Archive for category Values
I just experimented with an interesting thing on Google Wave. I made my “Invite others” wave public. Now anyone on Wave can invite people using my invites. Pretty cool. Just a minute after I made the wave public the first person entered and used two invites. It feels quite awesome. Can people handle it all the way? Will someone come in and just use up all the invites? We will soon know. =)
Has anyone else done this? Are there lots of public invite waves out there?
Lots of (most) people think we live in a market economy. I beg to differ. Plan economy better describes it. If it was a market economy, how come the market doesn’t set the interest rate? And how come, when the financial systems melt down because of sub optimizing in the sea of regulations, the answer is always more regulations? If Obama and his followers around the world gets it their way financial business, and even business that goes “To Big To Fail” (an arbitrary label put on any business that the governments can’t keep their fingers off of), will have to carry even larger legions of bureaucrats and politicians on their back in order to have permission to operate. The result will of course be even more volatility for the markets and higher prices paired with lower quality of service for us citizens. But do the Obamas of the world care? No, what they care about is taking this wonderful opportunity to meddle with peoples affairs, just like they did when those terrorists managed to kill so many innocents back in September 11 2001, just like they always do at the time of any crisis.
The problem is a bit like a super Kinder Egg. Four (unpleasant) presents in one package; Bailouts, Fake interest rates, government regulations and “Stimulus”. Unlike real presents though, we are paying for them ourselves. This blog post addresses the Bailouts. If I find some more time to write I’ll deal with the other Kinder Egg content in coming posts.
If this is a market economy why is it that banks and insurers that suck at doing business are propped up and bailed out by the governments? In the U.S. the bailout costs so far are approaching $10 trillion. Now, that’s a lot of money!. Check this article out to get an idea on how fast these bailout trillions are burning. In a market economy failing businesses fail and resources are reallocated to good business. Jim Rogers, chairman of Singapore-based Rogers Holdings has understood this and says:
The U.S. is taking assets from competent people and giving them to incompetent people. That’s bad economics.
(From Bloomberg article U.S. Bailouts Add to Risk of Depression.)
Contrast that with what the mainstream opinion holds true:
Banks that fail hurt the society.
(Freely translated from this editorial in Sweden’s largest news paper.)
In our phony economy banks don’t need to care about the long term. In the booms bank managements can reap as much as possible from the speed-blindness of the market, stuff their own pockets full with those insane bonuses and pretend it is a reward for business success. In the busts their business will stand completely unprepared, naked and vulnerable, but these nigh-criminals can just shrug their shoulders and rest assured that our tax money will step in and save their asses.
What this system does is to perpetuate the bad leadership in these institutions. It’s not setup for learning anything good. And, as you may or may not know, I’m crazy about learning. In a market economy the business these lousy managers run would fail. These people would have big ugly FAILs in their CV:s and they would have to find jobs better suited for them (something involving minimum responsibilities of any kind). As it is now they can continue their careers like if they actually knew what they are doing.
There’s also no incentive for these businesses to start competing using arguments like “with us your money is safer than with them”. Remember, in our messed up economy, money we put in the bank is just as safe regardless of what bank we choose. The governments think they own our tax money. They will use it to prop these banks and insurers up and even bail them out if it comes to that. Then they will act surprised and exasperated when the bank managers try to use the tax money to enrich themselves even more. In reality we have these criminals as bank managers because we deserve it.
Some say we should nationalize these bad banks. Like they would be run better by politicians. Like that wouldn’t be an even surer way to burn up our tax money. In Sweden, Bailout nation #1, politicians are trained to find some middle ground. What they try to do is to give the tax money to the banks if the banks sign a contract about how the money can be used. For some reason politicians seem to think of themselves as good business people. They don’t see that all they are doing is playing Monopoly with our tax money. (Or maybe they see that and laugh at the joke.) The really sad part of this story is that lots of the Obamas in the world are impressed with what’s called The Swedish Bailout Model. Sweden is successfully exporting it! The world must of course move in the opposite direction. Away from plan economy and towards market economy.
Last night, I was reading a book by Leander Kahney. It is called “Inside Steve’s Brain”. I was mostly inspired to buy the book because of Google Story, the other book that I read some weeks back. Though both the books cannot be compared, to be honest I think this book lacks the flow. The author just wanders all around. Seems like it is just a collection of all news articles over a decade collected into one book with absolutely no concurrency. I was kind of cheated by the title in plain words. I was expecting the author to have had at least some kind of personal talk with Steve Jobs…at least a jovial walk with Steve on the streets of Palo Alto. Anyway, this blog is not intended to be a critic of the book. I think there are some good take-aways in there. Below is one of them…
Though not very surprising, it was interesting to read how much time Apple spends on the design of each and every little component from hardware to software to packaging. I was amazed to read that Steve and his bunch of talented designers were designing just the scrollbar function of Mac OS X for many weeks.No wonder why Microsoft’s scrollbars sucks when you compare it with OS X. For Apple “no detail is too small”.
Steve on the Mac OS X release said “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them”. Very true indeed! :-)
One thing that intrigues me is how much detail oriented Apple as a company really is. I think the way their designers apply common world solutions for solving technical design problems, is what makes their GUI more intuitive. I think this is one aspect that distinguishes Apple’s user friendliness from others.
