jason oke

If you’re not in awe, you’re not paying attention.

Design & The Elastic Mind

I’ve been spending most of my time recently thinking about design and its ability to shape and influence behavior. Design is one of the core things we do here at Juniper Park, and I believe it’s at the core of the future of communications (I’m not the only one).

So I’m really excited by the new MOMA exhibit with the fantastic title of Design & The Elastic Mind.

From the exhibit overview:

Adaptability is an ancestral distinction of intelligence, but today’s instant variations in rhythm call for something stronger: elasticity, the product of adaptability plus acceleration. Design and the Elastic Mind explores the reciprocal relationship between science and design in the contemporary world by bringing together design objects and concepts that marry the most advanced scientific research with attentive consideration of human limitations, habits, and aspirations. The exhibition highlights designers’ ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science, and history—changes that demand or reflect major adjustments in human behavior—and translate them into objects that people can actually understand and use.

I totally want to steal the line “combining advanced research with attentive consideration of human limitations, habits, and aspirations” to describe what planning does (or at least what it should aim for).

The exhibit contains 300 projects divided into seven different design topics. They’ve put the entire exhibit online, along with some projects that couldn’t make it into the physical exhibit.

You have to check out the website. The site, like the exhibit itself, is mind-blowing in depth. And true to its name, it’s highly elastic. It runs the gamut from exploring different ways to visualize information, to 3D modeling, to pre-fab building, to computational origami, to Google Maps mash-ups, to videography of oral histories of family cooking secrets.

Needless to say, this was a very bad thing for my productivity today. I can’t wait to get to NY to see it in person. Anybody want to hook up an excursion around the PSFK conference?

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Filed under: Design, Web/Tech

Is research holding us back?

I think I managed to alienate the entire market research community here today. I was invited to speak at the MRIA‘s annual qualitative conference. The theme of the day was “Exploding Paradigms” and the organizers assembled a great list of people to talk about the forward edges of qual. I was really excited to see the list of topics and speakers, and it was a really well done event.

Despite the forward-looking nature of many of the day’s talks, I took a bit of an extreme position to make a point about the problems with much of the status quo. My talk was called “Is Qualitative Research Holding Us Back?” – a subject that I seem to go on about a lot recently.

The gist of it is that given the communications industry is in a period of massive change, it is a time when more than ever, we need to be grounded in an understanding of people’s evolving behaviour and needs. But research hasn’t been evolving at the same rate as culture, and instead of seizing the moment of opportunity, I feel despite the occasional ethnography or metaphor study, a lot of qualitative research still looks like the same old focus groups we’ve been watching for years. It’s based on faulty assumptions, has not kept up with cultural change or scientific learning about how the brain works, and may actually be hindering success.

I don’t assign blame to any party – I think we’re all guilty. Marketers have cut their research budgets to the point where most client research managers are too understaffed and overstretched to think about innovation; agencies have used research too selectively and selfishly for too long to have much credibility any more; and research practitioners are fighting for a piece of shrinking budgets and facing rushed timelines so they often lack the leverage to effect major changes. But that means there’s no one to really push for change. And this situation runs the risk of damaging qualitative research’s value and credibility at a time when it is most needed; and researchers, clients, and agencies need to work together to win that credibility back.

None of this should come as a shock to most people who’ve practiced or commissioned market research, but it’s still a tough subject to bring up to a room full of researchers. So I have a feeling I ruffled a few feathers. And admittedly I took a bit of an extremist position to make the point. But I also got some nice positive feedback so hopefully I’m still on a few Christmas card lists.

Filed under: research

PSFK NY conference 2008

Last year’s PSFK conferences were by all accounts great events and well organized (sadly I couldn’t make any of them). And you can’t beat the price – while most industry conferences are in the thousands of dollars, PSFK keeps it at a few hundred.

The first PSFK conference of 2008 is in NY – and the speaker list is typically inspiring. There are still tickets left but they’re going fast. I can actually make it this year, so if you’re there, come find me.

Filed under: Trends

What are social networks good for?

The Freakonomics blog (since last year, hosted by the NY Times) organized a great forum a few days ago on what social networks are doing to society, featuring an A-list of academic participants (which makes a nice change from all us pontificating plannery types).

The highlights include several thoughts on the values created via the strength of weak ties, including some recent research from Michigan State University demonstrating the way that social networks increase our social capital by exposing us to diverse information, ideas, and perspectives that we would never have received if limited to face-to-face interactions.

Filed under: Social networks

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These are my views. Do I even need to explain that? They're not those of anyone generous enough to pay me money. They're just mine. Unless maybe they're yours too. That would be nice.