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!


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