UX London: Long Nose of Innovation

by Luke Wroblewski April 17, 2012

In his On Long Noses, Sampling, Synthesis, Design and Innovation presentation Bill Buxton discussed the origin of new technologies and the implications of that process on designers. Here are my notes from his talk:

  • People that have only one idea a year, they’re not designers –they’re not professionals. Professional designers don’t need a muse. They need to perform on a regular basis. That means designers need techniques and methods to perform reliably.
  • Invention and creativity don’t come out of the blue. The genius inventor is a myth. The reality is there’s a whole studio working behind architects, designers, and artists.
  • While you can have moment moments of insights, they are not unique invention. You’re building on the backs of others.
  • Tire track diagrams show how technology evolves: what projects/ideas influenced other projects/ideas later on.
  • If you use a model to explain something, the model should be simpler than the thing you are trying to explain.

The Long Nose

  • The long nose: it takes about 20 years to go from a new technology to a billion dollar industry. Most of that time is “below the radar”. That is not visible to most people.
  • Anything that will be a billion dollar industry in five years has already been around for 15 years. That means we can make predictions about what’s coming in the future.
  • Until something actually happens, no one believes it can happen. This is why it takes so long for technology to come out.
  • Early multi-touch started in 1984 but it was only in 2007, that the market and products were mature enough to emerge from below the radar.
  • Example: the roller-ball mouse was patented in 1973 by Xerox. But there was a mouse created by Rainer Mallebrein that was already selling commercially in 1968. Mallebrein did not patent the mouse because he thought it was trivial implementation of something that came before.
  • Example: The original iPod (click-wheel) mirrored a lot of the design aesthetic/form of Dieter Rams’ Braun T3 radio in 1958. Rams refined the TR-1 radio that was designed by Pointer, Teague, and Peteril in 1954.
  • Example: Kodak’s Pocket Series camera was sold in 1926 to men. The company created a few color variants and bound them in leather. Apple did the same thing with their original white iPod.

More Than Just Ideas

  • A patent doesn’t prove that you did something first. Where and when things are done often matters more.
  • When we try to get ideas out there, we have to understand it’s not just the idea that matters. The marketing, the business, and more have to be designed with just as much detail. It’s our job to figure all these parts of this ecosystem out.
  • Creativity is the act of making obvious things that aren’t yet obvious.
  • Draw on your heroes, see what they did and re-imagine it as contemporary. Every artist can tell you what their influences are –where they draw from for inspiration.
  • Recognize that the best designers are drawing from history and moving things forward with their translation. Riff on the ideas of others.
  • The way we traditionally think about design is like alchemy: making gold out of nothing. Instead it’s more like prospecting for gold. Some people are better at surveying the landscape and finding where gold can be. But you also need to be able to mine it and refine it. Finding gold is not enough.
  • It’s no longer sufficient to make something that works. It used to be enough to just make things function.
  • We have to take things beyond function. To continue the analogy, gold needs to be crafted into jewelry, which gives it more worth.
  • Design is all about multiples. You need a few different options before you decide which one to go to. Sketches suggest rather than refine.
  • Craft requires practice.
  • Synthesizing the world is one part of sketching (drawing). Sampling the world is another way of sketching (mood boards, etc). These processes are parallel.
  • The more literate you are about history the more you are prepared for tomorrow.
  • 19 Moore’s Laws ago, Casio sold a wristwatch for $94 with a capacitive touch screen that allowed you to use a calculator through touch-handwriting. How good are we if we had that technology in 1984? How far have we really progressed?
  • If you change anything by an order of magnitude on any product, that changes everything. Example: remote control forced TV stations to synchronize advertisements.