Summer newsletter: begin the begin. What’s changing + what’s interesting in July 2019.

BEGIN THE BEGIN

Early last year I set off on a working trek through the R/GA studios in Singapore, Tokyo, and San Francisco. My role was to collaborate with R/GA’s design teams, clients, and cultures, in service of bringing impactful new products and services to life.

This adventure has wrapped. I’m moving on from R/GA and my role as ECD/head of product innovation in San Francisco.

As I plan my next journey, it would be lovely if you kept your eyes open for opportunities on my behalf. I provide strategic design leadership for connected products, services and places. I’m seeking in-house roles with SF companies, preferably in healthcare, finance, travel, mobility or retail. And I’m open to consulting until the right fit happens. Thanks for your help.

OG DESIGN LEADERS UNITE

My friend Andrew Peters (of Epic) and I have spun up a new monthly conversation series based in Marin. The second North Bay Design Leaders event was last night. It’s grown quickly — folks have brought a diversity of experiences, which is refreshing and inspiring. Next session is in mid-August at Marin Brewing in Larkspur Landing. Email me to get on our list for future updates: noel@franus.com.

(I’m stoked: decades ago while a bunch of us were organizing the IA Cocktail Hours in San Francisco, Andrew invited me to speak at his growing UX Happy Hours in Barcelona and Madrid. He’s great at bringing interesting people together.)

I’M COLLECTING CHALLENGES. WHO SHOULD I MEET?

I now have a rare sliver of time to indulge my curiosity. I’m looking for the most interesting design challenges in the Bay Area, and I want to get to know the people taking them on. Why? It’s simple: these are my favorite conversations. Perhaps that’s you or someone you know. Say hello, or feel free to make an introduction. Thanks.

THE SHORTEST ROUTE

It’s an interesting time to rediscover the Bay Area’s creative + technology landscape, after my 16-year detour via Portland, Oregon and Boulder, Colorado.

I’ve asked many design-leader friends who have stayed: which San Francisco companies do an effective job threading together research, strategy and design?

The first answer I usually get is nobody. That’s often followed by one of several fist-shaking curse words like private equity! hyperscaling! and The Next Billion!.

Some design orgs get it right. But for plenty of companies, design has become a roadside attraction on the shortest route between idea and profit (or power).

That means there’s opportunity, and that’s why we get up in the morning, isn’t it.

NOW WAIT A MINUTE

McKinsey Design says there’s a better way in The Business Value of Design.

NO, REALLY, THINK ABOUT IT

Mike Monteiro’s Ruined By Design is the most necessary book in a long time for designers, strategists and others who build products or services with the intention of providing lasting value.

HOT BLOODED

MVPs and metrics are there to support a vision, not to replace it…It’s there to help people with a hypothesis…If you’re just trying to do whatever to make the metrics go up, you’ll be selling pornography in no time. — great interview with Long Term Stock Exchange founder Eric Ries on Recode Decode with Kara Swisher.

FLAWED FUTURE INTELLIGENCE

What we do have are organizations that are already maximizing their own paper clips, and that aren’t intelligent by any standard. That’s a concrete problem we need to deal with now. Talking about future paper clips might be interesting or thrilling, but in reality, it’s a way of avoiding dealing with our present paper clips. O’Reilly’s Mike Loukides thinks we won’t get the chance to worry about artificial general intelligence if we don’t deal with the problems we have in the present.

PRACTICAL CREATIVITY WITH AI

Let’s move from the theoretical to the practical. Jenna Niven was one of my favorite collaborators at R/GA; together we led the Designing New Futures with AI and Conversational Architecture workshop at Interaction 19, along with the equally inspiring Matt Marcus. Now Jenna’s sharing her ridiculously accessible framework for using AI to increasing your creative firepower:

So in practice, when you have an idea — we can use AI to validate it and once we have produced it — use AI to make it even better. But bringing that combination of thoughts and knowledge together and realizing it has the magic quality of a brilliant creative idea….that’s all you baby. Read her piece Limitless Creativity: How to Design in an AI World.

RUNNING TO STAND STILL

You’ve seen the crazy stories on the impossibly ambitious growth of some of the bike-share companies in Asia. This one may be the craziest.

Within a month of launching, Bluegogo was operating 70,000 bikes across three cities, and, according to Li Gang, churning out a bonkers 10,000 bikes a day as it tried to gain scale. The company set its sights on new markets with less competition to slow its growth. “Within six months we were in six different cities and expanding overseas,” a source who worked in Bluegogo told me. Cyclingtips / The Birth and Death of a Bike Company: What Happened to SpeedX

P.INK: IF YOU LOVE SOMEBODY…

After six years leading P.ink, I’m passing the baton to the brilliant Karen Richards and her team at FCancer. I’m so grateful to have built an impactful institution with so many great people. Now it’s time to change and grow. Here’s a recap of a few key moments in our history. Changing the culture of healing: looking into the past + future with P.ink and FCancer.

QUICK HITS

FICTION: THE RIVER
By Peter Heller: two college friends take a summer rafting trip through the Canadian Rockies. Wildfire looms, people get violent. What could go wrong? Sublime summer escapism.

READ: A WALK ACROSS JAPAN
I am a walker of cities, but this piece makes me want to leave the hustle and bustle. Craig Mod: The Glorious, Almost-Disconnected Boredom of My Walk in Japan.

LISTEN: DOLLARS TO DONUTS
Steve Portigal speaks with Leanne Waldal, former head of research at New Relic, on his podcast. Think of it as everything you’ve wanted to know about setting up a research team but were afraid to ask, with two brilliant voices guiding you along the way. Bonus: Leanne is seeking her next opportunity. Don’t walk, run.

READ: LEAN CUSTOMER DEVELOPMENT
I’m obsessed with Cindy Alvarez’s book. She provides a clear, approachable framework for finding problems, generating opportunities and testing product/service hypotheses in the simplest, lightest possible way.

READ: ATOMIC HABITS
Okay so I’m late to the party, fine, but if you are, too: the first section had me hooked as James Clear makes a strong case for ditching objective, one-does-or-one-does-not goals in favor of incremental, continuous improvement.

WATCH THIS SPACE: SKIFT TRAVEL DESIGN
The Skift Design Awards recognizes transformational design experiences that enhance the traveler journey. I’ll pretend I’m not jealous of the job these judges have — this one looks like fun. Winners are announced in September.

MIC DROP, SLO-MO

One last thing before I go: I’ve been meeting quite a few senior + exec-level folks lately who are either looking to hire or seeking new opportunities. If you need either, reach out, I may be able to help.

Next note in a month or less. Til then, let’s get coffee or make something together. I’m open. See you soon.

Noel Franus
noel@franus.com / franus.com