Sound Design

How well can you concentrate at work? in the classroom? In this speech Julian Treasure demonstrates how noise can make it harder for us to concentrate, and makes a plea for architects to consider sound in their designs.

It’s one of my regular complaints about modern design, my mother is deaf and wears a hearing aid most days. In most modern cafes she cannot hear what is going on due to the reverberation of sound from the ubiquitous hard surfaces and the music. I recently moved desks in my office just to get a slightly quieter work environment, and I live in an old house – I can hear way too much of my upstairs neighbour’s activities (especially when the football is on). Sometimes I put on some soothing classical music so that I can listen to that instead.

The design fashion for hard surfaces and open plan spaces can make it harder to concentrate, and that’s a loss of productivity in a work environment.

Just Stop It: Pinterest Torture

Pinterest is the latest-greatest-fastest-growing social media platform, with a high conversion rate. Meaning that users are likely to buy something they’ve pinned, according to a small survey done Harvard Business Review 12% of pinterest users have gone on to make an online purchase of something they’ve pinned, and 16 % go on to make an offline purchase of something they’ve pinned.

Great news for businesses.

So why then do businesses pin a great image of their latest trendy product and then…

when I click on it give me this;

Requiring me to create an account in order to see the product price.

Guess what – I don’t. And I’m not alone.

Amazon, surely the standard-setter in online retail, lets you browse as long as you want, and offers you deals and discounts before asking you to log-in or create an account. Everything we know about transactions online says that the customer will only give you information when they’ve made a decision to buy – and that you shouldn’t put anything in the way of that decision. Once that decision is made then the customer is very task oriented, they’ll create accounts and do what they need to complete their purchase.

In the mean time; let me browse – who knows I may find a second pair of sunnies for the weekend.

Dutch Design; Cycling Style

Two of the things I like about living in Amsterdam; cycling everywhere, and Dutch pragmatism. Both are combined in latest bike design from VANMOOF.

VANMOOF design for urban cyclists, so their bikes are sturdy, but light and stylish. It’s dark here at 4pm in winter so the lights are built in and there’s a dynamo integrated into the bike. Bike theft is the most common crime here, so there’s a built in lock – one that comes out of the frame. I’ve noticed their distinctive design around town but didn’t know what they were until recently.

The design is so good it’s won awards.

The interesting thing about this company is they’re trying to design new products with genuine co-creation, take a look at their facebook page – they are always asking for feedback at every step of the process. They’re heading for 7,000 likes, and the community is submitting photos and stories of their VANMOOF bikes from all around the world.

Not only have I “liked” their facebook page, I want one of their bikes!

(Disclaimer – no of course they didn’t pay me to write this).

A Bite of the Apple

If you were hiding under a rock last month then you might have missed the news that Steve Jobs resigned his role as CEO of Apple, although he retains his role as Chairman.

Apple has become an iconic company, their understanding of design as integral to the way we use technology has revolutionised design across the industry. It’s also a company that attracts fans known to be, well, zealous. Which means that it attracts some pretty zealous detractors as well.

So the announcement that he was stepping down has CEO did cause a slight wobble in Apple’s shareprice – it was down at the end of the trading day – and it led to an outpouring across the internet of… admiration. He was lauded across twitter, at one point he and Ghadaffi were the trending topics. There’s a site where you can tweet your thanks to Steve Jobs directly, and of course you can rely on someone to make a joke out of it.

Every tech blog/site is rushed publish their take on the news, with personal reminiscences, or praise for Steve’s leadership, or paraphrasing him to advise others, or advice for Apple as a company. There’s already a video of his life already.

Of course there are a few detractors, but overall it was a love fest. A lot of the adulation is warranted, although part of the outpouring is surely because Steve Jobs is not a well man, one of the articles linked to above even calls itself a eulogy. However ill he is it’s clear that the commentators are here to praise Jobs, not to bury him.

I am typing this on a Mac, there’s an iPod in my bag, and I recently bought and iPad, so clearly I’m a fan but I’m not evangelical about Apple. I do resent the limits Apple builds into its products and in other industries the locked relationship such as between hardware and software would be challenged as an anti-competitive level of vertical integration.

