People seem to be really excited about Nintendo's latest product combining cardboard constructions and digital gaming. The low-tech charm of cardboard is powerful because it is simple, and in its simplicity, evocative. It's similar to the point Scott McCloud makes of abstraction being more relatable than realism. Imagination allows people to tune experiences exactly to their own aesthetic desires and narrative interests, but as an element of design or UX it's largely ignored by companies. The typical business preference favors tightly controlling experiences to protect brand sentiment and expectations, rather than enabling customers to invent and alter on their own. Maybe because Nintendo has been in operation since 1889, they have a better sense for just when to use imaginative blank space instead of pure technological power, whether the format is computer screens or cardboard.
- Companies are seeking more detailed data on the bodies of their customers, promising a better value in perfectly fitting clothes in exchange. Privacy advocates point out that such information is akin to medical data, but doesn't have the same legal protections given to patient information. Additionally, some e-commerce companies like StichFix seek behavioral data through detailed on-boarding questionnaires and accessing Instagram and Pinterest accounts in order to better algorithmically curate the styles offered to a given customer.
- A design study on how various makeup companies approach skin color palettes.
- Google's software combining museum collections and facial analysis to match selfie photos with their fine art doppelgängers has gone viral, but strict laws on biometric data collection limit where it can be used. Not surprisingly, the matching function has drawn criticism for how well it handles race, an issue exacerbated by museum collections that skew heavily towards caucasian subjects and creators.
Up in the Air:
- A staggering number of companies are now working on drones. As with any hardware technology trend, there will be real value and applications around the core pursuit (presumably better, cheaper, faster drones) but the more significant outcome may be in other sectors benefitting from such scale driving down component costs. It's likely we will see a connected increase in products leveraging those components in ways that have nothing to do with drones, much in the same way the "smartphone wars" helped create the right conditions for a wave of consumer hardware startups.
- NASA engineers and designers had some strange notions of what the first women astronauts would need.
- A smart review of Divining Desire: Focus Groups and the Culture of Consultation from The New Inquiry. Among other things the book highlights how some of the most famous 'focus group gone wrong' stories are actually erroneous tales: in truth (in the cases of New Coke and Edsel cars) executives ignored the collective voices and fell into product failures as a result. Focus groups are certainly flawed as a research technique (people make different decisions privately than among peers or strangers, getting representative samples is difficult, etc.) but the larger takeaway is that research best practices require real listening. Today's research trend of 'user personas' faces similar issues arising from sloppy execution. Done right, personas help guide development, translating behavioral research from noisy data to clearly addressable needs and wants. Done poorly (which unfortunately is usually the case), personas boil whole populations down into crude fabrications, leading to biases reflected in design, engineering, and messaging choices.