Act Like a Designer

I usually don’t like books, movies, or TV shows about Hollywood: they seem too self-serving. The one exception to this is the reality show Project Greenlight, where industry neophytes get to make a movie. One thing that’s great about it is that it shows like nothing else I’ve ever seen the effect of business decision on the creative process. Only have three million dollars? Ok, well, the monsters are going to look terrible and we need to rewrite half the movie. CEO doesn’t like the movie? It only opens in three theaters. The effect of these types of business decisions upon what gets made is something that is seldom shown.

This season of Project Greenlight was particularly interesting because of the director they chose: John Gulager. Gulager was a very untraditional choice: introverted, older, and uncommunicative. And yet very talented. What was so interesting was watching him grow into the role of director, having to actually tell people his vision of the movie they were making. The producers and crew assumed he had a vision, but had no idea what that was, and so there was chaos until he learned how to talk to people like a director.

In a collaborative field like filmmaking or interaction design, all the vision and all the talent in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t communicate it to the team you are working with. And not just communicate it, communicate it like a designer, with a design attitude. You need the right ethos (the authority of a designer) to meet the expectations of the audience (that you know what you are doing). You are crafting an argument, after all: an argument of what the product should be.

Like many of the intangibles of our field, I’m not sure this can be taught, only learned.

IM the Walrus

Yahoo’s announcement today that it’s “jazzing up” its instant messenger amounts to adding in VOIP service to it and linking it to blogs. Yawn.

It seems to me that Yahoo, third place in the IM game (behind AIM and MSN), has missed the boat on this one. Instant Messenger can be a platform for new things (see SmarterChild) and could be expanded to add more variations and emotional richness, but what Yahoo doesn’t seem to get is that people use IM in particular ways as a form of communication, not as a replacement for another form of communication (voice calls). In much the same way I don’t blog because email is unavailable, I don’t IM because I can’t use my cell phone: I IM because it let’s me have interactions that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to (or want to) have.

IM has a lot going for it as a communication method: it’s silent, fast, indicates availability, and flexible enough for pauses that would be awkward in almost any other medium. It’s personal, yet not, allowing you to reveal as much of yourself as you want with as much control over your availability as you want. If Yahoo really wanted to move out of third place, there’s lots of other enhancements they could do to an IM client besides tethering it to other mediums of communication.