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Targeting the problem… and it is high time to do so!

So, this is the last week, and we have so many other things to do. Which is why it is useful to post a blog entry: so that later, after the madness is over, we can read and reflect on our raw experiences we are scribbling now.

Luckily, so luckily, we have two awesome, creative multimedia people in our group: Claire and Stefan. I think if we had more time, more of us would want to be involved in the video and learn how to make one, but due to time constraints it is more practical if the experts do it. I think this is a challenge that “real” companies also have to solve: always make the competent employees do a task (meaning that the others will never get to that level) or let everyone learn, at the expense of time efficiency.

However, we are by no means missing out on the whole process. After many meetings and a lot of tiptoe-ing around the problem, we drew a conclusion, carefully at first, but then we realized that we were on the right track. Our NGO does not really have a problem, at least not with their activity, and not with technology either. BouwQuest is prospering, and it is very active on several online community platforms.

BouwQuest is not in the need for financing either, so crowdfunding does not apply to them. They are really only spreading a non-controversial idea of insulation and passive houses, which makes our task easier and harder at the same time. They are not asking people for money, quite to the contrary: we want to show them a way how they can save on heating. Unfortunately, this is not something people would gather behind: it is not an exciting enough idea.

What BouwQuest has is a marketing problem, which Carl-Peter summarised as “make insulation sexy”. Therefore it is most connected to the last topic of the course. The reasons for this are several: the fact that the idea is not captivating enough in itself, the widespread misunderstandings related (eg. passive houses are much more expensive than normal houses, making them unaffordable for most people), and the fact that BouwQuest doesn’t have a well defined target audience, even though it would be possible to do so.

The way I see it, the online communication of BouwQuest is suffering from a bit of an aesthetics problem, as well as a consistency one.

Let me explain. Here:

This is our client’s website. Based on what I’ve found out, my suggestions would be:

1. The website of BouwQuest is not really visually captivating, also it is exclusively in Dutch, meanwhile, they would like to appeal to the whole of Europe. This is one thing that could be fixed.

2. The other is that the visitor really has to look around on both the website and the Facebook page to find all the activities of BouwQuest. Carl-Peter met Al Gore and he posted a picture, saying Al Gore mentioned him “in his speech”. I looked for that speech all over the place, but I couldn’t find it. This is something anyone reading that entry would be interested in!

After some research, I found out that they are actively participating in something I was planning to propose: open days at passive houses. But this is not properly communicated either. I know many Hungarian companies, even small ones, who share something on their Facebook every second day for the sake of sharing, and this results in many likes, therefore they will always be present in many people’s feed on Facebook. In this respect, it doesn’t even matter if the content is connected to their activity, as long as it is within their values.

3. In BouwQuest’s case, I would also make use of some branding, because neither his vision nor his values are properly communicated. Along those values, he could then expand his network and collaborate with other organisations.

4. In the case of most NGO’s, there is never enough time to do the communication, because the employees’ energies are - very correctly - dedicated to the core activities. However, it is worth considering asking someone, even maybe students, to keep the website and Facebook updated. BouwQuest has so many pages that I would even suggest they should shut down a few of them and concentrate on the ones that can really be filled with content and can attract visitors. In the issue of passive house promotion, for example, they could work together with other related organizations and create a really strong campaign.

My team mates share a lot of these ideas and therefore we will incorporate them in a video as well. The concept is that we will narrow the challenge (the “hook”) down to one question, present the NGO and passive houses (we are trying to make this part informative enough so BouwQuest can use it to promote passive houses), and then we will BAM! the end with our ideas at a solution. I am confident that our team will make the most of the limited time and the never enough knowledge flow from our tutors (wink wink Nancy), and we’ll end this course with a resounding success.

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Jelly, jam and preserves

OK, it’s already week 7. Setting aside panic about final result and thinking of what is on my mental shelves that wasn’t there 2 months ago.

