The Role and Place for Concepts and Jargon

I recently read an acquaintance’s blog post on language and intrapreneurship, which got me to thinking about when loaded and technical terms are helpful at all.

Over the last 10 years of meeting many fascinating people and learning a lot about the world of business and design, concepts and jargon have helped make sense of things. And intelligently talk with others. But examples are necessary for meaningful conversation.

Take for example CPFR (concept), which refers to ongoing dialogue among partners so supply meets demand, with as little wasted time, money, and effort as possible. This is particularly critical for humanitarian work.

Or take kerning (jargon), which refers to the amount of proportional white space between letters in visual design. It’s a very minor detail that can help make text more pronounced (when tight) or comfortable (when loose).

While we can probably see the role and place for these terms, they’re only helpful if the people you’re talking to know what they mean. The two previous examples though are fairly specific, and can be helpful among professionals.

Now let’s turn to the mother of abstractions though: Nominalizations.
Want a funny introduction? Read this New York Times opinion piece and come back.

This is when language goes extreme abstract.
Potentially attractive and inspirational too.
They help make better articles and speeches.
But they don’t help get things done. Individually or collectively.

Ask any creative agency and they’ll tell you how much vague language hurts the client relationship. The same thing applies within organizations too. This is exactly why lawyers, designers, and project managers have to enforce a common set of terms and ensure that everyone knows and agrees on what they mean.

If big change is necessary, let’s do ourselves, colleagues, and partners a favor.
Help make it possible be keeping language simple. Leave out all the technical words and concepts.

Aspiration can be sexy.

But Hope is easier.

Lessons Learned in Nonprofit Digital Communications

November 21st was my last day at the Municipal Art Society. It was a great 17 months. My workload had slowed down to minor ongoing improvement tasks and content management. So I provided a lot of documentation, trained staff, and provided a strategic roadmap.

After this job, I realized that nonprofits were in the business of selling outcomes.

The various ways we raised money below made me consider experience design opportunities within each.

  • Memberships / subscriptions
  • Sponsorships
  • Grants
  • Premium gifts
  • Public fundraising: ongoing and campaigns
  • Parties, concerts, presentations, and other charity events

Not just from a piecemeal perspective, but over time. For me at MAS, this entailed:

  • CRM email, ecommerce, donations, memberships, and events
  • CMS (web content) and DAM (digital asset managment) in various channels
  • Social Media

But honestly, one person alone cannot do this job effectively. Those involved in fundraising, programs, initiatives, and communications should be able to do all 3 above with very little support from any available technical staff or 3rd parties.

We can create the conditions so it’s possible. One needs managers and consultants who can:

  • Analyze content, interaction, and relationship architectures.
  • Find and prioritize strengths and weaknesses in the near term; opportunities and threats in the long term.
  • Lead and propose action, such as further inquiry or distinct solutions.
  • Clearly communicate the current situation, proposed action, and progress to date.

And also understand that:

  • The fewer software tools and providers to accomplish goals, the better. Do more with less.
  • People learn software and procedures best in little chunks that are applicable to a specific task they are going to do now or soon, with provided documentation written for humans.
  • Templates and visual editors make it easy for content administrators to get jobs done. Because nobody wants to learn HTML and CSS for little tweaks to make this or that prettier.
  • A good information architecture makes everyone’s lives easier, including search engines. Now and in the future. This pertains to websites, shared asset directories, and 3rd party hosts.

It’s nice to know at this time my personal strengths and areas for improvement.

What’s next? Volunteering and exploring. An acquaintance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art said they just ordered a 3D printer and would need someone to experiment, document, and talk about it.

SQFT: Utilizing Empty Spaces for Pop-Up Culture and Commerce

[Video Link]

On Wednesday, August 1st, SQFT (“square foot”) demonstrated the power of pop-ups in Mid-Market, San Francisco. Various locations along Market Street from 5th to 7th Street opened up their doors to new ideas and curious people.

