Archive for the ‘design’ Category

Custom Chocolate Anyone?

December 9, 2008

Not quite at the level of individually personalized but on the road to getting there, read more in the BoingBoing article “TCHO chocolate is just outta beta!” about this company what has been using customer feedback to design and create new flavors of their chocolate.

They’ve written previously about this interesting company as well if you’d like more:

BBtv – TCHO, part 1: chocolate origins. – Boing Boing

Food is a GREAT area for the Snowflake Effect and getting things “just right” for each of us.  What other examples are YOU seeing and tasting?

Mashups in Miami Beach

December 2, 2008

I’m in Miami today finishing up my most recent set of business trips around the planet and catching my flight back to El Salvador.  I had the great fortune of spending last night and this morning with a business colleague who lives on the waterfront of the always interesting Miami Beach area.  Thanks Eric!

For me Miami is one of those grand cities of the world that exemplify uniqueness in that there is little connection to the country they are in as they are a truly unique set of cultures, architecture, experiences and people.  As with cities such as Istanbul, NYC, Paris I find that you need to forget what country they are in and rather enjoy and try to learn from them as a unique world in themselves.  As so we did just that as we walked around the South Beach area, enjoyed some local food, people watching, architecture and the pulse of life. 

In the process I ran into what struck me as an interesting example of how to combine customization with standardization.  In this case it came in the form of a Publix supermarket which is part of a chain of supermarkets, mostly food, that is very popular in the Southeastern USA.  As best as I can tell, Publix is popular with those who shop there because the reputation they have built up for consistent quality, large selection of mid to high end food items and the overall design and ambience of their stores.  What I’ve picked up on in my visits to several of these stores in the past few years and talking with friends and others who shop there is that they have built up a very loyal following of customers who love to shop there and seek out these stores wherever they are.  That’s the “standards” part of the equation, delivering on the expectation that you will have a consistently good experience in any one of their stores.  However this particular store is located in a very affluent and “stylish” residential marina area on the waterfront of Miami Beach and so there were significant concerns by those living in the neighborhood and those looking to move there, that this store would be very out of place architecturally and at odds with the feel of the neighborhood which is filed with condos, waterfront walkways, parks, etc. 

The solution that Keene Construction came up with was to take a very standard building and Publix layout store and wrap it in a very unique exterior that fit well into the neighborhood.  As you can perhaps make out in the photo above the exterior is very striking, based on a nautical theme with the suggestive shapes of boat hulls, sails and decks.  Yet when I passed through the exterior doors I walked into a very familiar and standard Publix supermarket.  When that’s what you are looking for I thought it was a great mashup of the best of both customization and standardization.  From the outside the store is a delightful part or the ambience of the area and both fits in and stands out at the same time adding value rather than subtracting.

It was also interesting to read some of the comments on this store on Yelp, the community review site, by those who shop at this store.  Interestingly some of the comments were from people living nearby and others were from those visiting the area from far and wide.

This is just the latest example of the growing importance of design I’ve run into and am learning from, on how to mix opposite ends of spectrums such as old/new, standard/custom, consistent/unique.  It has left asking my usual question of “What is this trying to teach me?” and so I’m pondering how we could abstract from the lessons here and apply this type of mashup to things beyond architecture, stores, etc.? How could we apply this to human interactions, to software development, to content development?

The goal as I see it is how we can use the concept of mashups to create solutions that are not a compromise trending towards mediocrity but rather the creation of unique combinations of the best aspects of otherwise opposing ends of these spectrums that are truly greater than the sum of their parts which trends towards the Snowflake Effect of getting it all “just right”. *

*  Just the right things, for just the right people, at just the right time, in just the right place, in just the right context, etc.

One gets MUCH Bigger!

November 21, 2008

I continue to find great fascination with the notion that “one is the biggest number” and with the thinking and writing of Kevin Kelly, and I believe that most of you share a similar interest in both as well.

