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Four short links: 24 November 2014

Four short links: 24 November 2014

Magic Leap, Constant Improvement, Philanthropofallacies, and Chinese Manufacturing

  1. How Magic Leap is Secretly Creating a New Alternate Reality (Gizmodo) — amazing piece of investigative tech journalism.
  2. Better All The Time (New Yorker) — What we’re seeing is, in part, the mainstreaming of excellent habits. […] Everyone works hard. Everyone is really good.
  3. Stop Trying to Save the World (New Republic) — What I want to talk shit on is the paradigm of the Big Idea—that once we identify the correct one, we can simply unfurl it on the entire developing world like a picnic blanket. (note: some pottymouth language in this article, and some analysis I wholeheartedly agree with.)
  4. Christmas in YiwuWe travelled by container ship across the East China Sea before following the electronics supply chain around China, visiting factories, distributors, wholesalers and refineries. Fascinating! 22km of corridors in the mall that dollar store buyers visit to fill their shelves. I had never seen so many variations of the same product. Dozens of Christmas stockings bearing slightly different Santas and snowmen. Small tweaks on each theme. An in-house designer creates these designs. It feels like a brute force approach to design, creating every single possibility and then letting the market decide which it wants to buy. If none of the existing designs appeal to a buyer they can get their own designs manufactured instead. When a custom design is successful, with the customer placing a large order, it is copied by the factory and offered in their range to future buyers. The factory sales agent indicated that designs weren’t protected and could be copied freely, as long as trademarks were removed. Parallels with web design left as exercise to the reader. (via the ever-discerning Mr Webb)
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Today’s designers are solving business problems

Tom Greever talks about the evolution of experience design and the challenges — and opportunities — facing designers today.

It’s no secret that design is playing a more prominent role within many organizations. Designers are becoming fundamentally linked to the development and success of products and services versus their more historical role polishing the appearance of those products and services. I recently sat down with Tom Greever, UX Director at Bitovi, to talk about the evolution of UX design, challenges that design professionals face today, and some of the keys to the success of the modern UX designer. Greever describes the evolution:

“Traditionally, the only problem we were trying to solve was to make something look better. It was a problem of just aesthetics, but now our designs have to solve for things like ease of use, or conversion, or user engagement. We’re solving business problems. We’re helping businesses achieve their goals through design, and if we can’t do that, then our designs aren’t any good. We’re not creating the right experience. They’re not providing value.”

Read more…

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The science of moving dots: the O’Reilly Data Show Podcast

Rajiv Maheswaran talks about the tools and techniques required to analyze new kinds of sports data.

Editor’s note: you can subscribe to the O’Reilly Data Show Podcast through SoundCloud or through our RSS feed.

Many data scientists are comfortable working with structured operational data and unstructured text. Newer techniques like deep learning have opened up data types like images, video, and audio.

Other common data sources are garnering attention. With the rise of mobile phones equipped with GPS, I’m meeting many more data scientists at start-ups and large companies who specialize in spatio-temporal pattern recognition. Analyzing “moving dots” requires specialized tools and techniques. A few months ago, I sat down with Rajiv Maheswaran founder and CEO of Second Spectrum, a company that applies analytics to sports tracking data. Maheswaran talked about this new kind of data and the challenge of finding patterns:

“It’s interesting because it’s a new type of data problem. Everybody knows that big data machine learning has done a lot of stuff in structured data, in photos, in translation for language, but moving dots is a very new kind of data where you haven’t figured out the right feature set to be able to find patterns from. There’s no language of moving dots, at least not that computers understand. People understand it very well, but there’s no computational language of moving dots that are interacting. We wanted to build that up, mostly because data about moving dots is very, very new. It’s only in the last five years, between phones and GPS and new tracking technologies, that moving data has actually emerged.”

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Uber is breaking bad

Uber has built a great service. Why do they feel the need to use dirty tricks to succeed?

Light_artifacts_sfullenwider_Flickr

Tim O’Reilly has said that Uber is an example of designing for how the world ought to be. Their app works well, their cars are clean, their drivers are pleasant, and they usually arrive quickly. But more goes into the experience of a company than just an app. Corporate behavior is also part of the company’s design; perhaps not as noticeable as their Android or iPhone app, but a very real part. That’s where Uber falls down. They have increasingly been a bad actor, on many counts:

I could go on (advertising hot female drivers, abuses of their privacy policy, and more), but I won’t. You get the point. This is #GamerGate, but with a $17 billion valuation behind it. Read more…

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Safari for Schools: Free O’Reilly material for K-12

Safari is offering O’Reilly books and videos for free to every K-12 student and teacher in the U.S.

This past February, Tim O’Reilly brought me into an email thread with the White House with a straightforward but urgent request — could Safari provide the delivery mechanism to make all of O’Reilly Media’s titles available to every K–12 student in America? Commitments to the President’s “ConnectED” program were lined up from a number of software, hardware, and networking companies, but connected devices would be much more useful with content included. We’re proud that we were able to say yes to something so important — and on such short notice.

It made sense for Safari to deliver on O’Reilly’s commitment, as our business is providing online access to thousands of the best books and training courses to companies and organizations of all sizes. But as we started unpacking the particulars, we uncovered more complexity than we expected. For example, there are tens of thousands of school districts across the country, each with their own IT infrastructure. It simply wouldn’t scale if providing access to every student also meant working directly with every school or district. Compliance with a set of regulations designed to protect children’s privacy (known as COPPA) meant that we couldn’t simply open up our standard platform to students.

Constraints can be wonderful in focusing attention, and fortunately the outstanding team at Safari was up for the challenge. By September 1, we had quietly opened up a beta site where any high school student could apply for access to the full collection of O’Reilly books and videos.

In conjunction with today’s White House event promoting “Future Ready Schools,” I’m thrilled to say that we have delivered on the pledge to make the full catalog of O’Reilly books and videos available for free to any K–12 student in America, more than a month ahead of our original January 2015 promise.

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The intersection of data and design is equal parts art and science

Data-informed design is a framework to hone understanding of customer behavior and align teams with larger business goals.

Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from our forthcoming book Designing with Data; it is part of a free curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library — download a free copy of the Experience Design ebook here.

The phrase “data driven” has long been part of buzzword-bingo card sets. It’s been heard in the halls of the web analytics conference eMetrics for more than a decade, with countless sessions aimed at teaching audience members how to turn their organizations into data-driven businesses.

When spoken of in a positive light, the phrase data driven conjures visions of organizations with endless streams of silver-bullet reports — you know the ones: they’re generally entitled something to the effect of “This Chart Will Help Us Fix Everything” and show how a surprise change can lead to a quadrillion increase in revenue along with world peace.

When spoken of in a negative light, the term is thrown around as a descriptor of Orwellian organizations with panopticon-level data collection methods, with management imprisoned by relentless reporting, leaving no room for real innovation.

Evan Williams, founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium, made an apt comment about being data driven:

I see this mentality that I think is common, especially in Silicon Valley with engineer-driven start-ups who think they can test their way to success. They don’t acknowledge the dip. And with really hard problems, you don’t see market success right away. You have to be willing to go through the dark forest and believe that there’s something down there worth fighting the dragons for, because if you don’t, you’ll never do anything good. I think it’s kind of problematic how data-driven some companies are today, as crazy as that sounds.”

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