22 May 2006

Chicago, IIT/ID Strategy 06. – Day Two

Sorry for the delay… but it was graduation weekend and between that, project deadlines and being a bit travel worn, well, I just plain dropped the ball.

The first presentation I saw on Thursday was that of Ben Tsiang. And although he had a lot to say about business in China I felt like much of it was redundant from the number of international business classes I have taken. His take via SINA.com (his company) was however, a nice variation.

Later that morning Douglas Look gave us a quick look (sorry) of his work at IIT. When I say quick, I mean it… maybe 10 minutes. I look forward to downloading his presentation. I think some of the tools and matrix were interesting and I intend to study them with a bit more diligence.

The most intriguing presentation was that of Clement Mok. I have heard Clement talk quite a few times and have had some interesting debates with him – though always focused on design management and interaction. This talk was focused on Advertising Agencies. I have felt for 15 years that the Agency Model is broken. The first problem is that of consult vs. sales. I believe that it is very hard to do both and maintain integrity. But I also believe that every employee must understand and be sales oriented.

Clement has spent the last 9 months studying the prospects for agencies in interactive and Internet advertising. He is heading in the right direction. Two things struck me as absolutely crucial and quite accurate in my opinion. First, when advertising on the net, the medium is an extremely important component of the message. Second, most agencies are in panic mode, but they have been for the last five years. And, they are absolutely asking the wrong questions. There are so many assumptions being extended from old media to new media. This is the basic problem of heuristic work. Assumptions are made and not re-thought in the current context amid inevitable change. That is where the gold is… hard to find, but rich in opportunity.

Natalia Davis and Russell Redenbaugh gave an interesting presentation that focused on the financial aspect of design and innovation performance. This is an important topic for designers, and likely alludes to the groundwork for more overlap between business and design in IIT’s conference and academic agenda. Notice the current fad of combining MBA degrees with Design Degrees. IIT/ID and Kansas are doing this… and there is merit to the concept. But business programs have been partnering with other disciplines for quite a while. Back to the presentation… Natalie and Russell presented a beautiful concept together to sell their vision of the importance of shareholder value. It is a critical message for designers, but my guess is that this audience is very much focused on the user as the primary stakeholder. I am sure that it is quite effective for them in presenting their consulting services.

One great quote from Russell that demands mentioning, “good companies squander abundant resources and protect the scarce ones.” We designers should all have this tattooed somewhere as a constant reminder. And the accountants need to learn that to aggressively invest in R&D when times get tough is not only a valid but crucial strategy. A favorite professor of mine once said, “really know the market, develop a solid evidence based plan, and because you did those two things, bet the ranch.”

The last formal presentation of the day came from Jeremy Alexis and Cynthia Benjamin. Again, the theme of business and designer working together was covered. As an MBA with an MA in design, I needed no convincing. But the presentation was a great experience for those designers that silo themselves.

I rarely get anything out of roundtables – so I am going to blow that off completely.

Something happened and Bruce Nussbaum was unable to do the conference wrap up. Instead, Christopher Meyer stepped up and quickly gathered his notes and gave one of the most dynamic and compelling presentations of the conference. He spoke of design in terms of Context (the past), Merging (the present) and Emerging (the future). He talked briefly on Daniel Pink’s notion of design (MFA/MA) being the new MBA. He also spoke of the classic designer vs. businessperson dilemma that Roger Martin focused on the day prior. Chris’ take was basically that designer need to get over it. I could not agree more… working, and presenting at the executive level is something designer MUST learn to do.

Chris mentioned and interesting view of the value chain… reversing it so that it has more meaning. I am not sure I fully gather the implications in this moment, but I assure you I will be researching and postulating.

There was so much content in Meyer’s final wrap up that I could go on for days… but maybe it is best that I don’t. And maybe it is best if you just make sure to be there next year. I know that I will.

Note: I must recant something I wrote in my review of day one. I was a bit taken aback by Patrick Whitney’s shortness when we met. To be fair to Patrick, he is in high demand at this event and it was presumptuous to even think of demanding or deserving more of his time. An introduction was my goal, and that accomplished, we were and should have been done. Sorry Patrick!