- The U.S. mint has unveiled a new coin design that will depict Lady Liberty as a black woman. As a small symbolic step for a nation that has largely failed to reckon with the deep social impacts of slavery and the suppression of civil rights, it feels both right and wrong. On one hand making the image of a black woman into a definitive icon of the U.S. feels like progressive representation. On the other, the coin is commemorating the Mint's 225th anniversary: a span of time that significantly overlaps with slavery, when currency was exchanged for human lives existing far from anything resembling liberty.
- Boston-based Altitude is the latest design consultancy to get acquired, in this case by the massive professional services firm Accenture. Accenture is no stranger to deals like this, having acquired the digital design agency Fjord back in 2015. Presumably they feel good about the value added by bringing a team of designers into the fold, which may signal other large firms (like McKinsey, the business consultancy that bought up the studio LUNAR) to keep collecting designers in order to feel like they are staying competitive.
Up in the Air:
- Lily Robotics, the follow-me drone startup that excited future users to the tune of $34 MM in pre-orders has announced that it is shutting down and refunding those payments. While many sources cited high manufacturing complexity coming up against inability to raise another round of investment in time as the cause of death, other sources indicate that they were being investigated for false advertising and deceptive practices. In either case, it sounds like they fell for a temptation common to inexperienced founders: to present grand promises with confidence, while behind the scenes the technology challenges are far from solved and hope to attract big money will give you the engineering ammunition to make the smoke and mirrors real before anyone catches on.
- The French consumer electronics company Parrot is laying off around 290 employees in its drone division, making it the latest to shrink back in the face of Chinese drone maker DJI's success (3DR decided to stop building their own drones and cut staff back in March of 2016, GoPro laid off around 200 employees in December after their drone recall). While China has been disparaged in the past for producing inferior quality goods and failing to truly innovate, the global dominance of the DJI brand over many others is a real indication that such a narrative is no longer valid (if it ever was).
- Almost all of the jobs created in Canada last year were part time.
- Few politicians mention automation when they talk (or tweet) about manufacturing, likely because it's a complex subject where the typical promises of STEM spending or re-shoring won't necessarily make things better for the general public (e.g. add a significant number of jobs or reduce overall wealth inequality). The math for ensuring mass employment in the future is going to be very different, and politicians would do well to imagine an entirely different employment landscape, rather than riffing on old models.
- The fragmentation of media enabled by the internet has reduced the odds that we share cultural experiences with any given person in our city, state or nation. The article laments this fact as yet another membrane of our individual filter bubbles, amounting to a comforting but dangerous haze between us and the truth of the world. What is missing from this take is that the wide river of television's mainstream (mostly depicting stories of white, middle class, heterosexual characters) was never for everyone. Now more than ever we need to find ways to build positive change on a foundation of common ground, but it doesn't feel like we all need to be seeing or hearing the same stories for that to happen. Values of cosmopolitanism, not cultural hegemony, will be the path for getting to what's next.
Bias & Brains:
- Two stories of sloppy product development processes leading to black people being rendered literally invisible to the products they are using: one in software, another in hardware. The ignorance of design and engineering teams building these products for a global marketplace is pretty astounding. If these teams were more representative, their massive gaps in understanding would be solved almost immediately.