uber economy?

Also an official taxi isn't necessarily a safe place (although Robert de Niro killed outside of it only)

Also an official taxi isn’t necessarily a safe place (although Robert de Niro only killed outside of it)

The news are full of stories about start ups in the “sharing economy”.  Depending on the source, they are praising or devastating. These services are fascinating (to me) because they build heavily on a digital and often even mobile infrastructure – while not invented today, this infrastructure is still quite new and thus makes concepts and business ideas possible that no one had thought about before. And they promise to tap into unused potentials of underused cars, un(der)employed people, or temporarily free flats.

cheaper by cheating? case uber

For many customers (users?) the main reason is: they are cheaper than comparable existing services. I wonder how they can do it.

If we think of an ideal market, excessive profits won’t last long because a competitor quickly offers the same service cheaper. If such a market is mature, prices have leveled in. Competitiors therefore try to offer something different, more valuable, in order to be able to ask higher prices (differentiation) or we see new, so called disruptive ideas that do the same thing better, more efficient, etc.
(note: the taxi market is not such an ideal market because you also need a taxi concession, which is limited and regulated. Whether this is useful is a different story, I think it isn’t important for my argument).

When we look at uber(Pop), they are often cheaper. So differentiation doesn’t seem to be their main point: The service they offer from the client perspective is pretty much the same: they bring people from A to B. They use dynamic pricing which can be good and bad for the passenger, depending on demand.

Is their business model disruptive then? They broker rides between passengers and drivers – but that’s common praxis with taxis already. The drivers are self-employed with all the benefits and risks – true for both. They have a nice app but that is available for taxis, too (2008 already!). They tap into a different pool of drivers: anyone! and cars: anyone’s car.

But is that a disruptive advantage? You need enough drivers so that you can serve your customers quickly. Driving for uber must be so profitable that drivers do it professionally and prefer it over driving a taxi. Or that they spend the remaining time besides aonther job transporting other people – not giving s.o. a lift on a way you have to go anyways, but making the tour just for the transport. uber also has a brokerage fee that the company itself lives on. This leaves little room for a cheaper price. Maybe they have a tremendously more efficient system to broker and schedule rides.

My suspicion is that they often circumvent regulations. A usual taxi has to go to inspection once a year. uber cars being private cars only once every two years (in Germany). A usual taxi driver needs a licence that allows transportation of people, they need to renew it every 5 years, they need a special insurance – uber drivers don’t need any of that (uber says it has an insurance in place but doesn’t release any proof of it). All of these regulations seem to be pretty reasonable considering that traffic is dangerous and you are in the driver’s hands as a passenger.

As far as I can see, uber is a little disruptive but also heavily cheating.
(if you have some more business knowledge, I welcome your comments to get this clearer for me!)


Tapping into unused resources: case airbnb

The uber considerations should be true for other services as well, such as Helpling: cheating on regulations, on customer expectations helps lower the price.

The case of airbnb is a little different: it’s a flat you have anyways, like the lift you give someone when ride sharing to a destination you go to yourself. To me, this model seems much more enabled by communication technology. Without it, tourists would just not be able to find that room that is empty over the weekend, at least it would be far too much effort. It also scales to a certain extent: everyone can do it for mutual profit (and some profit for airbnb) and it’s not competing for your time with a job.

The idea loses some of its shine because of its success: when people start renting regular apartments only to sublet them via airbnb, we are back in normal holiday apartment business (and even aggravate the problem of raising rents in crowded places).


Sharing vs helping

“Sharing economy” sounds a little too altruistic for all of these services, at least if we consider the connotation of “giving” in “sharing”. Most of these services are based on profit not just refunding expenses (which a classic ride share ideally does). The main point cultural critics mention is that these services commercialize social interactions, exchanging helpfulness through rational calculus. You can still offer things for free (such as a classic lift, couchsurfing, …). But these services seem to question helpfulness on a societal level.



. . .

PRISM, security, and the user

The extent, if not totality, of the US spy program PRISM has shocked the world. It still does, as new details occur and no official plans to improve transparency or legitimacy are announced.

