Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A real Christmas journey

'Tis the week before Christmas and panic has finally broken loose. Where can I get that new gadget? Where do they sell that cuddly bear? And why, oh why, didn't I start shopping earlier? Say, in July?

One of the main tools of service design is the customer journey. It clearly illustrates how people spend more time around your service, than actually using it, and equally demonstrates that if you knew what precedes and follows your contact with the customer, you might gain some valuable insight.

So this Christmas, allow us to illustrate what Christmas actually looks like, from an average adult's point-of-view with our tongue-firmly-in-our-service-design-cheek.

Merry Christmas from Brand Manual

Download PDF version

Lae alla eestikeelne PDF

Monday, December 17, 2012

How to create great packaging in two days

The packaging design course Dan was conducting at the British Higher School of Design in Moscow past summer caught the attention of the leading Russian packaging webizine 'What the Pack?'. 

How did the young Russian designers react to a Scandinavian approach? Here's a thorough interview, plus a visual review of the results. 

The outcome was really surprising, considering the ultra-tight timeframe. But it was a lot easier to direct, hence the exercise was rooted in a real project Brand Manual is engaged in - and we had gone through a thorough Discovery process by then. Building a house is a snap once you have a strong foundation ready and you know in what surroundings it will stand.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Unreasonable man. An overview of Generator 12

On November 26 and 27, our partner Margus, visited the Generator conference in Gävle, Sweden.

The reason we decided to participate in the conference was manyfold:
1. The Generator conference is not a typical creative or policy conference, but rather a meeting place to generate ideas and policy for creative and cultural industries;
2. Brand Manual is going to expand to Sweden and this was an excellent opportunity to "test the water" of how people and government think about creative businesses;
3. A conference is a wonderful place to meet like-minded people, have involving conversations and maybe find some useful contacts.

The conference was centered on the value that culture industries create. Throughout the conference there was an emphasis on proving the value of creativity to the "real" economy, both through soft examples as well through strict scientific method. Although at times the tone became apologetic: "I'm sorry, we're artists, we don't know how to earn money so you have to support us", then for the majority of the program the focus was much more rationally creative.

Two speakers in particular, Julia Romanowska from Karolinska Institutet and Emma Stenström from Handelshögskolan and Konstfacket proved beyond any shadow of a doubt the importance of creativity to business leadership, the need for a greater purpose than just profit and, in the case of Ms Romanowska, that conventional business and leadership training creates worse leaders, not better.

Ms Stenström also noted, that one of the world's leading business schools, the University of St.Gallen, includes in its business curriculum 25% of humanities education. This ensures that business decisions don't become detached from human decisions. In fact, her presentation centered on how the business school, Handelshögskolan, has included interaction with a circus for MBA students, and how in many cases MBA students learn more from the passion that artists have for their craft, than vice-versa. That although MBA's can put anything and everything into well thought through Excel tables, they often forget the most important question: is this something I actually want to do? For a circus artist this question has unequivocally been answered.

Overall, the take-away from the conference is that the need for a more creative approach to business is fundamental if business is to survive in the creative and service economy. As business demands more qualified people, able to manage and execute sophisticated tasks, the need for a purpose to these tasks is much more important than the profit motive.

The visible difference in the Swedish approach to the creative and culture industries, in terms of setting national priorities for industry development, and the Estonian approach in emphasizing innovation and developing a national policy based on that, is the difference between developing services and developing products.

Based on the impression of this conference, we can note with reasonable certainty, that Sweden's name at the top of the innovative-and-dynamic-economies list is assured. Sweden's approach is quite holistic and really brings into sharp relief the understanding of the need to provide a high-quality living environment, which enables innovation to flourish rather than trying to create innovation in order for the living environment to improve, will be the key to future growth. The focus on cultural and creative industries, from solitary painters to game developers, provides a consumable service to both locals and tourists but which in many cases has to be consumed on the spot. If these experiences are unique and valuable, they will no doubt help to boost tourism as well. Considering the growth in global travel, this is no small achievement.

A third valuable insight was offered by Simon Kyaga of the Karolinska Institutet. His presentation asked if the Mad Genius is actually fact, or fiction? As a researcher and psychologist he demonstrated his research into the topic. Thanks to the accurate files kept on patients in Sweden, he could trawl through patient data of over 300 000 people to draw the inescapable conclusion, that some kind of madness indeed does come with genius.

His summary quoted George Bernard Shaw who said, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." We couldn't agree more.

