Archive for the ‘Method Breakfast’ Category
For our third Method Breakfast, we sat down over coffee and pastries with an amazing group of New York thinkers who have been influential in the digital world for many years.
Charles Adler is a founder and Head of Product Design at Kickstarter. Alex Rainert is a founder of Dodgeball and Head of Product at Foursquare. Clay Shirky studies the effects of the Internet on society and teaches in NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications and Journalism programs. Baratunde Thurston is the Director of Digital at The Onion, and an all-around cultural thinker who sits at the intersection of comedy, politics, and technology.
The four joined us at the Crosby Street Hotel to discuss the state of social media and technology. Our conversation quickly led us to a discussion around making successful products in a changing cultural and technological landscape.
We covered a lot of interesting ground, from the early days of the Internet (when simply knowing Perl got you a great job) to our hopes and frustrations in today’s world of social media. While Charles and Alex work to keep up with the fast-paced changes in developing their businesses, Baratunde finds himself mediating a relationship between content creators and advertisers, who often have opposing missions. At Method, we create experiences that must address the needs of both our clients’ business and their users. From our various points of view, we discussed our struggles and compromises.
A central theme in our discussion surrounded the inability of old media, advertisers, and even our parents to understand the changing landscape. Clay provided an example of the Time Magazine issue in which they refer to Jay Leno’s broadcast time change as the biggest thing to hit TV. He sees in this a kind of blindness that has taken hold in older business models, and a failure to see the important shifts and opportunities. Baratunde and Alex acknowledged a similar phenomenon with advertisers and partners, who often want a way to do something to rather than with, their audiences. This misses the real point and opportunity of social media, which is to connect with consumers and audiences in new and richer ways.
The answer for our clients and partners, we concluded, doesn’t lie entirely in better strategic practices or design, but also in experimentation. Those who are willing and able to try new approaches, and more importantly, willing to fail, are those that will create the products and services that tap into cultural shifts. Charles noted that for Kickstarter, the small changes can be the most instructive. We all agreed that the details can have a big impact on the interaction and overall experience.
We also talked about the inflexibility inherent in larger corporations and their inability to continue innovating in the face of change. Clay presented a useful metaphor that reflects this phenomenon: as cell towers start to grow, the bases are wide and structures rigid. But, at a certain size, the bases become more narrow and structures flexible so they can bend with the wind. This is what large companies need to learn to do – to bend with the wind. Alex described this as surfing the wave rather than going against it.
So, how do small companies grow and stay innovative? Foursquare is motivated by the fact that if they don’t continue to innovate, someone else will beat them to it. But, it is also about staying focused on core strengths. Companies must avoid the temptation to, as Alex says, “put a start up in a start up,” or take on too much. At Foursquare, they stick to three simple pillars, and every new idea is tested against them. It’s also about, as Charles says, staying nimble and connected, and not getting “big, fat, and stodgy.”
We also asked ourselves, what makes a product or experience truly impactful? We agreed that some of it is in the timing and impossible to determine. But, it also involves a combination of low barriers to entry and simple ease-of-use while tapping into the passions of an audience. For Baratunde, his scope of interest and work has gotten shallower but broader as he reaches into things like games, film, TV, books, and movies. In all of this, he sees an opportunity to create deeper engagement with diverse audiences.
For all of us, understanding our users’ interests and behavior is crucial. Charles described research as the piece that helps you understand the question at hand. However, empathy is required to design an answer. He sees the need to be well-rounded and leverage tools like usability testing, analytics, and even casual conversation. Ultimately, we have to understand our audience, but not be ruled by it. Or as Clay put it, “you have to listen to your users, but you don’t have to take dictation.”
When I asked whether there was a way to get out ahead of this all, or if it was always just going to be “Oh Shit!” the group resoundingly responded: “Oh Shit! – that’s just the way it is.”
This morning, our creative team sat down with an eclectic group of designers work across physical and digital media, an interesting combination for...
This morning, our creative team sat down with an eclectic group of designers work across physical and digital media, an interesting combination for a discussion on craft.
Last week, Method’s User Experience team gathered with leaders in content creation and strategy, Allan Chochinov (Editor-In-Chief of Core77), Chr...
Last week, Method’s User Experience team gathered with leaders in content creation and strategy, Allan Chochinov (Editor-In-Chief of Core77), Chris Vail (content strategist), and Brendan Koerner (Wired columnist and author), to discuss the future of content and media. This was the first of a discussion series based off of 10×10 thought topics that Method is hosting, called Feed Your Brain. The goal is to instigate intimate, thought provoking discussions with industry leaders.