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Posts Tagged ‘Design Council’

Curtain twitchers, the CIA and the rise of Facebook

Posted Thursday, October 1st, 2009

New technology and old-fashioned curiosity have made social networking so hot that everyone is cashing in. Nico Macdonald helps you sort the tweets from the bots

 Design Council

If everyone felt like Jerry Seinfeld, Facebook wouldn’t exist. The comedian observed: “As an adult, it’s very hard to make a new friend. Whatever group you’ve got now, that’s who you’re going with. You’re not interviewing, you’re not looking at any people, you’re not interested in seeing any applications.”

Yet, for most of us, the social instinct is deeply ingrained. So deeply that, by the age of seven, research suggests, two thirds of American children have an imaginary friend. Technology has made it possible for us to connect with real friends in undreamt of ways. When Tom Coates, a staffer in a London office of Yahoo!, needed a break, he decided the best way to round up some company was to post this message on Twitter, a hip social networking service: “I need to go for a walk to clear my head. Yauatcha for macaroons anyone?”

Social networking is such a phenomenon that many employers – even the CIA – now have Facebook pages and use the site as a recruitment tool. The agency plans to launch its own staff social networking site called A-Space.

The wisdom of friends: the psychological argument for using social networking sites full of ‘people like us’ is compelling. But how long with the fashion last? And what do sites need to do to increase their reach?
Asking all your friends if they’d like to join you for lunch would once have been impractical. But sites like Facebook allow us to gossip and curtain-twitch online, be bored by someone else’s holiday snaps without visiting their house, plan a business meeting and accelerate the getting-to-know-you process. Instead of taking months to realise that a new acquaintance, like you, can quote Seinfeld scripts verbatim, you can join a group of like-minded souls in minutes.

New technology, old-fashioned curiosity and a dollop of ‘wisdom of friends’ psychology have made sites like Facebook, MySpace and Bebo immensely popular. A 2007 survey found that 48% of American teenagers online visit social networking sites at least once a day and 72% use them to make plans with friends. In the network age, computing power is in the hands of more people and is tackling new challenges. We’ve moved from using computers as work objects to the widespread use of computing-enabled things – laptops, mobile phones, games consoles – to manipulate emails, diary entries, instant messages, contact information, URLs and blogs wherever we are.

Social networking is driven by significant technical developments and rapid social change. The current fears for – and of – teenagers – may explain why they have become core users of social networking sites, spending more time at home on the internet. As a rule of thumb, for every hour we spend on the web, we typically spend 23.5 minutes less with friends and family.

The culture of fear and decreasing trust have made some wary of encounters with strangers and reluctant to embark on deep personal relationships. Surveys show that a record one in four Americans say they have no close friends at all. Many prefer ‘safer’ relationships mediated, to an extent, via a screen, where they can connect with a wider circle of friends in a non-committal fashion. Consumer trends analyst Linda Stone calls this “continuous partial attention”, adding: “To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognised and to matter.”

Cheaper travel and a more integrated global economy, where staff change jobs more often and are more likely to work abroad, have played their part too.

Keeping in contact, avoiding cowboy plumbers
The functions social networking best supports are, in a nutshell or seven:

Familiarisation and maintaining contacts. From status updates and edited profiles you build a rounded picture of an individual. People you know may share this with you – to varying degrees – if asked. Essentially, human knowledge is being connected by the network (rather than embedded in it – the goal of so many past computing visions).
Swapping, sharing and storing of ‘objects’ – photos, movies or songs – online. We can be told when something of interest has been uploaded.
Group discussion, which is moving to social networking sites. Contributors’ real names and pictures can be displayed and you can check their profile.
Finding and hiring skills. The self-employed already use sites like LinkedIn to get in touch with businesses and customers regardless of location.
Online or internet-enabled applications which allow us to manage tasks, meetings and diaries. You can, for instance, open up your diary to contacts.
Campaigning. You can network with people with the same ideology. But the likes of Facebook can’t, by themselves, reinvigorate the democratic process.
Searching the web. Social networking can reveal, filter, enhance or shape the data we find when searching. We can link, recommend or rate almost anything and form an opinion influenced by our knowledge of the contributor or the number of recommendations. In a world full of cowboy plumbers – or so reality TV shows would have us believe – we might be relieved to find one implicitly recommended because they’re linked to someone we know. Friends or contacts are acting as ‘trust engines’, and by answering, friends build their relationship with you and increase their kudos with others.
While Google focuses on computer science, engineering and performance, Yahoo! has focused on what Bradley Horowitz, vice president of product strategy, calls “better search through people”, buying bookmark-sharing tool del.icio.us and photo-sharing site Flickr and developing such services as Yahoo! Answers.

