Designer Bobigner

While Microsoft seemed to lead for many years especially in terms of “business acumen,” in the end,Apple built the “more valuable company”–Jobs was the design extraordinare and his imagination for user-centric product designs like the iPhone, iPad, iMac and more touched people in ways that no “other business leader of our time could possibly match.”

I have found that not everyone overtly appreciates the importance of design–and in fact, some people make fun of it, almost like children chanting “designer bobigner”–whether because they value function over design or they simply don’t have “taste and style” like Steve Jobs complained about his rival.

In either case, I think people who seem or act oblivious to the importance of design are missing the incredible power of those who can develop products with an eye towards beauty, novelty, and functionality combined. A computer is a magnificent thinking machine, but an Apple is generally a work of art.

Think about how people neurotically cover their Apple devices with all sorts of protective cases as if it were a precious jewel instead of a just a phone or computer.

Art is treated as priceless, but a computer is often just a commodity. However, Steve Jobs knew how to combine the functional power of a computer with the design of a master.

While “Big Box” retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco continue to grow and expand, our world seems smaller because of it–their shelves and aisles are stocked high with rows and rows of commodity, look-a-like goods of toothpaste, sweat pants, and TVs; it is easy to forget that those products that are really valuable to us, usually aren’t just good to use, but great to hold, feel, and look at.

In this light, I found two product designs that I thought were pretty cool to share.

The first is the white milk container that says Milk and the other is a box of tea bags, each bag with its own hanger for display and use of the side of a cup. The ideas are so simple, yet somehow so creative and appetizing. Two age-old commodities like milk and tea can be made new and special by how we package and meld with it in our environment.

Like the Chinese concept of feng shui, there are brilliant ways to develop our surroundings that energize and inspire, and great design is a magical element in a commodity world and what was not so long ago dominated by the one color black Ford Model-T.

Thank you Steve Jobs and the many other great design minds out there–keep the special things coming that make us say, “I want one!”

(Source Photos: here)

Milk_packaging Hanger_tea

Appropriate Technology For All

For July 4th, we headed down to the D.C. Folk Life Festival today on the Washington Mall.

The Peace Corps had a number of exhibits at the festival, including one on what they call “Appropriate Technology.”

Appropriate technology is about being user-centric when applying technology to the local needs and realities on the ground around the world.

There are 3 key rules in developing and implementing appropriate technology:

1) Affordable–technology has to be affordable for the people that are going to use it. Even if it saves money in the long-term, it has to be something that can be acquired by people without access to traditional financing in the short-term. 
2) Local–the material must be available locally in order to make it accessible to people living in remote and even dangerous parts of the world. 
3) Transparent–the design of the technology must be transparent with the assembly instructions available to the local people, so that it can be maintained indigenously. 
One company that is helping needy people around the world using appropriate technology is Global Cycle Solutions.
Two products from this company that attach to your bicycle were on display and one was actually being demonstrated:
1) Corn Sheller–For $75 plus shipping this attachment to your bicycle shells corn from the husks in pretty amazing speed. According to the supplier, you “can fill a 90-kg sack of maize in 40 minutes and 10-15 sacks per day…[so the] machine pays for itself within a month.” (Pictured you can see the exhibitor from Peace Corps loading the corn into the device and the husk coming out the other end; a little girl is pedaling and powering the device in one, and a little boy is spinning the wheel in the other.)
2) Phone Charger–For $10 plus shipping this bicycle attachment charges your phone as you pedal from place to place or as you spin the wheel in place. According to the website, it “charges as quickly as using a wall outlet.” (Pictured is the bike and charger on display.)
Since bicycles are routinely found around the world, these add-on devices that help in food preparation and communications are practical and cost-effective. 
Appropriate technology is not a technical term and the concept is not rocket-science, yet if we just keep in mind the people we serve–what their needs are and what constraints they may be living under–we can make solutions that are functional, cost-effective and sensible, and we’ll can help a lot of needy people in the world, bells and whistles aside. 
Appropriate_tech_1 Appropriate_tech_2 Appropriate_tech_3 Appropriate_tech_4

Apple Store “Heaven”

Apple_store

The Apple Store is always packed with people–it’s like they are just camped out there, permanently.  

