Sunday, September 25, 2005

I Could Do It Myself

Make Magazine, fresh off of Issue #3, are clearly on to something. Sort of a Martha Stewart's Living for technology geeks, Make releases four "mook" issues per year (combine magazine with book and you get the idea). Highly visual and explanatory, Make claims status as "the first magazine devoted to digital projects, hardware hacks, and D.I.Y. inspiration." Readers will probably find themselves in the rubber-necking reader category. I doubt most will rewire a VOIP phone or decypher the magnetic strip off a credit card, but dang it's cool to check out how someone's done it.

Which brings me to my point: Someone figured it out, and if someone figured it out and can explain it to me it's almost like I figured it out - or at least I could have. What I'm suggesting is that there's magic in the possibility. When we witness someone wield a technology that is familar to us (PVC, digital cameras, TiVO, Google) but in a unique and inventive way, we become open to new possibilities. We see potential. We are inspired for a moment thinking "I could do it myself!"

Saturday, September 17, 2005

AIGA Design Conference (2005) - The Desire to Create

While common themes in presentations this week abound, I have been taken aback by many presenters discussing how individuals who create and design find personal power and meaning in the act of creation. This is particularly surprising, since many of the same presenters are discussing design’s larger role in society, politics, and culture and calling for responsible, altruistic action. It is not easy to resolve this potential discrepancy between minute-to-minute individual motivation and large scale social responsibility, but I believe there is magic in the synergy.

In presentations today, Citizen-Designer Milton Glaser suggested that designers (including himself) do what they do because they feel compelled to create things. I believe he implied here that most designers aren't driven because they like to solve problems, make money, or work with good clients, but because they like to make stuff. It is the act of creation.

Nicholas Negroponte talked about the MIT Media Lab having a mantra of "Demo or Die," then suggesting that creating objects serves as the Lab's medium for discussion.

Finally, Bill Strickland showed for his Manchester Craftsman's Guild and Bidwell Training center how "art is our portal out of poverty."

AIGA Design Conference (2005) - D.I.Y.

"If we teach them design, they will value us more."
-Ellen Lupton

While not exactly a member of the Church of Craft, Ellen Lupton did proclaim her faith in democratic creativity with the imminent release of her latest Book: DIY (Design it Yourself).

Sharing a long history of DIY, Ellen impressed us with 50's housewife toaster repair, The Last Whole Earth Catalog, Martha Stewart's aspirational DIY, and how to build a casket from IKEA flat-pack.

Ellen's sure to ruffle a few feathers in the design community with her open attitude, but I love her commitment to all of us applying design theory to everyday situations.
Walk-o-meter: 8.3 miles

Friday, September 16, 2005

AIGA Design Conference (2005) - Maeda's Open Studio

"...simplifying the basic tools for digtial expression will lead to a new creative economy."
- John Maeda

I had the opportunity to meet with John Maeda of MIT who announced a new project from his research team entitled Open Studio today. Described as an experiment in creativity, collaboration, and capitalism, Open Studio is designed to simplify tools for the creative process and provide a pseudo-currency model for tool use and object sharing. The MIT Media Lab showcase area at the conference is actively demoing the tool and environment and providing 100 Burak Dollars (virtual Open Studio currency) to conference particpants. While you're at the MIT station, check out some other must-see ideas that have been realized by various Lab-affiliated teams. Although the Open Studio environment is in its infancy, the concepts of distributed creativity and a shared and user-centric platform for creation is clearly expressed. I'm curious to see how this takes shape and hear the dialog that it generates.

The Open Studio project is scheduled for public release in October 2005.

