MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

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Chair versus chair: Design and its value genetics

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I am so pleased with the debate engaged (not necessarily initially) by Cannell and picked up by Moss (and so many others) about the origins of design and the economy's impact on innovation.

Embedded in the discussion is a sense of authenticity, almost morality, associated with original explorations. In its advancement/resolution, I'd be very interested in a genetic chart---great designs, their origins, their briefs (given or authored), the money that was invested in the path to launch, the size of the particles of the market that supported them, and the relevance and authenticity of design measured by both economic (how many use and benefit from use) and non-economic factors (influence, impact, enrichment, enhancement, etc.), and their ultimate durability, sustainability and value.

We, of course, do not usually make a choice of approaches, but does the Moss patronage trump the Cannell ethic? Is the discipline of modernism a virtue in any economy or a mask for limited opportunity (and privileged position) in a down economy. Is Eames a recession product or a recovery product? Does the economic context provide Moss an opportunity to present process/maquette/model as special/unique/valuable, but the economy demand finish?mosscannell-sub-600

GM's iPhone?

skateboard_00034fe5-ba99-1d80-90fb809ec5880000_1Finding a discussion today between Steve Portigal and Chirag Mehta around the subject of designing to requirements or not, I was impressed with Chirag's framework suggestion to "Look beyond the problem space and preserve ambiguity." I've been thinking lately about new concepts for retail design, and specifically  in the automotive domain. Chirag's admonition had aligned with some coincidental wandering around the Apple App Store as a model. I was imagining a place where the conventions of brand (GM, but also Pontiac, Buick, Cadillac, etc.) and predefined models and packages disappeared, and customization to "my brand" was the norm.

The concept seemed so attractive, and could affect not only the vehicle design space, but the retail space as well. It seems a concept that could provide new brand image and vitality, and also energize the customer base.

Then I recalled that it'd all been done before. Well, in the vehicle space, at least. Somewhere between concept and execution---that typical source of disappointment in this industry---was a future lost by GM but an exploding market found by Apple.

In 2002, GM took a concept, affectionately and compellingly known as the "skateboard," to the North American International Auto Show and other places. The concept involved a thin 20-year chassis with all the propulsion technology embedded in it, and a fully customizable style frame including interior and exterior features and appearance.

Imagine this platform as an iPhone, and an extraordinarily robust industry seems to unfold. The automotive App Store---imagine even the tonal difference from "car dealership"---becomes a place of innovation where suppliers, using the parameters of the core skateboard platform, design, deliver and install innovative components pitched to the different needs, and styles, of a diverse constituency.

Five years after GM introduced the skateboard concept, Apple introduced the iPhone and, about a year later, the App Store. GM wanted the profits from SUV's and as a result needs a bailout from the government. Apple got the profits from thin, lean, customizable, open systems, and everybody involved seems to be doing fine.

If Apple were to ask people what they would want in their phones people might have said they want a smart phone with a better stylus and they do not expect their phone to tell them where they should eat their dinner tonight. We wouldn’t have had a multimodal interface on iPhone that could run Urbanspoon.

Embracing and preserving the ambiguity as long as you can during the design process would help unearth some of the behaviors that could lead to great design. Ambiguity does make people uncomfortable but recognizing that fact that “making stuff” is fundamentally a generative process allows people to diverge and preserve ambiguity before they converge. (Chirag Mehta)


Thoroughly modern

From the Detroit Free Press In an excellent post on his blog, Landscape + Urbanism, Jason King recalls his work with an AIA SDAT recently addressing this recurring theme in these posts on the "Detroit dilemma."

The initial report of the team, continuing themes from the 1994 Mayor's Land Use Task Force, is worth a review. It's available on the AIA web site.

"We hope for better will arise from the ashes"