In Shahab’s Prezi about multimedia presentation, he had a storyboard example about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I loved the detailed ideas, including that you should probably explain the difference between jelly, jam and preserves.

image

Source

Jam - made of whole fruit cut into pieces or crushed then heated with water and sugar /Wikipedia/

Maybe it all was there, only it was pushed to the back, covered in dust and the label faded a little bit too, to the point where you are not sure what’s in that suspiciously looking jar. Yesterday I couldn’t remember what the 4P’s were, and I have a degree in Advertising! Gosh, that was embarrassing. So I learned that if I care about something, if I think I will use it in the future, then I should keep it in the forefront and use that knowledge before the shelf life expires. RSS is a great way to do that. I will make it a habit to subscribe for interesting websites (such as Beth Kanter’s one) on social media marketing and read it during breakfast, instead of re-watching my favourite show.

Preserve - a jam made of fruit stewed in sugar; often the making of conserves can be trickier than making a standard jam, having to cook in the hot sugar mixture for just enough time to allow the flavor to be extracted from the fruit. /Wikipedia, edited/

One thing had been certainly mislabeled in my head: teamwork. I was chatting with a former classmate the other day, and I mentioned this project. She immediately replied: “I always hated teamwork”. I guess she and I had the same experiences. In Hungary, this would look like: in a group of 5, one usually has a full time job and can’t be bothered to attend meetings or do anything for the project, two have terrible ideas but are so bossy you stop contradicting them after a while, and two care about the project in the beginning, but that enthusiasm seeps away in the dysfunctional team. The end result is something the latter two forged in a last attempt to make their grade a pass.

I learned that it doesn’t have to be like that. Even though with a team of 7, planning a meeting is a nightmare in its own right, the work we’ve done together was certainly not. It helps a lot if everyone on the team has the same goals and if everyone understands that it is a team. This setup even reduced my tendency to take over every task, just because I think I am the only one who will not make a complete mess of it. It is trickier indeed than just managing my own schedule and completing a project on my own, but the result is more delicious too, because it is made of different fruits.

Jelly - a clear or translucent fruit spread made from sweetened fruit (or vegetable) juice and is set by using its naturally occurring pectin. /Wikipedia/

I learned about networks and online communities, and how amazingly available people are to help you if you only reach out. The trick here is that you have to have something to say, as clearly and translucently as jelly! It doesn’t hurt if the content is juicy, ie. if there is potential in it to go viral. In this case, the pectin, erm, community support will occur naturally.

So, these are the occupants of my shelves right now, and I must add that the shelf itself also became more solid thanks to the structure of the course. Every topic is a new shelf, and some things (like crowdfunding) definitely didn’t have their own dwelling place in my mind before.

The next step? I would like to learn more about viral campaigns. I have seen some rise and fall, and some just fall plainly on their faces before they even caught on. It sometimes seems like you cannot plan a “virus”, but I suspect it is possible. I am going to research this topic further.

Also, video making comes across in all of our classes, so the next weeks are largely going to be about that. I already have some experience in photography, video editing and presentation techniques, but I’m sure my teammates will surprise me with what they have.

It’s autumn! Happy shelving!

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Linguistics is cool

In English, we just say: “I went to school”, “I travelled to Manchester”. In Hungarian we use prefixes to show direction. For example, if I am going from the capital to the countryside, I would say “I’m going down”, while going to Budapest would be “going up”. Some people who do live in the countryside find this offensive and they even mockingly say they “go down to Budapest”. 

When I was studying in Hungary, I had to travel more than an hour to get to my college. It was definitely “going out to school”. But now, whenever I go to THU, I feel like I enter a buzzing world of exchange and activity. So now I “go in to school” every day. 

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“The best teams rely on their imagination” – said the caption on…



"The best teams rely on their imagination" - said the caption on Facebook. Do you know this scene from Mulan? A group of soldiers get into the imperial palace by dressing up as ladies. And they are simply fugly! Anyway, this was one of my favourite Disney movies as a kid (weird, smart girl with a sword, hell yeah!). 

