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I Believe in Design

40 replies on 3 pages. Most recent reply: Dec 24, 2009 3:25 PM by robert young

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Bruce Eckel

Posts: 868
Nickname: beckel
Registered: Jun, 2003

I Believe in Design (View in Weblogs)
Posted: Nov 18, 2009 7:52 PM
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Summary
I finally bought a Dyson vacuum cleaner yesterday. It completely changes my cleaning experience. Design that asks and answers the right questions can completely change other experiences, too.
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Whoever imagined exceptional designs from Britain, the land of government, banking, and consistency? But anytime the subject of cleaning came up, anyone within earshot who had a Dyson would wax enthusiastic about it. These people love their Dysons, and want to loan them to you so you'll try it out. A viral marketer in their wettest of dreams never hopes for this kind of result.

Dysons apparently last forever, and I don't plan on buying another one until (A) they make a cordless one with an ultracapacitor and/or (B) they make a robotic one. I suspect (B) will follow from (A), and also that it will likely be Dyson that will do it.

The machine has all kinds of clever ways that the tubes and attachments connect and store, but in the end it's just vacuuming. However, it's very different from all the vacuums you've bought before (because they kept breaking, or the new ones kept making seductive promises). It does what all vacuums claim to do: you move the device over your floor and it picks up dirt. The difference is, it actually works. You're not fighting to make the vacuum do its job, by running it over the same place trying to get it to pick stuff up. Because you've never experienced it before, there is a feeling of rightness when it pulls itself over the carpet leaving it clean in one pass. I'm giving away all the other floor-cleaning tools except for the mop.

This makes me think of the way business works (lots of things do, lately). If over 80% of people hate their jobs (as I keep hearing), then business is like a vacuum cleaner that has lots of bells and whistles but doesn't actually suck things up very well. We still believe in the concept of vacuuming, and assume that it's operator error or that numerous other cleaning devices are natural in order to fill the gaps.

Of course, that's only if you think that "happiness" should be the goal of work. But even if "making money" is the goal, I still think our current business models work like most of the vacuums work -- you keep scrubbing the machine over the same piece of carpet and eventually, if you're persistent, it gets a bit cleaner. People seem to feel that, if it makes enough money for the business to survive, the business model is vindicated.

We've been trained from birth to believe that American Capitalism is the pinnacle of right-thinking business; so much so that if you question it you're labeled crazy. Of course, during the dot-com bubble, brokers who didn't kowtow to the idea of The New Economy were often fired. And some people still cling to the idea that real estate is the sacrosanct Field of Dreams, that the only problem with the industry is that we've stopped building, and, shades of the New Economy, supply and demand doesn't apply here.

It's true: if a business doesn't make money, it fails. It's also true that if you stop eating, you'll starve. We've seen what happens when our sole goal is to consume as many calories as possible, or when body cells decide that their goal is to grow uncontrollably. But no appropriate moderation exists in our business models; if you can make more money, then of course that's the right path.

A friend who owns a business recently wrote about how things weren't working, mostly from key employees quitting so she was forced to fill in. The company is making money, but it hasn't been a pleasant experience for her. I keep thinking that there must be some way to redesign the structure of our businesses so that the first priority is that you love your job. I have a strong suspicion that such a company would be a lot more financially successful as a consequence. I can't prove it, but I think if people love their jobs then the company will do far better than competing companies where people hate their jobs.

The problem with revolutionary thinking is that, by definition, it goes against everything we "know" to be true. Open Spaces conferences are like this, as are many of the TED talks. When I learned about Open Spaces, that form had been created and tested by someone else, and I reluctantly tried it under experimental conditions -- certain it would fail, because of what I "knew" about conferences. A business where employee happiness is job one is only something I'm imagining, and I have no idea yet what such a thing would look like or how it would be designed. But I believe it's possible, and that somehow the way to make it happen will appear (I also see the creation of these ideas as a community effort, and not something I will invent on my own).


Jonathan Finn

Posts: 10
Nickname: lucretius
Registered: Jun, 2006

Re: I Believe in Design Posted: Nov 18, 2009 8:59 PM
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"Whoever imagined exceptional designs from Britain, the land of government, banking, and consistency?"

Bruce, I don't know where you got that narrow sterotype from: Britain is the land of technological design & invention, responsible for inventing a large proportion of what makes up modern civilisation. Britain produced the entire industrial revolution with everything that went with it: railways, steam engines, the very concept of a factory, endless modern industrial processes. The very concept of a company. The electric motor (Faraday), colour photography (Maxwell), jet engines, radar, blah blah blah. How about, in fact, the computer - I don't mean Alan Turing, I mean Charles Babbage whose Analytical Engine was a complete CPU dating from 1837?

