Posts tagged “palo alto”

Check out this year’s (business) models!

At this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit., one of the buzz stories is not about an automobile model.

Radio Flyer car, San Jose, CA, 2008

Palo Alto company Better Place is creating a new approach to powering the electric car by stepping outside the traditional automobile business model.

Better Place positions the electric car battery as an element of infrastructure rather than as part the car itself. This move diffuses $8K-$9K of financial impact borne by the consumer in the traditional business model where the battery is part of the upfront cost of the car.

It’s a great example of tackling a tough problem–maybe in this case, “”how can we build a better battery”–by reframing it and creating an even better problem statement: “How can we make electric cars accessible to and functional for more people.”

Related Posts:
Shah Agassi’s Better Place
Rage With The Machine


This weekend we checked out Palo Alto’s new restaurant, The Counter; a place that is having some buzz in the blogosphere (and their original Santa Monica place supposedly being mentioned on Oprah). The thrust seems to be highly customizable burgers. Kinda like The Fractured Prune’s version of donuts I blogged about recently.

I was surprised at how sedate and genteel the whole thing was, aesthetically. I was expecting much more of a cartoony-branded affair. This was nice.

Even the cash featured art more than heavily branded graphics. This worked against them a little bit – it was hard to figure out what to do, there was no hostess stand. Upon coming in, if no one is there to greet you, you see a stack of cilpboards with menus. Are these for us? I actually told the guy who came up “we have no idea what we are doing” – a comment I wouldn’t normally make (I’m not that insecure, but really, we couldn’t figure out the script. A bit more wayfinding signage, branded or not, would have helped.

Here’s the menu:
There’s a lot of choices there! It’s surprising, exciting, and overwhelming. They could use a little help in form design here, again, asking you to wayfind through a series of decisions (although burger OR bowl needs some visual work to make the decision-fork a little clearer). But really, the impact of that massive set of choices (some with price premiums, some not) is pretty incredible.

They have mitigated that slightly with a set of pre-defined burgers, where they’ve chosen a few combinations, given them names (The Counter Burger) and saved you the trouble of figuring it out. But what I want is to make my own custom burger – the key experience here, it seems – but with some guidance: what goes with what? what tastes complement other tastes?

If you want to redo a room, you can consult a color wheel for info on complementary colors, you can find advice that might tell you to pick the carpet first and then select paint and fabric next [whatever the advice might be], that hot colors look good in a small room, and cool colors in a big room will make it feel more empty [again, or whatever – I’m making this up].

It’d be pretty amazing to have some help with this, if you want it. If you know what you want to eat, go for it, but if you need some help pairing up sauces and buns and so on, what can we do? Perhaps The Counter wants you to experiment and come back over and over again (we felt that urge, certainly), but what fun it would be to have some guidance!

We figured it out, eventually, with a mix of traditional (tomatoes) and curious (hard boiled eggs, english muffin) choices.

Appetizers: dill pickle chips, yet again proving that anything is good when breaded and fried. And a half-and-half appetizer of regular fries (poor) and sweet potato fries (good, but not the best I’d ever had).

Burgers were unique, tasty, fun. Overall a good experience. We’re eager to go back and try something different next time. But $70 for four burgers, appetizers, a couple of beers and glasses of wine? Ouch.

They had just the right amount of new-restaurant inquiries from servers and managers asking us if everything was okay; good problem solving when something was missing (they ran in and got us a plate of the stuff we wanted).

Thoughts on DCamp

This past weekend was DCamp

DCamp, an unconference focused on design and user experience, is open to everyone interested in the topic: designers, usability practitioners, developers, marketers, entrepreneurs, and others.

Unlike traditional conferences, there is no program created by conference organizers. What happens at DCamp depends on you.

It was interesting to be involved in a do-it-yourself grassroots type of event. I’ll admit to some anxiety as the event approached, specifically because I had offered to give a talk. What kind of environment would we be in? Did I need a projector, or should I just “wing it”?

I’ll say that the anxiety decreased over time, and my overall enjoyment/value from the event increased over time. By the end, I was pretty into the whole thing, but it’s an adjustment of expectations from a more traditional top-down event.

As with most conferences, the hanging-out is lots of fun. People I’ve never met before, people I’ve met once or twice before, people who work with or know others I know, people to suggest books, or share their own stories, or to ask me about myself. It’s a workout for the introvert (and I came home and crashed pretty hard, I must admit), but lots of fun.

