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, June 8th, 2012

Here’s this week’s update on Thought You Should See This, the innovation/design-related blog I write:

If you read one thing this week, make sure it’s Paul Ford’s gorgeous speech to the graduates of the MFA Interaction Design at SVA. A stunningly lyrical take on the impact these designers will have on the world, it’s thought-provoking, inspiring and beautifully, beautifully written.

GBN’s co-founder Peter Schwartz turned up in the New York Times’ innovation special, sharing his view that in 50 years we’ll be able to drive cars with our minds. The rest of the piece, 32 Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow, is also worth checking out.

MBA Jargon Watch satirizes management and consulting jargon. It’s painfully funny. Read and beware.

British public artists Greyworld sounded off about being asked to come into a big company to “inspire” — without being compensated for their time or thinking. This has been an all-too common practice for years, determining a rethink of the phrase “quid pro quo.”

“We now spend twice as much on beer as the government spends on research.” How depressing is that?

Honda’s Fit EV is the most efficient new car in the United States, and has caused some environment writers to get giddy with excitement. Wrote one: “This could be the Model-T of the electric age.” Right then! *Image shown c/o Honda.

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.

Jake Barton: Storyteller

Latest word works, for my alma mater, Creative Review magazine (I have left in the English spellings as an homage to my motherland.) The piece is a profile of the New York City-based designer, Jake Barton, and his firm, Local Projects:

“Oh look. Russell Simmons!” Local Projects founder, Jake Barton and I are gazing from the window of the 20th floor of 1 Liberty Plaza in downtown Manhattan. In theory, we are noting the hustle of activity down below, as ant people and Lego dumper trucks swarm around the former site of the World Trade Center. In reality, we have been distracted by the sight of a reality television crew running around on the roof of a nearby building to capture the latest exploits of the Def Jam hip hop mogul.

It’s an odd juxtaposition, but one that somehow encapsulates the surreal nature of work on the 9/11 Memorial project, whose organisers are based here at Liberty Plaza, and whose employees are working flat out to ensure their plans are realised on time. It’s difficult to think of a project more fraught with raw emotion, shrill opinion, and conflicting interests for the citizens of New York. For the past ten years, the swirling development of a memorial fit to live in the footprint of the Twin Towers has provided the city, and the world, with an old-fashioned soap opera all its own.

Barton and his team have been in the mix since 2007, when, together with New York agency Thinc Design, they won the commission to design the exhibits within the site’s museum. Creating a space that will educate and enlighten–but not overwhelm–visitors is a huge challenge. Even now, mere months before the museum opens in early 2012, many of the specifics are still not fully buttoned down. Installations include an electronic message board that visitors can tag with their responses to the events of that fateful day, while a photographic installation comprises historical news images taken by and collected from the public. For Timescapes, Local Projects has developed a software algorithm that presents current news events through the lens of September 11, thereby ensuring that the museum has a way to respond to its own ever-evolving story.

The pieces are emblematic of Barton’s approach to museum design, which eschews the old-school approach of expert curator bequeathing nuggets of knowledge to wide-eyed, grateful visitor. Curators are still necessary, but here they are enablers rather than dictators of experience. “I have always been interested in collages and the ways groups of people can tell stories,” he says when we meet once more a few weeks later, this time at his own company HQ in the equally bustling but arguably less celebrity-filled neighbourhood of New York’s Port Authority bus station.

There’s more, oh so much more, but head over to read the rest (and look at the images) at Creative Review’s site, as they’ve kindly released the feature from behind the paywall. Hurrah!

[Image from “Explore 9/11” c/o Local Projects.]