Archive for Design

Project Blackbox: A Brilliant Marketing Concept

I’m not a CTO or any other kind of xTO, nor am I even an IT professional. But Sun Microsystem’s new Project Blackbox got my attention. An extraordinarily simple idea, as Sun puts it, it’s a mobile data centre. The brilliant part of the concept is that it’s packed inside a shipping container.

Who cares about this sort of thing? reports that:

Sun is attracting interest from prospective customers of various sizes in financial services, telecommunications and government and military markets — the kind of verticals where rapid expansion can provide a competitive advantage.

“YouTube went from zero to $1.8 billion or whatever it was sold for in 18 months,” Douglas said. “You couldn’t build a datacenter in that time, so for things that get explosive growth, this is a great fit.”

The Blackbox could also be an effective computing tool in areas racked by natural disasters, where earthquakes, floods or tornadoes trash datacenter gear in buildings. In the event of another Hurricane Katrina incident, the Blackbox could be quickly deployed to help a company get IT operations up and running.

At first glance, this seems like an extraordinary technology innovation. But actually, there isn’t any new tech innovation here. Even the concept of a mobile data centre isn’t all that new. The real innovation is to put it into a shipping container – a stroke of marketing genius.

Are there other ‘concepts’ like this out there? Write a comment and tell me all about it.

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Animal freaks on rainy days: how to market a museum

Ever wonder how to sell the same thing to different people?

It’s probably easier if what you’re selling is an offer to view art or entertainment, such as the Tate Museum in London. But the Tate’s latest innovation, called “Your Collection” is absolutely brilliant! They describe it thus:

Tate Britain displays British art from 1500 to today. Yes, it’s a museum, but it’s also like a big living room. All those works of art are yours.

Tate has devised a new way of looking at the Displays with a range of themed ‘Collections’. These suggest a number of personal journeys you could take, reflecting different moods and enthusiasms and revealing the extraordinary breadth of work on show.


Underlying this innovative approach are a couple of old-fashioned marketing tools (and one new tool) combined with a large dose of marketing imagination:

1. Segmentation: Mutually exclusive ways of dividing the market into homogenous groups of people. I’m guessing that the variable here is “reasons why someone might want to visit a museum”. And they have certainly pushed that thought to the limit.

2. Concept design: Bundling relevant product attributes into a concept that appeals to the target segment. A simple idea executed with elegance by the Tate.

3. Mass customization: Using the “power of the Internet” to allow people to create their own concepts (“Your Collection”).

4. Branding: The very fact that the Tate is doing this and the way in which they’ve done it says something about the Tate brand – it’s cool, innovative, entertaining and fun and it’s for people like me! Quite different from the immediate mental image of a “museum”.

Take a look at the Snake Coffee Collection at the Tate!


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The Superman & Batman Salon: Makeovers and Renovations

I’ve been a comic-book fan ever since I learned to read. Superman was one of my favourite characters. But as I grew older, the stories seemed simplistic and boring, the art was uninspiring, and let’s face it – Superman was practically invincible, so the end of each story was never in doubt and that didn’t really make for an engaging story.

In the 1990s, I came across remaindered copies of “The Man of Steel” – a mini-series by writer/artist John Byrne that essentially re-wrote Superman’s origin story, making him both more exotically alien and more vulnerable, thus more human. The regular Superman comics then took over, telling the story of this new Superman (pretty much as though the older storyline did not exist). The Modern Age Superman was infinitely more interesting – the humanity and vulnerability of the character led to engaging stories such as “exile”, where an over-worked and sleep-deprived Superman loses self-control and decides to leave Earth to prevent causing any damage, travelling through space as a hero and later a slave, until he finds redemption.

As any comic-book fan knows, makeovers and renovations are part of the industry’s attempt to keep their characters fresh and up-to-date. This is part of the reason why super-hero comics have lasted so long. Take Batman – another favourite character. who started life as a “grim crime-fighter”, took on a colourful sidekick (Robin), in an attempt to soften the character, went on to become a campy detective and finally reverted to his original gritty and grim self in Frank Miller’s classic “The Dark Knight Returns”.

Even the Batman movies have shown different facets of Batman. Contrast Michael Keaton’s grim avenger to Val Kilmer’s playboyish portrayal and George Clooney’s campy performance. The latest – “Batman Begins” seems inspired by Miller’s “Batman:Year One” – the Batman equivalent of “Man of Steel”.

Comic books are consumed on a monthly basis, like lots of other fast-moving products. Many of these could learn something from the comic-book industry. Times change, people’s attitudes and tastes evolve. Finding ways to keep your offering fresh and interesting while remaining true to your roots is always going to be a challenge. Perhaps Superman & Batman can help.

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Where do you carry your mobile phone?

If you're a woman, then chances are it's in your shoulder bag. 66% of women keep their phones in their bags (just 4% of men do the same), while 57% of men use their trouser pockets (just 8% of women do that).

This is just one of the many insights uncovered by "Wheres-the-phone" – a multi-country study by Jan Chipchase et al from the Nokia User Experience Group.

This definitely has implications for how mobile phone companies design their phones – how big should it be, how loud should the ringer (or how powerful the vibrator) be?

"Comments from participants suggested users did not place the phone wherever available, but rather considered many aspects, such as the convenience, tolerance to multiple postures, risk of theft, comfort, or impact to their appearance. The authors learnt that bag users miss incoming alerts more often than with other carrying methods. " (From Putting People First)

I think the questionnaire / recording sheet used by the research team is a fine example of user-based design because its graphical layout makes it easy and foolproof to use. This group at Nokia is certainly walking the talk!

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Peter Drucker’s Seven Sources of Innovation

Peter Drucker wrote that there are seven sources of innovation. Here they are, in reverse order of importance.
7. New technology and scientific findings
6. Changes in public perception
5. Demographic changes
4. Industry market and structures
3. Process needs
2. Incongruities
1. The unexpected

One of the most successful innovations -the Sony Walkman demonstrates several of these principles.


The Sony Walkman was originally designed as a music player for couples, based on Akio Morita's observation of teenagers lugging their radios with them on vacations (an incongruity) and came equipped with two headphone jacks and a recording facility. It even had a "hotline" button, partially overriding the sound from the cassette and allowing one user to talk to the other over the music.

Of course, nobody really used it like that and Sony was quick to see that most people used it as a personal, portable music player (unexpected) and redesigned it accordingly.

What are the incongruous and unexpected events and behaviours in your market? And what are the tools you can use to find and use them?

Thanks to Antonella Pavese for writing about Drucker's seven sources in her excellent blog on women, technology and happiness.

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