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June 05, 2008

At the Forum

This week is the EE & TwC Forum in Redmond.

I organized a session on "Future Debugging Techniques" which went very well. I don't think I can reveal all the details but suffice it to say that the era of spending days getting your crash repro back and then losing it because you hit 'g' without setting the right breakpoint are pretty much done (at least if you work at Microsoft). Our session was 9 am on Monday, the first day of the Forum, and due to being the most-preregistered talk at that time we were put on the "big stage" in the McKinley room, the same place that Steve Ballmer, Ray Ozzie, etc. deliver their keynotes:

The setup is quite fancy. Those white things beside the stage are 12 foot high fabric screens that are lit from below. There is lots of support equipment behind the stage, and even a little green room for people waiting to speak:

In other Forum news, I went to a session on trendspotting that featured the inimitable Francoise Serralta from Peclers Paris, who we last met four years ago, in one my first blog posts. She was back to update us on what was happening in the consumerist space (the consumerist space, I assume, is where consumers operate; they perform consumeristic acts in a way that is consumeristical). She brought a copy of Futur(s) 8, the latest update on her "annual transversal global tool", as she refers to it. Less semiotically-inclined folks might call it a "book", although that doesn't quite do it justice. It reminds me of an excellent book called Typologies that I bought at the Seattle Art Museum, but in full color, encompassing every aspect of discretionary spending, beautifully arranged in wave after wave of visual haiku, arrayed on a sumptuous pillow of super-heated prose adorned with Serralta-isms like "glocal" and "omniconnection". Not to be missed if you get a chance to look at a copy.

Francoise's latest transmission from the near future reveals that today the look and feel, color, style etc. of a product is more important than the functionality. She quoted somebody saying that because we have everything we need, the things that engage us will be things we do not expect. But of course, you have to hit the trend wave properly, which is where Peclers (and the $6700 Futur(s) 8) comes in.

To successfully capture the attention of today's paradoxically-motivated consumer, you must target the right point in the consumerist space, which this year is arranged along two axes, materiality (abstraction vs. sensation) and time (slowing down vs. speeding up). The four quadrants are labeled Alternative, Endurance, Emergence, and Flamboyance (I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out which is which). I find all this stuff fascinating and when I heard that she was speaking at the Forum I dropped my plans to go see Roger Martin speak, and was richly rewarded with an hour-long tap into her brain.

After Francoise came a couple of people who had worked on hardware designs for Microsoft. They were a little more under the control of the Earth's gravitational field, but they also talked about trends, and how they had studied different consumer "attitudes" with names like Indoor Jungle and Hollywood Luxe, then chosen one attitude that would dictate not only the product's CMF (aka Color/Material/Finish), but also the packaging and marketing.

I know it sounds strange to a pencil-necked geek, but this really DOES matter. I recently bought a Zune and I find its CMF vastly superior to that of my old iPod. Zune may not pass muster with Francoise Serralta, but its mix of colors and textures is much more in tune with $4/gallon gas than the iPod's metallic "Bush-first-term-we-are-winning-the-war-in-Iraq" vibe. Being exposed to all this makes me think that if I go back to being a plain developer it may seem a bit...boring.

One other thing about the Forum is that they have a bookstore. On the first day they had five copies of Find the Bug. On the second day they were down to four; every time I walk by I check, but nobody else has bought one.

Oh, and rather than give us a gift like a mini-toolset, every attendee can pick one of 3 charities and Microsoft will donate money to it. Which I think is a great idea.

Posted by AdamBa at June 5, 2008 10:07 PM


This reminds me of my latest rant. Everything is styled rather designed. And if this results in sexy-looking vegetable peelers that can't peel vegetables, that hardly matters since if it worked, each person might buy only one in their life. Cars without serious bumpers are my pet peeve but all car builders have now adopted it. Cars used to have a rubber strip along the side for other car doors to bump into but that seems to have been abandoned too. Style vs. design.

Posted by: Marble Chair at June 6, 2008 05:34 AM

The iPod equals the failed policies of an unpopular president whereas the Zune is the modern environmentally efficient hotness. Really? I'm glad you like your Zune but the opposite seems true to me and, from what I see, the majority of the market as well. Your comments are particularly amusing given that the "new" flash-based Zunes are essentially a copy of the previous version of the iPod Nano.

Posted by: Andrew at June 6, 2008 10:30 AM

Andrew: You are missing the point. Your comment about the Zunes being a copy of the previous iPod are based on functionality. This is NOT what I was talking about. It's about the CMF and attitude. In this regards the Zune is quite different from the iPod, and I feel more up-to-date, if not quite reaching 2008.

MC: Actually this stuff could help you. You (I presume) fit into the "slowing down"/"sensation" quadrant of consumerism. This quadrant is labeled (by Francoise Serralta) "Endurance" and favors "sustainability and autonomy" (a direct quote from her). You are saying you want things that last and it is easier to fix your own car bumper. That is precisely what Endurance is about. Of course people may not actually be making products that satisfy your itch, but that is their mistake for misreading the market. In the world of trendspotting, your needs have already been perceived and catalogued--indeed, how could it be any other way.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at June 6, 2008 11:43 AM

I was not primarily talking about endurance, but basic utility. Of course, I do favor endurance, other things being equal. But if something looks cool, but doesn't accomplish its intended purpose, what good is it? Design vs. style.

Posted by: Marble Chair at June 6, 2008 05:32 PM

No, I think I got your point. To you, the CMF of the Zune is superior to the iPod. I was commenting that while that might be true for you it doesn't appear to be true for the majority of people who purchase portable music players. It's hard for me to see the Zune as being an innovator when there are such obvious similarities with previous iterations of the iPod.

The CMF thing is interesting. There's been a lot of words written over the past 24 hours about the 3G iPhone going to plastic back plate from the existing metal one. People really do care about this stuff. Apple were an innovator around materials, they've been using metal in their iPods casings since the beginning. You might or might not like that choice but if they hadn't I doubt anybody would ever have moved away from plastic.

Posted by: Andrew at June 10, 2008 02:10 PM