Technology: Catching up with Human Behavior

What is the most expensive piece of real estate in the world?

Many know that it is – arguably – the white space on the Google home page. Obviously it was a user interface design principle laid out by the founders of Google to keep its interface as clean and simple as possible. We know that it is user centered design at work. The fonts, colors, sizes, layout and design of every single element on every single page of Google are known to be ideated, brainstormed, prototyped, tested, validated, fine tuned and refined before finally dishing it out to the end user. The objective: to facilitate the user’s interaction and her journey of finishing the task at hand without drawing unnecessary attention to itself.

  • That’s what has made Facebook dramatically redesign its interface – The Timeline
  • That’s what makes Twitter roll out changes/improvements in its interface on a continuous basis
  • That’s what makes Apple.com to be consistently ranked as the Best Designed Website in the world
  • That’s what stokes the passion flames in Mac fanatics and equally…
  • That’s what is creating great levels of anticipation for the next iteration of Microsoft Windows as it is slated to be a game changing redesign of its UI to what is called as the Metro interface.

That’s all good and inspiring. But if we take a step back and ask ourselves why is this so pertinent to the current world order, the answer could be simple. Information.

Simplistically put, computers, web portals, websites, web browsers and Operating Systems are nothing but our interfaces for information consumption, data processing and finally content creation. Given that the information that is becoming available online is growing by leaps and bounds by every passing second, it is but natural that user interface design takes utmost precedence. The goal: Facilitate information consumption to be as intuitive as possible.

What further complicates the access and consumption of this boundless information is this word called ‘social’. Given that information is increasingly taking social attributes and contexts of time and space (almost in real time) the complexity of information retrieval has seemingly multiplied over night. Hence the goal now is not just to make information consumption as intuitive as possible, but also as instinctive as possible.

For e.g. if you want to search for restaurants in a new town, you naturally Google for it, pick some names from the search results, read their reviews on Yelp and then choose one that looks promising for your needs and budget. Of course search engines are now dishing out the search results in such a way that all these activities can be collapsed to one single search action. That could be intuitive design at work.

Now comes the interesting part. What if you know of a friend who lives in that town or who had visited that town recently? Naturally you would give her a buzz and take her recommendations and bingo your search is complete! It is instinctive of us to seek out references/ advice / suggestions to many things that we search for from the people that we know and trust. That’s how we fundamentally seek out information.

Sounds very natural isn’t it? Only, our online search experience has been antithetical to this very social attribute that we humans are instinctively used to. Not any more, the guys at Microsoft seem to say. See the video here.

In what looks like a paradigm shift in search, Bing has announced today that it is soon going to make search socially relevant to you like never before. Read the full story on this post on Bing’s blog.

This has many interesting ramifications.

  1. Everyone is now a key influencer: If I like Nikon on my Facebook page, a friend of mine searching for this brand on Bing could potentially get to know of my affiliation to this brand and can thereby start a conversation with me. And given that I already ‘like’ Nikon, chances that I would recommend this brand to her are high.
  2. Marketing on Facebook can now become even more challenging (and expensive): Facebook ‘Likes’ can become much more valuable than they are now and could even be monetized a la AdWords
  3. Online Privacy: Online privacy is slated to become even more complex and interesting as Social Networks evolve into these bigger entities
  4. Trust, Connection and Attention as the core assets of ‘connection economy’ can be radially redefined (for good or for worse)
  5. Mashup: This could open up very interesting possibilities of mashing up info from geo tagged sources, social networks, along with conventional web pages to make search results even more relevant and contextual in terms of time, space and connections.
Facebook is known to quote often that “Technology is now catching up with human behavior”. And today they seemed to have proven this again with Microsoft.
I Like!

Power of Imagination. Unleashed

It’s funny – I just realized a recent happening in the world of brands that has, in a queer way, connected my previous 2 blog posts.

Speaking about Apple and Minimalism, I have posted designer Wonchan Lee’s much acclaimed minimalistic posters that are inspired from Pixar’s famous characters.

You would see that in each of these posters, Wonchan Lee has sought to, and incredibly succeeded at, bringing out  the personality of each character by using almost only the eyes, and leaves no doubt about who these characters are (to someone who is familiar with these movies – Up, Wall-E, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc, Monsters Inc (Sully), Toy Story, Ratatouille and Finding Nemo – in that order). His website says that each of these posters come in Synthetic Matt finish and an A3 size comes for 25$. Given the pull factor that these minimalist posters could have, as they challenge the viewer and plays with his/her imagination, I am sure these would have many takers – potentially also spawning fakes!

Cut to my previous post on brands that use the inherent limitations/constraints of their ‘system’ to create a commonly identifiable set of shared experiences among the user base and thereby make ‘tribes’ of them. One of the examples that I wrote about was Lego – a brand that was literally built by its famous and consistent ‘Lego bricks’. My argument was, given that each of these bricks are functionally similar to each other (for over decades!), they come with very similar set of capabilities and constraints for any given user across the world. Thereby any interesting possibility that can be realized out of these bricks tends to be limited only by the user’s imagination and subsequently spurs the other members of the tribe as an inspiration or a challenge. If you stop for a moment and reflect upon these dynamics, it would be evident that Lego is also speaking (in a focussed way) to an adult (as a potential consumer), an adult who loves to exercise his creative/exploratory capabilities to his/her ‘playful fullness’; an adult who is imaginative and yes fun loving.

