jump to navigation

Review of Steve Jobs’ Biography January 9, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship, innovation process, jobs, methods, physical interaction design.
1 comment so far

Over the holiday I had the chance to read the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I really enjoyed the reading, especially as I have been influenced by Jobs’ work very early on. I also enjoyed the description of the Californian culture as lived by Steve Jobs, being barfood, trying weird diets and networking with the most interesting people in the Bay Area, as e.g. Steward Brand, who was a huge influence for me as well.

Here a couple of observations/inspirations I am taking from reading this book:

Tools vs. Results:

The first mission of Pixar was to develop and sell high-end grafic hardware and software. The first product was called the Pixar Image Computer:


(Pixar Image Computer, image source)

This computer was price at 150.000 $ and targeted towards professionals in the grafic design industry, but also for specialized applications as computer tomografie.

Jobs vision was to make this product accessible to masses – at a price of 30.000 $.

Same was true with the Pixar’s rendering software called Reyes (“Render Everything You Ever Saw”): Steve Jobs was planning to make this software also available to the mass market.

But with both ideas he failed. However, Pixar had a small department desiging animations to show off the power of the Pixar hardware and software. One of these films was Luxo Jr., which was first shown at an adacemic conference (!), at Siggraph 1986:

When all the hardware and software projects at Pixar  failed, Jobs had to fire most of the people. Interestingly, it was the small creative deparment, which not only made Pixar survive, but turned the company into a huge success.

The question of selling tools or the results of the tools is quite an old one: Raymond Scott and Bob Moog were both involved in the invention of the synthesizer. However, Scott saw himself as a composer and therefore wanted to keep his tools as secret as possible:

Electronic music for commercials and films was my living then – and I thought I had this great advantage – because of my sequencer. (source: unaddressed letter written by Raymond Scott, late 1970s)

Moog on the other side started to build and sell products – and his company is still around today!

Computer as Bicycle

When Jobs took over the Mac-development form Raskin, he also wanted to get rid of Raskin’s suggested working titel “Macintosh” – named after Raskin’s favorite apple.

So, Steve Jobs suggested “Bicycle”, because the computer is kind of the bicycle for our minds:

I really like this metaphor, especially as riding a bicycle is a strong image I am using when talking about Physical Interaction Design. In the important paper “How Bodies Matter: Five Themes for Interaction Design” (2006), Scott Klemmer et al. use the bicycle to talk about how the WIMP-interface is not taking advantage of our ability for “motor memory”. They suggest: “Assigning dedicated actions to different functions of a user interface can take better advantage of kinesthetic memory.”.
I always get a laugh when asking the audience to imaging to ride a bycicly by using drop-down-menues…

Market Research and Prototypes

Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?
– Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is talking here about quantitative research, because when you look into his process it becomes clear that he did a lot of what we call qualitative research:

For example when developing the Apple Stores, Steve Jobs set up a steady changing prototype of a store in an empty warehouse in Cupertino. And he forced a lot of people to come over and give feedback. Larry Ellison, founder and CEO of Oracle, is quoted to have said: “He was obsessed by every detail of the aesthetic and the service experience. It got to the point where I said, ‘Steve I’m not coming to see you if you’re going to make me go to the store again.’”

Jobs really like prototypes and their were basis of his discussions with Jonathan Ive and other product developers and managers – as Ive describes it:

This great room [main room in the Apple design center with six long steel tables for displaying and playing with works in progress] is the one place in the company where you can look around and see everything we have in the works. When Steve comes in, he will sit at one of these tables. If we’re working on a new iPhone, for example, he might grab a stool and start playing with different models and feeling them in his hands, remarking on which ones he likes best. Then he will graze by the other tables, just him and me, to see where all the other products are heading. He can get a sense of the sweep of the whole company, the iPhone and iPad, the iMac and laptop and everything we’re considering. That helps him see where the company is spending its energy and how things connect. And he can ask, “Does doing this make sense, because over here is where we are growing a lot?” or questions like that. He gets to see things in relationship to each other, which is pretty hard to do in a big company. Looking at the models on these tables, he can see the future for the next three years.

Much of the design process is a conversation, a back-and-forth as we walk around the tables and play with the models. He doesn’t like to read complex drawings. He wants to see and feel a model. He’s right. I get surprised when we make a model and then realize it’s rubbish, even though based on the CAD [computer-aided design] renderings it looked great.

He loves coming in here because it’s calm and gentle. It’s a paradise if you’re a visual person. There are no formal design reviews, so there are no huge decision points. Instead, we can make the decisions fluid. Since we iterate every day and never have dumb-ass presentations, we don’t run into major disagreements.

And – of course – Jobs did not really like Powerpoint: “People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”


(I couldn’t find a picture of the Apple Design Studio, but this one by Edwin Tofslie showing the evolution of Apple products is nice as well)(image source)

Physical vs. Digital

Steve Jobs was always into real products as Issacson writes: “Jobs liked to be shown physical objects that he could feel, inspect, and fondle.“.  But Jobs was also in what I would call “Physical Interaction”:

“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” he said. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

I really support this quote and therefore the space for creativity is really important! We need more thinking into this area.

