Entries in design (3)


Design Thinking

Dev Patnaik's recent post at Fast about reinventing the MBA caught my eye this morning. In an interview of Roger Martin, of the Rotman School of Management, they discuss the idea of bringing Design Thinking into the mix of what a business degree should include. The discussion is an excellent one, and if you don't have the time to listen to it in the video, at least read Dev's summary at the Fast Company site.

This idea, Design Thinking (which I define as the sort of creative problem solving / lateral thinking / & so forth taught in many—but most definitely not all— design schools), looks like the new darling of the business press, and I welcome that. The more we can integrate this sort of thinking into all of our problem-solving processes, the better off we will be. But when I reflect on what's missing in today's business management, I see another, perhaps more important omission.

I think we're long overdue for a renaissance of the ideas of Peter Drucker. On my drive home yesterday I caught the public radio program, Marketplace, and heard Kai Ryssdal's interview of Harvard Business School's Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who has written an article about the continuing relevance of Drucker's ideas in this month's Harvard Business Review.

This week we are celebrating (along with the 103rd birthday of Eva Zeisel, of course) the 100th anniversary of Drucker's birth. Most will know about Drucker, who was considered the father of business management. I found this short interview an excellent review of Drucker's ideas, some of which we are in sore need of today:

As Kanter says, "First was the importance of a company having a sense of mission or a purpose, and that's not identical with its strategy, it's not identical with its business model, it's why it exists and what social good or greater good that it's serving." Most important, he did not hold that management should concern itself solely with serving shareholder needs: " He talked about all the responsibilities of management, so shareholders were certainly one for businesses but also employees, customers, suppliers, and society in general.

Ryssdal: what Drucker would say about "the context that a lot of businesses find themselves in today of really having to cut their costs and get their share price up, maximize their profitability?"

Kanter: "Peter was a very big believer in management by objectives. know what your goals are and then you organize to get those goals met, which means to that you do have operate efficiently. But it also means that you don't sacrifice the long term for the short term. So ever since he started writing about high CEO compensation in the 1980s, he said that companies were often not fair. They often did have resources, but they were concentrated at the top. And that letting the shareholders, but also executives, walk away with the lion's share of the profits rather than reinvesting them, that would not create a productive future for business."

So my question is, who is enacting Drucker's ideas today?


This Is Brilliant

You can accuse me of living under a rock because I haven't seen one of these before, but this is absolutely brilliant. I just bought a new contact grill and take a look at the plug on the cord set. For all of you designers out there who bemoan the "stupidity" of consumers, how they won't follow directions, bla bla bla, take note of this simple design solution. 

The problem is as old as electric products themselves. People grab the cord rather than the plug to unplug an appliance, eventually ruining the cord. 

The conventional solution: warn people not to do this. Put it in the instruction manual. Get irritated at them and call them stupid for ignoring this warning.

The brilliant solution: Breville's designers designed the plug with a convenient hole to hook a finger into. Yes, I know there are plugs with flanges that provide good affordances for pulling. My Dyson has one of these:

Sure, either of these affordances could be ignored, but the shape of the Breville plug, top, invites us to use it in the way the designers intend. It's a message from the designer: "Here's something helpful. I'm thinking of you."

Moral of the story. Design things to accommodate what your customer actually does, rather than what you think they should do. Give, in a spirit of generosity. Remember Eva Zeisel and her message to us: Design is a gift across time from the one who made it to the one who receives it.


Stroller Theory

I was talking to my colleague Steve Montgomery today about my Unified Stroller Theory (it's not really unified, but I think theories sound better if called that, don't you?). The theory goes like this: I think the generational demographics outlined in Strauss and Howe's Generations: A History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 and expanded on in The Fourth Turning—that is, that societal attitudes about children and the degree of nurturance they receive have swung from casual to protective—are reflected in baby stroller design from the 60s to today.

In the late 60s-early 70s, you saw minimal strollers like the first Maclaren, above—no protection for the kid, all about convenience for the parent--because that generation of parents had a casual attitude toward parenting. Entitled beneficiaries of the post-WWII economic boom, this generation of parents carried childhood self-centeredness into adulthood. They seemed to view their lives and goals as central, with kids added. The kids were pretty much part of whatever the parents were doing. I can remember one of my young college professors who had a small child. Like many young adults at the time who were busy "finding themselves," she continued her work as a painter and teacher, and didn't skip a beat—the kid went wherever she did. I remember seeing her one day, forging her way across a busy city street, thrusting that baby carriage out in front of her as she raced across, mid-block. I can still picture that red Maclaren B-01 in my mind's eye.


Even the jogging stroller (especially the jogging stroller) fits the theory. The inventor, journalist and jogger Phil Baechler, wanted to spend more time with his son, but instead of dropping everything to do that, he built a stroller that allowed him to bring the boy along with what he would be doing anyway. No judgement here on the quality of parenting—just observing that in these examples, the kid is included in the parent's life, rather than the parent's life being solely centered on the child. What I see today is a less easy-going and casual, and more intensely focused, style.


The 60s and 70s saw the rise in dual-income couples, the resulting phenomenon of latchkey kids, and the generation we have come to call Gen X—one that has gotten a very bad rap from the rest of us (much of the time undeserved, I might add). As these children grew up into risk-taking young people with a live-fast, die-young worldview, the indictment of them by society was severe. Portrayals of children in movies like Rosemary's Baby and The Omen reveal uneasiness, or at best, ambivalence. The worsening trend of lack of nurture continued until we became fed up with what we perceived as the "slacker" generation that resulted. 


These days, we see a complete turnaround. Movies like Home Alone portray the kinds of kids we want to raise today—smart, resourceful, and assertive. 

In the 90s, many of our kids began to go to school in uniforms. Education became a top political priority (in the 70s it was something that we lost focus on). Strollers began to be bulky, protective, and padded—the SUVs of the sidewalk—telegraphing the message that kids are precious cargo. 


Most recently, kids are the focus of increasingly intense nurturing attention, and strollers have risen to cult objects that now telegraph this amped-up emotion. Considering our growing uncertainty in the face of perilous times, it's not surprising that our protectiveness is on steroids. The same obsession that goes toward Vuitton bags is now spent on outfitting our child with the latest. With a product like the Orbit, you are not buying a stroller, you are buying a system. We're even seeing a reprise of the old-fashioned pram (nostalgia is the last refuge of those enduring turbulent times).