Compass over maps

In one of the best talks at this year’s TED Conference in Vancouver, Joi Ito (Director of MIT Media Lab) said the following:

The idea is that the cost of writing a plan or mapping something is getting so expensive and it’s not very accurate or useful. So in the Safecast story, we knew we needed to collect data, we knew we wanted to publish the data, and instead of trying to come up with the exact plan, we first said, oh, let’s get Geiger counters. Oh, they’ve run out. Let’s build them. There aren’t enough sensors. Okay, then we can make a mobile Geiger counter. We can drive around. We can get volunteers. We don’t have enough money. Let’s Kickstarter it. We could not have planned this whole thing, but by having a very strong compass, we eventually got to where we were going, and to me it’s very similar to agile software development, but this idea of compasses is very important.

A talk well worth watching.

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What responsive design should really look like

I found this video from the interactive prototype Room-E on the 72U project blog. It’s a prototype showing what will be possible in the near future when you think about a more responsive environment.

“The future of the computer is to essentially make it disappear—a disconnected interface, so the house or the office or the building or the city is the computer.”Mark Rolston, Chief Creative Officer, frog

Check out the video below.

Is Google Glass the Segway of this era?

Not so long ago Mike Butcher (from Techcrunch) tried on a pair of Google Glass lent to him by a Glass Explorer at a conference and even though his experience with Glass was rather short he made a conclusion that nailed it for me:

“So Google Glass for me will be this era’s Segway: hyped as a game changer but ultimately used by warehouse workers and mall cops.”

I had a chance to buy a Google Glass 5-6 months ago when the original Google Explorers were allowed to invite 3 friends to join the program. As managing partner for digital at Duval Guillaume, I need and want to be on top of major tech innovations and Glass is definitely one of those things. So I volunteered immediately and made some arrangements to be able to buy it whilst not completely following the standard procedure. You have to be a US resident for instance which I’m not. But that was pretty easy to overcome. So I got my Google Glass pretty soon after and once it was all set up (which was pretty easy) I started playing around with it.

At first I was in awe. The little projection screen of Google Glass is crisp, the voice & touch controls are very intuitive and simple to get familiar with and it’s pretty impressive what it can do. It’s the same when you share that experience with others, every time one of my friends or colleagues put on Google Glass and performed some of the main key tasks they were amazed with the result. That and the jealousy of some to get hold of their own.

I took some really great pictures of the rising sun while driving my car, got directions pointed out to a unknown shop while walking in the city, watched Youtube video’s after searching them via voice commands, shared Facebook updates also via voice, … A lot of nice things actually. But then there’s also a problem. There are a few, like battery time for instance (which is worse than on a smartphone). But that’s not the real problem.

The real problem is that actually wearing it makes you look weird – or at least different enough for people to notice. It doesn’t look natural and so people will make a comment about it. They either know what it is and want to try it, or worse, want you to take it off, like if you’re constantly filming people. Or people don’t know what it is and think you look ridiculous. And you can’t blame them because you know you look ridiculous with the glasses on.

And if people ask what the benefits are and you tell them, they will tell you all of that’s also possible with your smartphone. With the difference you don’t have the take it out of your pocket, but then again you don’t have to wear those strange glasses all the time. And indeed, there’s not much you can bring into that. Because there are very few moments that you can say that you couldn’t possible reach for your phone, in which case Google Glass really was beneficial to you.

And for that Mike’s comment makes a lot of sense. When it makes no real difference to use Google Glass or your smartphone for the same tasks, the smartphone is still a winner. But when you’re a policeman, or a flight attendant, a medic, … and you need your hands for other things then the Glass makes total sense. Therefore it cannot come as a surprise that NYPD is testing Google Glass or Virgin Atlantic.

I’m not sure how the final Google Glass will go to market nor when that will happen. But it still needs massive change before people will adopt it because it don’t think it is appealing enough to the masses how it is right now. Let alone the price tag of course, you can buy yourself some pretty sweet smartphones for USD 1.500.

Don’t get me wrong by the way, I’m still pretty happy to have one and I will keep testing the device for quite some more time. It does help to get insights on where wearables might go to and it still is pretty amazing if you’re willing to unthink the fact that you are wearing empty glasses with a battery pack on the side. Let’s see what comes next.

Note – I wrote this on the plane about a week ago, since then Google announced Android Wear which subsequently makes a lot more sense to me than the Glass does for the moment. Or maybe I should just wait until we see what RayBan is going to make of it.