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Exquisite corpse

Do you know that game when everyone draws a head(like thingy) on the top of a sheet, folds it down, hands it to the next person, who will in turn draw the neck(like thingy), then pass it on to the next so she can draw the chest… and in the end, everybody laughs at the strange creatures that emerge. 

While this game must have been good fun for Surrealists after a shot of absinthe (or were those the Impressionists?), in design this is not always a desirable outcome. We must make sure that we are crowdsourcing for the same corpse… erm… project.

Our own project, for example, took an unexpected turn. We had been stuck for a week at least and we needed information, but the NGO contact was too busy to answer our questions in writing. I started to get worried, and as a “manager”, I was convinced that everybody including myself would hold me responsible for an eventual failure to deliver, therefore I took it upon me to call him. We agreed on a lunchtime Skype meeting the next day, and there, he came up with a new assignment that made us chuckle at once.

MAKE INSULATION SEXY

were his actual words. Now we had lots of ideas (some of which are not fit for print, hence the drawings), but this still sounds like a tough nut to crack. After all, Al Gore himself has been struggling with this. Tesla cars and wind turbines are sexy, insulation is not, even though no matter how much renewable energy you are generating, if you literally throw it out the window, you are not being environmentally responsible and you should feel… well, uncool. 

BouwQuest is already using lots of communities, but they still cannot get this message across. One of the reasons for this might be that there are too many messages. Up until now, we’ve been caught in the matrix of morphological design and rendered impassive by passive houses. And now it turns out that it’s all about that insulation.

Once we got this right, we have to use our crowds to find out how we can spread that message. We are planning to host a co-creation session for architects of our (and our tutor’s) network, maybe even including architecture students. This is an invaluable, face-to-face idea generation method. Of course, they are not designers, but much better, they actually meet clients who want new houses, so they will offer us an insight into why those people don’t find insulation sexy enough. 

As for online presence, we have to tap into Carl-Peter’s network for the same purpose. In crowdsourcing, it is of utmost importance that 1) you have already have something under your belt, 2) you have some connection to the community you are trying to draw from. He has all this with his existing networks, and that is a strong foundation. What we can contribute is the exquisite, and, possibly, coherent corpse, erm, project we will create together. We are ensuring this coherence by ironing out the folds that keep us from seeing the big picture and sharing while we are each outlining our part. This team would really fail at the original game, but this game has a different name. It is called teamwork!

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A STARR from the future

The STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) format is a job interview technique used by interviewers to gather all the relevant information about a specific capability that the job requires. This interview format is said to have a higher degree of predictability of future on-the-job performance than the traditional interview.

It’s the end of October. I have been burning the midnight oil over our project for some days now. While I’m waiting for an humongous pdf to download, I doze off on my desk. My eyelids start to flutter to the rhythm of my PC’s fan. REM phase activated.

S

"Good morning, Eszter, nice to see you again", our NGO welcomes me. Looks like I have been chosen to present our final results. The reasons escape me, but here I am, alone. And I have no idea what’s in the folder I’m holding in my hands. 

"What have you got for me?", he asks, as we settle down in his office. I am panicking. My mind goes blank. Breathe, I tell myself. You are a professional. You are prepared. NO YOU ARE NOT, my mind snaps at me, and as I look down on the folder, I notice I am wearing pajamas. Adorned with purple ducklings. 

Erm”, I start out, but then I fall silent. Think. Where did we start from? Morphological design. Integrated design. Integrating whom? Contractors, electricians, insulation specialists, the client and the investor. Aha. This could be a start. I will start with the task and hope the solution comes to me later. 

T

"You asked us to take morphological design to the next level. We then realized this is about nothing else than using your existing connections to raise awareness in the architectural community", I state the obvious. But I learned this is a great way to spot things others take for granted.  He leans forward. "And then what did you do?" "Cooked and talked, mostly", I blurt out, immediately regretting it. Sweat is trickling down my spine. My toes are clutching my… flip flops? Oh no. This is not happening. What could I say about our teamwork?

