Future of Work: Transcript of Interview, Hugh Dubberly, Service Design

Future of Work

June 11, 2012

Host:                     Welcome to the Human 1.0 Future of Work Series, hosted by Scott K. Wilder, Digital Strategist and Founding Partner of Human 1.0.


Today’s discussion is with Hugh Dubberly, Founder and Principal of the Dubberly Design Office.


Scott K. Wilder:    Hi. My name is Scott Wilder and today I’m with Hugh Dubberly, design planner and teacher. I actually first met Hugh in the early 1990’s when he was at Apple Computer where he managed cross-functional teams, design teams, and creative services for the entire company later on. He was at Apple in the 80’s and 90’s and after that he went to Netscape. So, I’m sure he’s going to have a lot of interesting stories about Netscape. And now he has his own global business, Dubberly Design Office in San Francisco, but they work on a global basis. Hugh, thank you for joining me today.


Hugh Dubberly:    Thank you.


Scott K. Wilder:    So, for all these conversations—and we talked a little bit about this earlier—what I’d like to do is kind of share with me the journey you went through in terms of how you got to where you were, and what were some key decision points or milestones?


Hugh Dubberly:    Okay. Where would you like to start?


Scott K. Wilder:    In the beginning. When you were born! Wherever you want to start. So, after school might be a good place.


Hugh Dubberly:    Okay. Well, very quickly, I studied graphic design as an undergraduate and also as a grad student. While I was a grad student, I worked for Xerox in its Printing Systems Division on some early high-speed, low-resolution printers. So, my early claim to fame is having created the Health Medica specimen sheets, low-res specimen sheets, but I wasn’t in the movie, which I was kind of bummed about that.


After graduate school I became the Design Director of Wang Laboratories, which was, at that time, a Fortune 100 company making minicomputers. Then I moved to Apple, as you mentioned, and was there for about ten years and then went to Netscape. I was at Netscape for about five years. I stayed through the AOL acquisition for about a year and then started my own business with some Apple and Netscape alums and we have been – so, that was about 2000. We’ve been doing it for the last 12 years. We design software and services.


Scott K. Wilder:    Great. And we talked a little bit about this earlier, but tell me a little bit about how you’ve seen the evolution of your industry or your business.


Hugh Dubberly:    Well, I think there are a couple of things. My personal evolution has been moving into product design from graphic design and one of the ways that that worked was with software becoming increasingly important in all products and software needing an interface and the interface needing visualization, essentially being an information design problem which is a graphic design problem.


So, this sort of technological change has opened the door for letting graphic designers participate in product design.


At the same time we’ve seen the kind of change in the environment where stand-alone products are increasingly risky propositions and there’s, like, a kind of series of sort of changes that have happened where manufacturing quality has been really important and then everybody’s learned to do that.


And then product design’s been really important and now everybody’s learned to do that. And now interaction design is becoming really important, but people are learning to do that. (difference between the two?)


And beyond that there’s systems designed of which service design, which you mentioned earlier, is one of the major components and people are just starting to understand how to do service and systems design.


But it does change – these things change the nature of work. So, communications design projects tend to be about sort of individual objects and can mostly be done by individuals, even with product design – the design of the outside of a phone is something you probably want to entrust to an individual.


However, the design of the phone as a service, the design of the phone as a system is something, which certainly requires teams. It becomes very much more like movie making where you have to assemble groups of people to develop products and product systems. And that requires some different ways of working.


When you’re working in teams you have to be more explicit. You have to set expectations. You have to describe the process. You have to have shared models or what Susan Star calls Boundary Objects (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boundary_object) something that lets you communicate between disciplines or at the boundaries of disciplines.


Scott K. Wilder:   Tell them more about the service design and that approach, how companies are addressing that today and how they’re determining whether or not they’re successful.


Hugh Dubberly:    Well, I think one of the first questions is, what is service design? And I think it’s a – looking at – Kevin Kelly has a great quote, which is that – well, the heart of the quote is behavior matters. We were talking about brand earlier and brand isn’t a logo. The logo is merely an identifier of a brand: It is a symbol of the quality, not just of the product, but of the experience you have with the product.


So, most products provide some service. You car gets you from one place to another. It may do other things for you, but literally it does get you from one place to another. A jet engine does the same thing.


Well, if you’re in the airline business, you’re probably not likely to be going out and purchasing jet engines. You’re buying the uptime of jet engines as a service.


And so, the manufacturers moved from simply being in the hardware business to really being in a service business. And you can see that in all sorts of ways with cars, whether it’s with something like Zipcar or somebody like Progressive Insurance like showing up when you have an accident or the OnStar System with General Motors.  (Issue of org design and engagement)


So, as we move from move from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy and industrial economy and now we’ve been doing information and service economy, conceding a product got services becomes an increasingly important part of what businesses have to do to create real value around their products.


Scott K. Wilder:    And when companies approach you, do they already have that service paradigm in their head, or is that something you guys help them think through?


Hugh Dubberly:    I think it’s just like any other business. People come in at all sorts of levels and even within, you know, some of the companies we do business with are very large corporations and even within them they may have, you know, a different business units in different places or different people within the business unit are at different places.


So, sometimes you run into people who are very sophisticated about this stuff and within the same company you have people who have never even heard of it. The patient presents with all sorts of symptoms and levels of experience.


Scott K. Wilder:    And who usually brings you into projects?


Hugh Dubberly:    That also varies. We’re a small, boutique-consulting firm and so, we have been in The Valley (Silicon Valley) in the technology industry for a long time. So, a lot of it’s a little bit like this (I reached out to Hugh after not talking to him for 15 years), you know, somebody you knew at some point in time calls or people that you have worked with previously where you did a good job they call back.


And so, those people could be from the design side. They could be from the product management side. They are sometimes from the engineering side, and sometimes they’re from the C-Suite. So, it just depends on the engagement.


Scott K. Wilder:    You used the metaphor before that this all like like movie making, and I just want to kind of take a little deeper dive in that in terms of is that stitching together different types of services? Is it bringing together just – I mean, I think you talked about in terms of different types of individuals that work on a project. Maybe you can just drill down on that a little bit.


Hugh Dubberly:    Yes. I mean one thing managers or clients like is predictability. I’ve had people from very large consumer electronics companies ask me: What metrics should we put to our innovation process, so that we can follow the rules of Six Sigma? We want to know we’re getting our money out of our innovation process.


And so, there’s a notion that engineers in particular and engineers as managers have about managing the development of new products which would like there to be one fool-proof recipe for how to do that.


Unfortunately, while there are some processes that work better than others, there’s not a one foolproof process for doing that. There are many factors that come together that make a lot of things kind of conditional.


So, what’s most important, though, is putting together a good team, and that’s what I meant when I said it’s like movie making. It’s about having a team of people that you trust. Having a team of people that you’ve, hopefully, worked with before so you understand the language, you understand who’s good at what and having the right variety, having the right set of skills and discipline at the table. And that’s the thing, which is going to make the product successful.


Scott K. Wilder:    You took me back to my youth with talking about the hypercars and Apple MessagePad, Apple Newton MessagePads. See, I got the branding right there.


Hugh Dubberly:    That was a struggle that one. Yes.


Scott K. Wilder:    Yes. And I worked a little bit on that and I just – I was slapped on the wrist because I forgot one of those words. I forget which one, but it was one of them. How have you seen this all evolved since then or even before then?


Hugh Dubberly:    I have seen this evolve help me out with the whole –



Scott K. Wilder:    Design and development process. I mean, are we still doing in – you know, you talked a little bit about – some of the things moving trends, you know, everybody starts dealing with, like, the Agile trend and then everybody focuses on Agile and whatever.


Has there been an evolution in terms of in the last 20 or 30 years of how design, product design has been handled? Are we doing the same thing?


Hugh Dubberly:    Well, I think the biggest change now is that there is an industry of business around designing software. So, this kind of business that we’re in here was extraordinarily rare 15 years ago, you know, before 1995. You could count maybe on a – but certainly both hands and maybe one hand the number of companies that actually did software design because there just wasn’t much businesses to sustain it. The timelines were pretty long and, you know, it required a large project to even make it viable to go outside to get a consultant to do that that kind of work.


The web changed all that. And now the – well, my friend, Tim Bisner, has a great aphorism which is that all hardware products want to be websites. And it has a little bit of a mindbender at first. It’s like, “What?” All hardware products want to be websites.

Article: http://www.dubberly.com/articles/use-based-design.html


But the fact of the matter is they do. And everything will be connected to the web, and that means that that rule for designing websites actually applies into the design of the product in a weird way. So, you move from this kind of long lead-time iterative process or long lead-time, editions-based process making a new product every year, year-and-a-half, or two years for a new edition and then it’s the same until the next edition to websites.


Add quotes


So, this is one of the great changes. I’m sure you remember at Apple, you know, if we do a product release there’d be this kind of crazy build-up to the product release, right?


Scott K. Wilder:    Yes.

Hugh Dubberly:    And then, you know, once it was out there and you could come in a little bit later the next morning, and you could clean your office and kind of get caught up. And so, my first product release at Netscape I thought, “You know, this has been kind of rough, but I’m going to come in and, you know, sort of get things back in order now.” I’d come in a little late and then alarms going off, hair on fire. Mike Homer screaming, which was not unusual.


But there was stuff that was broken that we hadn’t seen, and that could be fixed and it needed to be fixed. We were suddenly in the continuous update cycle, which is one of the things that’s different about publishing on the network as opposed to publishing a book or built like a product.


And now that these products are connected to the network, the same thing is true. They could be continuously updated. So, you don’t have to – you can get all this data back immediately on how it’s being used. You can use that to fix things.


And so, that creates a sub-change in the development process. You can really know what your customers are doing, and it creates a lot of opportunity for experimentation. Everything becomes, like, direct response.


And there’s a tremendous revolution going on around CRM, and I’m sure you guys are really into this. Set the revolution, connect it to the network, huge amounts of data, analyzing all the big data, doing machine learning on it to see patterns that humans can’t easily see, quick to make connections, do personalization, have a relationship. We’re just getting started with that. It’s going to change everything.


So, figuring out how to design for that and how to position companies to be organized so they can take advantage of it, starts to be something that people in this business have to be concerned about.


Scott K. Wilder:    And what about with mobile, other kind of apps, and things like that? Is that, like, just accelerating all this or is that also bringing in another dimension to it?


Hugh Dubberly:    I think both are true. It is accelerating, and it’s bringing in another dimension. You know, as Sir (Steve) Jobs most famously said, “personal computers are dead.” It’s a bit of hyperbole because the stuff that shows up on these mobile devices is still created on the personal computers. But certainly the center of gravity of the technology world shifted extraordinarily quickly over to the mobile devices.  Reference Pew Data


What’s interesting is that it’s still a horse race. So, it is not even clear what all the choke points are. So, with personal computers it was clear fairly early on that the operating system was a key choke point and then, you know, it was a natural monopoly. It was pretty clear who was going to be the monopolist.


And that built and sustained a huge business for the guys in Redmond. They were worried about Netscape. Mr. Gates famously, you know, turned the battleship quite quickly, as he put it, in the fall 1995 memo (link) of thinking that Netscape was a threat, but missing, Google essentially and allowing them to build a huge business.


But that’s so much just the beginning and, you know, just as Gates was worried about having his platform displayed by the browser of the platform, Google’s worried about being displaced by Facebook. Facebook is worried about whether it will be displaced by somebody who gets the mobile before they do.


It is not clear what even the mobile device operating system winner will be. So, Apple has a nice position, but it’s not going to be the main OS, although, currently it makes the most money; and it makes the most money for the app developers. But, you know, Android is clearly there. I wouldn’t count out Windows Mobile at all. It’s a fantastic product. And it’s still possible that another one – there still might be room for even another one and it would be interesting to see what happens with the old Palm WebOS and whether HP manages to pull anything out there or whether somebody else comes in with something else.


That’s just kind of the device, you know, operating system side. Then you’ve got to connect that backup to the Internet. As Tim O’Reilly says in talking about the Internet as an operating system which I think is a great metaphor of, you know, we have all these things that people are doing repeatedly where they say, “Well, wait a minute. Why am I repeating this? Let’s put this into the operating system.”


So, instead of writing a bunch of print drivers, let’s build print managers. Instead of writing a bunch of graphics primitives, let’s build a GUI manager.


And, you know, that happened with DNS and with basic communications protocols, but now you rely on search and with maps and you can see some talking about map servers even going on today.


Scott K. Wilder:    Yes.


Hugh Dubberly:    But the set of services that will emerge as the sort of suite of – from the web OS’s, you can kind of see it, but it – you know, Amazon is a player, but it doesn’t have everything. Apple is sort of a player, but it doesn’t have a lot of things. You know, Facebook is really deep in social, but doesn’t have many things. You can do the matrix.


Scott K. Wilder:    Yes.


Hugh Dubberly:    But that makes it a really exciting time because there’s all of that being worked on and each of those sort of Internet-as-operating-system services also have an impact on you and I as individuals or as consumers because our activities go through those services that can be tracked for good and bad making a portrait of who we are and that, you know, in the world of health care has huge promise. In the world of government, I don’t know. So, very exciting times.


Scott K. Wilder:    So, when you were talking about the CRM aspect. I’m curious if that’s changed, or is it evolving kind of the type of engagements you have. And where I’m going with that is, you know, after Apple I worked at a software company. And so, some of what you were saying earlier, we had a big meeting (sounds like: at) launch (I concur) and then no one ever spoke to us again until four months before launch, you know? And that’s more from a marketing perspective.


I’m wondering if it – almost like creating an annuity stream for you guys because companies have to keep, you know, working with you.


Hugh Dubberly:    I know some people who’ve actually specialized in that. And so, you might remember Paul Pruneau from our Apple days.  (http://teamworkscom.com)


Hugh Dubberly:    Paul has really actively made a business with an annuity stream in it. He’s been very clever with that.


I think the way we look at it is a little more traditional. You know, if we do a good job for our customers, they come back and we have long-term engagements. And the nature of the engagement changes in the second or third engagement where in the first one it’s – you know, there are some things that need to be built.


But in the second one or the third one you start to say, “Well how did that go?” Could that process be a little better?” Once you start into a process discussion, then you also begin the discussion about organizational structure; and you’re starting to talk about their business and how they develop products.


In many cases we see organizations where there aren’t product managers. And so what’s project management, and why do you need them? What’s the difference between managing and championing? How do you make all of that work?


And you get into discussions then also about the product we’re about and about continuity of experience across products and those are brand discussions as well. So, it moves to kind of a different level of engagement.


Scott K. Wilder:    You mentioned product management. Do you see product management evolving at all or the skill set that those individuals should have? I know it varies from company to company of what a product manager is.


I’m just curious based on your interactions, are there kind of certain criteria or certain experiences that you think are really ideal for the individual?


Hugh Dubberly:    I think that there’s no more critical function in an organization than product management. In most companies it’s the product, which people buy. It’s the buying of the product that brings in the money. It’s the money that creates the value, which shareholders are looking for.


And yet, I would observe that product management is taught in only the most modest way in business schools. In many cases it is simply taught as a sort of appendage on marketing, and it’s taught not at all in design schools.


And so, it becomes a little bit like the little league outfield, you know, with the fly balls hit between left field and center field and, you know, the designers look at the problem.




Hugh Dubberly:    They said, “I thought you were going to get that one.” Rather than it being something that’s taught as a core skill both design school and in business school.


I mean, my God, over at Berkeley, with the Haas school, which is right here on the doorstep of Silicon Valley, kind of a home of product innovation in the world. But if Sarah Beckman’s (http://facultybio.haas.berkeley.edu/faculty-list/beckman-sara) (inaudible) one course in product management because she’s a good egg and knows it’s important. She is kind of a design aficionado. But that just doesn’t make any sense.


One of my favorite HBR articles is on product integrity, and it talks about heavyweight product management at Honda. It makes the point that to be a new car product manager you have to have 25 years’ experience with the company. The reason for that is you need to have the gravitas or respect and know that in order to get X done, you, like, have to go to the janitor with a pizza because – or I’m sure it depends, it’s not a pizza, but with sushi to, like, cause it to happen.


And you – you know, you could be the smartest kid out of Stanford, but at 22 or 23 on your first real job, you don’t know how companies work or what really motivates people in the organization and simply where the bodies are buried. You can’t know that.


And so, I think there’s a huge problem that is not well taught at any place.


Scott K. Wilder:    That was my next question. If I were thinking about product management as a career, what would I do?


Hugh Dubberly:    I think one of the best guys talking about it is Marty Cagan. (http://svpg.com/team/#marty) Marty who is somebody I got to know at Netscape. He was one of the engineering VPs but now has a consulting practice basically helping people do product management. He has kind of a boot camp for product management and it’s one of the better, more practical kinds of things about how do you define what a new product’s going to be.


Scott K. Wilder:    We’ve talked to a lot of start-ups, and they say the most important person to hire is the CTO. Is it maybe the product person, instead?


Hugh Dubberly:    One of the things that happens in a start-up is probably the – one of the founders is playing this role of product champion. You don’t necessarily need someone to do that in a start-up if one of the founders is really passionate and has the vision.


But in a large organization if you don’t officially designate that person, then you won’t have somebody with the passion and the vision.


I’m curious about the CTO thing, though. What is that – because I could see head of engineering. So, what would the start-up need with the CTO?


Scott K. Wilder:    That person can lay down the operations. They start wearing many hats. They start overseeing the engineering. They start overseeing the operations part, infrastructure, all that.


Hugh Dubberly:    Yes. Well, yes, okay, if they’re doing that and not just kind of daydreaming about technology.


Scott K. Wilder:    In terms of whether of its design and product development, are there any standards; or how are standards established? Or should I even think of it that way? I’m trying to get a sense – you know, for example I just did a whole discussion with somebody about analytics and one of the things we talked about how there are some web, you know, industry associations that establish (inaudible – I can’t get it. expansions?), you know, certainly not lot.


You know, and so is that, you know, the right way to think about it? Or Agile is probably another example as, you know, trying to come up with the – here’s the playbook for how you handle Agile, you know, one of today’s web terms.


Hugh Dubberly:    Absolutely. Yes, where to start with that. If we just take the Agile stuff, you know, because you have mentioned it a couple of times — Agile’s about one thing. There are a lot of different approaches. If we were explicit or sort of technical about it, we would say, “Well, Agile is a web-based application development process premised on certain technological changes that have happened in the last five years in the web which give you an incredible foundation and incredible kit of parts.”


So, you have, Amazon’s AWS or their web services. You have on top of that (Hiroku), (Kid Hub), a series of things on which you can build and then use libraries like Ruby on Rails. With that infrastructure which is essentially codified to set up patterns, again, stuff that is repeated, you know, then if you have an application which follows those patterns and you’re just turning on, you know, another variation of a web-based store, you know, you – an Agile team can crank that out pretty fast.


So, that’s my take on technically what Agile means. Now, there are different ways of how that Agile team might work, whether you’re going to do pairs’ programming or extreme programming or, you know, whether you stand up, sit down, five minutes…






Hugh Dubberly:    …you know, what you call your scrum


But we allied or kind of use that as a metaphor for how people work more generally beyond the web and beyond these web-based applications using these frameworks. Some of the younger folks involved in the Agile who have been frustrated in large companies or with clients who are large companies sort of contract generally working with a bias towards making things quickly to a bias for clear planning.


And say, “Oh, well, all that waterfall stuff, you know, that is just so much hooey and no good for anything.” What’s interesting to see is that I have a friend who was at Pivotal (http://www.pivotaltracker.com/), which is one of the hot Agile shops and one of the sort of proselytizers or whatever of sort of for Agile, and I remember talking to him just a few minutes kind of getting started at Pivotal and Pivotal was contracted by Twitter and he moved over and he was one of the first twenty people at Twitter and Agile was the way to go.

* Collaborative, lightweight agile project management tool brought to you by the experts in agile software development.


But now he’s all grown up and he’s the manager of search infrastructure for them, for Christ’s sake, you know? Those problems are rather different, you know, five or six years on. Having to end the scale is rather different.


And so, you know, while he kind of nods at Agile and says, “Yes, I think, you know, generally a good idea.” They are much less sort of, you know, rigorous about how you apply it to developing infrastructure, which has to work on a giant, huge scale.


So, it’s interesting to see that Agile is one thing and that sometimes we use it as a metaphor for a process, which has a bias towards action and as a metaphor for a profit that has a bias towards making stuff. You know, that’s great. We need to be clear in the conversations about what are we talking about. Is that what we’re talking about or do we actually need a certain, you know, set of methods for writing a certain kind of software?


Scott K. Wilder:    Just kind of go back on two other things earlier. So, we’re talking about devices and the evolution. I was just curious. Have you guys done any work with devices that beware, like, some of the (sounds like: Nike Plus) stuff?


Hugh Dubberly:    Yes.


Scott K. Wilder:    Tell me a little bit about where you think that’s going and – well, actually the kind of work you’re doing and what you think you can share and where that’s going.


Hugh Dubberly:    Yes, it’s makes up at least a one third of our practice, sometimes –– maybe about half of our practice is in biomedical health and wellness. And at what level that’s related to designing interfaces for medical diagnostic devices for meters, like a blood glucose meter.


Well, a couple of things are going on. One is that the rise of consumer electronics products like the iPhone, and in particular iPhone, and the rise of well-designed, highly functioning web-based applications like eBay, Google, and Amazon have set standards for not just consumer products in their category, but for all consumer products.


I think nobody anticipated – who knew that business people were also consumers and that having seen what was possible they’re saying, “Well, you know, why is my $4,000 medical device have a crappy interface that looks like it was from 15 years ago on a, you know, like generation one Nokia phone with my, you know, iPhone or my Samsung Galaxy S?”


I mean, that is, you know, a $300 or $400 device that has a much better interface and it’s much simpler to use, and I don’t understand the price differential. And there are a lot of reasons for the price differential had to do with the economy of scale, but people don’t want to hear that. And so, those sorts of expectations drive a lot of desire, at least, in the business side.


The other thing that’s going on is that there’s an expectation that all this stuff will be connected and it kind of almost – I hate to say it, but almost kind of manifest destiny. Kevin Kelly talks about this — because these devices can be connected, they will be and then really interesting stuff starts to happen.


And so, we’re really involved with what does it need to – you know, we’ve been doing some work with pedometers and scales and blood pressure devices, but it’s really about all of these medical diagnostic devices and how will they be connected and what would it be connected to.


And so, individuals will have a view of their own health. But it’s clear that there will be sharing with support groups: so, family, maybe friends, healthcare professionals. Then you get into patient population management where you have health care paid for on a different basis on a basis of outcomes, but you have the data to really be able to know what the outcomes actually are.


And so, then there’s this sort of whole flip over that happens in medicine where today medicine is really about acute care, at least in the United States. And, you know, God forbid you should have a heart attack. But if you have the heart attack in Palo Alto, you know, they’ll get you to Stanford and when they get you to Stanford, you’ll be fine because we know what to do in that – all but the very worst situations we know what to do.


Now, chances are they’ll be back in two years, three years. And we know how to keep that from happening, but it’s really expensive and it involves, you know, having a nurse pester you every day and change your behavior. And we can do that and we – been involved in research studies, which show it. Now the problem is we can’t afford a nurse for everyone in the United States.


So, how do you keep people in a way that’s affordable from having the heart attack in the first place or having another one? And that requires a – that’s dealing with chronic care that’s dealing with healthcare on a different basis that’s looking at not as acute care but as – in terms of the whole person, in terms of wellness and in terms of managing wellness over a lifetime.


And if you’re going to manage something, you need a feedback loop that need to be measuring certain things and need to be controlling for them and we are just at the early days of starting to see that happen. You see folks like the folks at quantified self who are, you know, other symbols – other signals of this kind of trend.


But, you know, the (Nike Plus) their new ankle band. You know, there are a lot of folks experimenting with this and we’re trying to play too.


Scott K. Wilder:    And, how does community and social play into all this?


Hugh Dubberly:    Big, big part of it, completely intersects. So, you know, I mentioned the heart attack and the nurse. But part of it is having the nurse, you know, get your whole family involved and that – there aren’t – it’s interesting when people talk about behavior change. I would say that there are not a lot of good models for behavior change. But one of the things that we see if we look at programs where there appears to be some success with behavior change, whether that’s a 12-step program or a Weight Watchers’ program.


Scott K. Wilder:    Yesterday was the anniversary of the 12-step program.


Hugh Dubberly:    Was it? So, one of the things we see is thought is that they have a high social component and how you bring that social component online, take advantage of it online is one of the opportunities (inaudible – I don’t’ know??? “That charge it” is my guess).


Scott K. Wilder:    So, the social component is helping drive the behavior change. How would you frame that?


Hugh Dubberly:    I don’t think you could get behavior change without a social component. You need the support and motivation of other people to change your behavior, I think. It’s certainly easier to change your behavior when you have that support motivation.


Scott K. Wilder:    It seems like a lot of work you’re doing is helping change behavior and helping people adopt whether it’s new products or new approaches? A, is that accurate? And B, are they’re any other key things you’ve learned about behavior change?


Hugh Dubberly:    Well, I would say a lot of the work that we do deals with new stuff. We create tools for people, and I think this is one of the big changes that’s going on is that designers used to be making things that were finished. “Okay, here it is. It’s finished.”


And now we’re making things, which are not finished and sounds like – well, why would you do that? But that’s exactly on purpose. We’re making and creating things with which others can create. And it even gets recursive where we’re creating tools for making tools.


And so one time I was looking for – well, now, what – you know, does English have a word for a tool for creating tools? No. It’s this odd gap and somebody pointed out, “Yeah, we call it language.”


Scott K. Wilder:    {Laughter}


Hugh Dubberly:    So, I think that the making of a kit of parts, which is itself, can evolve is in the nature of systems design or designing for systems. I think it’s part of a large cultural shift that’s going on; it’s not a thing which is unique to design at all. It’s just a manifestation of this larger change.  ***


You can say it’s moving from industrial to information in an ancient biology but it’s – but with that is a – an almost millennial shift in the way we think about our relation to the world and then moving from a view of the world in which a central metaphor is the motion of the gears that run a clock, the clockwork mechanism.


And since almost, well, what, 1,300 or so? That – the notion of describing how something works, like, what is the mechanism is based around this cowled clockwork that A turns B turns C turns D in a kind of chain of commonality.


And now the I think the central metaphor is becoming the cell kind of organic metaphor where if you look at cell function, not something that’s completely worked out today yet, but a protein may happen upon a cell and latch onto the outside of some receptor on the outside of a cell, that causes a cascade of that takes place inside of the cell. In other words, does A cause B? But it may simultaneously cause B, C, D and E which themselves cause three or four or seven different things in the kind of cascade and some of those cascades move back around.


And so, the sort of – the mechanistic metaphor has a kind of determinant about it, a notion that you can know a priority of what the outcome will be, that the new mode doesn’t have – you have to be more comfortable with ambiguity. It’s more like gardening or farming. You have become not an Ayn Rand architect, but I think a more humble steward of the situation.



Scott K. Wilder:    Yes. No, that’s – I mean, it’s interesting because I forget what I was reading recently, but it just – it talked about how this is more like building social networks and communities. A lot of practitioners try and do everything at once or, like, get at the million people – I am exaggerating – but as opposed to focusing on just a small group and from an organic approach grow it there.


Hugh Dubberly:    I think that’s it. I think you have these biological metaphors, and it’s not an accident.

Scott K. Wilder:    Yes, I can tell you and you probably find the same thing, a lot of clients we deal with, it’s “How can you get me a million members?”


Hugh Dubberly:    Yes, like right away, tomorrow.


Scott K. Wilder:    Yes, exactly. Tomorrow, now. Just a few more quick questions. When it comes to service design or support systems, are there any other things that – whether it’s people it would be good to research or trends that you think are worth mentioning?


Hugh Dubberly:    Around service and systems?


Scott K. Wilder:    Yes. You’ve mentioned some people during our conversation and before the conversation as well.


Hugh Dubberly:    Yes. Well, Shelley Evensen obviously and Birgit Mager, both of them on the service design side.  (good interview with Bergit Mager: http://www.service-design-network.org/content/prof-birgit-mager-service-design-interview)


There’s been a lot of interest in the last five or six years in so-called design thinking and a lot of that comes out of the product design program at Stanford and the Institute of Design in Chicago and also the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto, and some folks at BusinessWeek.


It’s similar to or echoes in many ways some of what’s going on in Agile, the fundamental tenet of – I think the main difference is that they would advocate going and observing users observe users that make prototypes given the users observe and then there’s a kind of – and do that all quickly and often.


But within – then I’m thinking there’s a – there’s also an echo of an earlier movement, the Design Methods Movement from the 1960’s and there’s a number of processes, frameworks, and methods from that movement that are sort of in some danger of being lost and are newly relevant.


It’s interesting to see some of the people that are kind of connected with that stuff. Kevin Kelly talks about it in Out of Control. Steward Brand talks about it. He’s kind of old enough to have been there at the time in The Whole Earth Catalogue he brought together some of these folks. Brand is interested in operations research and cybernetics and the whole sort of world there that can teach us a lot about systems and there’s a world of systems thinking from the cybernetics folks or Jay Forrester.


Jay Forrester at MIT provide, you know, the world of systems dynamics that provide ways of thinking about this stuff that even ten years ago you would have said, “Well, why would a product person be concerned with that?” or “Why would a designer be concerned with that?” Where now I would say, ‘Well, you know, designers ought to be conversant with systems dynamics.”


Scott K. Wilder:    How do you share that with designers and clients and things like that?


Hugh Dubberly:    Very carefully.


Scott K. Wilder:    Yes. I was going to say, you know, is there – at least from where I’d be sitting there’s a fear that it might be interpreted as too academic.


Hugh Dubberly:    We get that criticism. We’re probably guilty of it. Where we share it with designers is in teaching and being involved in the academic design community. And – so, my metaphor for this is the design is nowhere near being a science and it probably never should be. But it’s a little bit like geology in the early 19th century. You know, we know there’s some things going on here and they’re kind of related to each other and some of these rocks look like other rocks but we’re kind of not sure why.


And my approach is, well, it’s very much the 19th century British theologist approach. Like, let’s wander around Britain and collect some rocks and we’ll label where we got them, put them in a collection and that will have some value.


And so, part of what I’m doing is looking at models that – and frameworks which show up in the design process. I’ve been working with the guys at ACM. There’s a journal that they publish called Interactions which is for the SI-CHI community, and they’ve been kind enough to let me do it for the last, I guess, five years now a call upon models and to just – what they’re trying to do is put together a rock collection and say, “Well, here are the models the designers are using.”


What becomes interesting is that you start to see some more types that repeat and one of the most interesting ones is to see a model about how you move from research to design, how you move from, you know, the current situation to a new product and then to see that some folks in the – so, there’s a University of Tokyo business school professor, Nonaka, who has a model on organization learning and, damn if it isn’t isomorphic.  (http://hbr.org/2007/07/the-knowledge-creating-company/es)


Well, the interesting result of that is, hey, you can show it in kind of a rigorous way that this model a bunch of designers used to describe what they do is isomorphic with organizational – with a model used by hardcore business guys to describe organizational learning. So, then you’re saying design is organizational learning.


On one level that’s intuitive if you’re a designer. But to a business guy that’s kind of interesting. On a more practical level the place where the model is, where you can drag models into a real serious client engagement, is when they solve a problem.


And, you know, we have sat here at this table with some friends who we do a lot of work for where we’re looking at the, you know, second or third or fourth version of a big these big maps of the interface of a meter and the head of marketing and the head of engineering are having a discussion about, you know, what features are in and out.


And that’s an incredibly expensive discussion to have when you’re – you know, you’ve designed the whole thing. And if I can abstract out the – have a model of that kind of features where it’s on one page and you can go through it in an hour and have the right level of detail for the discussion at the right point, we can save a lot of money.


And so, that becomes a, you know – if I can introduce that when we’re having the pain of having this expensive discussion, it’s a little bit like the heart attack. {Laughter} You can change behavior a little bit, a little bit. A little bit.


Scott K. Wilder:    That’s fascinating because I’ve been in some of those conversations.


Hugh Dubberly:    So, it is Groundhog Day?


Scott K. Wilder:    At Groundhog Day, yes. What companies do you think they’re doing this well? I’m just curious of who’s really taking kind of this methodical approach to product design?


Hugh Dubberly:    You know, some of the usual suspects. One maybe unusual suspect is Autodesk. Autodesk is kind of curious.


Scott K. Wilder:    They have a tool.


Hugh Dubberly:    They do. But what’s curious is that a big part of the senior management team are architects by training. There are some architects in some strange places there like the VP of Strategy is an architect. And I think Carl Bass is a trained architect.


Scott K. Wilder:    Yes, I remember reading that.


Hugh Dubberly:    So, they – you know, I mean, Carl still designs stuff and makes stuff. So, that brings the kind of design sensibility and kind of design culture to the organization.


Another one that might be interesting to look at is Samsung. Samsung is trying really hard to become a design-driven company, and they’ve done some wild things. They tried to buy two design schools in the United States, and not small ones. I mean, they tried to buy – when I went to School of Design and they tried to buy Art Center.


Now, RISD didn’t really return the phone calls. But I was friends with the president of Art Center and he said, “Well, we’re not really for sale, but why don’t you come on down and let’s chat.”


They ended up setting up a design school for them in Korea and they – the wild thing is that they took their 40 top designers for a year and in the morning they help them with English and in the afternoon they have them working with a bunch of design teachers from Art Center.


And so, there was just a huge investment and you can see it’s starting to pay off and yet there are, you know, an awful lot of issues.


Scott K. Wilder:    That triggered another question. We talked a little bit when I first sat down about culture.


Hugh Dubberly:    That’s why I wrote that (word) down.  Yes, culture is the thing, absolutely. So, that’s one of the big issues, you know, in a Confucius culture: highly paternalistic, mandatory military service. I swear everybody goes to the Army and it’s not just having to be in the Army. You know, you’re still on call and have to do your three or four days of service every year for – like until you’re 30 or something, 35.


So, it’s a little bit – you know, you – “Yes, sir. How high, sir?” as a culture. And, you know, I mean, they went from making crap to now they’re like – what are they are at now a 22 nm DRAM? So, that means you’ve mastered statistical process control with the discipline required to make 22 nm DRAM. It gives you this fanaticism about Six Sigma {laughter} or closes certain other ways of thinking.


Scott K. Wilder:    Absolutely.


Hugh Dubberly:    So, you get that culture and, you know, the chairman can talk about it like the importance of emotional relevance and design. But in a culture that’s about, you know, 22 nm DRAM, that’s an issue. {Laughter}


Scott K. Wilder:    So, you’re a really good example of a company trying to change its culture. Is that something that you guys get involved in or have you witnessed other good examples of companies trying to do that?


Hugh Dubberly:    Yes, it happens all over the place. I mean, the Autodesk guys are, you know, trying to move from desktop to cloud, from standalone products to suites. That’s a big transition for them. You know, more power to Carl and team for taking that on. I think it’s great. And just trying to deal with mobile at the same time and deal with the change in the buildings trade and that’s a whole interesting thing to talk with some of those guys about how the debates around the Agile are actually playing out in the building trade, you know. How do you incent the architect, engineering, contractor team to work together instead of fighting each other?


Scott K. Wilder:    It’s just like the buildings in Shanghai being built in 150 days or whatever it is?

Hugh Dubberly:    I think that’s one of the issues of how do you even set that. Google’s another one. So, Larry Page’s ascension to the throne there is leading to – well, there are huge changes that portend with 20% free time. Well, what is that about? So, then it didn’t even work.


I mean, our goals have shifted, but the founders were rigorous in managing search and had high control over the search product design, found everything else used to be kind of –


Scott K. Wilder:    Loosey-goosey? {Laughter}


Hugh Dubberly:    I mean, you know, there are examples of three or four products teams doing the same internal tools. They compete and they collaborate. There’s enough money that it works, but –


Scott K. Wilder:    Sounds like Apple when


Hugh Dubberly:    These patterns repeat and while they’re rich enough that they can have a half-gallon refrigerators full of half-gallon Odwalla juice cartons, you know, every 50 meters. When they’re not rich it doesn’t matter. However, how long will that go on?


And I think Larry’s starting to – well, their goal had been to say, “How could you replicate the start-up inside of a large corporation?” and not everybody behaves like being in a start-ups.


And for a while they tried to create sort of the internal market mechanism or at least let a market of ideas try to flourish within the company. He seems to be trying to change that and I think he perceives and existential threat.


Scott K. Wilder:    He perceives what?


Hugh Dubberly:    An existential threat, a threat to their existence. It isn’t about not enough money coming in today, but it’s about what happens – what is the Internet operating system, and what happens if you don’t have the social component and, you know, the recognition that you have to have the mobile component and the social component and that they must focus on that. That’s a giant change.


Scott K. Wilder:    You’re triggering all these questions. I have two questions and you can pick which one you want. It sounds like a kind of a top-down approach with the game plan in there. Are there other things that you’ve seen that have a big impact on culture?


And then the other question somewhat related is, what are your thoughts about Google Plus?


Hugh Dubberly:    I’m not qualified to talk about Google Plus. What was the first one?


Scott K. Wilder:    I’m trying to get trying to come up with quasi-laundry list of different things leaders can do from a cultural perspective that we talked about: the university with Samsung, we talked about, what Larry’s trying to do. Are there other things that come to mind that impact culture?


Hugh Dubberly:    Yes. I think it comes down to who you hire and what you were working for which is sort of obvious.


Scott K. Wilder:    Have you heard of the T-Shaped Individual?


Hugh Dubberly:    Sure. This is an IDEO. IDEO uses this as metaphor. There is a lot of discussion these days about design and its role in the success of companies. Apple is held up as an example. It’s clear that there are substantial differences between the IOS and Android. It’s clear that there are substantial differences despite what Apple would have you believe between the iPad and the Samsung tablet.


The question is, “Why?” And I think you were dead-on when you said that it’s about culture. It’s not about strategy. If Samsung could have built the iPad, they would have.


So, what is the cultural difference? My observation is that for these really successful products that for great products –


Scott K. Wilder:    Insanely great.


Hugh Dubberly:    Yes, insanely great products require an insane person. They require this kind of manic, fanatic product champion. That is necessary, but not sufficient. And Jeff Bezos is walking proof of that and so is Larry Page. I think Larry might be a little more well rounded, but Jeff certainly is not. Jeff is more of a dictator than Steve.


You know, we hear stories about Jeff rewriting dialog boxes. You know, right now he’s redesigning the control for the glow light. I mean, how many billions of dollars is that company? He’s redesigning the glow light.


Well, he knows details matter and this is an important detail in a new product. He also gets into some other important details. He has that fanaticism and he cares and he’s wicked smart, no question about that. And he sees system.


So, what culturally is missing?


I think Steve Jobs learned something in his years in the wilderness. Part of it was growing up, and part of it is maturity. If you look at his years before Apple, it was kind of all failures. So, you know, I think the Apple II was Woz but Lisa was a disaster. Well, I mean, $10,000 – but it wasn’t a disaster, but it was a $10,000 –


Scott K. Wilder:    Product, yes.


Hugh Dubberly:    You know, Mac in – I mean, god, well, I don’t even know what it would be in today’s dollars; it’s just unimaginably expensive. The company almost went out of business, Macintosh, which is why we’ve invited to not play anymore. And NExT was great, but – I mean, a great idea, but they sold 40,000 machines, 40,000 machines.


So, up to that point his best piece of design work was the Apple Factory. So, then he comes back and for the most part there’s a string of hits. There’s a couple failures, you know, he couldn’t give up on the Cube thing. There is some kind of Cube fetish.


But what happened – so, how do you go from – kind of interesting and wacky guy, but a string of failures. I mean, if you were a VC, you know, would you have put money into that guy making – you know, I guess our Arthur Rock must have said yes.


But my – so, this is a serious question. I think something happened and here’s what I think happened: He invested in Pixar, and he knew enough about creative stuff because he had dealt with Regis McKenna and he had dealt with Jay Chiat, Steve Hayden, and Lee Clow, Tom Sutter, and some of the folks at Apple Creative Services, .. and Bill Atkins. I’m forgetting the one who did the icons for Macintosh, but…


Scott K. Wilder:    Susan


Hugh Dubberly:    Susan Kare, yes. And so, when he got there, you know, I mean, well, Ed’s a genius. So, I mean, certifiably, you know, the guy’s credentials, he’s just a genius. And he was able to see, though, that – I’m going to forget his name now, the director.


Scott K. Wilder:    John Lasseter.


Hugh Dubberly:    Yes, Lasseter. So, Steve was able to see that Lasseter was amazing and I have the experiencing of being involved in SIGGRAPH in the early 90’s and – so, this was the big computer graphics convention. And you’d go to these things and the hype of the convention was the film show.


And you’d see spinning logos and kind of the new forms of transparency and new forms of highlights and, you know, maybe somebody would be able to do hair or a flock of birds or something and then there would be Pixar. And it was not even in the same ballpark. It was like, you know, there was an effect and here was a wonderful story, which happened to be computer-generated.


And so, the long buildup to this is to say Jobs went in and he saw quality – he knew quality, but he went in and he saw quality. So, these two are very smart people, very high-quality people. And then he finally behaved with each other and he saw that they had conversations. And I would call these design conversations.


And when he got back to Apple – so, I think that that was the thing that he learned and that when he got back to Apple – and learned makes it sound almost like too much. I think it was a thing he recognized; I think he had seen it before, that he’d had some of it at Macintosh, that he’d had some of it in, you know, dealing with Jay Chiat, some of it was dealing with Tom Sueter


And that he – and then he found Johnny Ive, you know, when (Art?) was still working at Apple and Robert Brunner had hired him and, you know, he was the person he would have this conversation with.


And that was a kind of change that – and everywhere where you’d see great design in the world over a sustained period, you have this fanatical founder plus a great designer and they have a conversation that extends over time.


And so, at IBM in the heyday of IBM and IBM design, you had Tom Watson Jr. and Eliot Noyes. At (Braun) you have the sons of the founder, Ron Ralph and (Peter Robbs). Well, Olvetti Herman Miller, the Container Corporation, hell you know, Martha Stewart. I mean, Martha Stewart and (Gayle Tutti).


So, it’s a repeated pattern and it isn’t just Apple; Steve is kind of the most famous example. And I think that’s what’s missing. It’s interesting that Google’s got this creative labs thing and there are a couple of guys there who may be candidates for this for this relationship with Larry and it will be interesting to see if that works out for them.


Scott K. Wilder:    Funny. When I read your article on this topic in the ACM –


Hugh Dubberly:    Yes, sorry.


Scott K. Wilder:    No, no, no. I’m sure they haven’t. The people on the other side of this recorder, but it triggered Michael Eisner’s book in my head. I don’t know if you’ve read it. I can send you the title.


Hugh Dubberly:    Yes, please.


Scott K. Wilder:    He basically talks about a little bit of this, but not so much the degree of the impact on product.


So, for him it was Frank Wells


Hugh Dubberly:    One of the head animators or someone else?


Scott K. Wilder:    No. So, he thinks he’s the creative guy and so Frank Wells was the operations guy. So, that’s what I was getting at is he was talking about more from a business context and I think this chemistry – so, it’s almost like he frames it from a business context and I think what you’ve done is highlighted it from a kind of creative output perspective here.


Hugh Dubberly:    Well, and I don’t want to diminish Tim Cook’s contribution. I mean, when we were at Apple, you know, we always felt too many or too few too late. {Laughter}


Scott K. Wilder:    That was thinking different.


Hugh Dubberly:    Well, it was. Tim Cook you know, made the trains run on time and it’s, you know, sort of amazing accomplishment.


Hugh Dubberly:    So, he made it possible for Steve to have – go off and have those conversations.


Scott K. Wilder:    Yes, yes. Well, and this also linked to your article, but it is really fascinating.


So, the last question is, what – and I ask everybody this: what are you reading these days that is not necessarily related to work?


Hugh Dubberly:    I, unfortunately, don’t read stuff that’s not related to work, but…


Scott K. Wilder:    That’s what everybody says.


Hugh Dubberly:    Everything is pretty much related to work.


Scott K. Wilder:    So, what are you reading these days that you think that you’d recommend and that I don’t have to go to Amazon and see the reviews and all that. I’ll trust you.


Hugh Dubberly:    Well, the thing that’s at the top of the pile right now is some book called The Universal Design by (Horse Riddle) who was part of the Design Methods Movement.


Scott K. Wilder:    Great. Anything else? Are there any websites that you would recommend besides ACM.org or ACM’s interactions or some of their other publications that you’d recommend? Something that’s affordable? Like, I used to read Domus and it was too expensive.


Hugh Dubberly:    I don’t know. I’ll give it some thought and see if I can send you some stuff.


Scott K. Wilder:    Okay. Well, Hugh, this has been great. This is like everything I thought it would be.


Hugh Dubberly:    Well, I hope it was helpful, not too rambling.


Scott K. Wilder:    No, no. This is great stuff. So, I want to thank you for your time. So, any last questions that somebody else has asked you that we never asked or…?


Hugh Dubberly:    No, it was good.


Scott K. Wilder:    Okay.


Hugh Dubberly:    Well, at some point I’d love to get your take on the CRM thing.


Hugh Dubberly:    Sure.


Scott K. Wilder:    So, this has been Scott Wilder as part of the Future of Work Series. I’ve been talking to Hugh Dubberly of Dubberly Design Office and there will be links to his website. And thanks, everybody, for joining us today and I’ll talk to you soon. Thanks.