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Making Things

 

Making ThingsSunday, March 15, 2015

So the new skills for the Robot Age that I have read about are: feelings, seeing, and dreaming. Now we move on to making things. The thing about this is: we used to make things…it was called manufacturing and over the past thirty years, companies have shipped manufacturing overseas. How is this go round is going to be different, besides using software/robots rather than cheap labor? That’s what I’m hoping to divine while thinking about this section.

I do know that you can’t attain a level of mastery unless you make things. It’s called practice. It’s getting familiar with the thing you are making. Once you get familiar, you understand the possibilities and can get creative. I think America has been so focused on the short-term bottom line that its making skill has deteriorated. Want to talk about the skill gap? Well, if you’ve been shipping jobs overseas, then folks learn there is no future in attaining certain skills because there are no jobs for it.

I once read about how some perceptive and far-seeing companies (my descriptions) have figured out that they needed engineers in their manufacturing plants, getting their hands dirty, in order to drive innovations. Engineers can’t solve problems by hiding away at the corporate office; they need to be right there at the manufacturing plant, seeing how problems arise and then tinkering around with the solutions. But I believe these companies are far and few between because most companies are driven by the Wall Street ethos.

Right now there appears to be a cottage industry of “Makers”: people who create software, do artsy crafty stuff, build businesses. I can see software and businesses having viability but not so much for the artsy, crafty stuff. Unfortunately, not everybody have the skill set for building businesses or creating software products.

Anyway, I hope to find out what making really means and how I can possibly deploy this in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making - The Process

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I will start off with a great quote:

“Creativity is more than imagination. It’s imagination coupled with craft. It’s the metaskill of making. It envisions, embodies, elaborates. It develops, shapes, solves. It advances, iterates, proves…Unless, you’re willing to get your hands dirty, your imagination will remain unrealized and uninformed.” Metaskills, Marty Neumeier, p 177, hardcover version.

 

So, you can dream all you want, but it is only by doing or making that you can realize your genius, or create something great. I still don’t see how you can beat the robots but…robots don’t have imagination which we humans have (or at least some of us) but imagination alone won’t cut it. We have to combine imagination with making in order to beat the machines.

First thing I learn about making is that making is just as messy as creativity: it doesn’t conform to a nice tidy process. So you have an idea and start trying to make your idea come to life but you then find that your idea doesn’t really work. At least not in the version as you first envisioned it. So you go back and tinker around to see if you can improve on your idea or maybe you go back and do some more research. Or, if you are developing software, you might find that after advancing somewhat down the path, you have to go back and correct things.

The picture above depicts an orderly process on the right: discovery, definition, design, development and deployment. The left side is apparently the reality: chaos and confusion before you reach a conclusion. According to the author, if you try to apply a project management approach, you will get mediocre results. So what do you do? Just start.

Okay, I realize that is not very helpful. Before you can really start, you have to understand the nature of the problem, what are the goals, what are the constraints, and what are the criteria for success. After that, you have to let the nature of the problem and goals guide you. You may have to bounce around: research, walk around, tinker, test, read, think, present, argue, and whatever else you have to do to make it work.

So I guess the making skill will have to include an ability to live with ambiguity and to follow your instincts when failing your way to success. A lot of today’s big corporations (with the exception of possibly, Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook) can’t handle this chaotic process. But we humans should, if we want to beat the robots. Robots can only do what you tell them, at least for now. If robots ever get to the point where they can act independently, then they are very close to being sentient beings – and that is a very scary thought.

 

Practice Sunday, March 29, 2015

Feeling sort of blue so will keep this short. Not making much headway in some stuff and I still have to cook food for the week. And, this piece is short anyway.

One of the things the author says about making, and I’ve already mentioned this before, is that you have to practice it, over and over, like the Groundhog Day he mentions. It’s the 10,000 hours all over again. You have to care about the details and the “integrity” (however, I’m not sure I know what he means here) about what you are doing. There is no short cut. He also mentions that design will be important: how you designed the product, process or service will help you succeed.

The author gives examples: failure of execution – Ford Edsel; failure of poor or weak design – Betamax videotape. On a more current scale, he mentions as a possibility of Facebook losing out to “more designful” competitors.

He brought up a concept that is common in the entrepreneurial tech world (or the lean startup) and that is failing fast. I think Facebook called it “break things and fail fast”. The design world apparently calls it “fast failing”. It’s all the same thing: tinker with an idea to see if it works. If it doesn’t, find out why and do it again, maybe in a different fashion. Practice could be a form of fast failing. Whatever it is, you do it over and over again, making tweaking it a little each time to see if “it” moves you closer to your goal or helps you improve. The concept is that by failing quickly and many times, you move faster toward success.

There’s a couple of quotes I would like to note, 2 from the author and one unknown:

“To improve, you have to constantly push yourself beyond your limits, then pay attention to what trips you up.” Metaskills, by Marty Neumeier, p. 184, hardcover version.

 

“The temptation in design is the same as in Groundhog Day. To look for the quick answer, skip the tedious effort, go right to the gratification of closure…Making, if it is to be meaningful, is a journey to your best self. If you want more, pay more. The effort to imbue objects with integrity is the reason some things are more valuable than others.” Metaskills, p. 188.

 

“Don’t practice until you get it right; practice until you can’t do it wrong” Unknown.

