Nov 13

May the Obvious Make You Curious

Today, Eric Paley posted a great piece on Inc. tackling the idea of “obvious feedback”. In the piece he rightly points out the irony that the best advice is often the most obvious. It struck me as a simple maxim that carries many complexities. It had me thinking about the many nuances of feedback…

When we ask for feedback, we’re often looking for novelty
As Eric points out, we rush past the obvious, often looking to discover something we haven’t heard before (silver bullet theory). If the feedback is familiar, it’s easy to be dismissive. In this hunt for novelty, we’re blinded to things we should make the priority. It seems important to have the self-awareness to recognize that if you’re hearing the same feedback over and over, you still have the same issues.

We often treat feedback as a to-do list
It’s easy to look for action in people’s feedback. After all, hearing how things might be better can feel like a directive to go make them better. OK, maybe. But could you look for patterns in the feedback that reveal a bigger principle? Instead of just inspiring action, could that feedback help you think differently about the problem you’re solving? (Feedback often pushes us to focus on outcomes, rather than the problem we’re solving.)

Feedback should make you curious
To the core point of the article, when you’re swimming in obvious feedback, how do you do anything with it? If it’s obvious, you been there before. You’ve probably tried to solve it already. I would offer that the more obvious the feedback is, the more curious you must become. Be curious around what prompted the feedback; be curious around why it feels so obvious.

Dismissing the familiar is a funny thing; it’s either the best idea, or the absolute worst.

(Full disclosure, Eric’s a personal friend…and an excellent guy.)

Apr 13

Data is Everything

I never thought of photos as “data”. Obviously they are, but they’re so visceral they usually hit a different part of my brain. I usually think of data as a thing that resolves to text and numbers. I think it’s from my days as a programmer; I mostly dealt with text, I’ve never coded against image or video codecs. But recently I’ve had a few experiences that remind me how powerful it is to realize data is in everything. We’re so flooded with data we’re interpreting and with the data we’re creating, the fish doesn’t know the water it swims in.

I’ve had two experiences over the past few years that have floored me into remembering new ways to see data. (Actually, easily more than two, but these are iconic for me.) In the spirit of writing to inspire others, I thought I’d share the experiences that have inspire me to see data in new places.

First Moment: Nick Felton’s 2011 talk at Eyeo Festival. In the talk, he goes over how he created his 2010 annual report to document his father’s life. Felton is someone who seems to see data in every interaction, so it’s inspiring to understand how he processes the world. About 33 minutes into the video, he talks about working with some of his father’s old photographs to determine the places he’s traveled. He has a few great moments of using data within the photographs to reconcile images to places, (a few of those come from the help of strangers, which inspire even further.)

Second Moment: Today, my colleague Todd send a link about a project that uses the Street View data from Google Maps to reconstruct visual travel sequences (more examples here.) Every photo from Google Maps becomes a moment in a video, stitching together an experience of traveling in a place you’ve possibly never visited. It reminded me of Jenny Odell’s Travel By Approximation, a project where she ‘travelled’ around the country via Google Maps – such a clever idea, it’s always stuck with me. It also reminded me of Wilderness Downtown, Arcade Fire’s multimedia experience from a year or so ago that uses google maps and your home address. 

Both of these experiences used data created for one purpose to create meaning in a new way. (As an aside, it’s interesting that the reinterpretations are more powerful than their first incarnation.) These moments also underscore the power of neutral data to create new views into the world (photos are usually neutral, they just represent the world…interpreted/text-based data isn’t always so neutral.) 

For me, both of these examples are great reminders that everything we do, everything we make creates data. Still, there’s something futuristic about machines defining insight from visual data (though it’s an old trick.) It’s a very old idea, but it still feels like we’re at the tip of an iceberg.

Edit: If you enjoyed this, you’ll probably love this article from @Faris’s too.

May 12

Getty Images Nails It

When I think about Business Design, I simultaneously think about experience design (systems, services, products, interactions, communications) and the systems that bring the experience to life. The experience creates the business, (not the other way around).

My favorite moments are when companies create harmony between the business and the experience; experience reinforces the business and the business reinforces the experience. This is the balance that makes the hair stand up on my neck. Nerdy and sad I know, but mark my words, this will outline the collective future of our economy.

Today, it’s rare to see such a clear symbiosis between the two parts, mostly because the two are never developed simultaneously. This will change, but really we’re in the dark ages. Either the business leads and the experiences plays catch up or you have an amazing experience with no business model

Not a new business, but I think this example of Getty Images really highlights a beautiful symbiosis. Getty Images managed to redesign their watermark and elevate their business model at the same time – brilliant.

Thanks to my colleague Scott Patterson for the find. Video is from FastCoCreate viewed here.