Towards an Urban Design Toolkit: thoughts on the 2013 New Cities Foundation Summit, São Paulo

Sao Paulo lies deep and vast over the horizon. Where one continuous line of buildings stands—extending further (by far) than the view from, say, Greenpoint towards midtown Manhattan—such skylines persist in every direction. The effect swallows all individual orientation but rewards with nothing so much as a sense of being…cradled. This apparent sense of drama continues even into Sao Paulo's open spaces, such as the one in which we now stood, Parque Ibirapuera, a quietly contrasting gap in the endless march and roll of buildings and roads.

frog Wins IDSA IDEA Award for the Collective Action Toolkit

frog is honored to accept an International Design Excellence Award (IDEA) from the International Designers Society of America (IDSA) IDEA is recognized as the preeminent international design competition and referred to as “the Oscars of Design.” frog's Collective Action Toolkit received a Bronze in the Design Strategy category.

Today’s Phones and Tablets Will Die Out Like the PC

The personal computer is dying. Its place in our lives as the primary means of computing will soon end. Mobile computing—the cell phone in your pocket or the tablet in your purse—has been a great bridging technology, connecting the familiar past to a formative future. But mobile is not the destination. In many ways mobile devices belong more to the dying PC model than to the real future of computing.

Not Too Big to Innovate: How Design Strategies Can Transform Financial Services


Clients come to frog to discover the next breakthrough product or service that will inspire and delight their customers. Increasingly we’re hearing from banks and other financial institutions that are seeking design strategies to accelerate innovation in their organizations. Like consumer products and entertainment companies, banks want to create more dynamic and engaging user experiences based on the real needs—both emotional and practical—of their customer base. And once they define these opportunities they need to push the best ideas through the organization toward realization.  In many cases, our design strategy approach has helped accelerate the process of getting innovations to market—in ways that often surprise our clients.   

Product Design with Lean Startup


On July 3, frog’s Milan studio will host a Lean Startup Circle to discuss the methodology, challenges, and best practices. Click here for more information

The lean startup methodology, and its Minimal Viable Products strategy have grown hugely popular, but what are the challenges of applying lean startup and how can it be applied when working with external companies?

Lean Startup
Lean startup is a product design and realization methodology formulated by Eric Ries.  The approach borrows from production practices, such as lean manufacturing and kanban, which focus on execution and adaption as strategies to achieve innovation (a more throughout review of lean startup can be found here.) Although the name includes the word ‘startup,’ the concepts can be applied to companies of any size—from a one-person startup to big, multi-national companies.

A Model for Innovation in Emerging Markets

In the outskirts of Musanze, in northern Rwanda, mattresses have become a tool for female empowerment, family security, and social change. Hilarie, a softspoken farmer, mother, and wife, is the mastermind behind this association and has become a figurehead of change in her village and over 30 others in the region because of it. How Hilarie became a purveyor of mattresses for social change offers some fascinating insights about human behavior, community dynamics and… financial services.

Yes, financial services. Specifically, the challenge of financial inclusion—bringing financial services to the poor for the purpose of improving their lives. This is one challenge that resists easy scaling across markets. If a solution devised by a bank, mobile operator, or other financial services player achieves some level of success in one market, it's highly doubtful that the same idea will work in other markets. The always-cited example of this is Safaricom's highly successful M-Pesa mobile money platform in Kenya; no other mobile money service in the world has had even close to the same level of success.

Visualizing Service Design

Roberta Tassi is a senior design researcher and interaction designer at frog Milan, with a deep background in information visualization and communication design.
While working on her graduation thesis—exploring the interconnections between Communication and Service Design—Tassi developed Service Design Tools, a website that gathers visualizations used to support design processes. The collection was created with the idea of sharing her research within the design community, and so far it has caught the attention of both academic and industry insiders. Yet, Tassi warns these tools are meant to inspire, not act as one-size-fits-all solution.  
Tell us a little bit about Service Design Tools.
I put together this web platform called Service Design Tools in 2009, and I still manage it today. After published, it has immediately become a sort of reference point within the service design community, it's an organized catalogue of tools and examples that professionals can use to support their design activities day-by-day. It can be browsed in different ways, according to specific communication purposes, and it's conceived as an open platform: I still receive a lot of examples of new tools, keeping the collection growing in time.
Why are visualizations specifically crucial in service design?
When we speak about a service or a system, an ecosystem or concept, they are a lot of times abstract things. Visual representation is a way to make them more tangible, and so, sharable.
The same is when we deal with research outcomes, usually there is the need to translate them into meaningful insights and frameworks to inform the design process, establishing a foundation for all the following activities. And visualization again can be really helpful, to turn information and data into usable materials.

