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Serious Play – How the Best Companies Simulate to Innovate April 1, 2012

Posted by matthewsander in Creative leadership, Creativity, Design Thinking, [Books] Ways of Thinking.
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Models are efficient tools of collaboration. So says Michael Schrage. His book, “Serious Play,” is about building many models, prototypes, simulations – and using these tools for all the learning, sharing, and forecasting they can provide.


“Serious Play” tackles the goals and pitfalls of modeling. It focuses on the diverse roles of modeling, and on the interplay between simulation, communication, and innovation. The book encourages rapid prototypes and simulations as tools to facilitate collaboration between groups. This is where “play” fits in. Collaboration, ideation, enhancement, and the simple fun of trying new things each have a role in the process “Serious Play” advocates.

Through anecdotes and case studies, Schrage explains modeling, simulating, and prototyping, and emphasizes how the three tools of “Serious Play” can promote collaboration between engineering, manufacturing, design and management. Numerous styles are mentioned, including: spreadsheets, 2D and 3D electronic drawings, sculpted models, printed prototypes, and manufactured prototypes. Costs and benefits are associated with each.

According to Schrage, creating value is the essence of the prototype. With each cycle of prototyping comes the opportunity to improve the quality of the product. More than just quality, however, rapid prototyping can allow a variety of different focuses. Improvements, cost reductions, and product enhancements can all be explored through iterations of the prototyping process.

Image of the rapid prototyping process encouraged by Schrage

"Think of the extra cycles as currency: each additional cycle can ‘purchase’ a product improvement, cost reduction, or a speedup.” (Schrage, P. 98)

While collaboration and value creation are each big picture goals of prototyping, many pitfalls also exist. These pitfalls can hinder the value of a prototype. “Serious Play” suggests avoiding models that have no inherent purpose, that fail to benefit a particular party, that are too elaborate to effectively use, and that fail to facilitate a discussion between different product teams. The book also argues that the value of each model should be considered and evaluated by realistic business metrics.


Schrage’s style is almost exclusively anecdotal. "Serious Play" is full of insightStories of product designers, modelers, and innovators blend together as the book progresses, and behind each story lies a hidden gem of insight. Each insight is as valuable as the last; creatively achieved, and relevant to the real world. Schrage argues effectively for the value prototypes bring to communication and collaboration, and for the value that cheap modeling has brought to the economics of business.

It isn't clear how every insight fits into the thesis of each chapterThe book’s value is in its insights. But while very insightful, it struggles with organization. At times the book loses itself in its anecdotes, and fails to thematically tie its insights together into coherent themes. Selected blurbs are blocked out of the page, and are as likely to agree with a poignant point as they are to summarize an anecdote, repeat a commentary, or make their own point. The problem with this is that, although the points are insightful in themselves, it becomes difficult for the reader to quickly grasp where each point fits into the bigger picture.

The book is a model built for communicating opportunities in modelingThe book seems determined to offer ideas for a multitude of scenarios, model types, and businesses, and in so doing loses some focus. However, the variety of business practices, prototyping styles, and methodologies help provide a examples, or if you will, a “model” for a large section of reader needs. The variety allows the savvy reader to re-read particular sections that may apply specifically to their business strategy, and to pick up general practice techniques as they go along. This should be beneficial to the sect of readers who are currently exploring prototyping within their business model, and for those of us interested in ideology that guides when, where and how we should prototype.

Fortunately for those of us “time-pressed” innovators, Schrage recognizes that “Serious Play” is not easy for everyone to quickly read and apply. He recommends that some of us instead read “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Innovators,” or “The One Minute Modeler.” For the generalist, looking for tools to apply, I agree. However, to give us some quick tips, Schrage concludes his book with a “User Guide,” where he outlines specific steps that even the time-pressed can take to seriously play.


The Five Personalities of Innovators: Which One Are You? March 23, 2012

Posted by Marta Karolak in Uncategorized.

Two days ago Forbes ran an article with the above title.  The piece touched upon many of the topics that we discussed with Carl Bass during our visit to Autodesk earlier this week. Here are a couple of ideas and quotes I wanted to highlight:

A company needs a balance of innovators and “non-innovators” to thrive 

The Forbes study (upon which the article is based)…..”isolates and identifies five major personalities crucial to fostering a healthy atmosphere of innovation within an organization. Some are more entrepreneurial, and some more process-oriented – but all play a critical role in the process. To wit: thinkers need doers to get things done, and idealists need number crunchers to tether them to reality.Though it may seem stymieing at times, in any healthy working environment, a tension between the risk-takers and the risk-averse must exist; otherwise, an organization tilts too far to one extreme or the other and either careens all over the place or moves nowhere at all. An effective and productive culture of innovation is like a good minestrone soup: it needs to have the right mix and balance of all the ingredients, otherwise it’s completely unsuccessful, unbalanced — and downright mushy.”

Corporate culture definitely impacts innovation

…..”the corporate environment – is a stealth factor that can make or break the potential of even the most innovative individual. Look at it this way: a blue whale is the largest animal known ever to have existed, but if you tried to put it in a freshwater lake, it wouldn’t survive. Well, that and it would displace a lot of water. My point? Even the largest and mightiest of creatures can’t thrive in an environment that doesn’t nurture them.”

Here’s the link to the full article (so that you can check out which one of the five personality types you are!): http://www.forbes.com/sites/brennasniderman/2012/03/21/the-five-personalities-of-innovators-which-one-are-you/

Experience Design (2001 Edition) – Nathan Shedroff March 20, 2012

Posted by Marta Karolak in Uncategorized.



