Design of Business

Business, Culture & Entrepreneurship

Author: Srikrishna

How Can the Privileged Help Redress Inequity?

I have always been curious about leadership and what makes for good leader. Leadership as with most other things is easy to talk or read about but harder to demonstrate in action. The events of this last week, since the murder of George Floyd, have enabled me to see some good leaders in action. Most notably, President Aoun of Northeastern University, who not only addressed the issue directly but declared a day of reflection in response to the injustice toward black people.

“We will join together in unity with those all around the world who are grieving and angry over persistent injustice toward African American citizens,”

Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern,

Of course, as a privileged brown man, the response of the local community to #blacklivesmatter brought to fore the question of my own responsibility to address both anti-blackness within the Indian-American community or caste oppression in India.

Meeting author, Dalit scholar and amazing human Suraj Yengde, who posed the question whether we will [ever] see upper caste / Brahmins come out in support of Dalit struggles the way we’ve seen white people show up for black lives. Talking about caste or discrimination even within families (mine or any other desi) is a challenge; I know I’ve failed miserably many times in WhatsApp groups of even my peers. Yet what we as privileged folks face is mere irritation, relative to the every day mayhem Dalits face (beatings, murder, rape).

Suraj’s own sustained campaign for Dalit liberation in the face of sustained abuse in the social media sphere and his outreach across caste lines which at times draws fire from fellow Dalits is yet another lived experience of leadership in action.

So where do I start and what can we do? As Jane Elliot says in the video below, we can start with education.

I’d urge you, dear reader, to start with these two resources:

A bonus: Suraj Yengde’s Caste Matters

For those who have read this far, take a look at this video of anti-racism activist and teacher Jane Elliot. If we were to replace white people with upper-caste, and race with caste wouldn’t it be just as true?

Emulate These 2 Great Examples of Presenting Complex Data

Most of us do a terrible job, when it comes to reporting data in a visual format. Nothing new about it. Many decades ago, Edward Tufte (amongst others) tried to address this with his book Visual Display of Quantitative Data. Hans Rosling set the world on fire with his TED talk(s). If presenting data that’s already nailed down is hard, presenting data that is breaking (or being projected) as we see with election results or a pandemic is that much harder.

Which is why these two examples, of data presentation around the novel coronavirus COVID-19—one a static dashboard (Government of Singapore)

and the other a user responsive model (University of Toronto School of Public Health)—are so refreshing.

Reporting, epidemic growth, and reproduction numbers for the 2019-nCoV epidemic

Check them out and learn from them.

Does Your Innovation Make Things Worse for Your Customer?

In a class that I teach on innovation, the students and I typically run through an exercise of “Who’s the customer? -> What’s her pain point? or need?” -> “What is our innovation to solve this?” Sometimes we do it the other way, starting with our innovation, what pain point it solves and who is this a pain (or need) for?

So when it was time to talk about LED bulbs, as an innovation, the class easily had a plethora of answers for who and what (longer life, lower cost of ownership, environmentally conscious.) When I asked “What if we add Bluetooth to the LED bulb?” the answers came on just as fast and furious—”I don’t have to get out of bed to turn if off,” “I can control at home remotely”.) So the consensus was clear that this was an innovation (ie “creates new value” for one or more target segments)

Now came the question, “How do we reset such a Bluetooth-enabled LED bulb to its factory settings?” (never mind, nearly 20 years since we began using BT we still need to periodically reset things, cause their state gets messed up).

Here was GE Lighting’s solution to this problem—this is their actual video and not a spoof, of which there are several built based on this real video.

How to Reset GE’s Bluetooth-enabled Light Bulb

Watching this video even the first time was painful and for the nth time (with each section of the class I teach) it required some measure of teeth-gritting. Yet, as an optimist I sought the silver lining—they were clear what the pain point their (paying) customers faced, but the cure seemed just as bad as the disease. While some commenters on YouTube felt this was engineering (within GE) wreaking vengeance on marketing (or product management) not allowing them a reset button, it is the customer who has to pay the price. Some takeaways for me include:

  • The original solution (or specification) not accounting for end-user resets (should this be even required?) tells me that the use cases (certainly corner cases) hadn’t been thought through
  • The sheer complexity (not to mention mind-numbing) nature of the solution makes it clear that end-user inputs or consideration were not taken into account
  • While a good deal of engineering creativity (& cost) I suspect went into this solution, likely due to product design or legacy constraints, the sheer number of spoof videos shows that the brand (and likely product adoption) has taken a hit, that far outweighs any of the cost considerations that may have limited either the original design or the subsequent reset sequence.

Innovators too need their own version of the Hippocratic oath, “…I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.”

Lessons Shower Design Fails Teach Me

The wife and I snuck away without the kids to the temple town of Kumbakonam, in Tamil Nadu. While visiting living temples dating back the 8th to the 12th c. CE was both awe-inspiring and humbling, the shower stall in our hotel had its own lessons. I’ve written in past about baffling designs we’ve encountered here, here and here.

I’ve never ceased to be surprised by the constant “innovation” faucet makers insist on foisting on us. Somehow hotels seem particularly vulnerable to the siren call of such innovations. On more than one occasion I’ve had to dash into the bathroom, when a hapless friend or spouse screamed from the shower. For Psycho fans, it was never a man with a knife, but invariably hot (or cold) water suddenly spewing on their head or their feet, when they expected nothing of the kind. Invariably turning, pulling, pushing, yanking up/down, seemed to do utterly different things in these showers. If this was not confusing enough, in the hotel in Kumbakonam, I encountered this faucet.

Fearful of getting cold water dumped on my head, I gingerly began turning knobs. This [Faucet] [Left] [Middle][Right] arrangement had me wondering if Left = Hot? and Right = Cold? and Middle = Shower? Or L=H, M=C, R=S? Did the fact that the Faucet was in the left rather than between the knobs less confusing or more? I don’t know about you, but figuring this out, at 5AM, without of a stitch of clothing on is not exactly fun. Of course none of the knobs had any markings, nor did they provide any affordance whether they’d turn 90 or 180 degrees.

It turned out that the left most knob—the one closest to the faucet—switches from faucet to shower. It of course turns 180 deg, so you can never tell, whether it is set to shower or faucet, till you turn the water on! The middle knob is HOT and the right most is COLD, maintaining the common left/right protocol for hot & cold.

Any shower design that requires your spouse to experiment and explain how to work it is a #fail in my opinion.

This was clearly a case of a product designer trying too hard to differentiate with little regard for a poor, naked, shivering customer’s plight. What would you have done differently?

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