The activities uncovered put yet another spotlight on the vulnerability of the “information society” we live in and we appreciate for its comfort. As the term already suggests, information plays the key role and it is also key to gain or exert power. Therefore, criminals work on malware to gain information about our credit cards and to steal business secrets. Companies are after your intimate behavior to personalize advertising. And now it turns out that also friendly constitutional democracies filter data on massive scale as part of their “intelligence” (how far this even involves “business intelligence” is one of the unanswered questions).

In this light, improving the security of messages and the transmission networks themselves becomes critical.

As an example for secure messages, SiMKo, the top security devices by Deutsche Telekom, aim to protect government communications – as it seems now, this is not only necessary against spy organizations but also to keep friendly secret services at bay. T-Systems works with IXDS to not “just” deliver top security but to keep up usability and joy of use up at the same time. [I work for IXDS]

I also joined the project SASER, an EU funded research activity for a more stable, secure, and efficient network technology. As part of the Interaction Design Lab, we will develop visualization tools for complex data that help security analysts to find and stop vulnerabilities or attacks.

More secure technology and “security habits” certainly help on an individual level. Attempts towards total surveillance, however, need to be blocked on society (or political) level. Only if we value transparency and accountability more than secrecy, even in the event of terror, we can keep a vivid freedom of speech and our democracy healthy.


Back from the no-Email future: Gesche Joost

Gesche Joost, a (in her field) well known design researcher from the University of the Arts Berlin, just reported from the world in 2040. Luckily, the ZEIT newspaper still exists, at least online, and they recorded her statement. It’s also pleasing to see that Gesche didn’t get that much older…

Back to reality: Of course, the future is used as a mirror to reflect our times. In her talk, she diagnoses three major problems of our times:

  1. The need to carry around digital devices to stay in touch with people
  2. Information and communication overload, mostly due to email
  3. A focus on technology rather than needs (she uses the very nice—and broader— term: “Dimensionen der Gesellschaft”, dimensions of society)

From mobile devices to the cyborg (kind of)

The dependency on mobile, in particular: smart phones, surely is striking. Just think about the careful watch on your (phone’s) battery life that you keep throughout the day. Or think about the rave that the iPhone creates as a status symbol and the surveys that tell us that phones become more important than cars as representative objects. But her imagination, that devices disappear into our clothing and our bodies, sounds a little bit like the “old” vision of ubiquitous computing, mixed with some cyborg elements.

Info overload or the nature of the email

The point that struck me more was the email overload. In her diagnosis, she says it was because it was bound to emails (let’s say: text) and emails were bound to computers with keyboards “in front of them”. I would rather argue that the Blackberry, i.e. a portable, in a sense ubiquitous device, gave the email flood a tremendous rise—right because people were no longer bound to their PCs.

And I doubt that the emails that arrive in an important person’s mailbox (I count Gesche among them) can be perceived in an “ambient manner”, in a “flow”, as she describes it. One of the problems with most of these emails is that it’s unclear–before you read it–whether you need to take a decission, or just get information. If you need to decide something, you might need to sit and think about it, with or without flow. Sure, many questions might have been decided already elsewhere, the sender didn’t have that information and bothers you again. That’s a true issue with emails, they are not good at making knowledge accessible. Luis Suarez tries to live a highly interesting vision of a life without emails, he tries to answer as much publicly (or company publicly) on a sort of Facebook stream which is fully searchable.

Text based systems, such as email, even have the advantage that we can easily “speed read” through them, and based on the bits we catch can decide whether it’s worth more attention or not. It’s rather complicated to speed read through video or sound recordings (such as voice mail) because time is part of that medium.

In my mind, “communication” won’t be a catch-all phrase in the future. For some facts and e.g. legally important stuff, we will still rely on text (email, streams). Probably, the biggest part of professional communication, still. But the part of story telling will become more important, something we do on a social level already very much when we have a coffee together (having a coffee is a synchronous activity, however, i.e. both people need to spend time at the same time). Listening to a story is a very pleasant way to learn. Of course, our current voice recording systems don’t quite support that (there is visual voicemail (Apple, again!), and there are efforts to speech recognize voice mail and make it (text) searchable by Google (of course)).