According to the Wall Street Journal (15 June 2011), the Apple stores are an unbelievable success story:
1) The 326 stores sold about $11.7 billion worth of merchandise in 2010, and have an estimated 26.9% profit margin–compared with about 1% margin for Best Buy before taxes. 
2) They led with sales per square foot of over $4,406–higher than Tiffany at $3,070,, Coach at $1,776, and Best Buy at $880
3) More people now visit Apple’s stores in a single quarter than the 60 million who visited Disney’s 4 biggest theme parks last year.
And people are not just “window shopping,” but people are actively engaged trying out, testing, experimenting with the latest Apple products sitting out on the display desks.
Of course, there are also lots of sales people in their bright red Apple shirts ready to help, answer questions, and even sell you something. 
Apple’s stated “sales” philosophy–“not to sell, but rather to help customer solve problems.”  
Thus, employees receive no sales commissions and have no sales quotas–that’s definitely pretty novel!  (The exception is that “employees must sell services packages with devices”–I’ve always been a little leery of those, thinking why do I need the service package if the product is supposedly such high quality to begin with?)
Apple focuses their team on customer service, and their 20007 training manual uses the APPLE acronym as follows:
A–“Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome”
P–“Probe politely to understand all the customer needs”
P--“Present a solution for the customer to take home today”
L–“Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns”
E–“End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return”
I sort of like it–no where does it say to sell, up-sell, cross-sell the customer, but rather it’s much more about services and solutions. 
At checkout, the salespeople can ring you up from where ever you happen to be in the store on iPod touches with credit card readers. 
And trouble shooting Apple products is done at the “Genius Bar”–something like the Geek Squad on steroids. This is where things start to get a little weird, since Apple only pays their geniuses something like $30 an hour, so but for the love of Apple, what are they doing there?
Overall though, I think the whole store experience is pretty ingenious: from “the clutter free look using natural materials like wood, glass, stone, and stainless steel” to the large image color displays of the products dotting the walls, the stores are inviting, hip, and you know when you walk out with a product, it’ll be plug and play, immediately functional, and extremely sleek to match. 
J.C. Penny made a brilliant move announcing the hiring of Ron Johnson as their new CEO, effective November–Ron is the brains behind the Apple store design.  If Ron can Apple-fy the Penny stores, wow wow wow, but that this is not a sure thing, since Apple products are cool and sort of sell themselves anyway–they just needed the right ambience.
(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

>Functionalism and Enterprise Architecture

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Functionalism is about the structure and workings of society. Functionalists see society as made up of inter-dependent sections which work together to fulfill the functions necessary for the survival of society as a whole. The theory is based around a number of key concepts. First, society is viewed as a system – a collection of interdependent parts, with a tendency toward equilibrium. Second, there are functional requirements that must be met in a society for its survival (such as reproduction of the population). Third, phenomena are seen to exist because they serve a function. Functionalists believe that one can compare society to a living organism, in that both a society and an organism are made up of interdependent working parts (organs) and systems that must function together in order for the greater body to function.” (Wikipedia)

User-centric EA is firmly grounded in functionalism. EA sees the enterprise as composed of interrelated parts that rely on each other in order to function and survive. Each individual, group, department, division and so on plays a critical role (like organs in a body).

Enterprise architects develop models of the business, data, and systems that show exactly what the parts (or elements) in the organization are and how they interrelate and function—this is functionalism. For example, in the business model, the actors perform activities (or tasks); the activities make up processes, and the interrelated processes make up functions. Clearly there is a structure and interdependency of like components that fulfills enterprise functions. Similarly, the organization’s IT hardware and software products are combined with databases to make up applications with specific business functions. The functionally interrelated applications combine to make up systems. Again, the collection of independent parts (products, applications, systems) forms collections that serve specified functions for the organization.

If a business activity or process or an IT product or application no longer serves a necessary or viable function for the growth and “survival” of the organization or if there are redundancies in these, then the architect recommends that those unnecessary components be discontinued. Similarly, if there are gaps or inefficiencies in the business or IT, where required functions are not being served or served well, then the architect recommends a those gaps be filled or those business or IT areas be reengineered.

EA’s basis in functionalism is what makes it grounded in the realities of the organization needs for survival and maturation.