24 March 2007

Pattern Libraries - all things in moderation.

The obvious trend for the alert web site designer is the emergence of pattern libraries obscuring the use of style guides and design standards. The common thinking that these libraries help the designer to solve problems better - instead of setting rule is absolutely spot on. This is systems thinking and guidelines heading in a more intelligent direction. But here is the rub. As many businesses are obsessed with cost control and reducing variables, these libraries will become a stock catalog of interactions. This is unavoidable... must we, as designers, must not let it reduce risk, experimentation and the expansion of new thoughts regarding interactions. It would be easy to get lazy... there is still a long ways to go.

23 March 2007

Mobile context

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to get that when you move web services to Mobile, you have the opportunity to tune that service to mobile context. But how you do that does require some work. Motorola for instance has been doing mobile contextual research for years. As a proactive research initiative, few technologies are more effective than situational studies.

Matt Mayhew's group of cross discipline investigators in Chicago has been deep working this way for a while. How I would love to have access to that insight, but they are wisely, not likely to publish it. Unfortunately, great work on the front end doesn't always translate into great products. In a large corporate structure, traditional business thinking still allows too much opportunity to kill great ideas.

The big downside here is that Motorola seems to be held back by a waterfall process and miles of bureaucracy. The lack of innovation in the days since the RAZR's introduction make me wonder how committed to new process and innovation the company really is. All that we have seen recently are degradations of the RAZR's form factor - that frankly pale in comparison.

Pick your target... please!

Everyday I am amazed at the angst in business. It is prevalent in so many of the companies I talk to. Business leaders are so afraid to lose the current marketshare they have that they can not embrace one critical strategy for success. In order to get the customers/clients that you really want, you must loosen your grip on those that don't quite fit. Set them free and the right ones will come.

For God's sake please pick a target market. When asked who is the primary customer, "everyone" is not an acceptable answer. Yet executives continue to repeat it. Countless case studies show the benefit of owning a market segement... and then replicating that system in another, and another. Do your homework, have a solid plan, don't try to be all things to all people.

Is Chicago the center of American Design Thinking?

Likely so. While the AIGA will want to tell you that it is New York, design has rapidly moved beyond fashion. The folks steering d.school at Stanford have some pretty high aspirations and they will likely get there, but boatloads of money and bunch of PhD's don't necessarily make you great. Carnagie Mellon is absolutely a player. But when it comes to pushing the envelope of design and design's practical applications - IIT/ID is at the forefront. This is not to say it is the best design school, that is a personal decision for each and every design student. But I think critical to what ID brings us is their lack of an undergraduate program. They have picked a specific area/market and doing extraordinary things. Last May's Strategy conference was possibly the best assemblies I have attended (and some say it was a down year). If you have not been to on, I highly recommend it.

21 March 2007

The follower's dilemma

Working in a large corporations absolutely waters down your apparent effect on success. Yes, I can be a team player. Yes, I can be patient enough to manage the slow moving sloth like change, but can I exist for long in a company that is comfortable being the follower?

The standard text book strategy for market followers is: optimize the market leaders R&D investments through imitation, reduce overhead to increase margin, and hopefully you will gain enough market share that you can become a leader and then invest in R&D of your own. Hmmmm. I get this. And a dozen or so years ago this worked quite well in many situations.

There are several problems here. First, market leadership can be defined in by more than the single dimension of gross income. Product leadership and brand perception are two important categories that this strategy somewhat ignore. In fact there are plenty of examples that might imply those later measures have more long term significance than the current market share as measured by dollars.

On large question that looms for me is, how do you continue to motivate and attract top tier talent, when the follower's strategy appears to be here for the long term? I have to think that money is only a portion of the incentive picture here.

20 March 2007

Independent photography in stock

To say I was disappointed last summer when Getty purchased iStockPhoto is a huge understatement. Getty owns nearly all of the stock photohouses and monopolies, frankly, are not good for anyone. So when I came across Lucky Oliver I was more than just a little happy. An independent stock house with a similar transaction model to iStockPhoto.

Lucky Oliver, or [ www.luckyoliver.com ] has a nice filtering system. When a search is executed, along with a bunch of images, you get a list of search terms pulled from the image library you are looking at. You can selectively turn any or all of these term on or off to narrow or broaden your search. This simple and elegant system works great. Additionally, you can click any of the terms directly and begin a new search.

So I find myself wondering... wondering if stock photography is the new yellow pages. Here is what I mean... if you and five of your other photographer freinds start a web stock house... say by chipping in 20 or 30 decent images each. Then you each contact say... 10 art directors and designers... you quickly have some traction. The each designer tells five others... well I'm sure you get it. Before long... we have a bunch of stock houses available on the net and Getty is no longer the only game around. Or, Getty buys all of us out and we can all retire. Either way... life is better.

19 March 2007


Nobody likes change... but too bad. It happens. I tried the new format - and I did not like it. I have gone back to a fairly plane design. Why? I am a designer... I should, after all design my blog right? Not so much. I obviously do not write this blog for money (note: no ads for google). I write to clear my head, share my thoughts and sometimes to vent. If anyone reads it great... if not, I am OK with that as well. But the point of this blog is not as a stepping stone to an online magazine or anything else. The point of this blog is pure and simple - words that express thoughts. It is a simple discipline and in this incarnation, I am not resorting to "cool, or to "images" or anything else. You get words. And if I can not communicate my ideas in this simple forum - then I will fail. And so it goes...

12 March 2007

SxSW - a conflicting experience

So - I was asked to speak at this year's SxSW conference. I had always wanted to go, the topic was right and so I jumped in with both feet. I recently wondered if I made the right move, or if I should have gone to the AI Summit. I would choose Austin over Vegas any day. But when it came down to it - making a passionate plee for more user research and better research methodologies was the only logical choice.

And now that I am here - I (think) I made the best choice. As a presenter, I may have a chance to help, to influence and to teach. Ego and accolades aside... I think we accomplished that.

But a trip to a national conference includes some expectation (I am all about manageing and setting these accurately). in my mind, you don't travel a thousand plus miles and spend thousand of dollars (especially when it is someone elses) just for validation. I came here to learn and to hear new ideas. Day three and I am still waiting. I have resorted to setting in some sessions about mobile. Mobile is an area that I have been researching, but have yet to actively touch. Finally, I am coming away from an hour of listening with more than I sat down with.

At this point, what I know about SxSW, is that it is a younger and less experienced crown. It is a nice mix of entrepreneurs, designers and techies. The real opportunities here are to be heard, for netwrking, for face-to-face conversations with normally dispersed talent, and of course for the scene that defines Austin. Live music, parties and warm weather in early spring - not that there is anything wrong with that... more to come.