Dec 2018 newsletter: dispatches on design from Singapore, Tokyo, San Francisco.

Lead story: back to San Francisco

Over the summer I joined R/GA as Executive Creative Director in San Francisco. A few shared beliefs brought us together:

  • Good products seldom thrive without a great story;
  • Powerful stories become empty promises without an effective product experience;
  • Great companies must create more value than they consume.

Some my favorite proof points: R/GA is the crew behind the design of Nike Fuel Band, Apple Watch Nike+, Beats Music, Hammerhead bike navigation, Next Bank and Bot Bot. They’ve seeded meaningful conversations with Love Has No Labels. And they’ve shed light with Searching for Syria.

I’m honored to join these like-minded creative alchemists in R/GA’s second-largest office. My job is to lead the invention of new products, grow impactful businesses and tell stories that shift culture. Today is Day 100 for me in our South Park studio. If you’re in the neighborhood soon, please come and say hello.

Connected health in Asia

Earlier this year I spent ten weeks in Singapore and Tokyo, leading research, strategy and prototyping for a connected health product intended for aging populations. Here’s a little of what still resonates from that time.

Raise the age. The native Japanese population is falling by 300,000 people per year, with the decline set to accelerate. Mr. Abe suggests he wants to use the next three years to address the fiscal problems by Japan’s rapid aging population. Workers in Japan are preparing to retire later than anywhere else in the world.

Old and alone. She had been lonely every day for the past quarter of a century, she said, ever since her daughter and husband had died of cancer, three months apart. Mrs. Ito still had a stepdaughter, but they had grown apart over the decades, exchanging New Year’s cards or occasional greetings on holidays…so Mrs. Ito asked a neighbor in the opposite building for a favor. Could she, once a day, look across the greenery separating their apartments and gaze up at Mrs. Ito’s window? A generation in Japan faces a lonely death.

Close the gap. My friend Calvin Soh has converted his childhood home into a modern placemaking prototype. It’s become a top Airbnb experience in Singapore. “Who knows? Maybe One Kind House could be a prototype for the community centre of the future – where the elderly can keep busy with activities, and the young have an incubation lab of their own,” he says. Open house: at this one-of-a-kind home, the doors are always open.

Relationships by design

Regardless of whether you’re in strategy, product design, service design or marketing, I’d argue that ultimately we’re all in the business of designing relationships. Some of us put a lot of thought into the nature of those relationships. It’s becoming increasingly clear when that’s not the case.

Bad trade. That’s the whole ethos of Silicon Valley. ‘If you only give us everything, we will give you free stuff.’ Kara Swisher frames our trending data-driven value-exchange problem as “good trades/bad trades.” Watch: Frontline: the Facebook Dilemma

Owning it. Our main contribution is a proposal to treat data as labor, instead of capital owned by tech firms. We think this might be a way to provide income and a new source of meaning to people’s lives in a world where many traditional occupations no longer exist. Read: Should We Treat Data as Labor?

More than conversation design. R/GA’s Jenna Niven and Jen Vanno break down successful AI to inform product development, operations, marketing and storytelling. I loved this podcast. Listen: FutureVision podcast: the Art of Conversations.


Travel notes from walking the city:

Why my new hat says “Carp.” Hiroshima is a city whose baseball team emerged, literally, out of its ashes. The Carp is so deeply loved not just because of it offers joy, but perhaps because its own scrappy trajectory symbolizes the inextinguishable spirit and the resilience of the city it represents. I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum the same day Donald Trump first met with Kim Jong-un. Irony not lost. Navigator: the Other Hiroshima Story.

Go to market. If you ever visit a country or village that has an open-air market I encourage you to go there for all the color and smells and activity. If you go in the morning you’ll see one group of people; if you go three hours later all those people have gone because they’ve sold their goods and they’re replaced by other people. I often go to open air markets several times a day just to clock the different smells. Six Insights from Henry Rollins’ 2018 Travel Slideshow

Mustt Mustt. The Singapore Sacred Music Festival stunned me with a mind-blowing weekend of otherness. After a Saturday morning running in the rain, I dropped in on a tiny afternoon workshop with Tuvan throat singers Huun-Huur-Tu (bull-scrotum drum and all), and filled my evening with the goosebump feels thanks to a mesmerizing Qawwali show by Nurulhuda Islamic Ensemble. Bonus for this accordion fan: double-harmoniums … all the way.

Mic dropping in 3…2…

I need to hear what’s interesting in your world. Drop me a lineor let’s grab a bite. Or maybe we should work together. Reach out and let’s make it happen.

If you’re curious about Chalet Workshop, we’ll be moving mountains to bring it to the West Coast in due time. And if you’re curious about our social impact network, there’s very cool news: after another successful Day in 17 North American cities, we’re joining forces with an international partner organization. Bigger, better, badder. More details soon.