Experiencing Farmer’s Market, Los Angeles. I’d forgotten the uber-self-consciousness of the Hollywood scene (just a block or so from CBS studios).
Little gaggles of women wearing t-shirts shouting their favorite TV shows (”Price is right!” “BRIDE” — she’s also wearing a back veil with her jean shorts). Others with little name tags semi-stuck on to their shirts.
Lots of carefully important studio types in polo shirts, thick-rimmed glasses, lanyards, smartphones in belt holsters, clipboards under their arms, swapping favorite Coffee Bean recipes.
German, Swahili, Spanish, Japanese and Skype being spoken at the tables around me.
Taschen, a so-cool artsy publisher’s bookstore where I could blow $500 in 20 minutes very happily (A History of Type, Simple Diary, Collecting Design…)
It’s a totally different atmosphere from The Grove, just steps away. The Grove is for shopping and enjoying. The Farmer’s Market is for Seeing and Being Seen. No wonder they don’t validate parking for one another.
It’s funny, I don’t remember CBS being as much of a tourist hot spot in my childhood as it is now. They used to give out audience passes at Universal and Graumann’s to get people to come watch pilot screenings or game shows. Huh.
The only real things here are the three little sparrows hopping around under my table, cleaning up the crumbs.
I gotta get me some better sunglasses.
Driving in urban parts of Israel is more difficult than in Los Angeles, in part because there is less rigid a distinction between roadway and sidewalk.
Having lanes that suddenly swoosh off in unexpected directions (while your direction becomes a “public transport only” lane) turns the whole thing into a kind of living labyrinth. The internal control tower dialogue goes something like this:
“So, if I want to get to Keren HaYesod, I can start out of Geula, cut through Davidka Square and swoosh around Agrippas. Just remember not to come out down Hillel, or there’s no right turn onto Keren HaYesod and I’ll have to go clear down to the Old City before I can start to come around again; I’ve got to sneak behind the Great Synagogue first. That’ll be fine. As long as I’m going to the bank on the right side of the street, not the dentist on the far side. For that, I’d need to begin my approach by coming through Rehavia.”
If you drive a taxi, of course, just go down Jaffa Road and turn right on King George V, which turns into Keren HaYesod. That would be too easy for the taxi drivers, though, so the municipality has thoughtfully dug up most of Jaffa Road for the past two years, just to even the score.
[picture from the Elms in the Yard blog]
I’m from Los Angeles. In L.A., we say “You are what you drive.” Sad, but true.
When I was a child, the car was a vehicle. My grandparents had cars (one per family, not one per grandparent) with bench seats front and rear. I climbed in and sat between Grandma and Grandpa, and we talked while we drove. If it got hot, there were these neat triangular vent windows that popped open in back, and roll-down windows that took about five minutes to roll back up (and an equal amount of time to recover from). Maps went in the glove compartment. Eating and drinking in the car were not conceivable.
When I was a teenager, the car had evolved to become a second home. My parents’ cars (one per parent) each had air conditioning, radio with five station memory buttons, power windows, console storage and a cupholder. The map was a fat Thomas Guide stuffed in the seat pocket behind the front passenger seat. That was new, too: the front passengers each had their own adjustable bucket seat (slide forward/backward and recline). We didn’t talk as much together in the car; we listened together to the radio. Usually the driver chose the station, so it was either news radio (both parents), sports, pop psychology, country music, golden oldies (dad), or classical music (mom).
By the time I finished school, the car had become an extension of self, part of a person’s identity. When you got your first drivers’ license, you started thinking about getting your own car. When my dad handed down his (totally cool) car to me, the first thing I did was earn the money to install a cassette player. I didn’t talk to anybody (car phones were so new that I only knew three people who had them, all in their forties), except sometimes my little brother, when I took him to school. When my first children were born, we drove and sang along to tapes and CDs.
Today, car interior design has gone farther than ever in cocooning the individual rather than the group: DVD players front and back, separate headphone jacks, individual climate control (front and back; driver and passenger). Second- and third-row captain’s seats. Cup holders in every door, seatback, and floor panel. iPod and mobile phone jacks. Memory storage of your seat’s height, location, and degree of lumbar support.
