What’s the point with concept development?

Olle Torgny

You know the feeling. The day you rode your bicycle without help. When you knew who to marry, or where to go on vacation. Everything became so easy. Your powers went in one clear direction. And you knew why. That is basically what I offer clients and collaborators.

Clarity and confidence.

When you see the point with what you do, and for whom, then you can act and invest, confident that your efforts will lead towards your goal.

A good project is based on true insight, leading to efficient solutions.

What’s in common is the quest for the essential meaning. The point.

Will 3D printing inspire neo art deco?

Joris Laarman Lab stainless steel bridge

Photo © Joris Laarman Lab

In 2019, the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal in Amsterdam will have a new stainless steel bridge. It has taken six months for four robots to 3D print it.

With the freedom of form of 3D printing, is this the start for a new era of art deco? Rococo? Bolidismo?

Read about the project here on Designboom.

When old technology meets new

Fascinating things happen when you combine old and new technology, such as putting vintage lenses on a modern camera. Or as in this extreme case, going back to the origins of photography by making a simple camera obscura, that is basically just a little hole (0,4 mm) without any lens what so ever.

The modern, digital camera is surprisingly fit for this experiment with its high resolution and sensitivity, as well as colour balance control. And best of all, you can see the result of various settings immediately on the display.

Camera obscura This picture was taken using 20 megapixel camera, with a 0,4 mm hole and ISO 16000 at 1/50 second. It has been slightly adjusted in Photoshop, another modern tool.

When all the work is done

Bus no.4 arrivingat Gullmarsplan Stockholm

We are now in December, the weeks before Christmas that feel like a dark, cold tunnel. No one wants to go out, and with just darkness around you, you get the working focus of late night. I have always wondered how much of the year’s work that is done during these weeks, here in Sweden. My guess is that it’s a lot.

As expected, still very beautiful

A behind the scenes look at how the iconic Leica M10 camera is built in Wetzlar, Germany. Filmed with a leica SL and a summilux-C lens. By Leica ambassador Richard Seymour.
A masterpiece in the making

Flower covered police car. This is Sweden.

Police car covered in flowers

After the brutal terrorist attack of 7th of April, citizens of Stockholm step out, make manifestations against violence, give hugs to policeofficers and cover police cars in flowers.


Colour matters

M&M dispenser at Copenhagen central station.

Those interested in synesthesia should get more information elsewhere.

But we know that children often have strong preference for a certain colour of m&m, and even claim that the taste is different. I can also agree that the feeling changes with the colour, even if not directly the taste. White wine in a blue glass for example gets a very strange taste, even  though it is the same liquid.

At Copenhagen central station I saw this this dispenser from which you can buy M&Ms any colour you like, according to your preference. Let’s embrace the things in this world that are fair!

Emotional leverage

Futurniture is a communications firm in Stockholm which started its enterprise with four design exhibitions the summer of 1993. Looking back, it seems like these events manifested a large shift in Swedish design and architectural culture where, up to today, good taste became commonplace. I had the privilege to have my then one year old degree project included in one of the exhibitions.


Another exhibit was this fantastic piece of art by Johan Rosenquist. An aquarium with rubber gloves, carefully prepared with circulation pumps. It has always been present in the office of Futurniture and I think it is a marvellous example of what art can be. Seldom have you seen so much human emotion expressed with such simple means!

Does it matter what we call things?

Brexit - remain - leave

Words, words, words… Does it matter what we call things?

When Sweden voted to join the EU, one of the pro campaigns used the slogan ”It’s more fun to say yes!”. If that had any positive – or negative (!) – effect we will never know.

But we know that the UK referendum on staying or leaving the EU has been labelled with a word which suggests leaving but sounds much more positive and catchy. Soon it was not so much about ”remaining” or ”leaving” as ”Yes Brexit” or ”No Brexit”. Isn’t it more fun to say yes?

Also ”leave” has a tone of uncertainty and sadness, while ”remain” sounds more dull but also safe. Without the Brexit concept, would perhaps some uncertain voters have chosen the less challenging alternative, to remain?

No matter if these effects have been minor or significant, the concept developers on the leaving campaigns have done a good job in their cause. The consequences will affect us all; in what way is yet to see.

Truth under cover

Pocket book cover

My friend Per Grankvist recently published a new book about the reasons why people are lying, ”Lögnarna” (The Liars, at this point only in Swedish). As a suitable present to celebrate, I produced this book cover for him that fits most pocketbooks and allows you to appear as a person who is deeply involved in classical literature, even though you are actually reading a detective novel or so.

No filter, just Denmark

Dragoer Denmark

A still early april evening on the coast of Denmark can take your breath, even 15 minutes from the national airport!

A diet with appetite to continue

DietA good diet should not only help you to break bad routines, it also should motivate you to form new and healthier habits. It should be a pleasure when you do it, it should make you want to continue, and there should be a plan for the continuation. Otherwise you probably will go right back to bad habits. Is this at all possible? A few weeks and -11 kilos later I say it is! Visual design thinking was a cornerstone in the process. Test pilots are welcome to email for more information!

Just pressing the shutter release



A walk around Årstaviken, Stockholm in early March 2016.

Happy Holidays 2015!

Happy holidays

Click the image to see this and my previous Chtristmas greetings.

A universe for a geographic consultancy

Geografiska Informationsbyrån GIB

This Swedish geographic consultancy assigned me to design a logotype and soon we were all involved creating a visual universe. A hint of humour and explorer romanticism, mixed with institutional and functionalistic nostalgy created a visual theme that integrates all logical, empirical, ecological and society conscious aspects in a focused set of symbols and attributes. Visit them here!

IFIA World Innovation Conference/Congress

Views on innovation 2015

Mr Alireza Rastegar, president of IFIA

For two days, August 25-26th 2015, inventors from all over the world have met in Stockholm to discuss challenges and opportunities. Some examples of issues:

  • The role of the inventor in industry and society
  • The relationship between education, culture and creativity
  • Misconceptions of what innovation is leading to governments investing in large amounts in research – which produces knowledge – and very little in the individuals and processes which lead to actual products. To convert scientific discoveries into commercially viable inventions is a good idea but the focus for achieving this is different from the typical focus of science.
  • A broader scope for innovation, including services and and social innovations
  • The conflict between following your passion and making a living as an inventor
  • Patents and other intellectual property, where many inventors get stuck. When to patent and when to rather start with marketing and so on.
  • Occasional discoveries and inventions versus the work of ”serial inventors”
  • How to connect the inventor and the entrepreneur
  • The writing in the testemony of Alfred Nobel stating that the physics prize should be awarded to both discoveries and inventions, while the prize almost always has been awarded to scientific discoveries.

What’s your view on innovation?

Olle Torgny supported the Swedish organisers in the planning and including design of the ”Views on innovation” logo and tagline, which serves as a common umbrella for the contributing organisations.

Embrace the unknown!

Der unbekannte gast

Time is ripe for smart things

FLIC smart button which can e.g. control a chosen cell phone function

I am happy to see that the market is getting ready for ’smart things’, that I worked on a bit in the 1990’s. Now there is technology, context and demand! FLIC is a wonderful example.

It’s simply a button that you can use to control a chosen function on your smartphone. The most simple example is to use it as a remote control for the camera, but there is much more to it! The FLIC team has made a nice integration of system, smartphone app and a physical object. With the courage to limit the functionality to a focused essence, they have achieved a very interesting product.

On Indiegogo they have raised $214.645 in 8 days (2014 11 25). More info and direct link to a presentation movie.  On Internet Discovery Day, they were even granted 250 000 SEK from ALMI as support to their venture!

Wheel re-invented outside box

Soft Wheel - suspension in the spokes

You should always be careful with what you say. Seemingly harmless expressions can keep you from opportunities. Luckily, Gilad Wolf ”thought out of the box” and ”re-invented the wheel”!

It’s a wheel primarily for wheelchairs, but it has already been tested on bicycles. And the new thing is that the suspension is in the three spokes, instead of in some structure that the wheel is attached to. Wheelchairs don’t have that kind structure, so with this invention they can provide their users with a bump free, less harmful, ride.

More info on Gizmodo or the corporate web site for SoftWheel.

81 Cantonese proverbs in one view

Just one example of how you can visualise so many things at the same time if you choose to be visual. Information graphics can be cultural, beautiful and inspirational, not only vessels of facts.

Don’t you recognise the proverbs? Totally understandable if you, like me, are not Cantonese… All communication, including visual, depends on the experience of the beholder.
No problem, see the fascinating legend here.

Offering at a glance

SAS, Scandinavian airlines, present their offering with this snapshot, based on the temporal mental model of a flight. Instead of meaningless listings of features and benefits, you can get the whole picture at a glance in a meaningful way. Probably they used this mental model in their marketing development of their services, so why not make it visible to the customers to!

How broad a brand?

Visiting the Stockholm Furniture & Light Fair 2014, I found this stand with Canada Goose Home bedroom products; duvets, pillows, bedding and blankets. So Canada Goose has decided to extend their brand of down jackets and sportswear into the bedroom. On one point I wonder how the intensity of mountain sports activities goes together with the desired serenity of the bedroom. But clearly, the brand has a well known credibility in producing high quality down and textile products…

Another interesting concept is the one of Buster+Punch. Interested in motocycles as I am I immediately spotted the beautifully built café racer in their stand, with many nice details in machined brass. Using the same materials and methods, Buster+Punch also makes special furniture, like the Rock star whisky bar at the back, and a range of light fittings and other hardware.

Many dream of having a motorcycle customization business, and okay, sometimes I also reflected on this. But the question is how to make this sustainably profitable; probably you need to offer other, more fast moving products. Examples of this are the Danish motorcycle builders Wrenchmonkees, extending their brand to clothing and accessories, and Spanish El Solitario who apart from custom bikes offer everything from clothing to jewellery and art.
I think that the concept of Buster+Punch is a good example with relevance in the machined brass parts. You may not buy the motorcycle, but you can enjoy a bit of the ruggedness and quality in the safety of your own home.

Strategic april fools-joke

SAS-like april fools-joke

Today SAS, Scandinavian Airlines, announced that they from now on will have a ”like” button above each seat in their airplanes. Of course it’s an April fools’ joke, but it’s also an interesting example of playful ways to make your brand and your strategy visible.

Happy april fools’ day! (link from the photo to the SAS Facebook entry)

Where pleasure meets utility

Picture from the motorcycle fair in Stockholm last weekend.
Live to Ride – Ride to Live!

Enter Makerspace

Soon Stockholm Makerspace will open. I can’t wait! I have always enjoyed building and modifying stuff and now there be a place you can go and not only build physical things in the workshop but also network with others! Stockholm Makerspace has been created through crowd funding by FundedByMe and I have also made a small contribution through my company.

Stockholm Makerspace

Physical prototyping is not only a pleasure and a natural part of industrial design. It’s also a good way for people to broaden the perspective on your work. When you have a physical prototype you can see the consequences of your solution, interact with it and discuss it with others. Which I have taught in several contexts, for example a few times at the Physical interaction design and realization course at KTH.

Physical interaction design and realization course

Interactive chair with various sensors and colour variable lights, from the ”Physical interaction design and realization course” at KTH.

Brilliant hack!

Book shelf based on the IKEA stool "Frosta"

Swiss designer Andreas Bhend is specialised in ”hacking” IKEA furniture, for example the shelf above made from Frosta stools. Actually, since the 70’s IKEA has been encouraging people to modify their products or use them in another way than the obvious. For example a friend of mine uses a bookshelf as a coffee table, and a couple of stacked coffee tables as a bookshelf!

Bhends designs require power tools (read more here), but you can actually get quite far only by altering the assembly instructions! I think the trend of ”hacking”, modifying and building things instead of just buying things as they are, will be more and more popular as people get tired of anonymous, mass produced products…

When innovation is to preserve as is

Lilla Plan calendar

To be more creative, disruptive and innovative in as many areas as possible, except this one. For 2013, that is my little plan!

Disruptive innovation

In the middle of the 1930’s, the Czech car manufacturer Tatra launched its first drop-shaped aerodynamic model. In the picture, a Tatra T77a from 1937 in front of a T80 from 1935, at the Technical Museum in Prague.

This was a leap in the development of the automobile that was only surpassed by the introduction of Citroën DS in 1955. In the picture below, the 1954 B15 and the 1955 DS.

In what areas are such quantum leaps made these days?

Tatra – futurism on four wheels

Tatraplan 1952 in the Museum of historical vehicles Mlynica, Slovakia

Will there ever be cars like this built again? In the picture, a Tatraplan from 1952 in the vehicle museum in Mlynica, Slovakia. The later Tatra 603 is not bad either. Watch a wonderful commercial from 1962 here (YouTube).

The best of two worlds

For a long time I thought it was sad that I could not use my Rotring 600 fountain pen more than I did. It would always dry out between times of use. I have simply never been a fountain pen guy. At the same time the plastic quality of my favourite writing and sketching instrument, the BIC M10, has become more fragile so I often break the clip. A simple modification later, my Rotring can use the BIC cartridges. The best of two worlds!

As they are before we conceptualise them

A Christian and a Buddhist Walk Into a Cartoon - click to view

I found this interesting little film on Facebook. It’s a description of what buddhism is about, and even though I will not judge the accuracy, I like it’s straight forwardness.

”Things are real – as they are – before we conceptualise them.” Something to reflect upon!

Also the text-to-movie technology (xtranormal) used for making the film is quite interesting.

New business cards

I just got my new business cards. They look just like the old ones, but this time I chose real offset printing instead of digital. Real stuff. Feels good. I also uppdated the professional section of my website. If I wasn’t already crew cut, I would go to the hairdressers too.

Nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication

This is a wall outside a school on the island of Formentera, in Spain. Obviously the values of the school are expressed with nonverbal graphics. Obviously the kids can get the message from the first day, long before they can read.

But this form of expression has many other advantages. It’s concise, takes little space, is immediately perceivable and it is ”obvious”. But it also lets you speak about one thing while ”reading” several symbols simultaneously. That is impossible with written words. And on top of that, they say that nonverbal symbols, pictures and photos communicate more directly with the larger part of the brain, beyond the limited and language oriented conscience. How cool isn’t that!

75 years of CSR

Three Stars - Tres Estrellas - Three Moons - Solstickan

The safety match, and it’s production technology, are two of the inventions that made Sweden an industrial nation with export. When Solstickan (the sun stick) was created in 1936, safety matches had been produced in Sweden for almost 100 years. The label drawing was made by the artist Einar Nerman, and it has been said to be the most reproduced work of art in the world. On this picture it’s in the original form with no toning on the sun.

With every box of matches sold, a small amount goes to the Solstickan foundation, which since 1936 has raised 10.000.000 euros for children, elderly and research.

A 75 year old CSR project!

The business model of a locker

I can see an increase in discussions around business models and it seems that one reason is that business models are becoming more complex, regarded as a way to competitive advantage. When this discussion starts to involve other elements than costs and revenue, I think it gets really interesting. Just to take the simple example of a locker in the cloak room of a museum, the kind where you get your coin back. How do you explain the business model of that?

What's the business model?

In a traditional perspective it is not very interesting, as you can doubt if there is any real transaction at all. But if you look at the whole picture you see that the use of a coin has nothing to do with the user value at all, it is only a trick to get the key back. People value the coin more than a stolen key. The user becomes it’s own customer.

But then you can also see a qualitative business model where the locker actually removes an obstacle and helps people to have a better museum experience as they can get rid of their jackets and loose stuff for a while, in a safe way. Which makes it possible for the museum to either charge for the entry ticket or get support from sponsors, based on the number of visitors.

So even something that is free can actually be a crucial component in a complex business model! Too bad you can’t find it on the balance sheet.

Why are most sewing machines white?


Nature abhors a vacuum

Stripe decoration on the back of a motorhome

I have always wondered what goes on in the minds of the people that design caravans and motor homes. Especially the graphics which form a genre of its own. Visiting a fair for these vehicles gave a lot of interesting impressions, but ended in more new questions than answers.

What’s the point of the stripe above? That ”Nature abhors a vacuum”? Or that it might cheer up the cars in the queue behind?

Practical allocation of resources

Picture from the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

For example putting the source of heating where the people are. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; not part of the exhibition.

Straight forward

On Januari 25th, the ”un-conference” Internet Discovery Day was organised by Grädde (Cream), a Stockholm based investmet company. Anyone with a business idea could take a section of brown paper and market their idea to venture capitalists, suppliers or potential partners.

It was interesting to see how the simplicity of the brown paper postings made the exhibitors state their actual needs and ambitions, without the ordinary business lingo and euphemisms. ”We need funding and a database programmer!” You wouldn’t express yourself like that on a roll-up.

As always, the media and the message interact.

Links: Facebook group page. and Grädde.

Mediocrity 2011 – irony by Subaru

My favourite of japanese car manufacturers, Subaru, is currently running a wonderful viral campaign where they present the fictive ”Mediocrity 2011”. Subaru intends to market itself as the Japanese car manufacturer with integrity, that sticks out. You may argue on the exterior expression of Subaru’s, but as a whole they are quite different with rumbling boxer engines and four wheel drives on road cars since long before anyone could even spell ”quattro”.

The website is wonderful beige on beige, and the irony is music to my ears:

”When we came up with this idea we thought; ’Let’s not come up with any other ideas. This idea is good enough.”

However, I thought that the fictive ”Mediocrity 2011” had a grille that was not bland enough. It’s actually a bit provoking, it even sticks out. So I made this sketch of an even more ordinary grille:

The Mediocrity 2011 to the left and my even more mediocre suggestion to the right

The Mediocrity 2011 to the left and my bland grille suggestion to the right.

Visit the hilarious website here; you can also see the movie here.

Not for sale

Coca Cola small bottles promotion

Many times have I been defending the practice of marketing among people who think of it as tricking people into buying what they don’t need and want. Today’s form of marketing, that I represent, is rather about matching needs, demands and offerings, while taking attitudes and awareness into account. You can make people aware of things they did not know existed, and if these things are well adapted to people’s reality they may experience new needs. But a very fundamental notion must be that you cannot sell people what they don’t want.

Working in this field has made me extra aware of inside-out thinking and push-oriented marketing. Since fifteen years back, the newspaper which I subscribe to for weekends only, has tried to convince me into changing my subscription to daily, at a similar cost. But I don’t like having papers I don’t have time to read, dumped into my mailbox. It’s worth more for me to get less! Once one of their phone salesmen even argued ”but the price for the everyday subscription is the same and you see a newspaper is funded by adverts in relation to issues sold, so it is much better for us if you get the paper daily”.

In a similar way, I wonder what the people at Coca Cola were thinking with their recent campaign, ”Buy three large bottles and get a four-pack of small traditional bottles as a gift”. The small four-packs are clearly marked ”not for sale” and they cannot be bought separately, at any price! So much marketing effort spent on the classic bottle, often even depicted on the cans as the icon it is… Not for sale! Like many others, I gladly pay a fair amount for those lovely little glass bottles with the relief logo, once in a while when you can actually buy them in the supermarket. But I refuse to carry enough sugared water for a pool party to my house, only to get those that I want. It’s worth more to get less!

It seems like the Coca Cola people know that we want the traditional small bottles, where is otherwise the logic in using it as a ”lure” to sell the large plastic ones?

Well, maybe it is better for them…

One hand does not know what..

Winter has struck Sweden harder than in many years and of course the railroad companies, working under SJ, Swedish Railroads, get a lot of attention. Will they cope with the upcoming weather conditions or will we face the same disastrous delays as last year?

This week the state owned real estate company Jernhusen, owning the Swedish railway stations, are celebrating the opening of a new central escalator in the central station, with cake and balloons. I think it’s great to have a central escalator, until now the staircases have been quite hidden aside. And it is wonderful to see the usually so confident Stockholm people confused by the new routes contrary to their habitual mental model.

I know that Jernhusen and SJ are separate organisations, but still I could not help taking this picture yesterday. At the bottom: cake and balloons over a new escalator, and at the top a crowd of hundreds of people gazing at the information board for information about their possibly delayed train…

Cordial Business Model Summit 2010

This year’s Business Model Summit, held by Cordial Business Advisers yesterday, was inspiring in many ways. To have a good business model has always been important but today the complexity calls for a closer attention and more creativity.

The media industry and music industry are maybe the most obvious examples of industries in urgent need to rethink their offerings, revenue models and how to deliver on reasonable internal cost. These areas were discussed as well as how a good business model can help small start-ups like Odd Molly and Student Consulting AB to grow exponentially.

Even the recent change of government in Sweden was a result of creative business model rethinking when the right wing parties organised themselves around a common effort!

While watching these interesting discussions I could not help thinking about a totally different thing. As I had designed some of the graphics I was happy to have put full attention to detail when they now were shown at large scale.

I guess that goes for both business models and graphic design; you need to both see the large picture and keep up the quality in detail.

Experiences that make sense and add value

These are barley grains, from which you make malt and in turn beer or whisky. They come from the exposition at the Guinness brewery in Dublin, ”The Guinness Storehouse”.

I guess that if you were to visit the Guinness factory some 20 years ago, you would probably be led through the factory in a group. Your experience would consist of the actual noise, steam and smells of the factory. Today, however, you visit a special exposition building, an old storehouse with all the best of multimedia and exposition design. The expostion represents the production and it’s intention is to replace the experience of walking through the actual factory. It’s very well done, only one thing missing. The smell!

There is almost no smell anywhere in the exposition, which is a pity as the smell is a genuine opportunity to enhance the customers’ perception of a culinary product. And it would be quite easy to achieve for example by a heated pan of roasted barley, hidden behind some screen.

This reminds me of my visit to Islay some years ago, where I visited the distilleries of Lahproaig (picture above), Lagavulin and Ardbeg. I had never fully appreciated the taste of smoky Irish whisky until then, but standing there with the mix of smells of smoke, peat and the salty sea it suddenly made sense. These impressions come back everytime I have the pleasure of tasting an Irish whisky.

That’s what I call a value-adding experience!

What a wicked wicket!

Some time ago I checked in for a flight at one of the terminals of Arlanda airport, and I was confronted with this peculiar thing. A small piece of (maybe bullet-proof) glass separating the customer and the staff.

I found two things interesting about this. Firstly I wonder what went on in the minds of the people who designed this apparently useless protection. Secondly I was intrigued to find that both the clerk and myself still would pass receipts and boarding cards through that silly little slot. Benevolent desire to comply?


I never get tired of Douglas Adams’ and John Lloyd’s book The deeper meaning of Liff, a dictionary of things that there aren’t words for yet, where geographical names are given new meaning. According to them, a “botswana” is “Something which is fruitfully used for a purpose other than that for which it was designed. A fishknife used to lever open a stubborn tin of emulsion is a fine example of a botswana.”

A key card as key ring - a wonderful botswana

On a recent visit to Helsinki I stayed at a hotel where they used key cards as key rings. So the doors had ordinary locks, but to turn on the lights you needed to put the key card in it’s socket. What a wonderful compromise solution. And a terrific botswana!

I strongly recommend The deeper meaning of Liff, also for those who just like me have failed to become fond of Adams’ other works. And I recommend Helsinki for mind expanding experiences!

One day this symbol will save lives

My first project when I was employed at Antrop was about how to handle and present warning information in the future electronic health records. How could medical personnel see in a glance if a patient would need special treatment? We realised that the situations of use are quite different, from ordinary visits to the doctor to emergency situations. So one early step was to make situation scenarios, in order to understand the need of information and the conditions for understanding it.

Medical warning information situation scenarios

Then we worked out this symbol, roughly based on the classic medical symbol. Each segment, when “lit”, represents if the patient is contagious, under treatment, hypersensitive in some degree or if there is any other notes that should be taken into account. The symbol is designed to be instantly readable on screen, in physical paper records as well as on black and white copies.

Today, September 14th 2010, my friend and leader of the project, Rikard Lövström, is presenting his work on standard for warning information in electronic health records, including the symbol, as a research poster at the Medinfo2010 conference in Cape Town. At long term this might be an international standard, there are already several countries involved. More information about the project, which involves both interaction and system issues, can be found here.
I am still supporting the project with further development and communication material, as it moves ahead. Through the years I have designed quite a few graphic symbols of certain importance but this is an uncommon opportunity to directly help saving human lives!

Start-up of Start-up Stockholm

Sten Nordin, financial mayor of Stockholm, today inaugurated ”Start-up Stockholm” as Stockholms Nyföretagarcentrum (≈New business centre of Stockholm) and Innovation Stockholm start an official collaboration. One more step ahead towards a more entrepreneurial and innovative Stockholm. And no one is happier than me!

Instead of cutting the ribbon Sten Nordin tied a yellow and a blue one together.
Nice metaphor, don’t you think!

Planning of chemical plant 2010

A few weeks ago I assisted in a workshop for the chemical company Perstorp AB, the Warrington production site. They had found that their offices and production units were too spread out and that they needed to re-arrange parts of the plant according to new needs.

As you know the world has changed and today it is not only a practical work of architects and engineers to plan a chemical plant. No, you have to define your long term vision, working processes and collaboration culture before you start discussing the location of each element. Hence this workshop, facilitated by the very professional and inspiring people of the creativity centre The Automatic, located at Liverpool Innovation Park. So instead of facilitating, my focus would be on the development of strong visionary metaphors. What should the new workplace be like? Like a harbour? Like a farm? Like the control-room of a nuclear plant?

A brilliant example of a new world where human software and technical hardware need to be merged into viable solutions!

Department of mystification

Some things are so complicated that you cannot understand how they could be so just through ignorance or negligence. The complexity seems to be there by design. Like bank notes, old style airline tickets, the table of contents of medicine or the back of a PC. When discussing examples of this approach, a friend of mine often refers to the ”Department of mystification”, whose obvious task would be to make things more complicated, enigmatic, mystic and intriguing. He means for example that Citroën must have had such a department in the 1970’s, for the design of the Citroën CX whose dashboard controls mostly worked differently from other cars, with a vast number of control lamps whose functions were impossible to memorise. Some sensemaking specialists call the opposite, even the effect of common branding and differentiation, ”strangemaking”.

While my own general ambition is to make things more obvious and easy to understand, I have also been reflecting on the question of how to make things more interesting, how to make things less banal, how to involve people. Obstacles for letting people reach their goals should be removed, yes, but I am not sure that a totally obvious product or service is the most functional or the most appreciated. Because one part of success is that people, users, consumers actually care. Apple seems to simplify every little component of the experience, but at the same time they also add mystery to their products; just in another way!

I just got this parcel, containing a spare part for my computer; a new keyboard. It has one manufacturer seal (Lenovo) and one service organisation seal (IBM). It has three labels with in total nine bar codes. It was delivered to my door by young man in his brown UPS uniform, requiring me to sign the delivery on the electronic thingy, and the guy even spoke with a light American accent. I have no doubt that the spare part is of top quality but the total experience of the delivery feels not far from getting a personal message from Obama himself.

Probably the work of the Department of mystification!

Designed vegetables

In the daily life you don’t think so much about the origin of things. And at least myself I usually regard vegetables as something ”real” that comes from ”nature”, not as something that has been made up or ”designed”.

Last night I saw Jimmy Doherty’s tv programme about genetically modified food, about how the global food industry depends on genetically modified soya beans and how plants can be modified to resist frost or drought, as well as the possible consequences of all this.

He also showed how the wild cabbage has been bred to become cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Savoy cabbage and Brussels sprouts – they have all been bred from the same wild cabbage. That is not genetical modification but still radical, man-made, creations quite different from the origin. Humans made them what they are.

And then a friend told me that tomatoes and potatoes have the same origin only that tomatoes have been bred to be harvested over ground, while the potatoes have been bred to be dug from the soil. So then one might wonder how many vegetables that actually are ”natural”…

This reminds me about the wonderful campaign for vegetables that Swedish COOP made a couple of years ago, with vegetables that resemble human organs. At least that is something that I can understand how it was manipulated. In Photoshop!

They started as a mining company

How much is a business idea worth? I have met a lot of people who mean that no business idea has a value in itself – it’s all about execution. (Read more here at Disruptive.nu, in Swedish) I can agree that execution is very important, but if you succeed, what have you actually accomplished if not the business idea? I think we have all seen how strong ideas can change the world so I do not think you can take just any random business idea and succeed through mere execution. And in that case, various ideas have different value.

What’s important is of course to have a good balance between on one hand vision/goal/concept and, on the other hand, dynamics in market/customers/users and other surrounding influences. To have a strong long term vision may even make it easier to be flexible short term if you don’t let it make you rigid, don’t you think?

A refreshing new perspective is Ashkan Pouya’s essay on phantom innovations, which I read about at my friend Gustav Gorecki’s blog at Developers Club. (Read it here in Swedish) Pouya says that innovations often end up in a completely different product than what was intended from the beginning. And in a way he also means that other things than the idea itself is the road to success.