But Britain isn't known for capitalising on its inventions - hard to imagine where we'd be today if Babbage had succeeded in promoting his computer designs. Is that what surprises you about the success of the Dyson?

Raghuram Sreenath

Posts: 1
Nickname: raghuram
Registered: Nov, 2009

Re: I Believe in Design Posted: Nov 19, 2009 12:45 AM
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"I can't prove it, but I think if people love their jobs then the company will do far better than competing companies where people hate their jobs"

True but the problem is that there is no upper limit to what people don't want to do to enjoy their jobs. Eventually everyone wants to do whatever they want or nothing at all and still get paid. I think world is like this "by-design"!

Teodor Terziev

Posts: 1
Nickname: sickboy
Registered: Nov, 2009

Re: I Believe in Design Posted: Nov 19, 2009 2:52 AM
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Hello Bruce,

Have you ever heard about Participatory economics (Parecon)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_economics

I believe this is the answer to you question about all business models

Malte Finsterwalder

Posts: 20
Nickname: jufoda
Registered: Aug, 2003

Re: I Believe in Design Posted: Nov 19, 2009 5:05 AM
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I used to work for a company, where the boss said: It's my job to make the employees happy.
Part of his job was of course to make enough money, so the company can continue and can finance the things, the employees like to do.
But overall there was a very high degree of involvement from all employees.

It was very nice to work there.

I quit, because I didn't want to do the daily work anymore (Training). I rather want to develop software, which they don't do. But I'm missing the culture.

Josh Brown

Posts: 3
Nickname: jtbrown
Registered: Nov, 2009

Re: I Believe in Design Posted: Nov 19, 2009 8:23 AM
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> Eventually everyone wants to do whatever they want or
> nothing at all and still get paid. I think world is like
> this "by-design"!

I don't believe this is true. I believe that if people really love their jobs, they will be willing to do some of the things they don't enjoy.

Bruce Eckel

Posts: 868
Nickname: beckel
Registered: Jun, 2003

Re: I Believe in Design Posted: Nov 19, 2009 11:00 AM
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> Bruce, I don't know where you got that narrow sterotype
> from: Britain is the land of technological design &
> invention, responsible for inventing a large proportion of
> what makes up modern civilisation. Britain produced the
> entire industrial revolution with everything that went
> with it: railways, steam engines, the very concept of a
> factory, endless modern industrial processes. The very
> concept of a company. The electric motor (Faraday), colour
> photography (Maxwell), jet engines, radar, blah blah blah.
> How about, in fact, the computer - I don't mean Alan
> Turing, I mean Charles Babbage whose Analytical Engine was
> a complete CPU dating from 1837?

It was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but you make my point by citing relatively ancient examples. Recent examples of innovation are rare, and something as exceptional as the Dyson, reimagined from the ground up, is just not something one imagines from Britain (where I've spent at least a year, cumulatively). And *not* having a collapsing financial system is, I note, something to be proud of (along with real health care, etc.).

For a number of years I owned an MG, which was basically a tractor design turned into a sports car, and the joke about the electrical system manufacturer was "Lucas, prince of darkness." That probably colored my perspective.

Since the advent of CAD systems, design has blossomed in many places. Perhaps Dyson will be the harbinger of a new wave of British design, as well.

Bruce Eckel

Posts: 868
Nickname: beckel
Registered: Jun, 2003

Re: I Believe in Design Posted: Nov 19, 2009 11:14 AM
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Close to home, here's an entry about the high cost of losing a developer:
http://codebetter.com/blogs/david_laribee/archive/2009/11/17/the-high-cost-of-losing-a-developer.aspx

robert young

Posts: 361
Nickname: funbunny
Registered: Sep, 2003

Re: I Believe in Design Posted: Nov 19, 2009 3:40 PM
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> It was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but you make my point by
> citing relatively ancient examples.

The counter example, which we all will soon be using, is the ARM processor.

If you could have only TV network: Fox or BBC?

If you could only have one transport method: Houston or The Tube?

If you could have only one health system: Ours or theirs?

If you could have only one election system: Ours (which takes years and 100's of millions) or theirs (which takes months and single millions)?

On a per capita basis, I'd wager that Britain is ahead with inventiveness. Studies (I don't have a cite off hand, though) continue to show that inter-generational mobility is upward in Britain (and Europe generally) while it is either static or downward here. Income inequality is much greater here, as the Great Recession is demonstrating. Perhaps you see the benefit (do you?) of this, but I don't. We gave the world the iPhone (well the design; it's made in China), MacDonalds, and Wall Street parasites, but nothing more.

