Archive | April, 2012

Innovation is the Key

27 Apr

IDEO is world’s largest design firm. Originally named David Kelley Design (named after the founder and Stanford University professor, David Kelley) and founded in 1978, it was later rechristened IDEO, which came from the word ‘ideology’. The company has some of Fortune 100 clients and is primarily involved with the design of consumer products. Some of the most popular and innovative products designed by IDEO are the Apple mouse, Steelcase chairs, and Palm V PDA. Professor Kelley teaches a very popular course at Stanford University that helps students learn the basics of design and rapid prototype development.

The book The Art of Innovation was written by David Kelley’s brother Tom Kelley (with journalist and Pulitzer prize winner Jonathan Littman), who is also the General Manager at IDEO. The book is intended to share the best practices for developing a culture of innovation within a company, which is practiced at IDEO after years of using and refining. A person at the company is the official ‘Story Teller’ to outside visitors who tour the company to see and learn what makes the company the leader in design innovation.

The book has been divided into fifteen chapters. Each chapter covers a specific topic in the design process or in building a company focused on innovation. Tom Kelley talks about building a company-wide culture that promotes thinking and innovation and what the stages are in developing an innovative product.

Here’s is the summary of chapter 1.

Innovation is the key
In the last 15 years, innovation has become a buzzword widely used in big corporations to tiny startup companies. The CEOs and the executive team members always talk about innovation, be it product innovation, process innovation, services innovation, or innovation in other areas. It has become a top priority for many companies. The methodology developed by IDEO comprises five stages:

  • a. Understand the potential market, users, available technology, and constraints.
  • b. Observe the potential users in real-world situations doing their normal activities instead of setting up focus groups and laboratory research.
  • c. Visualize how and what the products will be in future and how, where, and when they will be used.
  • d. Build a prototype and continuously test with real users and refine it.
  • e. Commercialize the concept by launching the product in the market.

Innovation is a mindset, a complex, time-consuming, and difficult process, but it is the only key to future growth. It is the only way to remain relevant in today’s hyper-competitive market.

Suggested Readings
You Call That Innovation?
Innovation Is a Discipline, Not a Cliché

Design of Everyday Things: Smartphone App

25 Apr

Last year, I was preparing for an official trip and decided to use my iPhone to create a list of things I needed to carry with me. I wanted a simple list app that would let me create a list of items and an option to check which items I have kept in my bag. I (and I’m sure most of us) always use a post-it note or a piece of paper to make a list of things to buy or things to do. A simple list is incredibly useful in our everyday lives.

I went to the app store on my iPhone and downloaded about ten list apps. Every app developer, in hopes of making her/his app most popular, had put many features on the app. I finally found an app that got the work done albeit poorly. That was the day my disenchantment with the iPhone began. What’s the point of having 600,000 apps when I can’t find what I’m looking for.

Here’s a sample list app. This is the first app that shows up on the app store when searched for “list”.

(click to enlarge)

A few weeks ago I switched from an iPhone to a Windows phone. I searched the marketplace and installed a list app created by Microsoft. The app lets me create lists, add items to a list, and when I check an item, it moves from “shelf” to “cart”. This is a very useful app and looks more like it was designed by Apple and not Microsoft. Simple and elegant. Gets the work done.

(click to enlarge)

Related readings
Design of Everyday Things: Microwave Keypad
600,000 apps in Apple’s App Store, yet I can’t find anything I want

The Failure of OLPC

13 Apr
Logo of One Laptop per Child

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years ago, a group of affluent people in a first world country decided that the kids in third world countries need to be educated, and they are the right people to revolutionize education in those countries and help with their social and economic upliftment. The leader of this group – the founder of a world-renowned technology lab in an elite university – wanted to hand over an electronic device to millions of kids so they can search for information on the Internet, collaborate with their peers, and be responsible for their own learning. A number of big organizations too supported this initiative.

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program was launched in 2005 by two non-profit organizations and chaired by Nicholas Negroponte. It was implemented in several poor countries including Uruguay, Peru, Mexico, Ghana, and Rwanda. It was rejected by the Indian government, which later decided to build an even cheaper tablet.

It was a noble mission destined to fail from the beginning. The mission of OLPC was to let every kid have access to a laptop when the mission should have been to educate the kids. OLPC was supposed to be a means to an end, but it, unsurprisingly, didn’t fulfill the dream. The socio-economic and other factors in these countries proved to be an insurmountable barrier.

OLPC XO-1 Laptop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The foundation planned to develop $100 laptops and sell it (not donate!) to governments for deploying in schools. People that don’t have enough money for food, don’t have access to drinking water and electricity, schools that don’t have continual Internet connection, kids’ homes not connected, teacher not trained on how to use the laptops in class, a Linux-based OS (Sugar) with buggy software, and other issues didn’t let the schools take full advantage of the laptops. This proved once again that it’s not the technology that helps people learn; it’s the pedagogical methods and good, engaging content, and of course, qualified teachers with ongoing training and support.

A recent study – Technology and Child Development – conducted in Peru concluded that there has not been a statistically significant improvement in the children’s reading and math scores after the implementation of the OLPC program. Some might say that test scores are not the real measures of the program’s impact and things like engagement and motivation cannot be quantified. There might be other benefits to the schools and children, but until those benefits are somehow measured over longer periods of time, the vision and promise of OLPC would remain unfulfilled.

It is, however, encouraging that many countries, organizations (Khan Academy, Intel’s StudyBook), and schools (the flipped classroom, iPads/tablets) are experimenting with different pieces of technology to engage and educate children.

Related readings
One Laptop Per Child
The Failure of One Laptop Per Child
Flipping the Classroom Requires More Than Video

Design of Everyday Things: Microwave Keypad

4 Apr

I’ve never been able to use any feature of a microwave oven other than the most basic ones. I’m not that smart. But does a person need to be smart to be able to use a microwave oven? Or is it poor design?

To answer this question, I looked at four microwave ovens (one at my home and three at the office).¬† There are buttons with labels for what those buttons are meant to do. It’s obvious that the most common functions have dedicated buttons like, popcorn, pizza, beverage, and soup. And for those that want to warm other things, there is a keypad for setting the time.

They all look simple enough until they don’t.

Design issues

  1. Other than popcorn, pizza, and dinner plate, different manufacturers have their own assumptions of what people most commonly warm. Is Auto Defrost the most common use of a microwave that it needs four buttons (the first image)?
  2. You have to look hard to find the button your need.
  3. The organization of buttons is arbitrary and different on different models.
  4. There is no indication what the buttons mean. Auto cook, auto defrost, auto reheat? More/Less of what?
  5. All buttons have similar appearance.Why is weight defrost next to power?
  6. Treating all varieties of something equally. There is a button for popcorn. Do all popcorns pop at the same time? A button for dinner plate. Are all dinner plates the same size with the same food? Does everyone need to warm their food the same amount? Do all beverages come in the same cup, same quantity. Does everyone need to warm the same amount of the same pizza?
  7. Even the timer buttons function differently. One one model, pressing 2 then start runs the microwave for 2 seconds while on another, pressing 2 (no start) runs it for 2 minutes.

The microwave is a simple household appliance. It doesn’t need to be difficult to operate. People, from experience, know how much they want their food to be warm. Can we have a simple interface, may be, just a keypad and a start/stop button and another button to increment the time by 30 seconds?

Related readings
Design of Everyday Things: Water Dispenser