Last but not least

Deciding what  not to do is as important as deciding what to do. That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.

Start-Ups by Designers December 8, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship.
1 comment so far


(image source)

One topic which makes me think on a regular base is the role of designers in the current economy and the way we educate for that role.

Already my professor, Hans (Nick) Roericht, challenged the role of a designer as a consultant and demanded a culture of “DIY for designers/entrepreneurs”:

Wirklich neue Ansätze, meint Roericht, blieben hierzulande oft auf der Strecke. Grund genug, sich als „Selber-Macher” zu betätigen. Was er auch seinen Studenten einschärft: Nicht auf den aussterbenden Posten des angestellten Designers in der Industrie spekulieren! Nicht mehr um die Gunst des Kapitals buhlen, sondern selbst Dinge in Angriffnehmen! (source: design report 5.95)

(Rough translation: Good ideas are often stuck with nowhere to go. That’s a good reason for designers go DIY. Roericht teaches to his students: One should not stay in the dieing-out role of an designer for hire! One should not court for the grace of capital, but should just do it!)

This way of thinking is today more right than ever as the cost of new “products” are getting lower and lower due to modern production technologies and due to the acceptance of digitale products!

A couple of month ago I posted my joy about a Start-Up Seed Fund addressing designer, who are starting a new company.

Our concept behind Fritzing is also to reduce start-up costs for hardware-based innovations – Please check out our production service for Fritzing-PCBs, which we launched a couple of weeks ago.

And of course the very basic idea of me teaching Service Design is to prepare students also for a role as an entrepreneur!

So, I am very happy, when my MA-student David Ikuye pointed this project to me:


(image source)

Enrique Allen, one of the founders of above mentioned designers fund, is preparing a book on designers founders:

Designer Founders: stories by designers of tech startups, is a non-profit book of 35+ rare personal interviews with founders who have various design backgrounds such as Chad Hurley (YouTube), David Karp (Tumblr), Matt Shobe (Feedburner), Caterina Fake (Flickr), Brian Chesky & Joe Gebbia (AirBnB), Ryan Freitas (About.Me), Rashmi Sina (Slideshare), Jeff Veen (TypeKit), Dave Morin & Dustin Mierau (Path), Daniel Burka (Milk), Christina Brodbeck (TheIceBreak), Aza Raskin (MassiveHealth), Alexa Andrzejewski (Foodspotting), Khoi Vinh (Mixel), Lisa Strausfeld (Major League Politics), and legends like Mitch Kapor (Lotus). (source)

I am looking forward to this book!

M2M for beginners December 3, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship, innovative interfaces, new technologies, physical interaction design, prototyping tools.
1 comment so far

I just re-submitted a fund application for developing an M2M-development environment for non-engineers, following the philosophy of Processing, Arduino and Fritzing. Today, my colleague Stefan Hermann pointed out to me the project Twine, which is currently applying for crowd funding.


(image source)

Twine was invented by the two MIT-grads David Carr and John Kestner and already received more than 160K in funding! Well done and good luck!

(video source)

Patents……………… August 17, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship, innovative interfaces, legal, new technologies, physical interaction design.
add a comment

Working with an university and especially in the innovative area between hardware and software, we are having the discussion about patents on a regular base.

Not only I am the inventor of some patents, which originated from various research projects, but also some of my students are currenty filing patents for inventions they did.

I must honestly say that I am not sure about patents for “small people”:

As seen in the current acquisition behavior of Google, of course patents make sense in big business.

How relevant are patents for small companies or even for “projects” as we would call it in Berlin?

When your plan is to start a company with the goal of selling this company, then I would say a key patent makes sense: it adds value to the company and furthermore protects your invention from being copied by a competitor. However, I would recommend to think really hard about the patent and to make it essential for the entire product philosophy of the company – as my friends from ic! Berlin, who protected their screwless hinge, which is essential part of all their glasses…


(image source)

When you are planning to build a product and sell it and you think that a patent for this particular product is going to protect you, then I would be careful:
First of all, filing a patent is a lot of work and quite expensive. You might miss that money and time in the product development or in the distibution.
Secondly, as you are not allowed to go public before filing the patent, you will hit the market later than you could, which might actually be your only advantage.
Thirdly, even though it is possible to file patents in Physical Interaction Design (as most inventions are in between hardware and software), I am not sure whether such patents are strong: technically most of these inventions are reconfigurations of existing technologies and I guess that it will be difficult to prevent others doing similar things as your patent might not cover all implementations of your idea.
Speaking of preventing others doing similar things – in our area it might be difficult to fight for your patent:  if one of the large competitors is copying your idea, what will you do? Do you have enough recourses to fight a legal war against highly paid advocates? Are you sure that you will win this war? And are sure that winning this war will be relevant for the sales of your product (maybe your competitor is targeting other audiences or the market for the product is anyway only temporary due to the high pace of innovation in our domain)?