Design for the diverse Dimensions of Society

And her third point: too much male engineers, too much focus on technology instead of relevant “dimensions of society”:  I’ve little to add there since Gesche is a leading figure in the world of Co-Creation that aims precisely at bringing all relevant people (“stakeholders”, which can be potential users, vendors, help desk people, …) to the table in order to look for their needs and expectations first and then set the agenda for technological endeavours.


Facebook is an infrastructure

Inside Facebooks Prineville Datacenter (photo by Pete Erikson/ Wired.com)

With more and more Facebook features and -acquisitions, it appears increasingly plausible to me that Facebook could become “the internet” to many people around the world. It’s becoming so big and so comprehensive that they would not go anywhere else to surf “the web”. They would do all the messaging, news reading, picture browsing, gaming, shopping on Facebook. In many of today’s ads you find links in the form of f/mycompany instead of the former www.mycompany.com. Is Facebook becomming the new “web”, leaving the www and soon technology like a webbrowser behind (or for the geeks)?

What if Facebook went away?

This could be just another observation from the ever evolving media ecosystem but this shift has/would bring a remarkable change: the www doesn’t belong to anyone (although it’s dominated by the US), while Facebook is privately owned and dominated by Mark Zuckerberg (holding 28% of the shares and speaking for 57%).
He can change the terms of the service as he likes (and so he does) and he could just turn it all off when he got sick of it. Poff — the internet, deleted.

Or imagine it the other way round: Facebook in financial troubles, filing for bankruptcy. This would put so much business, entertainment industries, media channels, personal data, image collections at risk, that it would appear as a public interest to keep Facebook alive — too big to fail.
In his Wired article Can Anything Take Down The Facebook Juggernaut, Steven Johnson called Facebook more an infrastructure than a business by its nature.

Johnson sees two challenges to an all Facebook-internet: it tends to become a walled garden, trying to force users to stay inside its network, e.g. by intercepting links to the “outside” with a “we have an App for that” dialogues. And all walled gardens to date have failed. But in contrast to walled gardens of the old web, the community pulls all the content into Facebook themselves. And, even outside the Matrix Network, you are inside the Network, tracked by beacons, like-buttons or exposed by sponsored stories.

The other risk, according to Johnson, is a break up of Facebook due to monopoly considerations. This would be a spectacular and stunningly bold move by a government: slicing out essential parts of the Facebook code and infrastructure to put it into the public domain, to create a public infrastructure as the www is today. Given the influence of Facebook as a media outlet, this sounds like a Hollywood-movie show down to me. Since presidential election campaings increasingly rely on Facebook, it might never happen.

Consequences of an all-Facebook world

Facebook has made the web less information centric and more people centric and social (sharing sharing sharing). The ease of sharing and staying connected works best when you have a single identity on the web, ideally identical with your offline identity and when your online friends are your offline friends. You can no longer decide yourself to play different roles in different contexts. You can try to funnel certain information into certain social groups (or facets) but this requires extra work and might be overruled by a Facebook update.

But the “Open Graph” goes beyond our intuitive understanding: it reveals connections among people and strengths of links that even the people forming these links might not be quite aware of (or could you easily name your 120 closest friends?). It makes interests, hidden wishes, intimate information accessible through data mining. Maybe not to the public, maybe not to you, but in any case to Facebook.


Design for Green: EcoViz and Persuasive Design

Go here for the older, German version

Everyone keeps talking about climate protection, but noone gets going. Even though our energy consumption is known to be a little over budget (with 11t per capita and year, 2008), it does influence our day to day decisions in prominent ways. The climate, and even more its slow and gradual change, is just too abstract and “far away”. It’s much easier for us to imagine the efforts of getting a new fridge (choose, check prices, pick it up, getting rid of the old one, …), than imagining the advantages which will pay off one day in the future in our purse or even globally climatically.

Sure, a lot of us are for more energy efficency in principle and would change their daily lives. But, how do you know where start best with these changes? And how do you avoid that your good intentions are not pushed back by other everyday tasks? Energy consumption in forms like electricity and heat is a pretty invisible and unremarkable thing by itself.

