Finding Innovation in the 500lb Gorilla

I found this presentation on the IA Summit website and thought it woud be fun to share in Catalyze. In a case study from Yahoo, Kevin Cheng (interaction designer) and Tom Wailes (user experience) talk about a project where they explore a “Vision Project” with full support of senior management. The Vision Project gets product design teams out of the every day grind of projects to enable deeper innovation and forward-thinking.

Here is some more info on presentation which focused on the process :

  • what worked well and what lessons we learned for future efforts of a similar nature. We’ll be discussing the importance of creating this project to define the strategy of the product, as opposed to simply iterating without direction. Through a series of trial and error, we also will be able to discuss how the more visual storytelling outputs were far more engaging and well received than other approaches we tried.
  • In addition we will discuss how this project influenced and was integrated into the subsequent project planning, design and development lifecycle. Finally, we will discuss some other initiatives we’re aware of that attempt to address what we call “innovation stagnation” both within the company and without.
The original presentation appeared on the IA Summit site and includes an audio file.

“Yes, Design Can Make You Happy”

Here is a link to another great presentation from Ted Conference by graphic designer, Stefan Sagmeister. Stefan has designed album covers for the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Talking Heads among other things.

“Analyzing a list of things that have made him happy, graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister realized that almost half of the items were in some way related to design. In this intensely personal talk, he shares the details of some of those moments, and gives props to three artists whose work has had a positive impact on his world. Concluding with some examples of his own work, Sagmeister offers a real insight into his aesthetic and philosophy of work — and life.”

Vacations, Big Things and Survival

While these topics may not seem related, I will try to connect the dots by the end of the post.
My wife and I took our family to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico for a week of relaxation and exploration. San Miguel is an old colonial town founded in 1542 by Father Juan de San Miguel and it is also named after General Allende who was one of the heroes of the Mexican fight for independence which started in 1810.  It is about 3 hours west of Mexico City and is situated at about 6400 feet so the weather is quite delightful in summer. We rented a house a block from the city center and the large church that dominates the city, and just unplugged for a week – which is quite easy as there are no English language or TV stations available. It was also interesting to get immersed in an experience that is so not like anywhere else in the US from the language, food and friendly people. All of the streets in the city are cobblestone which makes it very easy to maintain the maximum speed of 20km per hour within the city center. There are no neon signs and no traffic lights in the city, and I only found 2 examples of American commercialization (just one Dunkin Donuts outlet and one Subway shop).  San Miguel is the image of what you expect Mexico to be.
Big Things
For a day trip, we took an excursion to see the pyramids at Teotihuacan (near Mexico City). There are two large pyramids and at least a dozen smaller pyramids located along a broad boulevard that is 2.5 km long. The pyramids were constructed between 1 and 250 AD and the complex was one of the largest cities in its heyday around 500 AD when it had between 150,000 and 200,000 residents. We hiked to the top of the Sun Pyramid which is the 3rd largest pyramid in the world and the largest in volume. We also wandered down the Avenue of the Dead and hiked halfway up the Moon Pyramid.   Seeing something so grand and constructed by peoples without modern tools was truly awe-inspiring.  It is even more amazing to note that the pyramids were originally covered with stucco and large murals were painted on them. One of the greatest mysteries is that very little is known about the people who built the pyramids or why they were so suddenly abandoned.
In between walking around and exploring the San Miguel, I did get a chance to finish an excellent book called Deep Survival (by Laurence Gonzales). Most of the book talks about difficult situations that different people encountered from climbing accidents, parachute drops, plane crashes, rafting spills, shipwrecks, etc. and explored why some people survived and why others did not. You might ask, what does this have to do with me and the short answer is that we are all survivors.
At the end of the book, Laurence details 12 steps that are applicable to “surviving” both our business and personal lives:
  1. Perceive, believe
  2. Stay calm
  3. Think/analyze/plan
  4. Take correct decisive action
  5. Celebrate your successes
  6. Count your blessings
  7. Play
  8. See the beauty
  9. Believe that you will succeed
  10. Surrender
  11. Do whatever is necessary
  12. Never give up
My advice is that everyone should take time out for a recharging vacation this summer. While on vacation, step outside of your typical settings and see something awe inspiring. And please be careful and safe.