My own reflection on this is that perhaps it’s more important – given that the team has the right spirit – that the initial idea is engaging and inspiring so that the enterprise gets started at all, rather than being 100% ”correct”. Once started, long term success is about open-mindedness and balancing long term and short term perspectives, as above.

3M Scotch Magic tape - one of thousands of 3M innovations

This reminds me of 3M, which started as a mining company that would make emery cloth from a specific mineral. Then, when they started mining it turned out that it was the wrong kind of mineral. What to do? They had already built a community with their families around the mine. Well, they started to visit the surrounding businesses, asking them what kind of consumables, lubrications, detergents, glues that they needed. This started a journey of hundred years of successful, customer oriented, innovation. So, they won from being open-minded and flexible, but where would they have been without the initial business idea?

Finally, while we are experimenting back and forth with these concepts: how many companies should be much better off – given their current set of competencies, contacts and resources – if they radically changed their business idea? And what would that idea be worth?

Open for business

Thai take-away

I am now officially open for business. My objective is to make companies and their offerings more competitive through innovation based on inspiring customer/consumer/user insights. Primary tools will be persona- and scenario methods, sensemaking and creative prototyping together with classic and new strategy development methods.

The picture shows a traditional Swedish kiosk (newsstand/sweetstall) which has transformed into a thai food take-away. A good example of adaptation to a new world, sensibly changing the adequate elements of the offering while keeping the good parts. For the customer the experience is a combination of new/exciting, classic/familiar and practically relevant. Inspiring, don’t you think?

This is Sweden!

Olle Westling, the father of Daniel, makes his speech of the father at the wedding of princess Victoria and his son, with the love of a proud father, with no notice of this being a royal wedding in live television but with full focus on the spouses. He gives his thanks for the dinner and the best wishes for the couple. Just as it would have been at an ordinary wedding in Sweden. This wedding might be royal but the important thing is love and being human.

At the wedding ceremony the priest talked to the spouses as fellows in everyday language. They may be royal but they deserve being adressed as fellow humans. You can feel the sincerity and warmth through the TV-screen.

I am proud.

Ten years with personas

Last friday Rósa Guðjónsdóttir defended her doctoral thesis Personas and Scenarios in Use. The thesis is based on professional experiences and the work in a European research project, Nepomuk.and it describes how personas were used as a tool for communication and acceptance in an organisation. You can find the thesis here.

So what’s ”personas”? In short, personas are fictive persons used to label a certain segment of users or target groups. You often put them into scenarios of various kinds, in order to understand needs, attitudes and behaviour.

If you are designing something for a small group of people you can easily talk to all of them and study their needs. But when you work with large numbers of people you will need to do some form of segmentation, see some patterns that do not reflect the full variety but which is good enough to guide your work.

In systems development you formulate the requirements; what functions the users need based on working tasks, processes and other behaviour. If you work in a user perspective, which you should, this will be based on user profiles that can be labeled as personas.

In marketing it is also common to segment the target groups so that you can direct your advertising to those that are actually interested, and see general patterns in attitudes so that you can adapt your offering/product/service so that they may choose yours instead of the competitors’. Also here the segments are sometimes labeled with personas. The information they represent can be qualitative or quantitative.

So personas are labels to functional, behavioural or attitude segments, but then why do you make these fictive person labels; why not settle with the segments? I would say that the method uses the human ability to attach a large number of information to a name and a face, because that is what we do when we get to know people. Think of the large number of data you can present about the people you know! In daily work it is also more practical to refer to a fictive person than a segment. you can say that ”this solution will not fit Eric”.

This picture is from a project Rosa and I did for Africa Online at Icon Medialab in 2000, where we made life-size versions of the personas so that the user requirements could be constantly present in the ongoing project. More efficient for directing the user quality of a project than handing out thick requirement documents that no one would read anyway…

Finally, personas are not only practical and efficient molds of facts that your object of development should fit, but they also help you finding new and valid ideas – personas are inspiring!

What is customer value anyway?

There have been many attempts to explain what value is, and the difference between the seller’s and the buyers’ product. Here’s another one!

For the seller the deal is about costs and revenue, for the buyer it’s about the perceived value. Only what is perceived has a value for the buyer, the customer. Again, the total value of your offering is reflected in the price, if the product did not have this perceived value, the customer would keep his or her money. So we can put a measurable value on the value, as long as there is a transaction.

What’s interesting in my opinion is that some of the elements in the product are known and developed by the seller while others seem to be developed by the customer, mainly in form of expectations created beyond the sellers initiative or control. And of course, properties or qualities that are not perceived will fall out of the model and not be a part of the value.

What is the common sector of buyer/seller value in your offering?

Customer value margin

A few days ago I attended a seminar at Transformator, a Swedish service design agency. They showed a very inspiring presentation with concrete and tangible examples – very refreshing in a design area that is still under development and where still most of its stakeholders seem to have a different view of what service design is.

It made me think that when designers get increasingly involved with business development it gets more important than ever to be clear about what values your efforts create. As always there is a incompatibility between qualitative and quantitative values – both can be defined but they cannot be evaluated with the same terms.

For example, if we look at the customer value of a product (a physical object or an immaterial service) we can measure the quantitative price, what the customer has paid. And we can roughly assume that this corresponds to the quantitative value, otherwise the customer would have kept his or her money. But when we then try to evaluate the customer satisfaction we can only measure if it is more or less than the expected value, not how much. Of course you may ask people how much they would have paid for something different, but it is only the actual purchase that can be reliable enough.

But maybe the measured value is less important than the notion of perceived customer value, and here it seems like we lack of terms. In order to relate to the existing business concepts, I would suggest the term ”Customer value margin”, and I think that the notion of this being either positive or negative might be useful enough in practical product development.

What is the customer value margin of your product?

Link to Transformator, click here.

The sign could say anything

We would understand anyway.

Expo 2010 – big and small

When the queuing time is 2,5 hours (early May, on a weekday) or more for the larger pavilions it’s an interesting alternative to visit several small pavilions and get in touch with countries you have little access to otherwise.

This is the queue to the pavilion of Saudi Arabia.

To see some highlights from big and small pavilions at Expo 2010, click here.

Expo 2010 – an expo in itself

Even if you don’t visit one single pavilion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai, only the infrastructure and constructions around them make a fantastic experience. Just the number of flags near the entrance is breathtaking. These are 189 national flags and 57 international organization flags. The whole area, with all its components is an experience in itself.

See more pictures here.

And if you are planning to go yourself, read my tips here.

Customer experience feedback

Both when entering and when leaving China you can rate your experience of the passport control officer, from sad face ”not satisfied” to happy face ”greatly satisfied”. Basically a good initiative and a nice gesture. But it also raises questions.

You say that you cannot measure without affecting the result. This apparatus makes people conscious and maybe slightly more positive because of the actual gesture of asking. Often it’s the camouflage that reveals, and if you invert that idea you might say that this expressive gesture of sincerity might take focus from negative elements in your experience. So in both cases you can install this device, not necessarily because you are so interested in peoples’ opinion, but in order to make them just feel better about the situation.

Then, how sincere will you be rating a passport control officer? He or she might not see which button you press but how can you know that the officer does not have a little dashboard that immediately shows your choice?

And how good or bad can a passport control officer actually be? Sure, a smile is nice, but at this point all you want is a stamp and get going. On one of my trips to New York I encountered a passport officer who seemed to be the rudest person I ever met, raising his voice and making great drama about me not filling in a certain section of the immigration form, which I actually was not to fill in, in the first place! My impression was not that this person had a bad day, but rather that his instructions were to try making foreign visitors crack. So did he perform badly?

How fair is it to reduce the performance of a service person into four levels of satisfaction? Seems like some form of service management Taylorism to me. Will a loveable officer working at the pace of a snail get the same rating as a one who is quick and stern? Which would you prefer? And what does it even say about a company or even a country that wants to have its people rated with buttons?

Here are some more examples of passport controls.

Categories of world exposition pavilions

Just watching all the world expo pavilions from the outside is a great experience. When you enter, often after a long time of queuing, you will find various expositions which can vary in quality just as any expositions.

You may conclude the types of pavilions like this:

In some cases you get a great experience of the country in itself, but often it is just texts, pictures and objects that you did not have to come to the world expo to see. But there are some good examples also and the trick is to find them.

One of the best pavillions I have seen on Expo 2010 in Shanghai is the Theme Pavilion (near the China Pavilion), which is a chinese project. Within the Theme Pavilion there are in turn several pavilions of which I visited two: Pavilion of city being, about social life and Pavilion of urban planet, about environment and city pollution. Apart from that there was practically no queue so you could walk right in, the two I saw offered excellent experiences with creative use of the latest presentation technologies, combined with good storytelling*.

The photo is from Pavillion of urban planet where animated projections on this gigantic globe really gave a strong feeling, as returning astronauts have talked about, of the world as one living organism. The whole exposition presented not only many of the environmental problems but also inspiring solutions. In the following section there was a very beautiful film that showed the development from the first life, via industrialism and pollution into a fantastic clean future with solar panels and high speed trains. A very emotional way to get the message across. So these were clearly ”category 4” expositions.

The end message was very strong, ”We only have one earth”. A strong statement from China, in this respect, and very far from selling souvenirs and carpets.

For more impressions of Shanghai and China see my updated page.

*) In this case meaning ”using dramaturgy and indirect experiences of a subject for getting a message across, rather than direct presentation of information”. Please note that there are other notions of the term ”storytelling”.

Expo 2010 in Shanghai – Sweden

The theme for the Swedish pavillion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai is ”Spirit of Innovation”.

The exposition relates to the overall theme of Expo 2010, ”Better city, better life”, discussing the cityscape as well as the Swedish approach to tradition. See more pictures here.

Innovation seems to be on everybody’s lips right now. No one is happier than me!

Expo 2010 in Shanghai, first glimpse

The world expo of 2010 in Shanghai has only been open for a week. I thought it would be a good idea to come here while everything is fresh and while the weather is not too hot. Yesterday it was raining, today the weather was fine. Those who visit later on may have the benefit of functionaires and voluntaires actually understanding what you say when you try to pronounce YAO-HUA, the name of the nearest subway station, from which most visitors arrive. Today the nice and friendly functionaire had to bring a colleague to make sense of what I whas trying to say. Yao-hua… YAO-HUA!  In August they will have heard all possible variations… Well, anyway…

This picture was taken today 2010 05 10, at Expo 2010 in Shanghai. From left to right, the German, Italian, Brittish and French pavillion.

It may seem like the pavillions can be devided into two major groups: those reinforcing the cliché of the country in question, and those trying to break that cliché. Here is Egypt, trying to break with their cliché (having a pavillion outside the African pavillion as a first step):

And here, outside the Swedish pavillion is the compulsory ”dala häst”, decorated wooden horse from the region of Dalarna, as a Swedish international ”brasklapp”. (You will have to check for yourself what a brasklapp actually is historically, but in daily life it’s like ”a voucher for limitation of responsability”, obviously another word for Sweden to export, along ”smorgasbord” and ”ombudsman”)

The pavillion in itself, with the headline ”The spirit of Innovation” was actually quite inspiring, but since we so often come back to the notion of putting out dala horses as a last resort I cannot help showing this picture. More serious pictures from the beautiful Swedish pavillion will come soon!

The Argentinian pavillion was based on tango and steaks; who could have guessed that? But the expensive, worth every penny steak I had in their restaurant kept me going for the rest of the day like a Duracell battery powered rabbit. Thank you Argentina.

But there are also other approaches, and for example I like the self confident approach of the pavillion of the United Kingdom. The whole pavillion is a ball of fibre optics that lead light into the inner room. At the end of each fibre optic sprout, there is a grain, the whole thing summing up as a poetic celebration of life, far from the everyday issues and national attempts to sell on a certain USP.

Another radical and poetic example is the Danish pavillion. You may question the judgment of transporting one of the primary national objects, the little mermaid, to foreign China, but the whole pavillion is very ”naked”, strong on concept and expression, with a reduced amount of babbeling information that no one would care about anyway.

More pictures coming soon!

[Links may be added to this blog post later!]

Shanghai at 431 km/h

My first impression of Shanghai, and China, is friendly and efficient. Like the Maglev train from the airport which reaches 431 km/h before it has to slow down again.

With buttons ranging from sad face to happy face you can rate your experience of the passport control officer. Signage is clear and evident, complemented with English. Everything seems to be new. But I know there will be a fascinating mix of the newest and the most traditional.

Please go to this page to see more impressions of Shanghai and China.

Servings on airplanes

Flying with Turkish Airlines, Stockholm-Shanghai via Istanbul, I thought it would be a good occasion to ask for a real raki. To have some local benefit of the detour. And they gave me this: one glass with raki, one glass with mineral water and one glass of ice. As in many countries in the mediterranean area, a simple drink order results in serving a ”kit”. And I could not help seeing the graphic beauty in the sharp light. Who knew ordinary plastic beakers could look so good?

The servings, and related activities, of airline travel are among the most developed areas for so called ”service design”. If you are interested in the servings of airlines I strongly recommend the fascinating Airlinemeals.net.

What’s the deal with the red dot?

Once in a while I have wondered about where that red dot, generally seen near surfaces of matte black, comes from.

Richard Sapper has put the red dot on many designs like the Tizio lamp and the IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad laptop computers with their red pointing device, ”Trackpoint”. The latter has become such an icon that there is now a red dot in the Thinkpad logotype.

Swedish designers have also used the red dot, like Lars Lallerstedt on the Sonab R2000 stereo receiver. My long ago employer Ergonomidesign put a coloured hinge on the SAS airline coffee pot, white for tea and red for coffee; very beautiful but I was never convinced that red was the ultimate symbol for coffee, rather that – again – they just wanted a red dot. There is even a German industrial design prize called the Red Dot Design Award!

So where does this come from? Is it the classic red dot Leica logo? I even saw the red dot on a rifle in the window of a gun shop. maybe this is a common symbol on fire arms? Or is it even a key stimulus, like the red dot of the beak of the herring gull, that helps its babies find the food instinctively? (An instinct which makes the baby herring gulls go bananas if you show them anything with a red dot on it…)

Or is it actually so simple that many designers 30 years ago used the Caran d’Ache Fixpencil for sketching, always in front of their eyes in its beautiful matte/gloss black with a red button and sharp white text. It’s definitely a precision instrument, like all of the above!

If you are interested in the subject, you may follow the blog of David W. Hill, VP of Lenovo Corporate Identity & Design, who deals with red dots on a daily basis.

Visualization is coming!

This Monday I attended the Visual Forum 2010 in Norrköping, co-located with the EuroGraphics 2010 conference. There seems to be a growing interest in visualization, and specifically in Norrköping they are just about to open the Norrköping Visualization Center.

With visualization as a theme you might expect a lot of designers and communication people at such a conference but there was actually few, as well as among the exhibitors. The reason is that in this context, visualization is not about designing and drawing for developing concepts or evaluating a possible future. No, it’s rather about taking large amounts of data, processing it, and presenting it in a way that makes it possible to analyse and understand by human beings. One popular example of this is the Gapminder software presented by Hans Rosling.

Traditionally, as a designer, you are expected to claim how much better these things could look with help of professional designers. And surely, just a few years ago, what engineers would produce would be hideous old style Microsoft graphics with default colours and jagged pictures. But it seems that the iPhone-effect is coming this way also, that is that the modern tools make it easier to produce things that look good, and it becomes actually harder to make things ugly! I suspect there has been some design competence used here and there, but that certainly was not the subject for the day.

Of course, with these new possibilities, using professional designers can both remove irritating, focus stealing flaws and also take the whole thing to a new level. When people get used to using high quality machine generated graphics*, they will also demand high quality human created graphics.

And then think what happens when you combine them! When you combine designed graphics, for how you want things to be, with machine generated graphics that are ”alive”, that reflect the actual measurable conditions, and shows a certain state second-to-second!

So I found this conference very inspiring! Here are a few highlights:

Keynote speaker Thomas Ertl of TVCG showed several examples of state of the art machine generated visualizations*. In this picture he shows a system that can help choosing the relevant sequences out of thousands of hours of video, with special interest for the highly surveyed UK. I thought that this technology was interesting in itself, but also as a possible tool for understanding human behaviour patterns in shops, public transport and other public spaces, in order to make our physical environment more agreeable and efficient!

Anders Persson of CMIV, University of Linköping, showed several examples of medical applications where you today can make more advanced and precise scans. Basically this means that you can get much better information about a patient before making incisions. One interesting application was autopsy, where you can scan for example a murdered victim, then go back and make more studies at the crime scene before making the final autopsy, so that you really know what you are looking for and can work without destroying important traces.

Staffan Klashed showed the fascinating Uniview application. Have you been as fascinated by Google Earth as I have? Well this was an application of similar nature, but taking it several steps beyond! To start you can not only zoom out from the globe and see the atmosphere, you can zoom out to the farthest known parts of the universe. And this application is also ”alive”, it displays various data with graphics, bar charts with the bars rising like skyscrapers on the actual globe etc. There was also visualisations of climate change and animations of current airline traffic.

The combination of beauty, accuracy and use of live data was breathtaking!

I also enjoyed David Hughes comprehensible presentation of practically every possible way to get visual information out of a computer. Everything from giant LCDs to domes, caves and head mounted displays (remember those?).

So to conclude, it is very inspiring to see these new applications, using real data and creating understandable, involving and enjoyable graphics. Graphics created for strictly functional reasons, some of them with limited or no support of designers. As of course, even though fine tuning of elements can improve visual quality and focus, the earth in itself or the scanned human bodies do not need to be designed in themselves if they are only accurate. But, then just imagine what will happen if you combine this with good graphic design, creative concepts and storytelling, for all those relevant elements that you cannot derive from quantitative data. Fasten your seatbelts!

By the way, Norrköping was at its sunny best, see some pictures I took of this beautiful city here.

’)My own suggested term, ”machine generated visualizations” in contrast to ”human created visualizations”.

My talk at TEDxNorrmalm

The video has now been published on YouTube.

To see my talk at TEDxNorrmalm, 17th of april 2010, click the image or this link.


Focus strategy

Along with Michael Porters’ generic strategies cost leadership and differentiation, there is also the focus strategy which can actually be applied to the other two.

By focusing you can be more efficient and clear on your market, but you have to take elements like relevance and risk into account. This guy seems to have a strict focus strategy, with a specialised shop for remote controls in Istanbul:

But please note that while he is obviously focused on one single product, remote controls, he is vastly diversified in types, shapes and colours. And maybe he must have a very diversified sourcing strategy with many suppliers in order to have all possible models, as his relevance is in offering also the specific one that you are after!

But one thing is clear, this shop is obviously differentiated. It’s the only one I’ve seen!

The original Macintosh manual

Some time ago I came across the manual for the original Macintosh. It’s quite fascinating.

When you open it, it feels almost a bit surreal. A bit like watching Teletubbies, the TV-show made for 2-3 year olds. Why? Because it explains things we all know by heart since a long time ago, as something completely new. But once upon a time it really was!

It’s actually refreshing as an exercise when trying to think beyond the obvious, seing what you do with the beholders eyes. Once upon a time these things were new and familiar, even if it is hard to imagine now.

But the manual is not only banal. It also has some interesting experience elements, as it shows the product being used in various situations. How many manuals have you encountered that actually were inspiring?

Producing such an advanced manual must have cost a lot of money, but the success depended on people understanding how to use it, as it was the Macintosh USP. And maybe, maybe, the inspirational pictures helped to some part to start the almost fanatic loyalty of todays Mac users, conveying not only information but a good feeling.

See some examples here.

USP, ESP etc.

The concept of USP, ”Unique Selling Point” or sometimes ”Unique Selling Proposition”, has been widely questioned. It has been claimed that you cannot be unique these days; you have to add something else, sometimes called ESP – ”Emotional Selling Point”.

Well, even if the idea is correct in some sense, I would argue that the discussion in itself is ”old industrial” because it is based on the idea that something unique has to be something quantitative. That the emotional or perceived aspects are ”something else”. In a contemporary holistic perspective USP and ESP is practically the same thing. Perception and experience is king.

Today you must be clear about what differentiates your product/service/offering or even yourself from others. Parts of it can be a patented technology, part of it a chosen statement. And that can be modified or enhanced by advertising, presentation or modification of the product itself. A physical feature which is not perceived does not exist.

Today there are more ways than ever to differentiate your offering, in order to avoid price competition or at least moving from the price being the only means of competing.

Keep looking for the unique and make it perceivable!

The picture was taken in Gothenburg 15 years ago. Maybe electricity was a USP for a hairdressers’ when the sign was new?

Innovation and creativity – why?

It’s easy to see innovation and creativity as pleasurable things that companies may choose or not. But what is the real reason for companies to work with innovation? Why do companies need to be creative?

I would say that innovation, as it’s discussed today, is about development of (new) competitive advantages. Reasons for people to choose your product, service or offering instead of someone else’s, or nothing at all. It can also be about finding new and better ways for you to maintain that level of quality, at a reasonable cost. And that is what every company, which has (or can expect to get) the least competition, needs to do in order to survive.

It is not about ingenuity, novelty and reassessment in itself. But as there are so many perspectives and ways to be innovative, creative approaches and methods are necessary. As well as creative teams of mixed competencies! As the world has lost its predictability, as consumers have become more aware and informed, as competition nowadays comes from all directions, it is no more possible to rely on small improvements. Sometimes really small changes, or even maintaining elements as they are, is the best solution – but the process towards that decision must be open and exploring, not taking status quo for granted. In every aspect of the customers experience there is a hidden potential for finding competitive advantages.

I embrace the increasing interest in innovation and creativity, but as always I think one should keep an eye on its purpose!

Our biological fundament

A long time ago I took this picture, and I have used it many times since, discussing our biological fundament for how we perceive and consume. How humans in their natural environment spend a large part of the day chatting, thus stimulating their brains so that they can think fast when a lion shows up! How we use our senses to distinguish the poisonous mushrooms from the edible ones. How we interpret all kinds of signs and impressions.

Again, the same product or offering can be perceived in so many ways. Don’t you agree that some objects give you an appetite feeling, like you’re about to eat it? And isn’t a warm sweater on a cold day a bit like running under a tree when it starts to rain? And isn’t changing a grey shirt for a yellow one a bit like changing your grim face into a smile?

What aspect of a product or an offering are we developing here? A snack, a tree or a smile?

What I learnt once, studying marketing, is that there are so many ways that you can be innovative. While Apple and IBM/Lenovo have been innovative in hardware and software, Dell has been innovative in distribution.

I don’t mean that it is necessary to explain and understand everything. Theories does not even have to be verified or true, to be useful. But through the use of theory you can see the various dimensions and then be inspired.

And that is really important, I think. The inspiration!

If you are interested, read my essay on product development from 1996 in Swedish here, Google translated into mechanical English here.


Yesterday I went to TEDxHumlegården, one of the TEDx events in Stockholm this week. It was very inspiring, and how could it be otherwise including such titans as the always so engaging Klas Hallberg. marketing guru Stefan Engeseth (who dared to question Apple!) and Sigge Birkenfalk, who once taught me everything about strategic communication at BerghsSOC. The majority of the other talkers, as well as the audience, came from the event and meeting industry and discussed some interesting points on that subject.

An important component in the TEDx events is that there should be shown a certain number of movies from the ordinary TED events. One of the movies shown this day was Derek Sivers short but inspiring talk on ”How to start a movement”, one of my own favourites.

Sitting there I could not help taking a picture of my fellow audience, watching a movie from a TED event, showing a movie. There is a remote risk that my photo might be a copyright infringement; the question is just to whom?

Is this what you might think? Yes.

This picture was taken in the mens’ room in a very large restaurant in Germany.

What it is? It is practically a toilet bowl at washbasin height. What it is used for? Well what do you think? In a restaurant with hundreds of seats, where people endulge in the wonderful german beer and rich foods, surely someone once in a while will get too much. Only that these people took that problem seriously. With this caring solution the discomfort of the individual does not have to get worse than necessary, even if it may appear a bit provoking at first.

A strange fruit in the bathroom. A user oriented practical solution based on human needs.

The next thing in bicycling?

One of mans greatest inventions is the bicycle. They say that a human being on a bicycle is the most energy efficient form of transport (in relation to weight) on earth. On the other end of the scale you find some insects.

When I was a kid, a bicycle with more than three gears was a curiosity. And in my home town there was a priest who had a ten speed bicycle. There was a lot of talk about that!

Today you can walk into any mall, supermarket even, and get a 24 gear bicycle with disc brakes and hydraulic suspension. For less money than an ”ordinary” bicycle! The fully equipped bicycle has come far beyond the saturation stage of its product life cycle. So what happens then? Well, suddenly it’s in fashion to have a bicycle with no gears, no brakes and even fixed gears, no freewheel.

When you have the choice, you can enjoy the simplicity of the minimalistic bicycle.

So what is the next step? 64 gear bicycles, or bicycles with even fixed steering as in this novelty sketch above? No, this is a good example of an area where you cannot see the future through extrapolating! But the development of the bicycle, is not finished yet!

The customer/supplier dilemma

I took this picture in Brooklyn, New York, in 1989. I have used it many times as an illustration of the frustrating inconsistency between what companies supply and what customers actually want and/or buy. The need might be there, but no supplier is available. Companies trying to sell things that people don’t really want. People buying the product as something else, for a different reason than the supplier thinks, leaving the supplier uninfomed about potential development. Effort put into the wrong aspects of the products, on the wrong levels, leaving the really important ones unattended. Or even worse, products bought because the customer doesn’t care.

Depressing image? Not at all. Opportunity is all around, for all of us! Observe and collaborate!

TEDx Norrmalm – the other talks

Even though there was not an official theme for TEDx Norrmalm, there was definitely a common sector between the speakers. Danica Kragic, professor of Robotics and Computer Vision, talked about the work with robots and how they differ from human beings. ”Sensing is easy, perception is hard”.

Ulf Boman from Kairos Future talked about the future city, describing the shift from the modernistic urban architecture with separated functions to the future, holistic and integrated city; based on peoples behaviour. Did you know that Copenhagen is building bicycle highways, with four lanes, from the suburbs to the city centre?

Victoria Olausson used a model for storytelling that worked very well for her subject – perceptions of and attitudes to environmental issues. And Peter Ueda reminded us that physical needs in no way have lost their significance, at least not in the third world.

See the movies soon!

House red wine

One of the stories in my TEDx talk was from a vacation in Croatia. I had some ”house red wine” with my dinner one night and it was so good that I asked what kind of wine it was.

”- It’s house red wine.”

”- Yes, but I mean, what kind is it?”

”- No, we make it here! In the back yard!”

”- Oh.”

”- It was good, or wasn’t it?”

”- Oh, yes! ”

Wine is an area where the shift from basic commodity to branded, differentiated and storytelling experience took place a long time ago. We are so used to discussing grapes, tastes, flavours, soils and castles, so when we suddenly get across it as a commodity we get quite puzzled. The basic qualities of the product must stay, but the experience value is developed. Basically this is the development I see in big and small. This, and the common pattern between the well known theories in psychology, branding, marketing, business etc.

How far has your product or business area come in its development?

My TEDx Norrmalm talk in brief

My talk was basically about my experiences from several creative areas, and the pattern I have seen when putting these on top of each other. Instead of a PowerPoint I used the blue and red glove so that the audience could follow the idea and make up their own minds on the pattern I am suggesting. Some of concepts behind it are:

  • Motivational psychology: basic needs to self actualisation
  • The shift in society from industrial to post industrial
  • The shift in ideology from modernism to  postmodernism
  • The nature of the left brain and the right brain
  • The product life cycle: early introduction/growth and post maturity stage
  • Business from cost competition to value differentiation
  • From self sufficient form to experience based sense

Scientists cannot do this. They cannot map various theories on top of each other and see a pattern that is ”good enough” for giving direction and inspiration in daily work. They have to take all the exceptions into account and relate everything to the same basic assumption.

“The natural sciences are concerned with how things are. Design on the other hand, is concerned with how things ought to be.” Herbert Simon (my coloration)

In the same way, my purpose is not to prove anything but rather find a concept that may inspire people into doing new things, seing new opportunities, starting new collaborations! Those who agree, agree. Because theories are useful also for practitioners like myself.

As Kurt Lewin said: ”There is Nothing So Practical as a Good Theory:”

See all the various models in one page here and make up your own opinion. My presentation material here. The video will be published here soon.

Many thanks to Josef Conning and the others arranging TEDx Norrmalm!

My TEDx Norrmalm PowerPoint

Those of you who missed my TEDx talk might want to see the presentation material. Well, here it is:

And here’s the script:

More information and movies coming soon!

TEDx Norrmalm

TEDx Norrmalm, Stockholm 2010 04 17. More info soon!


In 1987 a friend of mine and I went on an Interrail trip across Europe. One of the places that we visited was Budapest. It was the summer before starting my industrial design studies at Konstfack. This is one of the pictures I took on this trip, one of the first of my today rather vast collection of pictures of odd and interesting objects, products, business models and brands…

On one of the shopping streets I saw this man selling pretzels, under a Lufthansa parasol. I could not help getting a bit puzzled. Was this a Lufthansa campaign? Or had he stolen the parasol at the airport? The binocular-like eyeglasses did not make the scene any less bizarre.

In the 90’s I used this picture frequently as an illustration of ”inside-out”. The man who sells the pretzels cannot see anything funny about this, as he knows the story whatever it is. But an external viewer gets puzzled. Just like many customers may be when confronted with unclear messages and offerings.

The challenge is, today as ever before, to see what you do from the beholders perspective! Outside-in!

The golden circle – a new approach

It seems like in today’s media world, many companies, organisations and individuals are struggling to improve their communication skills. They are trying to clarify their message, formulate information goals, developing ways to show the difference in how they do things differently than others. Which is fine! But not so often do you hear about a new perspective, a new approach in this field. In many areas, focusing on the one you are talking to rather than trying to shout through the ”noise”, is still a new thought. Sometimes you can even get a better result if you ”whisper” or do other less obvious things in order to create interest.

But there are new ways to discover! I recently ran across at talk by Simon Sinek, TEDx Puget Sound september 2009. According to Sinek there are two ways for companies and organisations to communicate. The most common is to start with what you do, and then talk about how you do it. The other way is to start with your why, then how and what. He takes Martin Luther King (”I have a dream”) and Apple as examples, and he means that the reason that this approach works so well is that it communicates more directly with the limbic system, where our decisions are made! If you use facts and arguments, your message will be slowly filtered through other parts of the brain, like the neocortex, before reaching the limbic system…

I would say that these ideas go hand in hand with those of Malcolm Gladwell and his book ”Blink”; often human beings can make more accurate judgements from intuition and first impressions while adding more information not necessarily adds accuracy. Again, a more direct communication with the limbic system. Provoking thoughts for those that still represent the old industrial, linear way of thinking.

Actually it strikes me that the rhetoric that Sinek suggests, also resembles Aristotles’ good old ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos is about credibility, pathos is about emotions and logos is about the fact based message. Maybe they knew something that we are about to realise now! Well, intuitively, that is!

See Simon Sineks inspiring talk from TEDx Puget Sound september 2009 here.

And then the senses on top of that…

Twenty years ago there was a tea and coffee store in the block where I was living, and what always struck me when visiting it was that there was no particular smell of coffee in the shop. Today this would of course be impossible; a well dosed smell of coffee is expected in a coffee store.

In the old industrial world, most expressions of products or places were a direct consequence of the technology and the physical construction. The sound of the engine of a car was a mere consequence of how its’ construction. Engineers tried to minimise the noise. Today the sound is designed.

To work with senses is not new, since all our impressions finally end up in our head as one concept, the experience has always been a consequence, and dealt with in various degree intuitively. And ideologists have talked about the need to take all senses into account for many years.

But now these aspects are becoming operational. People are starting specialised consultancies, assuring that all senses are stimulated, not the least in stores and showrooms. Tomorrow, there will not just be a smell of perfume in a perfume store, or a smell of fresh bread in the convenience store. But things that did not even have a smell before will given a smell which is designed.

All elements of experience will be shaped, coordinated and balanced so that they contribute to the story or concept, because that’s the way you can create a gestalt, an experience that is more than its parts.

In the Swedish daily paper DN there was an article about a company, Music Partner, which specialises in providing the best background music for every store. (read articel here Swedishmechanical Google English) The choise fo music is directly related to the experience and sales.

And this morning, Stockholm Business Region Development arranged a breakfast conference  around different aspects of experiences in retail, ”sense marketing”. Meta Troell of The Swedish Trade Federation, talked about future trends in retail and Karolin Forsling, AMF Fastigheter, talked about a new commercial centre project. Marcus van Dijk from Sense Concept, co-author of the book ”Sensory Marketing” talked about how retail environments should attract all our senses.

So the multi-sensory experience perspective is no more an optional extra, it is a perspective where various competencies, and investors, can find a common ground for new projects. Based on actual user value and user experience.

Welcome to the new, sensory world!

Understanding complexity

A friend of mine once said ”reality can by cut in many angles”, which in its simplicity is so true!

Every object, situation and aspects can be perceived and judged in so many ways, depending on your background experience, context etc. Once I made this drawing as a metaphor for how companies work. Just as when you are driving a car, several universes are present at the same time. Each of them have their own complexity, and then they appear at the same time. And on top of that, different people have a different focus depending on situation.

I often make simple, naive drawings like this one, only as a support for understanding myself or guiding a group. As you can see, you cannot read two words at the same time, but you can see these five pictures at the same time and actually understand the complexity. When you visualise as a tool it does not have to be pretty, only enough recognisable so that each symbol gets its own meaning. It’s no more or less difficult than that!

Talking about complexity and perspective, watch this!

When the customs got customers

A few years ago I assisted at a workshop for the Swedish Customs authority, where we were detailing some of their future visions and strategies. They told me that a couple of years earlier they have had another workshop when they suddenly had a eureka moment: ”we have customers!”

They realised that by tradition, customs authorities in general consider the people who passes the borders as being unconfirmed criminals. All effort is put to stop drug trafficking and other forms of smuggling, and to stop the wrong people from entering. But the majority of people, tourists or professionals, are just honest people. So what if the Swedish Customs took a little bit of the resources they spend on the suspected minority, and spent it on making everything better and easier for the honest majority? Treating them like customers!

This new focus ignited a lot of innovation and development, in order to be the best customs in the world. New integrated IT systems made it possible to administrate all the routines even before the package is on the truck, so that the actual border crossing could be quick and efficient. Amongst other things. Together with the customer insight, also came the insight that there are competitors even in this business. How? Well, when importing things to Europe you have choice through which country you want it transported. And if one country offers you smooth routines and adequate service it’s a good reason to pass through that country. Whose customs will be able to provide new jobs!

I think this is a brilliant example of the shift towards experience focus, as so many other things in the postmodern society. In this case a lot of quantitative, concrete, efficiency oriented measures were taken in a seemingly modernistic way. But the driving force was the customers perceived needs and experiences. The Swedish Customs is now something more than what it was before.

Two bites, two eras

Food is both survival and experience, depending on situation. It also reflects our attitudes in general.

The hotdog is definitely a child of its era, industrialism and modernism. Easy to grab and eat on the go, rational, practical and functional. Perfect for its context, where people would no more gather in families for the daily lunch but rather eat while travelling or even while working. You can easily distinguish its parts; the bread, the sausage and the mustard. These things can be produced by different companies; they do not need to collaborate very much. The actual, perceived product experience is produced and delivered on the street.

You may see the mustard as an optional extra, but actually I think that many people would hesitate to bite a sausage like this if there wasn’t any mustard on it. As the other two parts, it’s essential and obvious.

The branded hamburger of today is something else. Don’t you think it’s hard to even see this as a sandwich? It has the components of a sandwich but it is clearly something else. It’s complex. People have good and bad feelings about it. It contains many parts and their size and proportions must be coordinated. Thick manuals describe all aspects of serving it. And when you bite it you are actually having taste of the American dream, the American experience.

A good representation of the postmodern, experience society!

Clear and obvious – or effective?

In the old industrial world you would look for the linear connections. If I do this, I will have that result. You would set a goal and then set up a linear process and work with determination towards that goal.

Same thing in communication. You would define what you do and then formulate how you do it, in order to convince people. It’s easy to think that being direct and obvious is the best way to communicate, but is it really?

In advertising one realised a long time ago that in order to motivate, create interest, and thus reach people with your message you need to communicate more indirectly. Metaphors, irony, understatements… And mixing verbal communication that talks to your left brain, and images that talks to your right…

What’s interesting is that in other areas, which also rely on good communication, the approach is rather to be linear and obvious. Enormous amounts of ”communication” are produced, with the ambition to be as clear and obvious as possible. But until someone actually takes part in your message it’s not communication, just sending.

There’s room for sensemaking in so many areas still. But when you want to involve people, think a minute about how you package the message and involve those you wish to talk to and communicate with.

See also this.

Three brands I love, and three I use

Here you can see three of my personal favourite brands.

I love Apple. I watch Steve Jobs talks and on a bad day I can even find courage from a commercial like this. Everything Apple does comes from a vision that is so much larger than the company. I used to be a fanatic user of their products, in the 90’s when PC’s were hopeless. Then something happened, at work I was forced to use a PC, found it okay while the Mac OS changed into something else. I have tried to use a Mac recently, but I can’t really stand it. Why does ordinary file listings shout at me in hard to read bold font? Why should that annying little circus of dancing candy appear as soon as I want to do something? It feels like an unfocused toy. I even tried to use an iPhone, but for me a cell phone that needs your full attention for simple everyday actions, and that does not provide the tactility of real buttons, is not acceptable. But the brand I love!

I also love SAS. For me SAS concludes the pride of being Scandinavian, I still get a warm feeling of it since the time when business travel was something cool and exciting. I love the design of all the little serving things, the colour of the seats and the fresh Scandinavian food, when now that is served. Unlike others I don’t mind the high average age of the stewardesses, and I will not make silly jokes about their ability to tell you stories of the early days of airline travel. But in comparison with the airline I use most, SAS means passing through gigantic and inefficient airports, endless taxing, no more of that good food; a dry sandwich if you are lucky. And a price tag that makes you look for other alternatives. When I go with SAS, my expectations are at a maximum, and I often get disappointed.

And i love Campari. It embodies the dream of Italy, I like the logo and the name, and it looks so good with its sparkling red colour. But it is only recently that I have managed to drink it plain on ice without making funny faces. It’s very bitter and it doesn’t taste very much else.

So instead I use PC computers with Microsoft Windows. There are plenty of silly things that you need to learn to work around. I agree that the look of the glossy standard XP, Vista or win7 interface is even worse than Apple’s, but you can personalize the interface in so many ways, and if you use the classic design theme you get a working environment that for me feels professional and focused. My friends in the usability trade give me compassionate smiles about this, but I don’t care.

Ryanair has through its price policy given me an opportunity to make much more travels within Europe. A life style that it would take a much more stressful and in negative sense demanding job to uphold. Several times I have bought cheap tickets to Paris and other places, just for the lovely feeling to have a ticket to Paris. But finally I have gone every time, and every trip has been efficient, reliable and comfortable. The transfer to the more remote airports takes some time, but this is often compensated by the efficiency of a small airport and that the flights often arrive ahead of time. I hired a car in Paris-Beauvais once, from unfastening the belt in the plane to fastening it in the car there was less than 15 minutes. And when the other airlines charge 2- 5 times more, there is not so much to consider.

And i actually like Jägermeister. That is not something you brag about, actually it’s an interesting product because even though it is very successful, very few people that drink it actually like it. But I like its round, spicy taste, and it reminds me of the vastly underestimated, friendly tourist country Germany.

Conclusion: loving a brand is not the same as buying the product. While good branding is a key to success, it is a risky strategy to reduce the experience value to just the brand perception. In the old industrial world you could do that, today and tomorrow you cannot. Apply the same amount of effort and creativity to the experience as you give the brand!

The Shift – in a marketing perspective

The good old product lifecycle model has been questioned, but I can’t help thinking that it is a good illustration to the shift of focus that we can see.

The model in brief: when a new offering is launched your first customers will be enthusiasts and after a while the so called ”early adopters” will be the ones to help the market grow. After that a broader group will buy the product, and when ”everybody has got one” the market will decline.

A common application of this model is that while the enthusiasts might buy anything that is new and exciting, the early adopters will need to understand the offering, and what you deliver must also have a consistent quality. You must be obvious, focused and clear. The first walkman was given a minimum of functions because the enthusiasts and early adopters were busy understanding what it was at all!

The products I wrote about here, were all in the early introduction/growth phase. Then one day, when everyone has a walkman or whatever you are offering, the theory says that you will need to add other properties, elements, features in order to make people replace the old one or get one more. It is in the late maturity phase that you will see products available in different colours and so on.

My point here is of course that also in this context you go from ”basics” to ”added experience” – this change of focus that I see in so many areas! Most product areas are today in the late phase and so are many aspects of our society. The task for those developing new offerings changes.

As an example of how the new world works, I added Chris Andersons ”The long tail”. In traditional industrial thinking you need large volumes for making profit. But when products become digital, for example music, you can actually make a lot of money from selling many different products, and few of each – as the cost of sales and distribution is so low. So instead of seeing outdated products as dead meat, you see it as a potential – because the world has changed.

Look at my comparisons page to compare these models with the overall shift of focus.

This is just a very small part of it

Around the 80’s a new style emerged in product design, furniture and architecture. One of the leaders was the Memphis group, with Ettore Sottsass. Simple things like a piece of furniture having several colours were quite new at the time. The objects and buildings clearly broke with the modernistic tradition and started to mix style elements and telling stories. This style was fairly short lived, and soon gave way for a form of ”neo modernistic” style, maybe as a part of millennium shift related back-to-basics nostalgia.

Fine. The only problem is that while so many things around us are so obviously postmodern in different ways, the label is already taken by the rather short lived style above. So when you want to discuss postmodernism people just think of these seemingly superficial expressions. It even seems like the perception of these objects as being superficial reflects the modernistic state of mind when they emerged – as modernists saw every expression that was not related to practical use as nothing but superficial decorations. Sadly, few know the stories behind these objects. Because there were stories!

Even the neo-modernistic objects and architecture we see today are expressions of postmodernism as they do not exist out of the original modernistic values, but rather as a nostalgic reference. They tell the modernistic story. The style that meant to be ”silent” now tell the story of a world that was predictable and optimistic.

Hats off for the wonderful 80’s post-modernistic style with all it’s crazy expressions, but remember it’s just a part of postmodern object culture, and postmodernism in general!

The Shift – in society

By now I think that the idea of how the western world has moved from an industrial state into a post-industrial state, is rather accepted. There are plenty of interesting readings to be found on and off line. I will only refer to this briefly.

What actually interests me is how this model, this shift from one focus to another, maps to other models, like the good old product life cycle or the motivation theories of Maslow and others. I look at the things around me, products, services, politics and food recipes, and I can see the same pattern – some things are still ”modernistic” while others are ”post-modernistic”. Some are ”basic”, others contain ”experience” and ”added value”. I find this very inspiring – if you don’t get too hung up on the scientific details, you can see interesting potentials in developing the things you have at hand.

Just to give you an overview of the society shift, I made this model. Someone said that even though the step from agricultural society to the industrial was quite a big one, it was still based on the same ideals and values of efficiency and focus on what is concrete and measurable. The shift we are in now, on the contrary, challenges all aspects of the western culture.

If you click it you get to a page where I have collected the previous models.

Can you see the pattern?

The Shift – in literature

Literature is not really my area, but as some people I have talked to have mentioned this, I did a little research and came up with the rough sketch below. Of course literature is already from the beginning ”experience” and there is not the same shift of practice from physical to mental, but still you might see a change of approach.

Can you see the pattern? If this rough model is correct, it also resembles the change in big and small, in other areas. But again, it does not take place in the exactly same way, and not at the same time.

Please comment!

How could they be so sure?

In the old world things would not change so quickly. Change was predictable. You could extrapolate the current conditions and get an idea of the future. To some extent you can today also, but in some areas that kind of linear predictions can be quite risky! Apart from all the physical uncertainties you also find the most unpredictable and volatile: what people do because of what they think.

This picture is from The National Railway Museum in York, UK. It’s possible that the daily stream of passengers, from home to work at the factory, was fairly predictable. And maybe the location of entrances at the nearby stations made one end of the train more crowded than the other. Sure. But how could they be so sure that they would make an enamel post and attach it to the wall?

Collaboration for success

Someone said that the success of any company, organisation or even country depends on the degree of collaboration.

I can only agree.

The increasing complexity of symbols

Once upon a time, the signs around us referred to known things like natural phenomena. And symbols were given specific things. Today it has become much more complicated, but also more interesting. When we dress in the morning we choose attributes, statements and stories for ourselves and others to see.

Symbols and other signs not only refer to specific things, they increasingly refer to each other! One example, the Trygg-Hansa rescue ring:

  • The red and white fields form the symbol of a rescue ring – these were not given but have been chosen and decided by man
  • Its colours and shape form a gestalt that can be used as an icon in other areas, for example computer virus protection (the icon depicts the object)
  • The size of the hole, big enough for fitting a person, might be seen as an index
  • The combination of our understanding that this is a floating device for rescue, and that it actually also works as such makes this an affordance
  • This understanding is further enhanced by the marine context, and as this view looks the same now as it did a long time ago, when this rescue ring appeared, it may also evoke a certain amount of nostalgia
  • This symbol, referring to the rescue ring, is a part of the logotype of Trygg-Hansa, a Swedish insurance company. It expresses safety.
  • Trygg-Hansa also provides rescue rings, like this one. You can say it’s a part of their functional business model – if people are rescued, less costs for Trygg-Hansa.
  • Rescue rings with the Trygg-Hansa logotype, like this one, also refer to the insurance company – so the symbol, the function and the brand actually refer to each other

I see this as a good example of the complexity in meanings and references in products and communication, today and tomorrow. We perceive them at different levels, without thinking about it, in different ways in different situations.

More and more things will be like this in the future. Complex but also fascinating. And companies must understand, not only their brand, but also the other levels of communication and meaning that concern what they do. Okay, let’s go!

When experience and physics merge

Holistic, integrated product development – what does that mean? Well, if you want to be successful today and tomorrow, if you want to be innovative and competitive, then it will be too slow, inefficient and irrelevant to first develop a physical functionality and then try to powder on some experience values. You will need to start with the experience, the user value, and engineer your offering from that. In a mixed team!

Let’s take cars as an example. The car industry is interesting as the development has come so far in this sense, because of tough competition and expensive products. I have heard that Rolls Royce did not deliver complete cars until after the Second World War. Up to then, for forty years, they made ”rolling chassis”, that is four wheels, frame, engine with drive train, steering wheel and the famous radiator grille with it’s little sculpture on top. Their focus was to deliver the best performing and reliable car available, a car that would never break down and that would always start. That was their ”core business”. Experience values, apart from driving performance, such as seats, doors, wood panels etc, was provided by other companies, coachbuilders. Wood, leather, looks, was their ”core business”.

Until the 60’s most cars were made this way: a basic structure that actually could be driven by itself if you would strap a kitchen chair to it, onto which the body and interior was bolted on. Engineers would develop the mechanics, and designers would then add the body and interior. A linear work process where function mainly was a mechanical question, separated from the exterior experience.

When car production went large scale, more industrial methods were needed. It would be to expensive, and slow in production, to first build a chassis and then add the body. The monocoque construction was developed, which means that there is no frame but the body supports itself. Cleverly profiled sheets of metal on the inside make the structure together with the exterior panels. Suddenly those in charge of structure and those in charge of experience would need to collaborate as they would be working on the same pieces.

That is the way most cars are produced today. Designers and engineers collaborate, and by setting a common vision at the beginning of development, there will be fewer conflicts, less errors and more synergy.

So today, when you develop a new car, you start with the user and the experience. What values and practical needs does our target group have? How can we support that? Can we support their needs and lifestyle with other things than cars? From that vision, mechanical and production engineers, industrial designers, graphic designers and even sound and smell designers collaborate to support the experience.

Compared to the traditional model this way of working is ”backwards”, just like backwards pricing. But it’s the only way forward!

The creative team

In the old industrial context, there was less need for collaboration. You could develop a structural platform first, than have some ”creatives” powder on some elements of beauty, experience and understanding.

Today, and tomorrow, those components are hard to separate, and competencies need to work together. You can more rarely separate one dimension from the others. People with different backgrounds, competencies and ways of thinking will together explore and develop holistic experiences – if it’s furniture, movies or ways to serve coffee. This way you get better solutions and richer experiences, all in much less time. You may even find your colleagues being more motivated.

Typical features of a creative team:

  • Heterogeneous group in terms of background, age and sex
  • Mix of competencies, not only for expert knowledge but ways of thinking
  • A strong vision and/or goal that unites the group, with strong drive
  • Appears often spontaneously, often aside the scheduled work

Ways to support a creative team:

  • Provide a visionary, tolerant environment with obvious rules of play
  • Provide a fair amount of resources, but only when asked for
  • Do not interfere – acceptance is more important than rewards and any attempt to stop the project is probably useless

In the old industrialistic context, people forming a committed group aside of the planned structure was a non desired irregularity. I think that what Peters and Waterman wrote in ”In Search of Excellence” is to some extent still valid, that great innovations are made aside the daily routine, by creative individuals and teams that once they have started are virtually impossible to stop. Only that today, you cannot wait for these teams to appear spontaneously. All development teamwork can benefit from this way of working, and this form of leadership.

Catch the energy! Join the team!

Experience innovation, existing components

In the 80’s, the largest milk producer in Sweden – Arla – was facing a decline in milk drinking. From being a standard drink at all meals, milk had started to be considered fattening and was now losing market share to mineral waters etc. Especially in restaurants this was evident – people were drinking other things than milk.

So how could Arla make people drink more milk again? Well regarding the restaurants there did not seem to be much hope to persuade people to drink milk with their food. But they did put milk in their coffee. What about making people have more milk in their coffee?

The solution was to introduce Café au Lait in Sweden. Filter coffee and hot milk in equal proportions. Just as in France, where you often get this for breakfast in hotels. (What you have in a café is not café au lait, but “café crème” which is espresso with hot milk.)

For several years Arla made charming campaigns, commercial spots with Frenchmen explaining the “recipe”. “Le café, et le lait, aaah! Le nectar de la nature!“. They made first round bowls (as in the picture) and later also cups with the Café au lait logotype.

What I like about this story is that it was a case of innovation, based on experience and a cultural theme, while all the physical components – well the coffee and the milk – already were present in the cafés and restaurants. Still, it was perceived as something completely new and enjoyable. This also paved way for the upcoming latte trend, when cafés invested in espresso machines that make stronger coffee, so that you can add even more milk… So that Arla can… Yes, you get it.

Be innovative. Play with existing components. Just add experience!

Orange button enabled radical innovation

The first Sony Walkman, introduced in 1979, was a completely new and different product even though all its components had already existed in other products. There had been stereo heads before, but never in a pocket tape recorder. And so on.

The innovation was based on ideas of human behaviour, and re-arrangement of technologies, rather than technology itself. One technology that actually was new was the new small, light, and high quality headphone membranes, which made the portability possible in a social way – with small headphones you could use it in public without feeling silly!

So in many ways this was an innovation with human focus, playing around with elements that already existed in other areas. An approach typical to today’s post-industrial world!

One of its unique features was that it could not record. The idea was provoking – a tape recorder that doesn’t record?! A tape recorder with no microphone? No that was too radical, so Sony gave it a microphone, two headphone connections and the orange HOT LINE button. When two people would share it, they could press the HOT LINE key and talk to each other using the microphone, without taking their headphones off.

My impression is that the HOT LINE button was just an enabler for SONY to make this radical product at all. Already on the next generation, it was removed. But in the early stage, it made the whole product possible.

The holy pub institution

Last autumn I went on a train trip through Great Britain, from north to south. On this beautiful trip I saw several times, across the country, pubs being left when their surroundings had changed. The whole block may have been torn down to the ground, but the pub stays. If not large industrial or office buildings have been built around it. You step into a pub that obviously is a couple of hundred years old, while the rest of the building is from the 50’s or so. How do they do that? They carefully cut away the parts of the building that is not the pub, and then raise a new building around it? All with the respect you may give a religious shrine.

I think this is a good example of a human creation that has become more than just what it ”is”. It’s not only seats and glasses and bottles. It’s something more than its parts. 1+1=3. It’s an institution.

And the difference is what I would call an ”experience”.

Private camera rebranding

Same camera as Leica or Panasonic - and my own made up Voigtländer

Some time ago I decided to buy a new camera, and suddenly I found myself in a private badge engineering project. And of course it turned out that changing the logo had a good effect in itself, but only after adding a couple of other elements the experience was complete.

The feeling you have for your camera affects your photography, unless you use it for point and shoot snapshots. After rebranding, this camera has made me take several surprisingly Cartier-Bressonesque pictures. As I expected.

Read about it here.


From badge to brand

Branding is not just about the logotype. Not even the logotype is just about the logotype. That’s what every branding expert will tell you. And they’re right!

But still, once you have managed to build a certain image and confidence, it is striking how strong the effect can be in changing both expectations and experience. Only by changing the physical logotype. There are some cases where you can actually do that, like basic commodities. Imagine a Heinz olive oil, everyone would know that this is mainstream ordinary oil, but it might feel more appropriate on the american diner table. Given that American diner guests increasingly drizzle olive oil on their salads, like the europeans.

However, in general you need to do something more with your product to make it trustworthy and to complete the experience of it. The car industry has learned the hard way how to do this. Adding the brand from a car with one set of values, to a car with a different set of values often proved disastrous. That’s when you talk about badge engineering.

Look at these examples: the Simca that wanted to be a Talbot, a Chrysler and a Dodge. The Alfa Arna, a 1980’s product with  japanese 80’s car charisma and italian 80’s production quality (congratulations!). The DAF that tried to be a Volvo. The vivid and sporty Lancia Delta that failed to meet the expectations of a safe and solid SAAB (SAAB-Lancia 600). There were many examples of this badge engineering practice in the 60’s and 70’s, and most of them failed.

Today many cars are sold under different brands, but they always have enough unique properties to make the product trustworthy. An Audi, a Volkswagen, a SEAT and a Skoda of the same size are all based on the same platform, sharing many components, but as a result of working with the experience as a whole, they are perceived completely different. Everything you see and touch has been taken under consideration, and revised if necessary, so that the total experience is in line with the brand and market differentiated. You don’t just change the logo on the grill, you change the entire hood.

Still I see many areas where marketing, branding, communication and product design are made separately, without interaction. You stick on a campaign just as you would stick on a badge. Maybe we can learn something from the car industry in that respect?

My recipe for success on a competitive market is to make, sometimes small, but coordinated actions in communication and delivery, including the product or service. Then you can get a good 1+1=3 effect and build confidence through credibility. Just like the car makers.

And in order to achieve that, the various competencies involved must collaborate. The process cannot be linear. The aspects cannot be isolated. See the whole experience, develop it and be successful!

Maybe it’s all about choice (preliminary)

I am trying to find the connection between all these aspects. Which are the drivers in this transition that so many products and services go through? I can see so clearly the ”before and after”, in so many areas. But how can I explain it?

I think a part of it is about choice. Let’s take Maslow’s pyramid: until you are safe and fed you are in a ”beggars aren’t choosers” situation. When survival is assured, the consumer, or beholder, is above a certain level of basic devices and able to make a choice. Fish or beef? They are both ”good”, what will you choose?

And the suppliers, companies, manufacturers, on the other hand, they have a choice in what attributes they add to their product, freer and freer – or farther and farther fetched if you like – as the product evolves.

Székesfehérvár 2008

And when competition gets more aggressive, you have to respect the users/consumers/beholders choice. In order to survive, as a company.

So at a certain point, providers and consumers meet on an experience level where everything is about the things you will focus on when the basics are safe, the things you choose because you like them. The driving force is for all parties choice. Step into an American diner and look at the menu. Hundreds of alternatives! Well, some of them not so different; one egg omelette, two eggs omelette, three eggs omelette… Why? The sense of choice.

And I think this is fundamentally human. Natural populations spend just a little time every day on securing survival. The rest of the time they are chatting, discussing, gossiping. Enterprise of their choice. In the early industrial age, machines were decorated because humans would choose to do so, not because it was physically necessary. Just as American car manufacturers in the 1950’s would add enormous (and very easy to produce by the way) fins to their cars, because they chose to do that instead of something else.

Then, in the 1930’s functionalism came and took away all elements of free, non directly rational choice in products, furniture and architecture. And now we call these phenomena, as they return,  ”postmodernism” or ”the experience society”.


Added value or holistic value development?

I have always thought there is something strange about the concept of ”adding value”. Which is frustrating as that is basically what I try to do in my work. I think the problem is that ”adding value” has a linear touch to it, like if some part of somethings value was already there by itself. Sure, if you deal with carpenters nails it might be so – the nail is a nail and its value grows according to the value chain (which in a postmodern context, in order to survive, should rename itself as the ”cost chain”). You can add things like nice packaging, hammering advice, a strong and engaging brand, and other things that make your nailing activities easier.

But many things around us are each a holistic experience. The mustard is not an added value to the hotdog, without the mustard the hotdog is (for many people) worthless.

It appears like when companies have reached a certain level of development of a physical product, they consider it finished and start looking for ways to ”add value”. The risk here is that what you ”add” is not relevant to the core product. There is no value to ”adding” in itself. Sometimes, taking away features and expressions, adds value. Look at those fixed gear single speed bicycles! And many times there is actually still room for physical innovation. The seemingly finished product is not ready.