A good example are energy and gas meters which are located in the most obscure niches of our flats (who owns a chique meter, anyways?). Few will know what their meter showed yesterday or last year and whether that is considered comparatively high or low. The yearly bill at bet makes us focus on our consumption and the dull tables and numbers don’t even try to invite for contemplation.

Part 1: Interaction Design to the rescue!

Making the invisible visible” is the mission interaction design is on. Usually, this means designing the handling of electronic devices. One of the most basic features, energy consumption, didn’t play any major role here (except maybe showing the battery life).

The Visual Voltage exhibition from the beginning of this year showed how energy consumption can be an unobstrusive but persistent part of our everyday environment. Organized by the Swedish cultural institute (Svenska Institutet) and the Interactive Institute, a combination of several design research institutions, Sweden wanted to underline the focus of its EU council presidency. (IxDS, my employer, organized the Visual Voltage Workshop for designers from all over the world during the exhibition in Berlin).

One of the most prominent pieces is the Power Aware Cord, a power strip with a cord that is animated by glowing strings. You can literally see flow through the energy. The more is plugged in, the brighter and more hectic the cord glows but also small stand-by suckers get denunciated.

Another example is the Flower Lamp, a huge hanging lamp in the form of a blossom, which closes its face whn the power consumption in the houshold is high. That is, the light and spacial atmosphere change and make the energy consumption experiencealbe indirectly.

There are also really pragmatic solutions available, like the light switch and sockets that show how much electricity flowed through them � once you have seen them, these ideas appear just straight forward (Piotr Szpryngwald (2007): Strom visualisieren).

Part 2: Risks for EcoViz as Persuasive Design

The design of products can influence our everyday life pretty thoroughly, far beyond plain beautification that it often gets confused with (the granny of my colleague isn’t using her iPhone because it suits her “style” but because she understands the interaction concept).We can weave information into our surroundings, like having the power meter show a last-year value or denounce the most energy hungry device in the household. Design can also influence our behaviour (Persuasive Technolgy), e.g. when my energy control station shows me how much better I perform in saving energy compared to my neighbour (and with the link to facebook, I can even present my green heart to the public.)

But does this influence and power direct our attention to the critical points? Who (also who among the designers) would know that old circulation pumps for the heating is the biggest engery consumers in a household? Some might not even know of the existence of these devices inside their heater. Maybe the “eco switches” from above become the new status symbols that make you feel good when you switch off the light. But how much is gained if you switch off the light, leaving your appartement with a green conscience to fly to your friends in Australia and El Salvador five times a year? There are also some inconsistencies bringing your organic grocery home into your atmospheric, old building with pre-war insulation.

Regarding the impressive possibilities for designers to pilot people onto the path of energy efficency, one should not forget to think about the immediacy of each propagated method. Otherwise, a lot of attention is wasted quickly on marginal improvements. Huge amounts of energy are consumed inside your own four walls but you import it in various forms of products and services (starting with the internet transfering this article). This consumption is often considerable, but is pretty hard to determine (e.g. because you don’t know the process exactly) � and even harder to explain it to customers (there are related projects about “virtual water by Stefan Stubbe and Timm Kekeritz).

Design can help in many situations to make the world more understandable. It can direct attention on energy efficency while at the same time integrating it nicely into our everyday life. But it needs a critical feedback from other disciplines find and stay focused on the really promising measures. And finally: The CO2 disappear by styling. You need to get going yourself.


Grüner Gestalten

Alle reden über den Klimaschutz, aber keiner fängt an. Auch wenn unser Energieverbrauch mittlerweile allgemein als etwas überzogen erkannt wird (mit 11 t CO2 pro Kopf und Jahr WBGU), so spielt er doch in unseren alltäglichen Entscheidungen kaum eine Rolle. Das Klima, und erst recht seine langsame und graduelle Veränderung, ist einfach zu abstrakt und zu “weit weg”. Wir können uns sehr viel besser den Aufwand vorstellen, den es bedeutet einen neuen Kühlschrank anzuschaffen (auszusuchen, preiszuvergleichen, abzuholen, den alten loszuwerden, …), als die Vorteile, die das eines ferneren Tages im Geldbeutel oder gar global klimatisch ausmachen wird.

