My New Year resolution for 2013 is to spend more time gaining and sharing knowledge. The last four years have been exciting and bloody hard work as we continue to grow the global presence of Great Fridays. I have been head down for long periods fighting with everything that growing an agency throws at you. Part of the last twelve months has been spent finding brilliant people to help Rob and I steer the ship. We have certainly found some rock stars from the Product and Service Design world including Jeremy Offer, Guy Jenkins and Ed Valpy. They are definitely the smartest people in the room. Combine this brainpower with the integral crew of Chris Hughes, Bryan Sayle and Tiff Pike and you have a potent group capable of reframing any Design Challenge, no matter how big.
Now that we have such a killer senior management team, it means that Rob and I can breathe, and assume the ambassadorial role so important in this exciting world in which we live.
Hopefully this is the first of many blog posts in 2013 to share some of the knowledge we have gained over the last 12 months. I wanted to focus this particular blog post on my travels in January with Jeremy Offer, our new Design Director (and founder of Dekode). I have been lucky enough to visit CES and the Bloomberg Businessweek Design Conference in the last couple of weeks, so writing about it should be easy. The problem is that I have so much material that I could write a small manifesto. So I am not going to focus on CES, but the amazing event that followed at the DE Young Museum in San Francisco.
Bloomberg Business Week pulled out all of the stops to lay on a Business event with an acute focus on Design. Bloomberg Designweek 2013 sounded like an event we couldn’t miss when looking down at the list of globally recognised Design talent on the schedule. It was obvious that we would get an authoritative view of broad Design challenges facing business, and how the best reframers in Design are changing the world.
“Good design is often the defining element of the products, businesses, environments and sciences that become legendary,” said Josh Tyrangiel, editor of Bloomberg Businessweek.
“These designers are setting the bar for innovation in their respective fields, and at this event they can venture out of their professional enclaves, come together, perhaps even collide, in unexpected and provocative groupings, to discuss process, passions, influences, successes and failures.”
The days started with sessions about ‘Cities’. A brilliant mix of Urban Architecture, Landscape Architecture and City Transportation Design.
Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano set the tone for the day with a linear but superbly executed journey through architectural poetry and brilliantly executed Design. So we have all seen container-based building projects – in fact prefabricated 40ft long homes were sustainability’s answers to brownfield development in the late 90s. Until that is, the LOT-EK (http://www.lot-ek.com/) team started to reframe the process of urban design and utilise every last scrap of the utilitarian cargo boxes to create some of the most beautiful and inspiring Architectural Design. Homes, Museums, Universities. Follow that…
I have never pondered the challenges faced by transportation planning for long enough to appreciate what’s involved. The invention of motorised transportation has defined the infrastructure of our cities over the last 100 years. Streets, avenues, pavements (sidewalks), junctions (intersections) all carved into the cityscape underpinning the architecture which flanks them. So how do you remodel an infrastructure with the density and sheer scale of New York? Reducing the number of cars and increasing pedestrianised areas and cycle lanes are just a few challenges faced by Janette Sadir-Khan, Commissioner of New York City Department of Transport. She has implemented such innovative projects as the creation of Broadway Boulevard; the new Select Bus Service routes in the Bronx and Manhattan; the installation of 18 plazas and more than 285 miles of on-street bike lanes; car-free summer streets; weekend pedestrian walks; and the publication of a “Street Design Manual” and a “Street Works Manual” that define new standards for creating more durable and attractive streets. Prototyping seems to be her secret ingredient on a vast scale. She confidently admits in her presentation:
“We’ve been able to transform city streets virtually overnight. You can literally paint the city you want to see.”
She has a great point and one which other cities are starting to emulate. Prototype the new pedestrian areas by painting out the road, adding some plants, chairs, tables and small food outlets. If it works, great, make the area a little more permanent. If it doesn’t work, wash it out and try something new.
“Design can tell you to take your business elsewhere, or it can tell you this is a vital, active retail space. When we pedestrianized 42nd to 47th Street, we saw an 11 percent increase in foot traffic. Now Times Square is one of the top 10 retail locations on the planet, which wasn’t the case before we made that intervention. Good streets are good business.”
The great thing about the conference was the intensity of the presentations. Much the same as the TED format, giving each speaker 15-20 minutes was just perfect, as it focused every discussion down to its essence rather than attempting to fill the day with content that really didn’t have the same impact. I have called out two presentations from the ‘Cities’ section of the schedule, but could write about the rest with the same enthusiasm.
Following a coffee break we reconvened for the late morning session about Redesign. In a nutshell: what happens when a company turns over its bottom line and its future to designers?
Bloomberg Businessweek Design Director Richard Turley opens up this Redesign session. He examines the negative response that can come with change. “The pressure to innovate can leave the reader, the consumer – us – a bit pissed off. We like the Gap logo as it is, thank you very much.”
This is a topic very close to my heart, and gets me up in the morning with a spring in my step, fire in my belly and a brain full of ideas, ideals and inspiration. Great Fridays believe that Design is becoming fundamental to business change – it’s becoming a revolution on the scale of the industrial revolution, not to mention the technology revolution we have just encountered for the last 30 years. Design is the change agent required to make sense of the unstructured, excited world technology advancement has created. So how does Design really impact on business value, and more importantly why should we bother?
Yves Behar is a design entrepreneur who believes that product, digital and brand design are cornerstones of any business. He is the Founder of fuseproject, a San Francisco and New York design and branding firm he established in 1999. He is also chief creative officer at Jawbone, where for the past 10 years his products, brand and communications work has made the company a leader in wearable and audio consumer electronics. Jawbone won a 2010 IDSA Design of the Decade award for its headsets.
When asked about the impact Design has on business today and the reasons behind why he started fuseproject, he explains:
“It’s very exciting. We’re really in the era of the designer as founder, as entrepreneur, as a key partner in new businesses. It’s a completely different place from where designers were 15, even 10 years ago; 15 years ago, every meeting I had started with some CEO or somebody on the management team asking me, “What’s the [return on investment] on design? You know, why should we hire you? How is it gonna make a difference?” To today, where it’s, like, “Well, if you don’t have a designer on your team, I don’t think we’re going to give you money.” That’s what we hear sometimes from venture capitalists.”
Being from an industrial design background myself I finally feel like the profession of Design is capturing the attention of executives at the highest level of International business. Yves is one of many global startup Founders/CEOs who have built their business around an unshakable belief in Design. And it works! Not just aesthetically, but as a core pillar and foundation for business success, driving innovation, revenue and growth.
Yves views were later echoed by the Founder and CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky. We were treated to a panel discussion chaired by Josh Tyrangiel, Editor of BusinessWeek, with Brian and the Vice President of Brand Identity at AT&T, Gregg Heard.
Gregg and Brian are both designers now running companies or divisions. Since they have a background in design, Josh asked Brian about coming from a design background to start a company, and why it was important. Brian replied, “At RISD, they teach how design can function in the boardroom. I wondered what would happen if design was the boardroom.”
He began by saying that it was essential for technology companies to give designers the clout of engineers.
“When we went to the valley, design was viewed as a huge liability,” said Chesky, who received a BFA in industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design. “It was not good that we were designers. What they were really saying is that the heart of the company is its products, and the heart of a product is technology, and technology is created by engineers.” Chesky continued, describing design-thinking as the answer to Airbnb’s regulatory troubles in some major cities, including New York City. “We have to think broadly and very differently and holistically about government relations. It’s not just about meeting with government officials. It’s about solving a design problem – if we have problems in governments, that’s a design problem we need to solve.”
So a hard hitting start to the session with an extremely passionate view of Design, and more importantly, the changing perception of its position within the corporate infrastructure. I would certainly love to see a Chief Design Officer installed in the rightful position on boards of large global enterprises.
The great thing about this conference was the fast paced agenda and mix of speakers. You would think that jumping around disciplines would be unstructured and disjointed, but that was not the case here at all, as each presentation was seamlessly connected with the same Design principles inherent in each subject matter. Whether Architecture or Software Design, the basic principles are the same: think, make, do!
So moving from a discussion about Design strategy to one about 3D printing might seem like a massive change but for me this is when a design neutral must surely start to see the main connection between all of the subject matters. 3D printing has been around for 20+ years, so why is it all of a sudden getting so much attention? Scott Summit has become more than just an innovator in the 3D printing space – his business and ideals capture the exact essence of Design by combining human nature’s basic principles: “passion, desire, emotion and a desire to be unique”. Design creates objects and beliefs which humanity desires and craves. It creates a point of difference and engages us emotionally.
Technology and innovation drive change in our society, but without Design most humans can’t connect with these things alone. What better way to prove the point than with Scott’s work around prosthetic limbs? Scott founded 3D-printing company 3D Systems on the promise of individuals enabled with personal 3D-printing machines:
“It’s a way to get people back to using their hands. It gets people away from their TVs and iPads and back into the garage. Trying and failing and trying again. Creativity in this country comes from individuals. Half the patents in the US aren’t held by corporations, they’re held by people.”
Technology and innovation might have advanced prosthetics, but basic human emotion still reacts negatively to the legacy of mechanical arms, legs and hands used today. Scott has added a powerful ingredient through design and his passion for 3D printing innovation. In the same way that humans are drawn towards beautiful clothing, Scott has enabled individuals to create their own prosthetic limbs through customised, individual and personalised 3D printing and the results are astounding. Beautifully crafted objects of desire are the end result and we find ourselves thinking; how cool would it be to have a prosthetic limb. Forrest Gump could have been a very different movie!
I believe that Design brings structure where none currently exists. So when Patricia Urquiola starts her presentation I am somewhat bemused for her first five minutes of unstructured poetry. But then she starts to show her work and I am enchanted for the next 15 minutes before she nonchalantly leaves the stage with a ‘follow that’ in-the-air hand gesture.
Patricia Urquiola was born in Oviedo, Spain in 1961 and now lives in Milan, where she opened her own design studio in 2001 for product design, architecture, installations and concept creation. She previously headed the Lissoni Associati design group. Her clients are diverse.
Her work was also diverse, as well as beautiful across a multitude of disciplines, and her ethos and passion to work with the teams at the sharp end of design rather than in the higher political echelons is brilliant. “I want to work with the craftsmen and women” she states, “so that I can understand the materials, the skills and the passion. Only by doing this can I produce.”
“I want to change the world” she declares.
The most disappointing part of the day for me was the Information section. I am a huge fan of the work done by David McCandless (http://www.davidmccandless.com/) a London based data journalist and information designer. I have seen his presentations at TED and several UK events before and I am in awe at his approach and attention to detail. Giving data meaning by creating amazing visual representations is a beautiful craft combining mathematical understanding and interpretation, and then representing results in an easy-to-understand visual format.
I am not saying that the presentations were not well conceived and executed, but there was simply no ‘wow’ moment. I have however chosen a couple of standout moments from the two hour session which for me were the most impressive.
Eric Rodenbeck is the Founder, CEO and Creative Director of Stamen Design, a boutique design and technology firm in San Francisco. Stamen’s focus on the marriage of interactive data visualisation and innovative design has attracted a growing client list to the studio, including BMW, Digg, The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, The New York Times, SFMOMA, Vito Acconci, The Exploratorium, and the University of Southern California. His work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.
Amongst the body of work presented by Eric, the piece that captured my attention was his presentation of transactional data from the NASDAQ. Robotic, systematic transactions can be seen on the visualisations frequently showing throughout the day. The larger the transaction the larger the bubble appears on the visualisation, and enterprises/companies are represented by colour. This was a fascinating presentation which captured immediately the way in which automated robots or programs trade on behalf of the humans who created them, manipulating the market and seeding ideas and patterns.
The best data visualisations are ones which present an idea or theory quickly to the viewer, replacing pages and pages of data – ones and zeros. Eric’s representation of the NASDAQ did just that, and it captivated the audience.
The other notable mention for this section goes to Steve Duenes. Steve is the Graphics Director at the New York Times, a position he has held since 2004. The Times’ graphics department is a group of 25 journalists who research, design and develop the interactive maps, visualisations and animated graphics for the Times’ digital platforms and newspaper. Steve has also been a contributor to the New Yorker magazine and faculty member at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
Steve must be one of the luckiest men in the US at the moment, with a team of talented designers and engineering folks responsible for representing the state of the world through infographics. Everything from the US election campaign to the western obesity problem, Steve’s team has created infographics which represent acutely the issues in beautifully crafted visual formats.
The final session of the day was the one I was most excited about. ‘Imagination’ as a title for the afternoon schedule had already raised expectations. I have always been a big admirer of IDEO, and in Particular Bill Moggridge, who unfortunately died from cancer last year. Bill’s plethora of Design presentations over the years have certainly been a great inspiration to me as a fellow Industrial Designer-turned-business reframer. IDEO is a great company commanding worldwide respect for its Design/Business thinking.