Junk mail, smart address books and over-engineering
Social networking sites need to improve. As Facebook’s personal profile – which includes favourite music, TV shows, films and books – is completed manually, it is of limited use and soon out of date. Profiles would be richer if they drew on actual activity, such as the music we buy or play. Artificial intelligence-based tools could help others access a user’s locally stored information. There is a risk of over-engineering, though. An element of a profile or relationship can be extracted or inferred but do we want to share it with everyone? Giving users visibility on – and control of – what they share is a design challenge. Already LinkedIn lets you ‘View my profile as others see it’.

Sites need to be accessible and to hand, as easy to use as a stapler. Modern mobiles and smart phones like the iPhone have feature-filled browsers. A site such as Jaiku offers a dedicated application for modern Nokia devices that identifies your geographic location to your circle of friends. You could have a smart address book that tells you if a contact you plan to call is busy or abroad. Giving physical form to such ideas is the Availabot, a pop-up figure that stands up on your desk when the contact it represents comes online and falls into a flaccid heap of despair when s/he goes away.

Exhaustion, Rupert Murdoch and evolutionary psychology
The subtlety of human relationships can’t be over-estimated. We finesse what we tell different people, even lie. There is a danger that concerns about privacy, and scares based on extraordinarily rare – but shocking – abuses of social networking tools, may deter people from using these sites. Worries over security, time wasting and other abuses has led employers to block access to Facebook.

On a practical level, there is a danger of exhaustion. Coates says: “The amount of sites using social networks is so substantial that [registration] is no longer something people will go through again for no obvious reason.” Sites could be integrated as an external service to other sites. If LibraryThing could access your Facebook profile, it could show you books your friends liked. Profiles could be abstracted so they can be ‘applied’ to any site or service. So far, this has had little success, but as social networking profiles are made easier to edit and when this approach presents a competitive advantage, the ‘abstract’ approach may flourish.

Rupert Murdoch’s strategy for MySpace raises another issue. MySpace plans to run a TV series about showbiz wannabes as it strives to persuade users to linger longer, so they can be targeted by ads. If these sites are not full of user- generated content but have content developed by professionals, does that extend their appeal or fatally undermine it? Facebook has announced it will start targeting ads based on user profiles. Will users be deterred by advertising or welcome it? Concerns about privacy have been heightened by Facebook’s plan to allow (user-controlled) elements of profiles to be indexed by Google.

Historically, human relationships have built over time from face-to-face encounters, in which we use body language and other cues to assess honesty. By contrast, the ease with which we can indicate friendship with social networking allows us to appear to have a cohort of friends. There is some science behind Seinfeld’s gag. Evolutionary psychology suggests we are hardwired to remember no more than 150 people. These smaller, more intensely focused groups have often been responsible for scientific, technical and intellectual breakthroughs. The trajectory of social networking is in our hands. Will we, as a society, take these services seriously – or be satisfied to play online with our new ‘friends’?


