John Maeda is the new president of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). RISD is one of the pre-eminent design schools in America and Maeda is...well...a polymath. If you've got 7 or so minutes to spare (!) check out this video.
One of our VloggerHeads members, MystiMayhem (whom you might have met before) was dispersing design and product development wisdom this evening for anyone interested in listening. The first 1:00 or so of the video is VloggerHeads inside baseball and a mini-rant at Metallica for suddenly finding their inner YouTuber, but be patient, it's worth it.
'Cause Mysti just got a new computer and Mysti's not happy.
In case you missed any of that, here's the last 30 seconds or so.
In general I don't understand why they made the formal almost exactly like Mac. I bought a Vista and everything popped up just like a Mac would. Not precisely, but pretty much...the buttons and the layout. So I was just, "I would have freakin' bought a Mac if I knew it was gonna be like this," because I'm used to the layout of a PC, not a Mac. If I want a Mac, I'll get a Mac, 'cause it's Mac; hello?
So, I'm very unhappy. The next computer I'm buying is definitely a Mac.
Has the idea of differentiation been slaughtered and placed as an offering at the altar of cool. When is Microsoft gonna realize it's not ever going to be cool? Loren Feldman did a couple of weeks ago.
Everybody wants to be Apple. Maybe that means it makes sense not to be Apple. Even if you're in the computer business.
You know, "we're not Apple." Don't sound like a bad positioning statement, to me.
Much better than, "we're tryin' to be Apple but we all know we never will but we'll keep being pathetic because we suck at it so much."
It's simple. A corporate culture that focuses on the power of a design mindset. Here's a snip from a Business Week piece previewing the upcoming Macworld that highlights the implications.
The key, explains Yves Béhar, founder of fuseproject and a winner of a Gold IDEA/BusinessWeek
design award, is that "Apple conceives its products as a symbiosis of
hardware, software, and user experience." Under Jobs' leadership, he
says, Apple has cultivated a corporate culture that inculcates this
holistic type of thinking throughout the organization. One result: the
so-called iPod ecosystem that includes not only the sophisticated
hardware and technology inside the industrial design, but also the
iTunes software and user interface, the online music store, and more
generally the Mac operating system. "The joke around our offices is
that everyone at Apple is a designer because they all think in this
way," adds Béhar.
Wow...I'm now so negligent with my Featured Foto Fridays that I'm ashamed to even post one.
Ah, the hell with it, let's give it a shot.
I was traveling in Dallas this week, working with a client and visiting an old friend, Deb. On Thursday, she picked me up from my hotel and we headed for her office. Deb has a lovely car, a BMW 535. On the way to her office, Deb wanted to stop for a de-caf soy latte. (Is this a great country, or what?)
So, Deb stopped in front of a coffee shop and asked me to mind the car while she ran in. There I was, sitting in this Beemer, just taking in the lovely Texas morning, when I happened to glance down at the front-seat console, and saw this:
Sitting there in the middle of this lovely burl, leather and brushed stainless control panel is a...a...sticker! Huh? I looked more closely.
Oh, it's a user manual! What this little sticker is telling us is: "If you want to access the Climate, Air Dist or Vent Temp functions, toggle this little gizmo to the left."
Here we have a lovely German engineered vehicle with a suggested retail price of, let's call it, $50,000. I'm sure they spent years designing this vehicle, paying great attention to even the smallest detail.
And then they put it on the market. What happened next we can only guess, but I'm going to assume that folks were having a little difficulty knowing how to adjust the volume and temperature of the air flowing in their car. (I'm assuming that "Air Dist" means Air Distribution, but, hey, who knows!) The fix?
A 10 cent plastic sticker.
Me? I'd be unhappy about that. But, that's just me. Every time I looked down and saw that sticker I'd grumble. I'd probably take it off, which would solve my problem. But, it wouldn't solve the problem for the next person who drove the vehicle, like my wife, for example. She'd go nuts trying to figure out how to turn the damned temperature up!
Designers who design without a deep insight into customer usage are guilty of creating this kind of problem. And we, as customers, are guilty of treating it as if it's acceptable for BMW to junk up my nice car with a crappy little sticker.
Today, Henry Lambert at IF! points to a terrific piece by Ben Terrett on the kind of impact design literacy can make if applied to every aspect of corporate work. How might that work? Simple, if not easy, says Terrett:
Now, I don’t just mean chuck loads of designers into every boardroom in
the country, that wouldn’t work. I mean that people who think like
designers think, can see these solutions more easily than others.
Becoming design literate...learning to think like designers think...will be one of the key skills for success in the coming decade.
