Better Than New

Top of Mind Thoughts From Connecting ’07 by morepete
October 19, 2007, 12:25 am
Filed under: Context for Innovation, Design Tensions, Empathy


Phew. On the couch at my apartment, wiped out from the first full day of learning, thinking, and occasional (no, copious) partying at Connecting ’07, the IDSA/ICSID Congress in San Francisco.

Synthesizing such an absurdly large undertaking (there were literally up to 12 sessions running at a time this afternoon) is impossible, so I’m going to keep this post brief and point to my biggest takeaways.

  • Great data visualization can show the world as it really is, not as we imagine it to be. Hans Rosling of Gapminder officially blew my mind this morning. Click through to do likewise.
  • No one has good answers around sustainability.  I attended multiple lectures today about using design to effect change around sustainability, and they all left me unsatisfied. Some were very materials- or efficiency-oriented, others were focused on depressing statistics, but no one offered real hope for change. Alex Steffen from WorldChanging was an incredibly inspirational speaker, but his presentation didn’t provide concrete direction for designers. Shared property business models work very well for certain kinds of goods — cars, videos, homes — and really poorly for others: computers, TVs, furniture. They aren’t everything. And he implied they were. I hope someone has something more actionable on sustainability to say this week.
  • Students are awesome. I had the pleasure to meet a young man named Joshua from Auburn’s product design program. He was so inspired and excited by everything around him, and he was also incredibly professional and put-together. Reminds me that I need to up my own game sometimes.
  • Design is not design strategy. It’s easy to believe, based on the current discourse, that design is a unified field that applies to everything from the very front end of exploration to the final look of packaging, the ad campaign, and logos. Having talked with a lot of other people at the conference, we come from very different places. They really value the final artifact and the aesthetics above almost all else, and I come from a position about growth and moving the needle for the business — through the products, services and businesses that it gets into, the platform strategy, the overall portfolio. Just interesting.
  • Designers view intuition differently from anyone else. I was at a good presentation this afternoon from Susanne Gibbs Howard of IDEO. She’s an anthropologist, and shared some case studies about the companies current process, which began with a fairly familiar process of ethnographic research, but then took a very odd turn. Essentially, designers at IDEO have complained that doing Human-Centered Design impinges on their creativity. They would rather be designing. So she’s created a practice called “Sacrificial Concepts” to bring design back to the front end and then gather feedback from people out in the world based on those concepts. We work this way, too, though we call them Pre-emptive Solutions, and the point is to surface assumptions about the area we’re exploring and move past them, not to constrain the area being considered. This Sacrificial Concepts notion was described as adding intuition to Human-Centered Design. I have to say, if you think intuition isn’t critical to Human-Centered Design, you have little business doing it. Intuiting people’s needs and walking in their shoes to know what’s a good idea and a bad idea in their world? The essence of good design in this realm. Just because the artifact doesn’t necessarily just represent whatever seems like a good idea to a designer at the time doesn’t make it lacking in art.

Phew. I’m bushed. Good night, and I’ll be back tomorrow!


The Sweet Sound of Disruption by morepete
October 10, 2007, 1:08 am
Filed under: Digital Life, Innovators, radiohead | Tags: , , ,


Did you hear that? The music industry’s business just got disrupted. And this time, it’s going to stick. Radiohead, a multiplatinum band from Oxford just released its new album, “In Rainbows” to tens of thousands of fans over the Internet without a hitch, just 9 days after announcing its existence and with nary a record label to be seen. This war was won quietly. Radiohead came, saw and conquered.

This is a very big deal — and not just because “In Rainbows” is Radiohead’s best album in seven years. No, this matters because they have completely eliminated the middle men between themselves and their fans. Forget iTunes. Forget record stores. Forget promoters. Just log on and start listening. Artist to fans, in one click. Every penny of revenue, straight to the artist.

It’s quite common these days to discuss Business Model Innovation casually, as if it were an everyday occurrence. It actually almost never happens, as the record industry has shown. For example, the iTunes business model is exactly the same as the one found in physical record stores: Labels license recording rights from artists, then reproduce recordings and send them to direct marketers, who sell to consumers. Everyone gets a small cut. All that changes between the digital download market and the physical market is the method of distribution. Here’s the business model for “In Rainbows”: Artist makes recording and sells it to consumers. Notice anything missing?

Radiohead will likely pair up with a record label to release a CD edition of “In Rainbows” next year, but they already have the ultimate bargaining chip — they’re fine working in direct sales. What else does the record industry have to offer? If their terms aren’t met (and I imagine those terms will include absolute right to the master recordings), they can walk away happily. This is a small gunshot across the bow of the record industry, but it could turn out to be the shot heard ’round the world. Many popular artists, including Nine Inch Nails and David Bowie, are waiting in the wings to leave their labels and follow Radiohead’s example by releasing their music directly to fans and keeping all revenue. For an established artist with a loyal following but few radio hits, record labels have nothing to offer at this point. Distribution costs nothing. Promotion is meaningless. Mindshare is everything. This, then, is the real promise of YouTube and other social media. Not just for unknowns to make it big — but for the bigs to finally be on top on their own terms.

At a certain point, the question will become not why Radiohead left EMI Records when they did, but why they didn’t leave years ago. What does this mean beyond the record industry? That remains to be seen. But if I worked in any content business, I’d get thinking quickly about how to change my model to feel more like this — and a lot less like Top 40 radio.