Perhaps the largest single design project conducted by Virgin Atlantic Airways in recent years is the design of the company’snew Upper Class Suite. Introduced in response to a direct competitor action (BA’s introduction of the first fully flat aircraft seat-bed), the Upper Class Suite was a totally new concept in aircraft interior design and was designed, engineered and brought into production in only 36 months

Posted Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Design Council

The original requirement for the Upper Class Suite was simple: Virgin Atlantic needed to introduce a flat bed into its upper class cabins. Joe Ferry, Head of Design and Service Design, and his team began by exploring a wide range of different configurations, including the use of seats with separate sleeping areas. Eventually they settled on the concept of a seat and a bed that were in the same space, but separate entities.

During the early concept phases Ferry and his team also spent considerable time with Virgin Atlantic‘s management discussing different seat design features and assigning relative priorities to each, so decisions could be made on what to include and what to remove from the final design.

As concepts developed, the team worked with Virgin Atlantic’s engineering function to understand whether particular concepts would be acceptable under safety and airworthiness regulations. It also brought in its first external support – in the form of Design Q, an automotive design consultancy used for its layout design and model making skills, which could help to produce 3D concept models to assist with evaluation.

At the end of this initial phase, Ferry and his team presented their concepts to the board, which gave the project the green light to move forward to the Design Development stage.

From concept to prototype
Once the overall concept was evolved, Virgin Atlantic began to involve more specialist outside design support, including a structural engineering firm to assist with the mechanical design of the new seat and to ensure compliance with the very stringent aircraft safety specifications. They also brought in furniture design specialist Pearson Lloyd, after briefing the agency to produce a hypothetical concept for a competitor product to understand its design language and style.

Ferry emphasises that the Upper Class Suite experience is a holistic approach covering much more than just the seat design, involving not just the cabin ambience but also associated service elements including limousine pick-up, in-flight massage and a range of dining options. The company brought in additional specialists during the design process to achieve this.

Another design agency, Softroom, was used to develop a concept for the whole interior ambiance and specialist lighting design consultancy DHA assisted with illumination concepts.

Pearson Lloyd used its own ergonomic experience to optimise the comfort of the seat concept and used ergonomic data that Virgin Atlantic Airways had commissioned from Qinetiq. Within 12 months the team had built a full-scale dynamic prototype seat for evaluation purposes.

The prototype Upper Class Suite business case was approved by Virgin Atlantic’s executive board and the seat design then underwent an extensive evaluation process. Members of cabin crew were seconded onto the design team to evaluate usability from a crew point of view and frequent flyers even came in to sleep in the test seat at Virgin Atlantic’s HQ. These extended test sessions were augmented by shorter review sessions in which the company’s top 50 passengers would come and assess the new design. Such user evaluation was important, says Ferry, but must be treated with caution as passenger feedback – which can be limited in so far as consumers are only able to react to what they have already experienced – won’t ‘take you to the next level.’

Manufacture
Once the board had approved the seat design, The Virgin Atlantic design team turned its attention to the manufacture of the seat. At this point in the process, input from external design consultants stopped: Virgin Atlantic and the consultants recorded the agreed design in a Detailed Design Specification Document and through it Ferry and his team became ‘guardians of the design’ throughout the engineering and manufacturing process. Here again, the availability of a working concept model was extremely useful, as without it, says Ferry, ‘the manufacturers would have said, “It can’t be done”.’ Manufacturing engineering took 24 months and at the same time the Virgin Atlantic design team conducted an extensive value engineering programme, looking for opportunities to reduce costs without affecting user perception of the product by, for example, ensuring that the leather seat cover designs make maximum possible utilisation of a single hide. The Upper Class Suite was delivered to aircraft in late 2003. Virgin Atlantic continues to use a similar process on other projects and is just completing a redesign of its Premium Economy class cabin.


How design can help your business perform more strongly

Posted Friday, August 7th, 2009

When times are tough and revenues are falling there may be a temptation for business to cut ‘discretionary’ budgets – money allocated to activities such as design, perhaps.

But design is a powerful tool in a downturn.