Kevin has been writing and speaking for some time about his observations on the similarity between biology and technology and how as he puts it “technology is evolving to the point where it can be thought of as the 7th kingdom of life.”

When I was recently speaking with Kevin we discovered that we are both often use the “talk to think” model when giving presentations.  Thanks to TED Talks (Technology Entertainment Design) you can watch Kevin as he “thinks out loud” in this TED Talk from last year (Jan 2007) and see an excellent example of the power of inverted thinking, asking interesting questions and looking at things from different perspectives.  I particularly enjoyed how Kevin ponders the question “what does technology want?” and tried to look at it from technology’s view of the world.

These are very thoughtful ideas and Kevin is as prolific as every about them so I can heartily recommend that you spend some of your very valuable time watching this video and/or reading some of his writings on these and related topics such as this version on “The Seventh Kingdom” from his Technium writings.

You can also read Kevin’s views on how the combined networking of technology is creating a singular “computer” and covering the planet with its own “nervous system in his Technium article on “Evidence of a Global SuperOrganism” and his article from July 2008 Wired magazine “The Planetary Computer” where he comments:

“I suspect, but cannot prove, the seeds of progress lie not in increasing numbers of human minds, or artificial minds, or more powerful individual minds, but in the emergence of a more complex group mind, made of fewer humans, many more machines, and a new way of thinking.”

For me, this perspective on technology and our relationship with it are all part of the “perfect storm” that is emerging and enabling the Snowflake Effect to not only be possible but probable.  After you’ve spent some time considering these points of view please let me know your reactions and if you too see a future predominated by a snowstorm of mass personalization and design for uniqueness.

Snowflakemobile! LEGO Block Cars?

November 18, 2008

I’ve been following the story behind a new car being developed by Tata Motors in India called the Nano.  It is one of those stories that you follow with equal parts fascination and fear, and it is very much worth following whatever your reaction.  The short story is that this car is being developed as an alternative to the use of small motorcycles and mopeds for transporting multiple people.  If you’ve traveled to many other countries as I’ve been fortunate enough to, you may have witnessed the same scene that inspired the Nano when you’ve seen three to six people, often a whole family, riding on a single moped as they dart and weave their way through traffic on their way to work, school and home. 

I’ll leave you to read more about the car and the story behind it as a quick search will turn up plenty.  The July 2008 Wired magazine has an article for example called “The $3000, 33-Hoprsepower, Snap-Together ride to the Future” that will provide you with a good overview and insight.  Basic specs for the four door version include:

  • about 10 feet long and 5 feet wide.
  • 623cc two-cylinder 33 HP rear engine
  • capable of 65 miles an hour
  • projected cost new, 120,000 rupees, including road tax and delivery in India, = ~ $2500-3000

As interesting and scary as the whole concept of providing four wheels for the masses of the world is, what has caught my attention of late is the focus on cost  and other reductions which they are taking to a whole new level.  For example they are looking into reducing shipping volume and costs by shipping the cars in a snap together kit form which would be assembled at the destination.  Right now this is very UNsnowflake like in that these cars are in many ways the epitome of mass production and sameness.  However as they develop this LEGO block approach to car manufacturing and start to design for snap together modularity, it is easy to imagine how quickly this would morph into a mashup model that would enable each person to quite literally design their own car, have it shipped to them and and assemble their own snowflakemobile.

Want to try your hand at designing your own Nano?  Head over to this “design your own Nano” site to get an idea how this might work when the choices were much more in number and detail so you could truly create your own Snowflakemobile!

$1 Million Snowflake Prize

November 15, 2008

When explaining showing example of how The Snowflake Effect is already at work I often use Netflix as an example.  This DVD movie subscription service has been a huge hit since it first began by eliminating the need to make the trip to the video store and by eliminating any chance of late fees.  They did this through an ingenious combination of old and new by using the postal service to mail DVD’s to your home and by having a simple per month subscription fee that entitled you to keep the DVD’s for as long as you liked before mailing them back. 