At its core, Experience Design by Nathan Shedroff is about conveying the power of experience and illuminating to readers how understanding that can be leveraged in design. The author’s ingoing premise is that everything = experience.  To that end the layout of the book itself is intended to demonstrate the concept.  – The book’s only table of contents is presented non-sequentially on the front cover, and chapter demarcations are obscured. –  Within the pages of the book the author demonstrates his point further on two levels: 1) by an array of visuals and typography convened on the pages, and 2) by offering countless experience examples (almost 1 on each page of the book) ranging from his visit to the Institute de Monde Arabe in Paris to the NASA J-Track website to a close-up of the 1040EZ tax form.  He uses each example to highlight various concepts relevant to design.  The range of topics is broad, including such things as product taxonomies, taste, user behavior, subjectivity, and cognitive models.  To a large extent, the examples are left to speak for themselves without explicit explanations for their inclusion.  Thus, each reader is invited to contemplate and digest individually, partaking in the experience design experiment that is the book. To view several images of page layouts from the book, please visit www.experiencedesignbooks.com.

Critical analysis

The concepts Shedroff presents, while rooted in his background and particular segments of the design world, seem relevant for all design disciplines and actually to life and human interaction overall.  There were two that I found particularly engaging. 

The first is the distinction and relationship Shedroff draws between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom.  One moves along the chain by adding context and understanding. Image

Shedroff is critical of the data overload in our society.  However, he also states that as we move along this spectrum we move from more generalized to more personal contexts: “Wisdom is so personal that it cannot be shared with people.”  That begs the question of how we are supposed to share meaning and not just data or information?  Won’t we necessarily be presenting our very subjective perspectives and interpretations the further right we try to move along that chain?  What is the optimal point and method for allowing people to formulate their own opinions?  Storytelling & conversation are held up as models for creating context for individuals and allowing them to connect to data and information.  I understand and appreciate the power of these tools, but also immediately think of modern day television “news” programs, whether liberal or conservative, and the amount of story telling and opinion that is currently offered as “facts”.  In the end, though, it seems that truth can be obscured by false data or false stories so it is better to place data in context and relay things in ways that are more approachable and digestable as Shedroff proposes.

The second concept that particularly caught my attention is experiential learning, which the author regards as the best way to convey knowledge.  I agree and couldn’t help but think of the changes to the Haas curriculum in the last two years that embrace that perspective.  All MBA students are now required to take Problem Finding/Problem Solving (which introduces students to concepts and methodologies of Design Thinking) and at least one experiential learning course (e.g. Entrepreneurship, Haas@Work).  I also couldn’t help but think of the various theories and approaches to primary education in the U.S. that I have researched for personal reasons over the last year.  Only one, Waldorf, seems to have its foundation in experiential learning.   Disciplines such as handwork (woodworking, sewing) and eurythmy (a movement art) are part of the core curriculum for children in grades 1-8.  Interestingly, Waldorf education simultaneously eschews much of today’s technology for this same age group, in part because of the data overload that it introduces into children’s lives.  An October 2011 NY Times article discussed why many of today’s top tech leaders in the Silicon Valley are choosing Waldorf education for their own children: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html?pagewanted=all

I would be curious to hear Shedroff’s thoughts on the intersection of education and technology, which is obviously central to his career and many of the perspectives presented in the book. 

My appreciation for the concepts Shedroff chose to highlight is offset by the design of the book itself.  On one hand the layout is thought provoking.  On the other hand, that same layout and more specifically the design of individual pages, seems to precisely miss on the author’s key point regarding experience design: “Experience design is the deliberate, careful creation of a total experience for an audience.” 

While the layout makes the book very accessible – it is easy to flip to any given page for a free-standing example or takeaway on design – it is not conducive to painting a coherent story or drawing the reader into a narrative.  One can equally easily set the book down after flipping through several pages.  This is especially true since many examples seem disjointed – profound reflections on the constancy of human birth and death are followed abruptly by a page featuring match.com.  Perhaps these examples could be better leveraged if the author integrated them somewhat with one another or linked them more directly to the core concept of their “chapter” (whose theme is completely unapparent when one is on either of those given pages)? 

The downside of the layout is exacerbated by the poor aesthetic of many individual pages.  There is simply too much small text everywhere Ironically, there is data and sensory overload – the presentation is not simple or clean (akin to bad PPT presentations), challenging some basis fundamental concepts of “good design.”Image

It is hard to absorb messages when they are presented in such a way and I am perplexed by the author’s choice to communicate this way.  What should we make of these types of pages?Image

Are they intended as examples of what NOT to do?  Of how bad design can completely miss delivery of its message because many readers may simply disengage from the experience and flip past such “messy” pages? 

What is the value & relevance of this book?

The book uses examples from the time of its creation to illuminate broader concepts that could be applied to any design process, at any time.  The specific examples, however, make it very much a book of its time.  When it was published in 2001, it must have been very much at the cutting edge of an intersection of various design disciplines (interaction design, information design) and the internet explosion.  Much of the discussion in the book and the examples used focus around websites or tech devices prevalent at the time (e.g. Blackberry).  Reading the book today almost feels like a visit to an information design/internet museum of the late 1990s.  It is fun, but raises the question whether the book is still useful 11 years later or whether it is now dated.  (That is likely the reason the book was re-published with new examples in 2009).  It is also hard to overlook the difficulties the layout of the book poses since its design is so intricately intertwined with the topic the book presents. 

I would recommend the book to anyone looking for a coffee-table addition of “soundbites” for reflection on design.  As stated previously, one doesn’t have to read the book sequentially.  Flipping to any given page will do.  I would not, however, recommend the book to anyone looking for an introduction or comprehensive discussion of concepts and methodologies relevant to the design field.  It is too confusing and busy to serve that purpose.

If you do choose to read the book, I offer the following user experience assessment diagram from Peter Morville of Semantic Studios for evaluating the book:



The Design of Everyday Things – Don Norman March 11, 2012

Posted by dairui72 in Design Thinking, Design-related Books, [Books] Ways of Thinking.


The Design of Everyday things is an absolute classic in the arena of design and psychology. It was written by Don Norman and first published in 1988. The book has a good balance between theories and examples, most of which are industrial designs and products. Because of the broad range of design topics covered in the book, there is no single author’s point of view except that the design should be user centered – Norman argues issues and principles of product design from the user’s perspective and uses psychological models to explain usability and good designs.

