Archive for February, 2010

Excellence by Design of next generation User Interfaces

One trend that is abundantly clear is the dramatic change taking place in user interfaces (UIs) on the web.  This change is driven of course by new technology but even more by a new found comfort with new methods of presenting information and content…and this ‘comfort’ applies not only to designers, and the businesses they work for, but most importantly, to the consumer.

Here are a few examples to demonstrate new trends in Excellence by Design of user interfaces.

  • The first is shown above.  Its a screen shot from  There are several aspects to this site I think are spectacular examples of Excellence by Design.  First I should state that the Editor in Chief Michelle Adams, is rapidly rising in stature and I can see why.  Her eye, as represented by the content of her newly launched magazine, is impressive.  More to the point of this column, the magazine layout itself is one of the best I have seen and represents a much improved way to engage yourself in a magazine, online.  The UI, the ability to click adds and get more info, and the ability to change your navigation are all outstanding.  Note that this magazine is done using the tools provided by the site so the capability demonstrated by Lonnymag is just an example of what is coming from many other self publishers.
  • Another great example is the new New York Times – Times Skimmer. This new UI for reading my favorite newspaper is another great example of what is coming and how it changes the game of designing for, and engaging in, content for the web.
  • Perhaps the most impressive forward looking example however, is now available on YouTube, where Sports Illustrated has posted a video explaining what is to come with their new publishing approach.  It is startling, incredibly exciting, and demonstrates that the future design of user interfaces will be radically different than what is seen today.  Catch it here.
  • Of course I must mention the new Apple iPad, which I believe is the tip of the iceberg in showing how the device side of user interfaces will be changing.  These tablet like, high fidelity devices are certainly the wave of the future and will have seamless communications so you can connect with others, or perhaps move a piece of content (like a picture) over to your HDTV set with a simple swipe.  The end of the Sports Illustrated video shows another great example, where you use the iPad like device to interact with a show you are watching simultaneously on your HDTV.Update: here is another great iPad UI demo from Penguin books.
  • And lastly, I must mention Ford Motor’s new MyTouch upgrade to its Sync platform. It’s a great system that I admit I have a bit of special pride in, given my role at Ford during the time the Sync strategy was being debated.  Sync, soon with the MyTouch extension, is a great example of modern UI Excellence by Design.

Ford MyTouch with Sync

Yes, we are certainly poised for a great leap forward due to technology (sw and devices) and the comfort of users in  accepting these new UI paradigms.  As with other advances, there will be many implementation that are poorly done, but those that really standout and are successful will be Excellent by Design.

Excellence from IWB

I recently took the time to catch up on the blog of Irving WladawskyBerger. IWB used to be a favorite of mine near the end of my IBM career because he seemed to well understand both technology itself, and the changing nature of the business (and social) environment that affects its use.  I pulled a couple interesting quotes from some of his recent postings:

  • On the Services economy he writes on Feb 3, 2010 “key differences between research and innovation in the industrial and service economies… I simplified them down to three.  1) Focus: Physical Systems versus People-based, Organizational Systems 2) Design Objectives: Product Quality and Competitive Costs versus Positive Customer Experiences, 3) Organization and Culture:  Hierarchic and Siloed versus Multi-disciplinary and Collaborative”
  • On Dec 23, 2009 on Collaborative Innovation he wrote: “IBM’s 2006 Global CEO Study was the link between external collaboration and innovation.  Over 75% of the 765 CEOs interviewed in the study ranked business partners and customer collaborations as top sources for new ideas.  This is very different from previous organizational models that assumed that innovation was too critical to involve outsiders.”
  • On Jan 28, 2010 he writes about the challenges to successfully capitalizing on Disruptive Innovation: “Many companies fail to adequately embrace a disruptive innovation …because the strategy was essentially rejected by the organization…the institution was not able to stretch enough to be able to implement the needed changes.  This happens even when the very survival of the organization is at stake”.

