Behind Cooper’s New Topic Page

The Cooper Journal has been a great source for design ideas, controversy and practical guidance over the years, so much so that we now have hundreds of posts. But even when a system works well, you start to see its breaking points. And with that, comes a need to reassess. Which is why we’re staging an experiment—and it involves you.

It all started with a simple question: How can we design a better Journal reading experience that takes advantage of the dynamic web platform? The first answer was remove stuff. Traditional blog layouts are bullied by their sidebars. So when you visit the experiment you’ll see we nixed the sidebar. We decided that a full column experience with more legible type would feel better. Not only that, but we could break the grid for images and pull quotes to create interest.

And why stop removing stuff there? There are posts that have sparked discussion, but it’s unfortunate to limit those conversations to our own site. We want interesting discussions to be open, rather than hidden deep within the blog hierarchy. Say goodbye to the comments and hello to a custom twitter feature.

Admittedly, during the exercise we had bit of an existential crisis. Are we reinventing the wheel? We wanted a new comments structure to allow for good conversation, but there’s Branch. We wanted a smooth reading and editing experience, and Medium already comes to mind. We wanted a simple way for Cooperistas to post quick bits of content…wouldn’t Twitter suffice?

Our answer channels Charles Eames:

“Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.”

Blog posts, comments, tweets, these are all interesting things, but we believe that the connection missing is the topic. By sectioning off our experiment from the main Journal, we’ve been able to play with the format. Having removed the noise, we can now add in signal. Say hello to the Curator’s Manifesto: Each topic we curate has thinking behind it and we have a unique perspective that we add. The manifesto is the place where we can be explicit about our point of view and spotlight featured posts. Since we’re focused on one topic, we can serve up the most interesting post of the moment.

Our debut topic feature centers on Design Tools. We’ve got a couple oldies but goodies and a couple posts fresh off the press. The Cooper Journal environment you are presently in will continue to stay the samewith sidebars and comments as we collect your reactions to this new direction, and continue to develop it. We’d love for you to join us in this first topic, be inspired, share some inspiration, and get talking!

Austin in SXSW – The Digital Master (3 of 3)

Last week we spoke about the impending changes in our move from automated to intelligent services. Less UI and more AI might be a killer combination, bringing ease and delight to the complexities of the modern world. This week we’ll see how this type of continuous disruption is more killer than just an app.

The digital master of process

From Lean UX to continuous integration, our processes for generating new ideas are increasingly driven by analytics and usage stats. What allows us to navigate the murky waters of uncertain custom resonance is the intangible skill of vision making; visions that exist only in pixels. Rather than capturing value through physical objects, we’re gaining premium prices for services, and, increasingly, experiences. But there’s also a dark-side to the disruption spurred by the collusion of design and technology.

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Austin in SXSW – The Digital Master (2 of 3)

Last week I shared a number of trends, tech, and tips discussed at SxSW for harnessing physical objects and space within our digitally mastered world. But you might be wondering: “Patrick, why are you advocating making more crap we don’t need? Doesn’t that add to the complexity?” Clever you are. One of the most interesting trends we’re seeing in design is a move to not only smart defaults, but to intelligent ones that can manage that complexity.

The digital master of intelligence

Two talks convinced me that automation will play an increasing role in our lives. From an engineering perspective, Amit Kapur and Jeff Bonforte explained the powerful robot applications that run within our phones, our cars, and our houses. From a design perspective, former Cooperista Golden Krishna shared the design principles that might throttle us toward more interfaces-less interactions. Now three scenarios to highlight the difference between the human, the machine, and the automaton:

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Austin in SXSW – The Digital Master (1 of 3)

It used to be the case that we understood computation as a representation of the real world around us. It was used to model effectiveness of bombs, cities, or patterns of life. But that has flipped. Now the physical world around us is an instantiation of a digital source. Our source used to be an analog, in the case of photography, a negative. The source is no longer analog atoms, but rather a digital master. This is the first of a three part series. Follow the rest of the conversation in part 2 and part 3