The most important concepts (in my opinion) of design psychology include affordances, models, and mapping.

Affordance is the “perceived and actual properties of the thing”. For example, we know to turn the knob on a door (instead of pushing it or applying other actions) because the knob “affords” turning. The lesson for designers, therefore, is that the shape and build of a product can convey meaning and usage to its user.

Next, Norman argues that the design of a product is the conceptual model of the designer. The design (or presentation) essentially conveys that model to the user, who may or may not develop the same user’s model, which is a result of experiences and perceptions. When the two models mismatch, the product is perceived with poor usability. Then how to develop a better conceptual model? One solution is through natural mapping, a “close, natural relationship between the control and its function”.

Among other issues Norman also dedicates a whole chapter talking about errors. Norman categorizes errors into slips and mistakes: the former being errors from subconscious actions and the latter being errors from conscious deliberations. “To err is human” and as designers we should be proactively thinking about how to design better products to prevent and be able to correct human errors.

Critical analysis
The theories that Norman introduces in the book are valid and fundamental to better understand design from a user-oriented perspective. However, I argue that they are necessary but hardly sufficient to understand the full picture.

Affordance as a concept is centered on the product, emphasizing the physical design of the product conveys certain properties. It is a powerful tool and I use it to look at a familiar product that we take for granted and think of the design that goes into it. For example, we twist and turn the cap of a bottle because the round shape affords turning. We flip open the cap of a shampoo because that particular cap affords to do so.

However, assessing a product by its affordances does not take into account the context in which the product is used. A product can be used in very different ways in reality and can even be repurposed to achieve a drastically different goal. For example, when a water bottle is considered poorly designed by itself, should it still be considered poorly designed when it is not used as a water container but a vase?

With regard to the different conceptual models, a takeaway that I recognize is that as designers of a complex product or system we know it inside out; we know a great many details of how the system solves a problem and we can be inclined to present the product the same way to the end user, who, on the other hand, often only cares about the end result. Therefore, the way to present a system should not necessarily be the same way we design it or the way we solve the problem; rather, the presentation should always be user centered; keep it simple and intuitive.

For a current day example, think about the BART ticketing kiosk. To get a one-way ticket from SFO to Powell, a visitor/user needs to look up the exact dollar amount of the trip separately and enter that amount into the kiosk. But the dollar amount is just part of the solution to the user’s problem: I want to get from point A from point B! The design of the kiosk clearly does not match the user’s model. On the other hand, the best metro kiosk interface I have seen is one where I as a user can simply select my destination on the screen from a map and continue to payment. The control is the map of the metro system, which naturally maps to the function of the kiosk and also my need of getting from where I am to some other point on the map.

On the other hand, I do not think Norman has given enough elaboration on the role of a user’s cultural experiences when forming a conceptual model. There were some generalized discussions in terms of cultural constraints and social behaviors, but I think these factors largely determine how the product is being adopted and used in reality. How they actually help form the user’s model can be explored further.
Not saying that Norman should have included all these issues for the book to be valid, I think it is necessary for readers of the book to recognize them and be able to think about design in an even bigger context.

What is the value of this book?

The book offers valuable frameworks, guidelines, and concepts to product design. Like the book title suggests, these concepts are easily applicable to everyday things. A reader will be able to look beyond just the presentation and aesthetics of a product and practice critical design thinking.

The book joins tangible designs with abstract theories of psychology and it presents both aspects cohesively in a way that is also easy to understand. The theories provide insights into issues such as: How does the designer of a product communicate to the end users? How to make products intuitive to use? How to avoid and recover from errors?

What is the relevance of the book?

The book is highly relevant to our daily life, whether we are trained designers or not. Examples of everyday things such as doors and stoves are easily relatable and they make the book very easy to read. Users of a product no longer have to always blame themselves for not being able to use the product or when they make mistakes – maybe it is the designer’s fault! After reading this book I have become an avid critique of everyday things and I am able to appreciate good designs much more. For example, I went to my kitchen to inspect the conceptual model and mapping of my stoves, which turned out to have the “full natural mapping” as per Figure 3.5 – no wonder they were easy to use. The theories really come alive and I actually enjoy practicing them. In conclusion, the book is highly recommended.

The book has a few limitations, however. It is unfortunate that it was published over 20 years ago and a lot of the examples, although useful, are a bit outdated. When I was reading I could not help but wonder whether some of the problems are still common challenges for today’s designers and/or users, and whether developments that took place in the past 20 years brought up new challenges. In addition, the book centers on industrial design, but in today’s world which heavily runs on computer systems, it is necessary to understand how well the book’s concepts apply to software systems. Last, the book does not offer a methodology of how to come up with a good design. The concepts are good foundations and frameworks to evaluate existing work, but they do not necessarily “teach” someone how to know what the customers want, how to design iteratively, etc. It is difficult to turn some of the theories into actions.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson March 11, 2012

Posted by doviknissim in Design Thinking, Design-related Books, [Books] Leadership & Change, [Books] Ways of Thinking.
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“Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do”
(Apple’s “Think Different” campaign, 1997)

I’ll begin with a confession – Steve Jobs was my hero! I found his unique personality fascinating. On one hand, he was the genius with the Midas touch, the man who discovered the secret sauce for designing great products and the subject of legends while still alive. On the other, Steve Jobs was notoriously known for his bad temper and controversial character He was a very difficult man to work with. These contrasts generated a colorful personality that is normally attributed to great leaders and crazy inventors. When I learned that Mr. Isaacson wrote this book at the request of Steve Jobs and with his cooperation, I was eager to learn more about who Steve Jobs really was and what was his secret sauce.