If you think about, the USofA is only good at making weapons of mass destruction; we lead the world in those, both physical and financial. Not much to crow about, I don't think.

James Watson

Posts: 2024
Nickname: watson
Registered: Sep, 2005

Re: I Believe in Design Posted: Nov 19, 2009 4:58 PM
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> > It was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but you make my point
> by
> > citing relatively ancient examples.
>
> ...
>
> If you think about, the USofA is only good at making
> weapons of mass destruction; we lead the world in those,
> both physical and financial. Not much to crow about, I
> don't think.

I'm not sure which is sillier, the original statement or the response.

Jonathan Finn

Posts: 10
Nickname: lucretius
Registered: Jun, 2006

Re: I Believe in Design Posted: Nov 19, 2009 7:29 PM
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> It was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but you make my point by
> citing relatively ancient examples. Recent examples of
> innovation are rare, and something as exceptional as the
> Dyson, reimagined from the ground up, is just not
> something one imagines from Britain (where I've spent at
> least a year, cumulatively).

I was going to mention the ARM processor but the words were taken out of my mouth... and quite apart from its technology, the instruction set is a beautiful design in itself.

Sticking to a strict definition of design, Jonathan Ive is British of course, but he's gone where the money is.

If one includes inventions generally, how about the WWW (Tim Berners-Lee)? Any advance on that?

Jan Samohyl

Posts: 14
Nickname: asgard
Registered: Feb, 2008

Re: I Believe in Design Posted: Nov 20, 2009 11:37 AM
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> I keep
> thinking that there must be some way to redesign the
> structure of our businesses so that the first priority is
> that you love your job. I have a strong suspicion that
> such a company would be a lot more financially successful
> as a consequence. I can't prove it, but I think if people
> love their jobs then the company will do far better than
> competing companies where people hate their jobs.

Bruce, maybe you should read this book:
http://www.amazon.com/Maverick-Success-Behind-Unusual-Workplace/dp/0446670553/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1258734951&sr=8-1

It actually answers this question from practice.

Vitaliy Garnashevich

Posts: 1
Nickname: vsg
Registered: Nov, 2009

Re: I Believe in Design Posted: Nov 21, 2009 9:26 AM
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> I keep thinking that there must be some way to redesign
> the structure of our businesses so that the first priority
> is that you love your job. I have a strong suspicion that
> such a company would be a lot more financially successful
> as a consequence. I can't prove it, but I think if people
> love their jobs then the company will do far better than
> competing companies where people hate their jobs.

"Loving you job" is not the goal which most effectively makes a company financially successful, "make a company financially successful" goal is.

But when a company is targeted to "loving you job", this becomes a force. The trick is to figure out where this force will drive the company, and whether that is where you want to go.

John Wellbelove

Posts: 72
Nickname: garibaldi
Registered: Mar, 2008

Re: I Believe in Design Posted: Nov 24, 2009 4:14 AM
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Am I alone in thinking that, for all their effectiveness at sucking up fluff, Dyson's cleaners are as ugly as sin and look like leftover props from a cheesey SciFi movie?

Jeremy Meyer

Posts: 40
Nickname: jeremy1
Registered: Jan, 2008

Re: I Believe in Design Posted: Nov 24, 2009 9:07 AM
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Actually Dysons are well known in the UK amongst professionals as being poor and unreliable. I was once told to look in the dumpsters next time I was at the local dump and see which brand of vacuum cleaner was the most prevalent there. Whilst working on the house, I was at the dump a lot, and can confirm that there were more Dysons than any other brand.

You ommitted to mention the design feature which won the Dyson a place at the British Design Museum. (Where you should look if you think there are no recent British inventions of note... Viagra is one which springs to mind).

Dysons suck hard because they centrifuge the air, and whizz out the particles of dust. So no bag, but I have also been told that for that reason, in experiments using UV light to show dust particles, it can be seen that it spits more dust back into the air than many other brands, in spite of claims to the contrary.

So, they look fabulous, they are truly innovative, they never lose their suck.. but is the design really working? Or just making you think it is.

I was recently seduced by (and bought) the results of a collaboration between Dyson and the extraordinary fashion icon, Issey Miyake.

http://www.dyson.co.uk/store/product.asp?product=DC16-IM

The net result, an exquisite piece of equipment that weighs half a ton and (by its own admission) you need to charge for 3 hours to get 8 minutes of vacuum time. All this for $150. No more Dysons in this house.

My point? You can be suckered into thinking design is great if it appeals to the right parts of you... Apple have been doing it for years..

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