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Writings about the business of design and strategy.

What Customers Want (Except When They Don't)

It’s a well known bromide of user research: customers don’t always know what they want - even when they think they do. Just because they can articulate it explicitly and provide detailed use cases, is no guarantee that once they get the thing they’ve asked for and desired, that they will in fact want it.

Ideas from the Economist Innovation Conference

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Economist Innovation Conference, held at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. It was a fast-paced (almost too fast), jam-packed event, with lots of good speakers and a heady flow of ideas. The downside to the 1-day format was that there was little time for networking, however they did make sure to get Q&A from the audience in almost every session, which was good.

State of the Handset Art, Part One

The major announcements at this year's Mobile World Congress have mostly revolved around Android handsets. The heavy competition is pushing companies to be more adventurous with their designs both aesthetically and functionally. A common theme this year has also been the emphasis on photography and music quality out of the handsets. Let's look at the style, imaging, and sound trends in more depth. In this post I'll talk about the handset design highlights, and in Part Two I'll look at imaging and sound.

The Elephants in the Room at MWC 2012

Recently Fast Company ran a lengthy piece on the four companies that will dominate the tech economy in the next ten years: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google. All four are tremendously powerful companies that each started in one category (book selling, search engine, etc.) and are branching out to disrupt adjacent categories. Because of this, they are all coming into conflict with one another. And they are all strong forces in mobile.

So it is strange being at Mobile World Congress where these brands have minimal, if any, presence. Apple has no official presence, but its products are everywhere either in reality (almost all attendees have iPhones) or by proxy (the iPhone is what triggered the smartphone revolution that is driving most of the business here). Amazon seems completely absent, and Facebook was involved in a talk and has a nondescript booth in one of the less trafficked halls.

Fast Change and Scary Numbers at MWC 2012

Walking down the main avenue here at Mobile World Congress I watched some gulls having an arial battle, oblivious to the crowds below who all work for companies fighting it out in the turbulent mobile industry. The pace of change in mobile was a theme running throughout the keynote/panel with John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, René Obermann, CEO of Deutsche Telecom, and Ben Verwaayan, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent. The topic was ostensibly mobile cloud, but the discussion touched on subjects that affect all of the mobile industry, primarily from carrier and network infrastructure standpoints.

The Four Technologies You Need to be Working With

What do Netflix, Zipcar,, Nike+, Amazon, the Nintendo Wii, and the Apple iPhone all have in common? They all take advantage of four technologies that once were scarce and expensive but are now plentiful and cheap. These technologies can be combined in numerous ways, and we are just starting to see companies really taking advantage of the possibilities. These four technologies will have a disruptive impact on your business, almost regardless of which industry you're in. The question is whether you will choose to adopt them before a competitor does.

Post Rationalization is an Innovator's Best Friend

The logical, deductive approach to problem solving that we are all taught is not always the best for trying to create breakthrough ideas. In fact it can be positively counter-productive. You often need to be "illogical," non-linear, and put the cart before the horse (that is, have the idea before you know why it's valuable) to help get things rolling.

Setting the Bar, Learning from Failure, and Other Lessons from Steve

After a crazy couple of weeks in the consumer electronics/smartphone/computer/telecom mega-industry (it's really all one now), another bombshell arrived yesterday with the news that Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO and is taking on role of chairman of the board. In reality, it probably means he will be in an advising capacity not unlike what he's probably been doing for the last year while on medical leave. But still, a shock to the system.

Google and Motorola: Will it Blend?

The shockwaves of the recent announcement that Google is buying Motorola Mobility, the handset and device division that spun off from the Motorola mother ship not long ago, will continue to ripple far and wide. There are several reasons why this could be a great boost for Android, but also some major concerns about getting the two companies and their product lines to blend well

Finding the Common Themes of Braun and Apple

The popularity of Apple's design aesthetic and the renewed interest in the work of Dieter Rams of Braun both stem from a common source: they represent calm and certainty in a time of chaos and angst.