Look at this example. The black BAHCO Ergo screwdrivers were a result of ergonomic research, developed by Ergonomidesign, once my employer. They were really good screwdrivers. The grip was so good that they started to get occasional problems with the metal tip, as people could apply much more force. But Bahco did not stop there, and while merging with Sandvik and Belzer they took this product yet one step further.

It appeared that there were many really useful features left to add to this seemingly ready product: A hole for hanging it on a hook. Flat sides to keep it from rolling off the workbench. New materials with better friction. In one sense this was added value, but so firmly connected to the products purpose that it was more a question of developing its core, adding obvious supporting elements that still no one had thought of before. This could be made because those involved in the development continued exploring the core values and necessities rather than looking for nice features.

I had a very small part in this project myself, as I finalised the design of the colour coded symbols so that the craftsman can see from above which screwdriver is which in his belt. That was an afternoon in my life when I thought about if the flat tip screwdriver should have the red or blue colour code. Added value sure, and rather experience based yes. But still very nearly associated with the use of the core product, contributing to the whole value. Not an ”extra”, just like I want it to be!

All these features are only meaningful when you see a product as a whole. When you don’t see the mustard as something that is ”adding value” to the hotdog. When you take the customers experience into consideration. When you dare to question if your seemingly ready product, or offering, has yet reached its basic level of performance. When you peer to see its essence. Through understanding its essence, and adding whatever might be missing, you create real value.

Most companies strive to increase the value of their offerings, and that is good. My advice is simply to develop the actual values from a holistic view. And the best way to do that is in a team of mixed competencies.

Look again. Gaze. Your offering is not finished yet!

What really works

I once saw a lecture by Nitin Nohria at Harvard on the subject of this headline. It was about research that he with colleagues had done on successful companies and their strategies. It cooked down to a few very simple rules, and if I were to condense them again, into one sentence, that would be to firmly connect strategies with practical work. I have thought about the essence of his lecture once now and then. How much of what you offer as a consultant is really necessary? The acid test is if you would do these things for yourself. I am not saying you wouldn’t but the question is healthy.

Generally speaking, what really works and what is really necessary? And what is that worth?

Soon it will be 20 years ago that I moved into a new apartment and one day I found my self in one of the second hand stores in Stockholm, where they sell used clothes and stuff for your home, that people have left for charity. I realised that I needed a few things for my kitchen, which was bigger than the one I had had before. So for example I could buy kitchen things you use seldom, if they were cheap, because now I had room for them. Among the kitchen apparel I found a lightly used strainer in orange yellow plastic. It cost 5 SEK, less than a USD. I already had a metal one, but this one was easier to clean so I bought it and started using it instead. Now, almost 20 years later I still use the same strainer, almost daily for washing vegetables, straining pasta etcetera.

As I use this thing so much, wouldn’t that be something to invest in, to buy something really good? Yes, but this one is really good. It’s easy to clean, it hangs safely on its hook, it makes no mechanical noise as a metal strainer would. It fits my sink. And it doesn’t wear out. I have even started to like the colour; it has been out of fashion so many years now that it will soon be hip! It wasn’t new when I got it; it’s still as new, it will last forever.

So from what I know now, 20 years later, its present value should have been like 500 SEK (70 USD) but instead it cost me less than a buck. This should be seen in perspective of the vast amounts I spend on gadgets, electronics and similar crap.

So isn’t everything fine then? Well, yes it is!

The shift in big and small

The shift from modernistic to post-modern, physical to mental, basic to added value can be seen in big and small. What’s interesting is how this shift of focus is scattered around all possible areas, taking place at different times. Many areas are still in the modernistic, physical, basic stage, and will still be for some time ahead. Other areas, like fashion, have come very far in their ”from physical to experience” development.

Somewhere along the path it seems like most areas cross this line at a specific point of no return. Let’s take a very small and concrete example, two USB plugs. One of them is just a plug, the other is ”something more”.

The lower plug is a generic white USB plug which obviously has been designed to be a good plug among other plugs. It seems that some consideration has been made to its shape, it’s fairly harmonic and fairly easy to grip. But it is not branded, it does not promise any additional qualities (like gold-plated contacts) and apart from being clear white it is as ordinary and generic as a plug can be. I would say it’s a industrialistic plug. And as a marketing person would say, a non differentiated plug.

The plug on top is, of course, an Apple plug. It has a strong modernistic expression of straight lines and radii, but it is actually harder to grip than the generic one. But it is definitely a part of Apple’s brand, both in terms of quality (the glossy sleek plug feels a lot more ”expensive” than the generic one) and modernistic aesthetics. It does not accept only to be a plug: it embodies Apple’s questioning of what things should be like, and takes active part in building the overall Apple experience. Even the cord, which is equal to the one of the generic plug, feels nicer, because of the context that this plug provides! A very postmodern plug! With a unique position among plugs!

Apple has always had a very high quality on their various connectors and cords. But somewhere along the way they took the step from just making ordinary plugs and adding experience value. Plugs and cords that tell the brand story in a way that you can even enjoy. The power adapter for laptops has been consciously designed with a strong expression since the transparent flying saucer design that came at the end of the last century. Cords and connectors have been one of the ways, communication channels even, for Apple to show and execute its values.

Still one wonders, how was the decision taken, to add experience value to simple connectors and cords? What was that meeting like?

Warfare from physical to symbolic focus

Even in the major world conflicts you can see how focus has shifted from physical to mental. If you simplify this vast and complex subject into four images you may see this pattern:

  • World War 1: Basically traditional warfare man-to-man in the fields.
  • World War 2: Modernistic, industrialistic warfare added the use of not only all the new technologies but also the power of strategic communication and branding, in an integrated and coordinated process.
  • Vietnam: Through mass media the whole world was involved, which led to many other things across the globe, like igniting the 1968 radical movements.
  • 9/11: Added to the physical act, using media, a visually strong symbolic experience with ”Hollywood” elements.

What do you think?

Beautiful in itself?

Can something just be ”beautiful” in itself? Looking for examples I find my turntable below. But then I realise that the consequences of this product design were more interesting than that. The beauty is not only in its minimalistic brushed metal shapes, but also in its statement towards the ordinary.

Basically, the traditional modernistic approach to product design would be to find the essence of the product, reduce and apply as simple shapes as possible. The shapes should not tell a story but be ”beautiful in themselves”. In some good cases, if the design is radical, this leads to the interesting effect that the object becomes ”something else”. For example, when all the turntables on the market were expressing their technical functionality and features, Bang&Olufsen made this one:

The Beogram 1200 turntable from 1972, designed by Jacob Jensen.

It broke completely with the common expressions and as a consequence of this minimalistic approach, it became more of a piece of art, a sculpture, a large piece of modernistic silverware for your living room. Which by the way could play records. It became ”something else”. And it became part of the strategy that has made Bang&Olufsen what it is today.

There are still many product areas where you could simplify and minimalise, but with the current explosion of products, there is a large risk/chance/possibility that your design will refer and relate to something that has already been made. You cannot just do beautiful shapes, you will also tell a story.

I would say that in a future where design, marketing and branding will work even more closely, we will see more exciting, beautiful and meaningful objects. But still, those modernistic objects from the time when a shape was a shape, have a certain charm!

When there was just one phone

Once there was basically just one model of telephone in Sweden, as in many other countries. One single model should fit all environments. They were owned by the telecom authorities. Old phones were recycled. Telephones were infrastructure, like electricity, running water and heating. A fascinating design task, quite different from todays context. In all a very modernistic concept!

The grey 60’s model was soon accompanied by a black and white model. In the late 70’s more colours were added – red, green, yellow. Perhaps this was the beginning of the end of telephone monopoly. The first taste of choice. The notion that a phone can be something more than just a phone.

Something to reflect on today when cell phones are fashion accessories and personality reflectors!

Earlier in the century people would even dress up before making important phone calls from their homes. I still think that the number disc has a certain dignity and decisiveness when you use it. And you can hang up with a slam!

So in the post industrial experience society, which phones actually do fit social behavior? And which are actually recyclable? We don’t want the lightly totalitarian society back, but is your current phone just as evident and reliable?

Attraction and interest

Design often deals with two parallel aspects: making things more obvious and making things more attractive and interesting. For a true modernist the choice is simple: always aim for maximum clarity and remove everything else. And there are so many areas which still have a long way to go before reaching basic acceptable level of understanding. True. But in marketing communication you often say that in order to create interest you cannot draw the full circle, you must leave a gap for the viewer to fill, thereby becoming involved and interested. And involvement may be an important factor for achieving the full effect or functionality!

In practice there are some things that must be obvious and other that might be more enigmatic, there is no direct conflict. To simplify the process, you can first make the thing you work with as obvious as you can, and then add elements to make it more ”enigmatic”. But that is also a rather linear approach. I would rather suggest that you define the experience first, find the sweet spot of attraction and interest, and then prototype towards the end solution, preferably in a mixed team, balancing the degree of obvious understanding and curious interest.

This picture is from the Bremen Classic Motorshow this winter, where the 100 year celebration of Alfa Romeo was manifested in a separate exhibition. Before the opening ceremony these classic Alfa Romeos were covered in red sheets, in order to attract interest, and at the inauguration the sheets were removed.

I just can’t help finding these cars even more beautiful with the red covers on! Look at that expression of speed and almost feeling of human flesh under the red skin. Surely the enthusiasts recognise the models anyway and may even feel a satisfaction in recognising them. The tension is interesting. So leaving the red sheets on would have been a great post-modern strategy. But then of course, this was not an art exhibition, people wanted to actually see the cars…

The Shift – first draft continued

This shift in focus is also compatible with the idea of our brains being split in two parts. Even though the brain physically is much more complicated than that, it’s a handy model for discussing different ways of thinking. Maybe also for discussing the competencies needed in this new context.

Again, I think it is important to point out that the shift of focus does not mean that the other aspects loose their value completely. The challenge for tomorrow is not to obtain enough right hemisphere thinking, but to obtain the fruitful interaction between the two, that is the ideal model for real creativity. A part of this effect can be achieved by change of education and career management of individuals, but the large part is about learning to collaborate and use not only each others expertise from various areas but also various ways of thinking. That was one of the major conclusions I found during my time as a researcher in creativity and cross competence collaboration in the 90’s.

If a wildly imaginative person manages to collaborate with a strictly analytic person, they can achieve great things. Many initiatives have been taken to bring down the imaginary wall between ”left” and ”right” areas in education, but the journey has just begun.

When will medical schools offer art classes, and art schools offer mechanical engineering? One day they will!

The Shift – first draft

Here is a first rough illustration of the shift in various areas. Of course this model is very simplified and I want to point out the aspects which are increasingly in focus, not an absolute truth!


Obviously the later aspects don’t replace the earlier. But for me the change of focus is quite evident. You may not agree on the exact choice of terms, but if you gaze, can you see the common logic? Further on I will refine this model and provide more examples.

Why am I doing this? Because if this change is true, collaboration between competencies will be an absolute necessity in the future, if not already today. And today these competencies do not have a clear enough common picture from which they can collaborate. That’s why.

The meaning of service

Service design is a rapidly growing area that today gets a lot of the attention concerning value creation and cross collaboration. And design. Which is good. In area after area, the potential in developing things and expressions that people actually want, as well as the need of collaboration between competencies in order to create that value. Industrial design has been in this focus at times, as well as interaction design, web design, design management etc.

Service innovation and service management is not new, researchers like Normann, Ramirez and Grönroos wrote several interesting books on the subject in the 90’s. What’s new is that industrial designers, with their multi faceted competence and thereby ability to merge other perspectives in a mixed competence group, have realized that their tools and methods can be applied also to things that are not physical objects. And producing obvious solutions and visualisations, just as they are used to, they make this work concrete as well as easier to participate in for other competencies.

What puzzles me is that all the competencies involved in the discussion actually don’t have the same definition on what a service, and thereby service design, actually is. A few examples:

  • A ”real” service is produced and delivered at the same time. In the 18th century you did not buy a new chair, you bought the service to make a chair. The tailor provided the service of sewing clothes.
  • In English, a ”service” can be a train connection or even a broadcasting enterprise like the BBC news service.
  • When you say service here in Sweden, you think about ”the kind help you get when doing something”, for example on that train connection you might get good or bad service. But the train connection is a train connection. This idea is slightly complicated by the Swedish word for service, ”tjänst” which also means ”favour”. So for many of us the immediate association is something ”extra”.
  • For a software engineer a ”service” is a form of functionality on for example a website, where you can ”do” something, not only watch, read etc. The part of the website where you make the purchase is a service, and ”service design” in this context means planning all the software necessary to build this functionality.
  • For an industrial or graphic designer, ”service design” mainly deals with the colour, shape and expressions of all contact points between a user/customer and a system/company. You actually don’t design the service in itself, but the objects and features that support it.
  • Service design can also mean scripting and directing the behaviour of sales people, waitors, clercs and other service people in a systematic way. Redesigning the actual service. The result could be that every receptionist in your hotel chain talk about the weather when you arrive. Or tell a designed joke. And describe how they do it. All for a better and more consistent user/customer experience.
  • And finally, you could ”design” services with the same approach and tools as you would use designing a physical product, based on a user/customer need which can be fulfilled by either an object or a non physical utility.

But everyone involved seems to be happy, and it appears that the fuzzy definitions make it easier for new groups to see the value of cross competence based, experience oriented development. And that’s good!

The Guardian recently had a supplement about service design, where also the Swedish Meteorological institute is mentioned. Read more here.

Surprising candleholders

A few years ago I made these candleholders by cutting off a pair of boat horns. When I started using them I was surprised by the strong formal effect of the candle holders being flush with the candles themselves. I think it’s a good example of how the effect of a certain feature often doesn’t appear until you try it in real life. Which is why you make models and prototypes. Recently I was surprised again, by the dripping stearin detaching itself and making this beautiful bow. You can’t blame them for stealing your attention like this, they are after all boat horns…

The white stone and the sleeping one

During my time as a guest researcher at KTH/CID* I led a project where we imagined future use of IT in a social context. Will interactive television affect future sitting room design, was one of our research questions.

To visualise one of our conclusions, that new communication channels seldom replace but rather complement others, we made up a new product with its own communication channel: ”The white stone”. The idea was to create a product that was completely closed and neutral, as a flat white egg, with all its technology hidden inside. (Doesn’t that idea remind you of an American computer company? Well, anyway.)

You would buy the white stones in pairs, give one of them to a close friend and when its’ touch sensors felt your friend holding it, it would contact your stone. Then, your stone would beep to get your attention, and when you picked it up your friends’ stone would be warmed up by internal heat coils. That would be all. Feeling your warmth, and the notion of you two thinking of each other, would be enough. We never made a prototype but I actually think the effect would be quite interesting. And obviously this product would add a new communication channel, and a new aspect of peoples’ social life without replacing or interfering with others.

