Posts tagged “water”

Watch Steve on Like/Unlike

Here’s a twenty-minute conversation with me, for the show Like/Unlike for, in anticipation of Product Camp Poland, coming right up! I talk about three things – something I recently experienced that I liked (our Punk Rock walking tour of the East Village); something that I did not like (an app required to get filtered drinking water), and a perspective on user research that others may not be thinking about.

Like/Unlike #6: Steve Portigal

sorry about the occasionally blurry video

The World Without Them

Rob Walker writes about Fiji bottled water claiming to be a green company, without using the word greenwashing anywhere in the piece. Fiji is certainly not alone in trying to brand itself as the opposite of what many believe it really is. Personally, I’ve been appalled at the TV ads for Arrowhead’s Eco-Shape Bottle and Scott’s Water Smart grass seed.

If you’re going to drink bottled water and if you’re going to have a lawn, definitely choose an option that consumes fewer resources, but as a consumer I find it manipulative to position those products as being eco-anything, when the core behavior they are asking us to perform is probably something we should stop doing entirely. As a strategy consultant, they have my sympathy, and my respect for not simply ignoring a big cultural story that challenges their key offering.

Consider this week the news that GM may sell or close the Hummer brand. If they sell it, there will be someone else trying to sell a product that (at least in term of meaning, if not actual impact) tends to be horrifyingly un-green.

Should Arrowhead, Fiji, Scotts, and Hummer simply go away? Obviously the leaders of those businesses have a fiscal responsibility to keep making money, but how much can they redefine or reframe their brands and their offerings?

Free Air

No such thing as a free lunch-or practically a free anything-these days, unless you happen to be a Breatharian. A cafe in San Jose will rent you electricity for $1.00 an hour.


And in Felton, where I live, there’s a protracted struggle going on to buy the town’s water system back from California American Water, a subsidiary of the multinational company RWE. Water is generally quite abundant here (the annual average rainfall is 47.68 inches), and most of us spend time every winter battling its incursion into our living spaces. So it’s particularly ironic that we have to then purchase it from a company based in Germany.

Goodyear, on the other hand, is generous with their resources.


Breatharians eat free!

Bad Survey Design. Please Stop!

A plea to all design educators out there (and to students as well): please stop using crappy surveys as a substitute for actual research.

Survey design is a craft. If you haven’t studied it, you don’t know how to write a survey well, and the data you get is garbage. Surveys are quantitative tools. They require math to plan (what does your sample size need to be to ensure that your results are valid?) and to analyze (regression analysis (or any other buzzword) anyone?). They are very tough to write. Questions have to be worded correctly and sequenced correctly.

Yet design instructors constantly send their students onto the Internet to “do research.” Students spend about 30 seconds writing open-ended questions about their issues, and then blast the “survey” off to email lists populated by other designers. And so in the spirit of helping a good cause, people might respond. But the questions are vague, hard to answer, and not at all controlled.

Garbage in, garbage out.

Today I received a forward from a colleague who has his pulse on global design issues, passing on a survey request from a graduate supervisor at a prestigious east coast US design school. Doubly-endorsed, then, with an intro by the students

We are one of the thesis research teams from the “Design Management” masters program at REDACTED. We are comprised of four dynamic individuals who bring unique set of skills and expertise that substantiates our team. We are highly motivated and eager to seek out credible information.

The research is focused on “Bottled Water” and its affects [sic] on our planet. In the times when the world is focusing on oil as a momentous energy resource that is on the verge of gaining the status of a deficient commodity, this thesis team is exploring indications that cognize [sic] drinking water as a much more serious and fateful resource. With a pragmatic attitude the team’s primary focus is on the bottled water industry and its impact on life, environment and economies. By 2015 over 60% of the world population will be living in urban areas and the use of bottled water is increasing by 12% per annum.

This survey is conceived and designed by the team to get firsthand information in order to understand the trends, perceptions and know-how of people worldwide. It is critically helpful for the team in securing a better perspective of the thought process, gaps, and awareness levels. The survey will be used as part of the thesis research and one of the pillars to base strategic and sustainable recommendation by using Design Management tools.

The team looks forward to your support and cooperation in reaching its goals. This survey will also create way for the future researchers who would be able to use these finding to elaborate and continue the process of strategic enlightenment and making the planet a better place for the generation to come.

Well. Is that preeningly snooty enough for you (ignoring the typos, of course)? Certainly some high expectations have been established here. So, let’s look at two pages from the online survey that we simply must contribute to.


Oh yuck. This is terrible. After (not shown) a lot of demographic and behavioral data (how old are you, how much money do you make, how much do you spend on bottled water every day, etc.) we get to the opinion and perception questions. Except these are ridiculous leading questions that reveal the opinions of the survey writers, and place the respondent in an awkward situation.

Do you believe that water can be more expensive than oil? gives away the game. Selfishly earnest, but also ineffective.

Maybe, try, something like this (very rough)

For each of the following, compare your expectation of its price to water

Much more costlymore costlysamecheapermuch cheaper
orange juice

The question mustn’t reveal the intention. And it must not (as the last 3 questions do) put the person on the defensive, implying that they should be doing something in a certain way. It’s not ethical, but it’s just not effective.

Again, I see design students doing this all the time. It’s really bad research, and it’s sadly being endorsed or encouraged by faculty and others who don’t know or don’t care. “Oh, it’s still useful information” I can hear them saying. But it’s not. The data you get from this is useless, or worse than useless since it’s actually misleading.

This example is more egregious because of the smarmy greener-than-thou effluent it exudes.

Ideally, the kind of perception issues these students are after would be collected in some conversations, where follow-ups and probes and listening all come together to generate some new insight. This is not a good use of a survey, especially in such a ham-fisted manner.

Water, Water, Everywhere

A few weeks ago we went to see Water at the SF International Asian American Film Festival. Truly an amazing film and absolutely to be seen in the theater, not on your little TV. I hadn’t seen any of the other films in the Elemental Trilogy (Fire, Earth), but had heard great things about this film from my family.

It tells tells the story of a community of widows in India, forced, by religion/economics to live our the rest of their lives in an unfulfilled state – in poverty, no pleasure (i.e., fried foods or sweets) permitted, no remarriage, nothing by prayer and begging. When a woman is valueless, there is no choice, and when a girl is married off at 8 for her dowry, and the much older man dies, she is basically an abandoned person for the rest of her natural life. Horrifying premise, that was and is true.

The story of the making of the film is as amazing as the film itself. Director Deepa Mehta told the story afterwards of the original production, shut down by fundamentalists in India, leaving her to fume for 4 years before shooting again in Sri Lanka. That story seems to be getting a lot of ink, appearing in the New York Times (and a several similar pieces in the SF Chron over the past few days), and documented in the story of a camera assistant as well in the just published Shooting Water, by the director’s daughter. I started the book on the trip to Toronto and it’s interesting, if a bit youthful in tone. I’ve only just started and thankful for the detail and so much explanation as to the aspects of Indian culture and environments that help my understanding of the film; mind you, I wish someone had proofread the book enough to correct her reference to the Bradbury Building as the Ray Bradbury Building.

More toilets

I hadn’t seen anything like this before, known as a dual-flush toilet. Nice interface; the oval flush button is divided in two; one button is twice the size of the other. You choose which flushing button to press based on what you’ve just done. Visually there’s a number one and a number two button. They could have had some awkward fun with color-coding, I suppose. If it’s yellow…etc.

Note: other pics from our trip to Banff are here


About Steve