Reprising W+K’s 10 lessons for young designers

I recently ran across this list while reading about the challenges faced by John Maeda as he moved from software engineer and computer scientist to President of the Rhode Island School of Design. It reminded me that not all of design, in education and in work, can be neatly packaged and served to managers in a sound bite like ‘design thinking.’ I’m reprising here the list written by Wieden+Kennedy’s Executive Creative Director, John C. Jay of 10 lessons for young designers:

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What our leaders tell us about our selves

Steve Jobs died. The outpouring of sorrow and admiration is nothing short of stunning, and more than most heads of state would engender. Jobs deserves credit for so much that Apple (and Pixar) have wrought, and a tribute to his purely technological contributions would be plenty.  But there is something intensely personal—something that speaks to us more than the phones, or laptops, or iPads—that in passing shakes us to the core and asks what we want of our leaders and of ourselves.

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Problem-finding, by Tom Kelley of IDEO

Albert Szent-Gyorgi, who won the Nobel Prize in 1937 for discovering vitamin C, once said “Discovery consists in seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought.” 

When it comes to innovation, or its cousins invention and discovery, we tend to think of it as a process of discovering solutions.  In fact, it is more often a process of discovering the right problems. Tom Kelley, of IDEO, talks so eloquently here about the value of finding the right problem in talking about how IDEO's designers were able to discover a new problem in what was essentially an old and mature market, kid's toothbrushes.  

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CHE Article on teaching entrepreneurship

A brief post to mention an article out now in Chronicle of Higher Education in which I talk about the need to teach entrepreneurship broadly—and what needs to be taught:  

7 Ways to Make Students More Entrepreneurial 

The article is available for non-subscribers for 5 days here, then available to subscribers here

Automist, another student-driven design innovation

One of the perks of my job is to serving on the Advisory Board of Design London, a joint venture between Imperial College and the Royal College of Arts.  There, as in similar programs that bring together engineering, design, and business students, I get to see the exciting ideas and ventures that emerge from the mix.

At Design London, MBA students from Imperial College Business School,
engineers from Imperial College of Engineering, and Design students from the RCA come together to design, engineer, and grow new businesses.  In addition to teaching an interdisciplinary design program, it also advances the role of design-led innovation for London’s many small and medium-sized enterprises, and houses a business incubator that helps launch new ventures.

The New York Times “Year in Ideas” issue just featured one such company (Kitchen Sink), which formed when two design students recognized how a solution in one corner of firefighting could be used in another:

Yusuf Muhammad and Paul Thomas,
industrial-design students at London’s Royal College of Art, learned
this after a school assignment prompted a conversation with members of
the Chelsea Fire Station. The firefighters mentioned water mist, a
firefighting technology used on oil rigs and cruise ships because of
its advantages in a confined space. After picking the brains of
specialists at the conference of the International Water Mist
Association, the duo began prototyping a low-cost means of taking water
mist into the family kitchen.

Their patent-pending product, Automist,
consists of a ceiling-mounted heat detector that triggers a pump under
the sink that sends water to a special unit at the base of the kitchen
faucet.

There, six high-pressure nozzles emit jets of
mist that rapidly turn to steam, creating an inert atmosphere that
starves the fire of oxygen and reduces the heat of the room. “It’s
almost like being in a wet sauna,” Muhammad says.

The team had previously won the James Dyson Award, where you can read more about the idea and company.

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Breaking through

What makes a breakthrough product?  What’s the secret sauce that anoints one version of an idea while ignoring others?

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Charles Wilson has a couple of nice posts on the Kindle (Kindle Up; breakthrough devices) and a great find in a link to The Kindle vs. the Gadget Hall of Fame, which compares Kindle’s first year sales to other “breakthrough” products like the iPod, Blackberry, Palm Pilot, and Razr… and begs the question.

So what makes a breakthrough?

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This is no idle question.  Palm Pilot was not the first personal digital assistant; At least thirteen mp3 players had a headstart on the iPod; and now Sony’s E-reader (and some also-rans) are watching as Amazon’s Kindle breaks through.  It does no good to be first on the market if someone else can easily pass you by.

I suspect most designophiles (and I must count myself among them) would take this opportunity to point out how it’s the little details that differentiate one product from the next–a better screen, longer battery life, slimmer packaging.

But the Kindle offers us another lesson: ITNS (Like it’s cousin, KISS) It’s The Network, Stupid.

Kindle may or may not be a better product, but if you had a product that owned the Amazon.com home page–how many would you be able to sell.  According to Alexa, Amazon has a daily traffic ranking for the past 6 months that puts it in the top 20 – 30 sites visited, and is–daily–reaching 2-3% of the visitors to the web (disclaimer: as I understand Alexa’s terminology).

Don’t get me wrong–great design sells products.  But if I had to choose between a great design and mediocre distribution partners or a mediocre design but great distribution partners, I would go for the latter.  If it was good enough for Bill Gates…

So when it comes to breakthrough products, let’s give credit where credit’s due.  Lest we want to celebrate great designers and chase great design when the real advantage comes from the (usually backstage) network builders who make those designs succeed in the market.

Evolving metaphors

Mike at Life on the Road has carried the conversation about MySpace in an interesting direction (see his post as well as his comments to my previous post). One of his central arguments is that social networking sites are not all that different from most other “destination” sites: places where people come to connect with similar people.

I agree with this line…in it’s extreme, social networking sites are just another kind of chum to draw users in (to sell them ads, goods, and services). It’s a particularly convenient kind of chum, as the users develop it for you.

Prodigy, as one of the first ISPs, started life thinking they were part mall and part newspaper–meaning they thought they were going to make money by selling ads and getting commissions on third party internet sales. Instead, users flocked to their message boards and email and, in so many words, used it as a social networking site. Prodigy’s response was to begin charging by the email and by the hour for their message boards. Users left, and Prodigy never got them back.

One of the reasons to question MySpace’s metaphor is to better understand what business they’re in–what value they’re in the business of creating–and what business they want to be in. Are they the new Viper Room, the new Mickey Mouse Club or the new NBC?

Google, as Mike notes, has done a very good job of not allowing its original metaphor (an index on steroids) to become fixed in its users’ minds. Instead, their continual introduction of new tools has forced users to continually revise their assumptions about what Google is and does. More so than any one feature (like mail or calendar or maps) this series of new tools ensures that Google remains a living and evolving business concept. And its users never pigeon-hole them.

It’s up to MySpace to think past the initial metaphors (their own and their users’), use the current traffic to shape a new form that is more defensible and adaptable than the current one.