Tagged : technology

Skeuomorphism

These days, everyone seems to talk about skeuomorphism, not in the last place because of Jony Ive’s design revolution at Apple. I follow this discussion closely because this discussion also applies to Kiozk.com, a company I co-founded. More on skeuomorphism later, first a little introduction on Kiozk.

When you visit Kiozk.com and set the location to Groningen (a Dutch city), you’ll see a long list with activities based on your time and location. The activity at the top of the list is about to start, the more you scroll down, the later the activity takes place. Essentially, this is all you need to know about Kiozk, although there’s much more to it.

screenshot Kiozk Groningen

Kiozk, a modern kiosk

We see Kiozk as the modern equivalent of a kiosk. No need to collect dozens of flyers or search the Internet to find something to do. Instead, use Kiozk and you’ll immediately see activities taking place nearby. This led to an important design-question. If we see ourselves as a modern day kiosk, shouldn’t we look like a kiosk as well?

Skeuomorphism

We quickly learned this is called skeuomorphism… Skeu-what!? In short, it means that a digital object closely emulates objects in the real world. Check these examples: 12 and 3. In other words, a digital button looks like a real-world button, so our digital Kiozk should resemble a real-world kiosk as well.

To Skeu or Not to Skeu

Last year, there were many arguments in favor of skeuomorphism. After all, Scott Forstall still worked for Apple and iOS was filled with real-life objects, materials and shapes. Since many people were (and still are) used to this skeuomorphic design, it made sense to apply the same design philosophy to Kiozk as well. So we did (well, only during our mock-up phase).

We tried wooden textures…
kiozk skeuomorphism - wood
Made the activity-feed resemble paper…
kiozk skeuomorphism - paper
We even used leather stitching at some point (yes I know, it looks terrible).
kiozk skeuomorphism - leather stitching

We literally tried hundreds of designs for the Kiozk homepage. Some were skeuomorphic and some used the so called flat design. In the end, we choose the modern and more minimalist look and ditched skeuomorphism. In hindsight, this is the best decision we could’ve made. After all, with the current design revolution at Apple, skeuomorphism is now officially outdated.

kiozk skeuomorphism - current flat designThis is the current activity-feed.
We hope to perfect the design within several weeks.

Juan Enriquez - Ted lecture - Genomics

Mr. Gene: Juan Enriquez

What happens when we’re capable of copying nature and create life ourselves? Or what if we can fix everything that’s wrong with us, thus create the perfect human being? And what if all food we eat would be perfect? These questions, and some more, popped into my mind after yesterday’s lecture by Harvard fellow Juan Enriquez, which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

Juan Enriquez is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on the economic and political impacts of life sciences (yep, that’s a mouthful). In short, he knows a lot about economy and genes. And he’s quite famous. I mean, this guy teaches at Harvard and spoke at TED four times, his talks have been watched by millions of people… Nonetheless, I didn’t know this guy at all. Until today.

Animals, tomatoes, car fuel

Juan Enriquez spoke about how bio-science begins to affect the way we live, work and do business. As an example, I already knew scientists are able to clone animals and genetically enhance food like tomatoes. But did you know scientists are already capable of growing their own liquid car fuel by using gene-technology?

In short, you’d buy a single bag of liquid gen-enhanced fuel. Then, this liquid multiplies and multiplies again, which goes on and on for ever. There’s no need to buy fuel anymore. Anyone can grow their own unlimited supply of fuel, which will dramatically change the entire oil industry (thus the world economic and political stability) in a single day. Do we still need the Persian Gulf? What happens to Russia’s economy? What are the (positive?) impacts for the environment? What happens when millions of oil-related jobs disappear?

This example makes it obvious that gene-technology could have a huge impact on our lives.

Grow your own teeth

Something unrelated to car fuel, but still a game changer; Juan Enriquez told us about growing teeth. We’re not born with teeth (which our mothers should be grateful to). Instead, while being a child, somehow teeth grow. Then, they fall out and grow again. But why can our teeth only grow two times? What if, by using gene-technology, we can grow our teeth a third and perhaps even fourth time? No more false teeth, but instead we all have the ‘real’ deal. This will change the entire dental industry for sure.

