Monday, July 31, 2006

Design by listmaking

Somehow, it has become a week (or two) of lists.

1. From John Thackara at The Doors of Perception, the Power Laws Of Innovation:

Don’t start from zero. Re-mix what's already out there.

2. More from John Thakera, Eight Rules on How to be Good:

Hands-on or hands-off. Hungry people need posters and campaigns less than they need food to eat.

3. And some rules from Nabeel Hamdi:
Work backwards, move forwards; start where you can
4. Bob Sutton continues his reply to a WSJ article bashing brainstorming with these Eight Tips for Better Brainstorming.
Brainstorming sessions are worthless unless they are woven with other work practices.
5. Finally, making the rounds again recently, Michael McDonough's Top Ten Things They Never Taught Me In Design School, via Design Observer:
Start with what you know; then remove the unknowns.
6. Happy list reading!


Monday, July 24, 2006

Mini Eichler in Walnut Creek

I found a great little piece of Eichler History on the Eichler Network Chatterbox Lounge. There is a 'mini' Eichler in Walnut Creek. :

The owner is an original owner from 1955. Eichler created this mini version as a sales office/showroom. After all of the Eichlers in Rancho San Miguel were sold she bought this unit directly from Joseph Eichler and had it moved into her backyard.

Her husand was some type of therapist and used it as an office with clients.
This building was recently listed for rent on Craigslist (from where these pics were borrowed). The specs for the space, from the ad:

"Mini" 5 room Eichler home (487 sq feet) located in desirable Walnut Creek neighborhood. Ideal for one person; tight for two.

Set in large backyard garden very close to Heather Farms and John Muir Hospital
Large private patio (approx 400 sq feet)
New kitchen appliances
New carpeting
Washer and dryer
Air conditioning
Garden plot available to renter (approx 600 sq feet)
Private driveway and access
Living room: 186 sq feet
Bedroom: 84 sq feet

Great piece of Eichler history.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Master Roofer, Master Storyteller.

Storytelling has become a large part of how we increase our impact as designers.

It may be obvious to some but it certainly wasnt to a younger me: people build their credibility by telling entertaining, relevant stories. This is certainly true in building a good business (and I'm certainly showing my naivite by even mentioning it).

One of my favorite local storytellers and businessmen is Randy Ferriante, the owner of a local roofing company called Dura-Foam. Not only is Randy an expert at the somewhat niche business of spray-foam roofs (FYI its a roof of choice for Eichlers and other flat-roofed structures), he is absolutely fabulous at telling stories.

He is so good at it, that he is a regular contributor on the Eichler Network's chat site, as well as a paying advertiser. Putting himself out there lets people see if he really knows his stuff. By answering questions about Eichler roofing, and other Eichler related topics, Randy demonstrates that not only is he your best choice as a roofer, but that he is an Eichler Otaku, and you know he will do the right thing by you.

Here's two of my favorite bits from one of his most recent comments (scroll down), which inspired my writing this blog post:

" Sprayed foam is much tougher than you think. It can support 40 pounds per square inch without even denting. So, a 10x10 inch plywood box with foam on it could support 4,000 pounds without denting the foam. This is more than 100 times more 'live load' than your roof was engineered to support per squre foot. You could park a wheel of your car on the 'can light' box without hurting the foamed box....and, the hardest part of this demonstration would be getting the car on the roof."

Few people know that the Space Shuttle foam is exactly the same material they have on their sprayed-foam roof. The foam color in the news is brownish orange because the foam has no coating and the tanks are stored outside for many months before they are used. Exposed foam turns this color without coating."

Wouldn't you want your roof done by this guy, too?

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More on Shanghai

I've posted a little more of my impressions of Shanghai on Rice Daddies. Being a Chinese- American dad, and going back to the motherland for the first time with that perspective has been a really great experience.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Long Tail in Shanghai

I'm in Shanghai this week. The first time ever for me being in China, and the strangest part about being in Shanghai, is that it isnt so strange at all. Shanghai being the most cosmopolitan of all Chinese cities, it kind of feels like I stepped off the plane into the Cupertino borough of New York. More on that later.

While I was on the plane ride over, I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of the new Chris Anderson book, The Long Tail. I got this copy as part of a Long Tail experiment Anderson ran on his blog, where he is having both mainstream media and bloggers write about his book.

Between being on vacation and flying to Shanghai, the advance copy turns out not to be so advance (the book has already hit the Amazon Top Ten), but here are my impressions:

Anderson, who is the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, coined the term Long Tail in the pages of that magazine to describe a behavior pattern he and others were noticing with online commerce. As I poorly described it last year after I missed hearing Anderson speak at IDEO (darn! darn!!), Long Tail thinking basically says that with global connectivity, the effect of all the fringes and niches may well be greater than the mainstream -i.e. the area under the long tail of the popularity curve = the area under the mainstream part of it.

For online retailers, who could offer many more choices than a physical store, the sales from the niches -the long tail- became as important as sales from the mainstream. In a nutshell, the Long Tail describes an economics of abundance: What happens when everything you (or, your customer) ever wanted is available? The results are a very different landscape of behavior than 'normal' economics, which assumes scarcity of resources, rather than abundance.

If you're a recent reader of Wired magazine, most of what Anderson decribes in the book is very familiar, since through the magazine, his Long Tail blog, and now the book, he has been able to try out different riffs of this idea. The book gathers alot of data and case studies seen elsewhere in Anderson's sphere of publishing. There are new bits too, but nothing that particularly stands to my jetlag addled brain.

Anderson's gesture in getting bloggers to write reviews of his book is of course a fun DIY example of the long tail in motion. The availability of internet tools has allowed anyone to become an information aggregator, and to build small but interested audiences on practically any subject available.

I've been regularly using the lens of Long Tail to look at how easy it has become to turn dreams into commerce: everything from Neighborhoodies creating value in their goofs to Freddy&Ma co-creating the wave of mass customization with their custom high-end handbags.

Another example closer to the thisislarry media empire is the fact that somehow, I get over twenty hits a day on my Eichler Homes lens at Squidoo, squeaking it into the site's top 100 list. I dont even know 20 people who talk to me in person every day! My close neighbors on this list include diverse and completely unrelated topics as Singapore Math, Fly fishing, and Danny Elfman. Each of our spots in the tail is relatively small, together we take up quite a lot of room.

While The Long Tail is being marketed as an pop business / economics book, I found it to be just as persuasive as a pop science book. Like any good observation of the universe, Long Tail thinking seems to describe a little bit of everything. Anderson mentions one of my favorite, John Robb's compelling and very scary application of Long Tail thinking to explaining and predicting the shape of terrorism and global warfare.

The Long Tail is an enjoyable read, thanks to Anderson's conversational style, and the subject is definitely worth getting to know, especially if you happen to want to live in the 21st century. Along with Dan Pink's A Whole New Mind, I think this is a book that I will look back at in ten years and not be able to remember what the world was like, before reading it.

photo: side street, on the way to the office in Shanghai