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Review of Steve Jobs’ Biography January 9, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship, innovation process, jobs, methods, physical interaction design.
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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.


Why service design is the next big thing in cultural innovation December 13, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovation process, methods, service design.
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(image source)

In TheGuardien from 07.12.2011, there is a nice article on Service Design: The author, Rohan Gunatillake, is working with the Edinburgh Festivals Innovation Lab, which identifies and develops ways to improve the festival culture in Edinburgh – “for audiences, for artists, for partners and for the festival organisations themselves“.

In his article, Rohan makes a nice remark on what Service Design is: just as product design is a discipline where formal design methodologies and approaches are used to make your hoover, smartphone and car the best it can be for your needs and your lifestyle, service design does the same for experiences.

He then makes four statements, which sound quite familiar for us at IxDS as well:

  1. What people want isn’t always what organisations want
  2. We cannot afford to limit innovation just to technology
  3. We should be customising the wheel, not reinventing it
  4. We need a more established culture of prototyping

Especially the last one is interesting as I am wondering about a culture of prototyping in the area of festivals: Rohan published a “Festival Design DNA“, which “hosts a toolkit for how to apply service design for people-centred innovation in festivals and the wider cultural sector“. Here you can find the toolkit – under a CC license!

In this toolkit they present three prototyping approaches:

Desktop Walkthrough

(example for desktop walkthrough; image source)

Even though the descriptions are short and quite general and not  focussed on Service Design for festivals, I like their understanding of Desktop Walkthrough: Using figurines, complex services can be brought to life and visualised in 3D, enhancing your paper sketches.

And what do they suggest using?  Plastic figurines, Lego
Great idea!!!

(Thanks to Experientia)

The Uncanny Valley of Mobile Services December 12, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovation process, methods, mobile.
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In 1970 the Japanese researcher Masahiro Mori presented the concept of the Uncanny Valley:

(image source)

The uncanny valley is applied to human-like robots or to 3-D computer animations of humans.

Mori describes it in this translated version of his original paper (pdf here) as follows: the appearance is quite human like, but the familiarity is negative. This is the uncanny valley.

A lot of research has been done since 1970:

Some are trying to understand the origin of the Uncanny Valley as Karl F. MacDorman (2005) who relates this feeling of estrangement to the “Terror Management Theory”, which is concerning “how human beings manage their fear of personal extinction“.

Others are expanding the original model as Christoph Bartneck et al. , who are doubting that the uncanny valley in its quite simplistic approach really exists and are demanding a more complex discussion of this hypothesis. In his paper “My Robotic Doppelgänger” (2009) he compared a real person with his robotic Doppelgänger and could not confirm Mori’s hypothesis, however, the “participants were able to distinguish between the human stimulus and the android stimuli“, which I do not think was too difficult… 🙂 However, in my understanding of the uncanny valley, this estrangement is happening in the moment where you are not sure whether something is a robot or a human…

(image source) (Note: Hiroshi Ishiguro is a co-author of the paper)

Hiroshi Ishiguro is even suggesting to expand the framework and to take “behavior” and “appearance” into consideration (“Android Science – Toward a New Cross-Interdisciplinary Framework“, 2007):

(image source)

I am quoting this research because the behavior aspect of the uncanny valley can also be applied to human-like behavior, which is not visible as an robot or computer generated 3-D-person. In many “intelligent” services one could have the feeling that they come from humans, e.g. in the area of location based services:

Fjord, an agency, which “designs transformational digital services” – mostly for mobiles, explored the “Uncanny Valley”-hypothesis to mobile context:

(image source)

The sweet spot 1 “include simple, focused applications like local search or sat nav systems. They provide clear benefits at low cost to the user, and tend to be transparent about their limitations or how they make decisions.

The sweet spot 2 is like a “close friend”: “incredibly context sensitive, but also has very good sense of discretion, appropriateness and knows how to honour privacy.

