NYC Digital City Road Map

Beyond the press about NYC partnerships with consumer internet companies like Foursquare and Tumblr, there is a lot of great information in here about increasing citizen access to technology, opening up government data, and supporting a thriving tech ecosystem.

Service Design

From finance to healthcare to media, New York’s economy is primarily driven by services. Yet our understanding of what design offers is rooted in products and places rather than how those things operate or how people use them — design has traditionally concerned itself with goods, not services. Only in the past decade or so have designers been actively reconceptualizing what it means to interact with and help shape services. According to Professor Birgit Mager, who runs the Cologne-based Service Design Network, “Service design addresses the functionality and form of services from the perspective of clients. It aims to ensure that service interfaces are useful, usable, and desirable from the client’s point of view and effective, efficient, and distinctive from the supplier’s point of view.”

In particular, services require designers to empathize with users, to understand interactions as a series of “touchpoints” and to develop a holistic understanding of the ways in which our relationships to services govern everyday life. The multiple ways this emerging field of practice relates to the rest of the design field are still in formation. So I sat down with several leading designers and researchers from universities in the US and Europe to start a conversation about what service design is, where it came from and where it is going. This interview expands on an event, “Service Design Performances” (PDF), which was held at Parsons The New School for Design in late May. The event, organized by the DESIS Lab, is the first in a series of activities around the topic of service design that are taking place in New York in the coming months.

Mondo Window

Today’s the day to announce, along with Laughing Squid and CNET, the public beta of Mondo Window, which lets you see what you’re looking at out your airplane window. As far as we know, this is the first site designed specifically for use with in-flight internet, but those bragging rights are less important than the fact that now you can FIND OUT WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING AT OUT THE WINDOW OF THE PLANE YOU ARE FLYING IN.

New project from Stamen Design to help you identify what you’re seeing out of the window of the plane you’re flying in.

Mid-size cities growing faster than megacities

By 2025, the emerging-market cities of this City 600 will be home to an estimated 235 million households earning more than $20,000 a year — markedly morethan the just over 210 million such households expected in the cities of developed regions. In other words, there will be more higher middle income households in emerging-market cities than in developed-world ones.

Foreign Policy highlights a McKinsey Global Institute report on how the economic and population growth of mid-size cities will outperform that of megacities through 2025.

Little Bets

LittleBets-v2.pdf Download this file


Little Bets is a new book by Peter Sims on the role of experimentation and play in the world of innovation.  

Fundamental to the little bets approach is that we:
• experiment: learn by doing. fail quickly to learn fast. develop experiments and prototypes to gather insights, identify problems, and build up to creative ideas, like beethoven did in order to discover new musical styles and forms.
• play: a playful, improvisational, and humorous atmosphere quiets our inhibitions when ideas are incubating or newly hatched, and prevents creative ideas from being snuffed out or prematurely judged.
• immerse: take time to get out into the world to gather fresh ideas and insights, in order to understand deeper human motivations and desires, and absorb how things work from the ground up.
• define: use insights gathered throughout the process to define specific problems and needs before solving them, just as the google founders did when they realized that their library search algorithm could address a much larger problem.
• reorient: be flexible in pursuit of larger goals and aspirations, making good use of small wins to make necessary pivots and chart the course to completion.
• iterate: repeat, refine, and test frequently armed with better insights, information, and assumptions as time goes on, as chris rock does to perfect his act.

What Disruption Looks Like

Finally, we have seen a pervasive pattern in every industry that has been transformed through disruption. This same pattern characterizes what has happened to date with disruptive initiatives in health care. The energies, talent, and resources of the leading organizations in an established system always are absorbed in improving their best products, which are sold to address the most demanding applications in the industry. Why? Because the high end of most markets is where the most attractive profits are made, serving the most profitable customers. When a disruptive technological enabler emerges, the leaders in the industry disparage and discourage it because, with its orientation toward simplicity and accessibility, the disruption just isn’t capable of solving the complicated problems that define the world in which the leading experts work.

Clay Christensen on patterns of disruptive innovation that hold across industries.

Creator of Aviva social innovation competition defends the model

“they’re just a popularity contest”

Voting, and especially social media voting in a cause marketing platform, is a popularity contest. That popularity brings people to a branded site which creates exposure to the contest organizer. The formula is pretty standard there. Ultimately, a degree of any competition has to do with the ability to rally support – be it a student council vote, or voting in the AMEX Member’s Project. Inherently there’s a hope that a democratic process like voting yields a valid outcome.

The way that I view the Aviva Community Fund is in two phases – the marketing phase, and the cause phase. The marketing phase (up to selecting the finalists) is 100% participant chosen, and 100% the result of an idea’s ability to rally voters. The cause side (judging) narrows the finalist ideas to the winners using detailed criteria designed to identify the most deserving projects with the biggest impact. I reiterate, we find the best idea from a sub-set selected based on popularity. The most deserving ideas get funding.

Patrick Glinski of Idea Couture discusses the Aviva Community Fund crowdfunding platform and addresses some of the pushback to social change voting contests.

DARPA & Storytelling

Stories exert a powerful influence on human thoughts and behavior. They consolidate
memory, shape emotions, cue heuristics and biases in judgment, influence in-group/out-group distinctions, and may affect the fundamental contents of personal identity.

Yes, yes, stories are touchy feely but important, yes.

It comes as no surprise that these influences make stories highly relevant to vexing security challenges such as radicalization, violent social mobilization, insurgency and terrorism, and conflict prevention and resolution. Therefore, understanding the role stories play in a security context is a matter of great import and some urgency.

Wait, WHAT. Now you have my attention.

Ascertaining exactly what function stories enact, and by what mechanisms they do so, is a necessity if we are to effectively analyze the security phenomena shaped by stories. Doing this in a scientifically respectable manner requires a working theory of narratives, an understanding of what role narratives play in security contexts, and examination of how to best analyze stories—decomposing them and their psychological impact systematically.

If you skipped that paragraph, here’s the important part:

To encourage and stimulate discussion and research on these issues, the Defense Sciences Office (DSO) of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is hosting a workshop, Stories, Neuroscience and Experimental Technologies (STORyNET): Analysis and Decomposition of Narratives in Security Contexts.

OK, mind blown. That was DARPA, the R&D wing of the US Department of Defense, announcing a conference on STORYTELLING. Kudos to DARPA for pushing the envelope not just in the telekinetic monkey department, but in bringing in “soft” factors like how narratives form and stick. It’s about time we actually had some new thinking about how hearts and minds are actually won.

via Bruce Sterling at

Demographics in Egypt – “dry tinder waiting for the spark”

As of this year, 52 percent of all Egyptians are under the age of 25, and one in five is between the ages of 15-24–the ages of many of those out in the streets demonstrating against the government. When Mubarak took office, there were 9 million youth aged 15-24, and now there are 17 million, according to data from the UN Population Division. That’s a lot of people to be dissatisfied with the difficulty of finding jobs, paying the bills, and saving money to marry and raise a family. To be sure, the mere presence of this large youth population would not, on its own, spark a revolution. But it was dry tinder waiting for the spark, which seemed to have been lit in Tunisia.