Design Study Tour – Day 1

Today was the first day of the study tour. First, I had to solve some logistical problem. The good staff members at Hotel Diva made sure all the needs were taken care of.

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We started with students making brief summary statements on the project that they've been working on. They are making their presentation tomorrow at SAP. Each group picked their own design problem based on the broad guideline that was given by the SAP design team. I will write more about their work and presentation tomorrow.

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At 11AM, we had a session with Matt Mullenweb, the founding programmer of WordPress and the founder of Automattic. Matt talked about his view on a wide range of topics including innovation, design, competition, and vision. He talked about how WordPress started as a software, slowly moved to become a platform. It was a beautiful example of how radical change does happen over time in a series of small incremental changes. He explained how the conflicting design requirements led to the invention of the idea of "plug-in". There have been over 8.2 million downloads of WordPress, and there are over 20 million downloads of various plug-ins. This magnitude of market response to the plug-ins led Matt and his team to slowly realize that they are in a platform business. Often, innovation in the products changes the character of the company. Yet, unfortunately, often the company themselves are the last one to recognize it and end up being the victim of their innovations — think about what happened to the original AT&T which created much of the underlying technologies that enables today's Internet, yet disappeared behind the curtain as they did not fully recognize what was going within the Net. He is a truly impressive young man. This is the second time I met him and both times, I've been deeply impressed by him. He is only 24 and students were quite inspired to see someone at his age with formal management education speaking so eloquently about complex issues in management ever so clearly and confidently. I wish we had a bit more time with him. But, we had to rush to our next stop at Yahoo! All students had to run to grab their lunch (I got a sushi lunch box) and had to finish their lunch in the bus.

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After about an hour drive, we arrived at Yahoo! main campus. We were greeted by Paula Brown and Larry Tesler. I only realized that Larry Tesler that we met was the one who worked at Apple only he left the room. But, it was good to meet a hero of our time.

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There were three excellent presentations. The first presentation was by Marc Davis. Marc focused his talk how we can re-conceptualize what computing means in the wake of Web 2.0 and mobile tools. He focused on the importance of 4W (Where, When, Who & What) and how reframing a familiar problem through the digitization of those dimensions can unlock the wealth of new innovation ideas for companies. He demonstrated several Yahoo! products, some of which I was familiar with. As a part of his demo, he took a picture of me, using his mobile phone, which showed up on his Flickr web site (see it here).

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Next was a presentation by Klaus Kaasgaard. His talk mostly focused on the role of customer insight research within Yahoo!. Customer insight research is a combination of traditional market research and user experience research. He discussed some of the challenges of running research group to figure out where the market is going and how challenging it is to pick the most appropriate research method. The best part of his lecture was his point that one cannot use focus group with eight strangers frankly talking about sex. To that point, I responded, one cannot easily use observation method to study it either. So, we left with no proper research method for that. At any rate, Klaus is originally from Denmark and it turned out we have several mutual friends.

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The last speaker was Luke Wroblewski. Luke gave a very enlightening talking on why design is becoming so important in contemporary organizations. He mentioned product maturity, rapid pace of change and complexity as three forces behind the recent surge in the interests in design. He included globalization as a part of complexity, although I would have made it as a separate force on its own. But, that's just my own opinion. He argued that for product maturity, design as an outcome is the response; for the rapid pace of change, design process; and for the complexity, the design principle. And he summed up design thinking — although there are many different definitions of it — with three key words: empathy, vision, and iterative. That was pretty good keywords.

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We finished our day at a local restaurant, called Le Colonial. It was a beautiful and delicious French-Vietnamese place. We all enjoyed good food, wine and conversations. At the end, we were pulling out our credit cards to pay the bill. Here are some photos from the dinner.

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