Category Archives: Design

Cool design

Business – New school

David Heinemeier Hansson is one of the hottest names in IT right now. He’s been developing something called Ruby on Rails, which is a tool for developing web applications. Now Denmark has become too small for David, and he’s left for Chicago, better to work with his compatriots at 37signals, one of the most admired software shops right now.

The evening before he left, he gave a presentation in Copenhagen to a small crowd of techies, bloggers, business people and others. I was there and I was blown away by this guy. Not only is he a good developer, he also has an amazing sense for how a business can also be designed. And he’s 26 years old. Interestingly, his software design principles are the same as his business design principles, making his philosophy consistent and credible. Here are the main points I took away from his presentation:

Solve the next problem
Whether you’re working on software or building a business, this means that you should tackle the issues that matter right now. Don’t solve the problems you think will appear in 6 months – they probably won’t, you see. Solve the next problem, and then the next. In six months time, you will have plenty of stuff to work on, but it won’t be what you thought six months ago.

Solve your own problems
When you work on something that you yourself need, you’re much more efficient. Rather than working on something that some remote client will use, attack issues that are important to you.

Do as little as possible – or slightly less
The complexity of any system does not grow proportianl to the size of the system – it grows exponentially. Making a system twice as large makes it waaay more that twise as complex. Therefore, make your system as simple as possible, or maybe even a little simpler.

And if I may be allowed to brag for a moment here: This is exactly how we work on the Happy At Work Project. Here are a few of our maxims, that I might add:

Try stuff
Rather than analyzing a given choice to death, make a quick decision and try it out. If it doesn’t work, try something else.

Relax
It’ll all work out. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t work too hard. Take plenty of breaks and do lots of different stuff to stimulate your mind.

The best of luck to David in Chicago – I’m sure he’ll do famously.

Design and paradox

Another person I met at the WorldBlu Forum is Ralf Beuker of Design Management. He spoke on design thinking and on the value of embracing paradox. This is a recurring theme on my blog – here are a few examples:

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.
– Niels Bohr

The test of a first class mind is the ability to hold two opposing views in the head at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald

Change that is deeply effective and positive presents a paradoxical challenge. On the one hand, there needs to be an appreciation and acceptance of how things are in the here and now. On the other hand, there needs to be an active intention to make things better. Nothing needs to change, and everything can improve. This is the way to avoid the two extremist traps of activist’s frustration or pessimistic complacency.
– Patch Adams

Embracing paradox is crucial. Too much thinking these days (especially in business) aims to reduce and simplify a worldview to the point where decision making becomes easy – and that’s just not the way the world works :o)

You have time

What a weird and wonderful idea: A daily planner spanning not one year but 82 years – the average life expectancy of people in the western world. Look how thick that thing is! So what exactly is it you don’t have time for?

Via Kottke who went to a design conference and saw a presentation by Stefan Sagmeister on happines and design, which included the following excellent life advice:
* everything i do always comes back to me
* trying to look good limits my life
* everybody thinks they are right
* money does not make me happy
* thinking life will be better in the future is stupid. i have to live now
* complaining is silly. act or forget
* having guts always works out for me

The one year shop

A new fashion store in Berlin, the Comme des Gar?ons Guerrilla Store, will stay open for a year and then close whether or not it makes money, according to this article in the NY Times.

Instead of spending millions to build or renovate a building, Comme des Gar?ons spent just $2,500 to fix up a former bookshop in the historic Mitte district. Because the company doesn’t plan to stay long in the 700-square-foot space, it didn’t bother to remove the name of the previous tenant from the windows. Advertising consisted of 600 posters placed around the city, and word of mouth.

“Of course it seems outrageous to close something once it becomes a success, and I think we will be successful,” said Adrian Joffe, who conceived the store with his wife and partner, Rei Kawakubo, the avant-garde Japanese designer. “But to be creative at anything takes an unbelievable amount of energy, and the minute you start to feel content with your success is when you lose it. You don’t want to get too comfortable.”

I love this idea for two reasons: When you realize the impermanent nature of your ventures, you’re more free to experiment and try things out. You’re building for today, not for posterity. Also the low-budget approach speaks to me. Doing more with less.

This is essentially what we try to do in the happy at work project. We have no time limit (maybe we should have), but we’ll only be around for as long as we’re needed. If the need for our services goes away or if somebody appears who does a better job than us, we’ll cheerfully close shop.

And we’re operating on a shoestring budget. This is partly due to the fact that we have no money, but there are some very positive side effects of not starting an operation to grandly. Of having to prioritze and to substitute creativity for money. This is also partly the reasoen why we haven’t sought any public funding.

Hektor, the swiss graffiti robot

Gizmodo put me onto this extremely cool swiss graffiti robot, which is basically a spray can, a computer, two steppper motors and some string. Check out the video of the robot painting a work of art for an exhibition, it’s a sight to behold.

Reading about that project made we want to be a geek again. I have a long past in the IT business, and there’s just something about a project that cool and that useless that makes some part of me want to do it. To work out all the details involved ant then finally see it in action. To slave loooong nights over obscure little problems, that I probably created myself in the first place. To disappear into a process so intense and so goal-oriented and so clear that sleep, food, politics, TV, movies and keeping up a normal social life take the back seat to fixing the next bug. And the next.

Is Arena a lap?

One of the many fascinationg people I’ve met at the Practice of Peace conference is Max Gail, who runs an organization called lap. This is based on the metaphor of a lap. We all have one, and it is, among other things, wher our kids sit to hear a story or to feel safe.

So what is a community lap? According to Max, it’s a computer-empowered, creativity inspiring, consensus building community communication center or network. Does that sound like Arena? It does to me: Imagine a lap for small businesses, where people can network, innovate, hear and tell stories, learn and recharge their batteries. That could be Arena, and I think it ties in nicely with the idea of a third place, outside of home and work.

Dust devils

I found this quote from my favourite book, Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, on Chris Corrigans website.

Randy spent plenty of time chasing and carrying out impromptu experiements on dust devils while walking to and from school, to the point of getting bounced of the grille of a shrieking Buick once when he chased a roughly shopping-cart-sized one into the street in an attempt to climb into the centre of it. He knew they were both fragile and tenacious. You could just stomp down on one of them and sometimes it would just dodge your foot, or swirl around it, and keep going. Other times, like if you tried to catch one in your hands, it would vanish — but then you’d look up and see another one just like it twenty feet away, running away from you. The whole concept of matter spontaneously organizing itself into grotesquely improbable and yet indisputably self-perpetuating and fairly robust systems sort of gave Randy the willies later on, when he began to learn about physics.

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