In days gone by, like two years ago, s/he could roll into New York for the first of the seasonal fashion shows and dazzle the glitterati with fab fabrics, slick silhouettes, cool colors, and perky prints. S/he'd then have months to turn one-off runway protos into saleable merchandise; s/he could wait and see what "the buy" was like before committing to actually manufacturing merchandise. Like it? See you in the stores in February.
Today, legions of lurkers sit online, watching sites like style.com, looking for items to knock-off and deliver to stores next month.
Whoops...welcome to the new world of fashion!
And, as you might imagine, designers are none too pleased. Today's NY Times front page article quotes designers like Anna Sui and Tory Burch complaining bitterly about this revoltin' development:
“For me, this is not simply about copying,” said Anna Sui, one of more
than 20 designers who have filed lawsuits against Forever 21, one of
the country’s fastest-growing clothing chains, for selling what they
claim are copies of their apparel. “The issue is also timing. These
copies are hitting the market before the original versions do.”
This is a huge dilemma for designers: the knock-off specialists can deliver their versions to stores faster than the designers can.
Huh? How can that be?
Well...if you need to wait to get orders before you manufacture goods, you can't start until the buyers "vote" on your line. Knock-off specialists just wait for the shows, see what like, read the reviews and pull the trigger. Their manufacturing partners are expert at producing merchandise right from sketches (no tedious measuring, pattern making, "tech packs" or the like)...a process they're still perfecting:
The factory can return finished samples within 14 days. Sometimes the
results are awful, “and sometimes it looks so great you’re just
shocked,” Ms. Anand [principal in a "fast fashion" manufacturing company] said. “They’ve done a better job than the designer.”
The result? Designers are screaming for intellectual property protection, of course. While "copying" is a well-established principle in the fashion business, logos, prints and some patterns are protected by copyright laws. Things like silhouettes, colors and fabric, however, have always been fair game.
But now that companies like Forever 21, Zara and H&M have mastered the skills that yield unmatchable speed-to-market, designers want to change the rules.
I think that's bogus.
Everyone gets to play the game of speed today. If competitors have out-played you, the challenge is to change the way you play the game, not petition to have the rules favor the way you used to play. That's not the way innovation works. Of all people, you'd expect designers to understand that.
But, like the old saw says, it all depends on whose ox is being gored.
Every once in a while I read an article that just leaves me confused; scratching my head and thinking, "huh?" That happened yesterday when I read New York Times writer Harry Hurt III's brief review of Dana Thomas's new book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster.
Disclosure: I haven't read Ms. Thomas's book so what follows is based on Hurt's article.
Hurt summarizes the book's premise like this:
Ms. Thomas documents in entertaining and sometimes heart-wrenching
detail how the luxury industry evolved from a proudly diverse array of
family-owned houses into a $157 billion-a-year mass market whose
products now lack the exclusivity — and in many cases the quality
craftsmanship — that formed the basis for their cachet in the first
Hurt reports that Thomas believes this degrading of the luxury category ("heart-wrenching") has occurred because the producers of luxury goods have opted to make their products more broadly available, even in, shudder, malls!
According to Hurt, his means:
Along with changing the way we dress, the luxury industry “has
realigned our economic class system,” Ms. Thomas asserts. “It has
changed the way we interact,” she says. “It has become part of our
social fabric. To achieve this, it has sacrificed its integrity,
undermined its products, tarnished its history and hoodwinked its
consumers. In order to make luxury ‘accessible,’ tycoons have stripped
away all that has made it special.”
Oh, no!! Hoodwinked customers! Making luxury, common? The horror. The horror.
Hurt, anticipating this reaction by some of his more, oh, I don't know, maybe, "progressive," readers, writes:
At first lip-blush, that might seem like merely an elitist complaint.
Ms. Thomas shows, however, that the repercussions of “democratizing”
luxury have had dire effects across the globe, and on almost every
OK. So, this isn't some anti-populist screed Thomas is on; democratizing luxury has caused serious socio-economic mayhem.
What kinds? Listen up:
The corporate quest to reduce operating costs, for example, often leads
to the creation of sweatshops. Along the way come an array of related
crimes ranging from fraudulent labeling and counterfeiting to
embezzlement and even prostitution paid for with luxury goods in lieu
Alright, so, here's where I started scratching my head. We've now attributed sweatshop conditions, fraud, counterfeiting, embezzlement and prostitution to the desire to own a Gucci handbag? And laid these crimes at the feet of luxury goods manufacturers?
How dare those money-hungry manufacturers screw up our world like this?