Design Council
Our research shows that more than half of the UK’s businesses:

  • …are looking to design their way out of downturn
    Over half (54%) of the firms in our survey thought design would contribute to a large or great extent in helping maintain their competitive edge in the current economic climate.
  • …think design is more important now
    Similarly, 53% thought that design had become more important in helping the firm to achieve its business objectives over the last three years.
  • …think design is integral to the economic performance of the UK
    The same number agreed or strongly agreed that design is integral to the country’s future economic performance.

Fortunes can change for any business – large or small – sending a once successful and thriving operation into decline. Shifts in the economy, in consumer sentiment or changes in the marketplace are just a few of the factors that might leave a company in trouble and unsure how to get back on track. Even mighty corporations such as McDonald’s or entire industries like the Swiss watch industry have fallen foul of changes in the market, but both responded through an investment in design and innovation which helped to turn their fortunes around.

What can design do?

There are many ways design can help your business perform more strongly, from improving your image (internally and externally), innovating your products or services, through to enhancing your overall efficiency and saving you money.

Companies of different sizes and from different sectors have worked with designers to improve their performance during challenging conditions.

Castle Rock Brewery
Competing in the competitive real ales market is tough. Castle Rock Brewery in Nottingham brought in designers The Workroom to give its communications and graphics a more professional edge. Demand is now outstripping supply and the company’s barrel sales growth has doubled.

Thistle Hotels
The rise of value chains has meant that hotel groups in the traditional mid-market have suffered. Thistle Hotels is using an image overhaul by designers Navyblue to spearhead a multimillion-pound refurbishment and service improvement programme, and visitor numbers are already rising.

McCain’s
Frozen food company McCain suffered badly following a backlash against poor diets and rising obesity, so it worked with designers Elmwood to rethink the way its packaging speaks to shoppers in supermarkets, promoting the product’s natural ingredients and low fat. Sales have since blossomed to record levels.

HMV
High street music specialist HMV has had to react to massive changes in the way its customers buy music and video titles since the arrival of digital files and the internet. It used design to create a next generation store and whole new brand proposition. Sales at a trial store jumped by 25 per cent.

Ian Macleod Distillers
Scotch whisky drinking is in decline. So family company Ian Macleod Distillers employed designers to create packaging for its new Smokehead whisky aimed at bringing younger consumers to the whisky market. Sales have doubled since launch in 2006.

Design beats the blues

During hard times investment in design can give a business a competitive edge over rivals who are reining in their design and innovation budgets in order to save money. As American Express chief executive Ken Chenault told Fortune Magazine: ‘A difficult economic environment argues for the need to innovate more, not to pull back.’ Similarly, in September 2008 following a crisis in the global financial markets and in the face of an impending worldwide recession, Intel‘s chairman Craig Barrett told Reuters that investment in the company’s products and innovation remained very much on track. ‘We’ve always had the attitude that you have to make that investment in good times and bad,’ he is quoted as saying.

While American Express and Intel are global businesses, with dedicated R&D and marketing functions, the same wisdom applies to a business of any size: when times are tough it is change, dynamism and vitality – not hunkering down quietly – which are the keys to success. And this is exactly where design can help.

As you can see in the case studies above, companies big and small are rising to the challenge of hard times through a conscious investment in design. Their decision to innovate – to rethink and regenerate their products, operations and image – can be taken by a company of any size and in any area. Design and brand strategy can help elevate a firm or its products from the ordinary, the tired or the predictable, demonstrating that the business is alive, dynamic and responsive. And in a declining market that just might make the difference between growth and collapse.

Famed for precision timekeeping since the late 16th century, Switzerland’s watch industry nevertheless ran into crisis during the mid-1970s when Asian companies began to take over the market with quartz crystal technologies. Battling recession at the same time, Swatch (then known as SSIH) became insolvent, forcing its creditor banks to take control. Eventually, in the mid-1980s, CEO Nicolas Hayek took the company private and started a design revolution which was to save the business and put Switzerland back in the vanguard of watch manufacturing.