To get started you went online and created an ordered list or queue of movies you wanted to watch.  Depending on which subscription level you chose you could have 1-3 DVD’s at a time and so to start they mailed you the first 1-3 DVD’s on your list.  You could keep the DVD’s as long as you like and whenever you were finished you sent them back in pre-paid mailers and they would send the next one in your list to you.

Handy to be sure and the service was a huge success from the very beginning.  However the real value turned out to be a little noticed feature at the time which was the feedback loop that they built into the system.  Each time they received one of the DVD’s you sent back they would send you an Email to confirm that they’d received it and tell you they had sent out the next one on your list.  Then they added the real value item, a simple 5 star rating system asking you to indicate how well you liked the movie you had sent back.  Netflix then took this preference data and used it to create an additional  list of Netflix recommended movies. 

Based on talking to many people who used Netflix, it was typical to pay very little attention to this additional list at first but after some time of using the service they would start to have some  difficulty choosing good movies to add to their list and so they would try some of the ones from the Netflix recommended list.  This would continue for a while and then because you were asked to rate each movie after watching it, people would begin to notice that more and more of the movies they really liked were the ones Netflix had recommended.  Netflix had developed was a movie recommender technology they called CinematchSM and most people found that Cinemax was better than they were at choosing movies they’d love!

To their credit, Netflix soon began to realize that their true and lasting value proposition was NOT delivering DVD’s via the mail or even avoiding late fees.  The real values was in helping people resolve the “paradox of choice”, Netflix lists over 100,000 movie titles, and growing, by helping them consistently choose movies that THEY really loved to watch. .  In fact Netflix as recently struck deals with cable TV and other companies to deliver their movies directly and almost instantly to your home via the internet and so the mailing service will likely soon be a thing of the past.  

In looking for ways to improve on their ability to deliver on this value proposition Netflix began to pay more and more attention to Cinemax and then they got REALLY smart and decided to “crowdsource” the next big improvement in Cinemax by creating a contest they called the “Netflix Prize” which offered one million dollars to the first person or team who could improve Netflix recommendations by 10%.  And therein lies the story I’ve been fascinated to follow since it started back in October 2006.  In February this year (208) Wired magazine had an article “This Psychologist Might Outsmart the Math Brains Competing for the Netflix Prize” wrote up a good account of how the competition had taken off with thousands of entries submitted by everyone from large corporations to research departments to single individuals who were from countries all over the world.  One individual, and the feature of the Wired article identified himself simply and quite accurately as it turns out, as “Just a guy in a garage”.

To help the competitors, Netflix did something which has turned out to be a “prize” in itself to the data mining world at large when they posted what is apparently the largest dataset to ever be published, consisting of 100 million of the preference ratings from Netflix customers.   This enables contestants to write their recommender algorithms that are more and more accurate at recommending movies that users will like.  When competitors submit their latest algorithm, Netflix tests it against a different set of ratings data which they keep secret and the post the results of this testing to the Netflix Prize site.  The competition is still running and you can keep up with the progress of the top contenders on the Netflix Prize Leader board.  As of this writing (Nov.14, 2008) they leading entry is at 9.44% and so while the last 1% of improvement is estimated to be more difficult than the first 9%,, the steady progress would seem to indicate that the prize will soon be awarded.

An additional item of note is that the participants have taken a surprisingly open approach to the competition by openly posting details of their methods and many are analyzing these and building upon them for their own models so there is quite a cyclical improvement happening.  Netflix also took what I thought was a very smart and novel approach in that the winning team retains ownership of the solution they come up with and must license it (non-exclusively) to Netflix. And according to the Wired article;

“The company is already incorporating some of BellKor’s ideas into its own system and in the future may buy code from other contestants, as well.”

For me this is great fun to watch not only for this specific contest but also for an intriguing and replicable way to promote innovation and creativity.  This is proof positive of the extremely tangible value there is in amplifying The Snowflake Effect and moving us further along the continuum towards the end goal of “just right”.