So far so good. Now, more than ten years later, I read an article about a mother who had problems with her son being too restless to fall asleep and too old to use a teddy bear. She therefore invented the ”sleeping stone”, which is simply a well selected ordinary round stone, like you find on the sea shore. The mother would warm the stone up in her hand and leave it to her son at bedtime. And like magic her son got calm and fell asleep almost immediately.

For me this both touching and fascinating. Experience thinking in the digital culture is just fine, but with the same experience oriented thinking you can actually do with a simple stone!

This is also an interesting consequence of the sensitivity in the human hand. I went to an electronic games show once, where I tried the same electronic game (skateboard racing i large city) as a full body game with a tilting seat, and hands only game with force feedback. The latter was a much stronger experience, because our hands are so sensitive.

Read the sleeping stone story in Swedish here. For an automatic Google translation of it, click here.

And if you like, read the research report from 1998: Future Home Environments and Media Forms.

*) Centre for User Oriented IT Design, a cross competence industry collaboration centre at The Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm.

Cut costs, not meaning

Today is the second day of ”The redesigning business summit” in London, with many fresh thoughts in the field between design and business.

The major theme is how design and business development will act after this recession. People will not consume as they did before. They will be more conscious about their spending but they will not compromise on the design and meaning qualities. So as Roberto Verganti, Professor of Management and innovation at Politecnico di Milano suggests, people that find leather shoes too expensive will not buy plastic ones but rather shift meaning and buy sneakers.

Verganti also presents the following model on future product development, based on meaning rather than technological breakthroughs. Interesting!

Music to my ears, or what do you think?

Read more about Vergantis talk and others at Core77.
Read more about the The redesigning business summit here.

Styling is human

When I was a design student in the 80’s, ”styling” was a bad word. Any element of a design that was not motivated by technical or practical functionality, or perhaps support to practically understanding the product, was dismissed as ”styling”. The expressions should be based on these aspects, clad in harmonious shapes. But if these shapes expressed something beyond the direct practicalities, that would be bad, that would be ”styling”. It was considered ”selling”, as if the values involved in purchase was separated from the product itself.

I think that one of the reasons to this attitude was the exploding American product culture in the 60’s, which clashed with the 1968 radical movements. Just like at the time when functionalism emerged, there was a reaction to bad quality and a desire for meaningful objects that in a modernistic spirit should be what they are and nothing more.

It was also based on the idea that products have an inner ”truth”, that can be clad in various exterior expressions, without affecting the inner functionality. And that these expressions should be ”honest”. This perspective sounds decent, but it has lost a lot of its relevance today, when the actual value of use often is created in the exterior interfaces. Now it was a long time ago that I heard the word, except for in the car design trade where styling is the word you normally use for car body design.

Leopard dog styling

I was just wondering, to apply and experience expressions of direct and indirect relevance to the things around us, to add features that we simply choose because we want to – isn’t that just parts of what makes us human?

Observation for innovation

If I were to choose one favourite TED talk, it would not be easy but finally I think it would have be this one: Jan Chipchase (March 2007). Jan Chipchase is hired by Nokia to travel around the world with his team, observe and document behaviour and cultural expressions as a basis for Nokias future innovation. Please note that Nokia has shifted product area several times from rubber boots and tires to TV sets and mobile phones. So Chipchase’s assignment is to take a broader look than just mobile phones, as Nokia might need to change again.

I find this approach very inspiring, as I have always thought that innovation should be based on understanding of human behaviour and needs. So I have been taking photos with a similar mission for 20 years, like this one from a trip to Japan in 1988 (it doesn’t need any explanation does it?). Only that Jan Chipchase, and his team, do this as a full time job! Follow his work and be inspired here.


I have been invited to talk at a TEDx event here in Stockholm, on the 17th of April.
TEDx is a format for local TED events.

Visit TED here. Info about TEDx Norrmalm here.

Experience based architecture

Architecture is one of the areas where ”postmodern” is referred to as a special style in the 1980’s, which makes the postmodern discussion a bit tricky.

Sweden was one of the leading countries in early modernistic architecture. Functionalism was introduced at the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930. It went very well together with the upcoming creation of a social democratic society, where the state should guarantee the wellbeing of every individual. At the same time Sweden grew as an industrial nation. Gunnar Asplund was the head architect for the exhibition. Architecture was reduced to functions, space and light. These expressions are currently in fashion, perhaps not so much because of the ideals they were based on but rather that people like its clean visual style.

One of the most important pieces of architecture that we have in Stockholm is the city library. Gunnar Asplund designed it only a few years before the Stockholm Exhibition, in a neo classicistic style. What’s interesting is that it is based on great experience management and full of expressions. Just like architecture might be tomorrow, if it follows the shift towards experience as we see in so many other areas.

When you visit this building you should use the main entrance from Sveavägen as the whole experience model is based on that. The humble citizen first walks up the long stairs outside, then through the dark passage with classicistic reliefs carved in black stone, like entering an Egyptian pyramid, and then ends up in the temple of knowledge – the cylindrical main hall. The experience of space when you do this walk is fantastic and the symbolics are evident. A very well directed story and experience!

Of course there is a reason that modern buildings are not so expressive – when you think of the costs involved it is much easier to sell and change functions of a more neutral building. Just like many utility cars are white as you will not see any bleaching in the paint when you sell the car and remove the self adhesive graphics!

Still it’s an interesting thought that Asplund designed this city library, and other buildings, in a such an experience oriented way, as we might expect tomorrow!

From compensation to motivation

Motivational theories like those of Maslow and Hertzberg also follow the pattern from practical needs to experience. What they have in common is the idea that if you don’t have enough of the basics you will do what you can to fulfil these needs – shelter, food, enough salary to pay the rent. When the basic needs are fulfilled, social factors and experiences become more important, not as a linear result but because you are able to pay attention.

And as Herzberg claims, when the hygiene factors like salary are on a decent level people will be only momentarily happier if you increase them – instead you should focus on the motivators, what really makes people go to work, for example meaning, appreciation and good social spirit.

In practice, managers often find that when employees are upset and frustrated, asking for more salary, it’s often more than enough just to talk to them and listen.

Stockholm bus struggling in the snow

SL, Stockholm’s public transport, recently had enormous problems keeping up their services when the winter weather got extreme. Now they will compensate travelers with a reduced price on the monthly tickets, for a couple of months.

That is fine. Monetary compensations are easy to administrate and measure. Instead of wasting resources on evaluating each case, you compensate everyone. But my first reaction is actually that shouldn’t they invest in a better service instead? And how many days will people be happy with that discount?

My suggestion would be to invest in the service. Buy a monster machine that keeps the rails clean from ice and leaves, and show it to us!

Functionalism searching ”truth”

Functionalism emerged in the 1930 as a reaction to the large number of low quality, often cheap copy products that had been pumped out by the growing industry since the late 19th century. Organisations like Swedish Slöjdföreningen and the Art and Crafts movement had promoted good examples and with the social and economic change, time was perfect for new ideals. In Sweden these were manifested in the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition.

The functionalists wanted to reduce architecture and everyday objects to their essence of functionality. Every aspect of a product should be based on its physical use. They searched for the objective ”truth” of every object and every building, and tried to add as little decorations and other elements as possible.

This led to many things. For example they made extensive research on how kitchens should be planned and dimensioned in order to be a suitable workplace for the housewife. The basic structure of today’s kitchens is based on this research, and of that we can only be thankful.

Many of these expressions may today seem dehumanised and plain, regarding people as machines rather than sensible beings. But you should take into account what the world looked like a hundred years ago. Functionalism took part in the vision of the developed society we take for granted today, in the western world.

I always thought that the tea-strainer above was a good example of functionality as it supports the whole process of making a cup of tea – filling it with tea leaves, staying closed, stirring and emptying – with not only basic but really enjoyable practicality. And nothing more than that.

From commodity to experience

Market strategy generally deals with so called differentiation. That is changing your product from being a commodity, like sugar, wheat or crude oil, to becoming a distinguished product with certain properties so that customers will prefer your product from others and thereby also pay more.

The first thing you do is to, for example, to refine your wheat into noodles. Then you give your product a brand, like Uncle Ben’s for rice. The brand promises a certain, consistent quality. Then, when you continue developing and refining your product you will soon find yourselv developing not the physical product in itself but the experience around it.

In modern product development you switch the process around and start with understanding and developing the experience. This experience is created in the consumers’ heads as an effect of advertising, packaging, product features and personal experiences.

What interests me is why these things still so often are developed separately in a linear process rather than from a customer oriented concept. I believe that those who manage to play all the strings from a common idea can offer stronger experiences, get more satisfied customers and a more successful business.

A fruit plate by Jacob Jensen, in a way

Jacob Jensen, creator of the design language that made Bang&Olufsen world famous in the 60’s, also designed this fruit plate. Well, in a way.

Jensen developed his linear and modernistic design language during the 60’s. The design was based on great attention to choice of materials, surfaces and graphic design, and it did not look like anything people had seen before. Radios and stereos had up to then looked like pieces of furniture, but Jensen searched the ”true” expression of home electronics. So this design was truly innovative.

Once I rescued a beautiful Bang&Olufsen stereo, a Beocenter 7700 from 1982, which was destined for the trash. It was beyond all hope due to wear and tear. But the turntable disc was in good condition so I ripped it off, added a support and now I use it as a fruit plate.

It is true that Jacob Jensen directed the shapes of this beautiful aluminium disc as a turntable, but actually not as a fruit plate. What a Jacob Jensen fruit plate would look like we can only guess. I am not saying it would look very different. Modernist designers typically deal primarily with shapes rather than telling stories. A beautiful shape is a beautiful shape.

So is this a Jacob Jensen design? I think a modernist, believing in the value of formal expression in itself would say yes. A postmodernist I think would say no. What do you think?

The product life cycle

Let’s start with four examples, from left to right:

  • The last edition of the Olympus XA camera (XA4). At its launch in 1979 the XA was the first quality camera made of plastic, which was a sensation. Shape, choice of plastics and surface treatments, and graphics made this a not at all ”cheap” product with technical quality to match. And pocket size.
  • The Nokia 2110 cellphone from 1995, in my humble opinion the first cellphone that had the expression and detail work of a modern cellphone. Silky rubber buttons and a display glass that was more sculptural than the ordinary flat little LCD windows.
  • Sony Walkman, the first model from 1979, the ”Walkman” logo was added the year after. It changed how people enjoy music and created a completely new product category. The expression of this first model is focusing on material quality, in order to build confidence in the performance of this little machine. Like the Olympus it introduced a new level of quality in its segment. Initially it sold on portability, of course, but also on good stereo sound.
  • The first consumer pocket size digital video camera by JVC, launched in 1998. The next years model had the fold out LCD that is now common. Like a typical first of category it does not express much more than its technical features and quality.

So these four products were all groundbreaking when they came. They were all early in their product life cycle (well, the Nokia was rather at the step to the next stage when everyone, not only the early adopters, buy the product), thus introducing people to the category and in their expression focusing on quality of performance.

The Shift I want to discuss, from modernistic to postmodern, from form to sense and so on, is also in line with the product life cycle. At the launch of a new product category focus is on physical/technical/measurable performance. At the next stage accessibility and efficiency is important, when everyone is buying one and competitors join in. And when the category is common practice, you look for experience elements to add.

Look at the products above and think about the diversity in colours and styles that are available today!

But also, their functionality is more or less included in the Apple iPhone, with some limitations but also pocket convenience. Obviously the iPhone is at an early stage of its own product life cycle, only available in black or white, focusing on the practical values…

The future of medicines

Since a long time, science knows that placebo is over 50% of the effect of medicines and drugs, including coffee. Still most products in this area rely on chemical performance.

This is my first example of how many product areas develop: initially focus on physical performance, then presentation and handling and after that experience and meaning. It all goes hand in hand with the established marketing and motivation theories*.

Typical modernistic medicine (above). Tasteful and practical packaging. This is what I mean by something that just ”is”. A pill is a pill. The whole value is considered to be hidden in the substance. Your doctor will tell you what medicine to use. Cause-and-effect proven by science. Some branding effect in the well known name. But any additions of pictures, promises or other experience elements would actually be considered immoral, even if they might enhance the medical effect.

Then, of course, there is fair amount of credibility in this dry and simplistic presentation. But is it an active design choise, based on what gives the best experience and effect? I don’t think so.

French day and night pills for colds (above). User oriented presentation makes the use easier. Choise of colours and materials make the white pills look better. The presentation is more elegant and ”selling”. But the pill is still a pill.

”Hollywood.” American cold medicine full of promises and experience. Large colourful box, large colourful capsules. Focus on the user experience and sense of value.

In Sweden we just recently dropped the monopoly of pharmacies. Soon we will be able to buy some medicines in supermarkets. Medicine will be increasingly treated as consumer products when people are to make their own choises off the shelf.

Is ”Hollywood” medicine the next step? Or rather experience oriented, placebo-enhancing, simple to use and understand, value-added medicine?

*) Maslow, Herzberg, Peters/Waterman jr, Mayo, Levitt, Ries, Trout, Negroponte and most others…

Suddenly it struck me

Suddenly it struck me that while many of us have been amazed by the creative and innovative opportunities provided by Internet and the web, our world has changed in so many other ways. Internet is an important part in this change, an accelerator even, but not the only one. Everything is different, or will be. The shift from modernism and industrialism to postmodernism and postindustrialism is all around us and touches most human expressions. I see this change clearly, but I don’t hear anyone discussing it. Maybe this change has been shadowed by the currently functionalistic furniture fashion and the Internet hype. Many homes today have a functionalistic look but that is not because their inhabitants embrace the original ideas. They appreciate the expressions of the industrial age for other reasons.

In the postmodern and postindustrial society truth is dead. Nothing just ”is”. Everything tells a story, or will tell a story. Everything stands for something else. Or will. Features, properties, values and expressions interact in new ways. You cannot isolate single aspects but you need to take several perspectives into account. Companies can no longer work in the traditional linear fashion.

What fascinates me is not so much the academic explanation but rather the big and small, everyday expressions that I see of this change. Can you see them? Are you interested in the stories? Would you like to discuss their future consequences? This blog will have some academic elements but it will be mainly explorative! At is best it might be an eye opener.

Join me on this trip!

Close up of the Macintosh PowerBook 100 from 1991. The first computer that was both really portable and and good looking. A fine piece of late modernistic machinery.