Here is a little story from Apple …
At one design meeting Apple guys were scrutinizing the three little buttons on the top left corner of every window. These were used for closing, shrinking and expanding. The designers had made all the buttons the same muted gray, to prevent them from distracting the user. But it was difficult to tell what they were for. Hard to communicate what these buttons did before the user clicks on it. There were many interesting suggestions to the problem and Jobs came up with what seemed to be an old and uninteresting idea…using traffic lights to symbolize each button function! The designers of course thought it was strange and boring BUT after a few weeks of trial, yeah it made all the sense to them…red meant close and green to expand.
The other thing that is very unique about Apple is their layman approach to problem solving. Steve Jobs remarked on Apple after taking over as its interim CEO in the 90’s, “I can’t find sex in apple machines anymore!” True eh? people got to relate more personally to the software they use!
The starting point of the iPod was not about a hard drive and a chip in a walkman. It was simply user experience! It meant concentrating on navigating content. FULLSTOP! Apple was paying so much attention to “saying no” to features that would make the iPod NOT simple.
Apple believes that the most important decisions you make are NOT the things that you do, but the things you decide NOT to do.
I think this is a very good approach for making things simple and easy. Less is more!
When it comes to user design and user design innovation, a lot of companies like to say and think that they are customer-centric. They approach their users and ask them what they want. This user centric innovation is driven by feedback and focus groups. But Jobs shuns laborious studies such as these where users locked in a conference room go through gruelling hours of no productivity. What one really has to do with the focus group is to just observe them and NOT listen to them.
What Jobs does is even much simpler. To Play with the new technology himself. He notes down his own reactions to it and gives his feedback directly to the engineers. Jobs believes that if the technology works for him it will work for others. Of course, one has to have a layman approach when playing around. Steve Jobs is neither an engineer nor a business expert. He is a master layman!
John Sculley the ex CEO of Apple says “ But unlike a lot of people in product marketing in those days who would go out and do consumer testing, asking people what they wanted, Steve didn’t believe in that. He said, ‘How can I possibly ask someone what a graphics-based computer ought to be when they have no idea what a graphics-based computer is? No one has seen one before!’”
Creativity in art and Technology is about individual expression. Just as an artist couldn’t produce a painting by conducting a focus group study, Apple doesn’t use them either. They try it themselves!!
I think this can apply for us as well. Toyota believes that every engineer should be a quality controller too. For us we got to design and test our own software and give critical feedback! More and more!! I see very many good ideas pop up during our internal design discussions and during development. Some of them get implemented straightaway. Great! But I think we just have to get better at it…better at critically analyzing what we do. I don’t mean to say that “we should start shitting on our own doorstep”, this is bad :-) I mean that we should do more constructive criticism of what we make…let it be design or coding. This I think will enable us produce easier solutions for our customers.
If Sony started believing on customer studies and feedback alone, they would never have released their famous walkman in the 80’s. The company did though invest a lot of money into market research before releasing the walkman. All the marketing research said that the walkman was going to fail dramatically. No one would buy it! But the founder Akio and his team believed strongly in their product and pushed it through anyway. It became one of the greatest hits.
It’s the same with Steve Jobs he does not require user groups because he himself is an user experience expert.
So why don’t we as visual/interaction designers and coders and salesmen spend more time on analyzing and testing the stuff we design and develop?
This will make our product easy to use! We got our core value in there, “We make it ez”
It doesnt matter whether you have “designer” written on your business card. If you are reading this blog you are most likely involved in software development – if so, the short and simple answer to the above question should be “YOU BETCHA”.
Why, you might ask, do I make this argument? Well, because I feel that everyone involved in software development should feel, act and respond like a designer. Nobody is excused, nobody should be able to hide behind statements like “heck, I just write the code – what do I know about icons?” There is no excuse for not being a designer. You’re allowed to suck at it though. The minimum level should be that you feel like a sucky designer. Why is this important?
It is important because user experience and aesthetics matter so incredibly much that if you don’t take an interest in it, you should find another job. To sum it up:
Sucking at design craftsmanship is ok! Not taking an active interest in design is inexcusable!
As long as you are actively seeking responses from colleagues or other sources in matters of user experience and aesthetics – you’re doing a great job! Well, at least you’re improving. My point is: you CANNOT sit on your rump and wait for those who actually have “designer” written on their business card to come up with a fantabulous-expicalidocious design. Agile software development does not work like that. Your team needs to take design decisions based on what is technically possible right now, you need to take coding decisions based on an overall design rationale and you need to make everything look fantastic. And you need to do this just in time. Because if you don’t, somebody else will, somebody smarter than you.
So how do you work as a designer even if you are not a “real” designer? Its easy: you take an active interest in matters of design, challenge all assumptions and you communicate.
And what if you’re a “real” designer – how do you work with all the people around you suddenly claiming to be designers? Same recipe: you take an active interest in coding and/or implementation, challenge all assumptions and communicate!
If your team is laid back, good at their jobs and generally cool and nice people. This is easy. On the other hand, if your team has a few know-it-all schmucks who wont let other’s touch their territory. Fire those and start over with achieving a fantastic, innovative and cool design process where everyone is involved. It’s all about hiring the best and setting them free.
So, to end this little article, here is a short TODO for people who think they can be involved in software development without being designers.
- Realise I am a designer.
- Make my team realise that I will be a part of the design process whether they like it or not.
- Try to stop sucking at design