Across these points is an underpinning truth related to Excellence by Design.  Excellence used to be achievable by a much more narrow focus.  A specific person or existing organization executes on a specific idea and product.  If THEY are capable and THE PRODUCT is great…excellence is achieved.  This is hard enough task and frankly one I think few organizations are strong in anyway.  Often there is more concern about the myriad of other issues at hand from budgets to performance reviews to project deadlines and of course politics, to distract people from the core task of building and delivering a great product.

But in today’s world this has become much more complex for several reasons:

  • Achieving Excellence is a broader challenge.  It is not just related to the product, it is related to services as well.  It is also based on excellence in customer experience.  It must be global and also meet local  expectations.  Excellence simply covers a wider range of factors now than just the core product.  Great ‘design’ for excellence must include this.
  • The participants who contribute to Excellence are much broader as well.  They include partners much more often, and many times customers as well.  Proctor and Gamble made a major and highly successful shift from  internally developed innovation, to an innovation strategy much more engaged with partners and customers.  Monsanto, which is a leader in agricultural biotechnology, has a very robust community they draw from to develop new product ideas as a core part of their pipeline’ process. Your design for excellence must include robust means for cross-functional, cross-company, cross-customer collaboration.
  • Building a culture adept at effectively embracing disruptive innovation is hard…and often seen as threatening, especially in today’s economy.  People are seeking stability and consistency in their jobs at exactly the time that the world is pressuring companies to become better at capitalizing on emergent, disruptive innovation.  Its a big cultural (aka management) challenge to enable a culture that can thrive in chaos, yet stay under control to deliver with consistency.  Designing and establishing organizational values, policies, enablers, and reward systems that reflect this is a critical success factors, yet too many companies ignore this aspect in the Excellence by Design efforts.

My point is the Excellence by Design must include these considerations in order to be effective.  Your ‘design’ for excellence must include ‘Service Excellence’  (principle #8 of the Excellence by Design principles. It must include a comprehensive approach to partnering and effective leverage of your customers (principle #3: Craftsmanship and Community) and it must help build a culture that is  comfortable working in an environment that embraces chaos, yet has effective controls to drive successfully to conclusion. (principle #1: Chaos vs Control).

Taking this broad approach to Excellence by Design will help you achieve success in today’s disruptive world that is more services oriented, collaborative, and innovative.

Mashups and Product as Platform

In a recent NYTimes blog post, Michael Zimbalist, vice president for research and development operations at the Times, discusses the potential for hardware to follow what has happened in software, in allowing unpredictable ‘mashups’.  While Mr. Zimbalist references the classic manufacturer driven integration, the more interesting aspect is the advent of consumer driven combination, as he states:

“The coupling or uncoupling of powerful hardware components is gradually shifting from the manufacturers to the consumer.”

From an Excellence by Design view this raises a few points of thought:

First, this is no surprise for two very basic reasons.  From a more recent history (i.e. information age) point of view, this is nothing more than the inevitable evolution of software recombination, (new hardware mashups are enabled in large part by the new software integration capability of that hardware) and is similar to  successful industry of ‘build your own PC’.  There is simply both past experience and better capability to do hardware mashups.

Second, to use my favorite analogy, is this any differ than the car industry, which has for years enjoyed a popular industry of ‘hot rods, ‘customs’, and ‘pimp my ride’ type mashups?  Americans in particular are extremely fond of modifying the factory product, whether for looks, performance, or simple uniqueness.  And it is not exclusive to autos and Americans. Motorcycles are another popular target for endless modification by the consumer, and the interest is worldwide.  So when ‘information technology mashups’ sounds new, remember its just a new version of a long held love.

