Ignite Show: Jeff Veen on Great Designers

Good designers copy. Great designers steal.

In this week’s Ignite Show Jeff Veen, well-known for his design work on Google Analytics, Wikirank and Typekit, lays out a strong argument for why iPhone imitators are the cargo cults of the digital era. The people building touchscreen knock-offs don’t understand what makes the iPhone great. So instead of creating an end-to-end service they attempt to imitate it’s flashiest features – kind of like Pacific Islanders who built “planes” out of bamboo.

Wikipedia provides further context for the use of the term cargo cults in this way.

From time to time, the term “cargo cult” is invoked as an English language idiom to mean any group of people who imitate the superficial exterior of a process or system without having any understanding of the underlying substance. The error of logic made by the islanders consisted of mistaking a necessary condition (i.e., building airstrips, control towers, etc.) for cargo to come flying in, for a sufficient condition for cargo to come flying in, thereby reversing the causation. On a lower level, they repeated the same error by e.g. mistaking the necessary condition (i.e. build something that looks like a control tower) for building a control tower, for a sufficient condition for building a control tower.

The inception of cargo cults often is defined as being based on a flawed model of causation, being the confusion between the logical concepts of necessary condition and sufficient condition when aiming to obtain a certain result. Based on this definition, the term “cargo cult” also is used in business and science to refer to a particular type of fallacy whereby ill-considered effort and ceremony take place but go unrewarded due to flawed models of causation as described above. For example, Maoism has been referred to as “cargo cult Marxism”[citation needed], and New Zealand’s optimistic adoption of liberal economic policies in the 1980s as “cargo cult capitalism”.[citation needed]

This episode of the Ignite Show was filmed at Ignite SF. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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