Maybe it was because I had built up my expectations for Paul Bennet, current Creative Director at IDEO and his afternoon presentation, that I was disappointed. Paul’s presentation skills were excellent, but in my opinion he tried to focus his presentation on such a high level of thinking around humanity that the Design focus was lost. “I met a princess” he pronounced, as part of his presentation. I hear a lot of commentary about peoples’ perceptions of IDEO and that they sometimes are responsible for too much thinking and not enough doing. Paul certainly didn’t help to quash these rumours.
Thank goodness then for three speakers who kept me on the edge of my seat in the later stages of the day and made the entry fee well worth it. Pixar is a great example of a Design led company that has stuck by its principles and reaped the rewards over the last 20 years. It was really interesting to look through the keyhole at a sliver of the processes embraced at Pixar and in particular the way in which it iterates concepts and ideas like any other design-led discipline. Michael B. Johnson, who responds to the nickname ‘Wave’, leads the Film On-Line Group and supervises the Story/Editorial Pipeline Team at Pixar Animation Studios.
His groups are responsible for the design, implementation and support of the preproduction pipeline for Pixar features and shorts. His team works directly with the directors, editors, producers, production designers, art directors, artists and production folk who start the process of bringing Pixar stories to the screen. Johnson has been at Pixar since 1993 and has written tools for all of Pixar’s feature films (and many of its short films), including tools for storyboarding, pre-vis, layout, animation, modelling, lighting, rendering and editing.
Prototyping and testing on the audience was brilliantly demonstrated by Michael using some of the tools he has created for Pixar since assuming his position there in the 1990s.
The underlying theme of the talk is teamwork, and Michael often quotes words of wisdom from his fellow colleagues. John Lasseter, one of Pixar’s founders, noted that “Quality is the best business plan”, or as another colleague put it ,“Pain is temporary, suck is forever”. The Pixar family very much keep these mantras in mind, always striving to do things better.
Michael is very modest and always refers to ‘we’ when discussing the groundbreaking tools he has developed to make the process of creating animated films as easy as possible. Again the team is at the forefront. His tools have revolutionised the storyboarding process, but he has also changed the way the team give and receive criticism by making everything as interactive as possible. Storyboarding has moved from being a huge board on which you stick drawings to a digital presentation that includes voice overs and can be done in real time to make it more accurate. He has changed the way people give and receive criticism by making it possible to draw over and make notes directly onto sketches which are immediately available via an online system for the team to view.
From prototypes to mind-blowing robotics and informatics, can a human beat a robot in a game of Paper, Scissors, Stone? The answer became abundantly clear over the next 20 minutes with Professor Masatoshi Ishikawa: a resounding “never”.
Masatoshi Ishikawa has been a professor of creative informatics at the University of Tokyo since 2005. His current research interests include robotics, high-speed vision, dynamic image control and meta perception.
I urge you to search on YouTube for some of his latest work. Robots that can hit a baseball into the same exact spot every time, even when the human pitch is different every time.
What better way to end the day than listening for 30 minutes to one of my design heroes? Up there with Jonathan Ives, Tony Fadell can be placed on a similar pedestal for his work on the first 18 iterations of the iPod, working at Apple with Steve Jobs. His most recent project, NEST, is the most unlikely of products, but he has managed to make the home heating thermostat cool. I want one, it’s gorgeous, was a reaction in my head when I first saw the device last year. The Nest Learning thermostat now ships around 40,000 units a months (only available in the US) – amazing growth and it’s not hard to see why.
The Nest Learning Thermostat learns about you and your home to turn itself down automatically when you’re away, guide you to energy-efficient temperatures when you are home, and free you from programming hassles by creating a personalised temperature schedule.
Before Apple, Tony Fadell built the Mobile Computing Group at Philips Electronics. Fadell has authored more than 100 patents. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s in computer engineering.
So an amazing January to start 2013, which should act as a great springboard for the year ahead.
The US point of view is so refreshing at the moment. They have really embraced Design change and it is working in both Enterprise and Startup arenas. Silicon Valley could well undergo a name change in the coming months to represent its newfound love and appreciation for all things Design.
Over 60% of Great Fridays’ business is now conducted with our friends across the Atlantic and we are really fortunate to have grade A Design talent in Great Britain. We really are at the centre of a Design revolution and it’s extremely exciting to be a part of it.
We just need to convince Michael Gove to Educate our children on the importance of Design, rather than taking it out of the curriculum. Oh Dear!
Maybe I can talk about my thoughts on that in February…