Thought You Should See This, July 20th, 2012

This week on the innovation/design blog I write, Thought You Should See This:

Technology investor and entrepreneur, Peter Thiel threw down with Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt as part of the Fortune Brainstorm Tech event. It was a wide-ranging conversation that spanned many topics, from the true impact of technology innovation to the influence of government on innovation and growth. The pair took on some of the thorny topics of our time, with gusto.

Find out why veterans despise the Red Cross–and understand the implications of making unexpected or unwanted changes to service.

Another service story, this time breaking down “Netflix’s Lost Year” and some of the horrible management decisions senior leadership made in the name of attempting self-disruption.

A smart NYT op ed, The Machine and the Garden, makes the case that the economy is an organic, naturally impaired system, not a perfectly working machine. Interesting and compelling argument.

Two great new projects from Google make me want to pack my bags and head to London. Interactive artist Aaron Koblin has teamed up with Chris Milk again to develop The Exquisite Forest, a riff on old “exquisite corpse” games as part of a collaboration with Tate Modern. Designers also teamed up with the Science Museum to create the Web Lab, a year-long exhibition that meshes the physical and the virtual.

If you want to check out a charming story of one innovator’s grit and persistence, you’d do worse than to read the story of the evolution of Sugru. You’ll likely want to buy some of the miracle material once you’ve seen it, too.

Audi goes Apple: Audi’s just-opened high tech showroom near Piccadilly Circus in London plays to the digitally savvy crowd.

And finally, an interesting research project from General Electric aims to develop an at-home natural gas refueling station (image shown top.) Great stuff.

Thought You Should See This, June 15th, 2012

This week’s Thought You Should See This update for my colleagues at Doblin and anyone interested in innovation and design.

Top marks this week to Larry Keeley, whose pearls of wisdom form the foreword to a new book on mobile interaction design. As Larry writes, “With mobile devices, we are today where automobiles were when the Model T was the hottest thing on wheels.” Be sure to check it out.

Brooklyn Castle is a documentary, the tale of a school in Brooklyn whose students generally hail from below the poverty line. However, this isn’t your usual hand-wringing, doom and gloom-style documentary. IS 318 boasts 26 national chess titles—more than any other junior high school in the country—and the documentary focuses on the hopes and dreams of some of the chess club’s young participants. It’s simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking.

Pixar artist Emma Coats put together a great list of advice on how to tell a good story. My favorite: “Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.”

American Pain: The Largest U.S. Pill Mill’s Rise and Fall tells the story of Christopher and Jeffrey George, twin brothers who opened their first “pain clinic” in Fort Lauderdale in 2008 and both of whom are now in jail for racketeering conspiracy. It’s a fascinating, sobering tale of an industry whose denizens pushed the boundaries of the law as far as they’d possibly go, and then pushed them just a little bit further.

Sarah Caddick is the Neuroscience Advisor to David Sainsbury and a senior advisor to the Gatsby Charitable Foundation—a big funder of scientific research, based in London. I spoke with her about her thoughts around the brain, our impressions of it, and how we need to turn what we think we know on its heads.

For a little light relief, check out the stop-motion animation promo for Delta Heavy. Although what the director has against classic games like Hungry Hippos and Connect 4 is anyone’s guess.

Geo-strategist Parag Khanna outlines his idea of the “hybrid economy,” arguing that we all need to boost our TQ, our “technology quotient.” “Start saving as much for physical enhancement as for education and retirement, he writes. “Get familiar with virtual currencies. Invest in a persuasive avatar, even, to represent you online. And welcome to the Hybrid Age.” Quick read, worth the effort.

Jonah Lehrer’s new book on creativity takes a beating from The New Republic, which wonders why we all pursue story-telling as our preferred means of communicating difficult topics.

And finally, six international artists take on an interesting brief… redesigning the tequila bottle. The results (shown top) are punchy, funky, graphic and really quite beautiful.

Thought You Should See This, April 20th, 2012

This week’s posts on my innovation/design themed blog, Thought You Should See This:

Of course, top billing this week goes to Monitor/Doblin’s own Bansi Nagji and Geoff Tuff, proud authors of the lead feature story in May’s Harvard Business Review. Managing Your Innovation Portfolio describes the practice of “total innovation.”

I loved this story of crowdsourcing for the ages. Car blog Jalopnik posted a call for its readers to help the Waynesboro, VA Police Department in identifying a part that came off the car of a driver involved in a fatal hit-and-run accident. The commenters came good–and two suspects are now being held in custody. Small comfort for the victim’s family, of course, but a heartwarming tale of the power of crowdsourcing.

Gary T DiCamillo, former chief executive at Polaroid, gave an insight into why the former innovation giant stumbled in a New York Times piece, Innovation Isn’t Easy, Especially Midstream.

MFA student Rachel Lehrer spent seven months tracking handwashing compliance in hospitals. This piece is a fascinating insight into the many contradictory pressures faced by those looking to implement design principles in both their broadest sense–and in contexts unused to the influence or potential of design.

“Soccer is a metaphor for creative collaboration in a team, and coaching soccer can likewise be a metaphor for effective leadership.” Goal Play!: Leadership Lessons From The Soccer Field, by Paul Levy, sounds like a good read.

Head of Google X, Sebastian Thrun, describes Udacity, his extracurricular efforts to create the higher education institution of the future.

Lots of approving buzz for the launch of the Innovator’s Patent Agreement by Twitter. Patents are a hotly contested tool of innovation, with patent trolls and high-dollar lawsuits stifling and impeding the flow of ideas necessary for a thriving economy and its flourishing businesses. This aims to act as a counter force.

The Times has a good breakdown of Sony’s strategy, and some great insights into how once unassailable-seeming giants can fall from grace–including that all-important factor, company culture.

And finally, for anyone excitedly awaiting Ridley Scott’s upcoming movie, Prometheus, here’s a terrifying trailer made by my dear friend, Johnny Hardstaff (top). Very cool, and very totally and utterly terrifying.

Thought You Should See This, April 13th, 2012

This week’s Thought You Should See This blog update for my pals at Doblin:

Liked this interesting story on Unilever’s list of innovation “wants.” These range from super serious, world-challenging issues (“safe drinking water”) to rather less dramatic problems that are clearly important for Unilever (“amazing toothpaste”) but represent what will likely be a common use of open innovation tactics to solve problems.

Also loved the new, world-record-winning Rube Goldberg machine (video above.) Incredible design and nerdily adorable.

Facebook bought photo-sharing app, Instagram, for a billion dollars. Or, as NYT reporter Jenna Wortham put it: “Instagram, an Internet start-up in San Francisco, has no revenue and about a dozen employees. It has not yet celebrated its second birthday. But to Facebook, it is already worth a billion dollars.” 

Meanwhile, writer and technologist Paul Ford weighed in on Facebook’s approach to design: “In terms of user experience, Facebook is like an NYPD police van crashing into an IKEA, forever.”

Overlooking the fact that the Peter Thiel teaching at Stanford is the same Peter Thiel who paid 20 kids $100,000 to drop out of college and start a business, PayPal co-founder Thiel’s computer science course has started, and student Blake Masters took detailed notes. Some great quotes here, including a fun paraphrase of Tolstoy: “all successful companies are different; they figured out the 0 to 1 problem in different ways. But all failed companies are the same; they botched the 0 to 1 problem.”

Piers Fawkes at PSFK asked me to opine on what constitutes good service these days. Given that I loathe shopping, this was rather harder than it should have been, but an interesting exercise all the same.

And finally, a good video of Tal Golesworthy describing how he dealt with Marfan Syndrome, a heart condition affecting the ascending aorta. Disinterested in the traditional treatment, which requires long surgery, the installation of a plastic valve, and a lifetime of anti-coagulation therapy and antibiotics, Golesworthy decided to treat himself as a “planning problem” and set out to change the entire treatment. He did it, too.

Thought You Should See This, April 6th, 2012

This week’s Thought You Should See This update, the innovation/design-themed blog I write:

The Wired UK profile of LinkedIn CEO, Reid Hoffman is a super interesting read, and strikes me as a classic case in which smart design could make a real difference and fast.

The Economist came out with a good story monitoring the ongoing trend of “reverse” innovation, with some new examples to freshen up those that have perhaps done the rounds a little too long.

When The Jobs Inspector Calls looks at supply chain issues for large multinational companies making the bulk of their products in developing markets such as China or south-east Asia. Focused mainly on, surprise surprise, Apple, the piece also looks at practices by the likes of Nike, and does a good job of illustrating the complexity of the issue.

In an excellent piece, Google Ventures partner, Braden Kowitz, outlines his process for managing the complexity inherent in interaction design projects, and describes how he has moved away from a screen-based approach to one that focuses on narrative and storytelling.

Why China Lags on Innovation and Creativity is an interesting take from Richard Florida on why, despite its tremendous advances as a global economic power, it will take China at least 20 years before it becomes an innovation powerhouse.