Design was instrumental in this reinvention. A combination of product aesthetics and reengineering (which reduced costs) gave Swatch the edge, leading it to become the largest watch company in the world, rescued from the jaws of collapse. Launched in 1983, the first Swatch wristwatch was a slim model using only 51 components (versus a typical 91 or more) and was marketed at an affordable price with contemporary design and styling. According to Swatch, the product has gone on to become the most successful wristwatch of all time.

Swatch‘s gross sales reached approximately £3 billion in 2007, but Hayek also claims that the design strategies he developed for Swatch in the early 1980s led to the rebirth of the entire Swiss watch industry, regaining its leading position worldwide since 1984. Data bear this out, with Swiss watch exports growing from around £2 billion in 1986 to £7 billion in 2006, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

While the creation of luxury power boats for a global market may represent design for a wealthy minority, Sunseeker International’s success results from a dedication to design from the smallest beginnings, undertaken in the face of the decline of British shipbuilding.

Formed in the 1960s by brothers Robert and John Braithwaite in a single industrial unit in Poole Harbour, Sunseeker was initially a distributor of Scandinavian boats. But Robert Braithwaite believed there was a potential UK market and so designed and built his first boat. From that start, the company has doggedly maintained a priority focus on design, design management, technology innovation and bespoke building. This combination has helped Sunseeker grow from its single unit to encompass seven sites and a million square feet of production space.

Believing that design is a vitally important part of this success, Sunseeker employs exterior and interior designers to work alongside engineering design, yacht styling and production teams, as well as with customers. It reinvests around 6 per cent of turnover in research and development. This has led to truly global success from a UK base: designed and manufactured in Poole, around 99 per cent of Sunseeker’s boats are now sold to the export market.


The power of branding: a practical guide

Posted Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

What do we mean by the word ‘brand’?

Design Council, updated 06 April 2009

The words brand and branding are thrown around liberally by all sorts of people in different contexts and with different meanings in mind, so it may help to start by asking ‘what exactly is a brand?’

The simplest answer is that a brand is a set of associations that a person (or group of people) makes with a company, product, service, individual or organisation. These associations may be intentional – that is, they may be actively promoted via marketing and corporate identity, for example – or they may be outside the company’s control. For example, a poor press review for a new product might ‘harm’ the product manufacturer’s overall brand by placing negative associations in people’s minds.

To illustrate the idea, let’s take what is arguably the best-known product – or brand – in the world: Coca-Cola.

Although essentially just a soft drinks product, Coca-Cola the drink is eclipsed by the sheer might of Coca-Cola the brand. This phenomenon is best summed up by the following quote from a Coca-Cola executive:

‘If Coca-Cola were to lose all of its production-related assets in a disaster, the company would survive. By contrast, if all consumers were to have a sudden lapse of memory and forget everything related to Coca-Cola, the company would go out of business.’

In a 2007 survey of the value of global brands by branding agency Interbrand, Coca-Cola‘s brand equity was valued at US$65.3bn, just under half the company’s true market value.

So what are these all-powerful associations? For Coca-Cola, typical perceptions might be that it is the original cola drink (‘The Real Thing’), that its recipe is secret and unsurpassed, that it’s all-American or maybe global, that it’s youthful, energetic, refreshing and so on. Visual associations might include the unmistakable red and white logo and corporate colours, or the unique shape and tint of the original glass bottles.

These are mostly positive brand associations, but there may be negative ones too. For example, Coca-Cola may be seen as unhealthy, or as a symbol of global ‘imperialism’ by American brands. What is seen as a positive association to some may be unpleasant to others and negative perceptions could become attached to a brand‘s identity even if the company strives to present a different character.

Of course, brands aren’t limited to the food and drink category. If a brand is just a set of associations then practically anything could be said to have a brand, even individuals – think Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay.

Ramsay’s own brand is so strong, in fact, that in 2007 he leant his weight to a major advertising campaign by Gordon’s Gin. He was chosen not just because of his name, but because his association with a sense of quality and exclusivity mirrors the drinks manufacturer’s own brand values.

