Touchpoint Observatory: ICE restaurant car


Breakfast on the German ICE train

While there are a few things not to like about German trains – officious staff, annoyingly slow ticket machines – it’s small beer (especially when compared to Germany’s beers).

This is the view of my breakfast on the Inter-City Express train to Switzerland that I have to take to work on many mornings. I normally grab something in Basel on the way and today was a luxury, although at 8.20 euros, including table service, it’s not much different to what I pay on-the-hoof in Switzerland. It made dragging myself out of bed at 5.40 AM more bearable.

Comfortable seats, proper tables setting, linen tablecloth, waitress. All remnants of a bygone age for trains in many other countries. This isn’t First Class either – there they bring you the food to your seat so you don’t have to even move your executive arse. It is the restaurant car for normal mortals.

The ICE trains in Germany are clean, quiet, punctual, well-equipped (each seat has a power outlet) and, well, relatively expensive too. My half-price ticket from Offenburg to Luzern and back is around 59 Euros (to give you an idea, that’s about 230km one way). But most commuters have a BahnCard, which gives 25, 50 or 100% off ticket prices and pays for itself pretty quickly. If you’ve paid for a BahnCard 100, it also has the effect of time-shifting the pain of payment. It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet – you paid up front, so you take the train as much as you can instead of the car. On the other had, if I drive I pay about the same in fuel.

It should be obvious why all this matters. It makes train travel a pleasure rather than a hectic, sweaty, cramped horror, which is my memory of train travel in the UK. This matters not just for my personal comfort, but because it shifts behaviour. Taking the train is a far better and more pleasant alternative than driving. The car becomes second or third choice, not the default, which is just how it needs to be.

Kickstarter, Pitchforks and Torches

Kickstarter, Pitchforks and Torches – the latest update from Casey Hopkins’s Elevation Dock Kickstarter project has a priceless paragraph about the responsibility of having such a successful project:

You do not know stress until you have a successful KS project. I have had these recurring dreams of the whole internet outside my apartment with pitchforks and torches if we shipped late or the parts were crappy. And everything is magnified – any hiccups cause world-ending lows; when things go right, it’s mass euphoria. The Gantt chart I made pre-Kickstarter had a solid 4 week buffer if anything like this had to be re-tooled or changed. At this bigger than expected scale, each of the dependent steps takes longer, so that buffer time goes away and any modifications affect ship time. Looking forward to my first solid night of sleep in 4 months when we can get that first Dock out the door.


Bye, Hillman. Knowing you has been a privilege.


Photo: Gabriel de Urioste

What a sad thing to hear. The very brilliant and lovely Hillman Curtis died on the 17th April at the too-young age of 51. I watched Hillman completely shape the way many designers were thinking about Flash in the early days of Flash on the web and inspire many to get into the profession. Yet, of all the big design stars from those days, he was the least star-like person you could imagine.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Hillman at Flash on the Beach a few years ago where he hung out pretty quietly with his son Jasper – one of the coolest little kids around. Seeing Hillman speak at those kinds of events was always a treat and a break from the noisy braggadocio that sometimes defines design and creative conferences. His work was wonderful, but he spoke about it in a quiet, contemplative way that had the audience leaning forward, straining to catch the soft words of wisdom. I have no idea if he had any kind of religious beliefs or practices, but he was perhaps the most Zen creative person I have ever met. Despite his achievements, there seemed to be no trace of ego about him at all and he always had a sense of calm in the midst of chaos.

A couple of years later, I interviewed him for Desktop and, as ever, he was always interesting, always gracious and, above all, always interested. Nobody deserves to die at 51, nor of such a shitty disease as cancer, but in Hillman’s case, it feels particularly unfair. My thoughts are with his family and friends who must miss their everyday contact with such a lovely human enormously.

Bye Hillman, knowing you, even just a little, has been a privilege.

All companies are going to become software companies.

All companies are going to become software companies. Jon Kolko trying out some provocative thoughts. Obviously the idea that all products are services appeals to me, but the point is that these kinds of thought experiments force you into the “if this, then…” mode of inquiry, the perfect accompaniment to “what if?” What is clear is that design and the role of designers has radically changed. The question is, has design education?