I love the idea of matching temporary available space for temporary use. Now that’s maximizing space asset utilization rates (for good!). Look forward to seeing more from this organization.

Fighting Outdoor Visual Pollution and Advertising

[Video Link]

Some months ago, I went to see the documentary film “This Space Available“, about the grassroots movement around the world fighting for the protection of public spaces from advertisers. I’m quite happy that people and city governments are addressing it. Without laws protecting citizens’ quality of life and enforcing them, advertising and promotion seeps into all corners of life. Balance must be ensured. It’s not just Sao Paolo that banned outdoor billboards. Since the early 80s, Houston, Texas has too.

In another clip below, the protestors had created a notice of condemnation under the guise of a supposedly official city organization. Funny part is, they altered my organization’s logo and letterhead to make it seem official :)

[Video Link]

Here’s some links for further exploration:

Public Ad Campaign (see their weblinks on their left sidebar)
This Space Available

Press Pause Play – A Documentary on New Media Production

I saw this film in December online, and should have shared it with y’all then. It’s lovely and insightful. Here’s the official description:

The digital revolution of the last decade has unleashed creativity and talent of people in an unprecedented way, unleashing unlimited creative opportunities. But does democratized culture mean better art, film, music and literature or is true talent instead flooded and drowned in the vast digital ocean of mass culture? Is it cultural democracy or mediocrity? This is the question addressed by PressPausePlay, a documentary film containing interviews with some of the world’s most influential creators of the digital era.

Click on the cog in the YouTube player to watch in HD, or download it from their website. The soundtrack (recommended) is also on Spotify.

[Video Link for Email/Other Subscribers – 84min]

Working, Envisioning, Struggling, Persevering at a Nonprofit

Being the digital everything person at a small-to-medium size nonprofit can be exhausting.

Especially in an org that had already been in the red for years, had gone through the last of its downsizing by the time you came onboard, has no money to spend on specialists or contractors, and in a down economy where getting funding is hard.

And you realize that the information architecture, social media, and eCRM had been severely neglected for so long, because predecessors only had time and experience for other important tasks, and because like many nonprofits, the org tried to do more than it could. That and the communication design is relatively poor in terms of concisely delivering the context, vision, and ask so as not to info-overload people.

Yet an optimistic, happy organizational culture keeps you motivated to make a difference, despite all the cleanup you have to do, and things you’re neglecting because there’s just no working time, because you need personal time, and there’s no tech interns interested because your challenges are 4-5 years old in comparison to what’s hip in Silicon Valley, Alley, or Allee (Berlin).

You’ll just have to do most of it yourself, progressively over time, prioritized, while cataloging your progress, and trying not to overwhelm yourself.

Knowing that the extra personal time invested for learning skills is meaningful, and will help you work better and faster with future 3rd party contractors. And in your own projects.

That’s where I am today. Tired yet optimistic that it’ll all pay off. So long as I remember to smile and be kind to myself in the process.

Weaving Stories into Your Presentation – Nancy Duarte

Presenting ideas and convincing folks to buy into them is no easy task. Although facts, figures, propositions, reasoning, and calls-to-action are logical presentation elements, their mere inclusion doesn’t guarantee success.

I’ve shown videos and ideas of Nancy’s here before, but this recorded webinar should provide a lot more than the usual bout of pithy, quick-ideas and inspiration candy that I’m coming to avoid (separate topic).

Nancy describes here how one can weave stories into presentations. One powerful technique is a chronological swaying between “What is” and “What could be”, as opposed to a single time block devoted to each question.

[Video Link for Email/Other Subscribers – 40min]

By doing so, we’re encouraging the audience members to think like designers. Contrasting the two states at a comfortable pace allows people to easier see parallels and differences; comparative strengths and weaknesses. I’m also keen to believe that such an approach can encourage co-ownership of proposed ideas and thus be far more attractive. That is, if the creator’s vision balances suggestion with normative statements.