Sicherlich sind viele prinzipiell für mehr Energieeffizienz und würden sich im täglichen Leben auch umorientieren. Allein, wie verhindert man, dass die hehren Vorsätze im Alltag von anderen Aufgaben wieder ins Vergessen gedrängt werden? Energieverbrauch, wie Strom und Wärme, ist von sich aus ziemlich unsichtbar und unauffällig.

Das beste Beispiel dazu sind die Strom- und Gaszähler, die in der Regel in den verstecktesten Winkeln der Wohnung hängen (und wer hat schon einen schicken Stromzähler?). Wenige wissen, was der Zähler gestern oder letztes Jahr angezeigt hat, oder ob das nun vergleichsweise viel oder wenig ist. Bestenfalls die jährliche Abrechnung bringt den Verbrauch in unsere Aufmerksamkeit, und die öden Zahlentabellen laden gar nicht erst zum Lesen ein.

Unsichtbares sichtbar zu machen” ist die Aufgabe, die sich das Interaction Design gestellt hat. Üblicherweise geht es dabei um die Gestaltung der Bedienung von elektronischen Geräten. Eine der ganz grundlegenden Eigenschaften, nämlich der Stromverbrauch, hat dabei nur bisher keine Rolle gespielt (höchstens vielleicht beim Akkuladestand).

Wie Energieverbrauch unaufdringlich, aber beständig Teil unserer Alltagsumgebung werden kann, zeigte die Ausstellung Visual Voltage Anfang des Jahres. Organisiert vom Kulturinstitut Schwedens (Svenska Institutet) und dem Interactive Institute, einem Verband von Designforschungseinrichtungen, wollte Schweden damit den Schwerpunkt seiner EU-Ratspräsidentschaft unterstreichen.
Zu den prägnantesten Stücken gehört der Power Aware Cord, ein Mehrfachstecker, dessen Kabel mit leuchtenden Fäden animiert ist. Man kann den Strom förmlich fließen sehen. Je mehr angeschlossen ist, desto heller und hektischer leuchtet das Kabel, aber auch kleine Standby-Dauerverbraucher werden damit verraten.
Eine Installation von Stefan Stubbe nimmt sich des Wasserverbrauchs an: Nicht beim täglichen Zähneputzen verbrauchtes, sondern “virtuelles”, mit brasilianischem Kaffee und spanischen Tomanten importiertes. Auf einer Stele ist ein Wasserhahn über einer Tasse montiert. Drückt man daneben auf die Taste für eine Tasse Kaffee, rauschen 80 Liter Wasser in die Tasse (die freilich unten ein Loch hat); soviel wird für die Herstellung tatsächlich verbraucht, das meiste davon außerhalb Deutschlands.

Wie sehr eine gute Gestaltung zum Erfolg neuer Technologien beitragen kann, ist vermutlich mit dem schon ganz abgenudelten Beispiel des iPhones deutlich geworden. Natürlich hat Apples geölte Marketingmaschine einen bedeutenden Anteil daran. Aber wahrscheinlich kennt auch jeder eine Geschichte aus dem persönlichen Umfeld über eine Oma, die mit dem iPhone nicht nur den Mobilfunk, sondern auch gleich das mobile Internet für sich entdeckt hat.

Produktgestaltung kann also unseren Alltag sehr nachhaltig beeinflussen, ganz jenseits der bloßen Verschönerung, mit der es oft verwechselt wird (die Oma benutzt das Telefon ja nicht, weil es ihrem “Style” entspricht, sondern weil sie das Bedienkonzept versteht). Aber lenkt dieser Einfluss die Aufmerksamkeit auf die entscheidenen Punkte? Wer (auch welcher Designer) weiß schon, dass alte Umwälzpumpen von Heizungen zu den größten Stromverbrauchern im Haushalt gehören? Einigen wird gar nicht bewusst sein, dass so ein Gerät in ihrem Boiler sitzt.

