Posts Tagged ‘visualization’

The importance of cake visualization

Friday, October 16th, 2009

NYT Cake

The New York Times had a wonderful  article on Tuesday about cake wrecks. As you might expect, it describes disastrous cake designs resulting from misunderstood specifications left by customers to their bakeries. The photograph above is representative of such a miscue, with its beautifully glazed inscription “Congratulations as small as possible”. There is apparently an entire book dedicated to the important topic of cake wrecks, not to mention a highly popular web site attracting 100,000 visitors a day.

At the risk of appearing the nerd trying to analyze humor, many of the cake wrecks struck me as failures at co-creation. There is a big difference between asking for cake specifications and allowing visualization of the cake. The former is classic company-centric design (give me in text form what you need, for example in an e-mail). The latter, by providing a visualization tool, allows true co-creation. In this second scenario, the customers can now insert themselves into the baker’s value chain, i.e., they become bakers themselves. If I can visualize my cake, I will not only make sure “as small as possible” is not part of my cake’s congratulatory inscription, but I may also decide to change other things, such as the color of the inscription, or the shape of the cake. Emotionally, I’m now officially a baker.

Few designers understand the experiential power on customers of this small step that goes from specifications to visualization. Companies who deal with physical products naturally find it easier to provide visualization platforms, but the visualization trend is also reaching industries with such abstract products as software development, advertising and chemical design.

We’re all in the cake business.

Thinking and seeing like a cow

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Dr. Temple Grandin is arguably the best-known autistic person in the world. She designs equipment for the cattle industry. More specifically, she designs what is known as “squeeze chutes,” a device that allows cows to more humanely walk to their death in a slaughterhouse. You may wonder what co-creation has to do with it, given the undesirable outcome of the process from the cow’s perspective, but Dr. Grandin’s invention is in fact remarkably focused on the cow’s experience. Thanks to her, the cows no longer have to be shocked along with cattle prods, nor do they have to be pushed from several feet up into their last bath, to remove ticks and other undesirable insects from their skin. Instead, they walk and bathe confidently for the last time.

In a BBC video, she describes how her autistic mind works like the mind of a cow. Because she was long afraid of everything around her as a child, her perception of the environment was close to the cow’s panicked state, fearing potential predators everywhere. This, Dr. Grandin claims, literally allows her to think like a cow. Call it a sense of identification.

In her book Thinking in Pictures she further explains that visualization is her second gift. Her mind stores and processes full-color movies. To think like a cow, she needs to see like a cow. She refers to this as her “visual thinking” ability.

There are many other inspiring features to the Temple Grandin story, including how this autistic child learned to speak in public and achieve rock star status through the lectures she gives all over the world. Lacking Dr. Grandin’s instinctive abilities, I have to remind myself every day that identification and visualization are the two pillars of the co-creation process. The good news is that both can be learned.