The company is good at what it does, the sales figures, the growing market share, the profits, and the share price and point to a strong business. But what I’ve found disquieting in all this love fest is the number of commentators saying that Apple will never be the same. Not to take anything away from Steve Jobs, but there’s a team of people running Apple with a combined experience with the company of more than 100 years (plus some handy background experience at companies such as Intel).

We like the idea of a great man and a great leader, but surely a company is stronger with a leadership team.

In fact one commentator did point out that Tim Cook has been an effective (acting) CEO during Steve Job’s extended leave of absence and goes on to suggested that one reason behind this decision is to retain Tim Cook, since he would be a desirable hire for any number of companies.

In any case; the company is fundamentally strong, a lot of the expertise that made the company great is still there. And although the sentimental outpourings continue, the share price was up again at close of business the day after the announcement.

Now if only I could get wordpress to work on my iPad.

image apple

“Let the Data set change your Mind Set”

Another fantastic TED talk on data visualisation, and how it might help us understand the enormous amounts of complex information we’re facing.

I love working on visualisation of information, and have had mild success in simplifying problem statements or project goals into single images. I admit I get a kick out of the moment when the data/information “clicks” into place and the diagram becomes clear and simple. I get another click when someone else’s response is along the lines of “ah, now I get it”.

Brainstorming – 7 tips

I was invited to a brainstorming session a couple of weeks ago, I jumped at the chance – I love brainstorming sessions, I tend to come out of them with more ideas for my own work as well as contributing some to the session.

But this one fell flat and I’ve been thinking about what went wrong and what makes a good brainstorming session. Here’s what I’ve come up with;

Choose a time when participants have some energy to be creative; Friday last thing might not be the time of the week when people are feeling their most energetic or creative – or it might be a good opportunity if you can move them to a different environment and finish the week on a high.
Go somewhere different, or do something different to make the participants feel they’re outside the office and away from their work. One friend spent 50 euro at IKEA to buy everything needed to create a picnic environment for his brainstorm.
Choose a mixture of participants; you want a mixture of approaches, ideas, thought processes. Try to have a mixture of introvert and extroverts – but make sure the introverts get a chance to be heard. If the brainstorm is about a creative issue, for example a product name, make sure there are people in the group from the target audience – and make sure their voices are heard.
Make sure the purpose of the brainstorming is clearly defined; “re-imagining how we work” or “naming the new product”.
Be very clear on the process – even if not all steps are disclosed to the participants up front. The process should include;

  • set ground rules – everyone’s ideas are valid, no ‘black hat‘ reactions, no blocking, no evaluating of ideas
  • a briefing, outlining the purpose, the context, and how the outcomes of the brainstorm will be used
  • an exercise to switch people’s thinking out of their daily grind mindset, I’ve used masks to reinforce that we needed to look at the question through different eyes
  • an exercise to generate ideas – this should be a no holds barred free for all idea session
  • order ideas – group or order the ideas, for example if the exercise is around naming a product you might group the names into types such as “emotional”, “descriptive” and “new word”
  • discuss – it’s important to discuss how everyone arrived at their ideas, sometimes this will help convince at the next step, or help people think of new direction

I always go into a brainstorming hoping we’ll get the perfect answer, sometimes that doesn’t happen. It’s important that you drive towards the goal but don’t force it; if the right answer doesn’t come out of the brainstorm be positive about what has been offered and reinforce what the next step will be.
Do something original to make the brainstorm fun. Our meeting rooms have glass walls and after the brainstorm were I used masks I had several people ask if they could join the next session. Dare a little, it will be appreciated.

The best brainstorming session leaves everyone feeling positive about the project, and invested in the outcome – even if it wasn’t “their” idea that was chosen.

What was the best brainstorming you’ve been to?

image Brainstorms at INDEX: Views /Jacob Botter/ CC BY 2.0

Unexpected Beauty

At TedX Amsterdam I came across this unexpected beauty of a presentation, about (more or less) unexpected beauty, and titled From pretty to ugly and back again; mysterious ways of beauty in photography.

He speaks on photography’s relation to art, his own photography and his journey back go photography. Which lead to someone calling him and saying “We hear you are in possession of a camera”. He now writes about photography. His lecture is a delight; thought-provoking and humorous.