“Steve Jobs” – the book tells the life-story of Steve Jobs and the stories of the companies and products he created. It is beautifully written. Isaacson uses simple language and simple story telling techniques to tell the tale of a complex man. He uses a chronological order, combining commentary from Jobs, his friends, his family, his co-workers, and his enemies, who offer contextual information that ties these beautiful stories to the man and his reputation. The author strips Jobs from his celebrity status and knowingly pays attention to the man behind the curtain, emphasizing that Jobs is not the “Wizard of Oz”

Critical Analysis:

The book gains credibility as it portrays and contrasts both sides of Jobs’s personality: The brilliant creator whose outstanding products changed our lives versus the obnoxious, untrustworthy, manipulator who stole ideas from others. In that sense the book does justice with some of the talented people that worked with Jobs and were hardly recognized. A great example for that is Jony Ive, Apple’s VP of industrial design and the man who should be credited as the designer of the iPhone.

But the book is not perfect. I was particularly disappointed with the author’s failure to pursue and document Jobs’s “secret sauce” for designing great products. While many believe that Jobs only used his intuition, there are indications that he had a set of clear, well-defined design rules (a.k.a. “the secret sauce”). An example for that is the story of both Jony Ive and Steve Jobs separately picking up a beautifully crafted knife in admiration, and then dropping it with disappointment, pointing out the same reason that made the knife’s design flawed. These rules should have been tracked and shared as Jobs’s legacy, as his gift to mankind. The author failed to realize that.

Another disappointing fact is the author’s failure to bring John Scully’s point of view. John Scully was Apple’s Former CEO and the man who mentored Jobs for a while, later on he publicly clashed with Jobs, and finally ousted him from Apple. John Scully played a pivotal role in Jobs’s life and Jobs even mentioned him at his Stanford commencement speech. The choice not to bring his perspective was a poor one.

The Story:

The book begins with a wonderful historical overview of how a beautiful valley filled with apricot and plum orchards boomed to become the Silicon Valley. The author walks us through how it all started when Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett launched their company at a Palo Alto Shed and how Stanford created an industrial park for companies to commercialize students’ ideas, opening the door for a booming economy based on technology – A great read for all residents of the bay area.

The author uses stories to rationalize Jobs’s complex personality. A good example is Jobs’s famous “reality distortion field” (e.g. his ability ignore certain realities when he didn’t like them or when he thought they were insignificant, like his cancer). The author uses the story of how Jobs’s foster parents treated him as the “chosen one” to rationalize Jobs’s belief that certain realities did not apply to him as he was “enlightened”

Similarly, the author tries to track the origins of Jobs’s design perceptions. He describes how Jobs’s father, while building a fence around their house, taught him how important it was to perfectly craft even the parts you could not see. The author also mentioned Jobs’s admiration to the clean design of his childhood home (built by Joseph Eichler) that instilled on him a passion for making great designs at an affordable price for the mass market. Furthermore the author ties Jobs love for simplicity, utility, and beauty to his trip to India to search for enlightenment and his interest in Zen Buddhism.

The author uses the early years of Apple to emphasize Jobs’s unique understanding of user needs and market trends, his strategic thinking, and his business sense – Apple wouldn’t have existed without these “superpowers”. Conversely, the author uses Jobs’s ousting from Apple as a platform to emphasize some of his weaknesses, such as: his a-political nature, his mood swings, his difficulty in building relationships, and his obnoxious behavior towards his colleagues.

But by far, the best part of the book tells the story of Jobs’s “restoration”, his second run to greatness. The author emphasizes Jobs vision, design principles, and business acumen as the main reasons behind the tremendous success both Apple and Pixar had. The author also uses detailed descriptions of the different product launches (iPhone, iPad, and iTunes) to emphasizing Jobs’s intuition and his attention to details.

Steve Jobs was a man on a mission and the author emphasizes that through his descriptions of his sickness. Cancer did not define him; in fact Cancer was pushed to the background. It focused him on what’s important (in his mind), it motivated him to pursue his destiny and create some of Apple’s boldest products.


Oh and one more thing, the last words of book are Steve Jobs’s own words about what his legacy would be. After reading these words, I couldn’t stop but thinking how different and how much better our world would have been if only Steve Jobs was given one more year to live.

The relevance of the book:

The book shares some of Jobs’s thoughts about design as a competitive strategy. These are, in my opinion, the “tip of the iceberg”, indicating why there was only one Steve Jobs. Here are some of those thoughts:

Jobs about design principles:

  • Less But Better: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Jobs made devices simpler by eliminating buttons, software simpler by eliminating features, and interfaces simpler by eliminating options.
  • Simplicity comes from conquering complexities, not ignoring them: Simplicity is not just minimalism; you have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to get rid of the parts that are not essential
  • Design is not just about how the product looks like: it reflects the way the product was engineered, manufactured, packaged. A manufacturing mistake will ruin the greatest design.

 Jobs about designing great products:

  • It is not about the money, it’s about making great products!
  • Figure out what people are going to want before they do: People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. Never rely on market research. 
  • Focus: deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. Free your resources to focus on what you do best. 
  • Design a great user experience end-to-end: tailor the purchasing experience, the ritual of un-wrapping the product – such experiences should be theatrical, and tell a memorable story.
  • Design drives engineering, not the other way around: Innovate via the design. Engineering will fit the boards and wires into the new design.
  • Do not allow hacks or customizations to your product: that way you control the user experience and make sure it executes your vision. 
  • Constantly refine your art: If you are not busy being born, you are busy dying. 

Jobs about the design process:

  • Ban PowerPoint Presentations: “People who know what they are talking about don’t need PowerPoint” 
  • Build models you can touch: instead of endless design documents and convoluted diagrams. Iterate often. 
  • Use intuition, instincts and fluid conversation as a review mechanism:  instead of formal design reviews that often lead to major disagreements.
  • If it’s not right, do not be afraid of making last minute changes: even if such changes will cause significant delays. It has to be right. 
  • Design all products in one place: gives you a sense of how all the newly designed products relate and connect with each other.


