25 February 2006

If I wanted to be really rich…

Ok, let me rephrase, if I was 18, and my number one priority was to be very wealthy, no matter what, what would I do? Well, if I was really smart and had better math acumen, I would work to become a hedge fund manager. The more curious route, and the subject of today rant is as follows:

Step one – get an undergrad degree in a tech field, computer science, engineering, bio-whatever.

Step two – get a law degree, nearly any school will do.

Step three – get a job in a litigation firm, learn all I could and save every penny. Write down every single idea for a technology product and certify mail it to myself. You can probably see where this is headed.

Step four – this is where it gets interesting. Leave my steady job and set p shop. Search VC forums, tech blogs and go to CES every year. File law suits against every small company that offers a product even close to one of my earlier documented brain farts. In no time I would have amasses a nice fortune and my family, my family’s family and so on would likely never need to worry about money.

Of course, that would require that I be void of scruples, morals and ethical values (yes, I do understand the difference amongst these).

Patent and trademark law, and specifically the litigation of these MUST be overhauled in the US. I believe that it is an issue of such gravity that the current system is creating enormous economic drag for the country.

To defend a patent infringement suit my friends (who know more of this than I) tell me 2.5 mill will just get you to the table. It just goes up from there. If you are small company with innovative products coming to market, should this really be ‘just an expected cost of business?”

These 7-year college trained parasites are killing innovation advancement in America and having a huge impact on the products, services we can and will offer the rest of the world. Should innovation be the strict domain of the conglomo’s?

Entrepreneurship is responsible for the marginal growth in jobs, earnings and quality of life that we have enjoyed over the last 50 years. Not big business, not big government, but small highly motivated start-ups like Ewing Kauffman.

As I write this friends of mine are having to nearly shut down viable businesses as a result of illegitimate patent litigation that they clearly cannot afford to defend in a US court. But that is just a small portion of my concern. Relatives, Angels, and Venture Funds all, are aware of the risk. How quickly can we unload a new tech company to someone with the resources to defend their innovation? Is that really how we want to do and build business for the future?

I wish I had an answer here… but at least I have a call to arms. I know plenty of honest hard working attorneys, but will they be the ones to overhaul the system? Do we dare trust this to the politicians? Help me - tell me - who will be the white knight in this situation?

22 February 2006

The sunset policy

Just after writing about web 2.0 apps and trust - whether you own an ap, license it forever, two things happened. First, I purchase an expansion module to SPSS, a statistics software package only to find that my main license has expired. Unbeknownst to me, the academic license ran January 05 to January 06. Now, in order to use the much more expensive add on module, I have to purchase a new license. Not tickling my fancy here.

Then, I read in the Wall Street Journal today, Lee Gomes column where he describes discovering Intuit's "Sunset Policy" for quicken. Suddenly his software, no longer works. Admittedly a small amount of money, the $30, was extorted from him (my characterization, not Gomes) before he could gain the same functionality that he had had available for many years.

It has always annoyed me when an Adobe or other software giant charges an annual fee for a minimal upgrade. Those upgrades often include some level of file incompatibility. So suffer the inconvenience, loose the functionality you've come accustom to, or pay up. Maybe the difference between cpu resident aps and web 2.o aps won't make a bit of difference to the end user in the long run. I am annoyed by this trend.

The ‘apple’ process

First, I should set the stage… I recently had my first job interview in over 20 years. I have had interactions with several companies, all of them high tech, and all of them international. My conversations were a result of what appears to be a rare and now sought after combination of degrees. An MBA and a Masters in Interaction Design, to say nothing of a BFA prior to that seems to be the exception to the rule.

I have spent a lot of that time asking designers, managers and researchers inside these companies about their the process for innovation. Some have a clear and defined process, others more exploratory but they were most all willing to discuss it.

It is hard to read a blog or even search for “innovation” without being hit over the head by the “IDEO” process. Tom Kelley or Tim Brown are always ready to promote or explain their process, even to the point of writing somewhat redundant books on the topic.

So to the point… I spent a week in the Union Square - SoMa area in January at MacWorld. Part working (I am just leaving the post of VP Marketing for Griffin Technologies) part of fun (have been a long time Mac guy) and part as an informal job search. In at least six conversations with Apple employees I tried to ask about their process for innovation. Often it was in the form of, “tell me about your new product development group?” On more than one occasion I got the exact same answer. “Oh, that would Steve, you know, Steve Jobs”. Yeah, I HAVE heard of the guy. Come on, is the Apple PR hype machine a well oiled machine or what? Can one guy really be the epicenter for all of these innovations? Surely there are a bunch of qualified elves helping Santa? While I fully appreciate the benefits of secrecy, a small leak hear or there would be nice.

A recent interview in Time (October 24, 2005) gave some insight into what t is not. But, I want to know, does apple do cultural centric market investigation? Do they do qualitative design research? Do they employ ethnographers, social scientists, cognitive folks? Do they spend time in the field? Or, is it just supreme all knowing magical wisdom that guides their product development. With all due respect to the almighty “Steve” of course.

21 February 2006

Calling Mr. Keeley!

Four some years I have been researching, taking classes, working on innovation. At so many turns I have read interviews and articles by Larry Keeley. In nearly every one of them the subject of his book 'Taming of the new" is mentioned. I think as far back as the mid 1990's. Really Mr. Keeley, this is not to take exception to the time required for a quality product. But I am really curious - and not getting any younger. So much great work, so much respect (and so absolutely earned). I really, really want to read the book. Please share soon. The notion of raising innovation success from 4% to 50 or 70 is not trivial. I would be happy with 25!

The great and almighty (designer) oz…

You know the line… “pay no attention to the man behind that curtain.” I hear people talk about others and pay compliments like “she is SUCH a great designer” or “if I only had his skills.” It is possible that spend way too much time pondering a speciic definition of design. Or, that my notion of great is on a single deminsion. I wonder how this can be so simply gauged and so under explained?

What is a great designer… a producer of pretty things? Someone who solves problems? One who makes the client happy and gets invited back, over and over again? This is such an important question that when I hear these statements I want to stop and ask for clarification. Trust me, it’s a pretty quick conversation killer. All I want to know is what makes them great.

Being the outside designer…

I have not worked in other peoples companies much. I have worked for most of my life as a freelancer or as a contractor. I have had companies… but I managed designers mostly. Sometimes when we work with the in house staff things go great. We have great relationships. We do great work. Other times, it just does not work. We are seen as superior snobs… a threat. I don’t get that.

We’ve been called in a number of times to set up standards for identity, for brand, for marketing. Usually it is for a new perspective. Sometimes it is to capture talent that does not exist internally. Other times it is more political. Like no single in house designers has the authority, or the respect (often they really do have the talent and experience) to set these things up.

I suppose that it maybe too late to go back and become an in house designer. I suppose that is just another empathy that I am not capable of experiencing.

The web 2.o and trust

It is a simple issue really. How independent do you feel the need to be? How independent are we now. I feel a bit old school. I do not like the idea of having to log onto the net to use a simple ap to word process, build a spread sheet, or edit a photo. I like having all of MY software on MY computer.

Yes, I know, I only have a license to own it. But in the moment-to-moment use of that software, and the instant I am inspired to embark on a new project there is a satisfaction. The satisfaction that the tools I need are waiting on my laptop or at home. For the moment, I seem to need this.

And yes, I do work as part of a virtual team quite often. We phone, we email, we iChat and even skype. Online groupware sounds cool. Do I need it? Probably not. Will it be more effective, more efficient? We’ll see. Basecamp and Collective X both look promising.

But what if I have an urgent issue and need to work. The electrical storm knocked out my cable, my electricity. Or, worse… I forgot to pay the cable AND the phone bill. Then what? A trip to Starbucks?!? More likely a long run or bike ride through the woods. I guess work could wait.

What about all the scrolling?

I know this is and old, old topic. But lately, I have been putting more thought into all the scolling on the sites I visit. Certainly we have all faced enough people in our work and lives who 'hate' to scroll. I personally, don't mind so much. But from a user centered perspective, should we as web designers force people to use the browsers scroll bar just to explore? I think not. More and more I am of the mind to contain content to 900 x 600. That size suites the mainstream 1024 x 768, plus all that other stuff that windows and the browser needs.

If the content needs more width, or length, then code the scroll into the html. In that event the user only needs to scroll if the content is truely of interest. Seems like an easy enough concession.

Is there a new er, uhm, old hip?

Hip – the phenomena of finding the newest up and coming ‘thing’ and introducing it to the social order though semi-subtle use. The ‘thing’ can be action oriented, an object, a term or any other behavioral artifact. Introduction is key and the minute this ‘thing’ has been adopted by the mortals or followers (regular people) it is dropped. The obvious exception being the case that this ‘thing’ results in fame, money, sustained cool, or the promise of getting laid.

Note: pure hip theory says that the moment the advocator is aware or conscious of the hip ‘thing’ - it is ceases to be hip.

Hip 2.0 – the retro version. The resurrection of something old as it becomes retro cool. For example: muscle cars, 70’s motorcycles, bellbottoms, bowling shoes and led zeppelin. This is particularly acute for boomers and their children. If these things have never stopped being cool to you, then they really don’t count so much.