I wanted to be the manager to avoid having a bad manager. I didn’t know these guys at all. When I started to, I realized it is much more responsibility being a good leader when the members are as bright and determined as in BAM!. We are culturally very diverse. It was hard to open up and share our opinion on controversial world issues, and that was before we had conflicts about the project. Yet, with each social occasion we grew closer, and we could collaborate better the next time we got down to serious business. 

I think of the general confusion of the beginning. The fourth week, when we were still in the darkness as regards the assignment itself. We had many bad days, one of us just quit smoking, and other classes started to take over our sanity. It was chaos. But we were learning to ask questions. And this was when the cooking started.

A

"Cooking and talking?", he asks, without smiling. All the sweet (and sour) memories evaporate. I want to shrink, to flatten, to crawl out under the door. But suddenly, I hear a question and I do a double take. "Who was the best cook?"

"Christian", I reply without hesitation. Our communication guy, who had not always read the prepared questions before a meeting, but who was always respectful and excited to hear the answer. Lina, who made sure everything was ready on time. Derisa, who took notes and administered our meetings with Nancy. Maartje, who helped out wherever she could. Stefan and Claire, who were the busiest with the video. The video!

R

"We’ve made a video for you", I say, and I open the folder, hoping to find some data storage device. Instead, a horde of colourful butterflies bursts out. We both laugh. "Just a little special effect", I add, immensely relieved to find a USB drive and some explanatory drawings inside. He shooes some butterflies from his computer and plugs the stick in. The video starts.

"I’m impressed", he says, at the end of the longest five minutes of my life. "How did you achieve this in six weeks?"

"We had a great team", I reply. 

The beeping of the finished download wakes me up. A message awaits me in the team’s Facebook group. It’s not fit to print. But I know that when the times comes to present, they will be there just the same.

Reflection

The short story above is a fast forward, or a nightmarish scenario about the end of this project. I am not using the words “completion” or “result”, because it is not at all guaranteed we will come up with anything definitive, or even affirmative. But what we ask and learn along the way is just as important. And one shared passion of ours is to document everything in both words and pictures, so even if we don’t solve any problems, we’ll have something to show to our grandchildren!

One thing I observed about our group is that we haven’t had any high stakes yet. Considering Tuckman’s model, we are in the forming phase. Nobody has a lot of expertise in any of the areas we’ve been touching (architecture, design processes, crowdsourcing), so we have no more serious decisions to make than where to meet for that beer. I expect that in the future, when we have improved our skills or wade into the expertise of one of us, and more conflicts will arise. 

It would be easy to say that luckily we are seven in the group, so we can always rule by simple majority. But I think we have more brains among us than to do that - we’ll ask and debate and persuade. To link back to last week’s topic: how great we have Whatsapp and Facebook, where we will get an answer from team mates within two minutes at any hour of the day or night!

Here, a purple duck by Angela Lippitt:

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But I’m doing everything I’m supposed to! WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?

Many people ask themselves this question, the subject be weight loss, socializing, finding a new job or even cooking. I am putting in all I’ve got, I researched the topic and I applied all the ideas I’ve found to my situation, yet no progress is visible. I feel our NGO has kind of this problem.

BouwQuest is super active on all possible platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, and they even have an awesome website and wiki. All the more impressive considering that the whole enterprise is the work of one man, who has a job on the side! And yet, there are not enough followers. The crowd they want is just not gathering on these forums. And within our group, we realised that our real question Carl-Peter is asking is WHAT AM I DOING WRONG? It took us some time, but we’ve got there. 

Now, for the solutions. Let’s go back to the cooking example. Well, maybe you are not using the best materials (online equivalent: you are using the wrong platforms for your target group). Or the flavouring is not right (the tone of voice or the graphics are not appealing). Or you are simply cooking according to Italian tastes, when your audience came to a Chinese restaurant. 