Blah Blah Blah – Dan Roam March 7, 2012

Posted by karthikreddyv in Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

Back in India, when I was growing up I was very interested in reading books like Amar chitra katha, Champak (equivalent to Dr. Seuss book in US). Of course, who wouldn’t like such books in their childhood? The popularity of such books was due to the ease of reading and clear communication. Taking cue from his own childhood’s incidents of how he came to love reading (due to Dr. Seuss books) Dan Roam in his latest book Blah Blah Blah addresses the issue of miscommunication.  Primary reason for miscommunication is usage of words as the only source to communicate.  As one transitions from childhood to adulthood we are trained to rely more on words and discard pictures. The over reliance on words has created an information deluge where we either know too much to make a choice or we are just surrounded by words and know nothing or we are unable to comprehend so much information.

Rejecting the idea of using long complicated words makes a person smart author has proposed “Vivid Thinking”. Vivid thinking is using visuals and words interdependently to express a complex idea. According to the author visual diagrams and words complement each other but neither of them is effective in conveying a complex idea individually. Recognizing the difficulty in going back to drawing pictures to express ideas author has provided three tools that can help visualize these ideas. First tool is the Blah-Blah meter, a device that helps us determine overuse, misuse or evil use of language. The second tool is “Vivid grammar”, a simple set of guidelines to avoid Blah Blah Blah. The third tool is a treasure map that shows an easy path to make ideas more vibrant and clear.

According to author, we live in a land of Blah Blah Blah where it is difficult to listen what it is worth listening to. Be it to others or to yourself. Through Vivid thinking author proposes a way out this land of vivid ideas called “Vivid FOREST” where words are combined with visuals to express ideas with context.  Vivid description of an abstract idea gives more clarity helping one get specific. Similar to a big forest and trees in it, vivid ideas are a big picture composed of lots of individual elements with unique attributes which are


  1. Vivid ideas have Form – giving form to an idea takes it from the abstract to concrete.
  2. Vivid ideas show Only the essentials – a vivid idea gets someone’s attention with the basics.
  3. Vivid ideas are Recognizable – vivid ideas look familiar. When you see a vivid idea you would think “I’ve seen this before”
  4. Vivid ideas address Evolving – vivid ideas are always works in progress.
  5. Vivid ideas have Span differences – vivid ideas show us one idea more clearly by showing us the opposite. Illustrating an idea’s limitations only makes the ideas stronger.
  6. Vivid ideas are Targeted – people notice things that are pointed personally towards them.

My initial impression of book was that the author is proposing the known idea of left brain which is analytical, right brain which is more visual and the necessity of using both sides of brain. However going through the book was entirely a different experience. Through well designed chapters, the author has provided a practical approach on how to think visually.  It had a very good sequence of presenting the idea. The book was like a map where you keep exploring thing to reach your goal. Author has practiced what he is preached in the book. Every idea is conveyed through combination of words and pictures. Author had very clear approach of introducing concepts in a step by step manner through visuals.

Using real examples like southwest airlines, Peet’s coffee, the author Dan Roam clearly showed how vivid thinking can achieve great results. However, it would have been great if he had taken a single case and applied the techniques to it along with the individual examples. I felt that author did a great job of giving good examples while explaining his concepts but there weren’t any illustrations that linked the step by step approach in the book. Each chapter in the book was step towards achieving clarity of idea and each contained great examples. But these examples were contained to the chapter. It would have been great if author had taken a single example and applied different concepts to it to show how vivid thinking helps.

Initially I wondered if the book was specific to English, relating words to pictures. However reading the book further I realized the ideas expressed by the author apply to any language. Any language is a structured way of describing a thing or an event which can be represented by pictures using the vivid grammar. I am a non native speaker of English. Using vivid grammar to my own native language I was able to visualize things that I described using words.

Overall, Blah Blah Blah is a great book. I suggest it to anyone who wants to communicate clearly. I concur with author that we are living in the land of Blah Blah Blah and we need a way out of this land into the vivid forest. This book really helps in guiding us through the vivid forest using simple tools.

Sketching User Experiences, Getting the design right and the right design – Bill Buxton March 7, 2012

Posted by Sebastian Fuenzalida in Sketching User Experiences.

The first time I saw the cover of this book, I wondered: “Why that guy is rowing through a graph?” but in second thoughts, that is not a graph, is more like mountains reflecting in the water.  After a couple of pages into the book, my mystery was revealed: it was a map!

This book is divided in two parts: “Design as a Dreamcatcher” where the author developed a framework to incorporate design into product development processes and “Stories of Methods and Madness”, were we are presented with several techniques to implement the visual thinking required to make the integration in part 1.

Bill Buxton made a great introduction to thinking out-of-the-box in “Design for the wild” were we are prompted to think about good solutions to help a kayaker to navigate in artic waters. Without losing his path. Immediately,  I started to think about applications for iOS/Android with maps and routes GPS-enabled. The problem here is that I’m biased by my past and education and I was not thinking in the real environment were this product would be used. Extreme cold temperatures wont let you take off your gloves, so how can you manipulate the touching screen?  Yes, there are new gloves with special materials that let you use your touch screen but that is really what we need while rowing in artic waters? The Ammassalik, a tribe in eastern Greenland, crafted a beautiful solution and it is showed in the cover of the book. A 3D map who represents the coastline, they can be used inside mittens, keeping the hands warm, they float if they fall in the water, because they are made out of wood and most importantly, they do not need batteries nor GPS connections made them 100% reliable, making it better than any digital product we can think at this moment.

Buxton after showing us several cases were incremental solutions or “n+1” products cannot sustain a company in the long term, he introduced a New Product Development Process (showed in the picture above) in order to catalyze innovation in companies who want to survive strategically launching new products often.

Particularly identifiable is the funnel-shaped design phase, but using this scope we can see the collaboration between the different departments of the company along the complete process.