Don't they know that if they sold fewer bags, thereby being able to make them more carefully using only well paid, seasoned old craftsmen, there'd be fewer labor violations, less fraud, counterfeit, embezzlement and prostitution?
(Aside: Are these people insane??)
Rather than having all this riff-raff out chasing rainbows, Ms. Thomas seems to long for the good old days when:
...the prevailing standards of taste and style were once
set by new rich industrialists like the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Morgans
“Luxury wasn’t simply a product,” Ms. Thomas
writes. “It denoted a history of tradition, superior quality, and often
a pampered buying experience.
“Luxury was a natural and expected
element of upper-class life, like belonging to the right clubs or
having the right surname. And it was produced in small quantities —
often made to order — for an extremely limited and truly elite
Ah, yes, the good old days when the "natural order" prevailed; when the rich — the "truly elite" — could enjoy the fruits of their robber baron labor without having to see their labels flaunted on the fat butts of the hoi polloi.
OK. Here's where Hurt really engages in some hard-hitting reportage, right?
Some of the best-written — and most damning — passages in “Deluxe” recount the rise of LVMH’s chairman, Bernard Arnault,
considered by his critics to be the Machiavelli of luxury industry
finance. Ms. Thomas describes how Mr. Arnault forced out the founding
Vuitton clan in a vicious battle fueled by accusations of espionage and
public smear tactics.
Citing startling statistics, Ms. Thomas
describes how luxury empires like LVMH have spanned the globe. She
reports, for example, that as of last year 40 percent of all Japanese
people owned a product made by Vuitton, mainly from the monogram line.
Quelle horreur!! 40%! Forced out the Vuittons?? Where's the shame? This kind of boundless greed cannot be tolerated! (Except by the old makers of luxury items, in considerably smaller degrees. After all, one can't make too much money off the little people without some of their sweat rubbing off on one, can one?)
Well, what can we do? We simply can't go on like this!
Ah, to the rescue come shoe designer Christian Leboutin and other pioneering members of the "renaissance of independent luxury houses"!
Listen to St. Christian:
“I see these men who build luxury brands to make money and I am in
the same industry but I feel nothing in common with them,” Mr.
Louboutin declares. “Luxury is the possibility to stay close to your
customers, and do things that you know they will love.” He adds:
“Luxury is not consumerism.”
Ever see how much St. Christian charges for his shoes?
That little bad boy right over there goes for $970. Now, we're talkin' luxury!
Of course, St. Christian doesn't make those shoes to make money. Hell no. Consumerists do. His shoes are art.
See, this business of commerce screwing up art is a long-standing problem...goes back to those damned Medicis and all those popes. When they gave all those old Italian guys commissions to paint walls and ceilings, they never meant for the masses to have copies of them in their homes. Hell no! Those were for viewing in the churches and palaces only!
You know, intellectual property laws, and all that!
But, I digress.
And, another thing, Hurt says:
in mass merchandising luxury has taken a heavy toll on both culture and
language. As Ms. Thomas’s book points out from title to final page, one
of the most dire effects has been to turn the term itself into a kind
After all, what’s the real luxury in being a “have” if hordes of logo-loving former have-nots can own the same products?
That last line almost makes you wonder if Hurt has been tongue-in-cheek throughout this whole thing; engaging in some cruel exercise in delicious irony.
I mean, of all things, how could we tolerate making the word, luxury itself an oxymoron??
But, somehow I don't think there was any irony to be found in any of this.
Well, after all that, I just have a few of more things to say.
I suggest that both Ms. Thomas and Mr. Hurt read Clayton Christensen's 1997 breakthrough book, The Innovator's Dilemma. It will help them recognize that there is nothing holy about
something called "luxury." Everything presented for sale is part of the marketplace and subject to
the same laws that govern supply and demand in any of a thousand
different merchandise categories. As Christensen brilliantly pointed out, those categories almost always get attacked from the lower end of the price/features scale. Arnault's "sin" was to realize that luxury fashion goods were no different from computers (Dell, anyone?), cars (remember when Toyotas were considered cheap junk of low quality?), etc., etc. Get with it!
People want things? Other people will figure out ways to get those things to them. What's surprising about that? That the things are handbags with initials on them? This is supposed to be sacrosanct?
are making other people want things? Isn't that what makes the capitalist
system function? Are we going to undo the entire marketing and sales system because it's come to fashion goods?
Maybe it's just me, but people like Ms. Thomas and Mr. Hurt simply don't make any
sense. As for Mr. Leboutin. He's simply a hypocrite.