The lesson to be learned is that it’s not that you are doing something wrong. It’s that you can always get better. 

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Uchi and soto

My friends roll their eyes when I take my phone out. “There she goes again”, “Facebook addict”, “Do you EVER put that thing down?” are the most frequent comments I get. And they are right. Without my phone, I am a one-armed giant.

But you know what? These same friends were around me when everyone was looking at this one guy’s little screen. He was boasting his most recent app: you tap the screen and a “hole” appears. Excuse me, but I think that being connected, sharing content, exchanging opinions and yes, even liking a funny video is a more meaningful social network action than that. So I am not afraid of the term “network addict”. 

One of the nicest compliments I ever got was when someone said “I like your Facebook wall”. Indeed, I consider my now “Timeline” a kind of a personal branding surface, and I make an effort to show a faithful and complete picture of myself and my interests. Of course, I actively use privacy settings and lists, so my elementary school teacher will not see my party photos, nor will my Armenian and Chilean friends see when I share a Hungarian news article. I guess my online behaviour has a lot to do with my lifestyle. I share everything I find a good conversation starter and hope someone will take the cue.

I have been living abroad for years, so I often find myself in situations when I don’t know where to find a product or how to get something done. This is when I turn to my networks. If it is a widely known product, I will just google reviews and tests, usually in English. If I find a reasonable huge site saying the phone I am about to buy is 8.9, that’s good enough for me. If, however, I am looking for a car mechanic in Budapest (that is, a service where location and trust are the most important factors) I will post it on a smaller mailing list or Facebook group, which is more personal. Mensa Hungary has about 1000 members, and people on the mailing list are always quick with a reply. They are usually also knowledgeable and trustworthy.

One’s profession is also a powerful determinator of the networks one usually uses. My first career was in translation, and this involves a lot of research, too. Very often I would come across terms that do not have an equivalent in the target language, which is when I go to ProZ, an international translators’ network. On the terminology search site, anyone can search for terms in any language pair, and quite often another translator has come across the same problem before. In order to encourage people to share what they found out and spare others the research work they had to perform, translators earn KudoZ for each term entered. This is a good example of a mutual assistance network. 

Each of these groups (or any network, really) can only be functional if it has some kind of tangible or intangible reward for those sharing their knowledge. On Facebook, “likes” are a source of instant gratification. In groups where people have something in common or even know each other, we help because we will need help the next time. On a vast network like the Internet in general, people share their knowledge either because they get verbal diarrhoea (like I do), or they sense the same team spirit as it is common in smaller groups.

Japanese culture makes a very strong distinction between “uchi” =inside and “soto”=outside. Insiders (of a family, a company etc.) are loyal to each other, while it is socially allowed to be rude to outsiders. I think everyone has a line between “in” and “out”, but in some cases (eg. anyone mollified by Christmas mood) the whole world is “in”. 

As for me, I tend to be very interactive on any platform as long as I feel concerned. That is, if someone asks a question within my field of expertise, I will go out of my way to get my advice across to them. I work on the basis of reciprocity: I do everything I would like others to do for me. However, I have my preferences. I like groups and networks where I can associate the content with at least an online identity. Knowing a person’s short bio or even just seeing their previous answers makes it that much more interesting for me. Quora and Facebook are such examples. ProZ and review websites are examples of a more open network, where I primarily go for information, and pay less attention to the identity of users, because the quantity is sort of a guarantee for quality. 

In friends, though, the same does not hold. Note to self: do not judge them just because they install stupid apps.

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Extra report from abroad: Compasso d’Oro awards 2014

Last week I happened to be missing class, and it is my punishment honour to present to you what I stumbled upon while at the European Council building (on a completely different business), in Brussels.

As you may or may not know, the European Council is presided by a different EU member state every 6 months. This semester it’s Italy, and therefore the entry hall is decorated with Italian art, the cafeteria serves even more pasta than usual, and the space right after the revolving doors where attachés, experts and interpreters gaze confusedly at the overhead screens to determine the location of their meeting, is dedicated to Italian culture. In this case, Industrial Design is on the menu.