At IxDS we developed a tool for prototyping contextual mobile services, which we called CWS (Contextual Web Services). This system is based on the concept of Wizard-of-Oz-Prototyping, which means that the user does not know nor experience that a human is controlling the contextual web service on his mobile. The operator is working with a PC-based dashboard which shows the profile of the test person, his/her location, the history of interactions and an easy-to-use interface to send/push a notification – with or without interactive elements. The user can give direct feedback whether he like a certain service or not:

(image source)

We also observed an “uncanny valley” when the suggestions became too personal. In the qualitative feedback following a three-week-test-period many test users indicated that they didn’t like too personalized suggestions – they found them “scary”…

Service Design at the RCA in London December 7, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in learning, methods, service design, theory.
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(image source)

The RCA has always been very influencal for the European and maybe even international design educaton: not only did I have the chance to work with Gillan Crampton Smith, who I consider to be one of the inventors of Interaction Design as a design discipline. I also consider the approach of Tony Dunne as very important for the role of designers as innovators.

Now the RCA announced a new MA program for Service Design. They are not the first academic institution to work in this field, still I am excited to see that they are approaching this field and I am looking forward to see how they are doing this.

Upon request I received a 16-page-pdf describing the course (I am not sure whether I can publish it, so please contact the RCA for this document). Some points in this paper were quite interesting:

Very positive is the broad understanding of Service Design:
The design of service experiences involves the design of the spaces and places in which services are delivered. It involves communications design, product design, interaction design and the exploitation of digital technologies that support those services.

The interdisciplinary nature of Service Design is nicely reflected in the collaboration with another university:
The core design-based courses will be complemented by Imperial College’s Department of Computing and Business School who will provide an introduction to, or enhance your technical skills in, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as well as business skills such as strategy, organisational behaviour and innovation management 

I also appreciate the academic approach to Service Design, which I don’t see so much with other institutions, especially in the area of the hyped “Design Thinking”: The course combines lectures, workshop and projects that are grounded in empirical evidence drawn from ‘real world’ practice as well as theory

“Measurement” seems to be an important topic and I am looking forward to seeing how this is applied to Services.

I aslo like the partnership with the “real live” as with IDEO, LifeWork and Engine. It is new to me that agencies are involved so closely into education, but I think this is a good approach.

Also their classification of Service Design is comprehensible and interesting:

  • Designing Consumer Service (e.g. Virgin Atlantic)
  • Designing Business to Business Service (e.g. IBM / Cisco)
  • Design of Public Services (e.g. Health, Social Services, Security)

It seems that Dr. Nick Leon will be running this course, at least it was him who sent me the mail – with the title “Head of Service Design”. Nick is currently leading Design London, a “collaboration between RCA and Imperial College London, with a remit to develop, teach, research, and deliver radical new practices, tools and processes that transform the way organisations innovate, and help them translate their creativity into commercial success.”

Too bad that I am already a professor; I would consider to study there… 🙂

Steve Jobs – again… :-) December 6, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in making the invisible visible, methods, new technologies, theory.
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Here is a nice video of Steve Jobs at the WWDC in 1997 (!) – responding to an insult from the audience. The insult is not the interesting part, but Steve’s respont to it:

One of the things I always found is that you gotta start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you are trying to sell it.

Then he illustrates his point with the laser writer, a very complicated technology with an easy to understand result – the high quality print out:

And I remember, seeing the first print out come out of it [the laster-printer], and just picking it up and looking at it and thinking: ‘We can sell this!’ Even if you don’t know anything about what is in that box, all we have to do is holding it up and asking: ‘Do you want this?’ […] And people went: “YES!”

And some mistakes will be made along the way – and that’s good: at least some decision were being made along the way!


Touch Points – the card game… December 5, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in making the invisible visible, methods, service design, theory.
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During our consulting work I realize more and more that a big portion of our time is dedicated to train customers in understanding the opportunities and challenges related to Service Design. The other day, we had a long discussion with a client in the financial sector to talk about Touch Points.

Today I stumbled on these “Touch Point Cards” by Simon Clatworthy from the Oslo School of Architecture & Design. Simon is researching “methods in service design” and came up with these cards, which – I supposed – are of great help in the brainstorming phase of a service innovation:

(image source)

 I just ordered a stack and will keep you updated…

Blind People and Interfaces September 15, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in methods, physical interaction design.
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Here a nice video observation/think aloud protocol of a blind person using an ATM:

(via boingboing)