Design kann unsere Umwelt informativer werden lassen, etwa wenn der Stromzähler einen Vergleich zum Vorjahresniveau anzeigt oder verrät, welches Gerät genau den größten Energiehunger an den Tag legt. Design kann außerdem Einfluss auf unser Verhalten nehmen, indem beispielsweise meine Energiezentrale anzeigt, wie gut ich mich beim Energiesparen im Vergleich zu meinem Nachbarn schlage (und mit einem Facebook-Anschluss kann ich mein grünes Herz sogar öffentlich zeigen). Aber wieviel ist gewonnen, wenn man dann gut-grünen Gewissens fünf Mal im Jahr Freunde in Australien und El Salvador anfliegt? Oder das Licht in seinem Altbau mit Vorkriegsisolierung öfter mal ausschaltet?

Angesichts der eindrucksvollen Möglichkeiten, mit den Mitteln der Gestalter die Menschen auf den Energiesparpfad zu lotsen, sollte man nicht vergessen, vorher über die Dringlichkeit der propagierten Maßnahmen nachzudenken. Sonst ist ganz schnell viel Aufmerksamkeit auf marginale Verbesserungen verschwendet. Um zum obigen Beispiel mit der 80l-Kaffeetasse zurückzukommen: Eine Menge Energie wird gar nicht innerhalb der eigenen vier Wände verbraucht, sondern in Form von verschiedenen Produkten und Dienstleistungen (z.B. dem Internet) importiert. Dieser Verbrauch ist oft erheblich, lässt sich aber gar nicht so einfach genau berechnen (z.B. weil man die Verarbeitungskette nicht genau kennt) – und noch weniger dem Endverbraucher auf die Schnelle erklären.

Design kann an vielen Stellen helfen, die Welt verständlicher zu machen. Es kann die Aufmerksamkeit aufs Energiesparen lenken und es gleichzeitig angenehm in den Alltag integrieren. Es braucht aber eine kritische Rückkoppelung mit anderen Disziplinen um die wirklich vielversprechendsten Maßnahmen im Blick zu behalten. Und schließlich: Es wird nur Anzreiz zur Veränderung geben. Handeln muss jeder selbst. Einfach wegstylen lässt sich das CO2 nicht.

[Anmerkung: Ich bin zwar nicht direkt in den Workshop involviert, arbeite aber für die Firma, die ihn mitorganisiert]


TEDx Berlin Review

Stephan Balzer moderated TEDx Berlin

Stephan Balzer moderated TEDx Berlin

TED conferences became famous for the inspiring and inspired talks, originally on “Technology, Entertainment, and Design”. The recent TEDx conference brought this model to Berlin for the first time (the “x” indicates an “independently organized” event). The organizers around Stephan Balzer really deserve a huge amount of respect for bringing this high class conference to Berlin, and for providing perfect infrastructure and support throughout the show.

Among the outstanding speakers were Veterans like Peter Eigen (from transparency international) and Bernard Lietaer. One could add Hans Rosling, whose groundbreaking statistics presentation from a couple of years ago was shown as a video (a pitty that he wasn’t available for questions afterwards).
Peter Eigen had no problems in making his points compelling and clear without any slides: Corruption by large companies is one of the main causes for poverty in so-called developing countries. He called it a problem of bad governance, not only in the bribed states but at least as severly in the bribing states where governments fail to efficently ban and punish bribing (note that you could get tax reductions for bribing abroad as “extraordinary selling expenses” until a couple of years ago).

Reto Wettach talking about "Bodies and Secrets"

Reto Wettach talking about "Bodies and Secrets"

Bernard Lietaer, as a monetary expert, argued against an economic system purely built on efficency: one could learn from ecologically sustainable systems that resilience is tremendously important to cope with surprising events (such as a storm or a financial crisis, background eg. in Berkes et al (1998)). Monoculture is highly efficent but also extremely vulnerable and has very poor potential for adaption.In retrospect, a series of design research talks connected perfectly to Lietaer’s pledge for more diversity: Reto Wettach argued that the invention and development processes of electronic devices must open up for electrical non-experts. If more people would pursue and realize their ideas for new hardware, innovation and more human friendly machines would happen more quickly. He presented Fritzing, a software targeted at making exactly this easier. He was framed by two speakers who delivered impressive examples: Fabian Hemmert investigates haptic and form-changing mobile phones. And Christophe F. Maire already explores the upcoming market for eBooks with his company txtr.