This brings me to the underlying objective of this book:

…to change the unviability of implementing a reliable way to develop new products in-house, within the corporate culture, tailored to the strategic plan of the company, in a managed (rather than bandit) process and where we can be take into account the technologies employed in the rest of the product offerings …

After several design thinking and innovation classes, I’m a complete advocate of that objective.  My problem is related with my learning style, I’m a converger, and its is hard to transform (in my head) the process, sketching and diverging into a process, where you get an innovative solution as output. The process is still a “black-box” for me, and this book does not clarify it for me.

At the same time, the book really helps to let you know the tools that designers (trained as designers) use in their daily works. The problem is  that they seem to be too design-ish oriented in my point of view.  Let me show you a couple of examples extracted from the second part: “Stories of Methods and Madness”.

  • Wizard of Oz: Technique were the design team imitates the automatic processes realized by a final system, without need to implement it completely.
  • Visual Storytelling:  Making storyboards to represent User Experiences.
  • Extending Interaction: Real and Illusion: High-Fi Paper prototypes to show interaction to the  future users.

All of them need to have a profound level of technical designing skills, specially making storyboards, which make me doubt about my possibilities to be a designer some day, because I’m really bad drawing. This contrast with the Design Thinking concept introduced by Tim Brown in his book “Change by Design” where everyone could be a designer.

To finish my blog post I want to add a “new” technique called Mechanical Turk, which is strongly related with Wizard of Oz. The term was coined as reference to the Mechanical Turk-Chess player, showed in the picture.

At that moment there was not IBM Watson to play chess with humans, to process real-time movements and strategy, that is why instead the used a hidden human who played mimic the movements of the robot.  Nowadays this technique of “getting human intelligence” into real problems that computers cannot solve is used by Amazon to crowdsource little tasks like tagging pictures or identifying handwriting.

My final thoughts are: can we use crowdsourcing to generate Fast-cheap “Wizard of Oz” prototypes?  And What is the role of managerial – engineering  professionals in the design process?

Visual Meetings – Review March 5, 2012

Posted by Pritesh in [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
Tags: ,


With Visual Meetings, David Sibbet hopes that the book would encourage people to ‘reclaim and universally appreciate’ the visual way of communicating with groups. Sibbet certainly does a remarkable job of providing a comprehensive guide for anyone looking to add visualization tools to improve the ability of a group to realize their shared goals. It covers a spectrum of tools and methods ranging from the simplest of tasks like hanging paper on a wall to more complex tasks such as strategic visioning process for a team. Think of this book as a ‘graphical user interface (GUI) for meetings’.

Description and Key Ideas

The book presents the concepts of visual meetings in a manner that reflects how people ‘move from ideas to action’. It captures this process in four sections divided as IMAGINING, ENGAGING, THINKING and ENACTING which is also visualized on the cover. The author provides examples from his personal experience working with companies and organization to reinforce the key topics.

In the first section on Imagining, Sibbet highlights the role of visual tools to create a shared frame of reference for participants in a meeting. It eases the reader into understanding the value of visualization and how individuals can begin to unlock their innate ability to draw. The section on Engaging is focused on how to involve the meeting participants using visual tools and methods. Sibbet describes a variety of ways to improve the participation of attendees (such as sticky notes, graphic recording, idea maps etc.). The use of scenarios and templates for different types of meetings is particularly useful.

The next section about graphics for visual Thinking is essentially the heart of this book. It does a wonderful job of providing several templates that can be used to organize, plan and solve problems as a group. I particularly liked how Sibbet presents the Group Graphics Keyboard © (source – www.grove.com) as the building block for visual thinking. The concluding section on Enacting continues on the similar theme and provides tools that are directed towards getting results and being more productive. It illustrates more graphical tools to support better team processes, decision making meetings and project management meetings


At work I end up spending almost half of my time in meetings. So when I first saw the title of the book, I was certainly intrigued by the concept. Sibbet does a great job of analyzing and presenting every aspect of visual meetings. The author’s style of presenting the ideas graphically along with examples from his experience makes the book a very practical guide for visual meetings. I do agree with the author’s point of view and believe in the value of visual thinking, but there are two areas where applying these ideas might find resistance. In a typical organization (those that are not that accustomed to visual thinking), changing the culture to leverage visual meetings is a somewhat difficult process. Ideally, you would need an experienced facilitator who can initiate and proliferate the idea of visual meetings in the organization. Without such a person to set an example, it would be hard to change an organization’s culture to appreciate and accept visual meetings. Another related area that makes it hard to apply some of these ideas in practice is the role of attendees. A large number of the meetings that I participate in are as an attendee/participant and not the host of the meeting. And not surprisingly the majority of the hosts for the meetings are not trained/ familiar in the concepts of visualizing meetings. In my opinion the author does an excellent job of guiding facilitators but could include a section on influencing the broader organization to adopt visual meetings as well.

The book provides very useful tools to facilitate the process of design thinking. Designing, as we learned, is a team sport. Often the people involved in designing products, processes or businesses meet and share their points of view and this book is an essential tool to ensure the designers are sharing the same point of view. A lot of the techniques we have learned so far for brainstorming, mind mapping, affinity diagrams (clusters) etc. overlap with visual meetings. As the book acknowledges, mastering the techniques of visual meetings can certainly allow you to become an experienced visual facilitator, but will also provide you with ways in which you can integrate your creative and analytic thinking to make better decisions.


Although I have used some of these techniques in meetings or discussions, I haven’t read any other book on visualization. In my experience with this topic, it does require some effort to plan and prepare for the meeting to incorporate visual thinking. I typically organize my thoughts using diagrams in PowerPoint which takes up a lot of time – but with the tools gained from this book; I can now use my drawing skills to facilitate visual thinking as well. I would certainly encourage designers view the webinar by David that serves an interactive guide to the concepts in the book.

Report on Visual Meetings, by David Sibbet March 4, 2012

Posted by jeffychen04 in Uncategorized.

