All the world loves an iPod; so much so that it is used as a metaphor for excellence in design and is accommodated in aspirations like, "We want to be the iPod of breakfast cereals." In the gaming industry, the Nintendo DS commands that place, selling one unit every four seconds. That is because it is totally lined up against fun. When Flickr has downtime, it doesn't display a suave greeting but rather a corky, "Oops! Wrong power switch. Check out our blog in the meantime," or something alike.
What makes these winners stand out of the competition? Probably countless hours of forethought in weaving a personal experience into the product. According to Charles Warren, who works for the Software Experience Design Practice at IDEO, the basic ingredient of creative design is, for the lack of a subtler word, wit. If perhaps wit or humor doesn't aptly describe it, it is standing for the human that gets a product to cross the abyss and win a place in the mind of its user.
There're exceptions, too. Not everything must be sugar coated with wit and humor. Some products such as financial services, that do not sell entertainment, and need to cater to a niche audience, probably cannot digress from the core service. There's probably little argument to the merit of simplicity in good design. Google Earth, to pick on another exception, exudes neither wit nor humor, nevertheless commands unanimous appreciation for its obsession with simplicity, like a slightly autistic creature.
Charles draws a connection between good designers and stand-up comedians, who just love that punch line that delivers that moment of thrill for their audience. The two essential techniques for working towards optimal design are inclusion and tyranny, he explains.
Charles Warren is the co-practice lead for IDEO's Transformation practice group. Prior to joining IDEO, Charles was the co-founder of BSW Group, before which he was with the Idea Factory in San Francisco as VP of business development where he helped sell and lead projects for clients including the United States Navy, and the Government of Singapore on the design of the country's media and entertainment industry. Before the Idea Factory, Charles worked for the consulting firm Scient, where he helped launch Scient's Innovation Acceleration Lab in San Francisco.
From 1995-1998, Warren was instrumental in growing a number of technology and consulting firms in New York City, including Cactus (sold to 3-M in 1997), Doug Evans & Partners (now Servador.com), and Scient in 1998. Among the companies that Warren led engagements for include Young and Rubicam, Adobe Systems, Ogilvy & Mather, Chase Manhattan Bank, First Union, Wells Fargo, and Baxter. After working in New York for renowned print publisher Pace Editions, Charles cofounded Serena+Warren, Inc.
Charles graduated with a BA from the University of Michigan where he studied design, computer science, and art history.
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Photo: Photo by John Tucker