Message to Mobile Operators: Monetize Personal Data

As the exchange of personal data becomes a lynchpin of the modern business model, mobile operators are confronted with new challenges and opportunities. At frog, we’re working with mobile operators on the challenges and opportunities in a world where a richer personal data stream is opening unprecedented possibilities for creating value.  This article explores the why behind the market’s development and how operators can use Leverage, Risk, Scale, and Tangibility to evaluate opportunities to create value from personal data. 

Personal data is the root of the next-gen business model

Twenty years ago, nobody imagined creating revenue from personal data. But a number of factors—the rise of the Internet, globalization of workforces, heightened access to capital, and a strong entrepreneurial spirit—changed all that by opening the way to rapid social and technological growth.  Enter Google, Facebook, Twitter, and a whole new era in the sharing and consumption of information (read: data).  All of these business models were predicated on the notion that if you can create a service cheaply and then offer it for free to establish a large user base, value would follow. And it has, mostly in the form of personal data monetization.

Now, by the time you read this, a huge trail of data will have been generated. Nearly everything we do in our daily routes—from checking email to buying coffee or driving to work—leaves distinct trails of data exhaust that describe who we are, what we do, and how we spend our resources. Today, your morning coffee not only gives you a buzz but also generates a rich personal data stream that can be logged, tracked, shared, and monetized.

The 10 Building Blocks of Design Studio Culture

The 10 Building Blocks of Design Studio Culture. Great studios are able to balance all of these factors as part of their day-to-day operations. (Illustration by David Sherwin.)

This is an excerpt from from my new book, Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers, out now from HOW Books.

Culture is everything people in a design business do that supports the process of making work happen. Culture can create joy for designers, while improvements in process can facilitate profit. A common misperception is that culture emerges organically based on the decisions of a business owner or CEO. But a design studio’s culture is not created solely by those at the top. For a design-led business, culture is generated from ongoing contributions and discoveries from both studio owners and employees.

In researching my recent book on how design businesses can be more successful, I began to see important building blocks that were present in the most successful studios. These building blocks are divided into two groups: hard building blocks and soft building blocks. Hard building blocks are realized through a budget, meaning that you can allocate money and time for them as part of business overhead. The soft building blocks can be created through the decisions employees make over the course of their daily work, life and play (with less material investment by the owners).

A healthy studio culture draws equally from both types of building blocks. They provide emotional and material stability to employees in the face of ongoing work challenges, and often clients, family and the general public perceive them as ingredients of the company’s brand. These building blocks are equally present within design firms and in-house design teams—though for the latter, the composition of some building blocks may be heavily influenced by the company's overall behavior and needs.

Let’s take a deep dive into these building blocks, with important questions to ask yourself (and your team) in order to create a strong studio culture. 

frogThink at The Tech

Approaching a problem with a design mindset is a craft—a way of working that may seem effortless, or even second nature, to a master craftsman, but can prove very hard indeed for a novice. And, like all crafts, it is something you learn by doing rather than by knowing.  You can read all about “Design Thinking,” or other user-centric approaches, but it is only when you start to do them, to apply them, and to practice them that you start on the journey to becoming a master craftsman. As a result, these methodologies don’t really lend themselves to classic corporate education seminars.  You can learn what they are in a seminar but not how to apply them. Such methodologies do not easily fit into a traditional school curriculum either.  Though core curriculum standards are beginning to value twenty-first century skills, such as collaboration and creative problem solving, it is not obvious how a school might integrate the design-mindset into students’ schedules. It’s creative but it’s not “art”; it involves problem solving but it’s not math. So, if design-centric thinking is the future, and schools are not adopting it, how and where might we teach it?

Museums are a great place to start. They aren’t constrained by curriculum, they are environments that celebrate innovation and creativity, and they are often dealing with groups of students looking for an interactive experience.