Brief Discussion of the Book

In Visual Meetings, author David Sibbet asserts that most meetings are ineffective because they lack focus, organization, and engagement.  Through his years of consulting experience facilitating corporate vision, planning, and execution meetings, Sibbet has demonstrated how the use of visual communication techniques in meetings has improved the effectiveness of the meetings because they provide better focus, organization, and engagement for the entire group.  Sibbet offers his best known methods supplemented with visual communication techniques and tools to help the reader increase the effectiveness of their own meetings. 

Sibbet argues that humans inherently express themselves using visual cues.  Early humans drew cave paintings before there was written language, and young children drawing simple stories before they’ve learned to write.  Over the course of child development, our natural ability for visual communication is superimposed with written and oral communication.  We lose our ability to communicate visually.  Sibbet’s book encourages readers that they can regain their visual communication skills through some conditioning and practice.  His book guides readers how to integrate symbols, diagrams, and other visual representations into group meetings to provide focus, organization, and engagement to accomplish meeting objectives.

Critical Analysis

I identify myself as a visual thinker and agree with Sibbet that meetings should include visual communication to cearly communicate with other meeting participants who prefer that style.  I prefer to organize data visually for comprehension and create visual representations of my thoughts for communication, which is why I agree with the view point and purpose of Visual Meetings.  I have participated in far too many ineffective meetings in my eight-year career where data, information, and plans are shared without coordination so that it’s difficult to understand the relationship between discussions.  Having visual representations of the complex topics would increase my comprehension so that I can ensure that I execute to the vision and guide others in the right direction as well.

Visual Meetings makes a compelling case for using visual communication tools as a means of engaging meeting participants and gain their commitment.  Having built and led teams in vision, planning, and execution meetings, I have experienced some difficulty in focusing teams behind a single vision and rallying their support and commitment.  Sibbet’s most enlightening point in the book is that visual communication is more than just a one-way visual depiction of thoughts with charts, diagrams, and images, but is an active two-way collaboration process that engages meeting participants to contribute to the meeting and commit themselves to the meeting topics.  For example, meeting participants can write on sticky notes and place them on a whiteboard, and rearrange them in a mind map or affinity chart.  This engages them in the process so that wherever there ideas and feedback falls, it’s backed by their full support.  This is a subtle leadership skill that I had not paid enough attention to because I had always put myself in the position where I single handedly created the vision and assumed that my stakeholders would buy into it.  Sibbet’s perspective helps explain, in hindsight, why some of my meeting participants did not follow through on my expectations.  I realized that I had failed to engage the teams more fully, and I believe I now have a couple of additional methods to bolster support in the future.

What is the value of the book?

Application to Design: Chapter 11 discusses the story boarding process and idea mapping, which designers and planners frequently use and can be adopted in meetings to communicate an experience and complex relationships.  The fundamental premise of design is to anticipate user needs through an understanding of their world perspective and translating those insights into products and services with clear benefits that solve those needs.  True insight into the minds and emotions of the user can only be achieved through effective communication between the user and the designer.  Storyboarding and idea mapping techniques can easily be used in any meeting to articulate the business process, competitive intelligence, and proposed marketing messages, for example.

Leadership Development: Leaders should read this book if they would like to find new ways to engage their team members during meetings.  They should especially read this book if they have had experienced too many instances where individuals have misunderstood the vision or plans and have deviated.  These symptoms suggest that meetings have not been effective in clearly articulating the topics. 

Communication Development: People who have created presentations predominantly filled with full sentences and paragraphs should read this book to learn ways to articulate their thoughts in the form of visual charts, diagrams, images, etc.  In chapter 9, Sibbet provides the Group Graphics Keyboard™ which outlines the seven different categories of visual graphics that can be used to articulate complex ideas and relationships.  Sibbet suggests the best uses and limitations of each category of graphics,

What is the relevance of the book?

Visual Meetings primarily instructs readers on the best practices to run meetings effectively, which is not revolutionary.  Plenty of other books and courses provide equal instruction on the use of clear objectives and agendas for focused discussion, and checklists and diagrams to articulate ideas.  However, the book stands out in its use of visuals as a means to engage the audience. Sibbet shares anecdotes from his work with semiconductor companies, governments, and non-profits on how he used pictures, timelines, sticky notes, affinity charts, and other diagrams to get every meeting participant to participate.  Few other books provide suggestions on how best to keep energy levels and creativity up during a meeting. 

As an employee of a multinational company who frequently leads teams to accomplish business objectives, this book has provided me with a few additional methods that I intend to use in my future planning meetings.  Especially since I frequently conduct virtual meetings via telephone and the web, I want to run those more effectively otherwise I will fail to produce the desired outcomes.  I personally find it too easy to disengage from a virtual meeting and multitask when a meeting is not run effectively, so I would like to ensure that my own team doesn’t do the same.  Visual Meetings has inspired me to come better prepared with images and other visual representations to level set the meeting participants and utilize virtual whiteboards during discussions instead of relying purely on prepared presentations to conduct virtual work meetings.  I believe doing so will help build rapport among meeting participants while communication with one another more effective. 

I recommend this book to others who feel that they too struggle with articulating complex ideas and need to find ways to increase participation and commitment in meetings. 


Back of the Napkin – Review March 4, 2012

Posted by jackielamping in Back of the Napkin, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
Tags: ,

Description and summary:

In The Back of the Napkin, Dan Roam makes the claim that anyone can use basic drawings to describe and solve complex business problems more effectively. First, Roam argues that our brains are hard-wired from birth to think visually, and that activating these deep-rooted visual thought centers (such as volume, shape, orientation, position, and change over time) helps bring our ideas into clearer focus. Second, he claims that hand-drawn sketches (whether on a napkin or whiteboard) are more effective in communicating ideas than refined PowerPoint diagrams because they’re intuitive, unintimidating, and – in Roam’s experience – invite significantly greater audience participation to clarify, edit, and improve. Finally, Roam describes a simple “SQVID” framework for breaking down any business problem into its “6W” component parts (Who, What, When, Where, How, Why) and how to visualize and draw each component as a basic sketch.

