Insight and experience, concentrated

Diversions & Observations

Surprise – we have lives outside of the office too. More often than not, those experiences end up influencing our work. Sometimes they simply lead to us enjoying the world around us even more.

ASME/SPE tour of Milwaukee Tool

Spent yesterday evening at Milwaukee Tool for presentations and a tour of their Rapid Innovation Center.  The event was co-hosted by ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) and SPE (Society of Plastics Engineers).  Very cool to catch up on the changes at Milwaukee Tool as they implement new technology and tools to improve their product and process!

 

Honoring A Master

Had the unique opportunity to go to the Milwaukee premiere screening of “Rams” by director Gary Hustwit (director of Helvetica and Objectified) last night. After the screening Hustwit took questions from the crowd and then joined us all down the street at a local brewer. Nice break in a busy week, focusing on a designer who maintained his own focus impeccably…

 

Portfolio Review and Exhibit at MIAD

Portfolio review at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design tonight, followed by an exhibit on seating design. It was nice to run into some old familiar faces while sharing some insights and guidance with the students – and the gallery space for the seating exhibit was transformed in a manner I had not seen in many years of public shows!

 

Being My Father’s Son (why you are no longer the typical user)

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I was at a design conference in Seattle talking with a colleague when it arrived with a buzz.  Instead of the sweet note of longing I hoped for, I received this vaguely foreboding statement – and I deserved it.

A little background… My father had a way with cars.  He had the intuition and touch, and at times it seemed he related to them better than to any of us children.  I was in awe of his skill and how he seemed able to see and understand things that eluded the rest of us.

Well, one of our cars would have a carburetor flooding problem in very specific circumstances.  He knew that, and knew how to correct it when necessary.  Problem was, it was the car my mother drove most, and she wasn’t blessed with his “car whisperer” gifts…  One frigid winter night I remember him talking her through the process over the phone: remove the air cleaner, stick a hair comb into the choke plate to lean out the mix, and so on.  It wasn’t really a problem in his eyes because he understood the system intimately, and how to address problems it occasionally had.  It sure was a catastrophe that victimized my mother on nights like that though.

Keeping that in mind, let’s pull this all forward…  I had recently added a soundbar to our television and left the wiring in a “functional” state, planning to redo it when I wall-mounted the television in a week.  The universal remote wasn’t playing well with the soundbar, the HDMI ports and routing were a mess, but I knew exactly what was going on and could navigate it well. That was me – my wife didn’t understand it, couldn’t visualize it, and had no patience for it (or me) when “Chopped” was about to start.  Didn’t help that this was the third setup she had to deal with in as many weeks as I experimented.

My wife was a typical user, and it is often easy for product development professionals to lose touch with their point of view.  You may think you are just like them – heck, you use the product at home too!  But the more you know as a professional in the field (designer, engineer, marketing specialist, etc…), the further you get from being a kindred soul of the mass market consumer.  The mechanisms of accomplishing a task are apparent to you, and you’ve gotten to the point of developing sophisticated jargon to describe the elements and actions you deal with to make the magic happen.  Most of the time they don’t care – nor should they.  A convoluted description or excuse doesn’t solve their need, regardless of how proud we may be that we figured it all out.

I already know this well, but an occasional humbling reminder is a healthy thing.  I had grown to be my father’s son, but my wife was clearly not my mother’s daughter (as is the custom, I suppose).

 

 

Mirror Mirror, On The Floor…

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There’s an oft-quoted product development story involving “slow” elevators.  In this story, passengers are complaining to building management about the lengthy waits for elevators in a tall building.  Most would-be problem solvers, when presented with this situation, attack the readily apparent source of the pain: slow elevator mechanisms.  The hero of the story decides that the real problem is that people think that elevators are too slow, and that perception is exacerbated by their boredom while waiting.  Ultimately, mirrors are installed in the lobby and the elevators themselves, passengers occupy themselves with checking their hair, outfit, (and yes, other occupants), and management is thrilled with the inexpensive and easy to implement solution to their problems.

This story is typically pulled out to show how impactful the definition of a problem is to the creative problem solving process, and how thinking within disciplinary boxes can lead us to overlook novel solutions.  It came to mind when I stayed at an Aloft hotel on a research trip and saw their familiar Liquid Lava™ floor tiles in the elevator.  I realized that these were a new twist on the classic elevator mirror.  They took this ubiquitous distractive element and elevated it slightly more toward actual engagement.  In a sense, Aloft managed to put “mirrors” on the floors of their elevators without the risqué/creepy implications – while creating an experience unique to their hotels.  They didn’t think outside the box, but rather rotated it on its side…