Background Knowledge

Great Design = Technique + Ideation

How do we get great design? Most of us can recognize it, but creating it is another matter. I spend a lot of time thinking about product design: How can Apple come up with product after product that’s beloved by their users? Why does Microsoft have difficulty achieving the same? I think the key is in combination of two necessary components of greatness: mastery of technique and richness of ideation. Let me explain. Consider art. What makes Picasso great? During his lifetime, the man was incredibly prolific. He worked in many different mediums from paint, to metal, to charcoal. He excelled at Analytical Cubism, easily surpassing Braques in both quantity and quality of work. Picasso borrowed from African art and from impressionists. He followed Matisse until Matisse’s students started to follow him. Picasso dived into an art form and explored with fury until he transformed it into something his own. He borrowed from everyone and bent it and molded it into a unique creation. Picasso was rich in ideation. But ideation is not enough. What good is an idea when it lacks execution? Picasso was an art prodigy. He was able to draw amazingly mature life drawings at age fifteen that most…

Categorization & Context

What is art? Do the objects in the images above form a category of “sculpture”? In Kindergarten, young students are taught a game: every kid brings an object to class; each student is asked to create two piles—the “in” group and “out” group—based on his/her own imagined set of rules; the other children guess the rules that make the category. It’s a great game. A collection of 20 objects can be sorted a staggeringly large number of ways: by color, by size, by use, by ownership, by gender, by taste, by feel, by name, by materials used in manufacturing, by the degree of fun, by shape, by temperature, by degree of reflectiveness or transparency, by the feelings they inspire, by history, by age, by weight, by dimensions, by utility, by the maker, by origin, or any other trait or combination of traits. This is a task that’s truly shaped by imagination. Categorization is a work of creativity. Guessing the rules of categorization is deductive reasoning at its best—scientists, detectives, and doctors do it everyday. But unlike the Kindergarten game, there’s usually no one to tell when the guess is wrong. How we perceive a group of objects depends on the…

On “Legendary Magazine Covers Get Their Own Spread”

CNN staff. (2008). “Legendary magazine covers get their own spread.” CNN. Retrieved on April 27, 2008. http://edition.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/books/04/25/esquire.coverart.ap/index.html CNN publishes a eulogy of George Lois as his work for the Esquire magazine is going to be exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Reviewing some of the magazine covers, the journalist highlights what made the designer’s shots iconic. In this respect, two main arguments come up. First, the journalist lays an emphasis on the power of the images. Describing Muhammad Ali posing as Saint Sebastian, he shows to what degree it stroke people’s memory. In fact, in Lois’ point of view, the photograph has to make a powerful statement to push the viewer to look at the article inside. Not only did he succeed in doing that but he also stroke people’s memory to such an extent that they still remember where they first saw this cover at the time. His photographs gave polemical statements on political, cultural but also social issues and triggered heavy debate in the society. They became iconic through their simplicity of evocation and their ability to instill a tinge of provocation about contemporary issues. The Vietnam covers are telltale when it comes to affecting the…

A Curiously French Complaint

Kirby, E. (2008). “ A Curiously French Complaint,” BBC News.  Retrieved on 2008/12/13. http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/7779126.stm Summary: This article focuses on the cultural differences between the French and British populations in regards to their medical care. Each culture has their own script of understanding, which people rely to set their expectations during a medical crisis. The author Emma experienced a cultural ‘shock’ during her first encounter with a French doctor due to her vastly different set of expectations. She visits a doctor in France due to the severity of a sore throat, where she is “diagnosed with a severe lung infection, mild asthma and had in my hand a prescription for six different types of medicine, an appointment at the local hospital’s radiology department and an emergency referral to a specialist in pulmonary disease (article).” Upon her return to Britain a few days later, she visits her family physician, who within a few minutes diagnoses her with only a ‘common cold.’ Her article then explains how the French expect a much more sever diagnosis to support their physical suffering. France is also the leading country of consumers who take prescription medications. While in England, there’s a more ‘keep a stiff upper lip’…

On ‘Mind Over Mass Media’ by Pinker

Pinker, S. (2010). “Mind Over Mass Media.” The New Your Times Online. Retrieved on 23 June 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/opinion/11Pinker.html Summary: Pinker’s article tries to prove the positive affect of new media technologies on mental development. Pinker observes, that the development of information technologies have always caused panic, but such scares usually are for no reasons. As an example, the author connects decreasing crime rate with emerging new technologies. In his understanding “[i]f electronic media were hazardous to intelligence, the quality of science would be plummeting” by scientist are using information technologies. By accepting, that “experience can change the brain” he argues, that new technology is not “a blob of clay pounded into shape by experience” and there are differences between the sorts of experiences. The article points, that the knowledge of accomplished people is one-sided. In Pinker’s opinion people are elementally changing by the usage of a certain technology. The article points that people need to use new technology with self-control. As the author concludes, that “the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output [… and] technologies are the only things that will keep us smart”. Opinion: On one hand I can fully…

Distilling Information

When it comes to my students’ participation in this blog, it’s all about distilling information found in the news to something product designers in our midst would find useful, on a practical level. Consider the illustration below. We see a person’s face (mine in this case). We can describe some of the features. But what do we actually remember? Remembering complex visual information is hard—too many details. Recalling a drawing is easier. That’s because an artist already distilled the complexity into its essential parts—only those details that are required to remind us of a particular individual are included in the rendering. We are all pretty good at judging wether a portrait looks like the person it was intended to represent. We can quickly say if it does or if it doesn’t. But it would be difficult to explain what details in the illustration make the likeness or what’s missing from the drawing that didn’t hit its mark. Distillation of information is hard. Some people are good at it, some are not. It’s an acquired skill. And each category (e.g. sensory like visual, audio, tactile or knowledge-based like physics, economics, biology) requires its own training and its own set of talents.…

Working Memory Limitations vs. the Size of Problem

Three BLind Men and an Elephant Proverb

The illustration above comes from Wikipedia, which has a complete entry on the Asian proverb about blind monks who examine an elephant and generate multiple hypotheses of what it could be. In product design speak, these monks are doing collaborative problem solving with a shared goal of identifying a mysterious object—the elephant. The monks, the story goes, all come from different backgrounds: an old tailor touching an elephant’s ear describes it as cloth; an aging gardner hugging the leg imagines a tree trunk; an elephant’s tusk is envisioned as a weapon by an arms master. Each monk brings his own life’s worth of experience to bear on the problem, but each has very limited access to the whole. It’s easy to see how this story can be used to explain the pains of collaborative and cooperative group projects in which individuals focus on product design. Each person brings their own expertise to the table, hopefully contributing positively to the whole process. But this story is also a good metaphor for understanding problem solving in context of our very limited working memory capacity. Unlike elementary school math problems that we all calculated, real world problems are messy and don’t come with…