06 September 2006

After a 7 year nap…

I make a habit of reading the Wall Street Journal nearly every morning. And, almost every morning I read about some marketing exec or CEO making a grand announcement that the company is making a bold move into the future. They painted the picture of a vision that is optimistic, visionary and one that will bring grand ROI to the stockholders. Good Lord!

This morning’s headline was about Cisco. They have awoken from a deep slumber to determine that their technology could be marketable in the in home entertainment market. No kidding?

I am no rocket scientist, but I do recall some eight years ago, in a small company I built in Kansas… installing a Cisco router myself. Yes, I was head of the company and the IT guy as well as wearing many other hats. I was amazed at the elegance and cleverness of the installation and configuration process. The quality of the router was on par with what seemed a huge investment for our little company. I also remember thinking that these guys are going to be huge when high-speed networking merges with entertainment (music and video) in the home. Never really gave that much more thought until today.

My current employer is another example. Who was driving AOL for the last 10 years? The company was asleep while the market shifted. This, the company that invented chat, , that set the standard for online forums and made online advertisement tolerable. This company has done amazing things, yet is now a follower.

So what is my point? Companies that lose track of the market (what customers will want) and that do not aggressively invest in R&D are destined to fail – or at least fall into a long expensive slumber. How many times must we watch this corporate stupor unfold?

04 September 2006

Kill your babies, NOW!

We all get caught up in our own mini accomplishments… works or partial works that we obsess over and that meet and surpass what we had hoped to accomplish. If we are artist – that works out great. In fact is it one of the criteria. Egocentric creation is what separates artist from designers. It was a writer that first exposed me to the concept of “killing your babies,” those little very cool part that we create and can’t let go of.

A wordsmith may become infatuated with an elegant phrase, a musician with a riff, a designer with a graphic. We all do it. Something we create, that meets our sense of “wow,” within the process of a project, of which we cannot let go.

One of the best books I have read on writing is Howard S. Becker’s “Writing for Social Scientists.” He tells of a young graduate student that is trying so hard to write smart, that she looses track of the reader. This is the essence of user-centered work. Malcolm Gladwell is the master of converting complex issues into easy to understand works. He understands his subject matter, and the perspective of his reader. And he matches them simply and elegantly.

In my experience, young socially esteemed visual designers have the hardest time with this. They know not when to pick the right battle, and hang on to their pet “cool” for far to long, whether it fits with the project or satisfies the client’s objectives – they just will not let go. If you find your self stuck, designed into a corner. Try throwing out one of your favorite elements. It works wonders. It will help you to refocus on the true objective and move beyond your momentary obsession.