How Parody Inspires Great Design

HBR Blog Network • 13 February 2013

WWSJD? Michael Schrage touts the creative juices generated by parodying the successes of others: "Creatively caricaturing one's competitors' designs turns out to be an insightful, inciteful and empathic way to improve your own." Read on for ideas on how to jazz up your next brainstorming session by asking WWSJD (what would Steve Jobs do?).

Not to speak ill of the dead, but I am weary of all notions of good product design returning to Mr. Jobs. That having been said, I agree that parody and humor can be a good entre to brainstorming sessions. However, it's not the only way. Conversations that get into envelope-pushing territory both return to first principles ("Wait, what are we trying to do here?") and ask questions about underlying assumptions ("Do we really need to support x, or do we just think we do?"). Perhaps humor is a lighthearted way to approach these topics, but we shouldn't be afraid to poke our assumptions with a straight face. All questions of good design aside, I seriously doubt I'll be drawn back into wearing a watch, even an evolved one, as the article implies. That particular device for me has been rendered obsolete by others that will tell me what time it is. And sometimes it's a relief to not know. (Proffitt)

Why You Need to Ask Why

The Huffington Post • 14 February 2013

Solving the right problem. This brief recounting of how the National Park Service solved the problem of excessive bird droppings on the Jefferson Memorial serves as a great example of why it's important to ask "why?" repeatedly to get to the bottom of a problem. And don't miss Mitch Ditkoff's bio statement for a tongue-in-cheek reminder of what's important in life.

Brilliant! And certainly a low-overhead strategy for starting fresh conversations about the multitude of challenges facing research library administrators. If only my hyper-curious kids had known of the author's advice and learned to stop after five iterations of "Why?" (In my case, perhaps the first question I should be asking is, "Why am I always the one who gets to review the article about bird droppings?") (Massie)

What Scholarly Publishers Can Learn from Bookish

The Scholarly Kitchen • 13 February 2013

Just do it. Bookish, the new online venture of Simon & Schuster, Hachette and Penguin, has gotten mixed reviews as a book discovery mechanism, but blogger Joseph Esposito says the Bookish business model could easily be adapted to create an online university press bookstore. Centralizing access to university press works would provide a great service to the scholarly community. The point is not to replace Amazon, but to offer an alternative.

The Association of American University Presses (AAUP) Online Catalog launched in 1995, but disappeared with the onslaught of Amazon and Google. The author thinks that Bookish may demonstrate how the infrastructure available has so changed that it's worth another try. For example, the same Baker & Taylor that ships books for Amazon will also fulfill orders for Bookish. It can provide an e-book reading app that can be used on any iOS or Android device rather than creating its own. And it still makes money when it refers customers to a third-party retail operation. But would this model really help sustain university presses, which struggle to find a viable market for their titles now—beyond the libraries with shrinking budgets for monographs? I think of Marshall Poe's "What Can University Presses Do?" article last year in Inside Higher Ed, where he advocates for an open-access model combined with Internet narrowcasting to reach and expand audiences. (Smith-Yoshimura)

Used E-Book, Slightly Foxed

RoughType • 8 February 2013

"Game of tomes." Nicholas Carr offers an intelligent analysis of the nascent used e-book market. It all boils down to Amazon vs. the publishing industry and Amazon is already one step ahead with its recent patent filing to enable resale or transfer of digital objects' licenses. But wait—there's more: Amazon's control of the market would give it access to data on every transfer—and this post-sale tracking may prove lucrative in its own right. As usual, publishers are taking the myopic approach while Amazon's got the binoculars.

I remember a time when "planned obsolescence" was bad. Designing obsolescence into a product was just plain evil. Now Amazon has a patent on it for books. Sigh. The author sheds some interesting light on Amazon’s patent, suspecting that it will allow Amazon to control a new market in used books and definitely outmaneuver the publishers. I think all of this is treading dangerously near to accepting the First Sale Doctrine, or maybe just dancing around it. If there is a market for used e-books, then we must somehow have a right to sell those books. If we have a right to sell those books, then what do we need Amazon for? The Wikipedia article on the first sale doctrine and particularly the section on its application to digital copies is worth reading, too. (LeVan)

What Defines Success in the Mobile Race?

Knowledge@Wharton • 13 February 2013

Mobile mania. With experts predicting a shift from desktops to smartphones as people's primary information-gathering devices in the next few years, organizations are scrambling to retool their content for the small screen. Wharton management professor Saikat Chaudhuri says that for customer-facing organizations, the challenge brings opportunities to offer creative new customer services based on mobile's immediacy in targeting, interacting and communicating. Mobile is coming—what's your strategy?

The topic of staying tuned into changes in the mobile space reminds me of something my colleague Ralph LeVan once said to me about character encoding during data processing: "You can't take your eyes off it for a second." Getting libraries and their services found and useful in a mobile context continues to challenge us, even as the distinctions between the desktop and a phone experience blur. Users expectations have certainly changed, as ubiquitous, personalized, and localized access becomes routine for the other services they regularly use. My local library isn't coming close to meeting the mobile expectations I now have for it. Is it unfair to expect it to be as good as OpenTable? (Washburn)

Above the Fold Quiz

According to an item in this week's News and Views section, what is a useful concept for thinking about collaborative activities that scale above small groups of institutions, or even existing library consortia?

Get the answer.