SF Designing for Interaction Workshop
And for those of you Down Under: the following week is the Designing for Interaction workshop in Sydney at Web Directions!
Generations and Their Technology Products
One of the books that changed the way I think about generations was, well, Generations by William Strauss and Neil Howe. It's a fascinating book and I highly recommend it to everyone. I was reminded of it when reading the news about Bill Gates stepping away from Microsoft. What struck me about the news (besides the news itself of course) was the ages of the four men involved. Gates, Steve Ballmer, and Ray Ozzie are all 50. Craig Mundie is 57. Baby Boomers, in other words, all of whom, from the looks of it, did their most innovative work back in the 1980s--before the commercial internet.
This isn't saying they aren't smart guys (yes, they all men, no surprise). But it will be interesting to see if they can rise out of the mindset that they and their generation helped form, that of the Personal Computer, not the networked computer that Ballmer and Gates have, for the most part, fought strongly against.
Aside from this individual case, I was thinking that each generation builds off of the technology and creations of the previous. How this roughly breaks down:
It's not a clear division, of course. Humans are messy, and there are always visionaries that see (and start) the next technology revolution far in advance of their generation (e.g. Doug Engelbart, Alan Kay).
What would be interesting to me would be to map the characteristics that Strauss and Howe attribute to each generation and see if the technology (and products based off that technology) that they produced reflect those generational characteristics. For example, is the baby boomer's self-centeredness reflected in the idea of a personal computer? Is the angst and irony of Gen X reflected in the web browser?
Designer as Trickster
Trickster is a boundary-crosser. Every group has its edge, its sense of an in and out, and trickster is always there, at the gates of the city and the gates of life, making sure there is commerce. -Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World
(An aside: The last time I saw John was his funeral service at the UU Church in Pittsburgh, the church I started attending after being exposed to it at John's funeral. And now this appears at my SF UU church. Coincidence? Maybe...)
I once asked John how he described himself, and his answer was "trickster." He said he tricked companies into doing the right thing. Now that I am a consultant again, often for some large companies, I now have a better understanding and appreciation of his answer. Sometimes to do the right thing, organizations have to be tricked into doing it.
I often feel, coming in to a company from the outside, that I am crossing boundaries, bringing things from "the outside" in with me. It's one of the traits that makes designers powerful, I guess, because we do work in many different industries and our discipline has so many sister disciplines that we get exposed to a lot of different methods, organizations, and ideas, which designers then, like viruses, "infect" their host organisms (the companies they work for) with. In this way, the companies learn new tricks and make money. Tricksters "make sure there is commerce."
John, of course, did this trickster business really well. He was a persuasive fellow, and was able to make you feel smart by agreeing with him. This is a trait designers should cultivate.