Yesterday I attended Design 2.0: Products and their Ecosystems, put on by Core77. It was much better than the low expectations I had set for it.
One thing to note, before I get into the details, is that the discussion never quite gelled. It turns out ‘products and their ecosystems’ is a large enough topic that four people can address it and their stories not cohere. Some kind of stronger overarching narrative might have helped focus the discussion, and provide a stronger impression.
When you talk about ecosystems, you’re naturally going to get some biological analogies. Diego stressed the value of designing “fruit flies” not “elephants,” by which he meant, design smaller things with shorter expected lives, things that can flex once in the environment. Robyn Waters talked about product release strategies at Target that were similar—get products out there fast, see what people do with them, and then iterate. This all plays to the idea of prototyping and continuous innovation.
A challenge, though, is understanding your product’s relationship to the ecosystem. The iPod’s success is due to it fitting within a fairly complex ecosystem of physical products, digital products, and networks. While Apple began with the MP3 player (a fruitfly, perhaps), it realized that it wouldn’t deeply succeed until it had the software, and the music store, to provide an integrated experience.
Narratives and storytelling came up frequently. When trying to understand, and present, something as complex as products and their ecosystems. Stories help designers frame their solutions, to find a focus, a heart in their work. Stories also help users appreciate what is happening, to understand how the products can fit in their lives.
Some additional points of observation:
Diego presented the now-hoary “desirability/feasbility/viability” Venn diagram, and it was clearly new to many people in the audience—lots of furious scribbling.
Diego sums up “design thinking” as: Optimism; The Mind of the Child; Attitude of Wisdom; Building to Think (prototyping).
Steve implored people to be cognizant of cultural contexts, which lead to different cultural norms, and to not let your particular background skew your appreciation of others.
Robyn cited a creative process framework I’d never heard before, which was originated by Graham Wallas, which she then applied to contemporary concepts of left- and right-brained:
- stage 1 - preparation (left-brained analytical… research, etc.)
- stage 2 - incubation (right-brained, intuitive, inspirational, etc.)
- stage 3 - illumination (left and right brained together—eureka! light bulb)
- stage 4 - verification (analyze what happened)
Peter discussed the struggles between open and closed formats and technologies in consumer electronics, stressing the need for the former, and clearly upset that, at the current moment, all the major electronics companies were still pursuing the latter, in an effort to establish control.
What would be interesting is to have the first three speakers (Diego, Steve, and Robyn) all of whom are designers of some sort, apply their tools to Peter’s problem, which is getting both electronics companies and their customers to understand the importance and value of openness.
In all, perhaps not a home run, but a thought-provoking discussion nonetheless.