Photo check deposits fail from Chase Mobile App

Photo check deposits fail from Chase Mobile App – Marco Arment details why Chase’s idea of a mobile app with which you can photograph your cheques and then digitally “deposit” them falls over. The key quote is, “This is one of those ideas that sounded great until I actually tried it,” but read the whole piece to get the flavour of its clunkiness and the emotional response to the experience that Marco details.

We talk quite a bit about service gaps leading to service experience crevasses in our book and this is a good example of where several minor flaws, each of which might independently seem “not so bad”, end up making the entire thing useless.

Entrepreneur designers in final form

Entrepreneur designers in final form – Liz Danzico has posted a thorough set of links to SVA’s IxD MA (@svaixd) brilliant course (in Europe we would say module) on Entrepreneurial Design taught by Gary Chou and Christina Cacioppo.

The final class project is that students must raise $1,000. Many, but not all, have gone the Kickstarter route (and been successful). It’s interesting to see how this task has kick-started (pun intended) the students into action rather than endless deliberation – the student curse.

Even more cool for the rest of us is that Gary and Christina have generously made their syllabus and assignments available to everyone under a CC license. Be sure to check out the class blog too. This kind of thing is the future of design education.


Does Your Research Exist?

Does Your Research Exist? Another great list of tips from John Thackara about how to get your research out there in a useful way. These three are particularly good:

Tip 3 When presentiong to me, assume I know nothing. NOTHING! The first two minutes – of my visit, or of your presentation – should answer the following questions that are rattling around in my addled mind:
“Where am I, and why am I here?”
“Who are these people?”
“To what question is this story an answer?”

Tip 4 Always answer that last question! State, explicitly, the insight, discovery, or invention you have made, that you are giving me to take away.

Tip 13 Treat PR consultants politely but also with caution.They often never get it,whatever it is – but will act as if they do. If your company insists you use a PR team, use them as support – but never give them complete control over your communications.

Design research: sorting your shoe walking from your talk talking «

Design research: sorting your shoe walking from your talk talking « is a good piece on being realistic about design research and choosing the appropriate method from @skewiff (Mel Edwards). I liked this update of the old cliché:

Do I think this is the most overused collection of words in relation to research:

“To really understand people you have to walk a mile in their shoes. That means you have to take yours off first.”

Yes. In reality, when you go out and speak to people you need to think of them as Imelda Marcus – for they wear many shoes. And you need to find and walk in the right ones. But you need to wear your ones when you design. Your shoes matter too.

Most important, she asks the right questions in the first place including: “Why are we researching: to drive, inspire, inform?”

On The Value of Tinkering

On The Value of Tinkering is a thoughtful piece by Jeff Howard on the issues of teaching service design:

An entire generation of web designers have bootstrapped themselves into the profession without the need for a n actual client or project, or anyone else’s involvement or permission. That experimentation is how we learn.

But for a service designer, not only is such an arrangement less than ideal; it’s completely unworkable. Clients and the interactions they embody are the medium of a service. Designing without a client is like cooking without food. You simply can’t credibly explore beyond the line of visibility without access; or prototype without the cooperation of the people and systems involved. Speculative service design requires buy-in from the client (or at least acquiescence) on a scale that dwarfs the first-order disciplines.

Cobbling together that access is one of the core responsibilities of design schools.

This is very true and quite a challenge.

Germany Is a Nation of Grumblers

Germany Is a Nation of Grumblers says SAP Co-Founder Hasso Plattner.

Maybe they wouldn’t be if SAP’s software wasn’t so awful.

There’s a weird contradiction going on in this interview, because Plattner clearly doesn’t think a lot of the German HQ of his own company and much of what he has to say makes sense, but doesn’t seem to be part of SAP’s culture at all:

When Steve Jobs had already geared everything to large flat monitors, here at SAP they still had instructions to develop everything for a 1,024 by 768-pixel screen size. At the time, you couldn’t even buy such monitors any more in Palo Alto.

People would often rather put together a 50-page PowerPoint presentation than simply say: We want this and this! Three sentences is usually all it takes. The Germans need to learn that you sometimes have to play around with ideas.

Bah humbug!