Probably it is along these lines that Lego has commissioned the following line of Print Ads with the help of an agency named Jung von Matt.

(Source)

Essentially, these are minimalistic interpretations of popular cartoon-characters. Can you guess who’s who? I loved their simplicity and the power of imagination that is evoked by these executions. Squarely hits at the bulls eye of their ‘adults’ target group and seeks an undivided quantum of their attention by means of this ‘Guess-Who’ kind of dialogue/challenge that they are playfully throwing at them.

Being, not super comic-savvy, I set out to Google around and tried to build parallels with the actual cartoon characters referenced in these executions. Following is what I could knit together as an exercise for myself.

(Cartoon referenced: South Park)

(Cartoon referenced: Uncle Scrooge and the nephews: Huey, Dewey, and Louie)

(Cartoon referenced: The Simpsons) – this is my 2nd favourite!

(Cartoon referenced: Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix)

(Cartoon referenced: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) – this is my 1st favourite!

(Cartoon referenced: Bert and Ernie)

I should say that I am very inspired by this upcoming trend in brand communications that seeks to engage the consumer, grab an undivided pie of their attention (even if it is for a sliver of a moment) and evoke their imagination so that they discover something by themselves and thereby are entertained.

That is the power of imagination. Unleashed.

Minimalism and Apple

As I write this, Gizmodo shares an update that the latest version of the iPad could actually be called as the iPad HD (as opposed to iPad 3 or iPad 2S). I refresh my browser a number of times as I try to get all updates from the live blogs from gizmodo, wsj, cnet etc that are chronicling the event as it unfolds.

OK, the iPad HD (or is it?) release is just a couple of minutes away and I know that by the time anyone reads this post, the new iPad and a host of the other products from the Apple Stable would be announced by Tim Cook.

An observation that I have on the eve of the announcement:

This is one of those ‘new product announcements’ from Apple in the run up to which, there had always been a near synchronous, peaceful and a calm prediction on what could this next big thing be, from a number of expected sources. Relative to the previous events at this famous Yerba Buena Center for Arts, this is one event regarding which there has been very little debate, argument, disagreement, flight of wild fantasies etc on the shape and form of the things to come.

This is not to say that there is little excitement or any less eager sense of anticipation from the market, media and the consumers. This is one event that would be watched, dissected, analysed and evaluated on various counts – How would Tim Cook carry this off? How much more would the Apple Share price grow? To what greater degree would the traditional business models like books, TV, Cable be affected? Who are the new partners? And finally and more importantly for how much and when can I get my new iPad?

But, this definitely would be remembered as a launch event that was devoid of the kind of buzz, noise and the crazy and sometimes hysterical levels of anticipation that normally precede the actual event. I have always believed that it was this eclectic and testosterone charged set of rumour mills, discussion forums, blog posts, twitter feeds, photo shopped predictions regarding the next big thing that had actually stoked the fanaticism that only kept growing for the brand exponentially – event after event. It was these word of mouth, PR, earned and owned media components that have helped grow and build the brand equity of Apple event after event – duly supported and sustained by the product quality of these products.

Now, if these levels of ‘near stoicism’ and ‘no-brainer predictions’ prevail in the subsequent product launches too, I am afraid if the turbo charged growth engine – that Apple brand has been so far – would run out of its much needed fuel to get its share price touch $ 1000.

Neither Apple as a brand or its product experiences are to be blamed for any of this dumbed down levels of  mass hysterics. In fact all of these products are known to duly stand up to or often out pace the consumer expectations giving them sheer pleasure of usage. However there is one thing that is to be blamed. And that ironically is..

Apple’s Minimalism!

This post, is one of the truly fantastic and insightful commentaries on why Apple’s gospel of minimalism could actually constrain the brand in the long term. The iPad 2 is a minimalist in its design and so was the original iPad. So for any subsequent relaunches of the iPad, given that Apple has an all encompassing design ethic that  spans across every single gadget, it would be a philistine to itself if it dramatically changes its fundamental design strokes that define and characterizes its products. Result: a set of design tweaks that are extremely conservative and again minimalistic in degree. Besides, given the prominence and the centrality that ‘the screen’ has (for good) in most Apple products, the actual real estate available for the designers to play around with is dramatically on the decline. The result: innovations that are mostly under the hood coupled with minimal physical changes that are often millimeters or centimeters in their definition. This had been the case with the iPhone 4S release too and could possibly repeat itself at different instances in the future.

I am very eager to see the ‘real next generation product’ launches from a brand like Apple as opposed these incremental improvements it makes riding on the Moore’s Law.

Bonus read: Speaking of minimalism and Apple, I couldn’t resist myself from posting this link. Check out the minimalist designs of the popular PIXAR Characters. Do read this nice piece of commentary here praising the genius of the designer Wonchan Lee.