IDSA ICSID 2007 San Francisco, Day 1 AM

The IDSA/ICSID conference is probably THE IDSA event you want to go to. It’s only held every few years and because of that draws a much wider, diverse crowd than the standard IDSA event. The quality of speakers and audience are typically much better and compared to the last idsa event I went to (New York), this event delivered.

Here’s a quick and dirty run down of the events I saw at the conference.

I missed the first evening party, got to SF a little late, so took some folks to Manora Thai down in the SOMA area, mmmmm, deep fried soft shell crab.

The morning kicked off with Hans Rosling of Gapminder. This guy gives a great presentation with one of his messages being, there are NO gaps between the Western world and the Third world. Why? Public access to data has closed down these gaps. His website and visually driven data demonstrate this. Most of his presentation was based off the work done on his website so I would check it out. Because all of his talk was around world statistics like, population, infant mortality, etc…he did throw in for us designers, “…design increases the bandwidth of the optic nerve…” thus, when information is “designed well”, then its easier to take in. duh, but I liked how it he put it and how it meshed with his presentation.

Richard Seymour was 2nd at bat. His talk was around this project they are doing to help Virgin “Galactic” visualize space travel. He showed a highly produced movie with Space Odyssey like imagery. Pretty impressive and for those who dream of going to space, then this was it for you. But the thing that most stuck in my mind was his build up for the Virgin presentation itself. He told a story around how Seymour/Powell won a job with the British Rail but never having done any work in that field. Yes they have done motorcycles and bicycles, but nothing that big. Basically, he told a the board of directors that even though they had NO experience in this field, they had the answer that would make for a winning design. It was all about the romance, pride and heritage of trains in the past. Like the thought of traveling through space, there’s a certain fantasy and imagery that come with traveling via rail. He would bring back the delight and thrill of big things. It was this visual imagery, that he put into the heads of the board and the notion that they would create a design, that would make their sons, dream of being conductors of their new train. He mentions, the degree of design, thrill, excitement is what raises the bar and not technology.

Ironically, the next talk had the tech, but not the design. Martin Eberhard and Barney Hatt anchored the morning to talk about THE subject of the event: SUSTAINABILITY. This version was about how to do a real, electric sports car. Tesla Motors is the project. They went on and on about how this was a technical breakthrough and how different this car is. This is probably true. But when it comes to the design of car, I’d have to say…missed opportunity. Look at the website and tell me if you disagree, this sports car, sorta looks like, any other old sports car, especially of the Lotus lineage. The speakers went on about how they didnt want this to look like a futuristic, tech geek electric car. Bill Moggridge even suggested they put concepts on the walls for Martins friends and family to judge. Oh boy, any better way to bring on middle of the road? Just to be sure, I had to ask my car design friends to see what they said. “hey did you see the Tesla presentation…” and the response was prune face all around. OK, look at their website, its a nice sports car, but its just such an expected design. I’d like to see the first real ELECTRIC sports car, look like something, I’ve not seen before. This doesn’t mean it has to be some geeked out space odyssey…shit I’m not a car designer so who the hell’s gonna listen to me! Oh wait, if I listen to Richard, then I guess I CAN design a car. Well the Tesla certainly doesn’t capture the romance of a silent running speedster to me.

Now that’s what I’m talkin about!

Apple Craft: it’s the product

I just got back from the Art Center conference called Radical Craft. I wasn’t able to make the first day of the conference, which I was told seemed to be the better of the two days to attend. But I did happen to catch a talk, or more an interview given by Chee Perlman of Jonathan Ive, the VP of Design at Apple. I have to say it was a really great interview. The MC intro went sort of like this, “if Steve Jobs is the design visionary at Apple, then Jonnie Ive is the design soul”. Here are my thoughts about what I enjoyed:

1. Jon is the 100% opposite of the typical design rock star personality. Isaac Mizrahi also presented that same day, actually a really great interview as well, but his personality is huge and clearly a big part of the package. Flamboyant, loud, arms waving, running into the crowd like Jerry Springer. This is not Jon Ive. I think its great to see smart designers that don’t want to be rock stars, talk about their passions in a public venue.

2. He’s clearly focused on one thing, making the product as great as it can be. When asked about what the goals of Apple are, he states that creating and producing the best product possible, is more important than making money. I’m sure some of the business guys would choke hearing this, but I’m of the same belief, that if you really get the product right, the chances of it and the company doing well are much higher. Additionally, you get the benefit of a company with a reputation that delivers quality.

3. Following on about the utter importance of the “product” itself, he states that getting this right, has a much more lasting, positive impact than marketing and sales. Once again, I’m in complete agreement here. Yes the Apple ad campaign creates a grand sense of style and aspiration for us consumers, the itunes store offers a great online experience, but the proof is in the pudding, if the product pleases, it just makes you smile and reinforces the message, but if it disappoints, you’re crying and the message turns into a joke. If the product is done right and delivers, then that creates repeat customers boosting sales.

4. He is a design freak, passionate and fanatical about the details and getting it right. It’s fortunate that he’s in an organization that cares as much as he does.

5. Continuing on design, he states that Apple design is NOT about self expression and more about taking complex problems and making them appear simple. This was said in the context of comparing Apple Design to other designers, like Mizrahi, who would profess to say that the design he produces, IS self expression. On this note, I can’t say I agree with Jon. Yes the current Apple design language is the epitome of simplicity. One could argue that the current line is almost expressionless in its character. But what about the “candy colored” phase of Apple design? Or the jelly fish like Apple/Harmon speakers? Quite expressive if you ask me. What designers produce or at least intend to produce, in my mind, is a clear statement of self expression, whether that expression is simplicity or intricacy or excitement or whatever appropriate thought fits. That product expression is also a direct reflection of where that particular company is at the time as well. Often the reflection can get watered down to a murky blur by too many participants trying leave their own mark, but that’s another blog topic.

It’s clear that Jonathan and his team are in pursuit of excellence. It’s also clear that Apple at large is willing to pay for this and do what it takes to produce great product (poor engineers, they must go through hell!). There is another interesting blog about the cost of innovation from Noise Between Stations which I actually found on Bruce Nussbaum’s Business Week blog who also has some nice thoughts on design. The NBS blog talks about how much Apple pays for innovation and puts it up against sales, good stuff. This all said, as someone traditionally trained in Industrial Design, and now an expert in Experience, Strategic, Brand, Feeling, Styling, Innovation Design 😉 I quite enjoyed Jon’s ability to stay focused on one thing, the product.