The Red Dot is perhaps the most famous design award, but the Compasso d’Oro (golden compass) is one entire year older, and therefore is the oldest design award in Europe. Established in 1954, it has 300 laureates so far. The winners are chosen by the ADI (Industrial Design Association) , based on the Design Index of the previous three years. The principles of selection are the following: 1) performance and social responsiveness (aesthetic, functional, experience-related), 2) reduction of environmental impact, 3) appropriate and innovative use of technology, 4) formal coherence. The winners and Honourable Mentions are included in the Historical Collection of the award, which counts as national heritage in Italy. 

You can see the full list of laureates here, but I will share my favourites with you. The images are from the same website, because these photos are way better than the ones I took in Brussels with my phone.

IN-EI by Issei Miyake. 

Beauty lies not in objects,
but in the interaction between the shadow 
and light created by objects. - Junichiro Tanizaki

This is the philosophy behind this line of lamps, which are all based on 2D and 3D mathematic principles. They are made of paper, and they can be folded and stored flat.

Garmont Masterlite ski boots by MM Design. For those who don’t know about skiing: this is an amazingly sleek design for a racing boot. On top of that, it can be used for cross-country skiing too, and switched into that mode really easily. Erm. Anton Sponar ski blogger here says it is quite annoying to switch back into downhill mode, but the ADI probably didn’t bother putting skis on. 

Another lamp, or rather, a non-lamp: the NULLA, by David Groppi. The big idea here that he designed “light itself, instead of a lamp”. To me, this feels more like a museum light, creating a reverent atmosphere around a valuable work of art. Great idea to bring this discreet item into the limelight (pun intended). 

Travel Air Jacket by Marco Broglia and Renzo Pigliapoco. This warms my heart (literally and figuratively at the same time) because as an avid traveller, I know exactly that dilemma when you have to choose between looking stylish and not freezing to death. Thanks to this waterproof, windproof, coldproof baby, it is now possible. Sadly, for men only. But we are still in Italy, right?

I think it is an excellent idea to display design products at the headquarters of the EU (which is famous for its love of the status quo and its old-fashioned ways in many aspects). Seeing what possibilities the present already holds makes one hopeful that we are indeed headed for a better world. At least we have a golden compass to show us the way.

If you checked out the website, let me know what you think. Is there any winner you don’t appreciate that much? Or maybe one whose function you don’t even recognize?

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The idea behind it

Yesterday we went on a little road trip… and the title was the phrase that stuck with me the most. We met the one man who runs the BouwQuest show: Carl-Peter Gossen. And he always seemed to have an idea behind everything.

The thing is that Dutch language apart, the website of BouwQuest left a lot of questions in my mind. What is it they do exactly? For whom do they work? How do they raise funds? Who is working there, at all? Now we could ask all those, and fortunately, we stumbled upon very clear visions and structures.

Carl-Peter is an architect, who, in 2007, decided that he is better off on his own, and he started his own company. He outlined to us that while in the 90s, design was all about technical development and in the first years of the new decade, the emphasis shifted to brand creation and making your mark, nowadays it is collaboration that is king. 

He introduced us to the concept of integrated design. He showed us the oeuvre of his inspiration, Le Corbusier. We were amazed by how modern buildings he designed immediately after WWII. 

source: Wikipedia

Another pivotal concept for BouwQuest is morphological design. Its baseline is that by making all the decisions in the beginning, with the involvement of specialists from each field (eg. architect, designer, insulation expert, contractor, and oh, let’s not forget the client), the concept will be more solid, easier to execute, and faster and cheaper to realise. This is really a smart idea, and I can only wonder why everybody is not doing it yet.

This is precisely our job: to get architects on the bandwagon. We have to come up with a strategy for that. My only problem now is that I like the idea so much that I’m getting committed to it… so we’ll have to come up with something awesome so as not to let our NGO down!

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