Google CEO, Larry Page sounds off about innovation and patent-trolling in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. Doesn’t really share too much you didn’t already know, though I confess I enjoyed reading his barely veiled digs at competitors such Facebook, of which he says: “Our friends at Facebook have imported many, many, many Gmail addresses and exported zero addresses. And they claim that users don’t own that data, which is a totally specious claim. It’s completely unreasonable.” Our friends, my foot.

Apropos of really nothing, there’s a magical Q&A with Pedro Guerrero in Architect magazine. The 95 year old was the longtime photographer of the work and life of both Frank Lloyd Wright and Alexander Calder, and his stories are tender, wry and insightful.

Google launches its Project Glass concept, and everyone gets suitably frothy. I particularly liked this re-edited “Ad-mented” version of the video (top), which includes that oh-so crucial feature so many of these concept films seem to forget… the revenue stream.

Thought You Should See This, March 30th, 2012

This week on Thought You Should See This:

Erik Kiaer’s essay “It’s the Experience, Stupid!” is featured in a new book, Innopreneur. Don’t let the title put you off: the book includes essays from a host of deep thinkers, and is well worth a look.

Michael Kimmelman visits a housing project in Sevran, a Paris suburb, to see how architects have retrofitted the former eyesore into “an exemplary landmark.”

Google celebrated the 126th birthday of architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with a tribute on its home page featuring Crown Hall, a building he designed at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Guardian writer, Steve Rose takes a spin through the history books to ask a simple question: what would Mies have had to say about today’s design landscape?

A new exhibition of British postwar design on show at the V&A museum in London asks a provocative question: “How did we get from a broadly civic, welfare-minded postwar design culture to 21st century design industries whose essential purpose is to make as much money as possible?”

Google’s Big Data group co-lead, Martin Wattenberg, released a beautiful interactive visualization of the wind flow around the United States, based on wind data from the National Digital Forecast Database. (Screenshot shown, top.)

A clever interactive infographic created by Kiln for The Guardian allows readers to get a clear sense of global carbon emissions.

Great video on Fast Company Exist shows the inexorable, decades-long sprawl of Las Vegas via timelapse footage, compiled from NASA’s Landsat satellites.

Help Remedies has teamed up with the bone marrow donor center, DKMS, to provide donor registry kits inside of packs of band aids. It created a remarkably strange video as promotion. (Thanks to Jaci Pearse for the heads up!)

The Financial Times converted Grand Central Station into a branded interactive installation, and opened the “Graphic World” site to dig beneath the data.

Samsung created a promotional film in which they mapped projections onto a human face. Super slick.

In Gold We Trust: The Future of Money in an Age of Uncertainty is a new book from The Economist. This promo video poses the thought-provoking question: “Are we on the verge of a revolution in the technology we call money?”

And finally, I seem to have got into what can only be described as a heated debate. Last weekend, I gave a keynote speech at the Information Architecture Summit in New Orleans. Asked to put the field into some perspective, I caused a bit of a ruckus by suggesting that the linguistic disconnect between IA and the business world is a serious problem that benefits neither. This week, I got into a similar discussion online, with designer Jon Kolko, this time sparked by a Michael Bierut-penned piece arguing that cultural illiteracy among designers is profoundly troubling. Fun–and thought-provoking.

Thought You Should See This, March 23rd, 2012

This week I moderated a webinar about Embracing Complexity, filmed in Cambridge and starring our own Geoff Tuff, Brian Quinn and Amelia Dunlop. You have to sign up to see the whole thing, which I realize is a bore, but it’s here if you’re so inclined.

Also this week on my innovation/design-themed blog, Thought You Should See This:

The world was set on fire by the revelation that raconteur Mike Daisey had, well, fabricated some of the facts in his Apple/Foxconn piece that caused such a stir. This American Life devoted a program to a retraction of its hour-long show featuring Daisey’s allegations; the resulting chaos sparked much analysis of the very definition of truth. Which in itself seems like a pretty sorry state of affairs.

65% of all revenue generated in the App Store–roughly $2 billion–has come from free games that charge for extra goods. The Times has an analysis of “freemium.”

Microsoft Research analyst, Danah Boyd writes thoughtfully of the conviction of Dharun Ravi for hate crimes.

Props to GBN’s Andrew Blau for flagging this sweet video filmed from a dog’s-eye-view.

Erik Van Crimmin flagged this excellent post by Bryce Roberts: The Problem With Innovation. A must-read.

Amelia Dunlop flagged this story highlighting how General Motors is trying to get hip to young drivers — by hiring MTV’s in-house brand consultancy.

And finally, this short presentation by Rachel Botsman shows off some interesting examples of companies adhering to the philosophy of “collaborative consumption.”