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BusinessWeek Loves User Experience

The December 6, 2004 issue of BusinessWeek (with the inflammatory “The China Price” cover) is a boon to folks who care about good design in all its components.

The treats:

Pierre Omidyar and eBay
A profile of Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay. And this phrase:

The Web’s real power lies in its ability to connect people instantly around the world, so buyers and sellers alike can share near-perfect information about prices, products, and each other. By putting in place a few key rules, such as a feedback system in which buyers and sellers rate each other, Omidyar sparked a vibrant community that numbers 125 million members worldwide.

It shocks me how few folks get this. How few websites bother to utilize the fact that they reside on a *network*, and that with that network, you can leverage the behavior of all these individuals for both their and your gain. One of those classic “win-win” situations. No retailer other than Amazon really gets it. I can’t think of a single marketing communications site that gets it. Almost no online publications get it. It’s so basic, yet it requires such a fundamental shift in thinking. The web is only in very small part a “publishing platform”, or a “distribution channel.” The web is best when it’s not top-down.

A book review of Blue Streak just once again highlights that a company that considers customers from top-to-bottom will succeed where others haven’t.

Treo 650
The technology columnist loves loves loves the new Treo 650. A product that demands a premium price… because of great design. Jeff Hawkins has infused user-centeredness throughout the company, and this allows Treo to stay ahead of a very very competitive pack.

A brief piece on how the iPod is leading to Mac sales.

Reinventing a Company through Design
There’s a long feature on Samsung Design, which details how ten years ago, Samsung explicitly shifted its go-to-market strategy to embrace good design as a differentiator. That leads not only to the ability to charge premium prices, but to gain market share as well. Yes! You charge more, AND more people buy it!

The following passage made me laugh out loud (though it’s a little… humbling):

Samsung’s design focus goes well beyond just the look and feel of its products. The company is working to improve the way people use and control gadgets, and two years ago it opened what it calls a “usability laboratory” in downtown Seoul. There, across the hall from where Choi Won Min taps away at his synthesizers in search of the perfect sound, engineers and consumers alike test everything from getting products out of the box to the icons and menus on screens. “In the past, physical design was the focal point,” says Chief Design Officer Choi (no relation to the sound designer). “In the future, the user interface will be emphasized more.” (emphasis mine)

Well, now BusinessWeek knows about “usability laboratories,” even if it’s via a Korean electronics manufacturer, and has nothing to do with them being in place throughout the US for the last 20 years.

And Now For Something Complete Different
Facing the last page of the Samsung article is an ad promoting “Basque Country” as a “strategic partner,” highlighting such points as it’s “first-class financial sector,” “a powerful, dynamic industry” (of what?), “modern infrastructures” (we’ve got running water!), and “a business culture of the highest level,” (Is that like the highest level on Pacman?).

But my favorite bit is the tagline: “Basque Country: A country on the move”, which is a little too much like “Springfield, a city on the… grow!” Except it makes even less sense. On the move? To where? Is it drifting out to sea?

  1. Hi,
    I’ve always found your blog interesting,
    but this last entry about the Basque Country makes you confirm all european prejudices about “ugly ignorant” americans.

    Come on, “modern infrastructures”(we’ve got running water!)” ? What’s with that ? I don’t recall stuff like the Guggenheim (Frank Gehry) in Bilbao, in all corners of the USA. What’s Idaho got, the strangely shaped potato museum ? Alabama, the monster truck hall of fame? It’s too easy being ignorant prejudiced and offensive.

    That’s what’s so disappointing about you americans : that even the ones that have a good education and are experts in their field, seem so ignorant the moment they step outside of their expertise.

    I recall your comments about Paris: for example “It’s crowded, and filled with people, mostly tourists.” well, if you just hang out in Montmartre at the Sacre Coeur (or at the Eiffel tower etc.) of course it is, what do you expect ? The Paris from the Aristocats ? Just step away from where your fellow tourists are, it’s not that difficult. Just use your brain, you wouldn’t judge San Francisco from spending 3 days in Canary Wharf, would you ?.Maybe YOU would…

    Wake up

  2. Oh, stop taking yourself so seriously.

    My comment about “running water” isn’t make to be taken as a diss about the state of infrastructure in Basque. I’m certain their a fully modern nation. My comment was that it was a weird thing to highlight in an advertisement.

    And, you can have Paris.

  3. As a half-Basque European, who was a professional translator in a former life, and is now a user experience consultant, I have to agree with your comments about the ad.

    Spain, the Basque Country, Catalonia…all these governments produce masses of really bad translations of poor original copy for the international press. One of the worst is the ‘Spain Marks’ campaign from the Spanish government, though on the whole the regional people tend to be worse. More often than not they employ someone’s daughter or friend to do the job, generally a person who once did an elementary English course. The idea that people could be laughing at their ads just doesn’t occur to them. Nor does the idea that if they’re going to spend many millions on international ad placement – Spain Marks was published around the world in half a dozen languages over several years – perhaps they could spend just a little on getting the text right.

    Which is part of the reason why I threw my hands up in despair and went back to the world of IT…and now face similar problems when so many firms don’t think usability is important for their systems. Ah, what goes around comes around.

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