So, my recommendation would be to start selling the product as soon as possible. Nobody else will be able to patent your idea then because you went public, so there is no danger from that side. And the earlier you start, the more chances are that you or your company will become the top dog  for that domain!

Good luck!

Pricing Models for Extra Feature in Cars May 17, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship, gadgets, service design.
add a comment

After some discussion within the – quite proud of being close to academic thinking – team of our design research firm whether or not it is ok to quote the yellow press, we decided to do so:

The pricing model of extra features in cars is being accused by the Bild-Zeitung for being far to expensive. They use a trick, which we all would hate if it would happen in a restaraunt: to buy a not so expensive feature, one has to buy other, even more expensive features, which are not really related to the original feature.


(detail from price list)

The Number 1 in this article is the  “Pre-Crash-Safety-System” (Anti-Collision-Radar) in Toyota Prius, which costs 1500 Euro, however can only be ordered with  Lederausstattung (leather interior, 1700 Euro) und der Executive-Ausstattung (executive fitting, 3300 Euro), so it ends up with 6700 Euro.
Interesting: only with leather interior…
(It is actually true, you can check the price list here.)


(detail from price list)

BMW does a similar trick when selling a couple of digital features as Sourround View or Spurwechselwarnung (Lane Change Warning). You need – amongst others – to buy the feature “Innen- und Außenspiegel automatisch abblendend” (interior and exterior mirror automatically screening off, 550 Euro)(price list here).

First of all that fits very well to the wonderful book “Predictably Irrational“, which I discussed recently, where the author writes: “it is so easy for a person to add 200$ to a 5.000$ catering bill for a soup entrée, when the same person will clip coupons to save 25 cents on a one-dollar can of condensed soup.”

Furthermore I think that you need to have some reasoning to argue a certain price, whether it makes sense or not as e.g. the leather interior for a anti-collision-radar. In the complex situation of purchasing a car, people might just forget that not every argument is logical.

To protect customers of having the feeling of being cheated maybe it would be helpful to show these dependencies in a more visual way – eventually with some explanation!

Serious Play in HBR May 16, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship, gamification, social computing.
add a comment

The Harvard Business Review had last month an article on gamification or „Serious Play“ as they call it. They write about Badgeville, a concept very similar to what my students are going to present this week at the un-conference “sustainable lifestyles and entrepreneurship”. Furthermore the author, David Armano, who is Executive Vice President at Edelman, talks about the “social reward economy” and four points, which he considers important in this context:

Competition: Here he reminds us that “friendly competition” is the way to go – however he fails in decribing this concept in a detailed way. I agree with Armano that “not everyone enjoys competition” and therefore I also understand his idea/wish for friendly competition. However, I am not so sure how a solution for this can look like – especially in times of economic downturns. Friendly competition can easily turn unfriendly – once a company has to let go employees…

Play: Armano example for play is the Twitter slot machine, which they displayed when they were acquiring another company. Might have been fun, and I am sure that ‘play’ can often be fun. However, I am not sure that this very literally implementation of play in the business world is what we talk about when we talk about gamification: In my point of view, play means that a serious task is turned into play through certain strategies as e.g. breaking the tasks down to small subtasks which are easily accomplished.

Revard: That’s good and important.


(image source)

Status: I guess this is closely linked to competition and the leaderboard, also mentioned in his description of “competion”. Armano is quite interested in algorithms that allow to measure one’s status in online reach. He mentions two companies, which do so: “Klout-The Standart of Influence“, which “uses over 35 variables on Facebook and Twitter to measure True Reach, Amplification Probability, and Network Score.” (company’s description). The other company Armano mentions is one he is affiliated with and is called SocMetrics, which develops a ranking of “top influencers” based on topics. Another system in this direction is the way the influence of researchers are measured (please dont check me…), through the G-Index and H-Index, as implemented in Microsoft’s academic search engine.

I need to investigate these kind of topic-centered, but global leaderboards a little more to see whether they work or not and to see whether they are motivating or not. One argument agains them is already mentioned in the article: people might cheat…!

Finally: A Start-Up Seed Fund for Designers April 8, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship.
1 comment so far

As I mentioned in my talk when applying for the full professorship, I think that designers, especially interaction designers, should become entrepreneurs! We invent really important and successful services and interfaces, but usually as “mercenaries for hire, helping other people get rich.” – as Enrique Allen of 500 Startups says.

Allen is also arguing that some of the most innovative start-ups recently were founded by designers – as you can see on the image:

So I am happy to see that there is finally a Start-Up Seed Fund tageting designers. Allen is currently establishing the d.fund, which will be giving designer-entrepreneurs access to mentorship by some of world’s most successful designer entrepreneurs.

Please apply!

(via mashable)