Third, (and more to the point of Excellence by Design), what can we expect from this new application of user/owner ingenuity? Let’s take some lessons from what we have seen from the past in autos and motorcycles that I’ll refer to as:

Excellence by Design Rules for enabling Hardware Mashups

  • Hardware can be designed to well enable mashups, or not.  Think of tires, batteries, windshield wipers for your car, or seats, handlebars, and shocks for your motorcycle.  Pretty easy to change and customize.  In the case of tires it is because there are well accepted standards for size, attachment, and performance of the replacements parts, and ease of change by the consumer.
  • These ‘mashup enabling’ properties can be manufacturer driven, or industry driven.  Some manufactures will actually go to great lengths to enable external (business or consumer) modification for their products.  You can argue that the Apple iPhone Apps platform is a great example for software (though Apple has historically been very closed to hardware modification) as Windows was for the PC.  Speaking of the PC, the IBM compatible PC market is one that has, almost by accident, become the classic case of extreme hardware mashup/modification.
  • There can be great variation in the performance of mashups, due to interface issues, quality of the replacement parts, and the willingness of the original manufacturer to facilitate such mashups.  Think of the IBM S/370.  It spawned the first real market for computer hardware mashups, as ‘plug compatible’ replacements proliferated.  But IBM was not exactly supportive and sometimes changes in microcode (the first example of software that facilitated hardware mashups!) could negatively affect the performance of using a third party hardware product.  (note this became such a hot issue it was the core of many lawsuits…something that has and likely will again occur as hardware technology mashups proliferate)
  • In the end, success is very much about design.  Good design can facilitate mashups, ensure/preserve interface compatibility and performance, and enable extensions in compatible ways.  Poor design can significantly reduce performance, lead to unstable operation, or worse.  Its true in cars, motorcycles, mainframes, PC…and the new crop of iPhones, Nexus Ones, USB devices, etc.
  • Custom is interesting,  Factory is almost always more reliable, Industry evolution is best. Just like the examples in other industries, there is real advantage to the planning, design, and inherent focus that the manufacturer puts on theire product.  Mashups that leverage this and do so in approved ways are much more likely to be stable, those that are custom fabricated and integrated poorly are just asking for trouble.  But the efforts do lead to evolution, and the ‘industry’ as a whole can often mature to better and better means to enable stable and valuable mashups.  Such has happened in the auto industry, which enjoys a healthy, safe, and valuable after market parts industry.  Very true also of Harley Davidson, who, thru a combination of corporate desire, and relentless demand from its customers, spawned a huge market for hardware adds that range from super simple bolt-ons, to complex and sophisticated changes.
  • Success is reliant on designing your Product as Platform. This Excellence by Design principle supports the idea of thinking holistically about your product not as a standalone offering, but as a base for future extensibility, whether by tight integration, loose integration, or unanticipated mashups.  It enables more flexible and reliable mashups, and better enables your community to help drive your product into new, innovative markets and uses.


-‘Mashups’ are becoming more commonplace everyday, and done so by a wider variety of people (large companies, small companies, backyward mechanics, and even average consumers).

-Beware of the GREAT difference between mashups that are done well and with products designed for it, and those ‘backyard’ inventions whose wheels may fall of just miles down the road.

-Best case is to think of the mashup potential for your product, and intelligently embrace the potential through good design and market/customer enablement that supports and nurtures innovation.  This is strongly reflected in the Excellence by Design principle  Product as Platform.

In summary, Excellence in hardware mashups can be accomplished…by Design of your Product as Platform.  Hey, don’t just take my word for it…it has proven successful in other industries and will work well again for information technology.

Climate Change – Map of the Future

There is a new, way cool interactive map of the future of our planet’s climate. Check out the Map of the Future below.  This new tool was developed as part of an NSF sponsored traveling museum exhibit. The interface is really great.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The reason I mention it is also because the science for the climate calculations is based on Climate Interactive’s simulation tool — C-ROADS.  I was lucky enough to be part of the original team who helped craft the vision for the tool, which was based on absolute adherence to scientific accuracy, speedy execution, and (my main contribution) to do so using an ‘open’ design approach to enable future community based enhancements and innovative uses…like the Map of the Future.

I would argue that ‘Excellence’ in regards to this effort used many of the principles I have espoused in this blog.  We wanted to enable chaotic (i.e. unplanned, unexpected, innovative) uses of the simulation.  So we designed it as a platform so that others could (appropriately) extend its capability, usability, and impact.  We also wanted to ensure appropriate control so the team that developed the model ensured it has a robust scientific process for validation.

