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IDSA design research

The design research section of the IDSA now has a website. Also, the current issue of IDSA’s publication Innovation is jam packed with design research related articles. Cool!

How Conceptual Metaphors are Stunting Web Innovation

Wonderful article by Venkatesh Rao, a researcher in the Xerox Innovation Group. He says that outdated conceptual metaphors such as ‘document’ is slowing down our thinking about new innovations such as the live web. New conceptual metaphors are needed such as ‘stream’ and ‘trails’.

You Can’t Innovate Like Apple

Alain Breillatt summarises why companies will find it hard to innovate like Apple.

First, forget about it unless you are willing to invest significantly and heavily to establish a culture of innovation like Apple’s. Because it’s not just about copying Apple’s approach and procedures. The vast majority of executives who say, “I want to be just like Apple,” have no idea what it really takes to achieve that level of success. What they’re saying is they want to be adored by their customers, they want to launch sexy products that cause the press to fall all over themselves, and they want to experience incredible financial growth. But they generally want to do it on the cheap.

The PEP Talks videos

PEP stands for Passion, Experience, People. It's an event where experts share their passions with college students. Nice talks all around. From Chis Rockwell on Mind of Design to Jim Hendrickson on "choosing" vs. "following" your career path.

HBR: The Simplest Way to Reboot Your Brain

The Harvard Business Review has an article by Robert Stickgold where he writes about the benefits of sleep:

“A report in the June 2009 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that a nap with REM (or “dream”) sleep improves people’s ability to integrate unassociated information for creative problem solving, and study after study has shown that sleep boosts memory. If you memorize a list of words and then take a nap, you’ll remember more words than you would without sleeping first. Even micronaps of six minutes—not including the time it takes to fall asleep, which is about five minutes if you’re really tired—make a difference.”

Palm provides a case study in user experience strategy

Marek Pawlowski writes a good essay on how Palm is trying to reinvent itself with the newly announced Palm Pre and the WebOS platform. Key to Palm's success this time around are the same goals that brought it fame the first time around:

"What we have in the Pre and webOS is a case study example of a company asking itself what users want and giving staff a mandate to build products to meet that user experience requirement. Palm is placing its trust in customer-focused innovation to save the company. User friendly tweaks have been given higher priority than headline specifications, all in an attempt to provide users with a product which genuinely makes them happy. It is a courageous strategy and all user experience practitioners should be watching with interest to see whether it succeeds."

Laptops, not mobile phones, are the means to liberate the developing world

Cory Doctorow, in this piece for the Guardian, defends the goals of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project and counters the detractors who insist the mobile phones are the way to go.

"By contrast, an open laptop with mesh networking is designed to be locally customised, to have its lessons broadcast to others who can use them, and to avoid centralised control and vulnerability to bad weather and bad governments. It is designed to be nearly free from operating costs, so that once the initial investment is made, all subsequent use is free, encouraging experimentation and play, from which all manner of innovations may spring."

Ideo’s David Kelley on the “teachable approach”

A Fast Company article chronicling IDEO's David Kelly's cancer scare and his design philosophy that finally gave birth to the d.school. A good takeaway from the article, apart from being glad that David is now cancer free, is the notion of a "teachable approach" that some of his clients mention.

"Kaiser Permanente has always been innovation driven," says Christi Zuber, director of Kaiser's innovation consultancy, "but Ideo gave us a teachable approach."

A "teachable approach" or a set of methods and tools to continue the thinking is a long-term execution and governance strategy. I've seen some large scale projects but never have I seen a big consulting firm provide training and mentoring services for its clients to help them continue with the 'thinking'. I'm pretty sure that there are firms like IDEO that provide the "teachable approach" but it's not common practice. I guess it's got to do with how confident the company is about its future.

"I can give our methodology away," he [David Kelley] says at a staff meeting on Ideo's future, "because I know we can come up with a better idea tomorrow."

I yearn to be serious again

A great presentation at TED by Paula Scher on the tensions between serious play and solemn work. It is the serious play that has the enthusiasm, the inventiveness, the innocence and the fearlessness that drives creativity and innovation. But serious play is always shadowed by solemn work, waiting to formalise it, document it, manage it, reuse it and bring it to its knees. That is why we have so few serious moments. Paula had 4 such moments that she talks about in her presentation. I've had less than that, but would love, love, to have more.

Interview with Eric Schmidt

The McKinsey Quarterly interviews Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Here's what Schmidt has to say about innovation:

"Innovation is something that comes when you're not under the gun. So it's important that, even if you don't have balance in your life, you have some time for reflection. So that you could say, 'Well, maybe I'm not working on the right thing.' Or, 'maybe I should have this new idea.' The creative parts of one's mind are not on schedule."

The 5 habits of highly effective project teams

Suzy Thompson from Cooper design has written an article on 5 habits of successful project teams:

  1. Establish structure and discipline
  2. Act with urgency
  3. Cultivate a sense of ownership
  4. Lead
  5. Be the change you want to see in the project

The "lead" factor is the most difficult to cultivate in my opinion. People associate extra work and responsibility with leading. Well, that is a fact, but there is much more to leading that taking on extra responsibility. Maybe people are just put off by the big kind of leading, the Jack Welch kind of way, but what they really need to see is the everyday kind of leading -- small decisions, small risks, small innovations kind of way. Seth Godin describes more of this kind of leading in his new book, Tribes.

Which Kind of Collaboration Is Right for You?

In their article for Harvard Business Review, Gary P. Pisano and Roberto Verganti describe four ways to collaborate:

"there are four basic modes of collaboration: a closed and hierarchical network (an elite circle), an open and hierarchical network (an innovation mall), an open and flat network (an innovation community), and a closed and flat network (a consortium)."

The article goes on to describe how to choose the best model and how to manage them.

How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity

Ed Catmull describes the challenges Pixar faces in coming up with creative ideas. He focuses on the challenges between a great team and great ideas:

"If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up; if you give a mediocre idea to a great team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something that works."

Here's another about convening a group when in need.

"When a director and producer feel in need of assistance, they convene the group (and anyone else they think would be valuable) and show the current version of the work in progress. This is followed by a lively two-hour give-and-take discussion, which is all about making the movie better. There’s no ego. Nobody pulls any punches to be polite. This works because all the participants have come to trust and respect one another. They know it’s far better to learn about problems from colleagues when there’s still time to fix them than from the audience after it’s too late. The problem-solving powers of this group are immense and inspirational to watch."

Here's another about having daily reviews.

"This practice of working together as peers is core to our culture, and it’s not limited to our directors and producers. One example is our daily reviews, or "dailies," a process for giving and getting constant feedback in a positive way that’s based on practices John observed at Disney and Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Lucasfilm’s special-effects company... There are several benefits. First, once people get over the embarrassment of showing work still in progress, they become more creative. Second, the director or creative leads guiding the review process can communicate important points to the entire crew at the same time. Third, people learn from and inspire each other; a highly creative piece of animation will spark others to raise their game. Finally, there are no surprises at the end: When you’re done, you’re done. People’s overwhelming desire to make sure their work is "good" before they show it to others increases the possibility that their finished version won’t be what the director wants. The dailies process avoids such wasted efforts."

Kids reading more online - Good or bad?

This NY times article presents an interesting debate on whether the time kids are spending reading online is good or bad in the long term. I think that this whole debate is based on wrong categorization. Using old frameworks to evaluate new phenomenon is fundamentally wrong. Clayton Christensen's new book, Disrupting Class - How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, has a chapter on the current state of educational research. He points out that historically education research has been using outcomes of the research to point back to known situations or circumstances and not to new or changing circumstances that the kids find themselves in. Yes, kids are reading more, but they are also reading differently. Making meaning by "weaving" different definitions, perspectives and representations trigger different skills and aptitudes. These in turn warrant different ways of looking and measuring.

An Ethnography & Interviewing Primer

A video tutorial on interviewing and ethnography:

The IIT Institute of Design is a graduate school of design dedicated to advancing the methods and practice of human-centered innovation. We believe that real innovation starts with users' needs and employs a set of reliable methods, theories, and tools to create solutions to their problems. Ethnography and interviewing are how we, as designers, see the world through other people's eyes and get them to tell us their stories. In the spring of 2008, we talked to professors, experts, and students about this philosophical orientation and how to actually get people to talk. To ground things a bit, we took a look at a truly universal article of clothing – denim jeans – and set out to understand: "Who's buying premium denim and why?"

Via Todd Warfel

Harvard Business Review: Design Thinking

Some quotes from this design thinking article from HBR by Tim Brown (IDEO):

"Design thinking is a lineal descendant of that tradition. Put simply, it is a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity. Like Edison’s painstaking innovation process, it often entails a great deal of perspiration."
"Thus Edison’s genius lay in his ability to conceive of a fully developed marketplace, not simply a discrete device. He was able to envision how people would want to use what he made, and he engineered toward that insight. He wasn’t always prescient (he originally believed the phonograph would be used mainly as a business machine for recording and replaying dictation), but he invariably gave great consideration to users’ needs and preferences."

The Customer-Centered Innovation Map

Lance A. Bettencourt and Anthony W. Ulwick write on innovation opportunities by analyzing how customers "get the job done";

"Job mapping differs substantively from process mapping in that the goal is to identify what customers are trying to get done at every step, not what they are doing currently. For example, when an anesthesiologist checks a monitor during a surgical procedure, the action taken is just a means to an end. Detecting a change in patient vital signs is the job the anesthesiologist is trying to get done. By mapping out every step of the job and locating opportunities for innovative solutions, companies can discover new ways to differentiate their offerings."

Related concepts:

Karim Rashid in Singapore

Yesterday I went to the Karim Rashid talk, or should I say 'show', at NUS. This is the first time I've seen an industrial designer command such a rock star status. The talk itself was different. He spoke impromptu for an hour, covering topics like 'what is design?', 'what is beauty', and 'who is the designer?'. While he was talking, the large screen behind him beamed a slideshow of his 500+ products. This I thought was very clever. The slideshow gave him opportunities to stop, look over, pick a design and then talk about it.

The one image I took away from the show was of the immense confidence Karim had about himself and his environment. It looked like nothing can stop this person from doing what he wants. I think all this has to do with the range of experiences he's had over the last 20 or so years designing products for different companies.

But there are two more angles to this, which I think is what differentiates a Karim Rashid from the hundreds of other IDs toiling away in different levels of obscurity. First, he has created his own signature when it comes to creativity and innovation around mass produced items. And second, he knows how to communicate and work the media.

It seems that experience alone is not enough. While many of us treat experience as a historical after thought, Karim, I think, likes to treat experience as something he'd like to pass through in the future.

Realists vs. Idealists

A nice post by Bob Sutton on realists vs. idealists when it comes to innovation. Sutton says that although the realists may seem to be winning the innings, the game depends on the idealists. Check out the exemplary New Yorker graphic that Sutton has on his page.

Filling Much Needed Holes

Don Norman gives a scathing commentary on our rush to meet or close every unmet need in product or services. Some needs, he says, are best left unmet.

"We teach our students – and our executives – to do field observations, to define and create, to brainstorm and innovate. Come up with the better idea and the world will rush to your door. We take existing products and tweak them, modify them. We add intelligence and features. The world of products grows ever more complex every year, every hour.

But most innovations fail. Most new products fail. What does that tell us about the unmet needs? Maybe most of them deserve to be unmet. "

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