I think you’ll particularly enjoy Nancy’s dissection of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Gamification by Design – Book Review

gamification-by-design-book-reviewPoints, levels, badges, challenges, and leaderboards oh my!

Having played games much of my life, I’ve thought their function was to entertain us (although education is also possible).

Whatever the purpose is, one has to acknowledge that people enjoy interacting with systems and routines that challenge and reward them. From this psychological perspective then, there are lessons to be learned from game theory and mechanics, which can be applied to marketing, behavior change, and interaction design.

In reading Gamification by Design, the authors do a great job describing various types of games people play, motivations that keep them engaged, and how to employ tactics for doing so. In 109 pages (core topics) it’s an excellent primer that will help dispel many myths and biases against using game techniques.

Note: O’Reilly Media offered me a review copy of this book. While it was enjoyable, I recommend buying it from Amazon at $12 from 3rd party resellers. Alternatively, someone told me that Gabe’s other book, Game-Based Marketing, was a great book. So that may be of more interest to you.

For those of you who don’t care to explicitly make a game someday with such prominent features like points and badges, I still recommend reading and keeping it around for reference. For those very interested in gaming however, this book will be lite-fare, introductory material.

The more we can imagine ourselves as participants in designed interactions, the better we can build and adapt them for long term use and effectiveness. As an excellent complement, I suggest reading Emotional Design by Donald Norman.


Text to Give, and Mobile Donations Explained

A seamless approach to accepting mobile donations by billing users’ cell phone accounts is available through different providers. To donate, individuals type a specified keyword to a designated number. ALL providers charge a $500 setup fee that goes to the Mobile Giving Foundation, which covers processing and security. Application, account setup, and live keyword process takes about 3-4 weeks. Remittances to organizations’ bank accounts are made within 60-90 days from the Mobile Giving Foundation.

With some research, I’ve found two organizations with transparent plans and pricing:

Give by Cell
$974 = $500 (setup) + $474 ($79/mo. for 6 mo. term)
$0.48 per donation (flat fee)

$2888 = $500 (setup) + $2388 ($199/mo. for 12 mo. term)
$0.35 per donation + 3.5 % card processing fee

An alternative approach is to send people text messages with links to mobile webforms, which users fill out with their payment information. One such provider is Obopay. While such a process isn’t as seamless, and considering not everyone has smartphones, it does make mobile commerce easy for whatever the purpose.

LF USA – Embedding Sustainability into its Business Culture

li fung usa logo

One of the companies I had interviewed with was LF USA, the subsidiary of a billion-dollar Chinese conglomerate that you’ve likely never heard of. While the position seemed interesting, involving the development of an employee social network as the company is planning to rapidly expand in the coming years, it was their highly visible commitment to sustainability that caught my eye.

LF USA sustainability break room recyclingConsidering their specialty in the end-to-end design, sourcing, production, and distribution of various merchandise in 30+ countries, it’s relatively easy to understand how a commitment to eco-efficiency can be important to the bottom line. However, based on my impressions from the wording of the various posters and web copy I found online, there was an ethical imperative underlying it all.

With my smartphone at hand and the opportunity to grab some coffee in the break room, and see the restroom, I just had to snap the following photographs to share what I found to be a fantastic example of bringing the sustainability message to employees without being too subjective.

LF USA ten sustainability commitments

Only thing missing from these goals is a expected completion date for the quantified ones (#2 – 5).

LF USA sustainability energy reduction goal

LF USA sustainability bathroom message

LF USA sustainability paper use goal


Personal Update

It’s midsummer now, and I’m happy to have a job as the digital marketing manager for a nonprofit called the Municipal Art Society, which advocates smart/sustainable urban planning, and the preservation & promotion of physical art (buildings, murals, statues, bridges) in New York City. The work is all encompassing including web content management (WordPress), email marketing and eCRM (Convio), analytics, Google AdWords, and social media. Feels good as the pay is great with lots of opportunity for skills improvement, and the people are very nice.