Snowflake Coffee

November 6, 2008

This story has been brewing and percolating or a while now and I’ve been meaning to write up this example of the Snowflake Effect hitting coffee and now appearing at Starbucks of all places. 

First the basics of what we are talking about here; the Clover coffee machine.  This relatively new machine is a great story and example to me of innovative thinking around an old or common idea and an example of the Snowflake Effect of mass personalization and uniqueness.  The links below will give you more details but basically this is a story of a few individuals who decided that there had to be a better way to create a great cup of coffee and one that was “just right” for each individual.  As with most such success stories there were a lot of failed attempts leading up to this great success and it makes for fun reading and inspiration.

The Snowflake effect comes from the coffee making process and how these Clover machines enable the very precise control of three key variables (in addition to the beans of course); water temperature, volume of water and steeping time, to create just the right coffee experience for each and every user.  While you would obviously need to be a coffee lover both in order to afford a cup of this coffee and to care this much about how it tastes, these new machines, coupled with great beans are able to deliver a truly personalized and high quality coffee experience.  Mathew Honan wrote about his experience in his Wired article “The Coffee Fix: Can the $11,000 Clover Machine Save Starbucks?”

“He measures out 46 grams of beans, grinds them, and then slides them into the recessed chamber on top. Next, he programs a new brew time and temperature, raising the heat from 205 degrees to 207 and increasing the brewing time from 45 seconds to 50.

A few tweaks and I have a new beverage. And it’s not just the chocolate flavor; the mouthfeel and acidity are completely different from the first cup. All Latourell did was adjust the brew time and temperature and add 6 grams of beans. Taste-testing it against the earlier brew, I wouldn’t have guessed they were the same bean. I’m starting to become a Clover convert.”

So one Snowflake scenario that emerges is that after some experimentation to find it, you could carry your “formula” for “just the right” coffee around with you and have it brewed up to just right perfection at your local Starbucks.  And it does need to be a Starbucks because CEO Howard Schulz was so impressed with these Clover coffee makers when he first discovered them and tasted the coffee last year, that he bought the whole company!  And it won’t be your local Starbucks for a while as they are only just starting to introduce these pricey machines in a few select stores around the USA.  But you can find  store locator on the Clover page at Starbucks.com

You can read more detailed accounts on how these new Clover coffee makers work such as:

And you can watch this video on the Wired magazine site to see how it works.

 

Snowflake Your Next Car?

October 25, 2008

Over the years of speaking about mass customization and personalization I’ve often covered how this applies to manufacturing, and being a bit of a car nut I have often used the automotive industry for specific examples and scenarios.  However one form of manufacturing has been very challenging for achieving full mass personalization is parts which require molds to create thing like body panels, metal castings and fiberglass parts.  It was only a matter of time before these barriers fell and so it was with great delight that I recently read about some of the innovative thinking and work that the designers at BMW have been doing for automotive body panels.

Taking a refreshing new approach to design which they call GINA, Geometry and functions In n Adaptations, BMW Group recently unveiled the GINA Light Visionary prototype.  I’ll let Chris Bangle, Director of Design, BMW Group explain this new philosophy and show you the prototype in this video .

Personally I found the whole video to be mesmerizing to both my eyes and my mind as I watched the shapes of the car shift transform as the functionality of the body panels changed with such things as doors opening, seats emerging from beneath, aerodynamic shapes changing to match speed, and opening up a single slit to reveal the engine compartment or lights.

I hope the video and the thinking has a similar effect on you as you imagine these new vistas the Snowflake Effect is transporting us to.  As you are enjoying this mental joy ride, listen to the way Chris describes the bigger picture of what this change of perspective has lead to for his team and BMW.  I particularly liked his closing comments:

“Emotion is really the added value to this.  … achieve a higher emotional plane out of this”

“the level of humanistic content we can bring in …. GINA should be about the human in the loop, the human way of doing things.”

and my favorite of all:

“context over dogma, that’s it”

I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.  It is an inspiring example of the power of the Snowflake Effect and shows how the transformation from mass production to mass personalization is happening before our very eyes.