Austin, March 11, 2:50pm: You’re staring at your phone, desperately trying to figure out the most appropriate, break-through, next-level place you could possibly go. But you’re also moving, your feet propel you forward guided by the over flowing list of lives you could be living at 3:00pm today. Welcome to the crowd of SXSW’13, a hoard of nerds, some of whom you’ve highlighted as potential friendships, contacts, and maybe something more. Jumping to your other compass, the twitter-sphere, you search for what’s good in the last 2 minutes. Expo G? You’ve got a good 10 minute walk. It starts to rain, and you see a swarm of folks donning red ponchos with a line emerging behind them. Just in time, you happily wear a url in exchange for a dry walk to the next venue. Despite bumping into other tilted head walkers, you find yourself in a massive conference room, ready to be inspired, snap an instagram, and grab some quotable references for your tumblr later on. Halfway through the talk, it hits you: ‘what’s next?’ You pull out your shiny glass master and realize 4:00pm promises 13 potential futures. The notion gives you pause. Imagine, what would SXSW be without the net? No digital schedule, website swag, no live tweeting, no ambient cloud of intent. Just a room with a bunch of people talking. For better or for worse, our reality has flipped, what was once a world of physical things organized by people, is now a world of digital things augmented by people. We look down for orientation, and up for verification. I’d like to share with you how SXSW taught me to stop worrying and learn to love the new master.

The digital master of the built environment

Making plastic junk is now a digital pursuit. One of the first unveilings at SXSW was a consumer level 3D scanner. A couple of years ago the makerbot was released with a promise to disrupt how real things are made. The cycle is now complete with the ability to scan an object into a digital mesh. The mesh can then be modified and printed out to a new plastic object. This is consumer level! For the price of a PC in 93, you can purchase a 3D scanner and printer.

The demo object (scanned and printed) was a garden gnome, once of many crapjects waiting to happen.

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Business is just another canvas

Interested in learning more about business models? Join us on Thursday, February 21 at 6:30 for Cooper Parlor. Can’t make it to Oakland? Watch the event stream live from the Cooper Google+ page.

You’ve just created the last slide detailing an amazing product experience that is sure to delight users. It took months of understanding the technical limitations; and even more blood, sweat, and tears to get the design patterns down. Your visual design is swelling with sexy, and you’ve even managed to prototype the interaction for the final delivery. After an epic presentation, of plot twists and role play, you see smiles, hear laughs, and witness awe within the crowd. But then, six words give way to an air of collective capitulation:

“That’s not how we make money.”

As designers move beyond wireframes, we will butt up against supply chains, distribution channels, partnerships, any of which can constrain or shape the way a product or service is delivered. Increasingly, design is being heralded as powerful lens to reexamine how businesses evolve. Without the necessary tools, those who are tasked with redesigning businesses will come from the boardroom rather than the studio. Design is a process more than an output, as so many great designers have shown. By learning the language of business models, we can answer those six words with six of our own:

“Well, let’s explore how you could.”

We’re good at wireframing for engineers, but less so for financiers. Technical constraints can be specified, but the activities of a business are often intangible. That’s why it helps to work with a shared understanding of what a business does; then we can begin to propose trade-offs.

By modeling how businesses work now, and by explaining how they might achieve viability differently, we can hit on big wins for the customer experience. Even beyond the customer, there is an opportunity to improve the lives of employees, suppliers, partners by redesigning how industries work together. But, if you don’t consider financial viability as a constraint, you’ll never know why your design fell short. If you instead consider viability as a goal, you’ll face allies in your path to implementation.

So what’s an example of a redesigned business?

Coffee trading companies were among the first corporations and their model hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Driven by an urge to improve the lives of farmers, Fair Trade was born to connect farmers more directly to consumers. At first, Fair Trade approached the consumer with a proposition: “You pay a bit more for your coffee, and we’ll ensure there are good labor practices on farms. We’ll ensure that farmers are not exploited by middlemen and that you receive high quality coffee.” Not only do customers get the products they want, but they also feel great about having a positive impact in the world.

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