Other high-profile examples of recognised brands include JCB, British Airways, Tate, Yahoo, The Big Issue or even London. From services to cities, products to publications, each carries a strong set of associations in the minds of a large number of people.

What is branding?

If a brand results from a set of associations and perceptions in people’s minds, then branding is an attempt to harness, generate, influence and control these associations to help the business perform better. Any organisation can benefit enormously by creating a brand that presents the company as distinctive, trusted, exciting, reliable or whichever attributes are appropriate to that business.

While absolute control over a brand is not possible due to outside influences, intelligent use of design, advertising, marketing, service proposition, corporate culture and so on can all really help to generate associations in people’s minds that will benefit the organisation. In different industry sectors the audiences, competitors, delivery and service aspects of branding may differ, but the basic principle of being clear about what you stand for always applies.

For the full article see: http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/en/About-Design/Business-Essentials/The-power-of-branding-a-practical-guide/


Better by design – the UK’s only way forward

Posted Friday, May 8th, 2009

Britain must learn to innovate or it will stagnate, argues Lord Sainsbury

Lord Sainsbury, The Observer, Sunday 31 October 2004

The UK is facing unprecedented competition in business and intense pressure to deliver quality public services that meet people’s needs and expectations in the 21st century. To rise to this challenge, national performance and prosperity will increasingly depend on the creativity and inventiveness of our people. The DTI’s ambition is to create the conditions where UK industry gains an international reputation for innovation to match our reputation for scientific and technological discoveries.

By more than doubling the science budget, the government is ensuring that the UK remains a leader in scientific excellence. By 2007-08 the science budget will be £3.3 billion, compared with £1.3bn in 1997-08. However, the aim is not simply to increase the volume of pure scientific research. To deliver a new prosperity, we need to maintain our reputation for world-class science and to increase our rate of innovation.

One of the most potent sources of innovation is design. Its impact has been used to transform products, services, systems – entire organisations. Take the Apple iPod. While the technology for its development already existed, what made it such an iconic example of successful innovation was its design. Through understanding and meeting people’s needs and expectations, Jonathan Ive, the British designer behind the iPod, delivered a highly desirable product that was also a system (iTunes) and a service (iTunes Music Store).

Only organisations which think about their customers in this way can expect to succeed. This view is reinforced by a recent study that revealed that the share price of companies which used design well outperformed the FTSE 100 by 200 per cent over the 10 years to 2003.

Unfortunately, UK start-up and early-stage ventures under-use design skills when commercialising technology. Examples such as the WAP mobile phone demonstrate that pushing more and more technology at users will never be the answer. New products must reflect and meet the needs of customers. Successful companies are increasingly using designers and the design process to identify user needs then create products to meet them. At an early stage, technology businesses need to establish what value their products will have in the marketplace before attempting to commercialise them.

The government recognises this challenge and, as a part of the new DTI Innovation Strategy, has tasked the Design Council to deliver national campaigns to enhance innovation through the improved use of design, focusing on the manufacturing and emerging technology sectors. The results from the Design Council’s early work, mentoring a few companies to use design more effectively, demonstrates the potential. For every pound invested by the Design Council, company sales have increased by £14. The goal now is to further develop this support so that it can be delivered through the Manufacturing Advisory Service and other partners across the country. The key policy aim is to get more successful products into the marketplace.

Early work by the Design Council is already resulting in powerful and growing evidence that spending a relatively small amount on design activity in the early stage of scientific or technological development delivers disproportionate benefits – a key one being attracting venture capital.

If design remains a late add-on to new products and innovations, UK business will not fully reap the benefit of innovation. But by encouraging UK businesses to acquire the skills and advice to exploit design at the initial stages, we can give a further boost to innovation, resulting in greater economic performance in an ever more competitive global knowledge economy.

(Lord Sainsbury is Secretary of State for Science and Innovation)


 
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