Social and ethical projects were another huge topic, such as empowering a civil society with sports (Boxing Girls). Other talks presented “third world aid” projects and often showed an undercomplex approach while dealing with complex issues. These talks seemed to follow the idea that “we Europeans need to help those poor Africans down there”. What these underpriviledged countries really need, in my opinion, is an end of European (or Western) arrogance, implicit in talking about just Africa (“the dark continent”, source) and explicit in trade barriers (such as import taxes and subsidies in Europe).
Despite being years old and just dealing with statistics, the ingenious TED video with Hans Rosling managed far better to bring fundamental issues to light, like (lacking) equal terms of trade and resepect for the diverse developments of African countries.

In the end, however, each talk delivered valueable starting points for discussions during the luckily extra long breaks. It was sometimes hard to imagine that all those well-suited people in the luxurious environment of the Grand Hyatt were really interested in groundbreaking changes, but I was happy to get proved wrong by a couple of personal conversations. There are by far enough ideas, talks, and people to get back to and that’s of course the success of TEDx Berlin.

Watch out for the videos!


Inventing for the other 90%

Growing without design? housings in El Alto

Growing without design? housings in El Alto

The more I get to know the work in large corporations the more it strikes me how much money they spend (or waste) on generating new ideas. Thousands and millions are made available for new or not so new ideas and for exploring new fields of business in continually saturated markets. It comes by little surprise that a lot of the results are pretty poor. Granted, when dealing with “innovation processes” you never know what you’ll get for your investment which makes it hard to judge which money could be saved. But what could be sparked with these funds if applied elsewhere, outside of the business context?

A lot of “ideas” or development efforts are not focused on new technologies or services in the sense of making our lives better. They are just meant to produce new or refined business models so that the company can earn more money. Serving the user’s (let’s say: real) needs from a more holistic point of view is just not taken into account (literally!). In the end of inovation workshops, the single factor for decisions about the future “life” of an idea is profit and not user needs.

I don’t want to criticise companies (at least not here) for their single minded goals of making profits–in the system of capitalism it’s their only reason of existence (and even the companies can’t keep the money but have to pass it on to their shareholders. The contradiction between user needs and profits grows even more this way, as André Gorz describes very clearly). But if we allow us just for a little moment to think outside these business restrictions: Enormous resources are spent to make some bright minds comfortable and creative every day so that they struggle with those oversaturated markets and fight against the “no need barriers” of obviously happy customers.
What if a fraction of these efforts was directed on problems like child poverty, ecologic smartness, cultural diversity? What if oxfam, amnesty international or terre des hommes could be supplied with a comparable stream of brain work?
For sure the effects would be enormous. So many people are longing for a better life and don’t have to be convinced by (insanely) expensive marketing. And all those people are more than willing to contribute as much as they can (and often fail because of lack of influence).

Increadible amounts spent to get ideas on how to cram even more products into costumers in the one world and the destruction and the eradication of so many perspectives because of lacking funds and minds in the other one: That’s an insight that makes me really, really sad.
Of course, you could believe in the Trickle-Down-Effect and hope that the more profits large companies make the more they can invest in new ideas that finally will make the lives of all of us better; but noone is able to tell how long are we supposed to wait for some drips to reach the bottom.

On the contrary! It might be totally plausible that we can’t design within the usual innovation (business, distribution) system if we want to reach this bottom…


Debates in the movies

My previous storyboard has advanced: A little more compact in the beginning and a focus onto the essential statement about Design for Debate in the end. And the pictures, stiff and still, became a real movie already!

Design for Debate in 45sec


understanding your addressbook

automatic addressbook visualisation

While science did and still does struggle to explain some basic relations in our physical environment, several man-made layers were added on top from global economies over finely balanced political treaties to magic-like technologies.

From an everyday perspective, Quantum Mechanics and Magic are more or less equivalent.

as Terry Pratchett once put it (in an 2002 Interview by Die Zeit). The same holds true for our personal environment, where we clutter our harddisks with images, bookmarks, music — and addressbook entries.