We also wanted to move climate simulation from a specialized craft that only deep scientists could deal with, to something speedy and easy to use (yet accurate), to broaden the community of people who could use the tool, and extend it.  As a result we created versions focused on learning, and versions focused on negotiating scenarios among countries.  The former case was used for the Map of the Future tool you see above.  The latter version has been used by various countries and most importantly, in the recent climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

My hat is off to Drew Jones who has been the leader of this whole effort.  Drew is dedicated and passionate, smart and pragmatic, willing to start simple yet pursue excellence.  Due to his efforts we were able to get some very different perspectives into the project and I think, achieve some real Excellence…by Design.

Bioengineering Excellence by Design

One of the industries I am personally interested in, having spent my last career role at Monsanto and with a son who is gaining his degree in the area, is biotechnology and especially given my own engineering background, bioengineering.

Bioengineering is the application of engineering principles to improve product design and production efficiency in the application of biology to new uses in medicine, agriculture, and other domains.  The biotechnology industry in general is still in the ‘pre-engineering’ stage, where the management, manipulation, and recombination of biological elements is largely manual, complex, laboratory activities requiring great care and special knowledge.

Compare this to the industrial age where parts were commonized and processes automated.  This enabled the transposition of core elements (chemical elements like iron, air, etc.) into generally usable materials (steel, screws, plastic, etc.) and then components (motors, transmissions, gauges, fabrics, etc.).  These were then combined into complex, yet resilient and reliable products (automobiles, refrigerators, furniture, etc.).  This process became commonplace, yielded high quality, and dramatically lowered costs to manufacture.

I recently listened to a lecture at MIT on Synthetic Biology by Drew Endy.  Drew is highly active in the bioengineering field.  With a background in Civil Engineering, he brings to biotechnology the interest to apply the same kind of engineering enablements that other fields have enjoyed.  Drew highlights four key engineering improvements that bioengineering can enable to move the field forward:

1)      Biosynthesis:  This is the act of using information and raw materials to essentially ‘manufacture’ DNA. The cost, ease, and effectiveness of this approach drastically changes the nature of bio creation from manual art to an engineering science.  It also calls lays open the door for the next three improvements.

2)      Standardization of Parts:  Like screws, or tires, or internet protocols, every industry that desires to grow must develop standards for parts and supplies.  The biotechnology area is still very immature in this regard.

3)      Abstraction of Components:  Every industry eventually seeks to combine details ‘under the covers’ and provide capability without need for detailed understanding of the internal mechanisms.  The Automobile industry perfected this and also the supply chain that provides the components.  The Information Age also leverages this:  your use of the browser to read this article relies on the interaction of millions of individual parts, yet the system works because its execution (and interfaces among them) has been abstracted across a relatively few set of standardized components.

4)      Decoupling the Process: Today’s biotechnologist must play the ‘Renaissance Man’ role and have many skills.  Mature industries have design, engineering, systems integration, manufacturing, maintenance, marketing, financial, legal, etc. decoupled, allowing simpler roles, greater specialization, and improvements in each.

Bottom line, biotechnology has yet to develop the engineering methods to enable that industry to make the same leap forward that the Industrial Age and the Information Age made.  But the recipe is similar.  Bioengineering of common parts and subsystems, means of exchange and communication, standards for quality and security, and even laws of ownership and licensing, all must be evolved.

The point is, Bioengineering has the challenge to improve the Excellence of Biotechnology by designing these types of systemic capabilities, methods, standards, so that this nascent industry can proceed in a more effective fashion.  ‘Effective’ here meaning to enable greater progress and utilization of its potential, while improving efficiency and cost, and enabling secure and rightful application.

Make no mistake, this is a huge challenge and  critically important.  The manipulation of DNA is moving from manual recombination (‘sequencing’) to true manufacturability (‘synthesis’).   While sequencing is still a bit of an art, attaining effective DNA synthesis will require bioengineering to enable ‘mass production’ in the same ways engineering improvements enabled the railroad, the automobile industry, and the Internet.

It is an exciting challenge for its potential, for the value that Excellence by Design can bring this critical new age.