AIGA Design Conference (2005) - opening remarks

Juan Enriquez, in the opening session presented fictitious headlines from a 500 year old newspaper. War, politics, and religious fundamentalism were the issues of the day - there was a shocking similarity to today's news, including some of the same countries and religions that cover our own front pages. The message: important things are going on right now that will shape our future and they don't revolve around the reactionary consensus built by politicians over terrorism, political agendas and disaster. Enriquez argues the next 50 years will be driven by critical shifts in technology, genetics, and global economics. Fundamental changes that require designers to get engaged, reach past the hype, and ensure a viable future for our children and all humanity. Check out his book, As the Future Catches You (signed copies sold out in a blink).
Local tidbit: If you don't like the weather, wait 20 minutes.
Walk-o-meter: 2.8 miles

Thursday, September 15, 2005

AIGA Design Conference (2005) - the anticipation

I'm fortunate to have this year's AIGA Design Conference in my own backyard. As the conference kicks off today, I hope to use this space to concentrate on my perspective of the event rather than a journalistic account of activities. In an attempt to interest people other than myself, I'll also be posting occasional local tidbits for conference goers and an ongoing total of how much footwork is really involved in a 4-day conference. This last bit will be gleaned from a pedometer I will have strapped to me at all times. My hope is this will accomplish at least one of the following:
a) Get me off my duff and down to every activity, even if it's to say "hey! I just hoofed it another .4 miles!"
b) Finally answer the question of how many miles a conference makes you walk
c) An excuse to blow off the gym this week
d) Get approached by a fellow conference-goer who spots the sleek look of my
sportline 350 and wants to discuss the merits of being a nerd

More to the meat of the conference, I'm particularly interested to hear how speakers will (or won't) use the platform to try and put definition around the design profession. For some reason that's not entirely clear to me, designers have an irresistable need to define what is or is not design: design is not art, design is process, design is collaboration, design is problem solving, design is visual, design is a job.

For the last several years, AIGA has taken the welcoming position of design as a "broadly defined discipline" regardless of its short-lived recent foray into design as communication (oops!). Nothing like a good identity crisis to get me interested.

Since I am not a graphic designer, I'm interested in AIGA as a cultural force providing less definition around design as a closed profession and more interest in the context, process, results, and importance of design-as-concept.
Local tidbit: Best beer and music selection within stumbling distance of the convention center: Bukowski.
Walk-o-meter: 0 miles

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Reversing the Innovation Process

Innovation processes often take shape around a compelling and unfulfilled need – one that is sufficiently powerful enough to inspire creative minds to devise a unique solution. Even traditional market research or more trendy user-centered design approaches are ultimately aimed at better understanding audience needs and defining a problem space in which to innovate.

I believe however, that some of the most innovative and successful ideas do not originate through a singular focus on addressing needs or solving well-defined problems. Perhaps this analytical problem solving does not provide the best foundation for the innovation process. We have difficulty imagining otherwise, since the very way we view innovation is as creative problem-solving. How could we create innovative solutions that do not start with a problem that needs solving?

The answer lies in what I call reverse innovation – or the concept that successful innovation can be viewed from the bottom up as the results of fruitful creative exploration of an individual or team, not as a top-down problem solving process. Viewed in this way, a successful innovation process might involve combining the right creative people with the right creative environments. These creative environments provide fuel for inspiration, tools for creation, and remove barriers (like customer needs, solution demands, and business requirements) that doom innovators to produce every day ideas or deflate thinking that generates and stimulates powerful ideas.

In short, reverse innovation concentrates on providing creative individuals with encouraging environments to cultivate and breed the best ideas. Who knows, maybe some of these ideas will even solve the toughest problems.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Democratizing Innovation

''A growing body of empirical work shows that users are the first to develop many, and perhaps most, new industrial and consumer products.'' - Eric von Hippel

The idea that users develop great volumes of successful innovations is not new, but it is perhaps shocking in its implications. This idea suggests that our traditional view of manufacturers or entrepreneurs as the primary and best source of new ideas may be flawed. Are the billions spent on R&D misguided and only introducing limited innovations? Additionally, there appears to be a growing trend for users to freely and openly distribute their innovations (think open source). This won't help businesses relying on secrecy and legal protection to leverage their own innovative assets.

In his new book “Democratizing Innovation,” Eric von Hippel presents compelling evidence of how and why users innovate for themselves, and why they see many benefits in freely revealing these innovations. He points out that businesses that rely on innovation for continued existence (such as product manufacturers) should take note of these emerging trends and leverage methods for profitably working with user-driven innovation.

Eric von Hippel is Professor of Management of Innovation and Head of the Innovation and Enrepreneurship Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management. His new book “Democratizing Innovation” is available for download under Creative Commons License at his website: