Monday, November 30, 2009

The original Free

Chris Anderson's book Free: the Future of a Radical Price is getting a lot of buzz for its thesis that companies can make a lot of money by offering free digital products. As soon as I started hearing about this stuff I thought, "Someone has been reading Abbie Hoffman."

Hoffman was the original free-ster. He published under the name Free, and took "Barry Freed" as an alias when he was on the run from the law. His book Steal this Book was an underground classic. He was more than talk, though. He helped organize free stores in inner city neighborhoods that gathered cast off goods and gave them away to people in need.

He also was responsible for some of the greatest marketing gimmicks ever invented, not for the purpose of making some company a lot of money, but to bring attention to causes. During the Vietnam war he and his little tribe announced that they were gathering at the Pentagon and would levitate the entire building using witchcraft. The gathering there to participate in the ceremony was probably the first flash mob. He closed down the NYSE one day by throwing dollar bills into the pit from the balcony, causing traders to stop trading and start chasing the bills. During his trial for conspiracy to riot in Chicago he regularly lectured the judge in his Groucho Marxist voice: "In all my years as a defendant that's the most ridiculous ruling I ever heard."

In a sort of sad application of Free, Anderson and others have ripped off Hoffman's riffs and used them to market consumer products. His famous epigram, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life," from his 1968 book Revolution for the Hell of It, adorns countless greeting cards. As Stephen Colbert noted in his interview with Anderson, "So your book Free costs 26 dollars. Well done, my man." Colbert was being more than just a little ironic.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Reformatting RTP

I've complained before about the layout of Research Triangle Park between Durham and Raleigh. It's too big and traffic intensive to encourage tech workers to meet each other and exchange ideas. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so, as there are plans to repurpose some of the land to encourage collaboration between companies and their knowledge workers.

This is a nice development. I've taken advantage of some of the activities mentioned in this article, including Techie Tuesday and the RTP-based NCSU MBA program. I'd love to see park do more to encourage techs to get together. Kudos to Rick Weddle and his staff for taking steps in that direction.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Remarks on Your Next Move

I picked up Your Next Move: the Leader's Guide to Navigating Major Career Transitions by Michael Watkins as I prepared to start my new position with a local company. Skimming it, it seemed to cover a lot of topics I was interested in: things you need to do first, how to categorize the state the company is in, etc. The book turned out to be an extended outline, with references to follow up in his other books. It was almost like reading an extended abstract for his other publications. I really needed a deep dive on some of the topics.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

End of the job search

The job hunt is over. I'll start my new position on Monday! It was as quick a search as could be expected, given the state of the economy. More details to follow, after I've had a chance to settle in.

I'll be managing the visual UI of the company's applications, so I'm out of the voice user interface business now. That presents a dilemma for me, since the name of the blog is "Interactive Voice Response." I'll need to re-brand the blog. Anyway, it's a good problem to have.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Transcending Products - Offering Experience Design & Strategy

PDMA Carolinas Chapter is hosting an event this Thursday called "Transcending Products - Offering Experience Design & Strategy." You can register by visiting the web site.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Designer or consultant/ designer?

A discussion with the manager of a design group at a local company prompted me to think about the difference between designers and consultant/designers. The manager said that he had some talented graphic designers that he basically kept away from business areas that required design services. Others in the design group or on the projects they worked on acted as the interface to the business areas. There are good, defensible reasons for that. Business people can suck up a lot of time from creatives, asking for concepts, mockups, and ideas, and then rejecting anything that is presented with indefensible requests for changes (see previous blog post on this subject). This can work well if the manager understands the value of the designers' abilities and their time, knows how to manage clients, and isn't simply trying to take credit for the group's work.

On the other hand, being able to lead engagements and work with business areas and clients is a valuable, transferable skill. Leaving the consulting part of a project to someone else, especially someone who doesn't understand or can't sell the value of design, can result in some very good design work being underutilized or ignored. I've seen the same thing with usability analysts who worked only at the direction of a project leader. They couldn't assert themselves in project situations or consulting engagements, and as a result their test results and recommendations were largely ignored.

Personally, I'd like to see every designer and usability pro be able to lead engagements and consult effectively with clients.