If you have Swedish skills, we highly recommend watching the presentation videos.
And here you'll find an English summary of Simon Kyaga's research.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The embarrassing story of a smiling lady

Companies in the process of creating their web presence often get confused about the cost involved in creating quality content for their homepage. Custom made is expense. And of course there are more affordable substitutes around. Some of them are even free. But cutting the corners of content creation eventually shows. Here is an example that we came across on the website of a very respectful company...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Дизайн услуг - с чем это едят?

В Таллинне прошел фестиваль DisainiÖÖ (Ночь дизайна), заполнивший город выставками, лекциями и разными шоу на данную  тему. Заодно раздали и годовые награды дизайнерам всех мастей - впервые и лучшим дизайнерам услуг.

Радио 4, русское радио Эстонии, озадачилось - что за новая дисциплина? За разъяснениями обратились к Дану Миккину, так как Брэнд Мэнюал одно из немногих предприятий действующих на этом поприще. Не только в Эстонии, но и во всем регионе.

Интервю можно прослушать - и все станет ясно.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Leading the Packaging Design Intensive Course

One of our partners, Dan Mikkin, was invited by Vasili Andreyev to lead an intensive packaging design course at the summer session of the British Higher School of Art & Design.

The course was very intensive indeed – in two days (!) students had to produce believable mock-ups of a 3-member packaging range. The brief was based on a real case Brand Manual is working on right now for the Russian market – so we can't reveal too much detail of the product so far (In due time, we'll come back to that). But for students that meant working on something live and real, which gave the whole exercise a totally different feel.

Dan met the course with low expectations - and was blown away by extremely high level of both creativity as well as executional skills. The 18-strong course was given an introduction of our approach to packaging and identity as such, then briefed - both orally as well as by written text. Divided into 4 groups, they had to work as teams, delegating tasks and optimising the workload. By the end of day one they already had all produced plausible draft concepts, day two showed impressive presentations with half a dozen shiny mock-ups. All of them were tested on a virtual shop shelf in Moscow against competition - and at least three of them, with minor tweaks, could have been shipped to retail right away. Beware of the young Russain designers!

One of the tasks students were faced with was a Nordic feel of the product - although meant for the Russian market, it had to have a foreign feel (that can be a selling argument for local consumers). Amazingly, students created more Scandinavian packages than Scandinavians do. Just being inspired by Nordic nature, lifestyle and design, not copying anything in particular. Strong, original stuff!

If you read Russian, here's a more comprehensive review of the whole session in the leading Russian packaging design webizine What the Pack?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Orienteerumine ja teenäitamine

Oleme oma meeskonnaga juba paar aastat osalenud xDreami nimelisel seiklusspordi võistlusel, kus kolmeliikmeline meeskond peab piiratud informatsiooniga kaardi ja legendi alusel läbima suuri vahemaid kõikvõimalikel maastikutüüpidel, kasutades liikumiseks lisaks jooksmisele jalgratast, rulluiskusid, kanuud, ronimisköisi, lestasid, tõukeratast jmt vahendeid. Orienteerumisega pole meist keegi varasemalt kokku puutunud, mistõttu on meie jaoks alati jäänud suurimaks väljakutseks aru saada meile antud juhistest ja neid korraldajate poolt ettnähtud viisil tõlgendada.

Viimasel Raplamaa võistlusel sattusimegi hunt-kits-kapsapea tüüpi olukorda, kus korraldaja suunas meid kanuuetappi vahele jätma ning jätkama punktis C, kuhu kohale jõudes aga selgus, et sealt omakorda jätkamiseks vajalikud rulluisud on punktis B, mis jäi hoopis teise suunda ja kust meid äsja lahkesti mööda juhatati. Uiskudele järgiminek olnuks meeletu ring ja ajakulu, ilma nendeta jätkamine aga reeglite rikkumine. Korraldaja oli soovinud enda poolt kanuuetapi vahelejätjatele kõige paremat, ent oli jätnud jätkamise võimalikud stsenaariumid lihtsalt läbi mängimata. Kuna tegemist on seiklusega, siis ei hakanud me lamenti lööma, ent jätkamine muutus mõttetuks ja me veeresime rahulikult finišisse.

Kui palju sellist tõlgendamisruumi ja stsenaariumite läbimängimist me kohtame aga oma igapäevaelus? Tallinna liikluskorralduse kurbmäng on ehk viimase aja säravaim näide sellest, kuidas lünklike reeglitega mängu ei saa kaasa mängida. Poolik vastus ei anna vastust, pool lahendust ei ole lahendus. Erinevalt orienteerumismängust ei ole inimesed andud oma nõusolekut osaleda eksperimendis, kus harjumuspärane olukord on kaotatud, uus veel ei tööta ning iga päev toob uusi ajutisi reegleid.

Head süsteemiloojad, palun kaasake inimesi, kes oskavad süsteeme näha kasutajakeskselt – uues olukorras peavad kehtima vanad reeglid, minu olemasolev kogemus peab olema kasutatav ka muutunud kontekstis. Ma pean mulle antud juhistest aru saama, ma pean oskama iseseisvalt üles leidma tualeti, tee sadamasse, voolupistiku, ankeedi vajalikud andmed. Kui sa paned prügikasti kraanikausi alla ja lüliti ukse kõrvale, leiavad inimesed selle üles. Ja kui sul on parem idee, siis sa pead inimesed selle juurde juhendama. Klassikaline näide astmelisest üleminekust on kella sihverplaat, kus iga aste säilitas sarnasuse eelnevaga – nii ei tekita ilma numbriteta kell enam segadust, kuna meid on õpetatud vaatama kella ka ilma numbrinäiduta.

Tagasi metsa, orienteeruma. Taban endas alati jõuetut viha korraldajate vastu, kes on koostanud segase juhendi või loonud võimaluse, kus olen juhistest valesti aru saanud ning seetõttu jooksnud asjatult 10 kilomeetrit vales suunas. Seiklusspordi olukorras olen tegelikult mina see, kes tegi vea ning ei suutnud välja peilida korraldaja salakavalust asjatuid haake sisaldava ja eksitava kaardi koostamisel. Ent kõikide teiste inimeste, asutuste ja teenusepakkujate vastu, kes koostavad segaseid juhiseid ning mänge, mida pole võimalik kaasa mängida, peaks olema seda sallimatust kordades rohkem.

Me kõik oleme end tabanud "haake" tegemas, sest õige tee leidmine oli võimatuks tehtud. Kellel on häid juhtumeid elust enesest, on teretulnud neid Brand Manualiga jagama, et saaksime neid kasutada näidetena koolitustel ja sarnaseid olukordi edaspidi lihtsalt paremini vältida.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Do you want to be part of the Korean success story?

We do! That was the motivation behind Brand Manual joining 13 Estonian product, service and communication design experts on a journey to meet South Korean companies, design agencies and institutions. Why? Multinational Korean corporations like Samsung, LG and Hyundai have become global players, proving that design education and practice pays off in the longer run. Our idea was to give a similar advantage to small and medium size Korean companies, which have great products on Asian markets, by offering our services and skills for entering the European market.

Europe, where is that? If you look carefully at the map (see photo above) hanging on the wall of KOTRA, the Korean Trade-Investment Agency, Europe is a periphery, with its fragmented and culturally diverse markets.

Nonetheless there are unprecedented similarities that give Estonians a great competitive advantage for working with Korean companies. We are both small, surrounded by big and historically agressive neighbours; we are agile, managing to build up our economies and societies from scratch over a very short period of time; we are progressive, sharing high mobile penetration and high-speed internet access availability and online services. Although culturally very different, we think alike and work alike, making the +7 hour time difference hard to notice.

Within a week Brand Manual had seminars in the largest cities of Seoul and Busan, established good contacts with local design institutions - KIDP and DCB - and enjoyed meetings with a number of design and branding agencies. We also visited the facilities of the world's leading consumer electronics producer LG and met over 20 progressive Korean companies that have an interest in our Nordic design approach, our skills and know-how of the European markets.

Thank you – our new friends and partners in Korea; thank you – Estonian design agencies and experts for the joint effort; thank you – Estonian Design Centre and Service Industry Association for organizing this spectacular new-business event. Hopefully really soon we will be able to blog about or first Korean projects and the opening of our Asian branch office. Why not?

Please visit www.korea.ee for more detailed information on the event, the participants, the background, presentations and case studies presented to the Korean design industry and companies.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Identifying cartographers

ReachU, a cartographer with global reach, operates in Estonia and the Baltic as Regio. They are extremely keen on quality, but still get complaints about faulty maps every now and then. The reason - Regio is almost synonymous with maps around here and mistakes in other producers' editions are attributed to our client.

That called for a strong and consistent identity, applied both to printed and digital maps. Our role is also coaching the client's design team and monitoring their production.

Another big challenge was helping them to sell maps online. We mapped out a smooth purchasing track and designed an uncluttered user interface for a web shop, with simple choices leading promptly to a sale.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Startup's. Up close and personal.

What is it about startups that gets everybody so excited? Yes, the Lean Startup movement and fast prototyping is what makes it relevant for anyone involved with design and product development, but the whole business of incubators, investor relations and pitching seemed like something to ignore.

To have an opinion, Markko, one of our partners, tried it out. It started with signing up for DDVE, an master's program for design and development of virtual environments. After a successful Garage 48 hack-a-thon, the newly formed Qminder startup team went after Seedcamp investment, participated in the Startup Sauna accelerator, pitched for AppCircus and spent weeks and months working with a smartphone application that will in the future, hopefully, eliminate waiting in line.
Screenshot from Seecamp US Trip feed

Off we go...
Seedcamp, an early stage mentoring and investment program, hosts a yearly US Tour. During this tour Qminder, among other Seedcamp funded companies, had a unique opportunity to meet the whole tech industry by visiting investors, companies, universities and other stakeholders from both the East and West coast. Being on the road for almost a month, it is probably the fastest way to learn, grow and make lasting friendships.

New York - Boston - Barcelona
The Seedcamp US Trip 2012 continues until March 13th, so there is a lot of upcoming activity in the Seedcamp US Trip Tumblr feed. I was able to join for the East coast program and then fly back to Barcelona to present Qminder at the Mobile Premier Awards, where we managed to be one of 20 startups making our case on stage. During one week in New York and Boston we had two full day mentoring sessions, visited companies like Google, AOL, Microsoft and had meetings with successful startups like Etsy, Tumblr, Erply, Zemanta and inspirational investors like Union Square Ventures and Highland Capital Partners. We also managed to visit the MIT Media Lab, Cambridge Innovation Centre, listened to presentations by Michael Geer, Boucoup and met people at the British Consulate in Boston, Dogpatch Labs, 500 Startups. All this interspersed with dozens of other small meetings along the way.

My sincere gratitude belongs to Philipp, Carlos, Kirsten and Reshma, the amazing Seedcamp team, that made everything possible. Thanks also to all the wonderful people in the twenty Seedcamp companies that were forced to work their asses off, and take everything out of each day on that trip. I woke up 4 a.m. each day (I had a 7-hour jet lag, but it's still early) to practice my pitch, do background studies, plan the routes and do the tasks that I had no time to complete on previous day(s).
Visiting Etsy

So, what is a startup?
A startup is (mostly) a company that provides virtual goods and services without a proven business case. The startup has a technological innovation or just an execution of an idea. This is launched, and if it attracts customers, may during the maturation process, completely change the main features, the business model, the name or even the original customer base. Compared with "business as usual", the only valid measurement of a startup's success is "validated learning about customers".

"Tell me about yourself"
Most startup entrepreneurs go through the painstaking process of pitching: presenting the project in a short period of time. A good pitch consists of "validated arguments to attract attention". This is also putting many (including myself) ouf of our normal context, where we are able to choose our words based on the previous conversation. Without any introduction, I had only one minute to tell my story. What to say? What is important? Actually, not as much as we think.

Boiling your business down to one sentence and feeling good about it is actually all you can do for your business. This, by definition, is an almost impossible task for an introvert Estonian, like me, with a strong tendency for perfectionism. Europeans share a reluctance to say what they are good at, which makes helping them really difficult.

Why VC?
The next difficult concept to grasp is the notion of investing into tech startups. The sums involved are huge and nobody in the tech community cares to explain, what makes startups and venture capitalists such a great couple. Borrowing from Allan Martinson's great presentation, it seems that "Raising venture capital is the art of younger men seducing older men". Business as usual mostly does not include huge investments for a start unless you are in real estate or infrastructure. Seeing the effort that goes into making one simple application I now fully understand the need for investment before you actually have built anything. If you compare virtual goods with physical goods, they have no size nor shape constraints, no mass nor inertia. The only limitation is entropy: you have to overcome indifference.

Snapshot from Premiere Mobile Awards 2012, Barcelona

Adapt or die?
There are many industries going through difficult times today. They are being replaced with better, faster and cheaper alternatives. What has changed is the value of planning and the value of a having production unit. As Andy Weissman from USV nicely put, "data takes you away from whiteboard". The cycle between having an idea and testing it out has become an instant process. When developing a new product, the forecasting is being replaced with rapid prototyping, testing ideas not in the form of "what would people like to use in the future" but "would you buy this thing today?". Knowing the reaction is a far more powerful development tool than any valid assumption. We learn best by doing and the lesson that startups are teaching established companies is that a clear goal, energy and ability to adapt beats any business plan.

The good news is that serving human needs is the only economic driver we have, and that will never change. What has to change is how much time and effort we are willing to spend on building things in order to learn what (other) people really want. And for these lessons, putting your money on a startup is the best you can do.