Archive for July, 2009

Seth Godin’s Wisdom

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

From Seth Godin’s Blog, this is too good not to share.

Death spiral!

You’ve probably seen it. The fish monger sees a decline in business, so they have less money to spend on upkeep and inventory, so they keep the fish a bit longer and don’t clean up as often, so of course, business declines and then they have even less money… Eventually, you have an empty, smelly fish store that’s out of business.

The doctor has fewer patients so he doesn’t invest as much in training or staff and so some other patients choose to leave which means that there are even fewer patients…

The newspaper has fewer advertisers, so they can’t invest as much in running stories, so people stop reading it, which means advertisers have less reason to advertise which leaves less money for stories…

As Tom Peters says, “You can’t shrink your way to greatness,” and yet that’s what so many dying businesses try to do. They hunker down and wait for things to get better, but they don’t. This isn’t a dip, it’s a cul de sac. It’s over.

Right this minute, you still have some cash, some customers, some momentum… Instead of squandering it in a long, slow, death spiral, do something else. Buy a new platform. Move. Find new products for the customers that still trust you.

Change is a bear, but it’s better than death.

The Designer as a Grain of Sand

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Much as many clients might think or hope, a designer’s role is not to take orders and be a servant to their ideas. Rather, it is to be like a grain of sand to an oyster, a mild irritant that has the potential to yield exquisite beauty and great value. I’m sure, this type of thinking would annoy many clients or out and out piss them off, but I got to this place by the simple act of sitting on our patio having dinner with my partner and wife. The cushion on my chair, by any stretch of the imagination just did not cushion. Now, I don’t know about you, but I always thought that the job of a cushion was to — duuuhhh cushion, — some poor soul’s bottom after a hard day’s work, whether he was downing a pint at the local pub or having dinner with his wife at a restaurant. And it got me to thinking. How could anyone design (”I have an idea”) and manufacture ( “how will it be built?”) a cushion that simply doesn’t cushion. And that led me to why a lengthy design education is necessary — if not mandatory in today’s marketplace.

I was mentoring a designer who, after working for several years, still seemed to get many of her ideas sabotaged. I explained that today, it’s common for designers to have three to six or more years of education and it’s not about learning software programs. It’s about being a grain of sand, asking questions, investigating and asking more questions because it’s the questions that supply the magic, or the answers hidden away, silently waiting to be discovered. Some people give up too early and some bright souls get there sooner that others, but in almost all cases, it was some sense of discovery that helped inform a solution. I’m always reminded of the joke “how many designers does it take to install a light bulb?” Answer: “Does it have to be a light bulb?”

It’s almost a forgone conclusion that designers entering a design program will already know how to use many of the basic software programs. Design thinking is not learning to use software, but how to examine, research and explore ideas — evaluate them, critique them, beat the hell of of them, discard the bad ones and refine the good ones. This takes two, three or more years to learn, and a lifetime to perfect. The designer as a grain of sand would have said, a cushion should cushion and if it doesn’t then what the hell is it?! Somewhere along the way, some designers give up, or maybe they are just too afraid of confrontation. Like many people, it’s just easier to do nothing or go with the flow, or not upset the apple cart. A lengthy education does (or should) attempt to help designers better articulate their ideas, building a sound argument for solutions. Ideas need to be nutured, but at some point defended, with reason and even science. Many designers get their work shredded simply because they lack the courage or the education with which to defend an idea. Experienced designers have to ability to make products or services incredibly rich, rewarding, and entertaining experiences that are legendary. And yet the idea and role is so misunderstood, which may explain why there aren’t more companies like Virgin, Apple, Audi, Disney or Nordstroms.

Like the lightbulb joke, a designer’s most valuable skill is when he or she acts like a grain of sand, questioning everything, and in the process has the ability to create a beautiful pearl of an idea that becomes a better computer, a better airline, a wholesome family adventure, an iconic retail experience or potentially a better cushion.

Ray Hrynkow, Partner + Creative Director
Herrainco Brand Strategy + Design Inc.