It’s just an idea. Really?

A lot has been said about creativity and this sure won’t be the last thing written about it either. At the agency we often get a question to quickly think about something, quickly help on finding an idea for something small. We have the creatives right so can they not just help on that, it’s just an idea.

This brings up the most difficult and the easiest part of our job. We do have a group of really good creatives, really talented and all award winning creatives. So finding ideas is quite easy. For them. The thing that we forget here is that they are ‘trained’ creatives, they’ve lived their whole private & professional life to be good at what they are. So talking about finding ‘just an idea’ is as disrespectful to their talent is it would be to ask a baker to ‘just bake a cake’ or a tax consultant to ‘just find a way to avoid some more tax’. If that is your talent, if that is what you learned to do well then it deserves every bit of credit and isn’t just a small thing.

So it’s easy. For them. Then again it’s difficult. When you want to find ideas it’s important that you know where to go look for them. You need to figure out what is exactly the problem you’re trying to solve and how to develop the best possible ‘creative boulevard’. It needs to be right, relevant and inspiring enough for the creatives to start searching for ideas. Ideas that will answer the client’s needs, however big or small that need is.

So, if I may, I’m not a creative but please never ever again ask for ‘just an idea’ when you need talented creative people to solve one of your problems, big or small. Create value, value creative remember.

The strategy is delivery: it’s not complicated, it’s just hard

Neil Perkin does many interesting things. One of those things is organizing the so called “Google Firestarters” which he curates for Google UK. Last Monday he had invited Russell Davies, planning legend and now creative director at GDS, to come and talk about his learnings and insights working on GOV.uk. Fascinating talk, well worth crossing the channel for.

For those who, like me, don’t know what GDS stands for: Government Digital Service. They lead the digital transformation of government.

Back to the talk. Russell talked about GDS and how they started working on GOV.uk, what their design principles were, how they made decisions about what to do and maybe more importantly what not to do. And every single thing they do is shared publicly, which is as you can see on the the principles, something they thoroughly believe in.

  1. Start with needs
  2. Do less
  3. Design with data
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again.
  6. Build for inclusion
  7. Understand context
  8. Build digital services, not websites
  9. Be consistent, not uniform
  10. Make things open: it makes things better

Read all about it on the GDS design principles right here. The second part of his talk was about why all of the GDS’ learnings building GOV.uk are interesting for anyone in marketing & advertising. In the past it used to be difficult to make a brilliant product, but marketing was easy. The craft and machinery needed to make something brilliant was not accessible for many, the few media channels with immense reach to advertise to people was pretty easy to use. Today that has changed said Russell. Today making a brilliant product has become far more easy than it ever was, but marketing it has become very complex. And thus marketers today are focusing fully on trying to digitize the marketing part of things, whereas we should think about complete digital transformation of the business we’re in.

Other things they found out during the whole process. Things that we all need to think about and see how we can learn from it are:

Attention. It’s one thing to win people’s attention, it’s a whole different thing to make sure you respect the attention you were granted. There’s generally too much focus on getting people to notice what you’re doing and too little focus about making sure you do something with that attention. To quote Russell:

“If you made something brilliant and it doesn’t explain itself you haven’t made something brilliant”

Reputation. A brand is a promise, reputation is delivery. You can’t build a brand based on what you’re going to do.

Culture. When you want to transform your whole business like you should, everyone should be on board for this. You need to work on the culture of the company that digital thinking becomes the default mindset.

The product is the service is the marketing. Ask yourself: what would Amazon do? They would get it wrong for a while, then have more data than any traditional business ever will and they’ll win. Because of their digital thinking habit, not because they’re smarter.

Thanks for a great event Neil. Thanks for a great talk Russell.

Bonus link – From April 2014, digital services from the UK government must meet the new Digital by Default Service Standard. For that GDS developed the Government Service Design Manual, and yes also that is publicly available for all of us.

Image creditScriberia made the visualization of the talk.

Design is not just what it looks like. It’s how it works.

Design. Is Apple losing focus on one of it’s most essential unique strengths?

For a big test we did for Belgian Cowboys recently some members on the editorial team including myself switched from iOS to Android for a while. Not just to see if we liked it or not but also to find out if that switch was so hard as we expected it to be. “What about all those apps I bought? Why start all over again? Will it be as easy to use as what I’m used to now?” A whole series of questions which I presume most of us will recognize come to mind when thinking of such a switch.