Juan told us another interesting development. As it turns out, scientists found a way to store digital data in living cells. I really don’t know how this works. But it’s fascinating for sure.

Should we try to copy nature?

After Juan Enriquez’ lecture, I wonder… Should we try to copy nature? Should we cure every incurable disease we know? Do we really need perfect teeth? Is the gen-perfected tomato that much better compared to an old fashioned tomato? And, what if everything else we eat would be perfect as well? Would that really increase our happiness and improve our way of life? Or is this just a way to make things more perfect, which enables us to control even more aspects of our own lives? After all, humans love to be in full control (and I’m no exception). On the other hand, no more diseases and an unlimited supply of car fuel. How cool is that?!

Truth to be told, I don’t know what to think of this gene-development. For now, let’s just say I had a fascinating lecture and lots to think about.

Google vs. Apple

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something (more on that in the future). Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today it’s time for part two; “Google vs. Apple”.

Second stop, Silicon Valley, California. It’s the place where companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and thousands of small technology startups have their headquarters. Since I’m interested in technology and use Apple and Google products every day, I decided it would be great to visit these two companies in their real Silicon Valley habitat.

Apple

Apple is well known for its vertically integrated products. It is impossible to (legally) install an app on my iPhone without using the Apple App Store. And their operating system (Mac OSX) only runs on Macbooks and iMacs only. They simply want to be in control of everything. The same applies to their Cupertino headquarters at One Infinite Loop.

Outside, the grass is mown with greatest precision, bushes and flowers are aligned perfectly and the building looks very ‘introvert’. Apple is in full control. Nonetheless, it was possible to go inside and take a quick look at their courtyard.

The same desire for control is apparent here. The courtyard is designed with ‘oversight’ as purpose. There are not trees, no hidden corners, there’s nowhere to ‘hide’ for its employees. But at least they tried to make it look a bit more fun by adding the parasols.

Google

Google’s next. It’s the company who brings us software like Google Search, Gmail, Chrome and Android. Their software, contrary to Apple, can be used by nearly everyone on almost any device. Google believes in an open society, which can be seen in the way they set up their Mountain View headquarters.

There are no fences to stop tourists, they even allowed us to walk among Google staffers in the courtyard at the Googleplex.

There are Google bikes everywhere. These GBikes are used to pedal from one building to another and are free of charge for employees.

Also, Google staffers can use many recreational facilities, like a volleyball court. How cool is that!

And what to think of Stan, the life-sized T-Rex skeleton that lives in the middle of the campus?

But Google definitely won the cool-factor for their headquarters when I saw the driverless Google car which drove around on the parking lot.

It will be interesting to see which of these companies will ultimately win the software battle. Google (open) or Apple (closed). Meantime, based on my visits, Google decisively won the real-world headquarters battle. But how long will their victory last?

Update: In November 2013 I wrote about the new Apple Headquarters. Click here for the article.

My next stop: Highway 1

Read part one of my USA trip here.

“We’ve lost our tolerance for complexity”

Because of the Internet and big-box stores, we get access to a lot of information, products and services, thus giving us more choice and freedom. While this sounds great, it isn’t always. Since we have more choice, choosing anything gets more difficult. A lot of complexity is added.

Last week Ron Johnson presented the new retail concept for JC Penney, a large department store. He said shoppers are done with wading through “an endless sea of racks,” which he believes is a larger industry trend. “In a world where the product we want is just a key-word search away, we’ve lost our tolerance for complexity,” Johnson said.

Yesterday I read something about Visa trying to popularize electronic payments (by smartphone). The report noted that “Visa’s hoping to make itself the go-to point for this solution, so ‘handset manufacturers don’t have to deal with 26.000 banks.'”

This is interesting. So just as JC Penney wants to get rid of an endless sea of racks, Visa wants to get rid of an endless sea of banks. In both cases, they’re trying to remove complexity for it’s consumers. In case of JC Penney, it’s us, the average shopper. In case of Visa, it’s businesses.

I’m curious which endless sea of … is next, and will have its complexity removed.

“A great department store… if it was 1995”

“They toured me through some of the ‘new’ JC Penney stores. I closed my eyes and realized this is a great department store… if it was 1995.” It’s a pretty bad thing to say about a store. And it’s not just anybody who said this. No, it’s JC Penney’s own CEO, Ron Johnson.

I guess things must be really bad when your CEO says these kinds of things about your own company. This leaves me with two questions. 1) Who is this guy and 2) what should a great department store look like?

1) Who is Ron Johnson?

He’s the guy who pioneered the concept of the Apple Store and the Genius Bar at Apple. Under Johnson’s direction, Apple’s retail stores achieved a record level of growth, exceeding a billion dollars in annual sales within two years of their debut. Last year, he left Apple to join JC Penney, a US department store, as its new CEO. He wants to achieve the same with JC Penney as he did with Apple.

I think it’s safe to assume this guy knows something about business and retail. And, more importantly, he knows what to do in order to turn JC Penney into a great modern department store. That leaves us with question two.

2. What does a great department store look like?

Huge assortments and one-stop shopping – Many ‘experts’ are confident the current retail model is broken. Physical stores will be replaced by online versions. Within years, all we do is shop online. Jonson disagrees. He quickly points out people thought the same when Apple launched the Apple Store. Which turned out not to be the case.

Physical stores are still the primary way people acquire merchandise, and he thinks that will be true 50 years from now. Ron Johnson sees no reason why department stores can’t flourish. They can be people’s favorite place to shop. They’ve got all these strategic advantages like the lowest cost of real estate, exceptional access to merchandise and scale to create enormous marketing power. Besides, people like stores with huge assortments and one-stop shopping. It’s just the way departments stores look, their lack of imagination and the way they engage customers.

Specialty stores – When people want a great product, they visit specialty stores like H&M, Nike or Zara. Shoppers are done with wading through “an endless sea of racks.” This is not just true for JC Penney. It’s a larger industry trend. Based on research about American’s shopping habits, it’s clear that specialty stores work. “In a world where the product we want is just a key-word search away, we’ve lost our tolerance for complexity,” Johnson said.

That’s why JC Penney’s plan includes creating 100 specialty stores within the department stores. The move expands on what Penney has already done, creating store-within-a-store areas where sales per square meter are three times higher than the average of the rest of Penney. Within four years, all department stores will be completely redone.

Main street and Town Square – The sea of outdated merchandising fixtures from the 1980’s will be replaced by a hundred specialty stores, essentially creating a small town. Just like any town, this means a street is needed. And that’s exactly what Ron Jonson created when he imagined the Main Street concept. Main Street will be the aisles that guide you around the store, passing all of these specialty stores. This Main Street showcases trend-right brands and so called experiences. The comparison with a local town doesn’t stop here. In the center of the store there will be a Town Square. What will this Town Square be? That’s still a secret. All we know is that Johnson said it contained “truly innovative thinking” and will be revealed in 2013.

Just like Apple

While analysts think these changes are a “revolutionary approach to retailing” and “it will have other retailers waking up,” I think you could have seen these changes coming months ago. Because this approach to retail is essentially the same as Ron Jonson did when he pioneered the Apple Stores a decade ago. And Johnson freely admits he’s ‘stealing’ Apple’s floor plans from its retail stores.

Apple stores are split in two, Johnson explained. The “Red Zone” is where customers discover new products and the “family room” is where returning customers come to learn something new or fix their products, like the Genius Bar. This obviously is very similar to the Main Street and Town Square concept he imagined for JC Penney.

“It seems like change takes place over night, but it really doesn’t,” Johnson said. “Something I learned while at Apple is ‘Every journey begins with just one step.'”