Posts Tagged ‘Design’

Interactive Value Creation, Apples and Nokias

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Recently I’ve been talking with my colleague Esko Kilpi about interactive value creation and its relation to social media. In Esko Kilpi’s new blog he writes (I suggest you to follow his space, even though part of the articles are in Finnish, there will be highly relevant stuff in English too):

As the demands for higher value and creativity are the norm today and the complexity of offerings has grown, we have begun to see that division of labour has reached its points of diminishing returns.”

I agree. The industrial production logic has reached its limits in the increasingly networked society. He continues to elaborate that higher value creation is impossible without interaction. There is a move from action dominated by division of labor to interaction driven by increasing complexity. The result is higher value activity.

My example that follows is very personal regarding the Finnish psyche: why Apple is doing better in interactive value creation compared to Nokia?

Closed Design Process

Apple is very well known for its secrecy in creating new product. Nokia is well known for embracing openness through open source and open platforms. So from interaction point of view, Nokia should be doing better. Or is it?

In innovation, if you believe you know better than anyone in the world  how to complete a certain task, there are good reasons to operate in a closed manner. If you know for sure that in-house resources, ideas and capabilities are limited in achieving a certain goal, you should open the process up for outside contributions.

Apple has a focused design process and knows how to do it. It has a vigorous design process outlined here, including some basic principles grounded in perfectionism:

Pixel Perfect Mockups [...] removes all ambiguity.
10 to 3 to 1
: [...] start with seven in order to make three look good.

Nokia is known to be an engineer driven land, where production efficiency often has the ability to dominate final design decisions. They might have better technical devices, but not the most original and detailed approaches to UI design. What matters is the ability to produce a truck-load of devices with minimum costs.

Apple constantly designs new products ending up as trendsetters. Their activities doing so seems almost effortless. In the background, there is obviously the unquestionable belief in their own design ability.

Open Value Creation

Let’s take the iPhone. It’s beautifully designed. What Apple doesn’t know, is how people would use the device. Every usage pattern is contextual in nature.

What you have on an iPhone is a minimum set of features that would be needed for an internet-connected phone and multimedia device. The end-user is the final missing piece in completing the product. Apple created the Appstore, so that people could come up with new ways for using the device. If you are a sailor, you might need some maps for sailing. If you love restaurants, you might have a restaurant guide. If you are a Star Wars fan, maybe you have lightsaber in your pocket. The clue is that Apple doesn’t have the resources nor the crystal ball to say how the device would be used.

Open interactive value creation is about designing the bare minimum and let people build on top of the platform and have the ability to try (almost) everything. Apple has invested in communicating their design principles regarding the iPhone. Take a look at any of the engineering documents and you see the difference. That’s why so many applications look so great: everyone is working on an app as if it would be eventually approved by Steve Jobs himself.

Ambiguity of Designing for Demographics

Nokia has a very different strategy. It runs focus group studies, figures out various demographics and designs phones for the imaginary average middle of the gaussian shape. At least that’s how it looks like. You end up with products like the Nokia 5300 XpressMusic and a myriad of other differently branded products obviously targeting different demographics.

As a result your phone will be full of pre-loaded apps, music and other details that a typical average user in the target demographic might use (let’s bet in this case we are talking about a 25-35 year old hip cool group that has  a life). The end result? You use 5-10% of the features, because nothing is really exactly right in context.

This is why designing for demographics creates unnecessary clutter and ambiguity in product design. Apple seems to know this by making the phone as simple as possible: one device, you customize the rest for yourself: apps, music and physical appearance.

The byproduct of the way how Apple designs their core offering and how people build on top of it is meaningful conversation. Creative work, that people do in interaction. Pushing boundaries.

What really matters is context. The context of use. The conversation that happens around a particular context. The way how the company listens and links this conversation back to its R&D. Designing a product too far and insisting on saying what it is doesn’t result in interactive value creation.

As far as engineering goes, Nokia is very open on the technical level but lacks the ability to be open on the design level.

Nokia is very open in the beginning, but behaves more closed as they make final decisions on how the device would be used.

Apple is very closed in the beginning, but becomes more open towards the long tail of usage.

The end is near…of industrial production

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

“The future of sharing is near, and physical” reads on the front page of The Pirate Bay today.

The link points at a 3D printer called RepRap that can replicate itself. Yes, it’s a printer that can print out its own design.

“[RepRap] has been called the invention that will bring down global capitalism, start a second industrial revolution and save the environment…”
– The front page of The Guardian, November 25, 2006.

The technology has been around for a while, but what makes the device interesting is that it costs 500 dollars to build yourself.

In the future you will go to The Pirate Bay, download a 3D model of Louis Vuitton’s latest bag and print it right out to give to your girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. The chinese factories for pirate goods will go out of business. In short term, they will switch to supplying the market with 3D scans of high-demand goods from all around the world, thus catalyzing the big switch. Stuff will flow into sweat factories, not out.

If you think The Pirate Bay is in the center of a generational shift and cultural transformation, check back again once the 3D models start flooding in. People who will be upset next will be designers, craftsmen, architects, manufacturers and those who supply the market with competitive traditional distribution channels.

Even more interesting will be the creativity of individuals who now with abundant access to virtual models of original physical designs, will create mashups unleashing iterations of cultural artefacts and cultural advancement never seen before by mankind.

In fact, the good itself is not going to be interesting anymore. A new page will turn that depicts the emergence of new behavioral patterns around objects. The mobile phone turns into a device for controlling a web of objects. The objects that we care share a history with us that has been digitally recorded, broadcasted, stored and linked with our surroundings. We will index our environment like maniac librarians.

The bottom line is that our current lifestyle of using material goods is not sustainable. We have to go for it, despite the Luddites who reject the new technology because of it’s potential short term negative consequences. The trade-off is far too great for this opportunity to be missed.

The manufacturers in the world of 3D-printers will be in the same situation where record labels are with digital filesharing or where mainframe manufacturers were with the advent of personal computers. New business models will emerge from this friction, rebuilding new avenues that will propel us right out of the galaxy – or inside our own minds and bodies as we start experimenting with bio technology.

The Pirate Bay for bionics will appear.

I would be leeching and mashing up artificial life and cyborg body extensions. If that doesn’t anger someone, then I don’t know what could. At that very moment I would be ready to upload myself to the digital planetary consciousness just to escape the political nightmare.

Go and read Bruce Sterling‘s Shaping Things for more.

How Mobile is Changing our Society

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

In a couple of weeks I will be talking at the Mobile Monday Amsterdam in the context of how mobile is changing our society. The 400-seat event was “sold out” in just 2 hours. People will come and listen what I, Bruce Sterling, Raymond Perrenet and Johan Koolwaaij have to say about the topic. The presentations will be recorded.

The popularity of the event for me points towards increased interest of people to know more about the mobile world. We are at a brink of transformation due to new market entrants (giants like Google and Apple are now Nokia’s new respectable competitors), convergence of the existing social web with the mobile (the web embracing functionality within the iPhone or new Nokia devices as an example), increased volumes, increased number of users and increased complexity in our society.

It’s all about emergence. An entirely new thing is emerging from this interconnected electronic mycelium.

I have a feeling that the question we pose today is wrong. It’s not about mobile anymore. For some people, mobile means the devices that we carry around as we move, usually hooked up to a cellular network. The truth is, the activities we go through online with computers and what we do with our “mobiles” cannot be seen as separate anymore. This convergence means our language needs to change or our culture will never understand its future.

As ordinary physical items enter the same network, it’s not going to be about virtual or physical activities anymore. Both will be different faces of the same coin. It’s not going to be about context or not. Context will be the primary component of everything. The primary device will no longer be a “mobile”, but more like something that interacts with the network in a highly contextual way. Ideas, people and physical objects will be part of the same network in a very literal sense.

“Mobile” providers and operators will face competition from many unpredictable directions. In addition to cellular networks, the devices will interact with a wide variety of other networks, starting from physically fixed WLANs to constantly changing MANETs (mobile ad-hoc networks), where every node in the network is moving arbitrarily. The internet of things seldom stays stationary. In a world where everything becomes densely connected, you cannot clearly define the market and opportunities within. Magic wands, cyborg technologies or matrix aside, what we are going to see is not the future of mobile but something entirely different.

The mobile is like the horse wagon. If Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted, they would have said “faster horses”. It’s the language and our experience of the past that limits our understanding of the future of “mobile”. We need to drop the word and come up with new metaphors to open our eyes. We need new telescopes, binoculars and cleaner eye glasses.

We need to go to the roots of what mobile (latin: mobilis) truly means. Let’s see what the dictionary says about this.

Mobile: Changeable in appearance, mood, or purpose

Adaptable, versatile and migratory. From the point of view of the devices we will see rapid change in appearance and purpose. The mobile devices of the future bear little or no resemblance with the mobile devices of the past. The functionality will be context dependent. From the point of view of our society, we will have tools that help us to adapt to changing conditions and increase our connectedness. We need abilities to migrate from one situation to another in the increasingly changing environment. Yesterdays concepts, tools and metaphors will not work as-is. We need new ways to sense what is changing and adapt accordingly. That’s called effectiveness.

Mobile: Undergoing a shift in status

The social groups we belong to are no longer physically fixed. Electronic tribes will cross cultural and physical boundaries in ways never seen before. The traditional social levels connected to status, merit, power, race and relationships embedded in the fabric of our society will undergo major reconfiguration. The bottom-up and decentralized way of getting things done will become easier as we go forward. In a very McLuhan way, the electronic medium will profoundly involve men with one another.

Time will define our communities: long-term, short-term or ad-hoc. Boundaries will also define our communities: physically connected, ideologically connected or virtually connected. It will be harder and harder to experience the boundaries in a traditional sense. The boundaries blur, therefore time and experience of being connected becomes primary.

We will live in multiple metaverses. Meta+universe implies there are layers to our universe hidden from the previous paradigms of experiencing. Instead of multiple lives – in the metaverse – we will live through multiple personas. In latin, persona means mask. Our masks will be undertaken and carried by avatars. In Sanskrit, avatara means a descent from higher spiritual realms, a god. We will have god-like abilities and our lives will be an interplay between different personas fabricated by ourselves or emerging from our interaction in these contextual virtual worlds. The mirrors of ourselves will reflect who we truly are. Digital environments are capable of extending our experience of being.

Mobile: moving or changing quickly from one state or condition to another

Frequent relocation, fluidity and flowing freely. Increasing complexity implies we are no longer machines, or cogs in a machine. Our organizations will become organic; our tools will support this organic nature. Organic enterprises are like organisms, capable of adapting to changing conditions. Contextuality in learning, knowledge work, collaboration and business strategy requires dynamic and modular behavior. Static cause-and-effect, predictability and tight control are an afterthought. Albert Einstein once said, “a person starts to live when he can live outside himself“. The same could be said about organizations. The unpredictability of complex systems means that there are non-linear changes in time and there will be no silver bullet.

As you may see, by examining the roots of mobility and reflecting the changes we face today, we can no longer go forward by just talking about mobile devices and other devices. There is no need to separate ourselves in two groups, one of them being mobile and one of them being the fixed web. We no longer need to separate our developer communities to mobile developers and the rest. Engineers, programmers, visionaries and designers from various fields are tackling with the same problem. We need new avenues unifying the creativity and passion of people doing basically the same thing: building a better technologically empowered future for mankind. We need a revolution – of language and mind.

We need to reframe the question. With every new technology, it’s not the technology that changes us, but the frame that changes along with it.