Since this article isn’t about that switch I can tell you quickly that that test went really well. I’m currently switching between the HTC One and the HTC One Mini for another test and I don’t miss my iPhone for a second. Actually I find it better on many levels. That made me wonder about a few things.

How come for instance that I find the notifications in Android really useful whereas I don’t even look at them on my iPhone? The set-up is kind of the same so why is that? Looking at both from a basic UI design point of view they are very similar indeed. It’s a drop down menu you pull from the top of your screen with several notifications pointing to apps that need your attention for whatever reason. On Android I will open that screen and either swipe the notifications away or take action. On iPhone I open that view once every month or so to delete these notifications, app by app.

Another example is the on-screen keyboard. On Android I’m using Swype, probably the most productive add-on for a touch screen devices in a long time. Whenever I need to use my iPhone or iPad again I cannot help but be annoyed by the fact that I have to type in the ‘traditional’ way. And that’s not even mentioning the re-design of iOS7.

So how come that on many levels the Android platform is outperforming iOS, whether it’s thanks to core Android development or because of the opportunity to personalise it with technology created by its eco-system? I’m thinking that Apple has actually forgot about the essence of design, a vision it shared openly and that many are taking as an example.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works” – Steve Jobs

When you think of that and the examples I mentioned before (and there are more) you can only come to the conclusion that the focus of Apple lately was on design as in ‘what it looks like’ and that Google has taken the lead on design as in ‘how it works’. In the last 12-18 months, Google and its eco-system have upgraded the better user experience, Apple has overhauled look & feel. And that’s a pity. Not just because it makes the iPhone a less interesting device but it’s a sign of Apple forgetting about it’s own very essence.

My 2 cents.

ID14. Observations on interactive design.

And not just any designer. Petra Sell is a well known UI/UX designer that has shared her own views on interactive design for a few years now and with success. The 2012 & 2013 editions of her design trends presentations have gathered close to half a million views on Slideshare alone so I don’t think I don’t need to give much more explanation why you should absolutely check out her latest edition: ID14.

You can check it out on here website or in the Slideshare below:

Truth is people don’t actually like creativity

There was an interesting article in Slate a few weeks ago about the bias against creativity, about the fact that most people say they like creativity but that the truth is we really don’t. And since I work in a creative agency often presenting creative ideas to clients the theory based on a 2011 study used in this article makes a whole lot of sense to me.

“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,” says Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school who specializes in creativity. Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. “As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea.  Even people who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to creative ideas, as demonstrated in a 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania. Uncertainty is an inherent part of new ideas, and it’s also something that most people would do almost anything to avoid. People’s partiality toward certainty biases them against creative ideas and can interfere with their ability to even recognize creative ideas .

Clients will come to us for creative tasks since that’s what we’re most known for. You can literally witness though how the creative ideas that were presented and liked by the clients will be softened once they start to move through the chain of command. That is if you allow that to happen, we’re quite protective on the essence of an idea to make sure that while we’re very open to tweak it we will make sure that that essential core idea is never lost.

Most people agree that what distinguishes those who become famously creative is their resilience. While creativity at times is very rewarding, it is not about happiness. Staw says a successful creative person is someone “who can survive conformity pressures and be impervious to social pressure.”

And of course I realize like anyone else that some creative ideas are just not good or are creative but not an answer to the question or briefing at hand. This is purely about ideas that are recognized as good and creative and how they are being judged during the decision process. This is about how people often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal (as the research so eloquently puts it).

In terms of decision style, most people also fall short of the creative ideal. they are satisficers rather than searcher for the optimal or most desirable solution. They follow a number of energy-saving heuristics that generally lead to a set of systematic biases or inaccuracies in processing information. And, unless they are held accountable for their decision-making strategies, they tend to find the easy way out – either by not engaging in very careful thinking or by modeling their choices on the preferences of those who will be evaluating them.

Especially that last sentence is a problem I think. Not only in judging creativity by the way. When people make decision upon what they think someone else will probably think of it instead of what they think themselves sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. There’s a clear link with management style there as well. How much do you empower your own people? It seems that to enable creativity you need to do that.

Instead of issuing directives and policy statements and hoping that they will be obeyed, innovative firms must encourage disobedience. In fact, those in power should go so far as to encourage active opposition. Innovative organizations are those that harbor multiple perspectives and objectives, not simply a variety of views.

Last but not least, it’s also why creativity takes courage – dixit Henri Matisse. Definitely an interesting read, be sure to check the full article.