led Innovation Can’t Create Breakthroughs; Just Ask Apple and Ikea [Co.Design] – [This old saw again! As if user insights and strong vision are incompatible? Shame on FastCo for this hyperbolic crap.] We asked friends on the Apple design team about user-centric design. “It’s all bullshit and hot air created to sell consulting projects and give insecure managers a false sense of security. We don't waste our time asking users, we build our brand through creating great products we believe people will love." IKEA designers don’t use user studies or user insights to create their products. “We tried and it didn’t work..”Of course, neither will say this publicly since both are extremely closed companies and would risk offending users (and the design community) by speaking out against user-centeredness. Since no one will speak up, the false value of the user-as-leader has spread. The best brands are guided by a clear vision for the world, a unique set of values, and a culture that makes them truly unique and that no user insights could ever change.

Mythological optimizations as satisfying as real ones?


When Netflix movies arrive, the barcode on the DVD envelope peeks through a window on the back of the outer envelope. When I put the DVD back in and seal it up before returning it, should I make sure the barcode is still lined up? There’s no indication this is necessary, nor is it very easy to do since there are eight different ways (four edges and front/back) to orient the DVD).

At this point in Netflix’s history there has been a lot written about their sorting process and envelope design; the whole Netflix experience smacks of optimization (plenty of feedback by email or RSS, consistently rapid shipping in either direction, and of course, the throttling scandal). So it makes some sort of sense that they are scanning incoming packages and those that are scannable will be returned (and the next movie sent out) fastest.

According to general consensus and the official word, this is false. It makes no difference; it’s only scanned when it’s sent out, not when it comes back in.

This gap between perception and reality can create real challenges for companies that deliver technology solutions, hoping that the user’s mental model matches to the engineers or designer’s mental model. We worked with a software vendor who had a loyal customer base using a time-intensive transactional system. We heard many stories from these customers about how the system “really” worked. Some had conducted experiments to document their beliefs. Even as our client brought in increasingly senior technologists to explain the way their product worked, people found ways to justify their own model. The technology decisions in the product were arbitrary (some thresholds for the number of milliseconds, or the number of transactions, etc. were refined to some point over time, from 25 to 15 to 10). The fact that the system was being tweaked created mistrust and lent credence to the customer’s theories about what was really going on behind the scenes. Transparency isn’t sufficient; there were other business decisions our client was making that were not seen as being in the best interest of their customers and so that really colored how they viewed the partial information about the technological workings.

Arthur C. Clarke famously said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Put another way, we often develop complex and irrational mental models about technology. The joke that “a clean car goes faster” demonstrates how we attach emotional attributes to some product or system, despite an intellectual awareness that it isn’t true.

I just sealed up my Netflix envelope; it took some will power to not fiddle with the barcode. Sure, there’s the written word that says it won’t make a difference. But, it just might, maybe, right?

You’ve Got The Teeth Of The Hydra Upon You

An article on the recent Aryan Brotherhood convictions quotes Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School/former federal prosecutor.”But the truth is, this (gang) is like a hydra – you cut off a limb and it’s going to grow back,” she said. “These guys have been around a long time and they’re going to get new leaders.”

But the Hydra had many heads, not many limbs. It was difficult/impossible to kill because the heads would grow back. That really breaks her metaphor! I’m sure the journalist just went with the quote anyway, as did the editor. Too bad.

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?

Epson tolerates grey market goods

Epson tolerates grey market goods

I recently tried to order some replacement ink for my printer (an Epson 820). I placed an order online with the same place I had used before, DataBazaar. Here’s a picture of what I have always ordered, ink refill part # T026201

Here’s a picture of what they sent me, ink refill part # T026. Notice that absolutely does not say my printer model number on the package.

I contacted Epson support by email and explained what I ordered and what I got, and asked “Is there a difference in spec between the two inks? Will this work with my printer?”

First response

Thank you for contacting the Epson Connection.

Epson recommends that you use only genuine Epson ink cartridges which have
been manufactured by Epson using the most advanced quality processes and
inks specifically formulated for your Epson printer. The use of non-Epson
ink cartridges or ink refill may cause damage to your printer. These
products may also reduce the quality of your printer output.

Which of course is no answer at all. What I got was an actual Epson product. But a foreign package that conspicuously omits my printer’s model number. I asked again and was told

There should be no spec. difference. Most packaging will not have the full serial number for the cartridges. Thank you for your patience.

Isn’t that totally ridiculous? What does that mean that they don’t have the full serial number? This person is just making up answers.

DataBazaar is selling grey market ink. And Epson’s support is too lame to understand or care.

I contacted DataBazaar via their “24/7” email contact, but 48 hours later they have yet to respond. I then called them and they claim never to have received my email because of some “spam blocking.” Further, they told me the ink was fine, and when I explained that it did NOT have my printer model number on it, they explained that there wasn’t enough room on the packaging to list all the model numbers.

Okay, so I’m aggravated because I am dealing with a range of people that communicate badly, that cause extra work on my end, and that basically lie to me, but if I could step away from myself (believe me, it’s hard) and think about this from the manufacturer’s point of view – this is terrible for them. Printers and ink is a complete mess – there are so many different kinds of ink, so many supported printer models, lack of clarity around the quality issues of branded ink, paper, refillable stuff, and even more issues about hardware lockouts of generic ink without proprietary chips to enable them, etc. etc. Customers are not comfortable with the purchase, with so much mythology and misinformation flying. Shouldn’t buying new ink be as easy as filling up your car with gas? Annoyingly expensive, but pretty damn easy in terms of compatability.

And now, the manufacturer and the retailer themselves – the ones that sell the Epson product – are creating confusion and mistrust. It’s bad enough to fend off misinformation from the competition, but even your own supply chain is filled with crap.

I feel bad for Epson.

Update: I opened the package and the actual product itself looked identical to North American version I took out of the printer.


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