“You are what you drive.”
Step back for a moment, and you’ll see that these design trends paint a larger cultural picture. The car has moved from a shared space (bench seats, no entertainment, little customization) to a highly personal space that is unlikely to be shared. When it is shared (for example, in a family mini-van), every effort is made to create as much private space as possible (individual seats, individual climate control, individual cupholders, individual entertainment and entertainment controls).
It’s a very different attitude about the car and how you spend time in it.
To me, it’s speaks of a very Western interpretation of mobility: Freedom, Entertainment, Movement, Privacy, Independence. Mobility = Individuality.
This attitude and the design ethic it inspired isn’t limited to cars. It has been the driving force (sorry) in mobile phone design for years.
Listen to the usability experts up until about a year ago. Everything was about how “personal” the mobile phone is. Studies showing that a high percentage of people don’t feel comfortable sharing their phone, or letting someone even use their phone briefly. The personal messages, notes, contacts, call history, browser history, photos.
Even more, there’s a sort of personal identification and relationship with the phone itself. Going further, your mobile phone number is more meaningful that your social security number — it’s one of your names. Your mobile number represents you, unlike a landline number which represents a location, and doesn’t follow you around.
I have a book here on mobile phones in Japanese life called Personal, Portable, Pedestrian. That pretty much sums up what UI thinkers saw as being important to users.
It’s all true, but there’s a big problem with all this: it’s all based on “Western” cultures. Cultures in which individuality, freedom and personal space are high on the list of life’s priorities.
Paul Adams (User Experience Researcher, Google) at the MEX conference pointed out in his presentation that if you look at countries like India and China, there are people everywhere.
Americans look at these teeming masses and say, “chaos”. But it’s not chaotic to non-Western eyes. What we perceive as “chaos” may be perceived locally as “shared space”. Paul gave the example of Southwest Airlines’ seating system, which for years was a “first come-first served” arrangement, proven to be faster than assigned seating. For Americans, this was perceived as chaotic. We prefer assigned seats because we place so high a value on our unique, personal, private space. It defines us. (Southwest has since changed over to a numbered boarding order — with it’s own adorable website to explain it. Which already tells you something.)
But that isn’t necessarily true of people in other countries, other cultures. What is valuable to one person may be undesirable to another.
Even in our “own” Western culture, feelings about personal space are changing. Definitions of privacy (personal secrets that you share with 800 blog readers…), of space (virtual, real, contained within a particular device or account) are changing.
Spaces that were once shared (eg., living room, public bus) are now personal (iPod as a “sphere of isolation”, killing time with mobile broadband). Spaces that were once personal (eg., Walkman music player, internet browser) are now shared (sharing headphones, Zune WiFi, Facebook Wall, IM, location based services).
I just got a Nokia 1208 as a gift; an upgrade to my Kosher Phone account. (We’ll talk about kosher phones another time. Suffice it to say for now that a kosher phone is a phone with no data capabilities.)
If you’re reading this blog, a dual-band Series 30 phone [bet you thought S30 was extinct in the wild] probably isn’t on your mobile tech wish list. It’s three main selling points are:
* Get instant access to phone features [one programmable softkey]
* Add a little color to your life [lo-res color display and exchangeable color faceplates]
* Monitor and manage your costs [calling card tracking and call timers]
Notable features on the 1208 are an integrated LED flashlight on top (where some phones have the power button or IR window), speakerphone, support for multiple user contact lists, pre-loaded polyphonic ringtones, dust-resistant keypad, durable materials construction with non-slip backing, and a very long battery life (7 hours talk time / 15 days standby).
You may have noticed that the feature set doesn’t exactly match your checklist of phone features. That’s because the 1208 was designed for… well… less-developed countries. Despite the fact that its being sold everywhere (which is pretty interesting), priorities in the design were cost reduction, durability (many users, dusty climates) and sharability (if you can only afford to have one phone per household — or even per neighborhood — then making sharing easier becomes very important).
Which is exactly why the 1208 was on my Wish List; it’s a great example of the new attention being paid to read people, real cultures, real usage needs in the design of products and services. It has taken a long time to recognize that overall, we have enough feature. It’s about delivering them in a meaningful way, and hearing what people truly need.