Roam anticipates counter-arguments from readers who say “I can’t draw” by emphasizing the absolute simplicity of the drawings required (arrows, stick figures, and basic shapes). He also maintains that everyone has a natural inclination toward visual thinking that manifests itself in different ways: “Black Pens” instinctively get up and start drawing, “Yellow Pens” let someone else lead sketching but get inspired to make comments along the way, and “Red Pens” hold back throughout the process but then redraw the entire picture correctly.

Roam pulls from his lengthy experience as an international business consultant, having seen many painfully ineffective presentations and failed pitches while noting a high success rate with whiteboard usage. He cites a particularly illustrative example from his own experience in which he agreed to fill in for a colleague’s public speaking event at the last minute and had only a train ride to prepare a 45 minute presentation about an unfamiliar subject: Roam crafted a simple diagram on the back of a napkin, recreated it on a whiteboard during his presentation, and inspired so much discussion that his session extended for 2 hours and won him a huge new piece of business. After realizing the tremendous power of a simple sketch, Roam was inspired to learn everything there is to know about using visuals for problem solving in business. When he found little material, he set out to write his own book.

Critical analysis:

When I first read Roam’s story about using a napkin sketch to give a wildly successful presentation, it was tempting for me to conclude that I should stop spending so much time preparing slides for meetings and instead just “wing it” by getting up to draw a few crude sketches – it would save me so much effort! But as Roam went on throughout the chapters, I started to pick up on his underlying message that in fact, there’s still a great deal of effort involved: you have to know your audience (i.e., Are they right brained or left brained? Do they know a lot about this problem or a little?), and the critical business problem you’re trying to solve in order to select the appropriate sketch to draw. You also have to know how to “show and tell” to successfully walk others through your thought process.

Roam’s argument that “every problem can be solved on the back of a napkin” is incredibly compelling in that it implies we can all expend less effort while yielding greater outcomes. This notion appeals to anyone in the modern business world acting under time constraints – most notably any EWMBA student. However, napkin and whiteboard sketches are clearly not appropriate for all business situations. For example, while they may be incredibly useful in clarifying business problems, selling ideas, and inspiring participation and debate, they are ill-equipped for running complex mathematical calculations, maintaining regular business operations, or communicating through asynchronous channels.   

Still, I do agree with Roam’s key notion that people are inherently visual thinkers, and that pictures sell harder and inspire more discussion than words. I studied behavioral neuroscience as my undergraduate major, and the biology states that pictures are more universally recognizable and simpler to understand than higher-order thought processes like reading. I also work in the field of education where there’s lots of debate about how people learn differently (visual vs auditory learner, etc.), and what makes course material more likely to be remembered. The current research demonstrates that concept retention improves when both pictures and words are presented, rather than words alone (http://www.cisco.com/web/strategy/docs/education/Multimodal-Learning-Through-Media.pdf etc).  

I also buy into Roam’s argument that the act of drawing pictures itself helps engage an audience in the discovery and problem-solving process. I can personally think back to a handful of business meetings in which someone got up to draw on a whiteboard, and I remember clearly the concepts that were discussed despite those meetings having taken place many years ago… I can’t say the same for the thousands of other meetings I’ve forgotten over my career.

Assuming Roam has plans to produce another version of the book, I would suggest adding at least 1 chapter that provides a series of short example scenarios and quick sketches that could realistically be used in a presentation or discussion (or better yet, that have already been used in the past with successful results). The current book offers a small number of lengthy examples, along with templates for sketching a range of other problems; it could be even more effective with a wider range of quick-and-dirty, real-life examples.

Value of this book?

As MBA students working full-time jobs, we hear things like “less is more” when it comes to PowerPoint presentations, or “tell me your elevator pitch”, or “give me a 1-page summary” on a fairly regular basis… Yet rarely do we learn specific examples of how this can be done effectively for different types of business problems. This book offers a helpful framework for simplifying such communications and making them more effective.

In addition, following Roam’s approach to exploring different visualizations for the same business problem is a key skillset for any innovator to learn. We’re being taught in Design as Competitive Advantage to “reframe the problem statement” and “look at things differently” and “find new sources of inspiration”, but it has been difficult to draw that out of our working teams despite all of the exercises we’ve gone through so far. Roam’s direction around the “6W’s” and “SQVID” as an approach to problem solving would be very valuable to include in course teachings in the future.

It occurred to me while reading The Back of the Napkin that sketching pictures to represent business problems is much like the prototyping process that we’re learning in this course. The basic idea is to create a visual representation of your idea that’s crude enough to indicate flexibility and encourage an audience to respond and contribute. The challenge with prototypes is that they may not always be appropriate or adequate for expressing a conceptual business problem to executives. Roam’s figure sketches provide a way to bridge the gap between what’s suitable in a research or engineering setting versus a business meeting or large-scale presentation.  

Relevance of the book?

In my experience working in business, anyone who gets up in a meeting and starts drawing on a whiteboard instantly commands the room. They’re seen as more knowledgeable and viewed as problem solvers because their actions and designs change the nature of the meeting – they spark new thoughts, energize people who haven’t been engaged, inspire others to get up and start drawing, and make for a very memorable conversation. In the past, I have felt the urge to get up and draw on a whiteboard, but I didn’t have the slightest clue of where to start once I got up there. Now I have tools and frameworks to pull from, and I’m less intimidated about having to be a good artist or getting it perfectly right the first time.

At its core, The Back of the Napkinis about how to communicate more effectively through the use of visuals. That message is deeply relevant across a variety of industries and professions, including teachers, lawyers, engineers, business professionals and more. The book is well-written, easy to scan, and obviously communicates effectively through images. It’s something you can pick up and find immediate value out of within a few hours or even 30 minutes. I would recommend it to anyone wholeheartedly.

Attached are a couple of my own napkin sketch attempts at describing the book: