Half a million unique people viewed my work online. I’ve worked as a freelance designer with great people at IDEO, Microsoft, Samsung as well as startups. Reflecting on the work I did in 2012 I would like to share some of my learnings with you. One of the most important ones is the ability to habitualize innovation. A competence I believe to be a major skill in times of innovation, thriving but also disrupting markets, education and government.
After I realised technology as a tool for my work, I wondered: How can I use it to change areas in life that challenge us? For example, how can I use technology to enrich the ways we interact with knowledge, our bad habits or finance? I asked myself those questions to design tangible products that really make a difference in the way we approach those aspects of life.
Case study Sang Lee and I developed for our Startup Thrives.
A Shift to Making Frustration My Favorite Emotion
Lets look at some examples I just mentioned: I don’t feel like it’s worth working, I don’t earn enough to make a living. I feel stressed, I just cannot get enough sleep. Why are we not doing better with education? Why is our business not reaching the goals we set? Questions we ask ourselves or hear from our colleagues and friends.
„Well, there is an app for that" people said if I started a discussion around things that frustrate us. Apps to organise our tasks, appointments, finances and contacts. When I looked at their devices I sometimes saw screens filled with unread messages and notifications coming from different apps they started using to tackle their problems. Other friends who did not turn to their devices tried out habits. They started spending € 100 a month, in cash only (no cards) for their daily needs. They set a € 500 limit per month on their credit card. Or they stopped eating white sugar products. Why? Because they were frustrated with their current situation. Something moved them to change their habits. Things that we see as negative: too high debts, too much body weight, too stressful lifestyles.
What if those moments of frustration are actually positive (I know it sounds counterintuitive but give it a thought)? By using a given solution you spend time getting into someone else’s habit. Learning from others is great and it helps us find solutions. Sometimes it might be a placebo. For us as designers this idea could result in creating adaptive products that get you involved and create a relationship with its content.
Gaian.me celebrates nature. A project to support awareness for climate change within the design community. We changed the angle from focussing on raising awareness to an aspect that is very relevant for designers: the inspiration nature gives and celebrating it with a yearly release consisting a motion trailer, illustrations in form of wallpapers, icons as well as music.
Foster New Habits with Problems
Looking at approaching a project from this perspective I want to share a personal example, finances. I now like doing finances. That might sound strange to some but it’s actually right. Why? Because my tax advisor and I made the process so easy. Utilising the cloud my tax advisor has access to the invoices as I write them and he can give advice if needed.
Thinking about it, there are quite a few situations like this one interacting with finances. I spent time trying to get inspired, talk to people around me or watch movies that supported my current mindset, though my current mindset did not help moving forward with the task I had to do. Neither did the apps that attracted me. Looking at needs from this perspective made me appreciate moments of frustration and products where experienced people from different disciplines got together to find great solutions.
Wearing That Black Shirt Every Day
One of my favorite examples is Outlier. I much enjoy taking my bike or just walk to the places I work at. It really wasnt easy to find clothing that is good while riding to work but also feeling good during work time. If you look at some people who love their jobs you might notice some of them have a quite minimal wardrobe when it comes to daily clothes. Steve Jobs who accidentally bought a lifelong stock of Issey Miyake turtlenecks (after finding out his staff did not want to wear a uniform). Or Mark Zuckerberg who comes to work wearing that black shirt every day.
The two founders of Outlier talking about their motivation to design their products: “We want to make those clothes. The ones where you are like: I dont know even why I grabbed it, but I definitely want to put this on”.
A Serious Wow
In times where we are able to build our own applications, products and companies, design and innovation are fascinating areas to work in. Outlier started with thinking about products that solve the needs of their founders. Keeping frustration and problems as a positive pinpoint could help us build products which are so lean that they open up space for each individual to adapt it to their personal use. And maybe even seriously wow you with all new discoveries. I for example can now put on a classic pair of pants that gives me a great time and space to move while getting to an office and enjoy a productive workday.
If it’s the iDesk or a custom series of furniture I built this year, it’s often the little things that make something a serious wow. Like the local wood residues we used for the sideboard drawer inlays. Or the thinking of the team behind one of the two bikes I use with much joy. Such things get me excited and let me use them with a smile.
The work I did for Microsoft for Windows 8, the default Start and Lockscreens that come with every copy of the latest version of the most used operating system worldwide.
Looking back at 2012 I much enjoyed working with the talented people and teams I met this year. Thank you for the good times and great products we worked on.