It’s also about respecting other people enough to accept their own mobile identity definitions and priorities (family, community, participation, responsibility, communication), without trying to impose our “better” systems on them. In doing so, we honor others, while creating new design and product possibilities that benefit everyone.
Phone charging stations are fairly new in the United States.
Seen in Los Angeles International Airport:
Free phone charging station, provided by Samsung. Note the added advertisement for the high-end Blackjack device. BYOC (Bring Your Own Charger).
Seen in SEA-TAC International Airport:
This one demands payment. I like ChargeCarte’s expansion into this market, though. It works well with a company providing luggage cart rentals (although I resent having to pay for a luggage cart, and preferentially choose to fly into airports where they are provided free). Also note that the ChargeCarte station doesn’t require that you have your own charger with you; you can look for a charge plug that fits your device. (What was said here about lack of standardization in the mobile industry still applies.)
Here’s a charging station designed to include little lockers, so that you can leave the phone while you go do something else. Provided as a freebie (tokens distributed at the booth desk) at Mobile World Congress last month.
Seen in Barcelona:
Some thoughts on a visit to Disneyland:
Traffic Control. Disneyland and Walmart share a factor in their success: the marriage of a great idea with great execution… and a fiercely efficient processing system. Walmart in storing, tracking and moving merchandise, and Disneyland in crowd control. Grandma and Grandpa took the family to Disneyland today, and the people management is striking.
Over the last thirty years (my conscious memory history of Disneyland), the numbers of people coming through the park has increased vastly. When I was a child, waiting time for the popular rides (E-ticket rides) was sometimes as much as 30 minutes in the summer peak season, Today, waits exceed 90 minutes on a busy day. That’s a really long time to spend standing in line. At an average 1 hour per ride, you might only get on 10 or 12 rides in a very long and exhausting day, with no stops for meals or parades.
(Today was a weekday in off-season, albeit a sunny warm day before the December holidays, so not the quietest day of the year, but pretty close. Waits were about 15-25 minutes for the popular rides, although one brand new ride — the refurbished submarine ride, now Nemo-branded — had a wait of over an hour.)
It occurs to me that with the numbers of people coming through, it may make sense to let lines accumulate a little. It provides a holding zone for large quantities of people at any given time, easing traffic pressure in the open areas. (Those open areas, incidentally, are at capacity now, even on a quiet day like today, so getting people off the street must be critical.)
Disneyland made a lot of investment about 10 years ago in waiting zone design. Rides of that era (StarTours, Indiana Jones, the refurbished Autopia, even Big Thunder Mountain) have well-designed lines with video entertainment, animated mannequins (animatronics), and themed architecture/landscaping. It’s a notable contrast to the rides installed 20+ years ago (Space Mountain, Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted House), where you just plain wait in line.
Changes I’ve noticed in 30 years:
- Striking continued use of old technologies, mostly successfully, although not always (Small World is falling to pieces, and the dioramas of the Grand Canyon seen from the Railroad are shabbier than ever).
- Conversion of the old parking lot to a new (and mostly unvisited) theme park a couple of years ago means that parking is now in a dull and depressing concrete structure. Welcome to Disneyland! Please pony up $11 parking. It just doesn’t have the excitement of the old system, where you saw flags and banners waving, the monorail overhead and Cinderella’s castle in the distance drawing you in. Now you see a parking structure like the one at the mall, only bigger.
- Fast Pass
- Lines extending outside the buildings
- Signs informing of wait times
- Cross-branding of rides (Astroid Blaster, Nemo submarine, Indiana Jones)
- Less brilliant use of color in landscaping
- Less-clean bathrooms
- Fewer Disney characters on the street
- Dull paint on garbage cans
- No visible street cleaning staff
- Noticeable wear and tear on paint and cementwork
- Toontown and concert stage — both generally shunned, in part because of their awful location in the farthest corner of the park, with a single entrance/exit to the area.
Do these changes and deterioration reflect a cutback on the very high maintenance standards?
Overall, for the first time in all my visits to Disneyland, I felt a definite dullness of the patina, a lack of the brilliance and shine of the experience. It’s a pity.
