30
Jan 11

Designed to Disappear

I discovered a really smart phone app this weekend called Glympse. It’s a pretty simple app that helps users share their location. Using your phone you can send an SMS or email to anyone letting them track your location.

In the design of the app, the developers must have really thought hard about people’s hesitance to share their location because they designed a timeline into each notification. So, if we were meeting somewhere and I was running late, I could send you a link that would display my location on map and that link would only work for a configurable amount of time, (say 30 minutes). During that time, as I moved around you could see where I was on the map. After 30 minutes, the link goes dead.

I’m pretty excited about this little bit of functionality because I think we’ve entered into a new phase of how we deal with our connected life. We have so much data and so many connections, sometimes the data or the connection would be better if it wasn’t permanent.

What if the systems that carry more temporal data really started to reflect that data’s ephemerality? Twitter is decent example of a designed to decay system, tweets only hang around for a handful of weeks. What if restaurant reviews created a year ago carried less weight than the ones made last week? What if past-date promotional emails just disappeared from my inbox? I have loads of weak Facebook connections that I wouldn’t miss if they just expired? (No offense, but that let’s me focus on the people I have greater connection with).

Right now we live at the end of the digital firehouse, everything just lands in our lap and we have to decide what to do with it. Some of The most meaningful online interactions mirror their real world counterparts. For the moments that matter now but not later, we will begin to have to design for disappearance.


18
Jan 11

Hacking Business Models

I’ve been doing a lot of interviewing lately. Beyond meeting some really nice people, this means I have to explain what the idea of Business Design is a lot. To be honest, it’s not always an easy thing to describe. The idea of using design sensibilities to solve business problems…well it’s easier done than explained. Much of the act of Business Design is dictated by the problem you’re solving. This probably has more to do with design than business –business likes standardized processes, design likes appropriate approaches. When you design, you go about things is almost intentionally different every time. To top it all this off, the idea of Business Design is still very much emerging, so it’s changing all the time. It’s also a hip phrase people throw around a little too loosely. All this makes explaining what I do sort of a hot mess.

Yesterday I was interviewing with a colleague of mine, Joe. Without realizing it, I think he blurted out a pretty perfect description of the idea of business design. He simply said, “we hack business models.”

I really love that statement because of all the implications of the idea of “hacking”. For me hacking implies that you’re working with an existing system and pushing and pulling on its boundaries to see what will happen. Tools can be crude and fast, but there is an eye to understanding and evolve the larger system. Hacking implies that what you’re doing isn’t a science, but there’s probably a lot of underlying laws ad principles involved. There’s no certification to be a hacker, but not everyone can do it. And to be a good hacker, you have to be pretty curious, confident, and inspired.

As I frame Business Design loosely as a hacking exercise, it also starts to draws some boundaries for what is and what isn’t business design to me. Businesses tweak their model all the time, and not every change is a design. If you increase the price for your goods, that’s not really design. If you change your entire pricing structure to communicate a new type of value, that’s probably business design. Netflix raising rates isn’t business design. Netflix launching a streaming-only pricing option is definitely the result of a lot of hacking and some pretty smart business design.

All this hacking leads me back to the idea of a system. Businesses after all are systems that create/provide value. That’s very academic sounding, but thinking of a business as a system that must remain in balance is sort of the first step to being able to frame and solve problems differently. (And there’s a ton of companies who think of a business as a kit of parts.) These systems have many interrelated parts (and people). As you add or remove some element of the business, a different component will be affected. As you design the customer experience, you have to design the business model that supports it. As you design the business model, you have to think about what sort of experience you can provide.

It’s all about the system; it’s all about balance.