 

That quote about imbuing the object with integrity reminds me of something. There’s an app called Sktchyapp where people upload their selfies and artists then try to either draw or paint or do something creative with the photos. There are some really good artists practicing their artwork. There is one guy though who does digital work, but he leaves impressions that he is doing oil painting or sketching or whatever kind of artistic endeavor. In one submission, he writes and I’m paraphrasing, “Work in progress. Oil on canvass. Nice evening over here. Glad to be with this group of artists.” However, I recognize the app that he is using to produce the work, and all you do is upload the photo into this app, and it does the work for you. This weekend, he uploaded another submission and used tags like #pencilsketch which gives the suggestion that he did a pencil sketch. But there is yet another app that will convert photos into seeming pencil sketches. Now there are others, such as Just John and Jellybeans, who are submitting digital works and not claiming otherwise. They have it tough because the bar is so much higher; they have to present works so much better than just running through the photos through the apps and filters. They are doing the tough work to get better.

 

UncludeSunday, April 5, 2015

So far, I’ve learned that in making things, you need a process but that it will be messy and be more intuitive as you explore your way to the solution. It’s a process of tinkering your way to the solution. You also need to do a lot of practice before you get good at making things: that 10,000 hours idea. Now I learn a third thing about making things: subtract out irrelevant elements until you arrive at the most basic functional, beautiful essence of what you are making. This is the process of uncluding until you arrive at simplicity, or the appearance of simplicity.

As an example, think about the evolution of cell phones. When cell phones first came out, they were gee whiz electronic tools that got every techie excited. They were big clunkers though, and as time went on, while they got smaller, they got more complicated with more buttons. But the cell phones sure were exciting. Then Apple came along with its iPhone and the entire industry got upended. The simplicity of the design made it a thing of beauty. Simple, ravishing and functional. (And I think the design industry really came into being at this point.)

When I think of uncluding, simplicity or functional beauty, I think of Apple as a prime example. Of course, I rarely succeed at it, especially at work with my Excel solutions. To arrive at such functional beauty would take a lot of time which most businesses are intolerant of. And frankly, Excel doesn’t enable such beauty – at least I haven’t succeeded yet.

The author does give some pointers on how and what to unclude on pages 190 and 191 in the hardcover version of Metaskills. One of ones that resonates with me is finding a solution that kills multiple birds at once. I normally succeed at killing two but he mentions ten. If you find something that kills multiple birds at once, then you don’t have to tack on other solutions to fix the other problems. The other tip that I like is to keep subtracting elements to discover which hurts the clarity, balance and beauty.

Other than that, there is not much more to say about “uncluding” other than when you want to develop a thing of beauty, think Apple.

 

Simplexity Monday, April 13, 2015

Talking about Apple, there is another concept very closely related to uncluding and that is simplexity. Take the iPhone. There is none of those gazillion buttons that you have to mess around with; there is just one button that gets you Home. It is very simple with just one button (well, there may be others around the sides but they are probably not used much). But beneath that simple surface, there is a highly complex engineering marvel that makes it all work. It takes a lot of years and a lot of work to develop something simple and intuitive to use.

So when you make something, you have to spend a lot of time and effort to produce something that is such a beauty to behold, that functions as it should, and is very intuitive to use. Simple to use on the surface but very complex underneath. Simplexity is not the same as uncluding. Uncluding is subtracting elements that do not add value and thus can move toward simplicity; simplexity is making the complex invisible so that the thing appears simple.

So having said that, I might unclude some elements in the picture to make it clearer and simpler. Apparently, I haven’t learned my lesson about uncluding yet.

 

How Do You KNow? Sunday, April 19, 2015

While the author talks about making things, how important it is to practice at making things and to think about uncluding and simplexity, he hadn’t addressed on how do we know when we are finished with something great. Now we come to pages 194 and 195. We shouldn’t make mediocre things in order to meet a deadline – we need to strive for excellence. But.. how do we know that we have completed something and that it is excellent? It turns out that you must have experience to recognize when something is beyond anything ever done before. You have to have the experience of comparing things. But on pages 194 and 195, he does list ten things to consider to help you recognize when you are finished and have done something great. I won’t list the 10 things because you need to read the book, but the list does consist of things such as disruption, new and shocking, adds value, has overall balance and aesthetics – a lot of the same stuff discussed earlier in the book.

One more discussion and I think we will be done with making things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prove It to Me Sunday, April 26, 2015

This will be the last post related to Making. To summarize and refresh my memory, the author talked about:

– The no-process process where you let your instincts and the nature of the problem guide you toward the solution. You have to understand the nature of the problem, its constraints, and the desired outcome before you can let your instincts guide you in your experiments. You fail your way to success.

– You practice making things until you get really good at it. It’s that 10,000 hours theory.

– Unclude everything that does not lend value or beauty. This one could be tricky for those of us without a good grounding on aesthetics.

– Related to uncluding is the concept of simplexity where the surface appears simple but underneath is a really complicated thing. You make it simple and easy for people to use or understand but to arrive there the undertaking is really complex.

The last thing you need is getting buy in for this wondrous new thing or idea you have conceived. If it is something really new and earthshaking, people will be uncomfortable and reject it. To quote a passage in the book:

“Whenever a game changing idea is presented, the first reaction of colleagues is to call it “worthless nonsense.” As it begins to slowly take hold, the same colleagues label it “interesting, but perverse.” Later, when the idea is all but proven, they admit that it’s “true, but unimportant.” Finally, after success is assured, they’ll claim it as their own: “I always said so.” This pattern is so common that you can almost use it as a test for promising ideas.” Metaskills, p. 197, hardcover version.

 

 

So…you need to take your audience on a journey to your vision. They need a story, not a Powerpoint, to get there. If they can envision what could be, they will support you and join you in the journey to the future. Not only do they need to envision the future, they have to see that it will be better for them.

So, tell them compelling stories of what could be.

“Dreams don’t become innovations overnight. They require visualizing, nurturing, refining, protecting, proving, improving and selling in.” Metaskills, page 200, hardcover version.

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