Update, Dec. 22, 2007:
It seems as though the people on the outside of the Disneyland parking lot aren’t too happy about it, either.
Trust. You’ve gotta have it.
A striking (and amusing) example cropped up at a very elegant affair hosted at a winery north of Los Angeles. Adjacent to the dining area were two bathrooms, both clearly marked for men and women. Both door locks were of the type you might have at home, with a button inset in the door handle. When the button is depressed, the door is locked from the outside. When you turn the handle from the inside, the lock pops open. There was no indication on the outside of the door as to whether the door was locked or not.
This provided a great exercise in trust:
The person outside the bathroom had no way of knowing whether the bathroom was vacant or occupied (to use the airline terminology), other than by trying the door to see if it opened. He needed to trust that the occupant had locked the door successfully, and also to trust that the lock was reliable.
The person inside the bathroom had to have absolute faith in the feedback of the handle’s button (that a depressed button would always mean that the door was successfully locked), and in the reliability of the lock to keep out the visitor who would inevitably try the door at the worst possible moment.
Co-ed facilities helped add spice to the game (and helped ensure that no-one spent a moment more time than was necessary in there).
Well, it has been a full week since the last posts went up to this blog. Lots of background activity continued, as I jotted down notes and collected items of interest, but nothing actually got posted. The lesson: WiFi isn’t good enough, you need to have a cellular laptop card. I took a vow before leaving Los Angeles this week that I would have one by the time I returned. Never again do I wish to deal with the massive frustrations of non-access!
“Keep looking up. Don’t look down or you’ll get afraid.”
We took the kids to AdventurePlex, a fantastic indoor/outdoor safe play zone in Manhattan Beach. The highlight was the rock climbing installation in the side yard. For some of the kids, it was a cinch to zip up the walls (at least, the easier ones). For others, each step was a challenge, and we could see them literally shaking as they clung to the side of the building. My brother- and sister-in-law (back-seat climbers) shouted encouragement from below: “Keep looking up! Don’t look down or you’ll get afraid!”
The Talmud teaches: A scene of weeping that will take place in the end of days is described by the Prophet Zecharia (12:12). One of the Sages interprets this as a reference to the slaughtering by Hashem of the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) as both the righteous and the wicked look on.
To the righteous this inciter to evil appears as a huge mountain, while to the wicked he seems like a thin hair. Both groups weep at the sight. The righteous weep as they recall the anguish they experienced in overcoming this force of evil and they wonder how they were able to conquer such a formidable mountain. The wicked weep as they wonder why they were unable to overcome such a thin hair. (Succah 52a; as explained on the Ohr Somayach website)
I was reminded of this teaching as I greeted the children below the wall, and showed them how far they had reached, and compared it to their previous attempts.
Those who succeed in climbing the mountain — i.e., the righteous — will say, “How did we ever climb the mountain?” And the wicked will weep, “Why didn’t I ascend? It was so easy.”
If you set your sights high, you achieve astonishing heights by climbing one small step at a time. Looking up a step at a time from below, it doesn’t look so hard, and you will be surprised by how far you are able to go. On the other hand, if you look down, it’s overwhelming. Your body has a visceral reaction to the height and the potential for failure. You freeze. You’re scared. You come down. Then you look back up and wonder, “Is that all? Why did I let that frighten me?” But your turn is over.
I can say about the most important accomplishments in my life (or projects-in-progress) that had I known (or had I thought too much about) all that would be required for successful implementation, I probably wouldn’t have started. You have to just set your goal, take it one step at a time, and never look down.
Aah, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. My office away from home. I’m back in California, and that means no more hip burnt Seattle beans for me, just the homey, relaxed, work-conducive and kosher Coffee Bean. This branch on Ocean Park isn’t actually my favorite for kicking back (other branches have outdoor fireplaces and less traffic noise), but it does have a good variety of seating choices: four big slumpy leather chairs, lots of tables with the standard wicker-style chairs indoor and out, and two big country-kitchen wood tables with power sockets below (my favorite spots). The staff is friendly, the light perfect, the parking only somewhat exorbitant.
It’s one of the things I miss when traveling on the East coast…