However, I learned a couple days ago that my mother has lung cancer. Stage 4, non-small cell, right lung, spread just to the chest wall. Not isolated, so chemotherapy is the only option. I had wondered if they could just remove the right organ and all might be okay, since that’s the word about kidneys. But I guess that’s not possible according to the doctors.

It’s hard to believe or comprehend the gravity of it all, except to know that someone you love and care for is just not going to be around much longer. Update: So it’s mesothelioma (as a result of asbestos exposure at some point in her life), with anywhere between 3mo. to 1yr remaining life expectancy.

Although the lady I’d been seeing for the last few months — a smart, green-minded, alpha-female architect — and I decided recently to take a break, I just don’t feel like becoming interested (casual or serious) in anyone for awhile. Socializing and being active in various interests are still important though, especially as a way to feel progress and momentum toward something meaningful. Suppose I’m just more selective of how I decide to spend time now, given the new job and time constraints.

Will still be posting interesting things from the last couple months I’ve taken notes on, or podcasts with people interviewed. Stay tuned, and have a safe & joyful summer.

~ Mario

The Republic of Tea – A Delightful Startup Story

republic of tea bookAs the first book I’ve read on entrepreneurship, The Republic of Tea tells the true story of the birth of a business, from an idea to launch. Chronicled through exchanged faxes, personal notes, illustrations, and business plans, it was exciting to read how co-founders Bill Rosenzweig and Mel & Patricia Ziegler (founders of The Banana Republic retail clothing stores), developed the company over two years.

The concept and business plan needed to mature at its own pace without any force or rushing. In the beginning, this entailed a concrete brand purpose, market research, and product development, then progressing into operations, distribution, funding, and financial analysis.

What I found most interesting was how much research (market & operations) was involved from beginning to end, a journey that led Bill from being an excited newcomer, to nearly an industry expert at 4 months before the company launched.

Although you or I may never be involved in launching a product company, it will give you appreciation for the process and what it takes to get there: patience, perseverance, curiosity, a critical mind, and a team of smart partners and advisers.

Collaborative Consumption – Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers

Great book I read last Fall about the new dynamics of sharing and the societal forces behind it. What follows is an outline that covers the main ideas as I’ve gleaned them, along with topical cross references. It may not always flow nicely since this is a personal reference guide. And as usual, this summary can’t give you the stories and context behind the notes provided below, so I do recommend reading the book if you’d like to learn more. Similarly, you may want to check out my summary of Lisa Gansky’s book, “The Mesh”.

I. Backstory to Present Day

The authors discuss the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and how it represents a concrete effect of world’s systemic lifestyle, going on to explain the emergence of “throwaway living”. Disposable products came about for valid health reasons, like the Dixie cup, and Kotex sanitary napkins (adapted from military badges). Everyday goods that could be thrown away, as opposed to cleaned and dried, were marketed and considered by folks as more “convenient, time-saving, and hygenic.”

During World War II, much production and consumption shifted to industrial sectors. Yet following 1945, the consumer products goods and food industries jumped into full gear as people could spend money again, have lots of babies, and make their lives easier with the houses and major appliances that jobs and higher disposable incomes enabled.

With increasing scale, this new way of life carried many unintended consequences and unforeseen after effects, including high volumes of manufacturing material waste, and increased embodied energy in products. If economic costs were so low, municipal waste systems made trash go “away”, and buying new items eventually became easier and cheaper than to clean & repair existing items, then it’s simply no wonder how we came to where we are today.

I’m keen to believe that people have always never liked to part ways with personal possessions; simple loss-aversion is at play. If we can store it away somewhere, we can derive value from it again sometime in the future. But with increased disposable income, and the ability to buy things on credit, material affluence has never been easier. To save civilization from running out of physical space and the pain of selling, giving, or throwing away belongings, the self-storage industry came to the rescue. The authors give some startling statistics about how much storage space there is for rent in the U.S., and how after 6 months, the cost of space rental has often exceeded the fair-market-value of the stored items. With the option for people to automatically pay the rent through a bank or credit account, it’s insane how much money people are spending without rationally considering the true costs involved. Thanks Rachel and Roo for dramatically bringing this subject to light!
Attachment, Loss Aversion, Comfort, Opaque Cost :(

A couple years ago, I watched a 6 part documentary series called The Century of the Self, which chronicled the development of advertising through the influence of Edward Bernays, and the rise of hyper consumerism. In essence, satisfying desire could be an endless game that people don’t necessarily choose to engage in. Advertisers, social trends, and norms helped put people on a metaphoric hedonistic treadmill. One could get off temporarily, but we’d have to get back on knowing that a “new & improved” version is out there as part of our vision (is it really ours?) of an aspired lifestyle.

The authors describe 4 big forces shaping it:

1) Persuasion

Ed Bernays got people “to buy not what they needed but what they desired, connecting not just to who the consumer is but what he or she wanted to be…unmet desires have no fixed limit”.

Additionally influential was Earnest Elmo Calkins. From Wikipedia,

One of his theories featured in the book of the same name was that of “consumer engineering,”[24] or the artificial creation of demand for a product using design and advertising. He described the situation in 1929 that the speed of production had “outstripped consumption”. His answer to this problem is not to slow production, for “that would be backward.” He instead suggested manufacturing demand for product through planned obsolescence.[25] He wrote,

“Goods fall into two classes: those that we use, such as motor cars and safety razors, and those that we use up, such as toothpaste or soda biscuits. Consumer engineering must see to it that we use up the kind of goods we now merely use.[25]

In other words, he said, “Why would you want last year’s hand bag when this year’s hand bag is so much more attractive?” He asked, “Does there seem to be a sad waste in this process? Not at all. Wearing things out does not produce prosperity. Buying things does.” He pioneered the concept of the “soft sell,”[1] or impressionistic advertising, which stresses less immediate results, and focuses on building goodwill and creating a brand, relying more on the “creative process” to produce an advertising message.[2]

Lastly, peer pressure and culture are significant persuasive factors driving new purchases and consumption. Social regard, group belonging, acceptance, and self-esteem can sometimes be reasonable. Oftentimes not. Related to this is the Diderot Effect by social anthropologist Grant McCracken, which discusses how clusters of artifacts are related to group identity, how their symbolic meaning outweighs their functional utility, and how we relate to these artifacts on and off in life, as we ponder their reflection of self-identity. (I think I got that right!). Here’s a quote the authors provide, “We’ve been persuaded ever since the 1920s that we need complementary groups of possessions (color, style, or the up-to-dateness of an item).”

2) Credit

Ah yes, the convenience of borrowing money. Important for many purposes, particularly business and international trade. But personal credit? It’s enabled me to do some fun and fantastic things in my life, but oftentimes I ended up buying things (instead of experiences) that I really don’t need and can’t afford. We all know the story 😛 Availability and willingness to pay later with non liquid assets we can’t touch and don’t own. And lenders don’t want us to see nor understand the consequences of increasing debt from variable interest rates and only needing to pay a minimum balance. This desensitizes us to the cost of additional purchases or living a particular lifestyle.

3) Law of Life Cycles

Desire for new products & editions, Planned Obsolesence, and product quality degradation are the influencing factors to update/renew to same or new models. Can we be irrational or is there intended behavioral design in motion?

4) Just One More Factor?

An excellent point the authors bring up. “Just in case”. “You can never have enough”. “Could be useful in case…”. This is satisfaction from having more of the things that are similar to what we already have. With more usage choice in a personal asset library, there’s more freedom and dynamic happiness we can generate. Like extra capacity to enjoy in the future, without the trouble of buying/getting it. Another motivational factor: “It was on sale.”

From “Gen Me” to “Gen We

Michael Wesch best describes this phenomena in this video presentation and my accompanying summary. I won’t summarize it for you :) Go check the link if you haven’t already.

The authors describe 2 phenomena and various examples of each:

  • A values shift to “simplicity, transparency, participants”. As I see it…meaning, community, and experiences.
  • Materialism’s lost opportunity cost in social relationships

II. Groundswell

The Rise of Collaborative Consumption (CC)
I’m prone to believe there’s a certain happiness in sharing some things with strangers. I think the larger movement is about economizing and exploring how IT and communication tech can both facilitate marketplaces and provide better user experiences. As the authors say, “we are relearning how to create value out of shared and open resources in ways that balance personal self interest with the good of the larger community. People can participate without losing their autonomy or individual identity.”

2 Participation forms: Peer “Provider” or “User

CC Systems: sharing networks for products/services

  1.  Product/Service system: pay for use, not ownership.
  2.  Redistribution markets: pre-owned goods, give away, swap, or sell.
  3. Collaborative lifestyles: service exchange (free/premium). Requires trust systems.

4 CC principles:
Critical mass is necessary for momentum, better logistics and response time, greater choice, relevancy, and enough supply to meet random demand in a system. One needs:

  1. Social proof
  2. Idling capacity
  3. Belief in commons
  4. Trust between strangers


Access & experience is really what people want, not necessarily ownership which entails financial cost, financing, insurance, disposal, maintenance, repair…

2 models:

  1. Usage – Ex: high idling capacity, limited use because of changing tastes, temporary need, depreciating appeal after usage, high fixed or setup costs.
  2. Extended life – where service like maintenance, repair, upgrades are covered. Ex: highly technical, expensive, frequent updates needed.

In P2P renting, idling capacity is available and personal transactions are feasible. There are some hurdles though:

  • Sharing has to be convenient, secure, and more cost-effective than ownership
  • Security and trust

Items or the service can’t necessarily be sterile or merely utilitarian. Personalization and feeling temporary ownership, and connection are important.

Redistribution Markets

Enabled by networked participation and falling transaction costs
newly meeting supply and demand
increased utilization rate through the item’s valuable life
point systems; quid pro quo not necessary
Craigslist story – radical simplicity + interaction time efficiency

Collaborative Lifestyles

for “knowledge, time, workspaces, creativity, money, homes, gardens, social spaces.”
service bartering
marketplaces as brokers/facilitators with fee or earned points
time banks, local exchange trading schemes (currencies)
social money lending; Zopa, Prosper
collaborative workspaces; Bay Area Hub, New Work City, Green Spaces
communities; neighborgoods, SkillShare
On/Offline Community; couchsurfing,,,

III. Implications

Collaborative Design
design research, empathy, systems thinking
Ezio Manzini – I’ve downloaded numerous papers of his. See this video presentation of his I covered earlier for greater insight.
collaborative systems vary by necessary effort to participation
Lots versus low willpower scale
Manzini on designers’ role: “Reduce the threshold of effort so that regardless of willpower a user may have, the system can achieve its purpose.”
fluidity of use
diversified access/receipt options yielding same user benefits
enhanced communications support

Design Principles: longevity, disassembly, modularity, upgradeability, platforms

Community as Brand
Ex: Nike Plus, Skype, Meetup
brand community power + membership
letting go, and allowing people to personalize and make the experience and community their own (passion brand principles?)
Solicit feedback

CC Evolution
changing consumer mindset
reputation and social capital
new value. GDP is old as are value chains. Value cycles are the future.


This book is important for its contribution to the backstory of consumerism, how we ended up where we are, and the future that’s possible for those willing to participate. Personally, I feel anyone under the age of 35 probably feels either frustrated/cautious with debt (various sources), and doesn’t want to maintain personal physical inventory. Remember how Tyler Durden from Fight Club said, “The things you own end up owning you”? I totally believe it. If we can make our lives easier through alternative consumption patterns that offer the same experience with additional social/other benefits, less hassle, and for less money, we will adapt appropriately.