I think the sessions are a mixed bag; the audience is varied and the presenters can’t count on an audience having a certain level of experience with their topic. Every session I was in started off with one topic and wandered more or less into something different, or at least a narrow corner of what was brought to us by the presenter – and that was okay – that was the point.

But that means that only one session made my head spin, the rest were comfortable, a bit provocative, a bit interesting, but not challenging or building new ideas or anything. That’s probably a reasonable proportion for a short event, consistent with a more traditional event.

DCamp – 92.jpg, originally uploaded by chrisheuer.

I think those of us who lead sessions need to learn how to handle a more open-ended type of event, but also participants need to think of the group dynamic or what kind of questions or comments will move it along versus stall it. And that is not something that’s natural, especially with a new group of people getting together.

The event was held in the offices of wiki startup Socialtext, and we totally took over their space. There was stuff everywhere – food, ice, beer, DCamp t-shirts, water, paper, people, laptops. The vibe was good, but sometimes it felt a bit cult-like with lots of walls covered with tree-drawings that were for planning future events, or photos of attendees, or DCamp slogans. See the flickr pics here.

The cost was $10. Sponsors took care of the facility, food brought in, and two lavish meals at nearby restaurants. It was quite wonderful.

Oh, and it was indeed a “camp.” If you brought a sleeping bag (or if you didn’t, even) you could sleep over.

And in an interesting-sign-of-our-accelerated times, there is already a reunion planned. For Monday.

Introductions, originally uploaded by niallkennedy.

We were asked to give our name, and three words. I offered “seize the day” (since carpe diem is only two, yes?)

P1010803, originally uploaded by Fred M Jacobson.

DSCN0279, originally uploaded by blue_j.
Here’s Dirk and some others looking in on my session. There’s me in my lawn chair in the middle right of the pic.

DSCN0274, originally uploaded by blue_j.

I did the traditional slideshow thing, but I whizzed through it and tried to get people talking. It was the first session of the whole event, and I don’t know that everyone was clear what session this was, what room the various sessions were in, etc. And so there was a reasonable amount of awkward silence. The room was rather weird, too. I was sitting in the middle of the room around a low table, with a few folks at that table, and then the rest of the room was ringed with people, so in terms of maintaining eye contact with each other, it was pretty tough.

Of course, I’m obviously a harsh critic of myself, and of experiences like this – the feedback I did get was really good; I even heard some of the concepts I was asking people to think about (briefly – the value of the space between defined opposites) emerge in subsequent sessions.

DSCN0277, originally uploaded by blue_j.

The talk and discussion was being recorded for podcast, so I’ll post when that goes online. Update: Arthur has posted the notes here (they are also on the Dcamp wiki but that requires registration, I believe). This was great of the folks from AOL to bring the gear and set it up for each session and so on, but we’ve got a long way to go with that. People aren’t comfortable talking into microphones, and in this case, there was no amplification, so whatever use model we bring to using a microphone, this broke. You were asked to place it very very close to your mouth, far closer than I am in this picture. And rather than have a free-flowing conversation, we had to pass this device back and forth to people – who did not want to use it. And typically they’d hold it about a foot from their face, so someone would interrupt as they were starting to talk “Put it right up to your mouth!” Which just served to make them more self-conscious. I would rather privilege the experience in the room over any documentation for others, and just have spoken more normally. In one session, a dude sat there with a handheld recorder and just point it at people, leaving us to talk normally. It felt much more comfortable.

Good experience, overall, good to see people, and have some conversation. I’d probably go to another one, and even mused to myself about organizing a similar event that is a little closer to my areas of professional interest than this one was.


DCamp, an unconference focused on design and user experience, is open to everyone interested in the topics: designers, usability practitioners, developers, marketers, entrepreneurs, and others.

Unlike traditional conferences, there is no program created by conference organizers. What happens at DCamp depends on you. Come share your work and ideas. Tell us about some interesting UX method, explain how design fits into agile development and open source, share your design dilemma, or tell us about your new and interesting design.

I’ve signed up for this, in Palo Alto in mid-May. I fear it being too technical, too software-focused. I’m signed up to give a loose talk I’ve given before, The Overlap: Cultures, Disciplines, and Design – some questions about whether or not some things are better as unambiguously one thing or the other, or if there’s more richness to be mined in the spaces between. Indeed, will it become essential to live, work, and play in that space?


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