Simplicity is the differentiator

A couple of great quotes from a NYT Magazine article on the iPod that has been heavily linked already.

Jonathan Ive on the genesis of the iPod:

”Steve” — that would be Steve Jobs — ”made some very interesting observations very early on about how this was about navigating content,” Ive says. ”It was about being very focused and not trying to do too much with the device — which would have been its complication and, therefore, its demise. The enabling features aren’t obvious and evident, because the key was getting rid of stuff.”

Later he said: ”What’s interesting is that out of that simplicity, and almost that unashamed sense of simplicity, and expressing it, came a very different product. But difference wasn’t the goal. It’s actually very easy to create a different thing. What was exciting is starting to realize that its difference was really a consequence of this quest to make it a very simple thing.”

“Trying to not to do too much with the device” – coming back to scenario and persona-driven design again. If in the design process one tries to take the scenarios as they stand and create something that supports every need, every moment in the scenario or persona; then the simplicity Ive describes will be lost. Identifying the one key need or moment and honing the design without compromise is key. Victor’s ‘value-complexity’ matrix is a tool i’ve always liked – but I think there’s more intuition involved in a designer or team knowing what the one, focal moment or need is. I would love to be corrected and pointed to tools or processes that can assist…

Steve Jobs on design:

“‘Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” says Steve Jobs, Apple’s C.E.O. ”People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”


» New York Times: The Guts of a New Machine By ROB WALKER [Reg. Reqd]

Why Starfleet?


So, this is a slightly polished version of a rant I had to Marko and Foe about a week ago after a couple of glasses of wine in restaurant Motti.

It’s the 24th century.

Humans have left behind the earth, and their sense of shame in wearing Lycra to boldy go places. They have faster-than-lightspeed transport and communication technology. They’ve also developed immersive virtual realities of amazing sophistication and subtlety.

Some my question is: why go anywhere in spaceships?

Why not fire off sophisticated, autonomous drones that travel to every point of the cosmos at warp-speed; to survey and construct immersive, explorable Holodeck simulations of where they’ve got to and who they’ve met?

Why not stay at home in The Presidio and wander into a holosuite at your leisure to wrestle with a green lizard man – safe in the knowledge that no harm can come to you. Knowing you can wander at home at night to your family – and some great mexican food rather than some galactic-goop brewed up by an irritating stowaway?

Why have ‘authorised’, trained Starfleet officers at all – if the ‘mass-amateurisation of everything’ is starting right now – then where will it be in the 24th century?

Grid-distribute the experiences and associated tasks to the millions of CosmoBloggers or the equivalent telepresent hordes, a la Patrick Farley’s Spiders. Let First Contact be with kids, goat herds and losers rather than uptight French hornblowers, macho Iowans or drippy ex-quantum-leapers.

Why do these people have to construct giant spaceships with detachable saucer sections to pack their kids onto?

It’s just dumb!

And, sure Mr. TV-producer, it be harder to churn out the episodes without having to rely on Jefferies Tubes or reversing the tachyon-converter polarity nonsense – but you’d be able to tell better stories!

Our heroes would just go to incredibly strange places and do incredible strange things, and be heroes without weapons or science or tools of any kind!! I guess there would be a big downside in merchandizing, without nice big books of cut-away transporters and guns, but hey.

And don’t give me the answer I got back in the restaurant, that they need to fly places in spaceships “to be there”. They are there in any way their monkey brains can understand it!

These people have had 400 years to read Baudrillard!!!

Stolen knowledge

Found via Seb’s Open Research and McGee’s Musings: John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid’s ‘Stolen Knowledge’:

“The point is illustrated in our opening quotation from Tagore, the Indian poet, musician, and Nobel laureate. Describing the role of the instructor hired to teach him music, Tagore writes “he determined to teach me music, and consequently no learning took place”-at least, no learning in the terms laid out by the teacher and his syllabus. But Tagore reveals with wonderful insight that something important and profound did result from interactions between these two: “Nevertheless, I did pick up from him a certain amount of stolen knowledge” (our emphasis). This knowledge Tagore “stole” by watching and listening to the musician as the latter, outside his classes, played for his own and others’ entertainment. Only then, and not in dismembered didactic exercises, was Tagore able to see and understand the social practice of musicianship.

It is a fundamental challenge for design-for both the school and the workplace to redesign the learning environment so that newcomers can legitimately and peripherally participate in authentic social practice in rich and productive ways to, in short, make it possible for learners to “steal” the knowledge they need.”

Three thoughts. One: how much of my knowledge or skills are stolen? As I was educated in architecture but ended up an interaction designer – I imagine quite a lot. Certainly I remember lots of acts of theft from people like Stefan, Yoz, Mick and the rest back in the Delphi days when I was straight out of architecture college.

Two: semantics. Is it theft? is knowledge property? This is a fine semantic distinction perhaps, but to think of ‘knowledge property’ rather than the perhaps more abstract ‘intellectual property’. Knowledge can be embodied or physical – sporting techniques or craft: and often these are freely and gleefully shared by those who possess it. Expertise. It can be emulated and aspired to, but not perfectly copied. You will always carve the wood differently from the master who taught you, leaving your signature on the expertise you develop. Once the knowledge is abstracted, intellectualised and industrialised – then it can be perhaps perfectly reproduced, and hence aside from compelling Jeffersonian quotations on lit tapers; we have developed notions of intellectual property.

Three: we’ve had devices for knowledge-catburglars. From cold-war minox cameras, to worries about camera phones in the workplace. But what about less-clandestine, more social mobile devices or application for supporting the behaviour described by Seely-Brown and Duiguid above, i.e.: “so that newcomers can legitimately and peripherally participate in authentic social practice in rich and productive ways to, in short, make it possible for learners to “steal” the knowledge they need.”. Perhaps a number of the component devices and services are already available. I’ve found myself using my camera phone while others have been cooking, to capture aide-memoire material around a recipe.

An easy way to capture and structure ‘stolen knowledge’ is only one part of the solution of course – reading it back and reproducing the context and content in ways that support practice is perhaps the harder task.

» John Seely Brown, Paul Duguid: STOLEN KNOWLEDGE

Linkin’s parked.

Scenarios and storytelling.

Random thought about scenarios. Lots of different times, in lots of different companies; I’ve been in the situation where scenarios are being generated in break-out groups in a workshop, then brought back to the larger group for presentation and criticism.

Now – this type of work is only ever rough-scoping work, and it would be risky to base design work on it without more criticism or validation, but as it’s at the top of the funnel of product or service development often. And also more often than not – it’s done in ‘kick-off’ meets where stakeholders and project influencers who might be so heavily involved in the detailed work further along. So it can have a big influence.

Looking back, I’m wondering how much performance and storytelling influence the creation of scenarios in these situations. That is, when we brainstorm, as social animals, rather than objectively shaping scenarios for further development – how much are we looking for approval and engagement with our stories and ideas from those present?

Related: discussion about persona-driven design and the creation of personas on CHI-WEB.


Great Philip K. Dick quote found at AllAboutGeorge:

“We live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups.

I ask, in my writing, What is real?

Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudorealities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms.

I do not distrust their motives. I distrust their power. It is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind.

I ought to know.

I do the same thing.”

About to go and snuggle up with the lastest PKD-themed Wired.